an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

The Stories Of Ernest Favenc, Volume V:
Ernest Flavenc:
eBook No.: 2300151h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: Feb 2023
Most recent update: Feb 2023

This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat

View our licence and header

The Stories Of Ernest Favenc, Volume V

by

Ernest Flavenc

Cover Image

PGA e-Book Cover©

COLLECTED AND EDITED BY TERRY WALKER

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2023


Cover Image

Ernest Favenc (1845-1908)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

British-born and educated at Berlin and Oxford, Ernest Favenc (1845-1908; the name is of Huguenot origin) arrived in Australia aged 19, and while working on cattle and sheep stations in Queensland wrote occasional stories for the Queenslander. In 1877 the newspaper sponsored an expedition to discover a viable railway route from Adelaide to Darwin, which was led by Favenc. He later undertook further explorations, and then moved to Sydney.

He wrote some novels and poems and a great many short stories, reputedly 300 or so. Three volumes of his stories were published in his lifetime:

The Last of Six, Tales of the Austral Tropics, 1893

Tales of the Austral Tropics, 1894

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899


His short stories range from bush humor to horror, supernatural to strange, and to the privations of late 19th century exploration in Australia's unforgiving inland. His first two short story books (consolidated into one volume, as there is considerable overlap), are available free as an ebook from Project Gutenberg Australia.

—Terry Walker, January 2023



TABLE OF CONTENTS


01. -- THE UNHOLY EXPERIMENT OF MARTIN SHENWICK,
AND WHAT CAME OF IT

The Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 17 Dec 1898

I KNEW that Shenwick had been studying the occult for a long time, but being a hardened sceptic, I was not prepared to accept the wonderful progress and results that, he said, had so far rewarded him. All the experiments he essayed for my conversion had turned out failures. Therefore, when he came to me and stated that he had discovered how to resuscitate the dead, provided they were not too long deceased, I frankly told him that I did not believe him.

He was used to my blunt way of speaking, and did not resent it, but proceeded to explain how, after death, the soul hovered about the body for some time, and if you could induce the soul to re-enter the body, the late departed would be given a fresh lease of life.

Several difficulties suggested themselves to me, which Shenwick would not listen to. What, for instance, I said, if a man were blown into fragments by a dynamite explosion, how will you find and unite the pieces? If he were hanged, and his neck dislocated, how would you fix his spine up again? If he had his head chopped off—

Here Shenwick interrupted me to state that he meant only cases of natural death, the decay of the vital forces, not mangling and mutilation. He explained that the emancipation of the spirit for a short period inspired it with fresh vigor, and it came back rejuvenated and strong.

"How are you going to try your experiment?" I asked. "Corpses are not knocking about everywhere."

"I admit that is a stumbling block," he said, "but it may be got over. Would you object to putting a temporary end to your existence in the cause of science?"

I told him in language more forcible than polite that I would put an end, final, not temporary, to his existence first.

He accepted this seriously, and informed me that that would not avail, as I would not be competent to conduct the experiments.

We parted for the time, and I believe he spent most of his time searching for a fresh corpse. I know he applied at the hospital, and was ejected with scorn and derision. He also visited the morgue, but as most of the bodies that came there were "demn'd damp, moist, unpleasant bodies," they were no use to him.

"I've got him," he said, one day, stealing into my room on tiptoe as though he thought that the corpse upon whom he had designs would hear him.

"Got whom?" I asked, "the corpse you have been looking for?"

"No, he's not a corpse yet; I'm not going to make him one. Don't stare like that. He's dying, and I have agreed to keep him in comfort till he dies. He's got a churchyard cough, and drinks colonial beer by the gallon. Will you come and see him this evening?"

I said I would, and went on with my work, as he closed the door, softly and mysteriously, for what reason I know not. I went to Shenwick's that evening. He occupied three residential chambers in a large building, and found that he had given up his bedroom to the subject, who was established in comfort and luxury. As a subject, the man was probably as good as any other, but he was by no means prepossessing, and the language he used to Shenwick was painful to listen to.

"It's unfortunate, you know," said my poor deluded friend, "but since he has been taken care of and doctored, I am afraid he's getting better. Now, he would have been dead by this time if he had been left in the Domain. There was a drenching rain last night that would have finished him off out of hand."

A voice was heard from the next room, demanding beer, adjective beer, in a husky whisper.

"This is my only hope," said Shenwick, as he filled a pint pot from a keg. "The doctor says he is not to have it, but I take the liberty of differing from the doctor."

He took the beer in to his subject, and got cursed for his pains.

"He was quite resigned to death when I picked him up," said Shenwick sadly, when he came back; "but since he has been made comfortable he wants to live."

"Small wonder," I returned, laughing.

"It's no joke; by my agreement for his body I am bound to keep him as long as he lives."

"Well, we must try to upset that, if he does live. I have not seen your agreement; but, speaking as a lawyer, I should say it was not legal."

About three weeks after this Shenwick opened my office door, put his head inside, uttered the mysterious words, "Be prepared for a message this evening," and disappeared. I concluded that the subject had caved in after all, and was on the brink of the grave.

The message duly arrived before I left my office, and after dinner I went to see Shenwick. True enough the subject had departed this life, and his mortal, and very ugly, frame was in the possession of my friend, together with a doctor's certificate. He was now at liberty to conduct his experiments and prove the truth of his theory. He asked me to remain, and witness the result, to which I consented, and as he informed me that the small hours of the morning were most favourable, I took the opportunity of having a sleep on a sofa in the outer room, while Shenwick watched his beloved subject.

Shenwick woke me at about two o'clock. I got up stiff and cross, as a man generally is after sleeping in his clothes on a sofa.

"Hush!" he said, in that mysterious whisper he had affected of late. "I am now sure of success. I tried some passes just now, and I am confident that a spark of animation followed."

I muttered a tired swear word, and followed him into the bedroom. Shenwick lowered the light, and commenced his mesmeric or hypnotic hocus pocus over the dead subject. In the dim light it was a most uncanny exhibition, and the more excited Shenwick grew the more antics he cut with his hands, waving and passing and muttering.

Now what happened is almost incredible, had I not seen it myself; but that grim and ghastly corpse on the bed rose up in a sitting position, gasped and choked once or twice, and then broke out into the vigorous cry of a healthy, lusty infant. For an instant the most cowardly terror assailed me, and I confess that I had it in my mind to cut and run for it, when I noticed Shenwick, after swaying to and from, pitched headlong on the floor in a dead faint. That restored me to my proper senses, and I went and picked him up and tried to restore him.

Meanwhile the hideous thing on the bed still kept blubbering and crying. If you shut your eyes you would swear that here was a baby of forty-lung power in the room.

Shenwick at last recovered. "It was a success," he gasped.

"If you call that row a success, it was," I answered.

He listened intently, and a pained look came into his face. He was evidently greatly puzzled. "Let me go into him by myself," he said at last. I cordially agreed, and he went into the bedroom, and I solaced my nerves with a good strong nip of whiskey. Gradually the crying stopped, and Shenwick came tiptoeing out and told me that the subject had fallen into a nice, quiet sleep.

"It's awkward, very," he said; "but at any rate the experiment succeeded."

"What's awkward?" I asked.

"I left it too long. I told you that the spirit rejuvenated, grow young, after its release from the body. This spirit has grown too young—it's gone back to infancy."

"Then you'll have to rear it as an infant; but you won't find anyone to look after it in its present state."

"I'm afraid not; I'll have to bring it up by hand myself. It's hungry now, poor thing. Isn't there a chemist who keeps open all night?" I directed him to one, and he asked me if I would mind looking after it while he went out and bought a feeding-bottle and some food. "If it cries, try and amuse it," he said, as he left the room; and I heard his footsteps go down the stairs, rousing strange echoes in the great empty building. I called myself all the fools I could think of for having anything to do with Shenwick and his confounded experiments, and settled down to my dreary watch.

Sure enough, the horrid thing woke up, and commenced to cry again. Not being a family man, I had not the remotest idea how infants were to be soothed and beguiled to rest and silence. I had an inane notion that you said, "Goo, goo," or "Cluck, cluck," to them, and snapped your fingers and made faces at them. I tried all these in succession, but the more I goo goo-ed and cluck cluck-ed and made faces, each one more hideous than the last, the more that thing cried and sobbed.

At last, when daylight came, there was a loud knocking at the outer door. I went and opened it, and there stood the caretaker and his wife, the last much excited.

"Where's Mr. Shenrock?" she demanded. "What's he doing of with a baby in the room, and ill-treating it, too?"

"There's no baby," I said; "it's a sick man."

"No baby, when I can hear it crying its dear little heart out! You've been smacking and beating of it." She pushed past me and went to the bedroom, saying, "Hush now, my pet; mother will be here directly."

She got as far as the door; then, at the sight of the black-muzzled ruffian sitting up in bed bellowing, she fell down in kicking hysterics. Her husband went to her assistance, but he, too, was struck speechless, with his mouth wide open. In the midst of it, Shenwick came back with a feeding-bottle, patent food, and some milk, having been lucky enough to stick up an early milk-cart. We recovered the woman and Shenwick told her that the patient had just had brain fever, and now imagine himself a baby, and the doctor said he was to be humoured. The woman was only too glad to get away. She had had what she termed a turn, and was not desirous of stopping any longer near this unnatural infant.

It was horribly grotesque to see the man-baby seize hold of the nozzle of the feeding bottle and suck its contents down. When it was satisfied, peace reigned, and the thing slept.

"Shenwick," I said, "you see what comes of interfering with Nature's laws. You will now have to adopt and rear that object in the next room. You were thinking of getting married, I know; but will your wife consent to your bringing home a baby 50 years old! No, she will not—you can consider that settled."

Shenwick groaned, "You needn't rub it in so," he answered.

"Perhaps not, for that little innocent darling asleep in the next room will be a constant reminder."

"Can't you give me some advice on the subject? Although you cannot deny the success of the experiment; yet between ourselves it is of no avail for any purpose. I thought and hoped that the spirit would come back charged with knowledge of the great hereafter. As it has unfortunately turned out, a baby has come back who will grow up with as little knowledge of the past as any other baby does." A long hungry wail came from the other room, emphasizing his statement, and proclaiming that the infant desired further nourishment. Shenwick went and filled the bottle up again.

"There's one chance you have," I said, when he came back. "This aged baby will, most likely, have to go through all the many ills that babies have to endure. I should take care that he died of croup, or scarlet fever, or whooping cough or something or other of that sort."

"What do you mean by 'taking care?'" said Shenwick, looking aghast.

"Nothing at all but what anyone but a fool would understand. I mean, take care of him if he is ill. Now, goodbye, I'm tired." I went home for a bath and breakfast, fully determined to have no more to do with Shenwick, and his dark experiments.

A fortnight afterwards, he came to the office. "I have got rid of him," he said, dropping on to the chair, as though wearied out.

"Buried him?" I asked.

"Oh, no! I called to the doctor who certified his death, and I told him that he had revived, but had come imbecile, imagining that he was an infant. So, after studying the case for some days, he called in another doctor, and he has been removed to an asylum."

"Do you pay for him?"

"Yes, a small sum weekly."

"Well, he will be a pensioner on you all your life, for, according to you, he has another span of years to live. Have you told Miss Colthrope about it?"

"Heavens! no; what would be the good?"

"Best to be open in these matters, however, I won't tell anyone; provided you swear never to have anything to do with this foolery any more."

"That I'll readily do," he said, and he did.

Shenwick married, and years passed, and he had a growing family, when he received a communication from the asylum, stating that the patient had improved so much that they thought he ought to be removed. The fact being that he had grown up into a boy and became more sensible.

Shenwick came to me in despair. "Just fancy, he has the soul of a boy, reared amongst lunatics in an asylum. Of course, he has not been taught anything; what on earth shall I do with him? Will you come out with me and see him? His appearance may suggest something."

I went out with him; ten years had passed since the fatal night of the experiment, and the body containing the boy's soul was that of an old man of sixty-six, looking older on account of the exposure and hardships the body had suffered. It was a regular puzzle. It was evident that he could not take the patient home. And it was pitiful, too. The soul, or spirit, whatever you like to call it, was full of life and vigor, which the palsied, doddering old body could not second. I could think of nothing but a benevolent asylum, and Shenwick agreed to it. The subject never reached it, however. There was a railway accident, and he was badly injured. We went to see him at the hospital. He was unconscious at the time, but death was very near, and he came to his senses just before we left. He recognised Shenwick, and growled out in the husky voice of old, "Hang you, are you never going to fetch that adjective beer?" Then he expired.

Shenwick told me that the last words he uttered at the period of his first death was an order to him, in flowery language, to go and get some beer.


02. -- THE GHOSTLY BULLOCK-BELL

The Bulletin, Sydney, 26 Aug 1893

"LET'S go on to the next water," said Dick impatiently.

"Why, it's seven miles and one of our horses is quite lame. No, this place is good enough for me," I returned.

Dick grumbled; but as there was reason on my side he had to give in, and we were soon unsaddled. Usually a very even-tempered fellow my companion seemed strangely put out about something. I did not take much notice—men often get "cranky" in the bush. He smoked long after our blankets were down, and then I dropped off to sleep and left him staring moodily into the fire.

"I was only a boy!"

I awoke with the words ringing in my ears. The moon had risen, but it was a late moon, and seemed only to make the dark shadows darker, and add to the general loneliness around us.

Dick was standing near the dead fire with his hand stretched out as though keeping something at bay. The sickly light of the dying moon did not reveal his face, but his whole attitude expressed supreme horror.

"What on earth is it?" I asked, getting up with a thumping heart.

He laughed strangely and said, "Listen! Can't you hear them?"

I listened. Some curlews were wailing dismally, and that was all; as I told him, curlews always begin to ring out when the moon rises.

"No, no!" he said, "not that; listen again." I did so. Now, whether it was mere fancy stimulated by my companion's strange manner and my sudden waking, I don't know, but it seemed that I distinctly heard a deep-toned bullock-bell toll slowly and monotonously, as when a belled bullock licks himself.

"Pah!" I said, "it's a lost worker."

"Is it?" he answered with a repetition of his queer laugh. "Go to sleep again, old man, it's nothing to do with you."

The bell, if it was a bell, had ceased, and as I still felt drowsy, I drew my blankets over my shoulders and soon dozed off. When I awoke again it was broad daylight.

Dick was very silent all that day (we were on our way back to the station after delivering some fat cattle at L——).

"Do you believe in warnings?" he asked, when we were camped again that night.

"Presentiments?"

"Yes, that's it. Because I've got one, I shan't see this trip out."

"O, bosh," I naturally replied.

"It was at that last camp I killed my young brother."

I thought Dick had gone mad, for he was one of the best natured of men, but he proceeded, as if he had to tell his story:

"I was only sixteen, and he was a little chap of twelve, but quite different from the rest of us. Very willing and sweet-tempered, but shy, and read every book he could get hold of. Well, at that time dad was doing a bit of carrying, and as he was laid up with rheumatism he sent me on a trip with the team, for I was a dandy bull-puncher even then. He told me to take Ben along and try and make a man of him. You know what cruel brutes boys are. I soon found out that Ben was frightened of going away from the camp in the dark and made up my mind to cure him, and so bullied and chivvied him that the poor little beggar became as nervous as a girl.

"Now, there's a yarn hanging to that place where we camped last night—something as to murder done by the blacks in the old times. Ben knew every story there was about the country and could tell them well, too. Of course, he had heard this tale. Now the place was haunted by the ghost of a woman who was always searching for her child who had been killed by the natives.

"I made up my mind to cure Ben once and for all. In the middle of the night I woke him and told him that we wanted to start early, so he must go and bring the bullocks up close to the camp. 'There they are,' I said, 'you can hear the bell.'

"The poor little cove looked at me with great big eyes and shivered, for the bullock just then began to lick himself and his bell tolled out like a clock—one, two, three, up to twelve, and stopped. He begged and prayed me to wait until daylight, but I hunted him off with the bullock-whip and followed him up for a bit to make sure he went.

"It was all quiet for a while, but just about the time he would have reached them I heard that bell again toll out solemnly. Then came such a shriek! I heard it distinctly, though he must have been some way off. I tell you I did feel sorry and ran as hard as I could shouting to him. Half-way I met the bullocks coming up to the camp like mad, but the bell was not amongst them. I had great trouble in finding Ben, for he was on the grass in a dead faint, and the moonlight was not strong. I carried him up to camp and he was an awful sight. His arm was stretched out quite stiff, as if to keep something off, and the poor boy's face was all drawn up with fright and his eyes wide open and staring.

"It was a long time before I brought him round, and when I did he was quite silly, and he never got right again, but died soon afterwards."

Dick was silent and so was I.

"Did you find the bullock-bell?" I asked at last.

"No, and I should like to know who rang that bell—and who rang it last night?" he asked.

"You heard it, too! The yarn about the niggers goes," he went on after another pause, "that they sneaked up to the hut ringing a bullock-bell that they had found so that if the people heard any noise they would fancy it was some stray workers."


DICK did not see the end of that trip. We stopped next night at a wayside pub, and he drowned his remorse in rum. Worse still, he fell in maudlin love with a girl there, and Peter, the bush-missionary, turning up—he got married.

She is a perfect devil, and when last I saw Dick he was thin as a rake. Better for him had the presentiment been fulfilled in the orthodox way.


03. -- THE SPELL OF THE MAS-HANTOO

The Bulletin, Sydney, 20 Dec 1890

PONTINIAK, at the mouth of the Kapoeas River, is not a place much visited by Europeans, but one can obtain an exceptional experience there.

Pontianak is the headquarters of the Dutch in Borneo, and the Resident-General has a small joke of his own, which he plays off on the unsuspecting new-chum. As is customary in those torrid settlements, business is generally transacted during the comparatively cool hours immediately succeeding daylight. As you discuss it with the courteous old Resident, he inveigles you into a stroll up and down the verandah, and after a little of this exercise, he informs you that the equatorial line passes right through the centre of his bungalow, and that during the morning walk you have crossed and re-crossed the equator several times.

I have other cause to remember Pontianak. It was my starting-point on an expedition destined to be a very memorable one. I had long contemplated a trip into the interior of Borneo, allured partly by the reports of the half-worked diamond mines, and partly by natural curiosity to see a place so little known. I had accidentally met with a young travelling Englishman, an enthusiastic sportsman, who eagerly jumped at the notion, and the result was that we soon found ourselves at Pontianak, where, after the necessary official permission had been obtained, we made our arrangements for departure.

Travelling there is far more luxurious than in the Australian backblocks. Our destination was the Sintang district, and our highway the river Kapoeas. A large roofed-in native boat, known as a gobang, a native crew under a mandor, or headman, and a good outfit of stores were obtained, and we started for the land of the Dyaks.

For days our journey was most auspicious. The dense jungle on either hand afforded a good supply of game for my sporting companion, and the native tribes we met were friendly and interesting.

As time went on we found ourselves amongst Dyaks, permission to pass through whose country cost some diplomacy, but patience and a friendly demeanour overcame all objections, and we soon got well into the mountainous districts on the upper reaches of the river. As yet I had not met the object of my search—the abandoned diamond mines, legends of which were often repeated by the coastal Malays. Once or twice I was shown places where gold-mining on a most primitive fashion had undoubtedly been pursued in some long-forgotten age. Circular holes had been sunk in three places in the form of a triangle, and drives had then been made from one to another, but by whom it had been done the Dyaks could not tell. Certainly not by their forefathers. Some told me that it was the work of slaves long ago, when the sultans from India had swept down on the archipelago and enthroned themselves in Java and Sumatra, thence enforcing tribute over Borneo, Celebes, and the smaller islands.

No ruins or inscriptions were to be found indicating that the country had ever been permanently settled by the men of that time. Sometimes I heard mysterious reports of a wild race whose descent was more ancient than that of the Dyaks: they were known as the Orangpooenan, or forest men, and were marked with a white spot in the middle of the forehead, an indication, at any rate, of their Hindu origin.

One afternoon about four o'clock the mandor came to me and pointed to a rope of twisted rattan stretched across the river—a sign that we were to go no further. Some Dyaks were assembled on the bank, and we went ashore to parley with them.

They were apparently as friendly as usual, and accepted small presents of tobacco, but declined to give us any reason for refusing the required permission to proceed. We visited the village and partook of fruit there, and after dark returned to our boat. Morton was very hurt at our sudden detention, and wished to go on in spite of the natives. I pointed out to him the folly of such a course, and he consented to take things quietly and wait for a day or two. During those two days I made every effort to conciliate our neighbours, and with perfect success excepting in the one direction. We were not to go up the river. I could obtain no reason for this refusal, and concluded that we must perforce return.

My enquiries as to the ancient gold and diamond mines seemed to amuse the old men mightily. One of them told me that I had seen the Kambing-Mas. This is a golden sheep which appears to certain doomed men. So infatuated does the victim become at sight of it, that he follows it on through jungles and mountains day after day until he dies of fatigue.

Of legends and traditions I got my fill, but permission to go ahead was not to be had. My old friend who told me of the Kambing-Mas asked me if I desired to try for the great diamond which was supposed to be in a lake at the head of a river. This star-like gem, described as of enormous size and unspeakable lustre, can be plainly seen at the bottom, but woe to the rash man who dives down after it! The infuriated spirit-guardians seize and strangle him, and his dead body floats on the surface as a warning to others.

"Perhaps," went on my loquacious host, "you would go to the land of the Mashantoo, the spirit-gold?" This district, rich in the precious metal, was cursed by a sultan of old, on account of the death of his son, and although you may go there and fill your pockets with gold-dust and nuggets, they all turn to sand and pebbles when you cross the boundary on your return.

Meanwhile Morton chafed greatly at our delay, and I had to exercise much tact to pacify him. The third evening I saw him in close talk with the mandor; he then left the boat and went to the village, returning about dark with the information that we now had permission to proceed.

It seemed strange to me that I had heard nothing about it, but at the time I had no suspicions. It was a bright moonlight night. Taking the mandor's kris, Morton went ashore and severed the rattan rope where it was tied round the butt of a tree. The men took their places and the boat was once more under way.

I dropped off to sleep about ten o'clock. I awoke amidst the crash of boughs and branches, bringing ruin and destruction on us and our craft. Although half-stunned, I managed to struggle from beneath the crushed-in roof, and, as the boat sank, struck out feebly for the shore, which I had no sooner reached than I fainted.

What had happened to us was the result of Morton's rashness. Poor fellow, he paid for it with his life. The villagers had not given him permission to go on, but he had bribed the mandor to do so nevertheless. Along the bank of the river the Dyaks had selected certain leaning trees under which we would pass. These had been cut through to breaking point, and temporarily secured from falling outright by twisted rattans. As we passed, these guys were cut, and we were swamped by the falling trees. Morton was killed instantly, but I strangely escaped, and most of the crew were more or less hurt. All this I learned afterwards.

When I came to my senses I was lying by a fire in a small clearing in the jungle, with two or three Dyaks sleeping around. One man was awake, apparently watching. When he saw me looking about he came over to me and brought me a drink. He was very light-coloured, dressed in the ordinary chawat or apron with a jacket, called a "bagu," on his body. He smiled pleasantly, and, addressing me in the native dialect, said, "Saki (a name they had given me at the village), you were ill advised to seek the Tampat-Mas (gold-mine) here. Why did you not watch the flight of the fish-hawk first?" I asked after Morton, and he told me of his death.

I was well treated, and the fate of Morton, whom they knew to be guilty of the offence, had apparently atoned for our trespass.

On the second day I was much recovered, and Abiasi, the Dyak who had just spoken to me, was sitting by my side showing me how to use the blow-pipe, when a strange old man came from the jungle and advanced in the clearing.

He was tall, white-haired and white-bearded, and on his forehead was a round mark made with a white pigment of some sort. Abiasi rose and said something to him of which I could only catch the word "Saghie," another name for the forest men. Presently the old man, who had only a ragged chawat on, came over and regarded me earnestly, then he and Abiasi renewed their conversation.

"Saki," said the latter at last, addressing me directly, "if you still wish to see the Tampat-Mas where the Mas-Hantoo is, this old saghie will take you there." He then further told me that the old saghie, or Orangpooenan, lived in the mountains where there were many old mines, but it was all spirit-gold, that turned into sand and gravel after it was taken away. The saghie thought that the presence of a white man might break the charm. I eagerly agreed to go, and Abiasi gave me many instructions as to my return, lent me a parang, or heavy knife, and bade me farewell.

It was evening when we started, and the old man led me through the jungle by a well-beaten path. Although the moon was bright, the shadows were dense where it did not penetrate, and I confess to having felt very nervous as we pushed on in silence, starting at intervals some sleeping bird or a troop of monkeys.

Presently we came to a small opening and halted in front of a low-thatched hut. In answer to his call a young woman, evidently just aroused from sleep, came out; she brought some living embers and made a fire. Like the old man, she was very fair in colour, good-looking, with well-shaped limbs, which, as her only attire was the chawat, or apron, were fully displayed. After eating some rice and fruit, I lay down by the fire and slept for the remainder of the night.

I was not sorry to see a fine large fish cooking on the coals for breakfast, as my returning health brought with it a good appetite. When we had finished the meal the old man and the girl, whom I guessed to be his granddaughter, took a large rush-woven basket between them and started along a narrow path leading through the forest, motioning me to follow.

In about two miles we reached an open space, and before us rose the rugged side of a hill. We followed the base of this round for some time until the face of the hill grew steep and precipitous, and I noticed we were amongst some ancient workings.

At the mouth of what seemed a drive in the cliff the old saghie stopped, and they set down the basket. He then spoke rapidly to the girl, whom he called Suara, and she collected dry wood and built a fire, the old man lighting some tinder with a flint and steel. Suara then broke down the branches of a resinous kind of pine common to the hilly country, and with the assistance of my parang dressed them into rude torches. I now understood what these preparations meant, and when we had lit the torches the two picked up the basket and led the way into the tunnel or drive.

As seen by the dim, flaring light, it presented far more finished work than any of the ancient workings I had yet seen. We must have gone at least a hundred yards before the old man stopped, and I then saw that somebody had recently been at work, for there was loose dirt lying about, and some native tools.

The old saghie put down the basket, and motioned to me to come and fill it with the shovel. I did so, and naturally took the opportunity of examining the dirt. I sifted some in my hands, and blew part of the finer dirt away, and am satisfied, even now, that there was a large quantity of coarse gold through it and several specimens, as they are generally called by diggers. Of this I am quite sure, despite what afterwards occurred.

The old saghie was peering over my shoulder while I blew the dust away, and grinned hideously as he saw the gold exposed here and there. I remember wondering at the time what possible ambition could be his for the yellow dross. Perhaps he thought the same of me.

Anyhow, we were both satisfied with our inspection, and I went on filling up the bag until it could hold no more. The old man and the girl picked it up and carried it out of the tunnel. Instead of taking the homeward track as I anticipated, they turned down another one, and in a short time we were beside a small stream which descended from the range. Here there were rude appliances for washing, and I selected, as the most convenient, a shallow baked-clay dish, and commenced washing out a prospect.

Not a speck, not a trace of gold was there. I did not look at my two companions, for it struck me that possibly the dirt at the top of the basket was different from what I had examined in the tunnel. I therefore took another prospect from the very bottom and proceeded to wash it.

It was a strange scene. The narrow path leading down to the small stream, just cutting a thin gap in the dense forest. The shrill chattering and screaming of parrots overhead, and the noises made by the troops of monkeys, which swung from bough to bough, and from one long hanging vine to another. Behind me, as I squatted by the water's edge, the two yellow, semi-nude figures of the old man and the girl, bending over my shoulders in rapt attention.

The dirt was rapidly reduced as I swirled the water round in the dish, and when I tilted it to and fro, there, at either end of the grit and gravel, appeared the yellow sheen of gold. I heard the two behind me heave a sigh of satisfaction as this sight appeared. Surely the spell of the Mashantoo was broken at last?

Suddenly, without a sound of warning, a glistening, flashing object dropped from overhead and struck me and the girl into the water. Blinded and frightened, I staggered to my feet, for the stream was but shallow, and in an instant saw what had happened. A huge boa had dropped from one of the trees above, where it is their custom to hang, watching the paths by which the deer go to water, and snatched its victim from our midst. The old man was crushed against the trunk by three or four folds of the creature, whose tail was still in the branches above, and he was already in the pangs of death.

Suara, who, like myself, had been knocked forward by a blow from a coil of the reptile as it dropped on its prey, was standing near me gazing with horror-stricken eyes on the death-scene. The crunching of the unhappy man's bones was quite audible, but his collapsed body showed that life was over.

The dish had floated on the surface, and was held from going down the stream by a tussock of reeds. Suara picked it up and handed it to me with a look of despair. Instinctively, despite the near presence of the monster, now gloating over its meal. I finished washing the prospect. The spell of the Mas-Hantoo held good. Nothing but gravel and sand was in the earthen dish, which I dashed to pieces on a rock.

Together, Suara and I left the spot and made our way to the hut, which we reached that evening and there rested for the night. Next morning she conducted me through jungle paths to within sight of the village where Abiasi lived.

Here she stopped and pointed in another direction, nor would she accompany me a step towards the village; and so, neither able to say farewell to the other in language both could understand, we parted. Abiasi told me afterwards that more of her people lived in the direction in which she had pointed.

Most of our goods had been recovered, and the crew were now nearly all well. A fresh gobang was provided, and I parted from the Dyak villagers with strangely mixed feelings, although it was with some sense of satisfaction that I saw mile after mile increase the distance between me and the mines of the Mas-Hantoo.


04. -- THE SACRIFICE OF NORMAN GRAINGER

Evening News, Sydney, 14-18 Jan 1896

From the mid-1890s to 1902 an appalling drought affected the entire eastern half of Australia. That is the background of this novelette.

I

THE man was singing blithely as he came slowly along the lonely bridle-track. To look at him, one would have thought that he had not much cause for cheerfulness. He was walking, and leading his horse.

Such a horse! The poor wretch, a mere frame of prominent bones, shambled along after its master with downcast head and drooping ears. As regarded flesh, the man was not much better off than the beast The latter carried an old riding saddle, now used to pack the owner's dilapidated 'swag,' a roll of a weather-worn tent and two ancient blankets. The stirrup leathers had been taken out of the spring bars and passed underneath the flaps, and buckled round the swag.

All around the country was bare, burnt, and dusty—a scene of desolation; but the traveller, old and thin, as he looked, hobbled, stoutly on, singing a love-sick ditty about his lost Nellie, occasionally moistening his throat with a mouthful of water from the canvas bag he carried in one hand. As the sun sank behind the upper boughs of the monotonous forest he was travelling through, more tracks began to join in with the one he was following, and man and horse soon emerged on to the open space surrounding a waterhole, about half full of muddy water.

The ground, around was totally destitute of grass of any description, and the ashes of fires and stumps of trees told that it was an old and well-used camping-place, and not far away the white trail of the road was visible, while deeply indented wheel-tracks led to and fro. Without unstrapping his swag from the saddle, the traveller simply undid the girth and lifted the whole lot—it was light enough—from the back of the old horse.

Selecting a spot at the brink of the water which seemed fairly sound, he led his steed there, and let him drink his fill. Then, with a small billycan that had been strapped on the swag, he carefully washed the old fellow nearly all over. This equine toilet completed, he re-ascended the bank with his tin can full of water, set it down, and tied the old horse to a tree.

'We must go out back directly and hunt up a patch of grass, old man,' he said, affectionately patting the sorry animal on the shoulder; as he did so the crack of a whip and the creaking of wagon wheels gave notice of the approach of a couple of teams.

The solitary traveller just glanced in the direction, then busied himself in making a fire and putting his small tin billy on to boil. The two teams drew up at one of the old camping sites, and the busy work of unharnessing commenced.

One after the other the strong, lusty draught horses were relieved of their trappings, and, after a preliminary roll in the dust and a vigorous shake, they ran down to the water and slaked their thirst. Then they assembled on the bank, and a little gamesome kicking and squealing ensued—veritable horse-play—the while the nosebags were being prepared with their rations of chaff and corn, the more favored ones getting an empty candle-box.

The old horse looked round longingly, as though he recognised the proceedings, and only wished that he would be invited to join in them. His master put a tiny pinch of tea in the now boiling water, and, taking a piece of dry damper out of his swag, he divided it in half. Breaking one portion into small pieces he gave it to the old horse in the hollow of his hand, who gratefully whinnied in return.

Presently one of the teamsters, refreshed with a wash, came striding over. He was a splendid specimen of the first generation of bush-born Australians, a class now almost as extinct as the Dodo.

'Pretty dry, old fellow,' he remarked cheerfully. He was a burly giant, with a hearty smile, rife with good temper. 'Did you come along the road?'

'No,' was the reply; 'I came by the bridle-track from Fairview Vale.'

'Then you can't tell us how the water is in Cameron's Creek?'

The traveller shook his head. The carrier glanced at the old horse.

'Your prad looks as though he wanted his ribs stretched' a bit,' he said, in a good-humored tone, devoid of all offence.

'Yes, he does so. There's been no grass in the paddocks at the Vale for months, nor at the Crater either.'

'Been at work at the sheds? Have they cut out yet?'

The traveller replied in the affirmative to both questions. The carrier picked up a blazing stick from the old man's fire, and proceeded in a slow and deliberate manner to light his pipe. When he had got it in good going order, he remarked, with a scarcely perceptible glance at the meagre fare.

'You'd better come over and tucker with as to-night, and have a pitch?'

The traveller accepted the frank invitation as frankly as it was offered.

'Billy!' roared the teamster, 'bring over one of them there spare nose-bags, and a jolly good feed in it.'

A long, sunburnt lath of a boy, just then employed in cutting up a piece of pumpkin, soon came over, bringing the desired article. Taking it from his hand, the burly teamster himself slipped the bridle over the ancient's head, and suspended the bag in its place. The old boy greeted the change with a rapturous and well-satisfied whinny.

'Many's the good feed you've had in your time,' said the carrier, and he fell back a step, and gazed with pitying admiration, at the wreck of a well-ribbed horse. 'Been a rare good 'un in his day,' he said.

The traveller nodded an eager assent; the ample act of manly kindness to his dumb friend had warmed his heart to the doer of it.

'Game as a bulldog ant still, I'll bet,' went on the other, and he gave the ancient a playful smack and pinch in the flank, which made that noble animal lay back his ears and a fan an ineffectual cow-kick at the world in general.

'Better stroll back with me to our camp, said the friendly giant. 'Billy, here, will be taking the horses out to a patch of dry grass directly, and the old moke can go out with them.'

In those days the hospitality of the bush carrier was proverbial and unbounded; moreover, it was a point of honor with him always to have a plentiful spread. The traveller was soon seated on an empty box enjoying his share of a meal, which, if not quite so fastidiously cooked as a French dinner, was more satisfactory to a hungry man.

Eating over, Big Harry and his mate, a tall, taciturn man from the Hawkesbury, known in contradistinction to Big Harry as Long Tom Bevor, lay back and lazily smoked the boy, had slipped away after his return from taking the horses out to the patch of dry grass, and wailing and discordant sounds began to arise from the hindmost wagon.

'There's that young imp at it again,' grumbled Big Harry. 'Ever since he bought that there concertina at the last township, it's been like a crowd of niggers round the camp, mixed up with a flock of curlews and a pack of dingoes.'

'Is it a new one?' asked the guest.

'Well, Billy has been a grinding at it for the last week, but I suppose he hasn't damaged its bellows yet.'

'I'll give you a tune, if you like,' said the old, man.

'Here,' Billy!' roared Harry in a voice that would have dominated a gale, 'just bring that 'constant screamer' over here; here's a man as understands it.'

Billy came over and handed the instrument of torture to the traveler, who touched a note, and suddenly burst into song.

They were old-fashioned songs, old plantation ditties, once popular, but his voice was still strong and vigorous, and he manipulated what Harry, in his clumsy bush humor, called, the 'constant screamer' with the hand of a master. The two teamsters and the boy listened entranced, and the camp by the bare, muddy waterhole became a haunt of memories to them in the future. When the stranger ceased Big Harry knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and remarked:

'Look here, old man, if you're on the hunt for a job, just come with us as off-sider, and well make it worth your while.'

The traveller laughed, and shook his head. 'Many thanks; but I have a job waiting for me ahead.' He touched a note, and started a well-known marching song, with a rollicking chorus that they all joined in, Big Harry's voice making the tree tops quiver. Soon afterwards the camp was silent, save for the distant rhythmical pulsations of the heavy horse-bells.

II

THE old traveller plodded along contentedly enough the next morning, though the road was dustier and more disagreeable than the bush track he had been travelling on before. His heart was lighter for the kindly companionship of the night before, and, though the old horse's burden was some pounds heavier, that gallant animal did not murmur at it, for he had two unexpected and satisfactory feeds to work upon.

With characteristic open handedness the carriers had insisted upon the old man replenishing his ration bags before leaving. There was no pretence at charity in this, no humiliation in accepting it; it was just the 'give and take' of the bush of those days, when unions had not stirred up the strife of classes, and the lazy, blatant, loud-voiced political agitator, who lived on the game, was unknown. The youth of the country took to bush life of their own accord, and did not, as now, prefer the scanty earnings and cheap pleasures of an overcrowded city to a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs.

Along the dusty road, through the grassless country, the old man and old horse kept sturdily and steadily on their way for many weary days. Then the country through which their steps led showed signs of closer settlement, and the road was fenced on both sides, and the ancient picked up a precarious living on township commons and travelling stock reserves.

At length a day came when man and beast seemed to carry themselves in a jauntier fashion. Early in the morning they left the main road, and took a smaller and little used one leading through a gate towards a range about six or seven miles distant. Once more taking a bridle track that branched from this road, they followed it through another gate, until it crossed a little running creek coming down from the range.

Biped and quadruped had a grateful drink, the latter giving a satisfied sigh, as if to say, 'Ah! this is the right tap at last.'

On the bank of the creek was a good, substantial three-railed fence, enclosing a little patch of grazing land, and beyond could be seen the foliage of fruit trees, surrounding a dwelling. Either this little spot had been favored with later rain or the drainage from the range at the back kept the ground moister, for the effects of the long-continued drought were not nearly so apparent as on the country left behind.

Opening the gate, the man took the path leading to the house, the pair walking briskly on, as though the late arduous journey had been a joke. The 'ancient,' indeed, put on all the swagger of a landowner sauntering over his own property. As they neared the homestead a bright-eyed girl of 16 came dancing down the track to meet them. She hugged the old man round the neck, addressing him as 'Dad,' in endearing tones of welcome. Then she turned her attention to patting and fondling the ancient one, who appeared highly gratified.

As the three approached the house, the girl with her arm passed through her father's, it was seen to be a neatly kept little cottage, with a ruder, rougher building at the back of it; a well-furnished garden surrounded the whole, and the little permanent mountain rivulet could be heard gurgling past. Two or three cows and calves and a few sheep were grazing in the small paddock they had passed through.

A hard, but kindly-featured woman of more than middle-age greeted him respectfully as 'Mr. Grainger,' and a tough, wiry-looking old fellow, who was just finishing his mid-day meal, rose up and did the same. Then he went out to look after the horse, but the girl had anticipated him; she had already unpacked and unsaddled the ancient one, and was leading him off to the stable, and laughingly told the man to go back.

'Everything all well?' asked Grainger, sitting down on a bench.

'All well thank the Lord!' replied the woman; 'but I hear they're suffering terribly for the want of rain hereabouts. Rotta-rotta has lost ten thousand sheep already, so Jock says.'

'Ay,' said Jock, who just then entered. 'Ten thousand, and more to follow. They were dying in the shed,' he added, with a sort of chuckle, as though, for some reason, the intelligence was of a satisfactory nature.

'You ought to take shame of yourself, Jock,' said the woman, 'to rejoice over the misfortunes of others.'

Jock only rubbed his hands.

'How's Carlingford getting on?' asked Grainger.

'There's a lad with sense,' cried Jock. 'Sold a lot of store sheep and cattle, sent away all the fats he could and moved a big lot of sheep to some country he's taken up out west. He'll get through right enough; but the others, with their greed, overstocked their paddocks, so that before the drought had fairly commenced, you could have flogged a flea through them.'

'Well, you change your things, Mr. Grainger,' asked the woman, who did not appear to relish her husband's rejoicing over a fallen enemy. 'The missy has put them out for you, and Jock will take a tub of water in the room.'

'Now, Dad,' said the girl, flourishing a comb and a large pair of scissors, 'come round to the back and be trimmed first.'

Grainger rose, and went round to the back of the ramshackle old building, and the cutting and clipping was finished amid much chatter and gossip. When it was over he retired to a room, and after some time reappeared, looking about fifteen years younger. He wore town clothes of good fit and make, his linen was exquisitely got up, and his boots and hat matched the rest of his things. With his beard trimmed to a point and his hair cut short, he looked the picture of a thorough gentleman, well born and educated.

Big Harry and his mate would have thought they were dreaming dreams or seeing visions had they seen him. The transformation, however, was not noticed by the others, to whom it was seemingly a matter of course.

The girl had changed the common dress she had been wearing and removed her sun bonnet. With her father she crossed to the cottage, and together they stepped onto the verandah and entered a passage which divided the cottage in half. The girl opened one of the doors, and they went into a room comfortably, almost luxuriously furnished.

A woman was reclining on a lounge, an invalid evidently, and something more. The eyes she turned towards her husband wore a vacant expression, and as the door opened she could have been heard talking softly to herself. Grainger advanced, embraced her kindly, and sat down by her.

'Have you had a pleasant holiday, Norman?'

'Oh, extremely so,' he said. 'Will you be able to come out to lunch? We will chat about it then.'

'I think I will try. Was Miss Raymond down there? Her girls must be quite young women, now.'

Grainger answered gravely that he had seen them, and that they were quite grown up, which, as they were the daughters of a girlhood friend of Mrs. Grainger, and three middle-age old maids by this time, he could say with safety. After many more questions in the same strain, the girl, who had been listening with a perfectly serious face to this farce, left the room, and presently returned to tell them that luncheon was ready.

Mrs. Grainger arose, and, with her husband's assistance, went into the next room, where her daughter had a chair prepared for her. The meal was good, and well laid cut with glass, linen, and flowers. The conversation still continued in the strain adapted to the hallucination the poor woman labored under. After she had retired, and resumed her old position on the couch in her own room, Grainger followed by his daughter, went into another room, barely furnished with an old table and two ancient chairs.

'Well, Dad, what luck?' asked the girl.

Grainger smiled. 'I got work at three sheds altogether, but I had to go out back a long, long way, and the country is in a terrible state.'

'So I should think, Dad, by the appearance of you and Chevalier.'

Grainger produced three cheques of extremely modest dimensions, but the girl did not look disappointed at the amounts.

'That will carry us on nicely,' she said.

A knock at the door brought in Jock, and the girl perched herself on the table, and helped, in the conversation that followed on the doings on the little selection dining the owner's absence.

Grainger had been a wealthy man. He had once owned the principal share in the large station of Rotta-rotta. Bad season after bad season brought him down, mortgage followed, a swindling, absconding partner completed the ruin, and then the firm who held the mortgage stepped in and took everything. During the season of prosperity he had, on the passing of the Act, selected the small area of ground on which he now lived, and settled it on his wife, in whose name he had taken it up; and built the cottage, planted the fruit trees, fenced and otherwise improved it.

This was all he had left, and this did not hold out much hope of a livelihood to a man well past the prime of life. But he had worse to put up with. His wife was stricken down with paralysis. She recovered partly, but her intellect was clouded. She still imagined that she was Mrs. Grainger, of Rotta-rotta station, and the doctor assured Grainger that if her changed circumstances were forced upon her, an attack of acute mania, might take the place of the harmless hallucination she labored under. How was it to be kept from her? The selection had originally been taken up as a sort of summer retreat; it was an exceptionally fertile little spot, with a perennial spring running through it and had been christened the Oasis. The mortgagees had allowed him much of his private property, including some furniture, etc., and his favorite horse, Chevalier. The furniture sufficed to furnish two rooms of the cottage in a manner Mrs. Grainger had been used to, and there she lived in ignorance of their fallen fortunes.

Jock and his wife, two old servants, insisted on sharing their master's adversity, and Jock looked after the little property, Grainger's absence in search of work being ascribed to visits of business and pleasure.

For this was the masquerade of the good clothes kept up; for this was all the money gained by toilsome journeys, by the severest economy, and by every shift and contrivance used; and amongst such surroundings had Winifred Grainger grown up to the verge of womanhood. Her father, a highly-educated man, had taught her whenever he was at home, and from Mrs. Jock she had learned practical housewifery; perhaps, after all, it was not bad training for the girl to grow up in such an atmosphere of unselfishness and self-denial.

III

POOR Grainger, he did everything for a living. It was not possible for him, on account of his wife, to accept some subordinate situation either in town or country, so he roamed the land for work. He had walked his painful way to the outside stations at shearing time; he had tuned pianos, and played on them for township balls, for he was an excellent amateur musician. He had even joined a strolling company of Ethiopian serenaders, and rattled the bones as corner man; and by one means and another kept the Oasis afloat, so to say.

But even this was envied him. The firm, who had foreclosed sold the station to a self-made man of shady antecedents. This individual coveted the Oasis after the Scriptural fashion, and when Grainger refused all offers to sell it, became the fly in his honey pot.

A series petty persecutions were commenced. Blacklock, the new man, denied Grainger right of way through one of his paddocks to the main road, knowing well that, although, he was quite in the wrong, Grainger could not afford to follow him through the courts in appeal after appeal.

Blacklock, however, roused up a friend of much influence on behalf of Grainger. Tom Rossiter of Carlingford, who had succeeded to the station on the untimely death of his father, had from boyhood always, as he expressed it, 'liked old Grainger,' and he played a trump card on his behalf, and also one which promised to be a paying one in time. He selected land on either side of the Oasis, and insisted on the right of way to and from his selections, which would accord it also to Grainger. When Blacklock found that, instead of having a broken old man to oppose him, he had a young and very energetic one, with a big balance at the bank, and a determination to fight him tooth and nail to the very door of the Privy Council if necessary, he cried craven, and the matter dropped.

Rossiter was Winnie's especial favorite and hero. Had he not given her a pony when she was a little girl, and when that diminutive steed met with an accident which unfortunately necessitated his being shot, had not another one mysteriously taken its place in the paddock; one night? Moreover, were not Rossiter's mother and two sisters always glad for her to come over to Carlingford and stay with them?

About two days after Grainger's return Rossiter, who had heard of it, came over to see him. He was, of course, well acquainted with all the surrounding circumstances of Grainger's ruin, and, like the good-natured fellow that he was, visited Mrs. Grainger, presented his mother's and sisters' compliments and best wishes, and humored the good lady to the top of her bent; then he adjourned with Grainger to the den of an office.

'I've got something to tell you,' said Rossiter. 'It came to me through a man who, if he gets drunk, will retail the information everywhere, and that is what I want to avoid. For a time, at any rate. You know Jim Dee, the fencer who has taken the contract for fencing that selection I took?'

Grainger nodded.

'He is am old miner, you know; has been knocking about all over the world. In sinking a post hole on the south boundary, only a few panels from where it joins yours, he came upon this,' and Rossiter unfolded a paper parcel, and put some dark, rugged lumps of stone on the table. Grainger examined it curiously.

'Silver ore,' he said at last.

'Exactly,' returned Rossiter. 'The lode runs through the corner of my selection, and, by its direction, goes right across the middle of yours, and into my western selection. Now, I am going to send this down for assay, and apply for a mineral lease to the south. Meantime the difficulty is in keeping Dee's mouth shut; since he starts drinking it's all over the place.'

'Does he know that it is silver?'

'No; I think not. He may be foxing, but he pretends that he thinks that it may be some sort of mineral.'

'Of course, we'll give him a show if it turns but all right?'

'Of course we will, and it could be worked at a small cost. We have a permanent water supply, here, and the range is covered with firewood. If the assay turns out well we must select all we can of the range.'

Grainger looked with admiration at his young companion, and admired his business foresight; but Rossiter was still thinking.

'Anyhow, we must secure the source of the spring,' he went on, 'and secure ourselves from that being diverted. I wonder Blacklock has not done that before to annoy you. Anyway, I'll make sure of it by putting in an application to-morrow. By Jove, I'll put it in Winn's name. How old is she?'

'Seventeen in about three months.'

'That's good enough then. We'll make a rich woman of her.'

Grainger smiled somewhat sadly. He had not the sanguine feelings of his young friend.

'What do you say to going out this afternoon, and getting the lay of the place? Can you give me a shakedown, and I'll go on to the township tomorrow.'

'Of course, we can. As soon as I have written a couple of letters, we'll go.'

In about half an hour the two men, with, of course, the attendant Winnifred, were strolling up the gully, along the bed of which the little stream rippled. Even now, during the excessive dry weather, the gully was cool and shady; the moisture oozing mostly from one spot about a mile from the boundary fence of the selections; above, all was much drier, and it was evident that they had reached the source. The three stood there silent for some time.

What did they think of? Grainger, the man of the past, may have seen the picture of a quiet old age amongst congenial pursuits, free from the harassing toil that was killing him. Rossiter, the man of the present, heard the busy whirr of machinery, and saw the poppet heads of the shafts, and the rising and descending cages. And Winnie, on the threshold of girldom, what did she see, but the glorious dreams of the unknown world beyond the quiet bounds of the Oasis.

Rossiter first broke the silence.

'We'll run the boundaries while we are here. You stop here, old man. Winn, you come and put in corner pegs, and I'll pace it.

Rossiter started with a measured stride, and Winn followed dutifully behind. Their forms were soon hid in the forest slope, and Grainger lit his pipe for a quiet smoke.

The tread of a horse aroused him from a pleasant daydream.

'Good day, Mr. Grainger,' said a voice, as the rider approached and pulled up alongside of him. Grainger looked up, and saw his enemy, Blacklock. A rubicund man, nearly of his own age, with a fringe of white whisker like a baboon's ruff.

Grainger nodded.

Looking over your little property, eh?' went on the other, in a satirical, manner.

'I scarcely know whether that is any business of yours or not,' returned Grainger. 'I imagined that we were no longer on speaking terms, but you seem to have forgotten the fact.'

Blacklock flushed, and tapped his boot with the crop which, in his role as squatter, he now carried.

'I didn't come here to bandy words,' he said. 'To-morrow I'm going to mark out a selection here, and I just wanted, to tell you to keep off of here an future.'

'Indeed! Extremely kind,' returned Grainger, keeping his temper. 'It is Crown land at any rate at present, so I shall finish my pipe at my leisure.'

At this minute there were hasty footsteps, and Winnie, appeared on the scene, and stood by her father's side. Winnie had obediently followed Rossiter to the first corner, and remained there at his bidding, while he marched onward, at right angles, counting his strides as he went. He soon disappeared in a dump of thicker timber, and Winn turned round and looked towards the place where they had left her father standing. She saw the horse and rider, and with the instinct of a bush-bred girl, recognised them, and, without a thought but that of a true woman's in standing by the side of those she loved, hastened back to take after place with her father.

Blacklock looked at the girl and ironically lifted his hat a little; and said, 'Good evening, miss Grainger. I was just warning your father against trespassing on this land in future, and I am afraid that I have to give you the same caution.'

'I was not aware that you knew my daughter,' fired up Grainger. 'Excepting, perhaps, by sight. Kindly don't presume on that slight knowledge, or it will be the worse for you.'

Blacklock glared in astonishment at him. Winnie tapped her foot impatiently. For the first time in her life she was cross with Rossiter. Why had he not come back? He must have missed her, and could see where she was. In truth, Rossiter had done both, and was then quietly approaching from an unexpected angle, and none of the group saw him.

'Do you know who you are speaking to?' exclaimed Blacklock, in sudden anger. 'Don't you know I could buy and sell you over and over again?'

'So far as ill-gotten money is concerned, you might,' returned Grainger; 'But, old as I am, I'll teach you a lesson, if you like to teach you a lesson, if you'll get off that horse.'

'The devil, you will! You think that because that young fool Rossiter—'

'Here he is,' said a voice, the owner of which was almost close beside him. 'What have you got to say about him?'

Mr. Blacklock, who had been sitting half-turned in his saddle, started round. Winnie gave a slight hysterical laugh.

'Oh! It's you, Rossiter, is it?' said Blacklock.

'Mr. Rossiter, if you please. We are not quite on terms of familiarity, specially after just calling me a young fool.'

'Look here, sir,' said Blacklock, mustering up a bluster, 'I wish my sons were here to hear you.'

'I wish they were,' retorted Rossiter hotly. 'I'd make a football of one of them up and down this gully.'

'You might find that they could play football better than you,' said Blacklock savagely.

'They haven't got that reputation, at any rate. When Melbourne or Sydney is too hot for them they come up here and masquerade as bushmen. Bushmen, indeed!'

'That'll do, Mr. Rossiter. You will repent those words as long as you live,' and Blacklock, who was intensely, proud of the two cubs he called sons, rode away fuming.

Rossiter laughed.

'What's he been talking about?' he asked.

'A good joke,' returned Grainger. 'He is about to select this place, and warned Winn and myself against trespassing here for the future.'

'The pompous old fool! He has clean given himself away. But Dee is at the bottom of this, I'll be bound. He must have been talking.'

Rossiter thought for a moment, then he went on. 'I'll go in to the township to-night and have the application in the Lands Office the minute it opens. If Blacklock is only going to run the boundaries to-morrow, why, we shall be at least twelve hours ahead of him. What an ass the fellow must be. Come on, Winnie, we'll finish our survey.'

IV

ROSSITER rode in to the township that night, and the next morning the application was duly lodged, and the time recorded. He was riding homeward that afternoon along the dusty road, bounded by the parched and barren paddocks, when he saw two horsemen approaching. He was not long in recognising the Blacklock brothers.

'Too late, too late,' chuckled Rossiter, who guessed that they were on their way to the lands office. They piffled up surlily when they met, the eldest, a pasty-faced young man of three-and-twenty, being nearest to him.

'Morning, Rossiter. What's all this about making footballs of us, eh?'

'Depends upon your behavior, or misbehavior, rather. Your father politely referred to me as a young fool, and expressed a wish that you were present—to take his part. I presume.'

'Well, you began it,' grumbled young Blacklock. 'We might have been all good friends but for your taking old blackamoor Grainger's part.'

'Speak civilly,' said Rossiter, angrily.

'Why, what's in that? Nearly everyone knows that he once blacked his face and sang with some nigger minstrels. I took care to spread the yarn.'

Rossiter's eyes blazed. A touch of the near spur, and his horse shouldered up against the other one. He caught the young whelp by the collar, and shook him soundly.

'Here! Hi! stop it! Pull him off, Reggie,' cried the assaulted one, but Reggie showed no desire to interfere. 'He has worked hard, like an honest, honorable man,' said Rossiter, letting him go; 'and that's something you'll never be.'

'Confound you!' grumbled the other, as he fumbled at his loosened collar. 'You've lost my diamond stud.'

'Ah! oh!' laughed Rossiter. 'A bushman who wears diamond studs!' and he rode off, remarking as he did so, 'Tell your respected parent from me that, if I am a young fool, there's a proverb that he'll learn to know the truth of: 'that there's no fool like an old fool,' and he rode off, leaving the brothers wrangling.

Their mutual recriminations grew so rancorous that when they reached the headquarters of settlement in that district they selected different hotels whereat to pass the night.

Reggie, who had declined to come to his elder brother's assistance, was by far the better of the two. The other had inherited all his father's defects, with a few original vices of his own thrown in. The mother kept herself in the background; she had never risen with the family rise, and report said that her reading and writing were after the traditional manner of Shakespeare's knowledge of Latin and Greek. There were no daughters, and the poor woman lived a solitary, friendless life, regretting the old days of struggling and striving.

Reggie had a budding passion for Bella Rossiter, the younger of the two Rossiter girls, and he thought it politic to keep clear, if possible, of any complications with her brother, whose strong, masterful character he somewhat admired. He was not a bad young fellow at heart, and it was possible that, freed from the influence of his elder brother and away from his unwholesome surroundings, he yet might develop into something worthwhile.

Bella was some eighteen months older than Winnifred, and the girls were great companions. Winnie, indeed, had to thank Mrs. Rossiter and her daughter for all the social training she had received. When her father was away she had necessarily to remain tied to the Oasis and her mother's side; but when her father was at home she was enabled to spend many long, happy days at Carlingford.

Soon after the meeting between Rossiter and the Blacklocks the two girls were roaming over the range on their active ponies. They were both fond of such rambles, Bella especially having an adventurous strain in her blood; as the daughter of on old pioneer should have. The range, in spite of being called by such an imposing name, was of no great height, but it was lonely, rugged, and had the repute of having been once the haunt of a bushranger; in all probability a vulgar horse-stealer whose exploits had grown with the years that had passed since his legendary existence.

Bella's great ambition was to discover the cave said to have been the retreat of this worthy, and the recesses of which popular fancy had credited with concealing much stolen plunder! Bella was in great hopes of discovering this spot. She had found an old, almost worn-out track which apparently led somewhere, but had an awkward knack of running out, and leaving the investigator stranded. She had vainly tried to induce her brother to offer his services in the quest, but Rossiter had, in the first place, doubted the existence of the bushranger; and, in the next, asserted that if ever there had been a bushranger he would not have been such a fool as to use the same track until it was so plainly defined that it would lead anyone to his retreat.

Bella, however, firmly believed in the bushranger, the cave, and the hidden plunder, and was moreover persuaded that the faint pad she had discovered would eventually lead her to success. On this day she was following it with the patience and determination of a black tracker. She had, indeed, got on further than at any other time; walking ahead with her pony's bridle over her arm, Winnie following until they were at last brought up by a flat expanse of rock. Following the direction of the trail she advanced resolutely, Winnie, who had also dismounted, close behind, while the hoof strokes of the ponies rang out metallically.

Bella stopped in the middle and looked around.

'I am quite, quite sure,' said, the confident young leader, 'that I am right. Look, Winn, what a splendid view you have all over the country.'

True, there was a complete panorama spread before them. They stood on the cap of a projecting knob of one of the main spurs, and, as Bella said, it was a perfect look-out from which any body of horsemen coining across the lower country could have been seen approaching from nearly three cardinal points of the compass.

The girls stood and enjoyed the wide view, picking out particular places they knew, when suddenly Winnie's sharp ears caught sounds like advancing footsteps.

'Oh, Bell, there's someone coming —perhaps it's the bushranger!'

'I hope he's nice if it is,' answered the undaunted Bella. 'I'm just dying to meet a bushranger; I've read such a lot about them in English novels.'

The girls listened. Heavy, clumsy footsteps were undoubtedly coming down the slope that abutted on the flat rock behind them. Bell glanced round them, then led the way to a good-sized boulder.

'Boot and saddle,' she said, and stepped on to the stone, and seated herself on her sturdy little steed. Winn was soon mounted, too, and, confident in their game little animals and their own horsewomanship, they waited for the advance of the enemy man.

It was not a formidable figure who finally approached them. A shambling old fellow, roughly dressed in the usual bush rig-out. Truth to tell, he looked somewhat disappointed when he came in full view of them. He came on, however, and made a clumsy salute.

'Good day, young ladies. I thought I heard voices, and being short of tobacco, I thought as there was somebody here as might have some.'

'Do you live here, then?' asked Bell, gazing curiously at this Rip Van Winkle of the range.

'I'm staying up here now on a kind of holiday, having a spell like. There's a good spring back here, and I've pitched, my tent there for a bit. May I ask if you young ladies belong about here?'

'Belonged here all my life,' laughed Bell. 'Ah! Then your name might be—?'

'Rossiter.'

'Surely now. You must be little Bell; she was the freckled one.'

The two girls laughed merrily. Bell was not touchy on the subject of her sun-kisses, nor had she need to be.

'Many's the year's work I did for your father in the old time. Surely you must remember: I am the Hatter?'

'Of course, I've often heard of you, but don't remember you personally. What brings you up here, Dan?'

'Just what I said—a spell. When fences came in, I gave the monkeys best, and went up north to the new diggings. I made a bit of a rise up there, and thought I'd like to have a look at the old place, but there—I couldn't stand the township, so I came up here, where it's quiet and homelike. Always a hatter, you see, Miss Bell.'

'Well, Dan,' said Bell, who, on the strength of former acquaintanceship, although forgotten by her, had at once established herself on terms of intimacy with the old fellow, 'is your camp far from here? We should like to see it.'

'Surely, Miss Bell. But who is the other young lady? She's not a Rossiter?'

'This is my friend, Miss Grainger.'

'Of Rotta-rotta. Must have seen you when you were a baby, I expect; but you've grown since then. Sorry to hear your father lost the old place.'

Winnie bent down, and shook hands with the old hatter, then he led the way across the rock in a different direction to the way he had come.

V

THE old fellow's camp was on the head of the next gully; there was the tiny spring he had mentioned, which he had cleared out. An old sheep dog was chained to the tent pole, and he rose up and barked indignantly at them—evidently, he, too, was a hatter. Bell slid down from her horse, and went up fearlessly and patted his head, and he fawned upon her in return.

Everything about the place was neat, and methodically tidy. Dam invited his guests to have some tea, and, on their assenting, made the fire up and put the billy on to boil.

'Dan,' said Bella, 'do you remember the story about the bushranger who used to live up here?'

'I remember a yam of some sort about

'And about his cave?'

'Aye! and his cave, where the folks said he had planted a lot of watches and things.'

'Yes, yes,' cried Bell, eagerly. 'Winnie and I have been looking days and days for that cave. I've found an old track that I believe leads to it, Now, I'll tell you what we'll do. I'll show you the track; and while you're up here you can puzzle it out, and when you find it—which, of course, you will—we'll go halves in the plunder.'

Dan laughed. 'Of course, I will help, Miss Bella. On one condition.'

'What's that?'

'That you let me have first pick out of the watches. Specially if there's any ladies' watches among 'em. There's a young woman. I know as I should like to make a present to.'

'Certainly you shall, Dam; although I'm quite shocked at an old hatter like you knowing a young woman.'

The girls had a merry tea, drinking it out of the cleanly-polished pannikins which Dan produced. Then they prepared to return.

'Now, Dan, as my share towards finding the cave,' said Bell, 'I'm going to provision this camp. Tomorrow I'll get my brother Dick to come up with me. You remember my brother Dick?'

The old fellow went off into a hoarse chuckle.

'Remember him! Don't I call to mind one day when I was in at the station, and he mounted a colt, a bit of an outlaw, and the colt shucked him clean over the cap of the stock-yard and he fell right on top of his head. Lord! Your father said when he picked him up, "that boy's head and neck must be made of wrought iron!"'

And Dan laughed again, as though at an exquisite joke.

'Well, Dick will come with me tomorrow. But mind, he's not to know a word of this. He always laughs at me for believing in the bushranger. You come a bit of the way with us, and I'll show you where the track runs out.'

Followed by Dan, the two girls retraced their steps to the other side of the flat rock, then, with a very unconventional handshake they parted, and the two rode home talking gaily over their adventure.

Next morning, Bella and Winnie, followed by Rossiter leading a pack-horse—as he called it, 'doing blackboy'—climbed the range and arrived at the hatter's camp. There was a cordial greeting between him and his father's old servant, whom, of course, he had been old enough to remember well.

The stores were unpacked, and stored away, then Dan beckoned Bell mysteriously on one side.

'I poked about after you'd gone,' he said, 'and again this morning. And I found the continuation of that track. T'aint a wallaby pad, either. Will you come and see it?'

Bell eagerly assented, and waving a gay adieu to Winnifred she followed in Dan's wake. Rossiter had been stooping over the old dog; raising his head he noticed Winnie standing a little distance off. In her riding habit she looked older than she really was, and as he looked at her standing there enjoying the fresh air and some happy-day dream, it suddenly struck Rossiter that his old playmate had all at once shot up into a woman, and a very pretty woman at that.

Presently the two cave-hunters came back and a hearty meal followed, Dan proudly doing the honors. Then with the pack horse, with the now empty saddle, trotting on ahead of them they descended the track, leaving Dan to follow up the task a bonnie young girl with a slightly freckled face had set him to do.

He washed up the pannikins and plates and tidied up the camp, peopling it once more with the memory of the bright friendly faces that had lately been there, one in particular; Bell had evidently made a conquest.

His domestic duty finished, he took his old double-barrel, stuck his tomahawk in his belt and after patting the old dog went off again to the track. Slowly and patiently he followed it for nearly a mile, then he came to an insurmountable block. The faint worn-out clue stopped at the foot of a precipitous cliff which formed the cap of the range.

Dan looked to right and left, but could see no means of ascent. He went back a short distance and looked upward. The cliff was about fifty feet in height, and about half-way up it was broken by a projecting ledge. The wall at the back of this ledge he could not see for the projection of the ledge itself, and if he stepped back still further the foliage of the trees shut out his view. A conviction began to grow on him that there was a cave, and that the entrance was on that seemingly inaccessible ledge.

The ledge on either hand merged, after a time, into the smooth face of the cliff. If there was a cave there the means of access was either from the top or the bottom, and one way looked as impossible as the other. He was active for his age, and selecting the tallest tree opposite to where he supposed the entrance to exist he took his tomahawk, and cutting a few steps, blackfellow fashion, in the trunk was soon up amongst the branches.

The foliage, however, still obstructed his view, and it was not until he had chopped down one or two boughs that he had a clear opening. He was now not far off the level of the ledge he had been looking at, and able to see almost to the base of the cliff that rose from it and there was a cleft, a fissure or aperture of some kind.

But how had the mythical marauder reached his eyrie? By a rope either from the top to the cave, or from the cave to the ground? Hardly. In either case the rope would have to be left suspended there, and it would be rank folly to have a trail leading to a cliff on which hung a rope pointing' out the whereabouts of the cavern.

Dan, perched in the highest fork of the tree, pondered over all the possibilities of the case; he was a shrewd old bushman, and not easily thrown off a scent. He descended and followed the trail to where it died out within a short distance of the cliff, then he looked back at the tree he had ascended, and it struck him that the entrance he had seen was a considerable distance to the right of where he then stood.

Determined to solve the riddle, he made a plain mark on the rock immediately opposite the termination of the track, and then re-ascended the tree. The cave was nearly fifty or sixty feet to the right of the mark. This was conclusive. The ascent and descent had certainly not been made by means of a rope, otherwise the pad would have stopped immediately beneath the cave.

He went back once more and looked around. Close to his feet he at last noticed the stump of an old tree burnt to the ground. He traced it up in imagination. If it leaned towards the cliff at all in the former days of its life, it would have afforded a means of access to the ledge, thence along the ledge to the cave. But this would have been as palpable a hint as a dangling rope. Dan examined the stump once more. It was a ring only; the ring of the shell of an old, old tree. He had got it, he firmly believed.

The tree had been a shell when the outcast had used it as a stairway. It had been broken off short by wind or lightning, and the top did not reach nearly to the height of the ledge; the distance between the top of the riven trunk and the ledge could be bridged by a short ladder. When the occupant descended he would drop the ladder into the hollow shell during his absence; when he re-ascended he would carry it with him to the cave. Why, it was as easy as shelling peas. If anybody climbed the shell it was too close to the ledge for him to see the cave, and not close enough to get on to the ledge without assistance. Dan went home to his camp well satisfied.

'The little missy,' he reflected, 'would never have found it out by herself. She'd never have thought of the tree, and if she had she couldn't have climbed it.'

Dan's next move was obviously to go in and get a rope and lower himself from the top on to the ledge. He had no intention of anticipating Bell in her examination of the mysterious cave, but be must see that it was all safe for her to go there first; but he did not carry out this plan for a day or two, he had some preparations to make first.

VI

NO break in the iron drought, no sign of bountiful, rain-giving clouds mustering up to shed their team over the parched land. Bush fires were ravaging the country whereon any grass was left, and horses were kept saddled at the principal stations ready for men to mount and ride and protect a threatened paddock or line of fencing. Still the Oasis kept a little verdure about it, and old Chevalier was beginning to pick up in flesh and put on frisky airs of colthood which should have been long since forgotten.

In spite of the surrounding desolation, of perishing stock, fast sinking dams and tanks and a general shadow of impending bankruptcy, it was a halcyon time for Winnie. Her father was home for a long spell, and the vitality of youth and its enjoyment of the present was strong within her. Bell was plunged in mystery; that was the only drawback. Instead of confiding to Winn all her hopes and aspirations regarding the great discovery of the outlaw's cave, Dan the Hatter was now her confidant, and he made several journeys to the station, and took away various tools used in bush carpentering jobs. Winn was put off with the assurance that a marvellous surprise was in store for her, and one that would completely take the scepticism out of brother Dick.

Reggie Blacklock was at feud with his relatives. A sitting of the Land Board had been held, and the selection applied for by both Rossiter and Blacklock of course granted to the prior application of the former. This led to a sharp passage of arms between the two, Blacklock accusing Rossiter of selecting over his head, to which Rossiter in strong language informed him that he was actually engaged in pacing the boundaries when Blacklock came up. There was still further confusion in the Blacklock camp when Reggie stood up for the villain Rossiter. The land, he said, was open to anybody who applied first for it To which the old man, who, with his acquisition of station property, had adopted rabid conservatism, roared in reply, 'What does he mean by going against his own order, and standing by that old pauper Grainger?'

To this his undutiful son returned that Grainger was of Rossiter's order, and that the Blacklock family were only raw recruits. The old man nearly disinherited him on the spot, but the storm passed for a time. The drought threatened to ruin Blacklock, directly and indirectly. It was too late to save his stock by travelling, and he had nowhere to send them to, even if they could have staggered off the run.

Indirectly, the trade of the whole colony was affected, and other investments, in which he was largely interested, were tottering to their fall. Moreover, bills incurred by his two sons, particularly the elder one, began to come by every mail with alarming frequency from Sydney and Melbourne. No wonder his wraith was aroused at Reggie's defection to the enemy. Lee had proved but a leaky vessel. Blacklock had got hold of him, and found out about the supposed silver lode. In his own name and those of his sons he took up mineral leases on the presumed run of the lodes, outside of the boundary of the selection he had vainly made an attempt to secure.

Others followed him, for mining is the national Australian craze; parties were started out prospecting, and the quietness of the gully above the head of the Oasis was broken with the noise of pick and shovel, and disfigured with unsightly mounds of earth!

Rossiter held his hand. The samples he had sent down had not resulted as well as was expected, and the assay only showed a return that would barely cover working expenses. Silver, too, was steadily falling.

'Let them do the prospecting, and—pay the expense of it,' he said to Grainger, with a chuckle. 'Whichever way it turns up, we must profit by it If the true lode is struck worth working, we have it on our ground; if it all turns out a duffer, why, the selection is worth the money spent.'

Grainger assented pleasantly. Work and worry were beginning to tell upon him, and he was glad of the quiet rest and the support of his energetic young friend. Although by no means a man who wore his heart upon his sleeve, Rossiter had long ago offered to assist him; but Grainger had planned has own life, and while he did not mind the coarsest of fare and roughest of company, his fastidious nature shrank from the burden of an unpayable monetary debt of gratitude, even as delicately offered as Rossiter managed to convey it.

Meanwhile the dry weather continued, and old Dan had nearly completed his preparations for the grand exploration of the cave. By the aid of a rope, he had lowered himself from the top of the cliff, easily accessible by another route, on to the ledge, and thence to the entrance of the cave. As a man of many and varied experiences, ne knew a little about most outside things, and the exploration of underground passages amongst others. At the entrance he lit two candles, and, holding one in each hand, advanced a step or two into the narrow entrance.

He jumped back with a real start of alarm. On either hand grim, fantastic figures seemed to grin and mock at him, and a moment afterward there was a sweeping flutter of wings, low and subdued, and myriads of forms circled and danced before him, and brushed his face with soft, repulsive, unnatural wings. He stepped back hastily, almost forgetting the ledge, and a fall of twenty-five feet from it. Then he recovered, himself.

'Bats you old fool,' he muttered, 'and niggers' drawings.'

He advanced boldly, the ghostly-winged inhabitants, disturbed by his light, flitting round and round, afraid to venture into the strong sunlight. Holding the candle up, he saw that he was in a good-sized cavern, the walls embellished with the pigment figurings of the now vanished aboriginals, priceless to an ethnologist. Dan had seen many of them in his travels, and, as works of art, regarded them with contempt. Save for the nauseous odor of the bats, the air was fresh and good. Dan retreated.

With the rough chivalry of an untutored nature whose life had been spent in a long, solitary commune with Nature in her glorious primeval moods, he had decided that to Bell belonged the honor of being the first to explore this, as yet, unknown retreat. It was only for him to make a safe and easy means of ascent for her. It was impossible to ask a young lady of her years to 'shin down a rope,' as he, an old sailor could do. It was necessary to make a safe stairway to the spot. So, for this reason, he got the necessary tools from Carlingford, and in course of time had a rough but perfectly secure ladder, with a hand-rail, constructed and fixed at an easy angle to the ledge. Meanwhile, it was terrible work for Bell to keep her curiosity in check.

At last the day arrived, and Bell rode away early, full of importance. Dan was awaiting her, and, the girls riding and Dan walking, they were soon at the foot of the cliff. Leaving Dan to fasten her pony to a tree, she was about to make the ascent, when he loudly called to her to stop. Remembering the start the bats had given him, and fearing that she might step back over the ledge, he insisted on her waiting until he was ready to follow close behind her; then the start commenced.

Standing at the entrance of the cave, they lit their candles and advanced. Once more the noiseless inhabitants welcomed them, but Bell had been warned and did not feel alarmed. The grotesque tracings on the rocky sides were duly examined, and then commenced the serious and important search for any trace of the legendary occupant.

At first they were unsuccessful, and, as the cavern extended back some considerable distance, the work took time. What they at last found was not of much value, an old stirrup iron and an equally old pistol, made for percussion caps. This was not much, but Bell was very proud of it, as it proved the truth of her long and fondly cherished belief; henceforth Dick the sceptic would not be able to hold his head up for shame.

They went back to the opening and looked forth. There had been a splendid view from the flat rock where they had first met Don, and it was far more extended where they then stood; but it was haze and smoke everywhere. The earth seemed like a smouldering fire beneath them. Bell and Dan sat down and ate some refreshments they had brought with them. The old hatter was as delighted as the young girl with their success.

The meal finished, they resumed their explorations, and peered into every nook and cranny, but were not rewarded for their trouble. Then they returned to Dan's camp, and, very dirty and happy, Bell started home, with the precious pistol and stirrup-iron safely tied to the 'D' of her saddle.

Halfway across one of the paddocks she saw a horseman approaching, and, to her surprise, recognised Reggie Blacklock. She greeted him somewhat haughtily, conscious that she was rather soiled and untidy; but the youth seemed so anxious to propitiate her, and spoke so nicely of her brother (Dick was the idol of his family) that she relented a little, and graciously shook hands with him when they separated. Then she cantered home to, metaphorically, bring Dick to his knees.

Reggie's errand to Rossiter had been a delicate one. No less than to solicit a billet on his western station, where he would really have a chance of learning something about station management. Reggie was tired of the home bickering and wrangling; he was tired of the Sydney and Melbourne racketing. He felt some more worthy ambition stirring within him, and felt that if he ever wanted to stand well in Bell's bright eyes he must change his mode of life.

Approaching Rossiter on the present footing of the two families was a difficult task, but Reggie managed it somehow, and once the ice was broken; he explained, fairly lucidly, what he desired.

Rossiter was puzzled. He did not dislike the young fellow, and would gladly have helped him; but it looked like taking sides in a private family quarrel, and he was the last man to do that. He told Reggie that if he would ride over in a couple of days he would give him an answer, meaning in the interim to take Grainger's advice on the matter. The western station was managed by a cousin of his, a thoroughly competent, practical man, and he felt that a year or two under such tuition would probably be the making of the young man.

Reggie rode homewards in good spirits. He had made his peace with Rossiter, Bell had condescended to smile on him, and he would see her again perhaps in a couple of days. The successful explorer had a complete triumph, although Dick made a villainous pretence of believing that old Dan procured the pistol and stirrup-iron and planted them there to please her—a suggestion which nearly reduced her to tears of indignation.

Everybody in turn visited the bushranger's cave, and the news of its discovery spread to the neighbouring township, much to Dan's disgust, whose solitude was invaded and his jealousy aroused, for he looked on the cave as Bell's properly, and resented the intrusion of visitors as trespassers, and had serious thoughts of destroying the ladder.

He had, however, one great satisfaction. Whenever a party had visited the cave, and, according to the custom of the vulgar Anglo-Saxon all over the world, had inscribed their obscure names or initials on some prominent part, he carefully erased them again; and when some more ambitious youth attempted to put his name on a conspicuous place on the cliff and fell down and broke three ribs and his collar-bone Dan rejoiced with unholy joy, although he bandaged the sufferer up and helped him home.

VII

WHEN Reggie reached the paternal station be found Lee there, and his father and brother in a high state of elation. The lode had been struck, and Old Blacklock was announcing his intentional of proceeding to Melbourne forthwith, and floating a company. His affability had returned with a prospect of deliverance from his financial troubles, and he greeted his son as though difference was forgotten, and on his side, forgiven. In imagination, he was already trampling on the vanquished form of Rossiter.

Some of the richest specimens were obtained, and the old man started for Melbourne, snuffing the battle of company promoting, for the game was familiar to him, and he had formerly made more or less dishonest money at it Before Blacklock started Reggie obtained permission to go on an extended trip to the west to gain experience. So the other son, Vernon, was left in charge of Rotta-rotta and its dying flocks, and he duly celebrated the occasion.

Bell was much more gracious the next time Reggie called. Rossiter had consented to the arrangement, and when Bell found that her brother asked him to stay to lunch, and was going to assist him to get on independently, she affected to take some interest in his conversation.

'But he's not nearly so nice nor entertaining as old Dan,' she owned afterwards.

Reports of Blacklock's progress were duly wired to the township and published in the local newspaper, and the inhabitants began to put fancy prices on their allotments. Presently an expert arrived, who was rumored to be the most scientific metallurgist on the continent, and who was certainly an accomplished whisky-drinker.

So clever was he that the most superficial examination sufficed, and he returned to the township and wrote out a marvellous report extolling the value and surpassing richness of the find in language of Oriental fervor. The promoters were joyous, and some capitalists were prepared to invest largely on condition that an expert of their own sending reported on the property. This was agreed to, and expert No. 2 went up. He was a silent man, and remained some days on the workings. Then he sent down a report which simply blew the whole concern kite-high. The lode was of no size, and unreliable; the geological surroundings were not favorable; the yield would not pay half the expenses.

Blacklock was utterly ruined. The shares he held in other speculations were unsalable; his creditors, who had been holding back during the booming of the lode, now closed in on him, and his fall was complete and headlong. He wrote to his son Vernon to hand over the station to whoever was sent up by the mortgagees, and then come down with his mother. Then he set himself down to see if he could not rescue something from the wreck.

Vernon had been drinking heavily. When his father's letter arrived he was on the verge of delirium tremens, and the message of ruin unseated his reason. He got up early one morning, prepared to carry out a scheme of vengeance that through many sleepless nights tortured with hideous visions had been maturing in his crazed brain.

The morning was breaking sultry and sullen when he mounted and rode away, laughing to himself in a mad, mirthless manner. A hot wind commenced to blow; it was the very day for his purpose; the mortgagees might take delivery of lines of ruined fences and a scorched area of charred ground. He was methodical in his insanity, and marked out the line of destruction he intended to start. True, the paddocks were comparatively grassless, but with the fallen leaves and bark and a strong hot wind the fire would travel and accomplish his purpose of destroying the remaining stock and the fences.

The men on Rotta-rotta, on Carlingford, and the dwellers at the Oasis saw a black cloud of smoke rising and coming angrily towards them. All possible precaution against the invasion had long since been taken, and would have sufficed against an ordinary fire, but this approaching conflagration was of such formidable extent and backed up by a fierce rising wind that it threatened to overleap all obstacles and consume everything before it.

The forest was ablaze; the foliage, dried by months of sun and hot winds, shrivelled, scorched, and crackled, then took fire as the advancing flames passed beneath them; all hollow and pipey trees caught at once, and the fire roared up aloft through their trunks, and spouted redly from every hollow limb above. The madman had done his work well.

On Rotta-rotta the men soon gave up all hopes of doing anything but saving the homestead itself, and this they barely succeeded in doing by dint of exhausting labor. The Oasis escaped; the long stretch of bare and cleared country around it turned the fire, and it went on, leaping up the range, raging and rioting amongst the dried ferns and bushes and the more inflammable trees.

Then Grainger mounted Chevalier, and rode over the smoking ground to see how Carlingford had fared. There ample precautions had been taken, but it required all the incessant labor of Rossiter and every man and boy on the place to hold the enemy at bay; in fact, much precious grass had to be offered up, a burnt offering, to make a gap to prevent the assailing flames from gaining foothold.

'Angie!' called out Rossiter to has eldest sister, who, with the women, was carrying water to the perspiring and hard worked men. 'Why does not Bell come and help? Send Winnie, too, if she's there.'

He spoke somewhat irritably, for he was heated with his exertions.

'Bell and Winnie went up the range early this morning,' replied his sister.

'Good God! What folly.' He glanced towards the range, and saw the fire commencing to ascend the base.

'Dan will look after them,' he said; 'he's too old a hand to be caught.'

'Dan passed here, going into the township early this morning,' replied Angie.

Rossiter struck his thigh with his fist. He was on horseback, having just returned from a threatened outpost. He looked around. The fire had been turned, and was now well nigh past them. His overseer could see to it. Giving some short instructions to his sister to convey to him, he started to race the fire up the range.

The divergence caused by the Carlingford paddocks had divided the fire into two bodies. They were again travelling towards each other, and if he could get through the gap before the two fires met he would be in time.

Fortunately, he was well mounted on a strong horse, and as he raced and scrambled on, up and up his hopes began to rise; the fires were travelling fast, but he was outpacing them. It was a neck and neck race. There was but little room between him and the threatening enemy closing in on each side when he shot out and let his horse break into a trot and get his wind after the desperate up-hill burst. He first made for Dan's camp, but it was quite untenanted. The girls had taken the old dog with them for a ramble.

The bushranger's cave was his next goal, and he set off along the now plainly marked track, the fire, roaring in his ear. Half-way there he espied the girls ahead. Evidently they had been frightened; and were hiding to the cave for refuge.

He shouted to them, and increased his pace. They turned, and as they did so his horse blundered on a rock, and fell heavily, coming on his rider's leg. As Bell and Winnie raced up to fright, the horse, a spirited animal, regained its feet, and with, a snort of alarm galloped madly homeward right in the direction of the advancing fire. Rossiter attempted to get up, but fell back with a groan. His leg was broken below the knee. The affrighted girls slipped from their saddles and bent over him, and the roaring and crackling of the flames drew ominously closer.

'Go to the cave quick,' cried Rossiter.

'What! And leave yon here?' said Winnie; 'Never.'

'Try and help me up, them.' They stooped on each side of him, and passing an arm around their young shoulders he got on to his feet or rather one foot 'Bell, we must make a chair, with our hands and carry Mm. We are strong enough.'

With a hand and wrist grasp they mode a seat in the well-known manner, and with their heavy burden managed to stumble slowly and painfully towards the cliff, with the dread pursuer at their heels. Fortunately the wind lulled a little, and it was with a heartfelt sigh of relief that the exhausted girls put their heavy patient down at the foot of the steps. Now was the difficulty of mounting before them, but Rossiter solved that.

'Put me up with my back against the rungs,' he said. 'Now, you two run up and get Dan's rope, and lower it down to me, then both of you must hang on to it like grim death, as far back from the edge as you can get, for if I pull hard I might pull one of you over the edge. Hurry, now, or we shall be roasted yet.'

Slowly, rung by rung, with the aid of his sound leg and the help of the rope held in the willing but cramped and strained hands of the girls, he reached the ledge, and was hauled into the cave just as the fire swept up to the cliff and died down.

Still the smoke was dense, and they were in danger of suffocating, but it passed and a friendly change of wind gave them some relief. The ponies had trotted away towards one end of the cliff, and doubtless would eventually find their way home. Rossiter lay back with his head on his sister's lap. He was feverish, and getting thirsty.

'As soon as it clears a bit I will go down to Dan's camp and get some water for you,' said Bell. 'Wasn't it lucky, Winn, we let the dear old dog go.'

'Yes,' replied Winnie, 'But I'll go for the water, Bell; you stop and look after your brother.'

'Don't trouble,' said Rossiter. 'Some of the men will be here directly; they are sure to have got horses and followed me.'

But Winn was already at the mouth of the cave. The ladder was intact, for it had been put on a flat patch of rock. Winnie went down, and along the track to the camp.

'Look out for falling trees!' had been the last caution Rossiter had shouted to her, so she went carefully avoiding any she saw still on fire. She was close to the camp when she was startled by a dismal wail proceeding from it. A long, melancholy howl. Dan's old dog must have dodged the fire among the rocks and returned to the deserted camp, but she had never heard him howl like that before. The camp had been swept bare by the fire; on the edge of where it had been, lay two forms, a man and horse, struck down by the falling limb of a tree; beside sat the old dog with upraised head, giving tongue to a mournful dirge.

Winn hastily approached, and as she stooped in horror, the dog licked her hand and howled once more. Death had been, mercifully instantaneous. The man's face was calm and peaceful. It was her father and old Chevalier. His life of abnegation was ended.

VIII

ROSSITER and Bell waited patiently in the cave for Winn's return. Time passed, and Rossiter grew anxious.

'We ought not to have let her go,' he said, fretfully. Almost immediately a man's shout was heard below. Bell went to the entrance and answered it. The man, who was Carter, the overseer, rode up.

'Seen anything of your brother, Miss Bell?' he cried out, hastily dismounting, and running up the steps.

'Yes, he is here, but he has broken his leg.'

Carter came in and spoke to Rossiter.

'There's been a bad accident,' he said. 'Mr. Grainger and his horse, killed by a limb on Dan's camp.'

'And his daughter? Have you seen her?'

'Yes; we found her in a faint beside him, with the old dog licking her face and howling.'


WHEN Grainger reached Carlingford he found the work of defence ended, and the fire under command. He was talking to Angela Rossiter, who was about to tell him of her brother's guest, when a cry of alarm came from some of the men.

A riderless horse cleared the fence, and came racing up snorting with terror. It was Rossiter's horse. Its knees were cut and bleeding, its mane singed, and its nostrils black with ashes. The reins were broken and one stirrup-leather gone. Angela burnt out crying, and the men started down the home paddock to bring up what horses were in.

'The horse may have got away from him,' said Grainger soothingly to Angela; 'don't say anything to your mother just now.'

'Where did he go to?' he said to Carter, who stood by him with a bridle in his hand.

'After the young ladies. They went up the range this morning, and he went up when it was on fire, to look after them.'

'Come after me as soon as ever you can,' said Grainger, and mounting Chevalier he rode quickly away to Dan's camp, then to the cave. That was the way Rossiter would have taken, and he might be lying in agony under a burning log unable to move.

Chevalier breasted the range gaily, and the bare spot around Dam's camp was soon in sight. The fire had cleared the place, and he was close to it when there was a loud crack overhead. Chevalier gave a startled jump forward, right underneath the falling limb, and man and horse died together. Carter soon assembled the searchers; litters were made, and Rossiter and the dead body of Grainger carried to their respective homes. The next day steady rain set in, and in a fortnight the grass was springing green on the mound that covered Grainger.


POOR Winnifred had a hard lot laid on her young shoulders. Grainger's death had to be kept from the sick woman for the news might bring on another stroke; so she had to hide her grief, and appear as usual when with her mother.

The future looked black enough. The slender and intermittent income earned by her father's weary toil had just sufficed to keep them; and the prospect ahead was now a poor one. She felt sick at heart; and grew pale and thin.

Bell, too, was changed. Both girls blamed themselves for what had happened, for if they had taken heed of the fire approaching they could have been home long before it reached the foot of the range.

But Winnie had now another trouble to meet Her mother seemed to get brighter in her intellect, and demanded to see her husband. No excuses would suffice; if away, he must be sent for, and at once. The truth, or part of it, had to be broken to her.

At first it did not affect her as badly as they expected. She asked to see his grave, round which, by Rossiter's orders, a light iron rail had been placed and a stone put at the head. She was assisted to it, and gazed on the spot with tearless eyes.

Next morning, when Winnie visited her at daylight, she was dead, and they buried her beside her husband.

Then Mrs. Rossiter came over, and insisted on the lonely girl coming to Carlingford to stop with them.


TIME worked its cure, and Bella and she regained something of their old spirits. Rossiter's break healed up well and sound, and life went on as usual. Vernon Blacklock had been found a hopeless lunatic, and removed to an asylum; but of his brother favorable reports came in.

An important festival was approaching—nothing less than Bella's birthday. Old Dan, who had restored his demolished camp, came in on the morning of the auspicious day.

'Miss Bell,' he said, drawing her on one side, 'you remember my telling you I wanted to have the pick of the watches to make a present to a young woman I knew?'

'I do, Dan. And I've felt very curious to see her.'

'Well, Miss Bell, here's the watch, and—here's the young woman.'

Drawing forth a veritable old 'turnip,' be gravely presented it to her.

'Oh, Dan!' cried Bell, 'Did this really and truly come from the cave?'

'It did, and I found it there, luckily before all them jackeroos come poking around. I would have given it to you before, but, you see, it was that very day that all the trouble happened that I took it in to the township to be cleaned and fixed up. So I've scarcely had the heart to look at it since, for if I'd a been here, Mr. Rossiter would have trusted to me, and not have come looking after you; and Mr. Grainger he wouldn't have come after him.'

'Well, Dan,' said Bell, after a minute's sad silence over 'he might have been.'

'I shall prize this watch more than any present I shall get I won't promise to wear it always, because, you see, it's rather large for a lady; but I'll keep it wound up, and whenever I look at the time by it I shall think of you.'

'The man said that they were splendid works still,' assured Dan.

'And Dan,' went on Bell, as they shook hands, 'I can assure you I am very proud of being that young woman. I was getting quite jealous of the creature.'

The gratified old fellow went off chuckling.


THE Oasis is still an oasis, and is neatly kept as ever, but Mr. and Mrs. Jock are about to move into the cottage, for Winnie will soon leave it to become Mrs. Rossiter.

Big Harry and his mate long kept a lookout for the queer old traveller who made their camp so gay one night; but they never met him, needless to say.


05. -- ON THE ISLAND OF SHADOWS

Evening News, Sydney, 7 Nov 1896

THIS is the story told by Eugene Tripot, convict from New Caledonia, of what happened to him during the boat voyage when he had succeeded in making his escape.

He died in the hospital at Hong-Kong, insane, having lost his reason through the suffering and privation he went through on that occasion.

He had lucid intervals, during which he repeatedly told this story, and insisted on its truth.

He was rescued from a sandy islet on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Northern Queensland, by a China steamer taking the outside passage. He had been cast away there for some weeks, living on trepang and shell-fish.

Nothing was seen to in any way bear out this story.


"THREE of us alone between sea and sky—three men with a wolf inside each, wolves that looked at each other out of our eyes. Gronard crouched in the bottom of the boat, gnawing at a piece of wood; Pelrine sat at the stern, with his sheath-knife in his hand, digging savagely at the thwart; I was sitting in the bow.

"The sail flapped idly at every little swing and roll of the boat, just as it had flapped during the last fortnight, never once bellying out.

"Beside us three there was the sun—the sun that hated us so. Hot and eager it rose in the morning—hot and eager to drink our blood. With anger that we should be still alive, it set in the evening. Gronard cursed the sun, Pelrine cursed the sun, and I cursed the sun.

"That was all we did from morning to night. It was all we had to do. It is bad for men to sit silent all day, only speaking to curse the sun, for then the wolf rages and breaks out.

"It broke forth in Pelrine, sitting digging his knife in the thwart, and suddenly he sprang upon Gronard. He would have sprung upon me, just the same, if I had happened to be next to him, for it was the wolf that sprung, not Pelrine, for Pelrine was always a good-hearted man.

"Gronard was taken at a disadvantage, but he was the strongest of us three, and grappled with Pelrine, and in the struggle the boat lurched, and both fell over the side. I saw them go down, down, in the clear water, turning and twisting, and all I thought was, 'They do not feel the sun down there.'

"They never rose, for I saw what looked like long flashes of white light dart at them, and I knew that the sharks that had kept us company so long had them for their sport at last.

"When I raised my head there was a ripple coming fast across the water. If Pelrine's wolf had not broken out just then both he and Gronard would be alive now. I went to the tiller and the sail filled, and the boat moved for the first time for two weeks.

"West was our course—anywhere west, to the great continent that reached for two thousand miles north and south. Merrily blew the wind, and in the evening there were clouds ahead, and a black thunderstorm flashed and muttered in the distance. All through the night there was the pleasant rip and gurgle of water.

"But the wolf gnawed still.

"Morning! and ahead of me I saw white water, but no land. It mattered little whether I died by the wolf or the wave, and I kept straight on. As I got closer to the breakers I saw there was a low, sandy mound visible, with some low bushes growing on it, and to this I steered.

"The northern side looked to be the smoothest, and I endeavoured to make that side; for though there was no sea, the wind having been but light, the sweep and rush of the Pacific rollers was tremendous, and when they broke upon this submerged wall of coral and recoiled broken and shattered, the very air seemed to tremble.

"At the northernmost point of the islet the turmoil seemed less, though the rollers were as big; but the passage was deep enough to let them pass through and expend their fury in a sullen swirl over the flats beyond.

"As I approached I was caught in one of the rollers and swept on with it, with great force and fury. We mounted on the crest of it, and then fell with a rush that made me feel sick. Next moment the boat was dashed on the beach, and I was flung unhurt beside it.

"Then the roller swept back and left us, the broken boat and myself, on the sand.

"It was a miserable little patch of dry land indeed, and when I had rested a little I commenced to examine it, first directing my steps to the low bushes on the highest part. I found it to be a ring of scrub surrounding a depression filled with water. I crashed through the bushes and stooped to drink, scarcely daring to hope that it would be fresh. It was, or at least fairly so, for the spray from the breakers drifted over into it.

"I drank, and the wolf was quiet for a bit, while I lay on the sand and looked around. A line of tossing white ran north and south—the line I had passed through—but to the west was a still sea, broken here and there in patches of shining foam, but mostly still, and of light, transparent green colour. The tide was falling, and by midday there were bare spots of coral showing.

"I went down and searched for shell-fish, or anything left by the tide. I found what was better than all—plenty of the sea-slugs known as trepang. I soon had a quantity collected, and having the means of making a fire, I spent the rest of the day in cooking and eating; and again the wolf crouched for a time.

"That night I slept soundly after the cramped space of the boat, and when the wolf clamoured at daylight I arose. It was a strange thing to be standing there alone on that patch of sand, with the wall of tireless breakers on one side, that looked far above me, as though when they fell they would overwhelm my refuge.

"I fed on trepang, and passed the day idly resting, for now I had tamed the wolf within me. I longed for my companions, but they were in the bellies of the sharks.

"When darkness came I lay down and slept, but awoke in the middle of the night, dreaming that I heard strange sounds, I listened, and at first heard nothing but the boom and crash of the breakers; but presently I heard low voices and the crunching tread of feet on the coral sand. I leapt to my feet, but could see nothing. I called, but got no answer; and still, distinctly, I heard the sound of voices and the tread of feet.

"I hastily traversed the island, but saw nothing, only at times I heard the voices talking, and though I called and called again, none answered me. Then there was silence, and plainly I heard the click and grind of steel meeting steel, the tramp, and quickened breathing of two combatants; and still I saw nothing.

"Suddenly the clashing came quicker and sharper, as though there was a hotly-contested rally, and following it came a fall on the sand, and then a cry in a woman's voice, and a peal of musical laughter. There was low whispering, and the steps died away, heavy and slow, as though they carried a burden, and then there was no sound but the thunder of the tireless billows.

"I scarcely felt frightened—I had been living far too long hand in hand with death. I felt curious, and if terrified at all it was more at the idea that it had been a fancy of my brain—that it was my wits were failing me, for I knew well that loneliness serves some men thus.

"All was quiet for the remainder of the night, and in the morning there were no signs nor tracks of any person but myself.

"Now, although I heard the voices, the tongue that they spoke in was strange to me, but I thought it was Spanish, from the way that I had heard old comrades of mine talk together who were Spaniards.

"Next night the ghosts were there again, and once more the duel, as I took it, was fought on that solitary speck of sand in the great ocean, to the music of the surf.

"That was a strange, unreal life—by day to pace the sandy shore and listen to the waves, and talk to myself, or gather and cook the trepang that supported me; by night to hear the crunch of the sand under unseen feet, and the quick clash of the blades. But stranger still was to come.

"I bethought me, from what information I had gathered, that this reef was the great reef that lay off the coast of Queensland, and that inside, between it and the mainland, ships and steamers were constantly passing up and down.

"My boat was too shattered to admit of my trusting myself in it to the ocean, but could I not patch it up sufficiently to carry me in the still-water channels of the reef? I would only have to keep due west to come out somewhere on the edge of the frequented passage.

"To this end I took to exploring the reef westward as far as I could go during low tide. The second day I came across a submerged object lying on the edge of a deep channel—the wreck of a ship. At low water it was partly uncovered, and the gaunt ribs showed above the surface for some height. It was an ancient hulk, encrusted with marine growth and barnacles. Only the heart of the timber remained; but that was as hard as flint.

"They built stout ships in the days when she left her bones there. She was firmly wedged on the ledge of a reef, and must have been carried to where she lay in some tempest of extraordinary fury. How many years had she been there, and of what nation she was, I had no means of judging just then.

"But day after day I visited her, and in time found that out; I mustered courage to dive down and examine her below the water-mark of low tide. It was not the depth that required courage, but strange things had found their home amidst the waving growth around her. The banded yellow and black sea-snakes of those parts swam in and out, hideous shell-fish with staring eyes and long feelers hid amongst the beams, and, for aught I knew, some loathsome octopus might be lurking in his lair there.

"I pushed on farther and farther by degrees, until I found many casks still preserving their shape and outline, having something within that was of great weight. I burst one open, and inside was tarnished metal so covered with growth and slime that it was impossible to say what it was. After many efforts I broke off a portion of it to examine at my leisure. It was a lump of silver dollars, welded together by marine growth, and discoloured by long submergence.

"I sat aghast at the thought of all those casks there being filled with coin—silver coin—ay, and why not some of them gold? I stood ankle deep in the salt water and looked around. A sea of light and shadow, calm and glassy, of ever-changing colour. Beyond, the restless tossing wall of white froth and foam.

"I had wealth—all I desired of it—in my grasp; and this was my domain.

"Was ever man so situated? When my turn came to die, should I join those ghosts on the isle, who must have been the men who sailed on this treasure-ship. There was blood on these coins, else why were they here, why was that nightly duel fought, what brought this ship so far south of her course?

"I returned to the island and cleaned the coins I held, scrubbed them with sand, and picked them apart with the knife that Pelrine had dropped when he went overboard. They were Spanish dollars, dated 1624 and a few years later.

"In successive journeys I examined some more of the casks, and found that one smaller one was full of gold, and doubtless there were more. It was better they should remain where they were, safer in every way, until I found a way out of my present position. Such a position in every way. With untold riches lying beneath a few feet of salt water of no more value than the leagues of coral north and south of me.

"And if I escaped and gained my fellow men, of what avail would be my treasure to an escaped convict, who might at any moment be seized and returned to the living death I had fled from. My wealth alone would draw notice to me if I sought to enjoy it. At any rate, I determined to try and escape. I could decide afterwards about the treasure. Perhaps I should be able to purchase my freedom with some of it.

"I determined to wait till the moon was full (it being then half), as it would enable me to make use of the low tide at all hours, and it would also allow me time to patch up my boat, which I commenced to overhaul that day.

"I slept soundly the first part of the night, and awoke as usual at the tread of the ghosts. The moon hung low in the west, and I saw—yes, saw that night the apparitions that haunted that tiny isle.

"The night was clear, save for some angry-looking clouds in the cast, and the setting moon shone with spectral light over the still, shallow waters of the reef. The tide was low, and the passage I had passed through practicable for a well-manned boat with a skilful steersman.

"But was it the ghosts I saw? Half a mile out, or less, lay a ship with lights both in her rigging and streaming through her ports. A boat lay off the edge of the island, and I thought I heard another rowing in from the ship.

"I had no fear, and approached the group gathered on the sand. They were talking seriously, and, though the language was the same as I had always heard, I could now understand every word as though it was my own.

"They took no notice of me as I came near; I spoke to them, but received no answer; I laid my hand on one's arm, and I did not feel him. My sense of touch was dead, my voice was inaudible, my presence invisible. For the time being we had changed places, and the ghosts were the substantial beings and I the impalpable shape.

"There were five of them, all richly dressed in the fashion of two hundred years ago. One was an elderly man of dignified appearance, and the other, who seemed his opponent, was a very handsome young gallant.

"'Before we meet, Don Herrera, and I send your soul to keep company with those of all the traitors since Judas hung himself,' said the elder man in a voice of deep hate, 'I would say something that these gentlemen may remember concerning you.

"'You, a trusted officer of his Majesty, have tampered with the marines of my ship. You tempted them to mutiny, but your vile plot was discovered, and your dupes hung on the yardarm, where you, too, would be hung, King's officer though you be, and noble to boot, but that I reserved you for my own hand.

"'You, who came on my ship as an honoured guest, honoured on account of your standing as my Master's officer, although I knew you for a ruined profligate.

"'You, in your greed for the gold and silver in yon ship, conspired against me, led weak men on to their death, and, above all, sought to dishonour me in a way that only death will wipe out. I would not slay you on my own deck, for death by my hand only would suffice, but I vowed that the first dry land we saw should witness the death of one of us. This spot will serve, and we need not wait for daylight.

"'I call upon you all to hear that this man is a perjured traitor, whom I greatly honour by descending to cross swords with him.'

"The young man answered not, only by an insolent smile, then tossed his hat down, and drew his sword.

"During the time the captain was speaking the other boat arrived at the beach, and two people left and came to us, a priest and a woman. They stopped close to where I was standing, and I saw the most exquisite face illumined by the level moon that I ever saw in my life.

"The priest was dressed in the soutane and broad-brimmed hat of his profession, and looked ill at ease, but his companion flashed a bold glance from her dark eyes at the younger combatant that at once told me the guilty secret, and why the captain had not hung him at the yardarm, but brought him to this patch of sand to kill him himself.

"The fight commenced, warily and cautiously at first, but the two men soon warmed to their work, and then I saw the murderous trick of the young man. He was forcing the old man round, so that he should face the deceitful glare of the setting moon. Bit by bit he accomplished his object; then there was a quick, sharp interchange, and the captain fell, pierced through the body.

"'Bravo!' cried the woman standing by me, and she laughed merrily.

"I shuddered, and the priest darted from her side and knelt beside the dying man. He, too, had heard that devilish laugh, and lifted his head and gazed at his destroyer. He spoke, and his voice was clear and distinct.

"'Behold the judgment of the wicked is close at hand. The gold you plotted for shall never be yours; the beauty you lusted for shall be food for fishes. You shall not linger long behind me.'

"He fell back, as the edge of the ghostly yellow moon kissed the water's edge, its dying rays lighting up the scene of horror, the silent men, the recumbent figure, the dark-robed kneeling priest, holding on high the crucifix; the white sand gleaming out from that great waste of water.

"Suddenly a flash of lightning, accompanied by a peal of thunder, made everyone start. The clouds had banked up in masses to the east, and were covering the face of the heavens. The party hurried off to the boats, taking the captain's body with them, the white breakers were already leaping high, and they quickly pushed off.

"I watched them as they pulled to the passage, and saw the rollers rushing towards them. Then the darkness fell, but out of that darkness rung out cries of despair, and high above all a woman's shriek, the death-shriek of the woman who had laughed at her dying husband. Next instant the tempest burst, and caught the doomed ship. I saw her lights coming closer; saw them, then lost them; then saw them again, and then I knew that she was in the breakers.

"They beat her with successive blows, and hurled her into the passage, a dismasted wreck; hurried her on with the rushing water as the tempest burst in the blackness and fury inconceivable, hiding all things from my view.

"I opened my eyes to a soft, balmy morning, and found myself lying in my usual place on the sand. No sign of the recent storm was visible, my clothes were dry, the sea calm, and the surf lower than usual. Bewildered, I looked around, scarcely believing my eyes. I looked again at the sea, noting how impossible it was for that to have gone down in an hour or two, and as I looked I saw a steamer.

"Instantly the uncontrollable longing to see my fellow-men seized me.

"I made my fire up with a mad haste, piled on it planks torn from my boat, and branches torn hastily from the bushes. A straight column of smoke ascended, and I was seen at once. The steamer stood in, and a boat was lowered. I rushed into the water to meet it. Fear, such as I had never felt in silent, lonely nights, overcame me.

"'Take me from the ghosts!' I cried, as I scrambled in the boat, and fell insensible."


"THIS IS a hospital, and they think me mad but the wreck of the Spanish ship is there."


06. -- MALCHOOK'S DOOM

A STORY OF THE NICHOLSON RIVER

The Bulletin, Sydney, 23 Jan 1892

IT was Malchook who told the beginning of this story, and Malchook was supposed to be the biggest liar in the Gulf of Carpentaria, which is equivalent to saying that he was the biggest liar in the world. However, it was on record that he told the truth sometimes—when he was in a blue funk, for instance—and on this occasion his state of funk was a dazzling purple—blue was no name for it.

We were camped on the Nicholson for the wet season. The cattle had been turned out and we had pretty hard work to keep them together, for, after the rain set in and the country got boggy, the niggers commenced playing up and we had to keep going. It was raining cats and dogs that night and we were all huddled together round the fire under a bit of a bark lean-to which we had put up. Malchook was away—his horses were absent that morning and he had been away all day after them. It was about eight o'clock when we heard him coming; he had found his horses and was driving them right up to the camp. Then, instead of hobbling them, he got a bridle and a halter, caught them and tied them up to a tree.

Some of the fellows sang out to him to know what he was doing, but he took no notice, and, after turning out the horse he had been riding, came up to the fire and told Reeve (the boss) that he wanted a word with him. Reeve got up, and the two went over to his tent. Presently Malchook emerged, went over to where his duds were under the tarpaulin that had been rigged up over the rations, and commenced to roll them up. Reeve came back to the fire.

"What's up?" asked Thomas, Reeve's cousin.

"Only that fellow wants to leave to-night straight away, so I gave him his cheque and told him to slide as soon as he liked; he's no great loss anyway."

"What does he want to leave for?"

"Says the camp is 'doomed,' and he is going to put as many miles as possible between himself and us before our fate overtakes us."

There was a general laugh, and just then Malchook came out with his swag and commenced to saddle up in the pouring rain. There was a good moon, nearly full, although of course it was not visible.

The fellows commenced chaffing him, for he was not a favourite; too all-round a liar. He stood it without a word until he was ready to mount then he got on his horse and, turning round, said "Laugh away; this time to-morrow I'll have the laugh of you; this camp is doomed!" He stuck the spurs in his horse and disappeared—swish, swish, swish, through the bog down the bank of the river, and we heard him swearing at his pack-horse as he crossed the sand.

There was much laughter and wonderment at what had sent Malchook "off his chump," but eccentricity was common in those days, from various causes, and presently we all turned in.

I was sleeping under the tarpaulin where the rations were stored, and about two o'clock in the morning I suddenly awoke. It was brilliant moonlight, the wind had changed and the rain ceased, only a little scud was flitting across the sky, giving the moon that strange appearance that everybody must occasionally have noticed—as though she was travelling at express rate through an archipelago of cloudlets. Some impulse made me get out from under the mosquito-net and go to the opening at the end of the tarpaulin and look out.

Everything was very still and quiet; all the horses were camped, for not a bell could be heard, and I stood for some time aimlessly listening and looking at the glistening pools of water lying on the flat between our camp and the bank when suddenly I distinctly heard a human voice in the bed of the river. I waited for a moment to make sure, then I got my Martini and a couple of cartridges and sneaked towards the river. Last full-moon the niggers had nearly clubbed the cook in his mosquito-nets when he was sleeping outside the tent one night; this time, I thought, it would be a case of the bitten bit.

About a hundred yards from the camp I stopped and listened; the voice was much nearer, it was a white man's, it was Malchook's, and he was kicking his knocked-up horse along and dragging the pack-horse after him. I waited behind a tree until he was close up, and then I stepped out. I was only in my shirt, with the carbine in my hand.

"Great God!" he cried, with a kind of choke, "he's here again!"

"What the devil is up with you?" I said; "why didn't you stop away when you went? Got bushed, I suppose, and the horses brought you back?"

He sat on his horse and panted for a few minutes without speaking; then he said: "That infernal old nigger wouldn't let me go. He hunted me back. I've got to share your fate, so let's get it over."

He jabbed his heels in his horse's ribs, but I stopped him. "Don't wake the camp up," I said. "What nigger do you mean?"

"The nigger that Jacky the Span and I roasted in the spinifex. He's headed me back every road I've tried, and I give it up. Let me turn the horses out, and try and get a wink of sleep."

Jacky the Span was an old blackguard of a Mexican who had been knocked on the head about six months before. Everybody said he richly deserved it, and everybody was right.

"When were you up here with Jacky Span?" I asked.

"About two years ago; the time Bratten was killed; but let me turn out the horses and I'll tell you all about it."

We went quietly back to camp, let the tired horses go, and then Malchook laid down on his blankets alongside of me. The tarpaulin was rigged some distance from the other tents, and the boys were done-up and sleeping sound, so nobody awoke. This is what Malchook told me:

Two years before, he and the old Mexican had come up to join Bratten in mustering some horses that had got away from the lower part of the river and were supposed to be knocking about below the first gorge. Like most half-breeds, Jacky the Span (short for Spaniard) was a most inhuman brute towards the natives whenever he got a chance, and Malchook, being a blowhard and a bully, was naturally of the same cowardly disposition—most liars are. One day they spotted an old man and a young gin at the foot of a spinifex ridge that runs in on the Upper Nicholson. I knew the place—real old man spinifex that would go through a leather legging. They rounded the old black up on the top of the ridge, but missed the gin, and Jacky Span said he would make the man find her or he should suffer, and Malchook, in order to keep up his reputation as a flash man and a real old Gulf hand, aided and abetted him.

I suppose the poor devil was too frightened to understand what they really wanted, but, anyhow, all the half-caste devilry, which is the worst devilry in the world, was roused in the Mexican, and Malchook followed suit.

They selected a bank of old man spinifex, and rolled the naked nigger in it for sport. Now, spinifex is beastly poisonous stuff; get your shins well pricked, and it is worse than any amount of mosquito-bites for irritating you and making you itch. Horses will not face it after a day or two in really bad country, and if you run your hand down their shins you will soon see the reason why. Every little prick festers, and their legs are covered with tiny boils and ulcers after a few days in bad spinifex. The niggers always burn it ahead of them before they travel through it. Out in the real Never-Never they have regular tracks that they keep burnt down.

By the time they had rolled this nigger in the spinifex for some minutes, he must have been in a raging hell of torment; and he knew no more what they wanted with him than he did at the start. Then, according to Malchook, Jacky rolled him into a big bank of dry stuff—they had tied his feet together—and set fire to it. Spinifex is rare stuff to burn, it is full of turpentine, and burns with a fierce heat and a black smoke, so the old nigger was well roasted and when it burnt out they rolled him into another and set that alight. A gust of wind sprung up and started the whole ridge ablaze, and the gin, who had been hidden close by, watching them, sprang out and ran for it, and Jacky Span picked up the old man's club and took after her. He was away about half-an-hour; meantime the old fellow died, groaning awfully, and Malchook began to feel as if he had better have let things alone.

Presently, Jacky Span came back with the club in his hand—big two-handed clubs they use out on the Nicholson—and showed Malchook some blood and hair on it, and laughed like a devil. No need to repeat here all he said.

Now, if Malchook had there and then blown a government road through the brute, there might have been some chance of repentance left for him, but he didn't. He sniggered and let Jacky Span tell him all about it, and camped with him for weeks afterwards. Jacky Span was killed, as I said before, and Malchook assured me, in a sweating blue funk when he spoke, that just at dark he had met his horses coming back, with the old roasted nigger behind driving them. He went on to say that this thing had followed him right up to the river and shrieked at him that he would die in the camp. Then he went on to tell that when he tried to get away from the camp that night the old nigger had met him at every point of the compass, so at last he gave it up and came back.

Now, I knew that there had been an importation of brandy lately into the Gulf country, generally known as the "possum brand," each bottle of which was calculated to make a man see more devils than any six bottles of any other brand. It was very popular, for it would eat holes in a saddle-cloth, so I concluded that Malchook had got hold of some of it, for one of the fellows had returned from Burketown that day. This would account for the ghost of the blackfellow, but the rest of the yarn about Jacky Span I knew to be true, so I told Malchook to clear out and sleep somewhere else—I wouldn't have him under the same tarpaulin with me. He begged and prayed to be allowed to remain, but I told him I would wake the camp and tell everything if he didn't go, so he went, sobbing bitterly. I explained to him that the best thing he could do was to shoot himself; that a man who could follow the lead of a miserable half-caste out of pure flashness was too contemptible to live, but he didn't appreciate my kindness, and slouched away to a bit of a sand-hump about 150 yards from the camp, and I saw him throw his blankets down and then lie down on them. I got into my bunk again and went fast asleep in two minutes.

Reeve woke me up. It was broad daylight. "The niggers were here last night," he said. "Did you hear anything?"

"No," I replied; "but Malchook came back; I saw him."

"Yes. They knocked him on the head—bashed his skull in. He was sleeping out under that tree. I suppose he was ashamed to wake us up."

"Nobody hear anything?" I asked.

"Not a sound. There are the traces of about six niggers coming out of the river towards the camp, and they must have stumbled right on top of Malchook. Poor devil! Polished him off and cleared out. The camp was doomed for him, after all."

I concluded to say nothing, beyond having seen Malchook come back and speaking to him. Sometimes I wonder whether I was not responsible for his death by hunting him away from the camp, but I always console myself with the reflection that he only got what he deserved.


07. -- THE RED LAGOON

The Bulletin, Sydney, 23 April, 1892

'WHERE are you going to camp to-night?' asked Mac, the bullocky, as I stopped to have a yarn for a few minutes, on my road down from the tableland.

'I was going to push on to the Red Lagoon; there's good feed there, I hear.'

'Hanged if I'd camp there by myself for any money.'

'Why? Are the blacks bad?'

'No fear, it's the safest place in the North. No nigger will come within ten miles of it.'

'What's up then; devil-devil?'

'So they say, perhaps you'll see if you camp there tonight. I had a mate nearly frightened into the horrors there once. It took nearly a case of whisky to get him straight again. Well, I must be moving. So long!'

Mac straightened his bullocks up, and I resumed my journey.

It was sundown when I got to the Red Lagoon—so called from a small reddish weed that covered its surface. There was beautiful feed there, and I felt that all the spooks in the world should not prevent me turning out for the night and giving my horses a good show. It was dark before I finished tea, for the twilights are short in tropical Queensland; I had made up a comfortable bed of grass and having fixed up everything snug, lay down for a good smoke. It was a moonless night, and quite calm. Only for the clink of the hobble chains, the tinkle of the bell, and an occasional snort from my horses, there was not a sound to be heard. One has to camp out alone night after night in the bush to thoroughly appreciate the companionship of a horse. As it grew a little chilly I poked up the fire, made myself comfortable under the blankets, and went off into the sleep of the just.

I must have dreamt that I was fighting alligators at the mouth of the Albert River, and that a fearful splashing was going on; at least, that was the impression under which I drowsily came to my senses.

The splashing still continued, however, and came from the lagoon.

'One of the horses has got in and can't get out,' was my first thought, and I jumped up and went in the direction of the sound. All was still when I reached the bank, and by the light of the stars the surface appeared placid and unruffled. Then, for the first time, a superstitious thrill went through me, but I soon shook it off, and, after listening a little longer, I returned to my camp, renewed the fire, and went to see if my horses were all right. The tinkle of the bell in the distance guided me to them; and I found them feeding greedily and contentedly. I remained with them during the time I smoked the heel of a pipe just to get myself into a proper 'daylight' frame of mind, then went back to my blankets.

It was a little while 'ere I went off to sleep, for an owl gave me a start by suddenly commencing to bark right over my head. However, I did drop off and dreamt a very strange dream, I call it a dream, but to me it seemed real enough at the time.

I was awakened, so I thought, once more by the splashing, but this time I had somehow no inclination to inquire into the cause of it. Presently it ceased, and I heard something come stumbling towards my camp. Still I felt neither fear nor any desire to move. The object came into the circle of light and squatted by the fire.

It was an elderly white man, with a remarkably long, grey beard. He was bare-headed, and his shirt and trousers were wet through and clung to him. But that was not all. His head and beard were covered with blood, one eye had been smashed in, and spear-wounds were visible in his cheeks and neck. As to his body, one could not tell, but his shirt was blood-soaked, and the blood dripped from his wrists as he held his hands towards the fire. It was not until I had fully taken in all those details and the hideously gashed face, with its one eye, looked at me across the fire, that terror—unreasoning terror—over-mastered me. Then I felt an impulse to yell and jump up, but I was dumb and powerless. The thing arose, and glaring at me with its single eye, suddenly rang a furious peal on a horse-bell.

This broke the charm. I started up; it was broad daylight, the horses had fed back close to camp, and the one with the bell on was just giving himself a vigorous shake.


'WHAT'S the yarn about the Red Lagoon?' I asked Jack Sullivan, the super of the station, where I camped next night.

'Well,' he said, 'there is a yarn about it, and a very stupid one, too. Why do you ask, you camped there last night. See anything?'

I told him I had been awakened by some mysterious splashing in the lagoon.

'Fish. Lots of big ones there; always jump on dark nights. This is the yarn, some of it, of course, is true—it's a matter of history: You know, this country was settled early in the sixties, and afterwards abandoned; all the stations thrown up and the district deserted. This run was one of them, although the old homestead was in a different place. There was a deuce of a lot of 'dispersing,' and cattle-killing going on, and the then manager and some others caught a lot of blacks—all sorts and sexes—at the Red Lagoon, and made short work of the crowd. The blacks, of course, took to the water and were most of them shot in it. Now comes in the embroidery. The lagoon was said to have been quite clear then and has since become covered with the red weed that gives it its name. A natural process I have often witnessed where no one has been killed.

'The super, an elderly man, was afterwards killed by the blacks when camped at the same place. Some of them have since confessed that he took to the water and that they hunted him from side to side until he died. Anyhow, it's true that he was found half in the water, with his head and face frightfully battered, and spear wounds all over. From what I know of them I should say that he was knocked on the head when asleep, and that they then chopped him about and threw his body in the lagoon.'

'Do the blacks ever camp there now?'

'No. But that is not singular. They nearly always shun a place where they have murdered a white man. I know of many instances.'


08. -- THE LAST MESSAGE

Evening News, Sydney, Sydney, 16 Dec 1899

I

THE late owner of Dorimount Downs looked sadly over the somewhat spacious landscape visible from the homestead verandah. The brand of the drought was over it all, and dead stock, dry waterholes, and ruin seemed to be written across the face of it. It was not an inviting outlook, but still he loved it for the many years of struggle and toil he had spent there trying vainly to fight an unequal fight against nature.

Now the end had come, the manager for the bank was on his way up to take over charge, and Dunstan would clear out with a couple of horses, and a few, very few, pounds in his pocket to start life again.

Five years work since the day the station had been first formed, and the few thousands he had invested in it, all represented by as much personal belongings as a wandering shearer would possess when looking for a job. He turned inside to his solitary meal with anything but a hearty appetite.

He had scarcely poured himself out some tea and cut himself a piece of exceedingly dry, salt beef when a step sounded on the verandah, and the voice of Brown the stockman called him by name.

'Mr. Dunstan! Just step out and look at this queer customer coming along.'

Dunstan come out and inspected the new arrival. In Brown's eyes he certainly looked a very queer customer; but Dunstan had seen men like him before; His get-up was outrageously tropical, a huge solar topee, puggaree, veil, and goggles, white shirt and trousers, with what used to be called the sign of the Barcoo aristocracy, namely, a red silk sash around his waist. In this sash was stuck a formidable sheath knife. His pack-horse was a bad leader, and as the rider approached the cluster of buildings, the animal hung back still more and nearly pulled the horseman backwards over his saddle.

'Go and take his horse from him, Brown,' said Dunstan; 'he'll got pulled off directly.'

'It ain't the new bank man, surely,' said Brown, who stepped down and went forward to carry out the suggestion.

The visitor gladly resigned tho pack-horse to Brown and dismounted.

'I would see Mr. Dunstan,' he said with a strong German accent.

'That's him on the verandy,' replied Brown.

'Then I will to him go,' said the stranger.

Dunstan stepped forward to meet him, and was greeted with a most ceremonious bow, and the visitor drew a letter from a breast pocket in his shirt.

'My name is Spitzbauer; Professor Spitzbauer, and this letter from your old well-beloved friend, Mister Zinglair will explain my business.'

'Glad to hear of Sinclair, and to meet a friend of his,' said Dunstan. 'Come inside; I'm just at tea. Brown will look after your horses, and put them in the paddock, though there's precious little grass there.'

While his unexpected guest was washing his hands, Dunstan read his friend's letter of introduction.


Spitzbauer, (ran the passage, referring to the German professor) represents some learned society in the Fatherland, and has come out here in search of a hairless race of natives, supposed—although on whose authority I cannot say—to exist somewhere in Australia, in the interior for preference. Spitzbauer will tell you that the finding of this hairless race, and the establishment of the fact of their existence, will place beyond a doubt the origin of the Australian natives, or something of the sort, I have forgotten. Anyhow, he has formed an opinion that the hairless race exists somewhere in the west of Queensland or in the Northern Territory beyond. As I know you have settled very far west, indeed, I promised him an introduction to you; he is as green as possible; but as plucky an a bull-dog ant, and I know that you will see that he is not imposed on or made fun of. He has stacks of money behind him, but there in a French savant out after this hairless race as well, and Spitzbauer is in a deadly fright lest he should find them first.


THE letter then went off into other matters, and presently the German reappeared, and they sat down to the delayed meal.

'Had much trouble in getting along this far?' asked Dunstan.

'Drouble, yes, de goach was quite good; but when it sdop, I had to buy horses, and dey was all bad, dey buck and dumble down, and kick and drow my pack off; but a good friend at last got me der quiet ones, and here I am, dired and sore, but safe mit the friend of my good friend Zinglair. And you will show me these vild men vidout hair on their heads? Is it not so?'

'I'm afraid it is not so, for I have never heard of them.'

'Ah, but they are there. If we can only find them. Now, there is Grigolet; he is out here on he same quest, but his deductions are absurd; he says, "Polynesia," and he look north. The Australian is no more Polynesian than Grigolet himself. He is of India, of Egypt, and hairless men did live in dose gountries one time. Do you see, my friend? Is not Grigolet a fool?'

'I've never studied the subject,' returned Dunstan. 'I've had too much to do fighting bad seasons, and keeping my overdraft down. Will you come outside, and have a smoke?'

'Zinglair said that you could help me, but I impose be did not know your business at present.'

'I can help you with my advice as to getting an outfit together, and perhaps find a good man or two to go with you, but I expect to leave this place for good In a day or two.'

'Is not the place your own?'

'It was, but now it belongs to the bank, and as soon as their man comes up I go.'

The professor nodded his bead; his inquisition had been conducted in a kindly tone that no one did take offence at.

'And you go—where?' He went on.

'Can't say at present.'

'You say, do you not, that one' man's poison is another man's meat?'

'Something like that, not quite.'

'It is what I mean, however. My friend, I am zentimental, though you may not think so. I judge a man by his face, by his voice, I have the instinct, and I make no mistake. I believe in you, although we are strangers. That you have lost your station is your poison, it shall be my meat. Come with me. There is glory in it, and perhaps much fortune, who knows? Anyhow, my Society is rich, and I pay you well, for to me you are of great value. You are expert bushman. It is no favor; it is between man and man. Will you come and find the hairless men?'

Dunstan looked at the good-natured little fellow, and his heart went out to him. Certainly he could be of great use to the professor, he knew; and fortune, or the reverse, is always waiting for a man in new country in Australia. His mind was made up—be would go.

'I will come with you, and do my best; if we do not find the hairless men don't blame me.'

'I am very glad, my friend. To-morrow we will settle all affairs; now I am tired and sore, and will get you to show me my bed. I am satisfied, and will sleep.'

Dunstan, this hospitable duty performed, strolled out on the verandah for another smoke, and to think over the strange way fate seemed shaping things. He was still young, and full of adventurous longings, and out in the still unsettled west there might be yet rewards for the fortunate, or a grave; but that was always the alternative. He turned in, and slept better than he had done for some time.

II

'HOW far have you been west, Brown?' asked Dunstan of the lean, swarthy stockman the next, morning, as they leaned on the paddock fence smoking an early pipe and watching the blackboy drive the paddock horses up.

'Out as far as Barton's place, about fifty miles this side o' the border.'

'How far's that from here? About eighty miles, isn't it?'

'About that. Is that little forriner who came last night going out there, Mr. Dunstan?'

'Perhaps, and I'm going with him.'

Brown whistled, the whistle of surprise. 'You've got a contrack, and no mistake. What are you going after, sir?'

'Niggers without any hair on them.'

'Well, all I saw out that way had got hair enough for two. But, look here, Mr. Dunstan, are you a pulling my leg or not? What's the good of niggers without hair, anyway? You can get some here and cut their hair off if it makes them valuable.'

Dunstan explained to Brown enough of the quest of the German professor to make him comprehend the nature of it, and Brown's interest in the matter grew. When Dunstan finished, he said, eagerly: 'I should like to go too; you'll want another whiter-man with you to help look after that professor; now you and I and a blackboy, or a couple of boys, would be the very thing. Count me in, Mr. Dunstan?'

'How about leaving here; it won't be fair to the new man to leave him with strange men only?'

'That's his troubles, not mine,' returned Brown cheerfully. 'Anyhow, I don't suppose as I'd have stopped; these new men always want to cut down wages.'

'Well, I wouldn't wish for a better man, and we know each other,' and Dunstan turned to the house to breakfast, and told the delighted professor that he had secured a first-class man for the trip.

'What, the good Brown who took my horses last night when I was so tired? I will go and welcome him as a brave fellow-traveller,' and only for Dunstan he would have rushed out and embraced Brown forthwith. As it was, he always insisted on calling him the good Brown for ever afterwards as long as destiny permitted their steps to walk together.

The bank man turned up in a day or two, and as he turned out to be the type beloved neither by gods nor men, Dunstan got away as soon as possible.

The thunderstorms now began to show up with some regularity, and Dunstan and Brown, after a week or two, decided that it would be safe to start west. They had got a good outfit together, and the professor was in high spirits, for no argument would shake his belief in the existence of the hairless tribe of natives. As for Dunstan, he reckoned on something turning up, while Brown's soul was satisfied with the change and the prospect of adventure. They had got two good blackboys, so things were pretty easy.

The night they stopped at Barton's, the owner of the place said to Dunstan, whom he knew pretty well: 'Strikes me, there's an epidemic of lunacy about. Didn't you say that you were after hairless niggers; or, at least, that the little chap was, and you were nursing him?'

'That's so, old man; but I'm not shook on hairless niggers myself. I might pick up a bit of country.'

'Well, a party has gone by MacEwan's place, that's forty miles north of hero, on Just the same errand. At least, that's the yarn MacEwan told me when I was over there the other day.'

'The deuce! Wonder whether it was the Frenchman that Spitzbauer was talking of?'

'Yes; MacEwan did say it was a Frenchman. That's what astonished me so when you rode up with a German, and said you were going out on the same errand. You'll be having Franco-Prussian war there if you meet.'

'You're right, but like a good fellow don't let anybody know about this. It will upset the little fellow altogether if he hears of it, and he's a rattling good sort. Do you know who it is that's gone with the Frenchman?'

'Nobody from about here. Not up to much, MacEwan said.'

They got away from the station without Spitzbauer finding out that his rival had for some unknown reason changed his mind and gone west instead of north. Dunstan told Brown, and bound him over to keep silence, and the professor rode gaily and innocently along.

The country had bad a fair visitation of thunderstorms, and their path was made easy for them thereby, but search as they would, interview as many myalls as they could get within cooee of and round up, they could hear nothing of the hairless blacks. Nor did they come across tracks of the other party who, apparently, were still to tho northward of them, on the same line as they had started; until they had been away from civilisation for over two months, and then in a ghastly and tragic fashion.

They bad been for some time amongst poor, desert country, where small parties of blacks—a couple of families only, for instance—were dispersed about hunting, sustaining themselves on tiny soaks and sundry drainage holes. Although all these aborigines were well furnished by nature with heads of hair, the professor never despaired. Whenever a fresh smoke was seen in the distance or a fresh track found he would exclaim, 'Now, my friend, and my good Brown, you shall see. This time I feel confident—I have a presentiment—that we catch tho hairless man!'

But the hairless man still refused to be caught, and one day Dunstan, who was in tho lead, suddenly rode out of the forest they had been amongst so long on to a wide stretch of swelling, rolling, downs country; and he pulled up in thankfulness and looked over it, for it was good to look upon. A bountiful thunderstorm had fallen on it lately, and the grass and herbage was green and beautiful. In the mid-distance a line of coolibah trees denoted a creek, and even where they were they could see the white corellas fluttering and flying about, showing that the water was there.

'As pretty a bit of country as I ever saw,' said Brown, as he pulled up alongside him. Dunstan nodded in acquiescence.

'No smokes,' said Spitzbauer, for the presence of blacks was all be cared about.

But all was quiet and lifeless save for the distant hovering birds, and heading for the creek the little party rode on. When they struck the creek Dunstan turned and ran alongside it for a short distance, looking for a suitable camping place. Suddenly he pulled up his horse with an exclamation and dismounted.

Lying alongside the butt of a coolibah tree, half hidden by a clump of polygonum, lay the body of a man. They gathered round and examined it in pity. Scorched by sun and hot wind, scarred by beak and tooth, bedewed with pitiful tears by the rain that came too late to save, the dead man lay. He had staggered to the water-hole when the plain was cracked and smitten dry with drought, and the polygonum withered and sapless, and found there nothing but dry mud, baked to the consistency of a brick; and under the scanty shade of the coolibah tree he had lain down to die.

Probably that night the black clouds had assembled in anger, and 'midst the gleam of the levin and the crash of thunder, the tropic rain had drenched an unresponsive corpse. Bright, beautiful, and clear had broken the morn. All around arose the grateful smell of the wet earth, drops of moisture fell unheeded on the face from tree and bush, and splashed into the pool of water that, as if in very mockery, the storm had left almost lapping the lips, but the dead has no need of the fair sweet water that but a few hours before it craved so desperately.

'He has been dead some weeks,' said Dunstan, looking round on the green pasture, the full water-hole, and the chattering, screaming parrots. 'Died here just before the heavy storm came that filled this creek. Where did he come from?'

As he spoke his eyes met those of Brown, and he saw the answer written there—one of the party they had heard about. He stooped down and opened the pouch that, cracked and shrivelled, still clung to the belt. A pipe and knife, and a letter in an envelope doubled across, were inside. On the outside was written in English:


Please give the bearer all the assistance you can to come back to my rescue, and forward the enclosed to the president of the Academy of Science, Paris.


Dunstan opened tho envelope, and saw that the enclosure was in French. 'You read French,' he said to the professor, and handed it to him.

Spitzbauer took it and read It, his eyes dilating as be read. Then, as he finished, he lifted both his hands to heaven, and began to bewail his fate in the most guttural German, amongst which only the name of Grigolet could be distinguished.

III

BROWN and Dunstan looked at the professor in blank astonishment. Then at last the latter sharply demanded what the trouble was about.

'Oh, my friend, it is despair, despair, that speaks. Grigolet—Grigolet has been before us, and he has found the object of our research. Grigolet has been the first to find the hairless man. Oh, cannot you sympathise with me—me, the unfortunate Spitzbauer, robbed of just triumph. Oh, traitor! to come here after saying you were going north.'

'This poor fellow is not Grigolet?' said Dunstan.

'No, no; he is a messenger of his. Wait, I will translate.

The translation, not exactly in Spitzbauer's words, ran as follows:


'We have met with misfortune, and have little or no rations. The natives attacked us, killed the blackboy, and wounded one of my men, besides spearing and driving away most of our horses. But before the misfortune overtook us I had found a beautiful specimen of the hairless aboriginal of Australia. It is but a skull, with the shrivelled-up scalp and some skin adhering, but it proves the existence of the race, and I—I, Isidore Grigolet, am the discoverer. John Williams, the unwounded man, is going to take the two best horses, and make in to the nearest station to bring succor, and I stay with the wounded man. As the help may not come in time, I send with John Williams the skull which I beg the man who receives this to have forwarded to the president of the Academy of Science, Paris, with my letter, which will prove my claim to be the rightful discoverer should I die before help returns.'


Then followed scientific details of the skull and a description of tho finding of it, which Dunstan would not wait to hear about, much to Spitzbauer's disgust.

'We have no time,' he said. 'There are two men waiting all this while, and we have not a minute to lose. We must bury this poor fellow, and start on in the direction we think ho came. I am afraid that the storm has put out his tracks.'

The professor, brought to reason by this, willingly gave his aid, and the remains of the faithful bearer of tho message wore soon underground. It was still two or three hours off sundown, so they filled the water-bags and started west on speculation.

When about five miles from the creek one of the black boys hailed and pointed to where some crows had risen about a quarter of a mile off their track. On going over to the spot the remains of a horse were found; it was the one ridden by the ill-fated messenger, and a little further away lay the pack horse. The horses had died where they had fallen, and the wretched man had left there to stagger on on foot.

The remains of the pack had not been much pulled about, and there amongst other things was the skull wrapped up in bark. The professor took charge of it, and then without more waste of time the party pushed on until late, there fortunately being a good moon. When they camped the professor refused his tea, and sat gloomily by the fire regarding the skull in a melancholy and dismal manner.

Dunstan and Brown, who wore intent on finding the two men, took little notice of him until they had eaten their meal and filled their pipes; then they had leisure to speak to him, and ask to look at the skull.

It was not a remarkably pretty object, the dried and wrinkled skin that still stuck to the bone had a mummified look about it, but it was certainly hairless, and Spitzbauer alternately regarded it with loving fondness, and then, remembering that he was not the discoverer, with intense loathing.

Dunstan looked at it, and passed it on to Brown, who made the fire blaze up, and examined it with some curiosity. Something evidently attracted his attention, for he called the two boys over, and they talked in a low tone, both boys motioning towards the fire.

'Is this one of the hairless niggers, professor?' asked Brown at last.

'Yes, my good Brown, yes. There are more, doubtless; but that is nothing. It is to be the first, and Grigolet has been the first.'

'I can find you scores like that fellow,' went on Brown.

'Of what avail?' said the professor. 'This is the first, and I did not find it.'

'This fellow had plenty of hair when he was alive, anyhow. How did this Grigolet come by him? Did he kill him?'

'No; but that would be quite lawful to do for science. If I found such a man alive, and I was the first to find him, and he refused to accompany me, I should certainly kill him and take his head. It would be only right. But Grigolet found this man dead, and dried up. He did not kill him—there was not occasion.'

'You see this fellow died in the open somewhere,' went on Brown, disregarding the professor's bloodthirsty sentiments. 'How he was killed don't matter; but a big bush fire comes along after he'd laid there a bit, and dries him up and frizzles all his hair off. That's all.'

Spitzbauer jumped up like a maniac.

'Is that so?' he almost screamed.

'Certainly,' said Brown; 'here's the marks of fire all about his cobbra. Ask the boys.'

'Light! Light!' screamed the excited man. 'Candles! Plenty of them!' He rushed to his pack and got out his microscope. They put up the tent as a breakwind for him, and lit two or three candles. Meanwhile the professor cut off a piece of skin and cleaned and scraped it; then he retired to the tent and adjusted it under the lens of the microscope. In about a minute there was a yell of delight, and he came rushing out, and before Brown could get out of his way he had embraced him.

'My good Brown! My over-good Brown! Once more are you my saviour. You restore my self-respect. I meet Grigolet. I say, behold your hairless man! That, for him!' And he snapped his fingers defiantly. 'The microscope reveal the hair roots throughout the scalp. See for yourself!'

And he folded his arms and struck an attitude.

'Here,' remarked Dunstan, 'stow your heroics. We've got to be away before daylight to-morrow, and have a long day before us. All hands had better turn in. Professor, you'll have a fit directly.'

Next morning the discoverers were on their way again before the stars had died out of the sky. They were lucky, for here and there they came across trees which told them that the direction they were taking was the right one. But they did not expect to reach the locality where these men were until the next day.

That night they had to camp without water, and Dunstan looked grave, for, for nearly forty miles they had not crossed the track of a thunderstorm, and the country was parched and dry. It was getting risky for themselves if they did not come across water, and the chance was doubtful.

The next morning they went slowly and carefully, and when the middle of the day arrived and still the same dreary outlook lay before them, Brown and Dunstan looked at each other, and then at the horses, in a very grave manner.

'We've overdone it, I'm afraid,' said Dunstan. 'We shall never get all the horses back to that creek even if we turn back at once.'

'It will be a case with those poor fellows if we do. We must have got off the track somehow. Perhaps we are past the place.'

'We must be nearly abreast of it. That man's horse could not have come from much farther.'

'No. What do you say If we spread out a bit for a last look, and if we find no traces by one o'clock we'll turn back.'

'I'm agreeable.'

And leaving the professor and one boy with the horses, the three spread out on either side. Presently the boy whistled, and held up his band. He had found the tracks of the dead man's horses; they were coming down a slight ridge from the south.

'If the water where they were left has dried up since, we are done for too,' said Dunstan, as they gathered the tired horses together and followed the boy, who was now following the tracks slowly.

Brown nodded, and they went on in silence; even the professor's excitement did not show Itself. At the top of the ridge they looked down, and saw below them the timber of a small watercourse; then almost together they noticed a thin column of smoke rising up.

Somebody was alive down there! Somebody was alive!

A tall, gaunt man, with a black beard, painfully emaciated and worn, rose up as they rode up, and gazed almost listlessly at them, although it was life they were bringing him.

'Grigolet!' cried the German.

IV

GRIGOLET staggered forward a few steps to meet them, and then recognised Spitzbauer. Dunstan could not help but admire the pluck of the man as he suddenly drew himself up in an almost theatrically nonchalant attitude, so as to appear self-contained and at his ease before his scientific rival.

'See how the water is, Brown,' said Dunstan.

Brown nodded, and rode on. Dunstan and the professor dismounted, and while the latter approached the Frenchman and greeted him ceremoniously as if they were meeting in the streets of one of their respective capitals, Dunstan opened his saddle pouch and took from it a flask with part of their little store of brandy in it, which he had carried in readiness, and undid his water-bag. Mixing some in a pannikin, he approached and offered it to the starving man.

'Drink this,' he said. 'We will get you some food directly.'

M. Grigolet took it in a shaking hand, and swallowed it down. Then a rush of feeling seemed to overcome him, and he burst out crying, and swayed where he stood. The two men caught him, and lowered him gently on the ground, and Spitzbauer mingling his tears with his fellow-savant's, sat down and took his head on his lap.

Dunstan was relieved when Brown called out to him that there was plenty of water, and he had an excuse for going away with the two horses. When he came back Spitzbauer had propped the starving man's head up with his blankets, and came to meet him.

'Ach!' he said. 'He is so weak, so weak. Think of it. The day after the man left with the message the blacks came again, and drove the horses off, and next day the wounded man died, and he has been alone here for four weeks. Fancy that! Alone and starving for four weeks! My poor Grigolet! I lofe him now, and I am afraid he is too far gone to save.'

'Don't say anything about the skull?'

'Of what do you think me gabable? If he live, and he get strong and well, then I tell him. If he die, he die habby in the thought that he is discoverer of the hairless man. Now, to make him some Liebig, of which we have some. It is good for him.'

The water in the creek was fed by a strong soakage, and the supply was ample for their wants. So they sat down, and tried to nurse the feeble life back in the rescued man; but, as the professor had truly said, he was too far gone to save. The long tension on the nerves of the weakened body had proved too great, and he faded slowly out of life. But he was not unhappy. He had the professor by him always to talk to of his great discovery, and dictated his last paper to him to be read before the Academy of Science.

And so, after some days, the poor, plucky Grigolet died, and they buried him reverently under the largest tree in the neighborhood, and carved his name upon it. Then they were at liberty to return, for Spitzbauer at last confessed that the search for the hairless tribe was hopeless.

Slowly they journeyed homeward, and at last reached Barton's outside station, and were gladly welcomed.

'Look here,' said the owner to Dunstan. 'If your man is still keen on a hairless nigger I have got the very thing for him. He's an old man, and has been bald ever since we've been up here, and he's got no hair on his face. He's a freak, of course, but he ought to do. He died last night.'

Dunstan consulted the professor, who consented to see the dead nigger, but did not betray any of his wonted enthusiasm.

'Can I have his head?' he asked, after seeing him.

'Of course you can,' said Barton.

'Then I will take it instead of the one I have and pickle it.'

'You see it is only a freak,' he explained to Dunstan; 'but I must have the reputation of my dear Grigolet. If I take the first head to Paris, they examine it, and say, "Grigolet was mistaken; this blackfellow had hair when alive." Now, I take this old man, whose hair-roots are not to be seen, and the learned men say, 'The great Grigolet was right; this was a hairless aboriginal;' and the memory of my belofed friend is safe. It Is wrong, very wrong, to tell lies to a great academy, but this is a French academy, and I must save Grigolet's reputation.'

A year or two after that there was a thriving station formed on the creek where the messenger had died, and the owner was one Dunstan. A flourishing gold field had broken out in the neighborhood, and things were booming in that part of Australia.


ONE day Dunstan received a parcel with many German stamps on it, and a bulky letter from the professor.


My dear friend and brave brother traveller [it commenced], accompanying this is my dead Grigolet's paper on the hairless tribes of Central Australia. Alas! as we know, it is all lies; but beautiful lies; and my artifice was successful, and Grigolet's name is the name of a great scientist, and he has had much honor. Most honorably have they, too, acknowledged me for my share in preserving and bringing home the valuable papers and the fraudulent specimen. Also the thanks of the academy will be sent to you and the good Brown. The paper has been translated into English and German, and I send you the English translation. There is some talk of sending out for his body and bringing it home for burial; but if I know the world, my beloved friend will rest where we buried him, till the Angel Gabriel sounds the last trumpet.

I am glad to hear from you that you are prospering, and that the good Brown remains with you always. Some day I may again visit your shores.


NEEDLESS to say that the French academy has not yet sent out for Grigolet's body; but Dunstan has himself had the remains of the three members of the ill-fated party brought in to the head station, and there buried, with a fitting memorial over them.


09. -- MCWHIRTER'S WRAITH

Evening News, Sydney, 14 Jan 1899

I HAD been hard at work all day. The cook had made an effort and cooked a decent dinner. I had finished my smoke, and was just going to take a nip of whisky—a special case that an uncle of mine had sent out from Scotland—when I was conscious of a figure in the room.

I was alone in the house, so far as I knew. I could hear the cook and the two men arguing loudly in the kitchen verandah. The black-boys had permission to go and join a corroboree at the blacks' camp. Who, then, was this stranger?

The figure, first shadowy and vague, grew more distinct, and soon became clearly defined as a tall gaunt man, with a vivid auburn beard and hair, and light-blue eyes. He looked inquiringly at me, and, when I rather plainly requested to know what he was doing in my room, he replied, in a strong Scotch accent:

"I'm McWhirter!"

"The devil you are," I said. "You're the original McWhirter, I suppose, who took up this is station and stocked it fifty years ago?"

"I'm the man," he said.

"What brings you here?" I naturally asked. "I thought you died thirty years ago."

"So I did; but, mon, you called me."

Now just before coming in from the verandah I had looked around at the neat and well-kept surroundings of my home, plainly visible under a full moon, and I remember saying aloud, "If old McWhirter could see this place now!" and apparently McWhirter had heard the invitation and accepted it.

I may as well mention that old McWhirter was a sort of tradition in the place. The legend ran that he was a tall raw-boned Scotchman, who lived on nothing, and made his men do the same, and worked like a cart-horse. The shade before me seemed to about fill the bill, and I began to think that the ghost of McWhirter actually stood before me.

"Won't you sit down?" I said.

"It's just as weel," replied the shadowy thing.

"Have some whisky?" I asked.

"Mon, it would be guid. I can smell it, but canna taste it. Ye ken I'm but a shadow."

"Is there not something you can do?" I asked. "What the spook people called materialising. I knew a ghost in Sydney that materialised himself into a wig, a mask, and a pair of lazy tongs any time."

"Mon, you're clacking aboot those fechtless bodies called mediums. I'm a genuine ghost. But there may be something in it. A wee drap of whusky would no' be amiss."

"It came to me straight from Dundee." He looked at it longingly. "There's a doctor chiel in Karma that knows a lot," he said. "I'll go ask him," and in an instant he was gone.

I waited patiently, and presently the visitor from Karma returned. At least there he was in the room again, but solid and human; no more shadowy and illusive.

"It is done," he said. "Now, mon, rax us the whusky." He filled out a stiff nip, and a beatific look came over his rugged face. He put his glass down with a sigh of satisfaction.

"Why dinna they keep that brew in Karma?" he remarked; "it would be no so bad then." He sat down, and I handed him a pipe and tobacco, and he commenced to cut up and fill.

"What do you do in Karma?" I asked.

"We just contemplate," he replied, as though somewhat weary.

"Don't you form clubs, get up any whist parties, or cricket, or golf, or anything?"

He looked at me in dumb anger for a time.

"We just contemplate," he repeated; then he reached across for the bottle and helped himself liberally.

"What were you wishing to see McWhirter for?"

"Well, to see the improvements in the place since he took it up."

"Improvement!" he repeated, and the sneer he threw into it was intense. "Losh, mon, I see no improvement!"

"That's because you don't understand modern things," I replied, hotly.

"Deed, and I don't," he said, calmly. "It's all sinfu' waste and wicked extravagance the way you manage things these times."

"There was not much show of management on this place when I bought it."

"No. There was no' a garden, for one thing," he said, with the utmost contempt. "A guid feed of pigweed was eneuch for a man in those days."

"And you got scurvy and barcoo-rot and every other kind of abomination. And you paid more for curing yourselves than I do for growing a few pumpkins and sweet potatoes."

"Rax me the whusky," said the ghost, and when he had helped himself again he went on: "Noo, the way you use leather on a station is heart-breaking. I would na geeve a bit of green-hide for the leather that was ever made. Oh, but green-hide is good, and bonnie, and mind you, mon, it costs nothing."

"The way you fellows used to live was disgusting," I said.

"Hoot, mon, there's na pleasing you. You maun keep men doon, and no' feed them o'er weel."

"Nonsense, it's just as easy to live well as badly up the bush. You used to eat nothing but weevily flour, just to make out that you were economical."

"And is it economical you are talking? Oh, the sin o't! To talk of throwing away guid flour just because o' a wheen weevils in it! You're awfu' shy with that bottle, mon! Rax us ma whusky."

That's what it had come to. It was his whisky now, and I suppose his station and everything. I began to question the sanity of my materialising suggestion. McWhirter, unaccustomed to liquor for so long, was getting quarrelsome in his cups, and inclined to think that he was on earth again for good.

He finished the whisky and went to sleep with his head on the table, after calling me all sorts of names, amongst which he mentioned that he had his "doots" whether I wasn't a "besom," by which I understood him to mean that I was an old woman.

The morning star was bright when I turned in, but it seemed only five minutes before it was broad daylight and the wall-eyed cook was shaking me.

"There's a man asleep in the next room, and he's been at the whisky, sir. The stink of spirits is something awful there," he said, reproachfully.

At once it flashed across me that the ghost of McWhirter had not vanished at daylight, and was now on my hands all day. "It's a man came late last night," I said. "I know him. I'll see to him. Bring in breakfast for two, and make some porridge."

"He looks like a man who eats porridge," said the cook, spitefully.

I guessed that there was not a dram left in the bottle. I got rid of him and woke McWhirter up. He blinked like an owl at first, but gradually came to himself.

"It's awkward," he admitted. "The loon will buke me, and I'll e'en get fined a year or two. They are machty stricht up there; but there, lad, I'll stop with you all day, and gie you a lesson in station management."

I thanked him, and, after freshening up a bit, we sat down to breakfast.

"D'ye no have a 'morning'?" he asked.

"I expect you want one," I said, and opened a fresh bottle. He had a nip, and then sat down to his "parritch," as he called it.

'"Mon!" he said with a shriek, "you are no putting sugar with the parritch? You are but making a pudding of it!"

"Mr. McWhirter," I said, "if I like to make a pudding of my porridge, I suppose this is my own station, and I can do it if I like."

"Oh, it's your fash, not mine. But leetle did I think that I'd a sat at my own table and seen a callant eat his parritch with sugar." He put half the salt-cellar on his plate, and groaned.

I groaned too. Fancy having the Scotch host of a pioneer squatter of the old days, with a turn for economy in his disposition, and a disposition to lecture and find fault, on your hands all day. There were six bottles of Dundee whisky left, and I felt all inward conviction amounting to a dead certainty that I would not get rid of him until they were all finished. After he had made a hearty breakfast—I may mention that I had broken my cook in to grill a steak very well, and the McWhirter growled because his steak was not fried—we walked round the place, and I showed him all the improvements that had been made, and he sneered at every one. The only time he smiled was when we came across a gate that some fellow had pegged with a bit of dry wood—a broken branch, in fact.

"Eh! that looks like old times," he said.

"Does it?" I remarked, for I am rather particular. "It will look like new times directly;" and I went up, gave the man who did it "beans," and sent him down to make a proper peg to put in. We had to go in the store for a tomahawk, and McWhirter followed us in and leaned against a case and looked round.

"I suppose you keep count of the tobacco by stick, when giving out a pound," he said.

"No; we weigh it now."

"Guid sakes! you lose on every pun' you sell. Twenty sticks to the pun', wet or dry that's fair measure."

"Oh! we don't trouble about those little makes nowadays."

"Little makes ma conscience! Noo there's floor; I suppose you weigh that too?"

"I do."

"A tinnie went to the pun' with me. I've a mighty big thoome, and I always stickit it weel doon in the tinnie when I was measuring. That thoome has stood me in weel;" and he held out the member in question—a great, broad, splay sort of affair.

With lectures like this and some Dundee whisky, I managed to get through the day. In the evening who should come up but a distant neighbour of mine, an elderly Scotchman of the name of McPhairson. I introduced him to McWhirter, and mentioned that he was a nephew of the original McWhirter, which was the only thing I could think of, for it had suddenly occurred to me that McPhairson must have seen McWhirter when he was a youngster.

"I remember your uncle weel," said McPhairson, with the garrulity of age. "You ha' no the bones o' him, and you're no so tall, but you're like—you're like."

This was a good beginning, and I wondered how the ghost liked being told that he wasn't like himself. But that was nothing to what was coming.

"Ah! he was a hard old carle," went on McPhairson. "Folks about here said the de'il got his own when he died. But I always said, and held, that your uncle was too hard a bargain for the de'il to touch with his hoof."

I hurried the two inside, talking rapidly and incoherently, while I broached another bottle of whisky. McPhairson drank his, and asked what ailed me that I was blitherin' at that gate. I couldn't well tell him that he was talking to the ghost of the original McWhirter, but I had a certain sort of gloomy satisfaction when McPhairson, under the influence of Dundee, settled down to a real old tirade against the hapless defunct. He left off when he had satisfactorily proved to the supposed nephew that his uncle had been a confirmed cattle and horse stealer and a more than suspected murderer; and by that time the bottle was three parts empty, and the cook poked his head into the door and said that tea was ready, and a singit sheep's-head the dish. I had no sheep, and it seems McPhairson had brought it over with him in the buggy. As he went into tea the ghost whispered to me, "I forgie him, and I'll go back to Karma content. A singit sheep's head and Dundee whusky is too guid."

Tea passed quietly, and we adjourned for a smoke; then trouble ensued. McPhairson again got reflecting on the character of McWhirter's supposed uncle, and I'm afraid he raked up some nasty home truths, which the latter remembered too well. Anyhow it was growing late, and I had nearly dozed in my chair, when I was roused by hot words.

"I will kill you," said McPhairson, getting up. McWhirter laughed, and took the biggest nip of whisky I ever saw a man take at one drink. Then he addressed me. "You will come and see this mon kill me?" he asked.

Seeing that he was dead already, I had no objection. "He's going to kill me, ye ken. And I wull gie the McPhairson the biggest freet ever a McPhairson got, and they ha' gotten plenty o' freets."

"It's a lee!" shouted McPhairson.

Peace was now impossible, so we adjourned out in the moonlight to settle matters. Probably, if I had not had to keep pace with a ghost at whisky-drinking, my brain would have been clearer, but as it was I was desperate. The men were fortunately all asleep, and we went round to the side of the house opposite to the kitchen. I was convulsed at the idea of McPhairson fighting the ghost, but he took it very seriously.

"You will kill me?" said McWhirter, in whom I noticed a curious change. "Well, begin."

The opponents closed, and then a cry of dismay arose. The McPhairson's fist had gone right through the now ghostly McWhirter. He looked at him for one second of palsied horror, and then took to his heels and fled. McWhirter took after him, calling on him to stop; but McPhairson, after one turn round the house, rushed into his room and barricaded the door—a very useless sort of proceeding against a ghost. McWhirter came to me.

"You ha' treated me weel," he said. "You're a wee bit conceited, but ye will grow out o' it. I must move for some reforms in Karma—the taste of that singit sheep's-head and the Dundee whusky will abide by me. Good-bye, laddie, and dinna believe what that cock-sparrow of a McPhairson tells ye."

Of course, now that he was going, I was quite sorry to part with him, but we bade each other farewell, and he faded away, and I went to bed.

It took an awful job to get McPhairson out of his room in the morning. Only that he wanted a drink very bad, he would never have consented to unbarricade his door. But he's very proud of the adventure now, and tells on every available opportunity how he chased "auld Hornie" twenty-five times round the house.


10. -- AN OUTSTANDING DEBT

Evening News, Sydney, 12, 19 June 1897

Reprinted as "The Blood Debt," in
Phil May's Illustrated Annual, Winter 1899

PART 1. -- HOW THE DEBT WAS INCURRED

'WELL, I don't see what you have to grumble at, Hunt,' said Jenkins to his friend and partner.

'Perhaps not,' returned the doctor, 'looked at from an every day stands point; but I've never told you that I ought to have about four hundred thousand to my credit.'

'No; you certainly never have—But would you be any happier if you had it? We've a fairly good practice, not astonishing, but rising, and our patients pay their fees.'

'Yes, they gay up, like the good, respectable people they are, and we lead a nice, easy, middle-class existence; but I had a patient once who did not pay up, and never will pay up until I get him in my power some day; and he is one of the richest men in Australia.'

'How much does he owe you?'

'One way and another, about four hundred thousand pounds.'

'That's a tidy sum. Is this a joke or reality?'

'True as we're sitting here. Lambert Dunaston, whom I suppose you know well enough by name, owes me that figure.'

'How did he come to owe you that figure?'

'He bought his life at that price.'

'Didn't know you were, or had been, a bandit.'

'No, it was not that way. I'll tell you how it was. It's a long story, and you'd better know it, and keep it secret to the end, for there's no end to it yet Dunaston and I went West when the first big rush was on. I had no practice then, and I thought of setting up out there. By Jove! when we got there it seemed that every hard-up M.D. in Victoria and New South Wales had been struck with the same idea, and preceded me. Seeing how things stood, Dunaston persuaded me to invest what little money we had left between us in the purchase of the necessary outfit to join a couple of men, whom he knew, who were going out prospecting. It was the best thing to do under the circumstances, and I agreed. We clubbed our money and bought camels, and the four of us made a start.

'You've heard of the famous Yellow Spindrift Mine?'

'Who hasn't?'

'That mine was found that trip. The other two men were Winkelson and Martow. Did you ever hear of their names or mine in connection with it?'

'Never. Dunaston is the only one who is known with regard to the Yellow Spindrift.'

'Exactly. Winkelson and Martow are dead—murdered, in point of fact. Dunaston, from the sale and what was taken from the mine, cleared £800,000. Half of that belongs to me. I don't claim any of what he has made since. A majority of the men in the world have two natures. The hidden nature shows out differently in different men. In some, drink brings it to the surface. I suppose you have often noticed how intoxication completely reverses the natures of certain men. Circumstances perform the same thing for others. The man who in town is a mild, pleasant gentleman, becomes a coarse blackguard when out in the bush beyond the restraints of civilisation. Dunaston was one of these men. Once we got fairly into the wilderness, he seemed to change into the primal savage which every man is under his veneer. He was viciously cruel, and laid no restraint on his temper until Martow took him in hand and gave him a good thrashing one night. Then he vented his spite on the beasts; particularly the camel he rode, a good camel, too, called Crookshanks from a malformation of his legs.

'"You'd better go slow, beating that camel," said Martow to him one evening. "A camel, like a parrot, never forgets; some day old Crookshanks will get hold of you when you are not expecting it, and then, God help you!"

'They were two decent fellows, rest their souls! and if we had not had that devil with us it would not have been so bad, in spite of the wretched desert we were travelling through. As it was, we had a deuce of a nard time of it until luck Changed, and we found the Spindrift. What a wonderful find that was! The mine is played out now, but that is since Dunaston sold it. I often dream of it still. What an irresistible influence the sight of gold has upon men! and what a lovely thing it is to find. Clean and heavy. Not like gems that have to be cut before their beauty is apparent. But bright and beautiful from the start; like a pearl, that needs no artificial aid.'

The doctor paused, and stared hard at the fire. Jenkins did the same.

'It does me good now to think of those days when we had nothing to do but gaze at the gold and conjecture how deep it would go, and what we were each worth. We were in luck. Nobody had followed our tracks, and we tested the reef, and found it to exceed even our expectations. It was decided that Dunaston and Winkelson should go in to Wonderranup, the nearest mining centre, and obtain fresh supplies, and apply for the prospectors' claim and reward. There was a rock hole close at hand that would suffice for the wants of the two of us who remained, and there was a salt marsh about five miles off that would supply water for condensing when that was gone, so they took all the camels with them. It was no good keeping things quiet, for the country swarmed with prospectors, and it was better to announce the find and go straight ahead working it.

'You would have thought it rather lonely for two men by themselves in that gaunt desert country, but, strange to say, Martow and I did not find it so; that gold reef was the most pleasant and interesting companion men ever had, better than all the books and journals in the world. The choicest wines, the most charming women, the most witty comrades, I tell you, were nothing to a reef full of veins of yellow metal.

'In coming to what is now called the Spindrift township, we had naturally come a very roundabout course, but straight across through the bush it was much shorter, though the track would probably be without water. However, it was not too far to go with camels, unless the country proved very scrubby. Ten days had passed, and we were hourly expecting our two mates back, that being about the time we had calculated on; but they came not. The water in the rock hole was getting low, and we began to feel anxious; gold would not satisfy hunger or thirst.

'From the top of the ridge, on the side of which was the reef, away to the westward we could see the crest of a granite hill peeping above the black scrub. As most of these bare granite mounds had rock holes at the base, I proposed that we should, go over one day and see if there were not more water there. Martow, however, would not consent to our both leaving the mine, so it was settled that I should go alone, and, as it was a full moon, I decided to go that night. After our evening meal I started. In rather over an hour I reached the rock hill, for it was sandy country and heavy walking. I found several rock holes at the foot of it, but I had gone nearly round it before I came on one much larger than the one where we were camped, and with a good supply of water in it. While at the back of the hill—that is to say, the side furthest, removed from our camp—I thought I heard a faint sound like a distant shot. I listened, but heard nothing more, and concluded it was fancy. Having found the water, I thought I would ascend the mound out of curiosity.. From the top there was an extensive view, but by no means a cheerful one—black and gloomy looked the sea of dark scrub around. I had been looking away from our camp. When I turned towards it I saw, to my astonishment, a glow of fire in that direction. It seemed to me to be beyond the ridge where the reef was, and I could not understand it, for there was no grass to burn in that region. Hastily descending, I made back for the camp.

'One way and another I had been about four hours absent by the time I reached the camp again; and what was my horror to hear cries of pain and, sounds of scuffling as I approached. Coming out of the scrub into the open I saw distinctly, for the moon was directly overhead and it was bright as noonday. I heard, as I said, groans and cries of anguish, and I saw a camel worrying a man. Instinct told me it was Crookshanks having his revenge on Dunaston. He was literally wiping the ground with him. No wonder the poor wretch shrieked, for of all bites that of a camel is the most painful, more so than a horse's.

I was in time to save his life for Crookshanks was about to make an end of him by dropping on him with his chest and crushing him. I rushed up and blazed my revolver off close before the camel's eyes. I only wanted to frighten him off his victim, for in my heart I rather sympathised with the animal. With shouting and firing another shot, I got Dunaston away, and he was a pitiable sight.

'I was completely bewildered. How did Dunaston come to be there? Where was Martow? However, the only thing to do was to look to the groaning man. I carried him to the camp, put him on the blankets, got a light, and proceeded to examine him. He had had a terrible time of it; no bones were broken, but he was so bruised that I doubted if in that climate he would recover. I once had to do my best for a man who was dying from being mauled by an entire horse. Dunaston was not so bad as him, and that was all I could say. I had brought a small medicine chest with me, and I bandaged him up, and gave him a quietening draught to take the strain off his nerves, then I made up the fire and looked about the camp, but could find no sign of Martow, living or dead. I had to wait until Dunaston was able to speak. He came to himself when the effects of the soothing draught I had given him had worn off.

'"When did you come back?" I asked.

'"About half an hour ago," he answered.

'"Where is Martow?"

'"I don't know. I have not seen a soul. I was looking about when that devil attacked me. I'll cut the soul out of him when I am able to get up."

'"You may never get up," I said shortly.

He tried to sit up, but gave a yell of, pain, and lay staring at me. "What do you mean? Am I fatally hurt?"

'"No. But you are bruised and bitten all over, and only constant attention and care will save you in this climate. For at least two days somebody must be in attendance to change and renew the bandages and keep them moistened with the antiseptic I have put on. Now, satisfy my curiosity. What have you been doing, and why are you alone?"

'"We went into Wonderranup and fixed everything up, and Winkelson will be here in a day or two with the camels. The warden is coming out with him. I was anxious about you fellows, and pushed on before them. Where is Martow?"

'"That's what I must find out. I left him here at dusk, while I went over to a hill three miles away to see if there was any water. I just came back in time to save you from having all the life squeezed out of you."

'"What do you think can have become of Martow?"

'"I cannot possibly imagine. I am going to have a cruise round."

'"Don't go far. For heaven's sake, don't go out of hearing."

'"Don't excite yourself; it's the worst thing you can do. I am not going to leave you just yet."

'I made him comfortable, and, taking a rifle, went out on what I felt was a hopeless quest.'

The doctor paused, drank off his whisky-and-water, and then resumed.

'Somehow, I felt certain Martow was dead. I went up the ridge to the reef; looked all about where we had been working; fired a shot or two, and waited. No answering shot came. The interior of Western Australia at night is a land without sound; in the dead stillness the slightest noise could be heard; but I heard none. Martow was dead, but who had killed him? Dunaston said he came only half an hour before I returned. Then I suddenly recalled the sound of a shot that I had fancied I heard when at the granite hill. Dunaston was a liar, and I began to believe a murderer as well. I returned to the camp, for there was nothing else to do till morning.

'I sat down gloomily, scarcely speaking to the wounded man. I began to think that old Crookshanks, the camel, had saved my life. I was safe at present, for the man was helpless. I attended to his bandages during the remaining hours of darkness, and meditated on the position.

'At daybreak I got some food ready, and told Dunaston that I was going to make a thorough search for Martow.

'"And leave me to die,' he cried."

'"You must chance that,' I answered. 'You should have thought of that before you murdered Martow.'

"For a minute the man was speechless; then he said in a husky voice: "Why on earth should I murder Martow?"

'"Because there would be one less in the reef. You would have done the same by me, but for Crookshanks having a grudge against you."

'"God! What put such villainous thoughts in your head?"

'"Facts. What has become of Martow? I left him here, alive and well. When I come back I find you here, and he has disappeared. While I was away I thought I heard a shot. When the warden comes with Winkelson there will be a strict search made, if I have not found him before then."

'A curious expression passed over the man's face. He made an effort to move, and groaned in agony.

'"You said yourself that I shall die if not looked after; how can yon talk of leaving me?"

'"You will die probably; I don't like the look of those bruises at all this morning. I might be able to save you, but duty calls me elsewhere. Martow might be lying wounded in the scrub."

'"Stay with me, doctor. O, for mercy's sake, don't let me die just when I am going to be rich."

'"You'll die easy. Mortification will set in, but just before it comes you'll suffer torture."

'"How can you be such a brute? You're a murderer if you leave me here."

'"I firmly believe you are one, or I shouldn't talk to you like this. But I must go. I will get you some breakfast, leave everything handy for you, and then spend the day searching for Martow."

'"Don't go! Don't leave me to die alone, like a dog. You can save my life if you stay with me. Martow can take care of himself. Don't leave me, doctor, don't let me die!"

'So the man pleaded in his agony and fear of death. I went outside and made up the fire. Looking about, I saw Crookshanks, the camel, who had been caught by his nose rope in the scrub. I went down to him, and, as he seemed to be in a good temper, I led him up to camp, unsaddled him, gave him a drink, and put him on some feed. Then I went back, and gave Dunaston some breakfast, and had some myself.

'"Doctor," he pleaded faintly, when I was making ready to start, "listen! If Martow does not turn up, there will be his share to divide between us two?"

'"Between us three," I reminded him.

'"Yes. Now, I will give you half my own share in addition to yours, if you will stay with me and attend to me until I am out of danger."

'That was my mistake. I had been gloating over that gold too long, and now I hungered for it. Instead of leaving him at once, to live or die, as Fate thought fit, I lingered.

'"Half my share! Why, man, no doctor in the world ever got such a fee before."

'I hesitated; then I asked when he expected the others up. Not less than a day or two, he said.

'"I will stay with you two days on those terms. By then you will either be dead or out of danger."

'He was not able to hold a pen, but I wrote it down and he touched the pen while I signed for him. Then I fought with death for forty-eight hours, and I won.

'On the third day Winkelson and the others had not arrived. I told Dunaston that he was safe, and that I would take Crookshanks and go and meet them, and direct them to the other rock hole, as the one where we were camped was getting very low.

'He agreed, for he could now crawl about, and I started, taking, by his directions, the track by which he and Winkelson had gone in. The first day I met no one. The second day I met no one. The third day I came upon a host of tracks making towards the Spindrift on a slightly different line. Much puzzled, I kept on, and met a camel team. We stopped to talk, and they informed me they were pushing out for the new rush, "Dunaston's Find."

'I asked if Winkelson was ahead with the warden. They did not know the name. They were in Wonderranup when Dunaston came in, and they were certain that he came in alone.

'Their words turned me cold, although the day was hot enough. Had there been two murders? I found I was only twenty miles from Wonderranup, so I went on there, and learnt the full extent of his villainy. He had come in alone, and the Spindrift was taken up solely in his name. Winkelson must have been treacherously put out of the way on the road down. This was cold-blooded work for you! I joined in with some others going to the new rush, and returned. The place was changed entirely, even in those few days, and was now a busy scene of life. I sought out Dunaston at once; he saw me coming, and managed to get rid of the men he was talking to.

'"Well," I said, hotly, as I came up, "you had better say your prayers, you murdering villain! for I have found out everything, and this crowd will think nothing of lynching you when they know what you have done, although it does not often happen in Australia."

'Dunaston looked at me with provoking coolness. "If they lynch anybody, or anybody deserves hanging, it's you. You left with two mates, you turn up alone with a cock-and-bull story about their having mysteriously disappeared, and I suppose you claim the discovery of this mine."

'I couldn't speak. The man's astounding audacity and wickedness staggered me.'

'"You see the situation, and I need scarcely say will accept it—will have to accept it. I know nothing of you or of the men who went with you. As things go in the constant change and excitement going on now, the disappearance of our friends will not be noticed; but let me draw attention to it, doctor, and you'll find yourself hi an awkward position."

'"Then you mean to deny everything, you diabolical villain! My saving your life from the camel, your bond to me for your life?"

'"Everything," he calmly replied. "We were fellow-passengers on board the steamer; since then we have not seen each other. Remember, the people who were in Wonderranup when we started are now dispersed all over the gold fields, and were too busy with their own affairs to notice us."

'The wretch was right. He could easily throw all suspicion on me, and I would have a small chance for life. I simply had my hands tied, and was utterly in his power. He owned the reef; the paper which I held was in my own handwriting; I had not a single proof of any stability to bring forward. Would you believe it? It was not the horror and atrocity of the man's crimes that overwhelmed me at the moment, but the contemplation of what a besotted fool I had been to let this villain get the best of me when I held the game in my own hands.

'"I would to God you were in old Crookshanks' clutches again, and I looking on," I said.

'"You would let him crush me. That is exactly what you ought to have done, doctor, and precisely what I should have done in your place. However, we can't put the clock back, and you are a man of sense, and thoroughly understand the position."

'I did understand the position, and my blood boils and nearly maddens me when I think of it The man is a double-dyed murderer and robber, and I am a struggling physician, but he has the money. Still, I believe that I shall hold trumps one day, and then God help Lambert Dunaston. I'll avenge the deaths of the two men he murdered.'

'You found no trace of the lost men?'

'No. I own I did not stay there much longer.'

PART 2. -- HOW THE DEBT WAS PAID

LAMBERT DUNASTON and his bride were passengers on the China steamer Emperor, en route for the pleasant and interesting land of Japan. It had been rather a shock to him to find that old West Australian mate, Dr. Hunt, was taking a holiday by filling the place of the regular ship's doctor that trip, but it was too late to draw back, and as Hunt met him on the standing of a stranger, he concluded that it was simply one of those unfortunate coincidences that happen during a man's lifetime.

Under shelter of the Great Barrier Reef, along the coast of Northern Queensland, the voyage was through summer seas, and but for the haunting presence of his former friend, Dunaston's honeymoon trip would have been an ideal one. Summer seas however, are proverbially treacherous, and once past Thursday Island the Emperor got into a storm belt, and received some buffeting about. It was a tempestuous night, and the few passengers had retired early.

In the dimly-lighted saloon the doctor groped his way through the bodies of the sleeping Chinese cabin boys, and went on deck and ascended the bridge. The sea was high, and the wind seemed increasing. The captain was looking at the barometer in the chart room.

'I'm afraid we'll be caught, doctor,' he said, as the other entered.

'How's that? Barometer falling?'

'Falling! I should think so; going to have a typhoon I am afraid.'

'She's making heavy weather of it now.'

'Yes, and I don't want to get into a big blow with her; she's a bad sea boat.'

The two men remained silent, holding on during the big rolls the steamer was making. The doctor's thoughts were busy with his schemes against his enemy, and the rhythmical noise of the engines seemed to ring in chorus; 'The time is near.'

He had no set plan, but he was determined that he would not part with his man again, except on fresh terms. The whole thing had been quite accidental;' he wanted change, and had taken the opportunity offered by the ship's doctor wishing to remain on shore to exchange for the trip.

He was as much astonished to see Dunaston on board as Dunaston was to see him, but he was infinitely better pleased. Now seemed the very time to avenge the two murders. Dunaston just married to a beautiful young girl, to whom he appeared passionately attached. Surely the stars in their courses were fighting for him; the man was vulnerable now. Their interviews had been limited, Hunt avoiding the man as much as it was possible to do on board ship, and no one suspected that they had met before.

The captain's foreboding was right. By morning a full-sized typhoon was howling and shrieking behind them, and the Emperor had to turn tail and run right before it.

The storm had reached its height about noon, and the steamer was laboring heavily, and shipping a good deal of water. Two or three seas had found their way into the saloon, and everything was drenched and miserable. Mrs. Dunaston kept her cabin with her husband. The wind began to die down afternoon, and one or two had struggled to the table, when a sudden jar and the cessation of the engines told of some catastrophe.

Hunt climbed on deck, and looked around at the wild tumult of sea, in which the now helpless steamer was tossing and pitching; occasionally heeling far over when a greater wave than usual surged upon her. The worst had happened. The constant racing of the screw in the heavy sea had injured the shaft, and the Emperor had hopelessly broken down, and was at the mercy of the tremendous seas almost without steering way. A couple of staysails were all the sail that could be made on the apologies for masts, and the colored crew managed at last to get them spread.

It was a dismal outlook, the rolling of the ship was so violent that even the most practised and active could not keep their feet. The night closed in black and gloomy, and the Emperor was dashed about and banged and lifted seemingly half-way up to the heavens. In the morning she had developed an alarming list, some of the cargo had shifted, and things looked black, indeed, for she was now reported to be making water fast. They had been driven out of their course by the typhoon, and not a ship was in sight; but the sea was going down, none too soon.

Two boats had been smashed; but the three that remained were large enough to carry all on board comfortably, and they were got out in readiness, for it was now obvious that the steamer would have to be abandoned.

The time had come, and Dunaston was in his cabin putting some matters of importance in his pockets, when the steamer gave a more than usually heavy lurch throwing him against the bunk, and at the same time his cabin door was slammed and the key turned. He had been locked in to go down with the ship. The boats were on the other side, and in the creaking and groaning of timber that was going on his cries and shouts were unheard. And if there occurred the least confusion he would not be missed. His wife and the one other lady passenger were to go in the first boat in charge of the chief officer. They were in hopes of making Timor in three days.

Hunt, of course, had locked him in, out of revenge, and would take care that he would not be missed. The portholes had been screwed tight during the typhoon, and he could not open the one in his cabin. He was trapped to die a horrible slow death. If the vessel sank it would not be one quick rush and over; but it would creep in slowly, and he would be hours dying.

He beat on the door, and called, and the only sound that answered him was the creaking of the straining timbers. Hour after hour of agony followed, and then it began to grow dusk, and he felt himself doomed, indeed—doomed to die in darkness and loneliness; and he recalled with horror the ghastly rumors that were once spread of men having been accidentally shut up in the water-tight compartments of the Victoria, and going down with her to die a lingering death at the bottom of the Mediterranean.'

So passed the long night, in frantic desperation and sullen apathy; several times he thought of suicide, but he had no speedy weapon with which to do the deed. Still the steamer floated and the sea was fast going down, and a dawn he had never expected to see stole in at the porthole at last.

Dunaston had been sitting on the edge of his bunk, when he started to his feet with a wild shout of hope. He had heard a footstep on the deck overhead. Somebody was on the ship beside himself, or one of the boats had come back, seeing the vessel still floated. No answer came to his hail, but he distinctly heard the footstep pass up and down.

After about an hour some one came into the saloon. The motion of the ship was now only a long roll, but the list had become very perceptible. Whoever it was came straight to his cabin, unlocked the door and threw it open.

Hunt stood there revolver in hand, and ordered him on deck. He was obliged to comply, for the look in the doctor's eyes did not admit of any questioning. On deck he ordered him to sit down, and before he anticipated it he was shackled to a ringbolt by his ankles.

'Now,' said Dr. Hunt, 'we can talk comfortably.'

The sky was clear, every trace of the storm had vanished from above, and a fierce equatorial sun was beginning to make Its presence felt.

'The steamer's going to float, after all, and we shall have a pleasant little jaunt together. Pity those two fellows, dead in Western Australia, are not here; even old Crookshanks would smile if he saw you.'

'I suppose you want money; your share of the reef, in fact. Well, you won't get it,' and Dunaston tried to look defiant, but failed.

'I want a full confession. The money can wait, and so can I.'

Hunt lit a cigar, and took a turn or two up and down the deck. The boat now only wallowed with a long, sluggish roll; she was very deep, but seemed likely to keep afloat as long as the weather kept fine.

Having finished his cigar, Hunt went into the saloon, and came out with some eatables and a bottle of claret, which, he proceeded to discuss in sight of his prisoner.

'You will be happy to hear that the boats got well away, and Mrs. Dunaston will soon be in safety in Timor. I managed it very neatly so that we were not missed.'

'Are you going to starve me?'

'I'm not going to give you anything to eat or drink until you write down that confession.'

'The boats may come back?'

'I shinned up the mast this morning as high as I could, and they were not in sight. Besides you'll never go alive into one of them; I'll take care of that.'

'What do you want me to confess?'

'The murders of Winkelson and Martow; then we'll go into the money question.'

Dunaston was silent, and Hunt said nothing more.

The sun mounted higher and higher; a dead calm reigned, and the blazing heat struck with fierce rays on the man fastened to the ringbolt. Still he held out, but in the afternoon was, forced to beg for water.

Hunt took no notice of the request. And darkness closed in, and throughout the long hours of the night the derelict was silent, save for a groan of helpless agony and despair wrung at intervals from the sufferer.

It was 10 o'clock the next day before he gave in. Hunt brought out paper and pen end ink, then gave his prisoner a little wine and water and some food. Dunaston wrote. In substance it amounted to what Hunt had guessed.

Winkelson had been disposed of on the way down. Dunaston, pushing ahead, had found Martow alone, dispatched him treacherously, put his body on the camel, and taken it some distance away, and built a huge fire over it, the one Hunt had seen from the granite mound. He then was going to wait Hunt's return, when the attack made on him by the camel frustrated his plans, and saved the doctor's life.

This confession he wrote out and signed, and then Hunt fed him again, and the game commenced once more.

This time the stake was high, but the cards were all in one hand, and Dunaston had to make a will, and make over a large amount of property, and sign a fat cheque, all in return for value received, the value being half a pint of tepid water, or, perhaps, a pint, and a little food.

'I shall repudiate all these documents,' he said, when the last was signed.

'I suppose you will if you get the chance. I anticipate being picked up soon, and I shall at once give you in charge for the confessed murder of your mate; now that you have given the clue, proof will soon be forthcoming.'

'Don't you intend to release me?'

'Certainly not. But I will keep you alive; we're sure to be fallen across soon.'

Another day, and another, and Dunaston began to feel the effects of the sun.

'I must let him out for a bit to-morrow,' thought Hunt, 'or he'll go cranky on my hands.'

It was another day of unruffled calm, and Hunt bad been amusing himself, and maddening his prisoner by dilating on the future stretching before him, and comparing their respective lots when rescued.

'By the way, it will be a pity to separate the money. After you're hanged, perhaps Mrs. Dunaston would not be inconsolable, and I always had a weakness for widows—young widows.'

Hunt was looking away at the horizon as he spoke, and did not notice the murderous hand steal up to an iron belaying pin in the side. It was loose, and Dunaston had noiselessly taken it out, and the next minute launched it with unerring and mad strength at his enemy. Hunt got the blow an the temple, and fell dead on the deck.

Dunaston slipped down against the bulwark, and began to laugh shrilly and vacantly. He suddenly realised what he had done, and lost his reason. Hunt had the key of the handcuffs in his pocket, and the body lay beyond his reach. The blood from the wound began to trickle towards him along the sloping deck, and the madman greeted it with shouts of terror, and, anon peals of maniac laughter. When it reached him he dipped his fingers in it, and wrote meaningless gibberish on the deck.


A BOAT from the Dutch gunboat boarded the derelict, and found the madman still alive, and babbling deliriously, talking to the dead man who lay just beyond his reach, with life and freedom in his pocket. He lingered but a few days.


11. -- THE BOUNDARY RIDER'S STORY

The Bulletin, Sydney, 14 Dec 1895

THE storm that had been brewing all the afternoon, gathered, towards nightfall, in great black clouds, cleft every now and then by jagged streaks of vivid lightning. Just after dark it burst in a fierce rush of rain and boom and rage of thunder. Blinding as the lightning was, it as only by its assistance that a belated traveller could keep his horse on the bridle-track he was following; for when darkness fell between the flashes, it seemed as though a black pall had been dropped over everything.

With heads bent down, the sodden man and horse plodded on until the rider found himself on a main road into which the track debouched.

"Another mile;" he muttered to himself; "and I'll come to old Mac's." He touched his horse slightly with the spur and glanced nervously round. The travelling now improved, and ere long a dim light proclaimed his approach to some kind of habitation; soon afterwards he pulled up at the verandah of a small bush inn.

"Are you in Mac?" he roared with a voice that outdid the thunder, as he splashed down from his horse into a pool of water, and hastily proceeded to ungirth.

"Who's there?" returned a voice, and the owner of it came out and peered into the darkness.

"Smithson! Lend us a pair of hobbles."

"Jupiter! what are you doing out here such a night as this?" asked Mac as he handed him the hobbles.

"'Cos I'm a fool, that's why," said Smithson as he stooped down and buckled the straps. "Can't go wrong for feed, I suppose?"

"Right up to the back door. Come in and get a change."

Hanging his saddle and bridle on a peg riven into the slab, the late traveller followed his host into the bar. Mac put his head out of the back door and roared to somebody to bring in some tea; then reached down a bottle and placed it, with a glass, before his visitor. Smithson filled out a stiff drink, tossed it off neat, and gave a sigh of satisfaction. Having got a dry shirt and trousers, the traveller proceeded to simultaneously enjoy a good meal and his host's curiosity.

"It's that cursed Chinaman hunted me. The one who cut his throat."

"Did you see him?" asked Mac in an awed voice.

"I did, indeed, with the bandages round his neck just as they found him. I meant to go in to the station and tell the boss he must send out somebody else. When I remembered that you were nearer and came over for a bit of company. Now, don't laugh at a fellow—just you go and stop in my hut for a night or two."

"No fear," returned Mac emphatically.

"Well I thought I didn't care for anything," said the boundary-rider, "but this caps all. You should see—cripes! what's that!" For a long, lugubrious howl sounded outside, followed by the rattling of a chain. Both men forced a very artificial laugh.

"It's Boxer," said Smithson, Suddenly illumined. "I left him tied up, but he's got his chain loose and followed me."

A very wet and woe-begone dog came in at his call. Smithson detached the chain from his collar and they sat down again.

"Boxer didn't fancy being left alone," remarked Mac.

"Seems not. It gave me quite a turn when he howled like that. What do you say?" Taking the hint, Mac arose and the two went into the bar.

"All alone to-night?" asked Smithson.

"Yes, the missus is in town; there's only deaf Ben in the kitchen."

"Well, I hope that d—d Chinaman won't follow the dog."

"Don't get talking like that. How did he come to cut his throat? It was before my time."

"The fellow who had the contract for the paddock-fence lived in the hut with two men, and the Chinaman was cooking for them; he was there for over six months. Chris, the contractor, he paid off the other men; and he and the Chinaman stopped for a week longer to finish up some odd jobs. One morning Chris came in to the station as hard as he could split—the Chow had cut his throat the night before. Chris said he wasn't quite dead, and that he had tied up the wound as well as he could. The super and another man went back with him, but when they arrived the Chinkie was as dead as a door-nail. Now, the strange thing was that the stuff Chris had tied round his throat was quite clean; but when they moved the body, with Chris holding the shoulders, the blood commenced to soak through, and turned them all quite faint. All Chris knew about it was that when he awoke in the morning the Chinaman was lying outside with a sheath-knife in his hand and his throat cut."

"And did you see nothing until to-night?"

"No. Just after dark I heard someone calling, and I went to the door and looked out. I can tell you I just did get a fright, for there by the lightning I saw the Chinaman standing, with bloody rags round his neck, and the knife in his hand."

Mac shuddered and passed the bottle.

"Now," said Smithson, "comes the strange part of it. That shout, or coo-ee, I heard, came from some way off, and that there ghost I saw was not looking at me, but listening for that shout, and smiling like a man who was expecting a friend coming."

"What did you do?"

"I slammed the door to, picked up my saddle and bridle and got out of the back window. I knew my old moke was not far off, but I was that scared I left his hobbles where I took them off. I heard Boxer howling as I rode away."


IT was a beautiful morning after the storm as Smithson rode in to the head station. So bright and cheerful was it that the boundary-rider felt rather ashamed of the yarn he was going to tell and half-inclined to turn back. However, he went on and had an interview with the superintendent. Naturally, he was laughed at, and this, of course, made him stubborn.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Morrison, the super, at last. "I'll go back with you this afternoon and stop the night with you, and we'll see if we can't quiet the Chinaman."

Smithson agreed, remarking that perhaps it was only on one particular night he walked, as he had never seen him before.

Morrison turned up an old diary and glanced through it. "Oh, that's nothing," he said, pushing it away.


THE two men rode up to the lonely hut, Morrison slightly ahead. "There's something queer there," he said, pulling up. Smithson stared eagerly; while Boxer, who was with them, sat down on the road and howled dismally.

Recovering themselves, the two rode on. A man was lying in front of the door stretched out in death. Dismounting, they approached and examined him.

"No, no!" cried Smithson, "don't touch him—we mustn't till the police come."

With an impatient gesture Morrison stooped down and turned the dead face up. In the throat was a rude wound, and in the open eyes a terror more than human.

"It's Christy," said the superintendent in a quiet voice.

"The man who employed the Chinaman?" asked Smithson in an unsteady tone.

"Yes. How, in the name of God, did he come here? Tell me exactly what you saw and heard."

"I was in the doorway, as I told you," said the boundary-rider excitedly, "standing just there, and by the flash of lightning I saw the Chinaman here"—and he indicated the spot.

"He was standing like this"—and he bent forward like a man watching and listening—looking in the direction the cry came from over there.

"And you saw a knife in his hand?"

"Yes, and he was smiling as though expecting somebody he wanted to see badly."

Morrison put his hand on the other's shoulder and pointed to the knife in the hand of the corpse. "Was it that knife?"

"It looks like it," chattered Smithson.

The superintendent glanced about and shook his head. "No tracks to tell tales," he said.

"No, all the storm was on afterwards."

Morrison mused a bit. "Get a sheet of bark," he said, "or one of those sheets of iron there. We must put him inside, and then I'll give you a letter to take in to the police. You can get back with the sergeant by to-morrow morning, and we'll bury him."

"You're not going to stop here?" said Smithson.

"No," returned Morrison. "I'll get over to Mac's."

They lifted the dead man on to the sheet of iron and carried him into his old dwelling-place, Smithson evidently much averse to the job. Morrison tried to close the staring eyes before they put one of Smithson's blankets over the corpse; but the lids were rigid. "Evidently he didn't like the look of where he's gone to," he muttered. The two set out—one to the little township, the other to Mac's pub.

The night was as calm and fine as though thunder were unknown. Morrison mused deeply over the tragic occurrence, trying to recall all he knew of the past and put a common-sense construction on it, but he failed, and only made himself nervous.

"There's one very strange thing about the affair," he said to Mac, when they were discussing it that evening. "When I paid Chris for the contract—over which he lost, by the way—I gave him separate cheques to pay off his men, including one for the Chinaman of about $30. That cheque was not found, and, moreover, it has never been presented to this day."

"What sort of a fellow was Chris?"

"A good fencer, but a stupid fellow, not fit to take contracts. I often wonder if he took the cheque off the body before he came in."

"Then why didn't he present it?"

"That was his idea, no doubt, at first. But I tell you he could scarcely read or write and I suppose after he heard me tell the sergeant that I would give the bank notice and instruct them to watch for the cheque, he got frightened."

"Before that he imagined that one cheque was the same as another, and that you could not trace a particular one?"

"Yes, just about what he would think."

"Perhaps he killed the Chinaman?"

"Perhaps he did," returned Morrison, after a long and thoughtful pause.

By sunrise Morrison and Mac were at the boundary-rider's hut, and soon afterwards the sergeant and Smithson arrived. The examination did not take long, and they prepared to dig a grave.

"Better not bury him alongside the other," said the sergeant.

"No," replied Morrison. "Let's see, we buried him over against that tree; didn't we, sergeant?"

"Yes, and not very deep either. It was dry weather, the ground was hard, and we came upon a big root."

The obsequies were not prolonged. Sewn up in the blanket, the dead man was soon laid in a damp grave. While the others were filling it up, Morrison, still thinking of Mac's remark, strolled over to the spot where the Chinaman slept, not expecting to see any mark of the place left. He started and turned pale.

"Here! Quick! Come here!" he cried.

The men came hastily, the tools still in their hands. The earth over the old grave had been loosened and disturbed.

"My God! he's got up!" murmured Smithson. "I've heard they can't rest out of their own country."

"Give me a shovel," cried Morrison; and commenced to carefully scrape the earth away. The sergeant assisted him, and they soon came to the skeleton, for nearly everything but the bones was gone.

"What, do you expect to find?" asked the sergeant.

Morrison was carefully brushing the loose dirt off the thing with a bough.

"Look here!" he said.

Clasped in the fleshless hand was the missing cheque

"It wasn't buried with him, I'll swear," said the sergeant.

"And if it had been, it would have decayed long since," answered Morrison.

"He got up and took it from Chris last night. He was bound to get his cheque back," said Mac.

"Well I'm going to pack up my traps," remarked Smithson.

"I'll send down and have this hut shifted," said Morrison. "Although now he's got what he wanted, I don't suppose, he'll get up again."

"By gum, I won't trust him," said the boundary-rider.


12. -- BLOOD FOR BLOOD

The Bulletin, Sydney, 17 Dec 1892

SILENCE everywhere, the spell of heat on everything. Kites, which had been soaring on strong pinions away back in the dry country, swooping down on the grasshoppers, have had to come in to this lonely waterhole tired out and worried; and now sit dozing on the branches of the motionless coolibah. One who had left it too long has had only sufficient strength to reach the water and flounder in, and stands with bedraggled feathers moping at the edge of the muddy pool. There is no animal nor human life to be seen—just a round clay hole, a few withered polygonum bushes, and some gnarled and warped coolibah trees. Around lies a bare plain with a bewildering heat-mist hovering over it.

The slow, hot hours creep on. The sodden kite standing near the water suddenly topples over and falls dead; at times one of the others flops heavily down from its perch, takes a few sips and flies back again. These are the only sounds, the only living movements that break the stagnant monotony.

There is neither track of man nor beast to be seen, but for all that what was once a man is lying there beneath one of the shadeless trees. It has been lying there for over six months, so there is nothing very repulsive about the poor corpse but its shrivelled likeness to humanity. When it staggered in there alive the hole was dry, and it sank down and died. Since then a quick and angry thunderstorm has passed and partly filled the hole, too late. But no prowling dog has found the body, not even the venturesome crow has been to inspect it; the desert has protected it from white tooth and black beak, and it lies there dry and withered, but the form of a man—and a white man, still.

This is the story of that unburied, unwept, untended corpse. It is a story of thirst, of treachery, of revenge.


YEARS ago, when stations were valuable and all things pastoral looked bright ahead, three men pushed out beyond the bounds of settlement in search of new country. Two of them were fast friends, although there was a considerable difference in their ages. The third was simply on the footing of ordinary friendship and of about the same age as the elder of the other two. The party was completed by a black boy.

Far beyond the lonely water-hole where the weary kites sit watching the silent dead, they came on to good country—fair, rolling downs and deep permanent holes. At one of these they fixed a camp and inspected the country on all sides with a view of dividing the runs fairly. One day the younger of the two friends and the third man went out together. They took a long excursion northward and finding no water, made, the next day, for a small hole they had passed on their way out. Fatal mistake—the hole was dry, with the body of a misled dingo rotting at the bottom, and with thirsty, tired horses, and nearly empty bags, they were now fifty miles from their camp, the nearest water.

They turned out for a short spell and lay down to catch a few moments of slumber. The young man slept soundly, dreaming of long, cool swims in a river; of watching it sparkling and leaping amongst the rocks; then he awoke suddenly to find himself companionless in the desert. He raised himself on his elbow and looked around. The clear starlight showed him nothing; he was actually alone; his mate and all the horses were gone. He went to where they had hung the water-bags on a tree. They were gone, too. He comprehended it all. His treacherous friend had taken the two freshest horses and the remnant of the water, and started for the camp, trusting that one would get there where two could not. The other two horses had probably followed of their own accord, to die in their tracks.

He had no hope that his companion meant to come back with succour. A man who could do such a deed would never suffer his victim to bear witness against him. He had the choice of two deaths—a lingering one where he was, or a quicker one in a desperate attempt to gain the camp. He chose the latter. He had no expectation that his own old friend would come to his relief, for he guessed he would be deceived by some specious lie.

When the end came, as it soon did, and he fell for the last time, he prayed with his dying breath that the man who had wrought his death might die as he did.


LATE that night the survivor, with one remaining horse, reached the camp, and told the anxious occupant how his friend had died of thirst; how he had helped him on to the last, and only left his body when aid was useless and his own life in jeopardy.

"I must start at daylight and bring his body in if possible," was the answer at last. Then one lay down to sleep the sleep of exhaustion, the other to watch and mourn.

Over-tired men seldom sleep soundly. Some rambling words from the haunted sleeper roused the watcher's attention. He listened, as the dreamer restlessly babbled out his secret. He understood it all, and for an instant his hand was on his revolver; but no. He would have proof, then—

Next morning, with the black boy, he was on his way before the stars were paling. Proof was easily forthcoming by the tracks. The body of his young friend lay by itself on the plain; no horse-tracks led to it, none from it. He had died by himself, and the story of staying with him to the last was false. What use in following the trail back further? He returned to the camp with vengeance in his heart.

It was easily done. The other suspected nothing. One morning the two rode out together for a last look to the southward before returning. Twenty miles from the camp they stopped at a scanty belt of timber; beyond was nothing but a boundless plain.

"Get up one of the trees," said the avenger, "you may be able to see a little better from that elevation."

The other dismounted and complied. He stood on the highest limb, no great height, and looked all around; nothing visible but the blue mirage. He looked below. His companion was a hundred yards, or more, away leading his horse. He stopped for an instant and turned in his saddle, and the words smote on the listener's ear hotter than the blazing sun-beams:

"As you served that poor murdered boy, so I serve you. If by any miracle you survive and I hear of you again amongst men I will take your life wherever I find you."

Then he turned and rode away, deaf to calls and entreaties.

Stumbling over the plain, now cursing in impotent rage, now begging and praying for mercy, the guilty man followed the silent figure leading the horse. Followed it until his sweat-blinded eyes could see no longer, and the poor, abandoned wretch felt the lonely horror of the desert encircle him, for he knew he should never see the face of his fellow man again.

He reached the camp during the night. It was deserted. The threat was carried out to the letter. Aye, more, for a ghost sat there by the dead embers, that he only could see, but it drove him forth into the night, and with desperate, hopeless purpose he made for the haunts of men. Who knows what he suffered before his dying footsteps led him to the dry hole, and he crawled under the nearest shade to pant his life out?


NEXT morning the recruited birds take wing for the drought-smitten plains once more, leaving the body of their comrade to keep company with that of the murderer.


13. -- A STRANGE OCCURRENCE ON HUCKEY'S CREEK

The Bulletin, Sydney, 11 Dec 1897

THE heat haze hung like a mist over the plain. Everything seen through it appeared to palpitate and quiver, although not a breath of air was stirring. The three men, sitting under the iron-roofed verandah of the little roadside inn, at which they had halted and turned out their horses for a mid-day spell, were drenched with perspiration and tormented to the verge of insanity by flies. The horses, finding it too hot to keep up even the pretence of eating, had sought what shade they could find, and stood there in pairs, head to tail.

"Blessed if there isn't a loony of some kind coming across the plain," said one of the men suddenly.

The others looked, and could make out an object that was coming along the road that led across the open, but the quivering of the atmosphere prevented them distinguishing the figure properly until within half-a-mile of the place.

"Hanged if I don't believe it's a woman!" said the man who had first spoken, whose name was Tom Devlin.

"It is so," said the other two, after a pause.

Devlin walked to where the water-bags had been hung to cool, and, taking one down, went out into the glaring sunshine to meet the approaching figure.

It was a woman. Weary, worn-out, and holding in her hand a dry and empty water-bag. Although only middle-aged, she had that tanned and weather-beaten appearance that all women get, sooner or later, in North Queensland.

With a sigh of gratitude she took the water-bag from Tom's hand and put the bottle-mouth to her lips, bush fashion. There is no more satisfactory drink in the world for a thirsty person than that to be obtained straight from the nozzle of a water-bag.

Tom regarded the woman pityingly. She was dressed in common print and a coarse straw hat, and looked like the wife of a teamster.

"Where have you come from, missus, and what brought you here?"

"We were camped on Huckey's Creek, and my husband died last night. I couldn't find the horses this morning, so I started back here."

"Fifteen miles from here," said Devlin. "We are going to camp there tonight, and will see after it. You come in and rest."

He took her back to the little inn, where she could get something to eat and a room to lie down in. Then they caught their horses and started, promising to look up the strayed animals and attend to everything, according to the directions the woman gave them.

The three men arrived at Huckey's Creek about an hour before sundown. They examined the place thoroughly, but neither dray, horses, nor anything else was visible. The marks of a camp and the tracks bore out the woman's story, but that was all.

"Deuced strange!" said Devlin. "Somebody must have come along and shook the things, but what did they do with the man's body? They wouldn't hawk that about with them."

"Here's the mailman coming," said one of the others, as a man coming towards them with a pack-horse hove in sight.

They awaited his approach, standing dismounted on the bank of the creek. The mailman's thirsty horses plunged their noses deep in the water and drank greedily.

"I say, you fellows," he called out, "you didn't see a woman on foot about anywhere, did you?"

"Yes," replied Tom, "she is back at the shanty."

"Wait till I come up," said the mailman. When his horses had finished he rode the bank to the others.

"Such a queer go," he said. "About five or six miles from here I met a tilted dray with horses, driven by a man who looked downright awful. He pulled up, and so did I. Then he said, staring straight before him, and not looking at me, 'You didn't meet a woman on foot, mate, did you?'

"I told him no, and asked him where he was going. 'Oh,' he said, just in the same queer way, 'I'm going on until I overtake her.'

"'You'd best turn back,' I said. 'It's twenty-five miles to the next water; and I tell you I'd have been bound to see her.' He shook his head and drove on, and you say the woman's back at the shanty?"

"Yes; it's about the rummiest start I ever come across. The woman turned up at Britten's today, about 1 o'clock, on foot, and said that her husband died during the night; that she could not find the horses, and had come in on foot for help."

"I suppose he wasn't dead, after all, and when the horses came in for water he harnessed up and went ahead, looking for his wife, in a dazed, stupid sort of a way."

"I suppose that is it," said Devlin. "Are you going on to Britten's tonight?" he asked the mailman.

"Yes."

"You might tell the woman that her husband has come-to, and started on with the dray. After we have had a spell, we'll go after him. He can't be far."

"No," replied the mailman, as he prepared to ride off. "He looked like a death's-head when I saw him. So-long."

The men turned their horses out and had a meal and a smoke; by this time they were talking about starting when the noise of an approaching dray attracted their attention.

"He's coming back himself," said Tom.

The dray crossed the creek and made for the old camp, where the driver pulled-up and got out. The full moon and risen, and it was fairly light.

"Don't speak," said Devlin; "let us see what he is going to do."

The figure unharnessed the horses with much groaning, and hobbled them; then it took its blankets out of the dray and spread them underneath and lay down.

"Let's see if we can do anything for him," said Devlin, and they approached.

"Can we help you, mate?" he asked.

There was no answer.

He spoke again. Still silence.

"Strike a match, Bill," he said; "it's all shadow under the dray." Bill did as desired, and Devlin peered in. He started back.

"Hell!" he cried, "the man did die when the woman said. He's been dead forty-eight hours!"


14. -- DOOMED

The Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 29 Apr 1899

JIM TURNER sat in the verandah of his modest homestead reading a letter. The mailman had just left the bag, and amongst the miscellaneous contents was a letter from an old friend, one Dick Beveridge, and in the contents was an item of information which made him feel rather uncomfortable.

"You perhaps have not heard that Charley Moore is dead, and how he died. His horse fell on him and crippled him. He lay there for four and twenty hours before he was found, and then he had been only dead for about one hour. The ants were swarming over him. Fancy what he must have suffered! So now that he is gone, you and I are the last of the five."

Five of them. Yes, he remembered it well—five of them, eager, young, and hopeful, who came into the untrodden district just sixteen years ago. They found good country, and each took up a run. Now there was only Beveridge and himself alive, and the other three had all died violent deaths. How distinctly he recalled the occurrence, which had given rise to the looming fate that seemed to be overhanging them.

They were camped one afternoon on the bank of the river; the same river he could now see from the verandah, bordered by luxuriant-foliaged tea-trees, with flocks of white cockatoos screaming and frolicking amongst the bushes, varied by flights of the Blue Mountain parrots crowding and chattering round the white flowers.

"Hullo!" said Moore, "there are some niggers coming." Across the wide stretch of sand on the opposite bank some wandering blacks from the back country had just put in an appearance. Tired, thirsty, and burdened with their children and their camp furniture, they trooped down the bank to the water, and drank at the grateful pool in the river bed.

"What a start it would give them to drop a bullet in amongst them," said Daveney; "I'm blessed if I don't do it."

"Take care you don't hit one; there are a lot of gins and children amongst them," said Moore.

Daveney took up his carbine and fired. There was a start of dismay amongst the natives, and they bolted up the bank. One stopped behind a black patch prostrate on the sand.

"By heavens, you've hit one, you clumsy fool," said Beveridge, and the whole party went across the sand to the water. Not only one, but two, had been hit. The Martini bullet had gone clean through a gin's body and killed the baby she had been nursing. The gin was still alive. She looked at the white faces still gazing down at her, and commenced to talk. What she said of course none of them could understand, but that it was a wild tirade of vengeance against the murderers of her child and herself they could pretty well understand. Death cut her speech short, and almost at the same time there was a wild yell from the bank above, and a shower of spears fell amongst the run-hunters. Only one man was hit badly, and that was Daveney, the man who fired the fatal shot. The blacks had retreated after throwing their spears, and the whites helped their wounded comrade across to camp. Pursuit was impossible; the evening was well on, and by the time the horses could be got together the blacks would be beyond reach.

Then Turner's memory recalled Daveney's death in raging delirium, when the tropic sun had inflamed his wound, and fever had set in.

"Keep that gin away, can't you? Why do you let her stop there talking, talking, talking? What is she saying? You will all die, die violent deaths. Ha! Ha! Ha! Funny a myall blackgin can talk such good English, but that's what she says, 'You will die violent deaths!' Keep her away, you fellows, can't you? There's no sense in letting her stand talking there!"

He died, and was buried in a lovely valley, where never a white man has been near since.

Then Strathdon was drowned in the wreck of the Gothenburg, and now Moore had met a horrible fate.

Turner got up with a shudder. Who would go next, he or Beveridge? He had no wish to die just then. He had but lately married, and in a few years the station would be clear of all back debt. He took up the letter, and read it through. At the end Beveridge said, "I am coming your way, and will see you in a few days."

Turner banished all memories of the past, and went in and ate a hearty dinner and his fair young wife congratulated him on his good appetite.

Beveridge came in due time. Like Turner, he had seemingly banished dull care, and had chosen to ignore the doom that strangely enough seemed hanging over him. Nay, he even declined to talk of it with his host, and resolutely declared it was "all bosh."

It was a sultry, thunderous evening, and Turner and his wife, with their precious first baby, had driven their guest out to a point of interest in the neighborhood, and were returning, when the thunderstorm suddenly burst over their heads. Turner kept his horses going, but the rain overtook them some five miles from the homestead, and pelted them in their faces.

Then came a flash, and darkness, as though the electric fluid had struck their eyeballs blind. With the flash came a roar, as though the world was splitting in twain, and then the horses, which had bolted off the road, went headlong into a wire fence, instead of pulling up at the sliprails.

"It's as dark as pitch," said Turner, getting on his legs unhurt. "Where are you all?" There was no answer, and he commenced groping about, and came on the struggling horses. "Whoa! Beveridge, man, where are you? It can't be night, but it's all dark. Didn't you see that cursed old gin standing in the road and startling the horses? Beveridge!"

One of the men fortunately came along and found Turner, stricken blind, crouching against a tree. One of the horses was dead, with a broken neck; the other was much cut about with the wire. The baby was uninjured, and Mrs. Turner was unconscious; while Beveridge's head had been smashed in by the hoof of one of the struggling horses; he was dead.

Mrs. Turner recovered, but her unfortunate husband never did, and to the day when a merciful death took him away from the blind earth, whose beauty he would see no more, he asserted that the last thing he saw was the form of a black gin, with a child in her arms, standing in front of the sliprails and blocking the horses.


15. -- A DOOMED MAN

Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 3 Nov 1900
Illustration by Percy Spence, 1868-1933

THE Great Reef was just awash, pools of water lying here and there, between the stretches of bare reef where the coral was visible in many fantastic forms. To the eastward the distant coast of Queensland, one red headland standing out in to the sea, and behind it the hazy blue range. Between the two the reef and the coast, a stretch of calm, blue sunlit water.

The little schooner lay idly on a sandy islet at the edge of the reef, on which had been erected some rude frames for drying and curing the bÍche-de-mer. Some of the natives from the main land were engaged in the work of collecting the slugs and keeping the fires going to smoke them, after they had been split open and kept distended by means of the insertion of a short piece of stick.

The skipper of the little craft and his mate were lounging on the deck, talking and smoking, when their attention was attracted by the approach of two canoes from the mainland, both of them perilously full of occupants.

"What have the beggars come off for?" said the captain.

"To see their friends," replied the mate. "I wish they'd stay away."

"They're coming here. Don't let them come on board," said the captain.

One canoe approached, with the apparent intention of paying the schooner a visit; but when the mate motioned them off they stopped paddling, and one tall fellow stood up and made signs that he wanted to speak to them; meantime the other canoe was paddling to the bÍche-de mer camp.

"He's holding a shell up," said the mate, referring to the blackfellow standing up in the canoe. "Shall we let them come alongside and see what they want?"

"Yes; may as well."

The natives were beckoned to approach, and when they reached the side the man handed up the shell he had been showing, and some others. It was good pearl shell, and the captain and his mate studied it critically.

"Now, where on earth did he get this?" said the mate.

"Stole it off one of the luggers probably," returned the captain. He inquired of the natives, by signs where the shell came from, and in return the black pointed towards the north, and indicated the action of diving, nearly capsizing the canoe in so doing.

"Wonder whether there's any truth in it? Nebsworth got on a good bank that the Binghis told him of—do you remember?" said the skipper.

"If any wind comes up we could go and see; the bÍche-de mer will be fit for bagging to morrow."

The captain explained to the nigger that he should go with them to-morrow and point out the place where he got the shell. He gave them some biscuit and tobacco, and they went off, apparently satisfied.

Next morning the bÍche-de-mer was stowed on board bright and early, and with a steady breeze from the south-east the schooner set off on her quest, having on board the tall blackfellow, who had volunteered, to show them where the shell was obtained. The canoes left for the mainland, taking with them the Binghis, or natives, who had been engaged smoking the bÍche-de-mer, and the little sandy inlet was left tenantless.

About fifteen miles further up the coast than their former position, they came to a small inlet or cove—a semi-circular little bay, where the mountain range approached close to the sea. The dense jungle from the spurs of the range descended to the beach and mingled with the mangroves on all the landward side of the little bay. Although the afternoon was bright and sunny the place had a. gloomy look and a depressing effect upon the spirits of the men. The schooner was run up in the wind, and anchored, for this was the place where the blackfellow said that he had got the pearl shell.

The boat was lowered, and the captain, with two of the colored crew, pulled to the exact spot which the blackfellow indicated. The mate, watching them from the deck of the schooner, saw the native who had accompanied them, dive from the boat into the water. He came up again with a shell in his hands; and then the mate saw the captain peer over the side of the boat and look intently into the water. Presently the men commenced to pull back to the schooner.

"Find the bank?" said the mate, as the boat camp alongside.

"Yes," returned the captain; "that is, we found where he got the shell from. There is a sunken lugger lying there; she had the shell on board. Come and see her."

The mate dropped into the boat, and they pulled back to the place. The bright sunlight made the water clear to see through, and down below them was a lugger, mastless, and lying over on her side. One of the kanakas now went down several times. He reported that she had been full of shell when she sank, and that it could be easily salvaged. On his second dive he brought up a ghastly relic—a human skull, showing a deep cut in the temple.

"Is that a white man's or a blackfellows?" said the mate.

"I can't tell; but the poor fellow was certainly not drowned."

"Seems to have been foul play of some sort. Shall we get the shell up?"

"May as well," said the captain; "It won't take us long, and it will pay us well."

As he spoke the sun dropped behind the range, and its gloomy shadow was cast over the place where the boat lay motionless. The water at once lost its transparency, and the wreck disapppeared from view. The boat put back to the schooner, and as the night closed in the two white men speculated on the owner of the lugger and the probable fate of the crew. The mate put it down to the colored crew, who had murdered the Malay diver and escaped ashore. The captain, on the other hand, ascribed it to an attack by natives, when the lugger had anchored for shelter in a storm.

"Where's that Binghi, by the way?" he asked.

Wherever he was, he was not on board, and they concluded he must have quietly slipped overboard and swam ashore.

The captain shook his head.

"I don't like this place, and I don't like his leaving us like that. If there was any wind at all I'd stand-off for the night and come in to-morrow morning."

There was no wind, however a beautiful full moon rose in a calm and cloudless sky, and soon everything was bathed in white light, save only the dark and shadowy places in the black scrub that was so close around them.

"We'll keep watch and watch to-night," went on the captain. "No good trusting kanakas to watch."

About midnight the captain came up to relieve the mate.

"All quiet?" he asked.

"I suppose it's fireflies knocking about, but there's what looks like firesticks been cruising about all round in the scrub. See them, there?"'

"Fireflies," said the captain; "see how they wink—a firestick would be steady. Go and turn in. I'll call you at daybreak, and we'll start getting that shell up and get out of this. I don't like the place a bit."

Hour after hour of the captain's watch, however, passed without any disturbance, and he began to look seaward to see if the stars near the horizon were paling before the coming dawn.

Gradually a white light grew in the east, and the minor stars vanished, leaving only the brighter constellations burning to defy the coming day. As the white was changing to pink, the captain took a belaying pin, and beat loudly on the deck with it. The echoes from the ranges round about hammered back in sympathy. The birds in the scrub began chattering, and as the mate and the crew came on desk the captain gave a sigh of relief that the night and all its gloomy fancies had passed away.

"If we can't recover all the shell to-day, I am going to stand out to sea to-night, and come back for it. I don't know what's the matter, with me; but I would not pass another night here for anything."

The tide was running out, and it was easy to let the schooner drift down until she was over the wreck, which they had buoyed the night before.

As there was a diving suit on board, and one of the crew was a bit of a diver, for the schooner had been prospecting for shell as well as bÍche-de-mer, preparations were made to get the shell up quickly, as recovering it by swimming diving would be a very long and profitless process.

"I feel a trifle tired," said the captain to his mate. "I'll lie down for an hour or two till you're ready."

"Do," returned the mate; "you look a bit off."

The mate was busy at work, and all things were ready for the diver to make his first descent, when the captain appeared on deck again. The look on his face made the mate go up to him and ask him if he were ill. The skipper put his face down upon his hands, and shuddered.

"Not ill," he said; "but, oh! I had such an awful dream. I can't tell you now—I will when we get away. Dick, we must get out of this place by daylight, or I never shall leave it."

"Take a stiff nip of rum, old man; you're all unnerved. Now we'll go to work, and you'll for get your dream."

The captain followed the mate's advice, and gradually the morbid feeling wore off; and, engaged in the bustle of getting the shell on board, he partially forgot it.

It was some two hours afterwards that he was leaning against the tiller smoking and watching operations, when glancing for'ard, he saw a sight that for the moment paralysed him. Climbing over the bows was a crowd of armed natives. The whole attention of the crew being engaged on one side of the schooner, the blacks had sneaked up on the other without being noticed. Levelling his revolver on the leader, as he shouted to the crew, the captain fired, and the treacherous black who had lured them there fell dead.

The crew, attacked by overpowering numbers, fought hard, the mate fortunately having his revolver on him, which he used to some purpose. Things were looking desperate, however, when suddenly the diver came to the surface, mounting the short ladder hung over the side.

At the appearance of the strange helmeted monster above the low rail of the schooner, the blacks, with a yell of consternation, gave way, and jumped overboard, the crew following them up, until the deck was cleared of all but the dead and dying.

"By Jove, that was a close shave!" said the mate, as he fired a parting shot wherever he saw a head above water. Then he looked round, and gave a cry of dismay. Across the tiller, which still held him in a partially upright position, was the body of the captain, with a spear through his heart.


Illustration

Across the tiller was the body of the captain.



16. -- THE GHOST'S VICTORY

The Bulletin, Sydney, 19 Dec 1891

"THIS is a tough contract," murmured the ghost, as it gazed out of the window of the haunted chamber and looked up and down the almost deserted street. Needless to say it was Christmas Eve, and the clocks had just struck twelve.

It was not at all an awe-inspiring ghost. If one had not known for certain that it was a spectre it might have been taken for a shabby old debt-collector or a hanged bailiff; but it was a genuine goblin, and anybody infringing the trade-mark will be prosecuted.

The house it haunted was an old stone affair, situated on a good-sized allotment in one of the principal streets of Sydney. Most people have passed the place and wondered why it was so dull and murky and desolate, and why a tattered bill always announced that the upper part was "to let." It was owned by an absentee landlord, and there was a law-suit on it, and three mortgages. Around it was a solemn, melancholy waste, tenanted by old jam-tins and goats. The ground-floor was supposed to be occupied as offices, whilst the upper portion was left to solitude—and the ghost.

This was the spectre's grievance. Thirty years before it had cut its throat there, and since entering into the land of spirits it had not had a single opportunity of frightening anybody and achieving a reputation. It had made just one public appearance, and then it fell flat. It was an orthodox apparition, and as such, was strictly obliged to appear only between mid-night and cockcrow; but nobody lived in the house, nobody knew it was haunted, nobody cared whether it was haunted or not. So there it had remained, a poor, forlorn, neglected ghost, living alone in the dark and damp, all forgotten.

"Christmas again," it muttered in spectral grammar, "and I am still unknown. O! if I were only one of those modern young ghosts who go round visiting friends and relations and scaring the wits out of them; but, no! I am old-fashioned and must abide by the rules of the game. Why, I might have heaps of hidden money here to show people for aught the public know." Then it fell to musing over the one chance that had fallen its way.

It had been gazing sadly out of the window as usual at about one o'clock in the morning, when there came the sound of unsteady steps down the street. Presently, a stout old gentleman in evening dress, with his hat on one side and an overcoat on his arm, stopped suddenly in front of the gate and gazed curiously at the building. Would he come in? The ghost's heart beat fast with anxiety.

"Astonishing!" said the old gentleman. "How on earth did I get home so quick? Don't remember the tram—don't remember the train. My house, though, right enough." He opened the crazy gate and lurched in.

"At last, at last!" cried the apparition, restraining itself by a might effort from appearing on the verandah and prematurely flushing its game.

The old gentleman tried to put a latch-key in the door, but as there was no keyhole he failed. Then he kicked, and knocked, and swore. Finally he coiled himself up on the verandah, and after a grunt or two went fast asleep.

Then the exultant spectre passed through the crack underneath the door, and stood contemplating its unconscious victim. But all the old gentleman did was to turn over and say pettishly, as he dragged his coat over his shoulders, "Don't Maria!"

This put the ghost on its mettle. It laid an ice-cold hand on the sleeper, and, in a thrilling whisper, said, "Awake!"

The old gentleman sat up and blinked at the vision of the dead, and the vision regarded the old gentleman.

"Right, old boy!" said the latter. "I'll wake up in time, never fear. Bring me a stiff brandy-and-soda at it. Good night. Go'bless you!" and he laid down again and snored.

This was maddening. A ghost to be mistaken for a waiter and told to bring a brandy-and-soda in the morning! It fled through the top window to the haunted chamber and sat down on the bloodstain and cried.

Time passed, but no other mortal visited the haunted house between midnight and daylight. Other ghosts came. Ghosts who were allowed out at nights; and they used to tell the old deceased inhabitant what joyous times they had; but that only made things worse. Sometimes it thought that a burglar might break in during the small hours and give it a chance; but, then, the occupants of the two alleged offices hadn't enough between them to allure any respectable burglar; and the burglars knew it.

Sorrowfully the poor old apparition mused, and if it could only have repeated the operation of cutting its throat, it would have done so out of sheer desperation and ennui.

At that moment the sound of approaching footsteps broke the stillness.

Two men, in earnest conversation, halted opposite the gate, and, by the light of the street lamp, the ghost saw that one of them was the occupant of the offices. He was some sort of agent—general commission—and, as the ghost knew, his principal occupation was hiding behind some old tanks in the back yard when his creditors called, which they did constantly. The old ghost, in its invisible state, used to do a good deal of wandering about in the day-time.

After a few minutes more talk the two men came in, and the agent proceeded to unlock the door.

The ghost nearly shrieked with joy. How should it make the most startling appearance? It decided to await them in the passage and shake its gaunt arms in the shadows.

The agent struck a match, opened the door of his office, and was about entering, followed by his companion, when by the expiring light of the match, the latter caught a glimpse of the apparition standing at the end of the passage.

"Hallo! Somebody living here?" he said.

"No," said the agent, who had lit another match, and was searching for a candle.

"Thought I saw something at the end of the passage."

"Pooh! Cats, I suppose. This is a regular meeting place of theirs;" and the agent picked up an empty stone ink-bottle and, going to the door, hurled it down the passage, crying, "Shoo! get out!" Then he shut the office-door.

The ink-bottle went clean through the ghost, but the insult hurt it worse. First, to be taken for a waiter, then to be "shoo'ed" at for a cat. It approached the office vowing vengeance, and tramping frantically with the spectres of its old shadow feet on the floor. It was about to pass through the door, and, with a blood-curdling shriek appear before them with its gashed and bleeding throat, but a few words it heard arrested it. The ghost stopped and listened.

"Come, Tom, hurry up and get me those papers I left with you; I must go on board, we start at five sharp," said the younger man to the agent.

Tom sat on the edge of the rickety deal table, swinging one leg moodily to and fro, but made no attempt to move.

"You know how frightfully hard up we've been?" he said at last.

"Of course I do; has not my sister told me all about it to-day, and, as you know, I gave her all the money I could to keep you going for a bit. I can do no more. Give me the papers."

"Well, then," said the agent, getting up, desperately and defiantly, "I haven't got them."

"Not got them!" repeated the other. "God Almighty, man! what do you mean?"

"Mean what I say."

"What have you done with them?" cried the younger, fiercely.

"The bank has them as security."

The agent's brother-in-law gazed at him in silence. "Do you know," he said at last, quite quickly, "that you have ruined me?"

"I can redeem them and send them to you overland," muttered the other, with white lips.

"Bah! you redeem them; how?" and he glanced round the poverty-stricken room. "Even if you had the money, or could get it, how could you redeem them before Monday? This is Friday, and before you could forward them we should have left Brisbane. You've ruined yourself, and now you've ruined me."

The agent said nothing, and his companion walked impatiently up and down the room.

"How much did you get advanced on them?"

"Five hundred pounds."

"And what became of it?"

"Speculated with it. That was the temptation. I knew of such a safe thing."

"Such a safe thing!" said the other, mockingly.

There was silence for a time. The younger man continued his wild-beast walk, and the agent leant against the table with folded arms and eyes cast down.

Half an hour passed, but the ghost was not impatient; after thirty years of loneliness, this little tragedy was interesting. Besides, it had cut its throat for doing almost the same thing the agent had done. Would the agent cut his throat? In that case he would also become a ghost.

"I dare not go back without those deeds," said the young man at last. "How do you propose to get them back?"

"I think I can borrow the money."

"If that is all I have to rely on, why, they are gone. Well, if it comes to the worst, I must go to the bank and demand their restitution as stolen property. I don't know how the law stands, but I believe they will give them up and—"

"Prosecute me," said the agent.

"I suppose so. I will do my duty, even though it puts you in gaol."

"You will put me in gaol, will you?" snarled the agent, walking up to his companion with an ugly look on his face.

The ghost executed a double shuffle in his joy, and pressed about in the passage. There was going to be a murder, and he would have another ghost to bear him company.

The young man confronted his brother-in-law, and said quietly, "If every other means fails, I must inform the bank, and after that I cannot interfere."

Tom fell back, and said, after a pause, "You had better leave me. I must try and think of some way out of this."

The other seemed in no hurry to stay, and walked to the door merely remarking, "I will see you this afternoon." Then the front door slammed behind him, and the house was left to the agent and the ghost.

Was the agent going to cut his throat? The ghost looked anxiously in; such an opportunity was worth waiting thirty years for.

Was he going to cut his throat? Nothing of the sort. The agent looked quite relieved, as though an unpleasant task had at last been got over. He lit another candle and turned towards the old-fashioned fireplace on one side of the room. The ghost watched him curiously. It was a hearth for burning wood; and the agent prised up one of the side stones, and from a whole underneath took out a large cash-box; put it on the table, and opened it. The spirit rushed through the wall unseen, and looked over his shoulder. The box was full of sovereigns. The agent counted them over with a sigh of relief, replaced the box in its hiding place, and made ready to go.

The apparition had passed through the wall again into the dark passage. It would never do to scare the agent now; he was coming back for that box, and then—the ghost hugged itself in anticipation. The agent closed and locked his door; slammed the front door after him and departed. The ghost stopped behind and chuckled. It was all plain as the proverbial pikestaff, and to be summed up in one word, "bolt." The five hundred pounds had not gone in speculation; they were in the cash-box, besides other little pickings. The spectre reckoned it all up on its shadowy fingers; holiday time, crowds travelling about, best chance in the world to get away; he's off, with whatever he can lay his hands on, leaves his wife and children to do the best they can, robs his brother-in-law, and ruins the people who own those deeds; now, how can I circumvent him?

The ghost fell into a brown study. "If I could only materialise myself like some of those new fangled spirits say they can, I might collar that money and tell the young fellow all about it, but I can't. If I appear before him I shall scare him, and then—he might not come back here. I'll best that fellow though if I...."—die for it, the ghost was about to say, but as he had done that already he changed the expression. Just then the daylight lightened the eastern sky, and it vanished, but its face wore a look of satisfaction that was not on it before; evidently the apparition had an idea.

Christmas day passed in the usual manner, so far as the ghost was concerned; that is to say, nobody came near the place, and it either sat on the blood-spot or looked out of the window. Midnight struck, and the ghost was happy. It had six hours of visibility before it, and in a shadowy sort of way it cleared the desk for action.

At half-past twelve the agent made his appearance carrying a small portmanteau.

He struck a match before closing the front door, and dropped it immediately with a yell. Somebody was leaning against the door of his room, a strange, mouldy-looking little man who smelt exactly like a damp umbrella. Resisting the impulse to turn and fly, he waited and listened. There was no sound but the violent thumping of his own heart. He looked round into the street behind him to reassure himself, mustered up his nerve, and struck another match. This time the passage was empty. He wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead, and laughed with considerable difficulty. Then he unlocked his own door, but he left the front door open. Nobody in his room so far as he could see with a match, so he lit the candle and—it was no fancy. An old man with a ghastly white face and a horrible blood-stain on his white beard and shirt front was sitting loose in the air about three feet above the floor. He might have stood his ground even then, but the thing started to walk through the air towards him, and, smitten with unreasoning panic, he turned and ran through the open door, and the triumphant ghost heard his flying footsteps die away in the distance.

"Now for the other man," muttered the ghost.

One o'clock struck, and in a few minutes the ghost heard someone entering the house. Both doors were still open and the candle still burning, so the newcomer walked straight in. He stopped short inside the room. Seated at the table where he expected to find his relative was a seedy old gentleman who, in spite of the heat, had his coat buttoned right to the neck and his collar turned up. The visitor was silent with astonishment, but the spectre grinned at him in an amiable manner and he faltered at last:

"Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"So glad you spoke," said the apparition, blandly. "You see I'm a ghost, and, of course, I can't speak first. Not allowed by the regulations. Now, don't be frightened and run away, because I want to do you a good turn. How do you feel? Quite well?"

"You're a ghost? But I don't believe in them. It's a joke."

"Don't be sceptical, young man. Shall I walk through the table or do any little absurdity of that sort? But, no! you've more sense than that. Listen: Your brother-in-law is a thief, you know, but he is worse than you think. He did not lose the money the bank advanced him. He has it all in a cash box under that stone. Lift it up and see. He was going to bolt. There is his portmanteau."

As in a dream, the live man advanced and did as the dead man directed him. Sure enough he lifted out a weighty cash-box.

"If I were you," said the ghost, "I would go straight to his house with that, and make him open it in front of your sister. His wife, isn't she?"

"Yes."

"Poor woman! Well, good morning, my boy. Wish you luck."

The young man halted at the door. "Is there any little thing I can do, sir, to show my gratitude?"

"There is. Now and again, say at intervals of a few months, persuade someone to come here between midnight and daylight. A sceptic, if possible. I won't give them much of a fright."

"Rely on me. I have half-a-dozen in my mind's eye already;" and he backed rather rapidly out into the street.

"A nice young man," said the ghost. "Now, I wonder if that other fellow is coming back. If he wants to clear out before daylight he'll face anything to get that money."

Sure enough, in about an hour's time, the agent came back. He had been somewhere in quest of Dutch courage, and was pot-valiant. The candle had gone out, but he lit another, and glared about the room.

"Now, where are you?" he cried. "Come out and frighten me again if you can. I've got something here for you." Looking through the wall the ghost saw he was flourishing a revolver.

Cursing himself for a fool for running away before, he put the weapon down and went to the hearth. The cry he gave when he discovered his loss was tremendous. He sprang to his feet, and there, glaring at him across the table, was the old man with the gashed throat. Then three shots were fired in quick succession. Two of them went through the spectre. The third went through the agent.

There are two ghosts in that old house now. One occupies the upper, the one the lower portion—but they are not on speaking terms.


17. -- IN THE NIGHT

The Bulletin, Sydney, 17 Dec 1892

"STEADY now, old man; do you feel better? Here! Hold hard! I'm not a nigger."

The wounded man had struggled desperately as though still struggling with his foes.

One dead white man, speared through the body; one with his head cut open, whom the speaker was trying to revive, and four dead blacks, lying on their faces with outstretched arms—the posture in which niggers usually die who meet with a violent death. The sun had set, and darkness was rapidly closing in. Presently the wounded man regained his senses somewhat.

"How's Joe?" he asked

"If Joe is your mate, I'm afraid it's all up with him, as it would have been with you if I had not come. Not but what you had done pretty well before I came. I can only account for one," and he motioned towards the dead.

"Yes; I remember. Joe was speared at the start. He was picking wood for the fire. How did you come here?"

"I've been after horses all day, and was on my way home when I heard the row. I got here just as you had this crack on the head; and the niggers cleared. I suppose you fellows were bound for the Cloncurry?"

"Yes. Poor old Joe! Are you quite sure he is dead?"

"Quite sure. Now, what's the best thing to do about you? I suppose you can't rise?"

The other shook his head wearily.

"It's fifteen miles to the station. The boss has got a buggy in there, and we'll bring it out for you if you are game to stop here alone while I go. I'll be back by daylight. There's no fear of the blacks turning up again, I know the run of these fellows."

"I'm game," said the wounded man faintly.

"Right. I'll load your revolver up for you, and be back as soon as I can. Keep your pecker up, you're safe enough here."

With this rough but kindly consolation the stockman departed, and the survivor of the two men who had been suddenly attacked by the natives when camping, was left alone. Not a pleasant position, but nerves are not supposed to be known in the outside country.

There was a first-quarter moon, and the shadows soon got darker and darker beneath its feeble light. The man with the broken head had quite recovered his consciousness but he still felt dizzy and weak. It was an awful time to wait until daylight. Supposing the niggers came back again after all! Then he recalled all the stories he had heard of the blacks mutilating the dead bodies of their enemies. If they came back at all it would be for that. Supposing he was unconscious when they came and they commenced on him! He must watch all night to prevent that. Poor Joe, his mate, he wouldn't like him to be cut up by the darkies.

Surely, he thought, one of the bodies had moved. The moon gave such a sickly half-light now it was sinking that it was impossible to make certain. Yes, it was a dark figure creeping up to Joe's body, not one of the dead ones, for he could still count them—one, two, three, four. A live nigger crawling up to hack Joe about. He took aim and fired. That dropped him, he could see him writhing in the streak of light that broke through a rift in the trees. Go and finish him, to save another shot. On his hands and knees he crawled over, picking up a dropped club on the way. Then the silence of the night was broken by fierce and heavy blows, and he crawled back to his tree and fainted.

The moon had set when he opened his eyes again, but, by the pale light of the stars, he saw, to his horror, another black shadow approaching the dead body of his mate. Another successful shot and, full of rage, he again crept over and used the formidable club. But the savages were not to be deterred; one after another the dark forms came creeping up, to fall beneath revolver and club, until at last the man's senses left him.


THE DAY had broken, but the sun was not yet up, when the stockman and another man drove up in the buggy. They jumped out, and hastened to the apparent sleeper, but he was dead.

"Have the niggers been back and killed him?"

The stockman shook his head. "I can't make it out—look at this club in his hand covered with blood and—"

The two stood up and gazed curiously about. One, two, three, four black bodies and one red heap.

"He wasn't like that when I left him," said the stockman, hastily; "he was speared clean."

The head was pounded out of recognition, the body and limbs smashed by maniacal blows; the corpse of the wretched Joe was beaten out of all semblance of humanity.

"There have been no blacks here since I left."

"What can be the meaning of that club in his hand?" was the reply.


18. -- AN UNQUIET SPIRIT

The Bulletin, Sydney, 3 Nov 1894

I

I HOLD my father's memory in the greatest respect. I have every reason for doing so.

Although his motives of life and mine were diametrically opposed, this was never made a bone of contention between us. I fell into step and marched dutifully with his views until his death, at a ripe age, left me free to live in a manner more congenial to my disposition.

My father was a squatter—a fine healthy fellow of the old school, that is to say, a man who believed in the work of his own hands, and was never happy when away from the station. He was devoted to cattle and horse-breeding, and, although the chances had many times been presented to him of leasing a huge area, and stocking it with sheep by the aid of a friendly bank, he had always steadily refused. Thanks to this, he died fairly well off.

Many years before his death, I am happy to think, he had succeeded to the height of his ambition. His compact, if small, run was as skillfully divided that it could almost work itself. His cattle were bred to that pitch of perfection that the DAV brand was known throughout Australia. His horses were sought for eagerly as hacks or stock horses. To keep everything up to this standard became the old man's one idea. Method and order were his fetish, and when he died he left me instructions to bury him in his working clothes beside the stockyard. The familiar sound of the trampling hoofs would, he thought, soothe him in the long, last slumber. I am afraid this idea was not a pronounced success.

I was twenty-five when my father died. He had been a widower for twenty years, and soon after I laid him in the grave, in strict accordance with his wishes, I commenced to look out for a manager for Braganall Station. Although I had successfully concealed it during my father's lifetime, I hated bush life as much as he loved it. He died, happy in the thought that his son would be a worthy successor in the management of the station he had created, little dreaming that that son yearned to become a barrister.

I soon found a competent manager named Dodson, took up my abode in Sydney, and began reading for the Bar. I had many advantages; an independent income, a good education, and a first-rate physical training. I worked hard for nearly a year, then, feeling the need of a little relaxation, I ran up to Braganall to spend a few weeks. Everything seemed to be in good working order, although I could not help noticing a falling off in little things from the severe discipline of my father's time, but then I knew he had been a martinet, and laid small stress upon this.

One evening, as the dusk was closing in, Dodson and I sat smoking on the verandah in that meditative silence bushmen enjoy so much. Two of the men, returning to their quarters, passed within earshot.

"Bill," I heard one of them say in the calm stillness of the hour, "did yer put them slip-rails on one side?"

"No, I forgot," replied the other.

"Better go back and do it, or Old Danvers will be around after you!"

Without a word the man turned and went back, and the other walked on.

What on earth did it mean?

"Old Danvers" was my father.

Dodson must have heard the remark as well. The men, evidently, had not noticed us, as we were well within the shadow of the verandah; therefore they had not lowered their voices.

"What does that mean about 'Old Danvers'?" I said.

"I am sure I don't know," replied Dodson.

This I felt was an untruth. "Mr. Dodson," I remarked in a severe tone; "I am sure you do know, therefore I expect a plain answer to my question. What did that man mean by saying that my father would be around after him?"

Dodson hesitated, then he blurted out: "The men have some foolish yarn that Mr. Danvers, your father, walks."

"Walks!" I repeated. "His ghost appears?"

"Something of the sort. If anything is left neglected the man who did it can't rest—he dreams of your father until he has to get up and go and do what he left undone, even if it's in the middle of the night."

I could not help laughing. "The ghost must be a good overseer," I said; "I suppose your men are always leaving, with this notion going about?"

"Not at all. They are not a bit afraid—they say he always speaks quite kindly to them."

"More in sorrow than in anger," I quoted.

"Precisely so. I saw him once myself. He looked in at my bedroom window; stared at me until I had to get up. Then I found that I had left the garden gate open, and one of the milkers had got in."

I scarcely knew what to think of this communication. Bushmen, as a rule, are not in the least superstitious—they have too much night-work to fancy that the dark hours have uncanny denizens peculiar to themselves. Although I practiced cross-examination on Dodson I could get no more out of him, and, of course, it was useless asking the men. I remained on the station for another fortnight, but heard nothing more about the shade of my departed parent.

II

TWO months after my visit to Braganall, I was sitting in my chambers in Sydney, intent on my work, when, happening to raise my eyes, I saw my father in the room. He was dressed just as he was buried; he advanced to the table, and, without speaking, commenced to put the things on it straight. This was an old habit of his, as I at once recognised. Anything on the table not in its exact place always annoyed him. When everything was neat and square he sank into a chair and smiled kindly at me. Now I felt not the least surprise, strange to say. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for my father to pay me a visit, although I was fully aware that he was buried near the stockyard on Braganall.

"Jimmy," he said, "I don't think you have acted quite fair to me."

"What's the matter, governor?" I asked.

"Why did you not let me know you preferred this sort of thing?" and he indicated the papers on the table. "I thought you meant to look after the place yourself."

"Honestly, I should have told you," I replied, "but I thought you would be more contented if you did not know."

My father shook his head. "I have nothing to say against Dodson," he went on; "he is a very well-meaning young man, but he is going to make a great mistake, and I want you to write and stop him."

I nodded, but kept silence.

My father then went into a detail of station-management with which I need not trouble the reader. I could see (for was I not my father's pupil?) that it was just the kind of mistake that a young and enthusiastic manager like Dodson would fall into. I at once wrote the letter, and enclosed it in an envelope, my father watched complacently. When I had finished he said:

"I don't want to annoy you, Jim, but you see it's this way. I'm in Kama at present."

"Kama?"

"Yes, Kama Loka. I am on my way to Devachan, but these little worries rather delay me, for you see Kama is only an astral counterpart of our physical existence, and until I am quite satisfied that I need not bother any more about Braganall my entity will not be properly established in Devachan."

"I understand," I said, but, of course, I didn't.

My father beamed on me with his old kindly look, and left.

He came to see me on little matters, once or twice after that. Several people came in and saw him there, but they only took him for a queer sort of client. Medicine and the law are privileged that way.

Once, however, he put me out a little, and forced me into the meanest action of my life. It was at a garden party, and a swell affair at that, when I suddenly became aware that all eyes were turned my way, and that my father, in his bush dress, was standing by me.

"Jim," he said in an undertone, "I can't help it, I've had no rest for a fortnight. There's the gate-post of the drafting yard been pushed out of place, the gate doesn't hang plumb, and Dodson doesn't get it straightened up."

"I'll send him a telegram about it at once," I answered, hastily.

"You will?" queried the old man. "You know I'll never get to Devachan at this rate."

"I will," I affirmed, and then, for everyone was looking at us, I put my hand in my pocket, then into his hand, as though I was giving alms to a persistent beggar, and he went away satisfied.

Now, to pass off the shade of one's father as an intrusive loafer who had to be got rid of at any price, is, I think, the greatest piece of moral cowardice a man can be guilty of. I have never fully recovered my self-respect since.

These constant visits, however, made trouble upon the station. Dodson felt aggrieved that I should be always writing or wiring up about petty little things that might well be left to him, and, moreover, concluded that I must have a spy on the place who supplied me with the information. This led to his resignation, and put me in such a fix that, in desperation, I decided to sell the station.

Our neighbour on Braganall was an old friend of my father's, and a man after his own heart. His two sons, unlike me, were squatters to the backbone; so I wrote to him and put the place under offer. Somewhat to my relief, my father or his astral counterpart, did not object to this. He seemed to think that, failing me, the sons of his old friend would do justice to Braganall. Negotiations were, therefore, soon concluded, and Manxton became the owner of the well-known DAV herd.

I had now some peace from the constant visitations of my father, and about that time I fell deeply in love. Contrary to proverbial wisdom, the course of our true love ran smoothly throughout, and our wedding day was approaching when I received a letter from young Manxton which somewhat unsettled me. We were old friends from boyhood's time, therefore he addressed me without any ceremony. "Look here, old fellow," his letter ran, "when the old man bought this place I don't think he took delivery of any ghosts; at least, they were not mentioned in the agreement. I wish you could induce your ancestral spook to let me manage the station my own way." Young Manxton had a blunt way of putting it, but under the circumstances, I felt I could pardon him.

I saw fresh trouble ahead, but could do nothing but write back and treat his letter as a joke.

III

IT wanted but a week to our wedding day, and Laura and I were deep in confidential conversation one evening when the astral figure of my father appeared. Laura gave a big jump and a little shriek at his sudden appearance, then sat quiet, whilst my father said:

"Jim, you must do something for me. I know you can't properly interfere, but young Manxton is going to sell Silverside and go in for breeding trotters."

At this moment Laura sprang up with a loud cry. "Jim! Jim!" she half shrieked, "it's your father, I know him from the likeness you showed me. Oh! oh! it's his ghost!"—and she went off into a faint, and I caught her and put her on the sofa. I looked reproachfully at the old man and he went out without opening the door, which was contrary to his usual habit. Then Laura's mother came in and wanted to know what the matter was and who the stranger was she met in the hall. I said weakly I did not know, but would go after him if she would look after Laura, for I was anxious to get away before she came to.

I passed a restless night, and the next morning the post brought me a letter of farewell from my sweetheart. She pointed out clearly that there were but two conclusions to arrive at. Either my father was not dead and had committed some criminal action which necessitated his disappearance, or it was his ghost. Now, in either case our marriage was an impossibility—she could not marry a man whose father had served a term in gaol; nor could she become the wife of one who had a ghostly progenitor popping up at convenient and inconvenient times. To this there was no answer, at least I had none to offer; and it was not until I had worried my brains for hours that I saw a ray of hope ahead.

I wrote to Laura and her mother saying that I would offer them a satisfactory and ample explanation. Then I wrote to Manxton and asked him to delay the sale of Silverside (one of the sires of the Braganall stud) until he heard further from me. Then I sat and waited.

I was not disappointed; my father, looking very penitent, made his appearance. "I'm awfully sorry, Jim, but I was so upset when I found out that Manxton was going to sell Silverside that I came in without thinking."

"It's been my own fault as well," I returned, for I could not bear to see the old chap so miserable. "However, I think I have found out a way to put things straight again. In the first place, I am going to buy Braganall back."

My father shook his head; his business shrewdness was evidently a portion of the astral counterpart of his physical existence. "He'll make you pay through the nose when he finds you want it. I know Manxton."

"But I think you can assist me to get it back at my own figure," I returned, and showed him young Manxton's letter.

"Now, can't you make things so ghostly uncomfortable up there that he'll be glad to almost give me the place back?"

My father became perfectly luminous with delight. "Bless you, boy!" he said, and was about to vanish, when I recalled him.

"There's more to be done yet. I have to make it right with Laura. I am going to manage Braganall myself, now that I am about to be married, but, for all that, some little slips may occur which might worry you and delay you on your passage to—where is it?"

"Devachan," said my father.

"Devachan, yes. Do you think you could materialise a letter when you have anything to say? I shall probably keep a room somewhere in Sydney where you could write."

"Certainly I could. Why did I not think of it before?"

"Now, will you be here to-morrow at eleven o'clock, and, before Laura and her mother, give me your word that you will in future confine yourself to letter-writing when anything goes wrong. You see it's this way, Dad. I enjoy seeing you immensely, but the women, you know, are prejudiced."

"I quite understand it," replied the shade, and departed.

I called on Mrs. Lyntott, Laura's mother, who is a remarkably strong-minded woman, and laid the whole case before her. She reconciled me to Laura, and they agreed to meet my father at my rooms in the morning.

The inconsistency of womankind! Before that meeting concluded they had taken such a liking to that astral being that they both regretted deeply the compact that had been entered into. "I should have been very glad to see you occasionally, Mr. Danvers," said my prospective mother-in-law, and Laura uttered a like wish. However, the thing was done. A ghost must keep its word, once passed; and we parted with mutual feelings of regret.

Before leaving, my father whispered to me: "I gave young Manxton such a night of it last night I expect you'll hear from him to-day."

It is now many years since this happened, and as I have never received a materialised letter, I presume that earthly matters have ceased to trouble the good old gentleman, and my management of Braganall has been satisfactory. His conscious unit has, I hope, passed from Kama Loka to the higher spiritual plane of Devachan.


19. -- THE TRACK OF THE DEAD

The Bulletin, Sydney, 23 Apr 1892

"WHAT'S the matter with you; why the deuce can't you sleep?"

"I don't know," returned Alf; "got a touch of insomnia to-night. If I do go to sleep I have the most awful dreams all about men I used to know, men who are dead now."

"Oh, for heaven's sake don't start such talk at this time of night. Sit by the fire and smoke your pipe quietly," I answered, wearily, as I turned my back to the blaze and drew my blanket around me.

"Right you are, old man," he replied, good-naturedly, and I dropped off into unconsciousness.

I awoke with a start. The fire was out, or nearly so, and the camp was silent. Just above the horizon the spectral last quarter of the moon was hanging, throwing ghostly, dim, long shadows around. It was the hour before dawn, the uncanny hour when all the vital forces are at the lowest ebb. Some great general is reported to have said, that the only courage worth a hang was three o'clock in the morning courage. Whether anyone ever did make the remark or not, there is a deal of truth in it.

I roused myself a little and looked around. Alf was sleeping on the other side of the fire, and where he had set his bed down was now in deep shadow, and I could make nothing out. I tried to go to sleep again, but it was useless. Perhaps a smoke might send me off; so, seeing a spark still smouldering, I arose, and blowing the end of a still glowing firestick into a blaze, I lit my pipe, and then, holding the lighted stick up, looked over to where my companion should have been sleeping.

His blankets were tenantless.

May I never experience again such an uncomfortable thrill as went through me when I made this discovery! I put my hand on the blankets where they had been thrown aside. They were cold and the dew had gathered on them; he must have been gone some hours. I listened long and intently, but the night was silent. For a man to wander away from camp in the middle of the night, out in the Never-Never spinifex country, and remain away for hours, is a most uncanny thing. If he had heard the horses making off he would have called me ere leaving; if—but I exhausted all conjectures before daylight dawned. I could do nothing until then.

The light came very slowly, or so it appeared to me. We were camped at the foot of a spinifex rise, on a narrow flat bordering a creek. When the light was strong I could see the horses feeding quietly some short distance away, and picking up my bridle I soon had one caught and saddled, and firing off my rifle two or three times without eliciting an answering shot, I started to look for my missing mate. After some trouble I picked up his track leading straight up the ridge, which, near the crest, was sandy, and the prints of his footsteps were clearly defined. The spinifex was scantier here, and as I gazed intently down I saw something that made me pull up and hastily dismount to scan the tracks closer. Alf, was not alone, somebody was walking ahead of him.

Step by step I followed leading my horse, but I could make nothing of the foremost track, for Alf's almost covered it every time. At last they diverged, and the two ran side by side. It was a bright morning, the sun just glinting under the stunted trees; what little live nature there was in that lonely spot was awake and joyously greeting the day; but I rose up from my examination of that awful foot-mark with the dew of superstitious terror on my forehead. No living man had made that track.

I had to follow on scarce knowing what to think or expect. I tried to persuade myself that the foot-print was that of some attenuated old gin, lean and shrunken as a mummy, but that was against reason. The track was that of the skeleton of a man; and Alf was not following it, but following whatever was making it.

With varying fortune, now finding, now losing the trail I kept on for about two hours; then, halfway down a slight incline, I came upon the object of my search. He was sitting on the ground talking to himself, I thought at first, but when I got closer I saw he was addressing some object on his lap. He was nursing the head and shoulders of the remains of a human being. He lay at full length amidst a patch of rank green grass fertilised by the decayed body, a skeleton with fragments of rotten clothing still clinging to it. Alf had his arm under the skull as one would support a sick man, and was murmuring words of affection. He raised his head as I approached but evinced no surprise.

"This is my brother Jack;" he said. "Fancy his coming to the camp last night to show me where he was. We must take him into the nearest station and bury him, for he can't rest here, it's too lonely."

I could not answer. Alf's mind had evidently given way and I could not reason with him. He carried the body back to our camp and I commenced a ghastly ride to the nearest station over seventy miles away, with a madman and a corpse for companions. The third day after starting we arrived at Ulmalong, then the outside station, and here I learnt the story of Alf's twin brother.

He had been a stockman on the place when it was first settled, and had ridden out on his rounds one day and never returned. There was little doubt that the skeleton we brought in was his, but what led the living twin to its resting place? I held my tongue about the track for they would only think I was as mad as poor Alf.

After we buried the remains Alf relapsed into almost constant silence. He was quite harmless and they found him some light work to do about the place, but he died, prematurely aged, in about a year's time. He was buried with his brother.


20. -- A GEOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE

Evening News, Sydney, 8 May 1897

'I WONDER what they mean by the yarn?' said Brereton, as he slowly cut a pipeful of tobacco. 'I can't make out at all, for they describe things that they cannot possibly have seen,' returned his companion.

The two were discussing a curious statement they had pieced out from the natives of a strange country to the southward, where there was always water and green trees; but none of the blacks dared venture in, so fearful were the huge animals that Inhabited it.

The two men were on an outside station in the far north-west of Australia. Below them, to the southward, was the tract of sand hill country that as yet had been little traversed, and was the only area of land left in Australia that might hide any possible secrets. This floating rumor had come to them often, but it was only by time and patience they had succeeded in getting crude details. Both men were accustomed to natives, and knew all about their mendacity; but in this case the blacks from all parts agreed so exactly in their descriptions that they both began to think there was something in it. None of the natives round about had been there. The tale had come from the wild Myalls of the desert, and all allowance had to be made for it coming from such a source.

Still, they had described beasts that had the appearance of elephants, of which they could never have heard; flying animals that seemed like the visions of a nightmare, or something quite beyond the imagination of a native to construct. The idea that there was something of truth underlying these statements had taken firm hold of both men, and as camels were available in the district, they determined to make a trip in search of this strange place. They took natives on with them from one tribe to another, until at last they reached the tribe who were said to be acquainted with this mysterious land.

The party consisted of Brereton and Soames, with a white man named Gordon and a black boy. Having effected an amicable understanding with the tribe, and through the black who had accompanied them managed to explain what they desired, they were met with looks of fright and denial. Evidently the blacks had no love for the place. At last the offer of tomahawks had the desired effect, and an old man volunteered to undertake the task.

In the morning they started, and their guide led them on until they reached a broad flat covered with a sort of sage-brush, and bordered on each side by spinifex-covered sand hills. Down this he turned, and when they had proceeded some distance he made signs to them to follow the flat down and they would reach the place, and he would go back. When they tried to induce him to accompany them he took them over to a dried clay-pan in the centre of the flat, and pointed to some tracks in it, made when the mud was soft.

'I should say it was a crocodile tracks,' said Soames; 'if it was not impossible that one could be out here.'

'A crocodile four times as big as any on the coast of Australia, then,' replied Brereton. In truth, it was a most formidable track, and they excused the native from proceeding further, and gave him the promised tomahawks, and he departed, a millionaire.

Following the flat down, they came to another clay-pan, through which at some recent time the monster had also floundered. Not far from this was a hole with fresh water in it, and as the day was getting spent, and there was feed for their camels, they determined to halt for the night, taking the precaution to fix their camp half-way up the sand-ridge.

It was a calm, still night, and they were all lying down resting, when suddenly a noise like the roar of the siren of an ocean steamer arose in the distance. They all sprang up and listened until it died down to silence. It was not a cheerful sound to hear, particularly as it came from the direction in which they intended proceeding.

'It seems to me,' said Brereton, 'that that old nigger had got any amount' of sense.'

'Yes,' replied Soames; 'that noise was not made by a mosquito.'

They remained listening, but although they thought that they heard other confused roars and howls, they did not hear the one that had aroused them until later on in the night.

In the morning they started early, and followed the flat, which ran a straight course, and was evidently descending in altitude. The morning was exceptionally hot, and the air, strange to say, had a damp, oppressive feeling, as though they were riding through steam.

Suddenly they emerged on a broad, open plain, and the sand hills on either side died down to the level of the plain. Before them lay a huge hollow, enveloped in mist. From out of this strange mist sounds were heard, as of the noise of animals, but the cloud was a long distance below them, and they could hear but indistinctly.

As they, halted and watched the heat of the sun began to dispel the mist. It floated upward in fleecy clouds, which changed and melted in all the colors of the rainbow. A wonderful scene was disclosed.

They were looking over a vast jungle lying at the bottom of an enormous circular hollow. This dense forest seemed composed of gigantic trees, unlike any common to Australia. They could see other flats like the one they had followed stretching out from the forest as from the centre of a star. This singular place lay below them so far that over the dense cluster of tree-tops they could see an island of clear ground in the middle of it, but they were too far away to distinguish anything plainly.

'I suppose that's where, the gentleman lives who was trying his voice last night,' said Brereton.

'And his friend who made those delicate tracks,' added Soames.

They proceeded slowly down the incline, finding the ground coated with a short, green turf. The air was more dense and oppressive than ever, and when nearing the forest the ground became too boggy for their camels to progress any further. They could now see that this abnormal growth sprang from a morass and through the rank vegetation giant beasts of a bygone age crushed their way, fought and browsed.

'We've found a bit of primeval Australia, with a vengeance, it strikes me,'. said Soames, after they had watched the spectacle for some time. 'We've got back to the Pliocene age, I think. Here, Soames, you see that joker tearing down that bough—isn't that a diprotodon? You're a bit of a geologist.'

'Yes, I suppose that's what the niggers described, and we took for an elephant.

As he spoke there was a noise overhead, and looking aloft the men saw to their consternation a ferocious being, with huge bat-like wings and long, snake-like neck, hovering over them as though about to make a swoop on the party. On the impulse of the moment Brereton raised his rifle, and fired at it. The creature smarted, then with a blood-curdling scream flew back to the forest with one leg trailing and broken.

They saw it try to alight on one of the lofty tree tops, fail, and fall straggling down. Immediately there was a rash of beasts from all sides, and with howls and roars the thing was torn, in tatters.

'I vote we make back for a bit, and decide what's best to be done,' said Brereton, as he reloaded his rifle.

Acting on the advice, they retreated up the incline to the termination of the island ridge, intending to proceed with great caution. They fixed a camp, and discussed the best method of conducting, the campaign; it was evident that the first, thing was to circumnavigate the morass, or the 'Pliocene survival,' as Soames had christened it, and find out if it was the same on all sides. This they carried into execution, they started in the afternoon, but had not got half-way round by dark.

However, there was abundance of water in all the flats that ran in, like the spokes of a wheel, and there was, no difficulty in finding a good camp. In fact, the whole of the incline to the morass seemed charged with water, increasing as the level got lower.

'Can you explain this thing at all?' asked Brereton of his companion, as they were lying on their blankets smoking.

'Only by supposing that we are a long way below the level of the sea, and there is a vast drainage of subterranean water into this hollow. This and the moist heat created by the sun in this enclosed space has caused that growth of forest, and the survival of these old-time creatures.'

'Think there are any inhabitants on that island?'

'No; these things lived long before men appeared, unless Australia was peopled before the rest of the world, which it probably was, from there being so much cussedness about its formation and its productions.

Next morning they proceeded on their round, and presently came to where the uniformity of the country was broken by a rocky range of no great elevation. This ran out in a point towards the swamp. They could not see the end of it, but it appeared to stop abruptly, and not penetrate the actual morass. They left the camels with the black boy to mind them, and the three whites went on foot over the boulder-strewn ridge to the end of it. It was a long and toilsome tramp, and what with the heat of the sun and the steamy atmosphere, they were glad when they came to the termination.

It ended abruptly in a precipitous descent that partly encroached beyond the edge of the swamp. From this elevation they were able to obtain a good view of the strange world beneath them.

But another object claimed their attention: The crest of the ridge on which they stood was continued by a flying bridge rudely but strongly constructed, and depending for support on the huge trees whose tops towered above the ridge. The bridge, or causeway, apparently, led to the island, and must have been a work of tremendous labor and time. It was constructed of solid beams, and went from tree to tree, and either the time it had been built was so long or the growth in that region was so quick; that the forks of the trees in which the ends of the beams were placed had overgrown the latter.

This aerial causeway was slippery from the moist atmosphere; but on its slimy surface were no fresh tracks, as though the builders of it had ceased from using this connection between the island and the mainland. No view of the island could be obtained, as the bridge wound about in a zig-zag fashion.

'They weren't afraid of a job, whoever built this,' said Brereton.

Soames had taken a tomahawk, and was chipping at one of the logs.

'They're petrified,' he said. 'God knows when this was built.'

'Shall we go across?'

'Yes, but let us take it easy. In the first place these logs are mighty slippery, and I don't want to tumble down there for one.'

'What shall we do?'

'Go back, fix the camp up in as safe a place as we can find, and come prepared in the morning with our pack ropes. Meanwhile, we'll finish the circuit this afternoon.'

They were lucky in finding an overhanging shelving rock which would serve admirably to protect their packs, and be a shelter from any attacks by the winged creatures, of which they all had a great dread. They followed the morass round to where they had first struck it, but found nothing out of the usual run.

They scarcely slept that night in anticipation of what they might meet with on the island, and early morning found them at the point of the rocky promontory laden with all the things that they thought would aid them in the passage. It was a most difficult and dangerous crossing, for the growth, of the trees had made the footway uneven, and without the ropes they would never have passed over in safety.

In the middle they stopped and gazed at the strange animals in the depth below them. Giants they most of them were. Soames recognised the nototherium, the gigantic wombat as large as a bear; the thylacoleo, a huge and ferocious beast; beside the diprodoton, and many others of whom he took rough sketches for after identification. They saw some of the terrible flying horrors with turtle backs and darting necks, but they did not attempt to molest them. Enormous alligators, too, crawled over the slime and reeds, and a constant snarl and roar arose from the fights that were continually going on. At last they turned the bend that brought them in sight of the island, and gazing eagerly forward caught sight of some tall moving objects.

'Men!' they exclaimed, but, on looking steadily at them, they saw they were gigantic kangaroos.

The causeway led them straight on to where an ancient road met it, and by the nature of the rocks they saw it was an elevation of the ridge they had left. Before them was a structure of solid stone, evidently one of the habitations or the builders of the causeway. But no sign of life was visible.

The building was of one lofty ground floor, massively put together of unhewn stone. The door was of great height, and was placed at an elevation of eight or ten feet above the ground; and they were not long in finding out the reason. A group of large grey objects were seen in pursuit of one of the giant kangaroos, the thrylacini, the ancestors of the wolves.

Their quarry turned and stood at bay after the manner of one of his degenerate descendants worried by dingoes, but he was pulled down by numbers—fighting fiercely to the last.

'It strikes me that they made their doors so high to prevent a night visit from these gentlemen,' said Brereton. 'Well, as there seems no one at home, shall we go in?' he continued.

His companions agreed, and by means of some steps cut in the wall they ascended and entered the building. The room they found themselves in was well-lighted; and in one corner was a stone couch, on which lay the ossified remains of a human being. They approached it silently. It was a man of more than heroic stature; well-proportioned, and with a goodly shaped head. He bore no resemblance to the present aborigines, and had evidently died quietly in his bed, and been preserved by the ossifying nature of the atmosphere; though, naturally, shrunk and withered, in life he would have been a giant such as are not known now.

While still gazing at this noble looking object, they heard without a snuffing and whimpering. Looking over the door sill they saw below the lolling tongues, glistening teeth, and fiery eyes of the thrylacini pack, who had scented them out.

'We'll make short work of you,' said Brereton. 'Take good aim.'

They had an ample supply of cartridges, and, firing leisurely from their vantage point, they never wasted a shot. As they dropped one by one the others fell upon and devoured them. At last there were only a few survivors left, who loped off in, disgust. The men examined the hut, and found a monstrous bow, with stone-headed arrows, a club, stone knife, and axe; all fit for a giant race to wield.

Other buildings were in sight, and they were about to descend and examine them when Brereton pulled Soames back. Snuffing about among the remains of the dead thrylacini were two hyena-looking animals, the sarcophilis, who still exist as the Tasmanian devil. Two shots made them bite the dust; then the party descended, and made their way to the next habitation.

In it they found the remains of a man and a woman, to all appearance younger than the one they had seen first. The woman lay on the couch, the Than was half way to the door, and his body rested on one knee, and the point of his outstretched hand. So lifelike was the posture that the men started when they saw it. These two were of giant stature, and in all the houses they visited they found the same grim memorials of the past. Old and young, babies, children and youths and girls. Some, poisonous exhalation from the surrounding swamp had smitten them all down one fatal night; that was the only explanation they could think of.

'But why did it not kill off the animals as well?' asked Brereton when Soames propounded the theory. The other shrugged his shoulders; something deadly had evidently struck down these inhabitants of the marsh girt isle at one and the same time; but why it bad not served all the animal creation alike they could not conjecture.


IT was growing late before they had finished their examination, and they hastily made for the causeway, remembering the perilous crossing that lay before them.

On their way back they saw the dromornis, the gigantic emu of Pliocene Australia. When in the middle of the aerial causeway a well nigh fatal accident happened; one portion was particularly uneven, from some trees having grown and others subsided. On ascending one of these divisions with a dangerous slope, Brereton, who came last, felt the logs slip, and begin to slide. He sprang forward, and was seized by his two companions just in time. The logs of the division he had just quitted fell headlong into the morass beneath, crushing two or three of the beasts beneath with their ponderous weight. A gulf yawned between them and the island, cutting off their return until they could find some means of replacing it.

'Perhaps it's just as well,' said Soames, when discussing the incident in camp. 'We are not prepared for a lengthened examination, and above all we must get a camera. We will go straight home, and come back fully equipped for everything. The place won't run away after all these thousands of years; and if anyone comes here during our absence that gap will block them from going on to the island.'


FULL of their discovery they went back, but the rains descended in a fashion never before seen by white men in Northwest Australia. A wet season of unparalleled rainfall delayed their return for months, and when at last they arrived at the mouth of the flat they had first followed down, the two looked at each other in incredulous amazement.

The Pliocene survival, the mammoth forest, the island, the monstrous animals, and the village of the dead giants had disappeared, and over all rolled the muddy waters of a lake, rapidly turning into one of the saline bogs common to that region. All had vanished beneath same convulsion of Nature that had buried everything in a muddy deluge. At their feet lay a skeleton, the remains of one of the hideous winged creatures which had escaped the inundation only to die of starvation.

'Jolly lucky we kept so quiet about it,' remarked Brereton, 'else what gorgeous liars they would all swear we were.'


21. -- JERRY BOAKE'S CONFESSION

The Bulletin, Sydney, 8 Mar 1890

PERHAPS one of the most popular fellows on the then newly-opened H——Goldfield, in Far North Queensland, was Jack Walters. Everybody knew him, and everybody liked him, and there was great chaff and much popping of corks 'ere he started down to C—— with the avowed intention of getting married. Walters had shares in one or two good mines, and had a tidy sum of money with him when he left the field amidst the congratulations of 'the boys' on his approaching nuptials. Jack was a friend of mine; when he was temporarily crippled by a blasting accident I used to write his love-letters for him.

Three days after he left, Inspector Frost and his black troopers, who all knew Walters, rode into the township. Naturally, the first question asked was, had they met Jack, and how far he'd got on the road?

"Never saw or heard of him," was the unexpected reply, "perhaps he was off the road."

"No, he said he was going down easy and expected to meet you."

"Hum!" said the inspector, "I'm going back to-morrow, and I'll keep a sharp look-out for him."

Fifty miles from H——was a creek with permanent water and a good feed, a favourite camping-place. Frost, who had told the troopers to watch for signs of Jack, had almost forgotten the matter, to which, after all, he did not attach much importance, when a shrill whistle from one of his boys a short distance off the road to the right attracted his attention. The boy had dismounted, and was standing gazing at something on the ground. Frost rode up, and had almost anticipated what it was before he reached the spot. Screened by a few bushes from any chance traveller lay the body of a dead man—Jack Walters. His head was pillowed on his riding-saddle, his blanket was thrown over the lower part of his body, and his pack-saddle and bags were close by, where they had evidently been put overnight. He had been shot through the temple, and in his hand he still held a revolver. To all appearances it was one of those motiveless cases of suicide that now and again puzzle everybody.

A careful examination was made, but nothing seemed to have been disturbed; no money save some loose silver was found. Frost collected all the camp paraphernalia, took careful notes of the position of the body and all the surroundings; then, leaving one trooper to guard the remains, despatched a boy back to H——with the news, and instruction to the police there to come out and take the body—he himself had to proceed on his journey. Casting one more glance around, he noticed a newspaper lying some distance away. Such things were commonly found on old camping grounds, but he walked over and picked it up. It was the H—— Express, the journal of the mining township he had left. He looked at it idly for some time, thinking more of the sight he had just witnessed than of the paper in his hand, when he instinctively noticed the date, which suggested a train of thought. Walters had left the field three days before Frost's arrival there. The Inspector remembered that fact well, because there had been some debate as to the spot where they should have passed each other. Three days would make it Monday, and this paper was issued on Tuesday. How had it come into the dead man's camp?

Frost went back and looked at the corpse before the troopers had covered it up with boughs. The revolver taken from the stiffened fingers, he remembered, was but loosely held—it was not in the iron grasp of a dead man's hand, clutched hard at the moment of death. No doubt remained that the case was not one of suicide, but cowardly, cold-blooded murder. Somebody had left the diggings the next morning, had ridden hard and overtaken Walters at the creek, had shared the hospitality of his camp, and had shot him for the sake of the money he had with him. Where was the murderer now?

Frost, who had gold to take down to the port, did not tarry long between the scene of the murder and C——. The second day saw him closeted with the police magistrate, who had just received a telegram from H——, informing him of the arrival of the native police with the news of Frost's discovery. Hardly had Frost told his tale before another telegram arrived—"Jerry Boake left here after Walters. See if he is in C——."

Jerry was a pretty notorious character, and, strange to say, Walters was one of the few men who had befriended him when everybody else had thrown him over.

A very short inquiry elicited the fact that Jerry was in town; also that Jerry was in funds, and had given the barmaid at the 'Rise and Shine' a gold watch and chain. Interviewed, the barmaid produced the gold watch and chain, which were at once recognised as the property of Walters, who had bought them as a present for his fiance. Jerry was straight-way arrested; and, absurd as the statement may seem, was actually wearing a ring well-known to belong to Walters. He denied his guilt stoutly, stated that Walters had given him the ring and the watch and chain to bring down, and that when he was drunk he gave it to the barmaid. Jerry was remanded to H——, and Frost himself started up in charge of him.

The dusk was setting in when they reached the bank of the creek where the dead body had been found. The party from H——had been there and removed it. Frost pulled up, and looked round. The prisoner, manacled to a trooper, was close to him.

"You're not going to camp here, are you?" stammered Jerry Boake, with pallid lips.

"Why not?" said Frost, sternly, "you know nothing about this place, do you?" And without another word he rode straight to the scene of the murder, and got off his horse.

"Turn out," he said briefly.

The troopers dismounted, and began unpacking and unsaddling. Frost undid the handcuff from the trooper's wrist, and refastened it on the prisoner's.

There is only one way in the bush of securing a criminal charged with such a crime as Jerry's, and who would stick at nothing to escape. A light trace-chain is used, and the prisoner tethered securely to a tree. Without a word, Frost, chain in hand, walked to the tree beneath which the body had been found, and beckoned to the troopers to bring the prisoner. Jerry approached; he had summoned up all his hardihood, and called up a look of defiance on his face, but he couldn't control the trembling of his now pallid lips. Frost secured him, and the black trooper brought him his blankets, and sat down a short distance off to watch him.

Darkness closed in, the camp fires blazed up, food and tea were given to the prisoner, and with an air of bravado he pretended to eat; but though the food passed his lips not a bite could he swallow. The tea he drank greedily, and asked for more. The day's journey had been a long one, and the tired men soon dropped off to sleep one after another—but for one man there was no sleep that night. For all that the camp was so quiet, he had an idea that he was being watched, and it gave him a miserable kind of moral support to think that there was someone else awake as well as himself. It would be an awful thing to be the only waking man in that camp.

He had got to the full length of the trace-chain, and must have lost consciousness for a few moments, for, while his heart beat until it nearly choked him, he saw a black shadow under the tree—a dark shadow that was not there before. With an effort he stilled his trembling nerves, and forced himself to gaze at the object. Pah! The moon had risen higher and changed the position of the shadows, that was all. But supposing a man with a bloody smear on his forehead and half-closed dull eyes were really to come and lie down on that spot, while he himself was chained there not able to get away, what an awful thing it would be!

Would morning never come? He thought. Why must he think, think, think, and all about the one thing; his own incredible folly? A few pounds in gold, a few days of drunken 'shouting,' and now—it must be a nightmare, surely—he could not have been led away to do such a madly insane deed. He disliked the man mostly because he owed him many kindnesses, but that was not why he killed him for. No, it was for the few miserable pounds he was carrying.

That horrible black shadow seemed to stop there, although the moon's position had changed. Why did it stop there? Perhaps there was a stain of blood on the ground; he would force himself to go over and see. No, he couldn't do that, he would stop where he was and try to think of other things; but he couldn't. Always the same thought, the same hideous picture—a man asleep with his head on a saddle, and another standing over him with a levelled pistol. And then—well, then, a sight that would never leave him; the moon was young and sickly then, but its light was strong enough to show the dead body of the murdered man, with the bloody smear on his face. Would morning never come? Presently the moon would set, and then the darkness would be horrible. Who knows what hideous thing might not creep on him unawares. The air seemed thick with an awful corpse-like smell; had they buried the body there, where it was found? But this thought was too maddening—he would go frantic if he entertained it. Why did not the bleak shadow shift; the moon was getting low now?


JUST before daylight Frost was awakened by one of the boys at the door of his tent. "Marmee, that fellow Jerry sing out along of you!" Frost got up and went over to the place. The moon had set, and the night was dark; he told the boys to make the fire.

"My God! Mr. Frost," said a piteous voice, "take me away from here, and I'll tell you everything." Frost undid the chain, and led him to the fire. He afterwards said that the look on the wretch's face haunted him for months. Jerry Boake made a full confession—and was hanged a few weeks afterwards.


22. -- A DESERT MYSTERY

Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 27 Mar 1907

I

"WHEN things are at their worst, they are bound to mend."

"Very trite and rather ambiguous; but the question is, when are things at their worst?"

"Well, I suppose the present is about as bad as things could be, until the last smash comes. Camels done up; water nearly finished; and the abomination of desolation all around."

"Sounds as if we had touched bottom, and could hot get any further, so it is about time for the mending to come in."

The speakers were sitting under the alleged shade of a miserable tree, in an outlying arm of the great sandy desert of North-West Australia. An extremely typical arm, that extended towards the straggling gold camps of the De Grey district. Around them the country was covered with the cheerful spinifex, and in the immediate foreground was the dry, shimmering surface of a salt lake, whose deceptive presence had lured the two prospectors on to follow the straggling indications of a dead little watercourse, to its end; in this blank disappointment.

"Well, what shall we do? Turn back or go on, and chance dropping across a well?"

"The camels are too played out to get back; no water, and not a bite of food since we started; they can't stand it any longer, I'm afraid."

"All right, the sun's getting lower; so wake up, Master Curley, and let's make a start. Hanged if a black boy wouldn't sleep on the edge of the Pit."

The blackfellow having been aroused, and the camels repacked, and got into line, the two prepared to make, what they thought, promised to be, their last start. Before mounting, they both cast the usual lingering glance around, and almost at the same moment their attention was attracted by an approaching sound. In the desert, where a dead silence reigns as a rule, tho least noise immediately draws attention to itself.

Both men turned, and were startled to see a dilapidated-looking aboriginal stagger towards them. He was in the last stage of collapse, and had seemingly fallen, and been lying amongst the spinifex, until their coming had aroused him to such life as he had left. He was too far gone to feel terror either at sight of them or their camels; but limped towards them, dragging a piece of chain fastened to one ankle. His dry lips could only utter the one feeble cry of "Nappa," the one magic word of that region, the cry for water.

The whites looked at each other, and then one of them disengaged the sadly-attenuated water-bag, and gave the famishing wretch a little. Curley approached to speak to the wanderer, and one man said to the other:

"This looks like the worst, when this fellow, who knows the run of the place, gets so used up, what chance do we stand?"

"Perhaps he knew of some soak that he was making for, and broke down on the way; he a evidently given some white man leg bail. Well, Curley, you yabba that felleh."

"No," replied the half-civilised boy, with great disdain. "He only common blackfelleh, inna way, mine tink it."

The poor, despised, native-born son of the soil looked appealingly at his fellow-countryman, with his sun-blinded eyes, pointed a shaking finger at his lips, and motioned to the water-bag.

After some hesitation they gave him a little drop of their scanty store, and then waited for his further recovery.

"I don't think we shall get anything out of him, after all," said one; "he's either got away from the police, or a white party, who had him chained up to lead them to water."

"We must not give him any more water, or we shall get nothing out of him; he'll only go to any water he knows of to save his own hide."

"I don't know how he got loose, for the chain's quite free. He must have been fastened to the tree by a rank new chum. It's secured with a split link round his ankle; but the fool must have tied him up with a piece of rope, and expected a nigger to stop like that."

They waited with admirable patience until their guest had recovered somewhat, and then broached the delicate subject of finding a further supply of water; and, after vainly trying to got another drink from them, the blackfellow saw that it was useless, and went ahead, securely tethered, however; for darkness was closing round, and things had grown too critical to wait and lose time. The dry salt lake, however, was evidently a known landmark of the native's, and urged on by his own devouring thirst, he was not long before he led them to a native well, which they soon emptied in assuaging the thirst of their camels. Seemingly this was the place he was making for when his strength gave way, and exhaustion overcame him.

It was nearly daylight when they had finished watering the camels, and then they laid themselves down for a much deserved sleep. In the morning, when the burning sun and sand awakened them from their slumber of exhaustion, their late guest had, of course, disappeared without the courtesy of leaving a P.P.C. card.

"He served our turn, and worked the mending business very well, at any rate," said one.

"Yes; I'd have given him a feed if he had stopped," replied his mate.

Far away over the regular and monotonous sand ridges the limping myall was speeding as fast as he could, eager only to put many a desert mile between himself and his late experience, which, even to his savage mind, was one of exceptional horror.

II

THE well, which proved their salvation, would hardly have been discovered without a guide, for it was one of those strange little soakages that occur at rare intervals in the sandy Northwest, and have no indications to betray them to the white wanderer, and yet have an ample supply of water, their whereabouts being jealously guarded by the natives. Under ordinary circumstances the runaway would never have guided them; but the circumstances were not of an ordinary kind, as the two prospectors were fated to find out.

There was some rough feed for their hungry camels, and they stopped several days and recruited both themselves and the beasts. Satisfied that there was no country worth prospecting, they determined to make a push for home.

It was the fourth day of a dry stage, and they were wearily plodding on, when the blackfellow suddenly exclaimed that he saw a horse track.

They all examined it, but in the sand it was impossible to make sure of its identity; but another indication put the matter beyond doubt. Still, they were approaching the confines of the waterless country, and it was quite possible that men with horses only could venture so far. While still talking of the incident, the leading camel suddenly came, without any sign or warning, on an old deserted camp.

A camp wherein the saddles and gear had been tossed and tumbled and dragged about, and chewed and bitten by the lurking dingoes or the natives; a camp which the horses had left and sought for kinder quarters, a camp without water, a camp of death.

Two dead bodies lay in the camp, and when the startled men got off their camels and turned over the mummified remains, the faces, though burnt and dried up by the fierce sun, wore still recognisable—a middle-aged man and a young man, the last apparently little more than a smooth-faced boy. And the boy had a pistol in his hand, and in his face a hideous mark where a revolver-bullet had smashed in and let his life out.

Both men were old bushmen, and went about the work of examination carefully and methodically. The elder man proved to have been likewise shot through the body, but there was no writing or any journal or diary left to afford a clue to the tragedy.

The belongings and camp dunnage had been so mauled about by dogs that nothing connected was left to tell how long the men had boon camped there. The men and blackboy searched long and earnestly and the only inexplicable thing was noticed by the boy. The trunk of a small gnarled tree was chafed and rubbed smooth, the bark worn, and the limbs torn down and broken. The sand, too, was ploughed around in deep furrows, as though two men had been furiously wrestling, or one man had had a series of fits just there. They gazed curiously at these indications, and then the black oracle spoke.

"That feller runaway; he bin tied here, alonga tree."

The proofs were plain; the men had chained the unfortunate black up, to prevent his absconding during the night, and death had come while the captive was still fast. But what killed the men?

They were standing by the elder man's body, and pondering over the riddle.

"Poor wretch! How he must have struggled for his life, chained up here with two dead men, until he chafed the rope through! No wonder he was close up done when he came across us."

"What's that? A piece of gold, close by your foot."

The other stooped, and picked up a sovereign.. Like a flash the mystery was revealed to him, and he spoke.

"They were dying of thirst, and tied the nigger up in a last hope that ho would lead them to water. In the morning their horses were gone, and they funked on the slow death that was over them, and took the easiest way. They tossed this sovereign up to see who should be the executioner, and the boy lost. Then he lost his nerve, when he had shot his mate, and shot himself quickly to got the awful deed over, for he had murder on his soul. He never thought, in his bewildered horror, of the nigger still tied up; and round and round and round that tree, and up and down it, the unhappy brute must have fought and struggled, for days, perhaps."


23. -- FARRAR'S MISSION

Evening News, Sydney, 5 Dec 1896

'SOME folks have peculiar notions concerning their last resting place,' remarked Jim, as he handed me my matches back.

'I once knew a man who made more fuss about his grave that was to be than he did about the house he lived in. His name was Farrar—Joseph Farrar—and he had a nice bit of property of his own. Suddenly he took the idea into his head that he was about to die shortly, and it would be most advisable to see about getting his grave ready. He bought a plot of ground in the local cemetery, had a very large grave dug, and proceeded to lay it out in a most artistic manner, or in what he considered an artistic manner. His main idea was to provide comfort in his grave. He remarked to me: "You know you have to live in a house only a comparatively short time, a few years in fact, whereas in a grave you settle down to stay."

'I replied that there was this difference—that you could appreciate the comfort of your house when alive, while you were not in a position to judge of the comfort of your grave when you were dead.'

'"I'm not so sure about that, Jim," he said. "It's mostly carelessness on the part of the survivors. A poor devil when he's dead and uncomfortable can't get up and have things put straight for obvious reasons. Now, I am not going to trust to anybody, but I'll just see to it myself."

'He started to work, and had his grave neatly bricked with fancy bricks and the floor tiled. It really looked, quite nice and cool, and he was so delighted that he used to spend some hours there nearly every day, and once asked me down to admire it. The parson and trustees of the cemetery remonstrated, but he squared them, for he didn't mind expense; but when he took to having a few friends down to partake of what he called "light refreshments," consisting of whisky and tobacco, they objected very strongly, but could do nothing. They overhauled all the by-laws, but there was nothing amongst them to meet the case, and if they passed a fresh one it would not affect Farrar because he held his ground under their own old regulations.

'He decided to grow pumpkins and melons above his future long, last home, and gradually made it quite a fashionable resort in hot weather. Everybody was anxious to belong to the Reformed Tomb Club, and the thing became a public scandal. The trustees threatened to obtain an injunction to stop his using the grave during his life time, until the law decided the point, but Farrar euchred them again. There was a mortgage on the cemetery, as there is on most cemeteries, and Farrar bought the mortgagee out, and threatened to foreclose and shut the burying place up altogether if they didn't desist, and they had to. But Farrar acted square. He insisted on order and decency at his reunions; no loud nor loose talk, and no boisterous laughter; everything was well conducted. He explained that he had a great moral purpose in view—he was educating the people up to the beauty of comfortable graves, teaching them to disabuse their minds of the popular horror of the tomb as a loathsome and frightful place, to be shunned; whereas the charnel house could be made into a flower garden of delight. He got quite puffed up with the idea that he was a social reformer, and began to talk of standing for the Assembly and advocating granting licences for graveyards and making them popular places of resort.

'Now, as long as there were free whisky and tobacco to be got in the grave, you may be sure that he had a strong party behind, him, but the end came to what might have developed into a great national question that would have beaten federation hollow.

'The end, of course, came in the shape of a woman. It's generally a woman who stands in the path of progress. Her name was Smiley—Sarah Smiley—and she had long fixed her hard, blue eye upon Farrar. When it came to the money, which she persuaded herself was to be rightfully hers, being, spent in graves and free entertainments, she began to take active measures.

'She professed great sympathy with Farrar's idea, said that it took from her mind all terror of death, and, in fact, made her rather anxious to expire. Farrar invited her to see the grave, and she consented to go provided the pipes and tobacco were cleared away. That was done, and Miss Smiley visited the spot, and gave her opinion that it was a heavenly place, and that she was certain Joseph Farrar was not such a wicked man as people said he was. She so praised the grave and Farrar that in a weak moment he proposed that she should share the grave with him when the time arrived. Naturally, she jumped at this as a genuine offer of marriage and accepted him straight out, but poor Farrar explained in vain that it was only a general and platonic kind of invitation to her as a new convert; a sort of encouragement But she had nailed him, and he couldn't draw back under a breach of promise case. Needless to say, his friends felt it deeply, for they foresaw the end of their diversions. The marriage came off, and was anything but a joyous ceremony.

'When a man marries under threat of a breach of promise action he doesn't feel over and above cheerful, and Farrar looked about fit to occupy his grave permanently forthwith. Her first step was to insist upon the grave being covered in and the meetings stopped. Farrar held out a long time, but at last she nagged him into it, and he consented on condition that he might hold a farewell meeting. The boys solemnly rolled up at the appointed time, but there was not much joy about it, and it was the most appropriate meeting to their surroundings they had yet held. When it was over Farrar bade them all an affecting farewell, and said that he would like to remain there and smoke a last pipe by himself, so they climbed up the ladder and left him there.

'Farrar did not come home, and when night came Sarah became anxious and started for the grave with a man with a lantern. No one answered them. The ladder was there still, and the man went down. There were the remains of the late meeting, but no Farrar, nor sign of him. Nor was there any sign of him anywhere for many weeks, although the country, side was searched by energetic parties high and low. The bride was inconsolable, the more so as particularly nasty remarks were made by her neighbors, and duly retailed to her by her dearest friends. These were to the effect that she had hunted the poor man to death, and it was no wonder that the unhappy Farrar had fled and committed suicide, rather than remain tied to a woman who had threatened him with a breach of promise action into marrying her. Mrs. Farrar had anything but a pleasant time of it.

'Meanwhile all sorts of rumors came in about the missing Farrar. He had been seen on a bike 200 miles west of Bourke, He had shaved off his beard and moustache, and was a barmaid at Coolgardie. He had joined the Salvation Army, and had been seen selling "War Cries" in Sydney. At last, after being vainly advertised for, the lawyers in the neighboring township produced his will, made soon after his marriage.

'The contents seemed to show that the missing man evidently contemplated his disappearance. He left all his property in trust to his two brothers, with the exception of an allowance of thirty shillings a week to his widow and a salary for the management of his properties to his two brothers. His grave was not to be closed until his body was laid in it, no matter how long it was kept open. When he was properly buried his property was to be divided amongst his relatives, who were to continue the allowance to his widow as long as she remained single.

'It was a regular Tom Fool of a will, and nearly broke Mrs. Farrar's heart. She tried to upset it on the ground of insanity, and claimed a third share. But Farrar was a good, sensible man—barring the exception of having his grave made comfortable and then dying where he could not be put in it. If he was dead the lawyers told her she would have no case, and she had to meekly subsist on her one pound ten; for the court decided that the will should hold good for a certain number of years, or until either Farrar returned or his corpse was found.

'Every few months the advertisement for the missing Joseph Farrar duly appeared, and a reward was offered for information concerning his whereabouts or proof of his death, but nothing came of it and the grave, from being left open, began to cave in at the sides and generally fall into decay. A year or two had passed, and Sarah Farrar began to cast sheep's eyes at a certain wealthy old fellow who was a neighbor of hers. He was only known to spend money in one way, and that was going to law. That was the one joy of his existence. He never paid anybody until they summoned him. He had just had a long and interesting case decided against him; a case that had lasted two years or more, and had been a most exquisite pleasure to him, so that he felt quite lonely, and miserable when it was decided. Although he had lost, the verdict did not carry costs of both sides; so the other man, although he won, was ruined, and old Daniels—that was his name—was just as pleased as if he had won it.

'He cast about for another source of amusement, and thought that Farrar's will was the very thing. Farrar was dead right enough, of that he was convinced. If he married Sarah he would fight the will, and claim her full share as widow; so they agreed to get married, but it broke his heart at the idea of relinquishing the thirty shillings a week. But it had to be done. The Farrar brothers were smart men, and not likely to give up an inch of their legal rights. So he married the widow and the law suit.

'The brothers were not at all happy, for the will, though clear enough in intention, was loosely worded, and it seemed that the necessity of finding the corpse of Joseph and closing up the grave properly was the main thing. As long as there was any doubt of his death and the grave, which was In a frightful state now, was open, old Daniels nearly plagued them to death with injunctions and interdictions, and other law missiles to stop their meddling with the property, that it seemed very soon that there would be nothing left to fight over.

'The brothers tried all sorts of dodges to get a reasonable and likely corpse to pass for Joseph. They were accused of putting away half a dozen swagmen, and carting their remains underground to ripen to the proper age. Dead cows' bones and horses' skeletons were selected, but none of them answered the purpose, and the grave remained open.

'Daniels lost case after case, and every time he paid a lawyer's bill he cut down the household expenses, until at last there was nothing left to cut, and poor Sarah was well nigh starved, and regretted her thirty bob a week, which at least was enough to get something to eat.

'It was a bright moonlight night, and one of the brothers was coming home from the township past the cemetery, when he heard somebody cursing and swearing a good 'un. He was not a superstitious man, and he hung his horse on the fence and went quietly in on foot to see who it was. It was near the grave that had made all the fuss, and when he got close he saw a figure like his missing brother's, damning and cursing everything an inch high and an hour old, at the state the grave was in. He made out for certain that it was his brother in flesh and blood, no ghost could have indulged in such talented blasphemy, so he went boldly up and accosted him. Joseph turned on him and gave him an almighty dressing down for the way the grave had been neglected—said he had come home on purpose to die in it, and now it was not in a state to receive the corpse of a dead blackfellow who had died of paralysis.

'They had a long confab—Joseph told his brother how he had felt so mad at Sarah yarding him up with a breach-of-promise action that he had determined to give her a lesson, and had cleared out. He had gone to West Australia and been very lucky, but got typhoid fever bad; and thought he'd come home and die quietly, and be buried in his own special grave; and found it full of old bricks—it was too bad.

'They made it up, and Joseph was informed of how the land lay. When he heard that his widow had married old miser Daniels he was overjoyed when he thought what bad times Sarah must be getting, and wanted to go away again at once and leave her to it; but his brother managed to persuade him otherwise, and they concocted a plot between them and parted. Tom Farrar announced the next morning that it was a disgrace to the family, the dilapidation that Joseph's grave had fallen into, and he was going to have it restored. It was a crying shame that when one member of a family had made a nice cosy grave for himself the others did not try to keep it in order, but let it go to rack and ruin. Perhaps the poor fellow was laid in some cold, wet place, where even a ghost would get influenza. He wouldn't be a bit surprised if the ghost of Joseph came back to see about it.

'As soon as the news of the restoration reached old Daniels he proceeded at once to take out an injunction to stay proceedings, but it was so long before the matter came on that the grave had been finished before then, and he couldn't well pull it all down again! Meantime Sarah was very ill—what with the worry of the law suits, to which she was not accustomed, and the semi-starvation that old miser Daniels indulged in, she took sick and began to think of her coming end.

'She recognised that if she hadn't commenced by bally-ragging Farrar she would have been decently comfortable, and would have had a nice respectable grave to go to, instead of being married for a lawsuit and half starved to death. But she said it was a judgment on her as she had married Farrar by a threat of going to law. Just before she died she sent for Tom Farrar and begged to be buried in the grave which had been freshly done up. Now, if old Daniels had known that she wanted to be buried there, and Tom had consented, he would have planted her body anywhere to have stopped it; but he didn't know, and, out of sheer, thoroughgoing cussedness, he demanded, as a right that she should be buried there, and when Tom pretended to reluctantly consent he went, about with his head up, boasting how he had made those Farrars knuckle down at last.

'When Joseph, who was lying sick, for he had never shaken off the typhoid, and was keeping quiet in the town about fifty miles away, heard of Sarah's death and her desire to be buried in the grave he had made, he was greatly pleased at her showing such reformation before death. And the idea of his work not being thrown away was nearly too much too much for him in his weak state, but he recovered; and was anxious to attend the funeral, but Tom persuaded him not to, because old Daniels would be there, and it would look very remarkable to see two husbands attending the funeral of one and the same wife. Joseph consented to lie quiet a little longer, but he was much disappointed, for he wanted to make a speech on the occasion and point out the success, of his principles of burial.

'Sarah had a great funeral, for everybody was anxious to see the first body put in the grave that had occasioned so much fuss, and after it was over Tom informed the people that he had heard of his brother, who was alive, and had been to Coolgardie and made money there; but was not very strong, and that the name on the stone would be Sarah Farrar, and not Daniels; that she had a perfect right to be buried in that grave, and it was not done because old Daniels had insisted on it. This was a great blow to the old man, and he went home very unhappy; but the next day, when the news of Joseph being alive had got about, he began to have all the lawyers' bills coming in, for, of course; as Sarah had never been his wife, he had no moral right to her law suits,' and the Farrars threatened him with a number of complicated actions for suing them when he had nothing to do with it; and Joseph promised to go for him for starving his wife to death, so Daniels had more law than he could tackle at one and the same time.

'But the old man was plucky: he shaped up to them all, and fought them from one court to another, until he had not a penny left, and then the spiteful old man went and cut his throat right over the nice clean new headstone erected to the late Sarah Farrar.

'Joseph did not linger long. The intricate and various law suits that had been occasioned by his eccentric conduct were talked of all over the colonies and gave him great satisfaction. His portrait appeared in some of the papers as the founder of the "Comfortable Grave Reform Society," and they stated that his first convert was his beloved wife, and that Daniels had committed suicide because he had been refused burial in the model tomb. All this was very pleasant to Joseph, and he spent the last weeks of his life designing an elaborate tombstone for himself, with a glass frame let in, so that the newspaper portrait could be placed there. He died very happy at what he considered the success of his mission.'


24. -- A POET'S MISTAKE

Evening News, Sydney, 28 Aug 1897

CHARLES AUGUSTUS was a rising young poet, and Belinda was his sweetheart, and they both loved wisely and well. There was no possible reason why they should not. There was no one had the slightest objection to their loving as much as they liked. And they accordingly did so. When I say Charles Augustus was a poet, I do not mean a professional poet, for there are not many of those gifted and lucky beings in the world. But he was of a poetic nature, a dreamer of dreams, and out of the many effusions he had indulged in he had lately had two of them printed, so he considered himself a rising poet.

Not that there was any pay connected with the matter, but still they had a chance of being read; which was fame at any rate. Belinda was romantic, too, and had the highest opinion of Augustus's abilities, poetical and otherwise. Augustus had a moderately good clerical position, and Belinda's father was a tradesman, so that there seemed no reason why the course of true love should not run smooth for once in a way.

But it did not, and all through Augustus's poetry.

He had been showing the printed pieces with becoming modesty to his possible father-in-law, and that gentleman, whose name was Rawlins, remarked—

'And how much did they pay you for them?'

'Nothing,' replied Augustus, 'I believe it is not usual to pay for poetical contributions.'

'Oh it ain't, ain't it? Well, I'd see that it was. If you like I'll go round to that newspaper and give them rats.'

Augustus pleaded with Mr. Rawlins, and at last succeeded in moderating his wrath, but the worthy tradesman still felt very virtuously indignant. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. Turning to Augustus he remarked, would you use to write poetry for somebody who would pay you, and have it printed, too?'

Augustus replied that it was the dearest dream of his life, and the hope of his youth.

'Well, then, I'll settle it for you. I don't say that the pay will be staggering, but you will be paid for it, and it will be printed.'

Augustus confided the proposal to Belinda, and they both rejoiced over it, and the worthy father and prospective father-in-law. In the course of time Rawlins said that he had a job for Augustus.

'It is only a little one, but you must give my friend a specimen of your style first. It's 5 shillings for five verses.'

The sum was not startling, but Augustus accepted at once, in view of future favors.

'I've got a friend who's an ironmonger, and he's crazy on those here rhyming advertisements, and he wants one on a new kind of camp-oven he's got. Five verses, and he wants the word camp-oven brought in at the end of the line as often as possible.' Augustus nearly fainted. The great offer was only a rhyming advertisement for 5 shillings. And he was required to find a rhyme for camp-oven, he who always was a bad hand at finding rhymes.

Rawlins saw the dismay on his face, and said, 'Well, what's the matter with it. I said it should be paid for and printed, and isn't that so?'

Augustus admitted that it was so, and seeing that it was Belinda's father he was talking to, promised to do his best to earn the munificent payment. Belinda's romantic temperament was deeply hurt when she heard of this downfall of their hopes, for they had believed that it was some magazine of art and culture that was in view. However, there was nothing for it but to slave at the task, and his leisure hours were consumed in finding rhymes for camp-oven. He got as far as 'sloven' and 'McGoven,' and then he had to fall back on such words as 'shoving' and 'loving,' that by mispronunciation could be got to pass muster.

However, the ironmonger was not particular, and paid up the 5 shillings, and the wretched stuff was duly printed. When they appeared in type Augustus thought they were not half bad; but Belinda was horrified. From that date commenced the little rift within the lute.

Augustus grew infatuated with his new avenue to literature, and Belinda proportionately disgusted. The more outrageous were the rhymes the more he admired the work when it was finished and printed; until he was game to rhyme anything in the ironmonger's shop. If occasionally his former verses, mostly written to Belinda, were re-read, they struck him as mawkish and sentimental beside the boldness and originality of his latter flights.

Poor Belinda did not think so, however, and sighed over his relapse from the higher flights. She remonstrated with her father for having brought the matter about, but he laughed. Why, he was getting nothing for that flimsy stuff he used to write, and now he's adding about a pound a week to his income.

One day after Belinda had been more than usually snappish about the shortcomings of his poetry; they parted in a tiff. Augustus, to soothe his wounded feelings, went for a steamer trip. It was Saturday afternoon, and there were many people on board, and Augustus met a young damsel of his acquaintance, who was gracious to him.

'O, Mr. Augustus, someone told me that you wrote those verses in the papers for Jackson, the ironmonger; and others. How do you do it?'

Here was sympathy and balm for his wounded feelings.

'Do you like them?' he asked.

'Like them! O, so much. Sometimes I have to laugh, and sometimes cry over them. There was one about a gridiron and a corkscrew that I thought so clever. How is it done?'

Augustus smiled, and for the rest of the trip the young people were mutually agreeable. Before their return he promised to introduce the young lady's name, Amelia Mirls, into one. He only said he wished it was more difficult, just to show what he could do in the poetic line.

'Why what rhymes with it? I can think of nothing,' she said.

'O, heaps of things. Twirls, and swirls and girls and curls.'

'Fancy! I never thought of all that. I've got a brother-in-law, his name's Corkerley. Can you bring that in.'

'I'll try, said Augustus, rather staggered, but courageous. They parted, and Augustus on the next opportunity tomahawked out a ballad, in which Amelia Mirls was made to rhyme very prettily with the other rhymes he had suggested, but when it came to Corkerley he felt himself floored. At last, in desperation, he coined the word 'talkerly,' and wound up by saying that her sister met a man who came and looked so talkerly, she married him without ado, and changed her name to Corkerley.'

This is a specimen of Augustus's muse.

Belinda had ceased to read the advertising effusions, but on this occasion she did, and the whole depth of her lover's duplicity was revealed to her. She knew Amelia Mirls and her disposition to flirt, and she guessed how it all came about. There was a short and sharp interview between her and her recreant Augustus, and he was told to go to his Amelia Mirls, and see Belinda no more; and he went.

Now it happened unfortunately for Augustus that the Corkerly brother had a reputation for talking on every possible occasion, and he also had a brother, who was engaged to the volatile Amelia. The indignation, therefore, of the Corkerly family knew no bounds. Amelia, on being taxed, like a true woman, denied any knowledge of the writer, and it was deemed that he must be some obscure unknown enemy of the family, and the Corkerly brother was deputed to interview him on discovery.

Augustus was discovered, and the interview took place, resulting in mutual high words and threats, but nothing more, excepting that as the paper publishing the advertisements was threatened with an action for libel, Augustus lost the small additional income he had been making. But he fortunately did not lose Belinda, for, making a virtue of necessity, he vowed that he had given up writing poetical advertisements for her sake, and they were reconciled.


25. -- SPIRIT-LED

The Bulletin, Sydney, 20 Dec 1890

I

IT was the hottest day the Gulf had seen for years. Burning, scorching and blistering heat, beating down directly from the vertical sun, in the open, radiating from the iron roof which provided what was mistakenly called shade. In the whole township there was not a corner to be found where a man could escape the suffocating sense of being in the stoke-hole of a steamer.

The surroundings were not of a nature to be grateful to eyes wearied with the monotony of plain and forest. The few stunted trees that had been spared appeared to be sadly regretting that they had not shared the fate of their comrades, and the barren ironstone ridge on which the township was built gave back all the sun's heat it had previously absorbed with interest.

Two men who had just come in from the country swore that where they crossed the Flinders the alligators came out and begged for a cold drink from their water-bags; and the most confirmed sceptic admitted the existence of a material hell. Naturally there was little or no business doing and, just as naturally, everybody whose inclination pointed that way went "on the spree."

Amongst those who had not adopted this mode of killing old father Time were two men in the verandah of the Royal Hotel. (When Australia becomes republican it is to be presumed that a 'Royal' will cease to be the distinguishing feature of every township.)

The two men in question were seated on canvas chairs in the verandah, both lightly attired in shirt and trousers only, busily engaged in mopping the perspiration from their streaming faces, and swearing at the flies.

"Deuced sight hotter lounging about here than travelling," said Davis, the elder of the two; "I vote we make a start."

"I'm agreeable," replied his companion; "the horses must be starving out in the paddock. We shall have a job to get Delaine away, though; he's bent on seeing his cheque through."

"That won't take long at the rate he's going. He's got every loafer in the town hanging about after him."

"Hullo! what's that?" said the other, as the shrill whistle of a steam launch was heard. "Oh! of course, the steamer arrived at the mouth of the river last night; that's the launch coming up. Shall we go down and see who is on board?"

The two men got up and joined the stragglers who were wending their way across the bare flat to the bank of the river. The passengers were few in number, but they included some strangers to the place; one of whom, a young-looking man with white hair and beard, immediately attracted Davis' attention.

"See that chap, Bennett?" he said.

"Yes, Dick, who is he?"

"Some years ago he was with me roving for a trip; when we started he was as young-looking as you, and his hair as dark. It's a true bill about a man's hair going white in one night. His did."

"What from? Fright?"

"Yes. We buried him alive by mistake."

"The deuce you did!"

"He had a cataleptic fit when he was on watch one night. The other man—we were double-banking the watch at the time—found him as stiff as a poker, and we all thought he was dead, there was no sign of life in him. It was hot weather—as bad as this—and we couldn't keep him, so we dug a grave, and started to bury him at sundown. He came to when we were filling in the grave; yelled blue murder, and frightened the life out of us. His hair that night turned as you see it now, although he vows that it was not the fright of being buried alive that did it."

"What then?"

"Something that happened when he was in the fit, or trance. He has never told anybody anything more than that he was quite conscious all the time, and had a very strange experience."

"Ever ask him anything?"

"No; he didn't like talking about it. Wonder what he's doing up here?"

By this time the river bank was deserted; Davis and Bennett strolled up after the others and when they arrived at the Royal, they found the hero of the yarn there before them.

"Hullo, Maxwell," said Davis, "what's brought you up this way?"

Maxwell started slightly when he saw his quondam sexton; but he met him frankly enough although at first he disregarded the question that had been asked.

In the course of the conversation that followed Maxwell stated that he was on his way out to the Nicholson River, but with what object did not transpire.

"Bennett and I were just talking of making a start to-morrow, or the next day. Our cattle are spelling on some country just this side of the Nicholson. We can't travel until the wet season comes and goes. You had better come with us."

"I shall be very glad," replied the other, and the thing was settled.

Bennett had been looking curiously at this man who had had such a narrow escape of immortality, but beyond the strange whiteness of his hair, which contrasted oddly with the swarthy hue of his sunburnt face, and a nervous look in his eyes, he did not show any trace of his strange experience. On the contrary, he promised, on nearer acquaintance, to be a pleasant travelling companion.

The summer day drew to a close, the red sun sank in the heated haze that hovered immediately above the horizon, and a calm, sultry night, still and oppressive, succeeded the fierce blaze of the day-time. The active and industrious mosquito commenced his rounds and men tossed and moaned and perspired under nets made of coarse cheese-cloth.

The next morning broke hot and sullen as before. Davis had risen early to send a man out to the paddock after the horses, and was in the bar talking to the pyjama-attired landlord.

"You'll have to knock off his grog or there'll be trouble," he said; "he was up all last night wandering about with his belt and revolver on, muttering to himself, and when a fellow does that he's got 'em pretty bad."

"I'll do what I can, but if he doesn't get drink here he will somewhere else," replied the other reluctantly.

"Then I'll see the P.M. and get him to prohibit his being served. It's the only way to get him straight."

At this moment the subject of their remarks entered the bar—a young fellow about five or six and twenty. He was fully dressed, it being evident that he had not gone to bed all night. The whites of his eyes were not blood-shot, but blood-red throughout, and the pupils so dilated that they imparted a look of unnatural horror to his face.

"Hullo, Davis," he shouted; "glad to see a white man at last. That old nigger with the white hair has been after me all night. The old buck who was potted in the head. He comes around every night now with his flour-bag cobra all over blood. Can't get a wink of sleep for him. Have a drink?"

His speech was quite distinct, he was past the stage when strong waters thicken the voice; his walk was steady, and but for the wild eyes, he might have passed for a man who was simply tired out with a night's riding or watching.

The landlord glanced enquiringly at Davis, as if to put the responsibility of serving the liquor on him.

"Too early, Delaine, and too hot already; besides, I'm going to start to-day and mustn't get tight before breakfast," said the latter soothingly.

"O be hanged! Here, give us something," and the young fellow turned towards the bar, and as he did so caught sight of Maxwell who had just come to the door and was looking in.

The effect of the dark face and snow-white hair on his excited brain was awful to witness. His eyes, blazing before, seemed now simply coals of fire. Davis and the landlord turned to see what the madman was looking at, and that moment was nearly fatal to the newcomer. Muttering: "By—he's taken to following me by daylight as well, has he? But I'll soon stop him;" he drew his revolver and, but that Davis turned his head again and was just in time to knock his hand up, Maxwell would have been past praying for. The landlord ran round the bar, and with some trouble the three men got the pistol from the maniac, who raved, bit, and fought, like a wild beast. The doctor, who slept in the house, was called, and, not particularly sober himself, injected some morphia into the patient's arm, which soon sent him into a stupor.

"By Jove, Davis, you saved my life," said Maxwell; "that blessed lunatic would have potted me sure enough only for you. Whom did he take me for?"

"He's in the horrors, his name is Delaine, and he's out on a station on the tableland. They had some trouble with the blacks up there lately, and, I suppose, it was the first dispersing-match he had ever seen. There was one white-haired old man got a bullet through his head, and he says he felt as though his own father had been shot when he saw it done. He's a clergyman's son; of course he drinks like a fish and is superstitious as well."

"I trust they'll lock him up until I get out of the town; but I'll remember your share of this. Wait until we get away and I will tell you what brought me up here, but don't ask me any questions now. Is your friend Bennett to be trusted?"

"In what way? Wine, women or gold? I don't know about the first two, but the last I can answer for."

"It's a secret. Possibly connected with the last."

"I hope so, I want some bad enough. I think I know where to put you on to a couple of good horses, and then we'll make a start."

II

THE stove-like township is three days journey away; four men, Davis, Bennett, Maxwell, and a blackfellow are camped for the night by the side of a small lagoon covered with the broad leaves of the purple water-lily. In the distance the cheery sound of the horse-bells can be heard, and round the fire the travellers are grouped listening to Maxwell who is telling the tale he has never yet told.

"When I fell down on watch that night and became to all appearance a corpse, I never, for one instant, lost either consciousness or memory. My soul, spirit, or whatever you like to call it, parted company with my body, but I retained all former powers of observation. I gazed at myself lying there motionless, waited until my fellow-watcher came around and awakened the sleeping camp with the tidings of my death, then, without any impulse of my own, I left the spot and found myself in a shadowy realm where all was vague and confused. Strange, indistinct shapes flitted constantly before me; I heard voices and sounds like sobbing and weeping.

"Now, before I go on any further, let me tell you that I have never been subject to these fits. I never studied any occult arts, nor troubled myself about what I called 'such rubbish.' Why this experience should have happened to me I cannot tell. I found I was travelling along pretty swiftly, carried on by some unknown motive power, or, rather, drifting on with a current of misty forms in which all seemed confusion.

"Suddenly, to my surprise, I found myself on the earth once more, in a place quite unknown to me.

"I was in Australia—that much I recognised at a glance—but where abouts?

"I was standing on the bank of a river—a northern river, evidently, for I could see the foliage of the drooping ti-trees and Leichhardt trees further down its course. The surrounding country was open, but barren; immediately in front of me was a rugged range through which the river found its way by means of an apparently impenetrable gorge. The black rocks rose abruptly on either side of a deep pool of water, and all progress was barred except by swimming. The ranges on either hand were precipitous, cleft by deep ravines; all the growth to be seen was spinifex, save a few stunted bloodwood trees.

"What struck me most forcibly was that in the centre of the waterhole, at the entrance of the gorge, as it were, there arose two rocks, like pillars, some twelve or fifteen feet in height above the surface of the water.

"Below the gorge the river-bed was sandy, and the usual timber grew on either bank. At first I thought I was alone, but, on looking around, I found that a man was standing a short distance away from me. Apparently he was a European, but so tanned and burnt by the sun as to be almost copper-coloured. He was partially clothed in skins, and held some hunting weapons in his hand. He was gazing absently into the gorge when I first noticed him, but presently turned, and, without evincing any surprise or curiosity, beckoned to me. Immediately, in obedience to some unknown impulse, I found myself threading the gloomy gorge with him, although, apparently, we exercised no motion. It was more as though we stood still and the rocks glided past us and the water beneath us. We soon reached a small open space or pocket; here there was a rude hut, and here we halted.

"My strange companion looked around and without speaking, drew my attention to a huge boulder close to the hut and on which letters and figures were carved. I made out the principal inscription. 'Hendrick Heermans, hier vangecommen, 1670.' There were also an anchor, a ship and a heart, all neatly cut. I turned from these records to the man. He beckoned me again, and I followed him across the small open space and up a ravine. The man pointed to a reef cropping out and crossing the gully. I looked at it and saw that the cap had been broken and that gold was showing freely in the stone. The man waved his hand up the gully as though intimating that there were more reefs there.

"Suddenly, sweeping up the gorge came a gust of ice-cold wind, and with it a dash of mist or spray. Looming out of this I saw for a moment a young girl's face looking earnestly at me. Her lips moved. 'Go back. Go back!' she seemed to whisper.

"When I heard this I felt an irresistible longing to return to my discarded body and in an instant gorge, mountains and all my surroundings disappeared, and I found myself in the twilight space battling despairingly on, for I felt that I had lost my way and should never find it again.

"How was I to reach my forsaken body through such a vague, misty and indeterminate land? Impalpable forms threw themselves in my path. Strange cries and wailings led me astray, and all the while there was a smell like death in my nostrils, and I knew that I must return or die.

"O, the unutterable anguish of that time! Ages seem to pass during which I was fighting with shadows, until at last I saw a sinking sun, an open grave, and men whose faces I knew, commencing to shovel earth on a senseless body.

"Mine!

"I had felt no pain when my soul left, but the re-entrance of it into its tenement was such infinite agony, that it forced from me terrible cries that caused my rescue from suffocation."

Maxwell paused, and the other two were silent.

"You will wonder," he resumed, "what all this has to do with my present journey. I will tell you. You remember Milford, a surveyor up here, at one time he was running the boundary-line between Queensland and South Australia for the Queensland Government. A year ago I met him, and we were talking about the country up this way. In running the line he had to follow the Nicholson up a good way, until finally he was completely blocked. He described to me the place where he had to turn back. It was the waterhole in the gorge with the two rock-like pillars rising out of the water."

Again there was silence for a while, then Davis said musingly.

"It's impossible to pronounce any opinion at present; the coincidence of Milford's report is certainly startling. But why should this sign have been vouchsafed to you? Apparently this being you saw was the ghost of some old Dutch sailor wrecked or marooned here in the days of the early discovery of Australia. Had you any ancestors among those gentry?"

"Not that I am aware of," returned Maxwell, "but if we find the place we shall certainly make some interesting discovery, apart from any gold."

"And the girl's face?" enquired Bennett.

Maxwell did not answer for a minute or two.

"I may as well tell you all," he said then; "I was in Melbourne, after I saw Milford, and I met a girl with that same face, in the street. Strange, too, we could not help looking at each other as though we knew we had met before. That meeting decided me on taking the trip up here. Now, that is really all. Are you ready for the adventure?"

"I should think so," said Davis; "we have fresh horses at the camp, and nothing to do with ourselves for three months or more. Please God, on Christmas Day we'll be on Tom Tiddler's ground picking up gold in chunks."

"One question more," put in Bennett. "Have you ever had any return of these trances or cataleptic fits?"

"Never since, not the slightest sign of one."

III

THERE was no doubt about the strange proof or coincidence, whichever it should turn out to be. The three men stood on the bank of the Nicholson River gazing at the gorge and the waterhole, from the bosom of which rose the two upright pillars of rock. Two weeks had elapsed since they were camped at the lagoon.

"It is the same place," muttered Maxwell, and, as the overwhelming horror of his fight through shadowland came back to him, he leant on his horse's shoulder and bowed his head down on the mane.

Bennett made a sign to Davis and both men were silent for a while, then Davis spoke—

"Well, old man, as we are not possessed of the supernatural power you had when you were last here, we'll have to get over that range somehow."

Maxwell lifted his head. "We shall have to tackle the range, but I expect we shall have a job to get the horses over. How about leaving them here in hobbles and going up on foot?"

"Not to be thought of," replied Davis; "why, the niggers' tracks just back there in the bed of the river, are as thick as sheep-tracks. The horses would be speared before we got five miles away. I know these beggars."

"That's true," said Bennett.

Davis eyed the range curiously for some time. "There's a spur there that we can work our way up, I think," he said at last, indicating with his hand the spot he meant. The other two, after a short inspection, agreed with him. It was then nearly noon, so the horses were turned out for a couple of hours' spell, a fire lit and the billy boiled.

"What could have led your Dutch sailor up this way?" said Davis as, the meal over, they were enjoying an after-dinner pipe.

"That is what has puzzled me. I have read up everything I could get hold of on the subject of Dutch discovery and can find no record of any ship visiting the Gulf about that date," replied Maxwell.

"There may have been plenty of ships here, of which neither captain nor crew wanted a record kept. Those were the days of the buccaneers," said Bennett.

"Yes, but with the exception of the ship Dampier was on board of, they did not come out of their way to New Holland," returned Maxwell.

"The Bachelor's Delight and the Cygnet were on the west coast, as you say; why not others who had not the luck to be associated with the immortal Dampier?"

"True; but the Dutch were not noted as buccaneers. However, plenty of ships may have been lost in the Gulf of which all record has disappeared. The question is, what brought the man up into this region?" said Davis.

"I firmly believe we shall find the clue to that secret, when we find the ravine. It seems incredible that a shipwrecked or marooned man should have left the sea-coast, whereon was his only hope of salvation and have made south into an unknown land, through such a range as this."

"Well, boys, we'll make a start for it," said Davis, jumping up; and the party were soon in their saddles.

The range proved pretty stiff climbing, and they were so often baulked, and forced to retrace their steps, that it was sundown before they reached the top.


IT was a desolate outlook for a camp. A rough tableland of spinifex—evidently extending too far for them to attempt to go on and descend the other side before darkness set in—lay before them.

"Nothing for it but to go on and tie the horses up all night," said Bennett. Fortune, however, favoured them; in about a mile they came on a small patch of grass, sufficient for the horses, and as their water-bags were full, they gladly turned out.

For a time the conversation turned on their expectations for the morrow, but gradually it dropped, as the fire died down. One by one the stars in their courses looked down through the openings of the tree-tops on the wanderers sleeping below, and silence, save for the occasional clink of a hobble, reigned supreme until the first flush of dawn.

"Well, Maxwell," said Davis, as they were discussing breakfast, "hear anything from your old Dutch navigator last night?"

"No, but I had some confused sort of dream again about this place; I thought I heard that voice once more telling me to 'go back'. But that, of course, is only natural."

"I think we are close to the spot," remarked Bennett. "When I was after the horses this morning I could see down into the river, and there appeared to be an open pocket there."

Bennett proved right. In half-an-hour's time they were scrambling down the range, and soon stood in an open space that Maxwell at once identified.

Naturally everybody was slightly excited. Although at first inclined to put the story down to hallucination, the subsequent events had certainly shaken this belief in the minds of the two friends. Maxwell silently pointed to the boulder; there was something carved on it, but it was worn and indistinct. Two centuries of weather had almost obliterated whatever marks had been there.

"They were fresh and distinct when I saw them," said Maxwell, in an awed voice.

By diligent scrutiny they made out the inscription that he had repeated, but had they not known it the task would have been most difficult. The words had not been very deeply marked, and the face of the boulder fronting north-west, the full force of the wet seasons had been experienced by the inscription.

"This is a wonderful thing," said Davis. "There can be no doubt as to the age of that."

"Let's go up the ravine and look for the reef and then get back as soon as possible. I don't like this place. I wish I had not come," returned Maxwell.

They left the packhorses feeding about and rode up the gully, taking with them the pick and shovel they had brought. "It was here, I think," said Maxwell, looking around; "but the place seems altered."

"Very likely the creek would change its course slightly in a couple of hundred years, but not much. That looks like an outcrop there."

"This is the place," said Maxwell, eagerly, "I know it now, but it is a little changed."

The three dismounted, and Davis, taking the pick, struck the cap of the reef with the head of it, knocking off some lumps of stone. As he did so a wild "Holloa!" rang up the gully. All started and looked at each other with faces suddenly white and hearts quickly beating. There was something uncanny in such a cry rising out of the surrounding solitude.

"Blacks?" said Bennett, doubtfully. Davis shook his head. Once more the loud shout was raised, apparently coming from the direction of the inscribed rock.

"Let's go and see what it is, anyway," said Davis—and they mounted and rode down the gully again, Bennett, who had picked up a bit of the quartz, putting it into his saddle-pouch as they rode along.

Maxwell had not spoken since the cry had been heard, his face was pale and occasionally he muttered to himself, "Go back, go back!" The packhorses were quietly cropping what scanty grass there was; all seemed peaceful and quiet.

"I believe it was a bird after all; there's a kind of toucan makes a devil of a row—have a look round old man," said Davis to Bennett, and they both rode up and down the bank of the river, leaving Maxwell standing near the rock where he had dismounted. Nothing could be seen, and the two returned and proposed going up the gully again.

"You fellows go and come back again, I want to get out of this—I'm upset," said Maxwell, speaking for the first time in a constrained voice.

Davis glanced at his friend. "Right you are, old man, no wonder you don't feel well; we'll just make sure of the reef and come back. If you want us, fire your pistol; we shan't be far off."

The two rode back to their disturbed work and hastily commenced their examination of the stone. There was no doubt about the richness of the find, and the reef could be traced a good distance without much trouble. They had collected a small heap of specimens to take back, when suddenly the loud "Holloa!" once more came pealing up the gully followed instantly by a fainter cry and two revolver-shots.

Hastily mounting, the two galloped back.

The packhorses, as if startled, were walking along their tracks towards home, followed by Maxwell's horse with the bridle trailing; its rider was stretched on the ground; nothing else was visible.

Jumping from their horses they approached the prostrate man. Both started and stared at each other with terror-stricken eyes. Before them lay a skeleton clad in Maxwell's clothes.

"Are we mad?" cried Davis, aghast with horror.

The fierce sun was above them, the bare mountains around, they could hear the horses clattering up the range as if anxious to leave the accursed place, and before them lay a skeleton with the shrunken skin still adhering to it in places, a corpse that had been rotting for years; that had relapsed into the state it would have been had the former trance been death. Blind terror seized them both, and they mounted to follow the horses when an awful voice came from the fleshless lips: "Stay with me, stop! I may come back; I may—"

Bennett could hear no more, he stuck the spurs in his horse and galloped off. Davis would have followed but he was transfixed with terror at what he saw. The awful object was moving, the outcast spirit was striving desperately to reanimate the body that had suddenly fallen into decay. The watcher was chained to the spot. Once it seemed that the horrible thing was really going to rise, but the struggle was unavailing, with a loud moan of keenest agony and despair that thrilled the listener's brain with terror it fell back silent and motionless. Davis remembered nothing more till he found himself urging his horse up the range. The place has never been revisited.


IN an asylum for the insane in a southern town there is a patient named Bennett, who is always talking of the wonderful reef he has up North. He has a specimen of quartz, very rich, which he never parts with day or night. He is often visited by a man named Davis, who nursed him through a severe attack of fever out on the Nicholson. The doctors think he may yet recover.


26. -- THE STORY OF LAFONT

A GLIMPSE OF ANCIENT AUSTRALIA

Evening News Sydney, 18, 25 Sep, 2 Oct 1897

I

THE cry came from the direction in which Falke had gone, and it was immediately followed by a revolver shot. Evidently Falke had come across something, and I at once turned and made for the place when the sound had come.

Lafont had been missing for nearly a week and I, after days of searching, had only found his tracks the day before. We had temporarily lost them, and parted to cast round and pick them up. Falke was off his horse bending over some thing lying on the ground when I caught sight of him. I could easily guess what it was, and I rode hastily up and dismounted.

The body of the man we were in search of lay there, but its appearance and surroundings made us stare in wonderment at each other. It was naked, the clothes being neatly folded and laid underneath the head. The eyes were closed, the limbs decently composed, and a roughly-woven grass mat flung over a portion of the body. The face was calm and placid, and no sign of decomposition having set it was visible.

'Is he dead?' I could not help asking, for the man appeared to be in a quiet slumber.

'Dead, yes,' returned Falke, 'but what killed him?'

We examined the body, and found a scalp wound on the head, which had been washed and some dressing applied to It, but it was by no means serious, and could not have caused death. Around were scattered numerous calabashes and the large wooden vessels known as 'coolamons' that the blacks carry water in; some of these still held a quantity of water. Beyond that, and the tracks of the natives, there was no sign how the unfortunate man met his fate.

Lafont was a relation of Falke's, and had only been on the station a few months. He had a craze for botany, and had started out intending to visit a salt lake that was situated beyond where we then were. He had not reached there, for we had been out there looking tor him, and now it was evident that he had not carried out his original intention; and in some way had come to grief. We were in a part of our newly taken-up run in Central Australia, of which we knew but little. To the north of the low rocky ridge on which we were standing, the low rises forming the western extremity of the range group known as the Macdonnell Ranges were visible. Towering above them was a solitary peak, known as Condon's Bluff, although none of us had actually been to the foot of it.

'What do you make of this?' said Falke at last. 'Who dressed that wound on his head and arranged the body? And, if he was dead, what did they want to dress the wound for?'

'The blacks have been here,' I began, when he interrupted me in a fretful manner, for which Just then I forgave him, knowing he had a great liking for his young cousin.

'Of course the blacks have been here, but they were not likely to do this. If so, they are a very different kind of blacks to any I ever heard of in Australia.' His words recalled to my mind something an old friend said to me once. He was one who had studied the aboriginals thoroughly, not in one local tribe, but all over the continent, and knew them as well as any man living.

'Believe me,' he had said, 'if anything of the long past history of Australia ever comes to light, it will be in Central Australia. There are clues to be found there, but I fear that it is too late to follow them up.'

Had we found any such clue? Once more I knelt beside the body, and, taking my watch from my pouch, opened the glass face and held it over the silent lips; just as I did so we heard the sound of voices approaching. We both rose hastily, and I am not sure to this day whether the watch glass was dulled or not.

'The blacks are coming back, Sherwin,' said Falke.

I noticed a little boulder-strewn knoll a short distance from where we were standing that would form a capital post of observation where we could conceal ourselves.

'Let us go up there and watch them,' I said.

'They will see our tracks,' returned Falke.

'Yes, but they will think that we have gone back to the station.'

He nodded assent, and we rode to the back of the little rise, and found a good place to tie our horses up in a handy clump of mulga. Then we ensconced ourselves in a good post of vantage and waited.

The delay was not long. Soon about a dozen figures appeared making for the spot we had just vacated. Two old blackfellows, white-bearded and white-haired, came in advance, leading be tween them another figure, which, to our astonishment, was clothed to a long sleeveless robe. This person was a woman, dark brown in hue, with straight hair falling to her shoulders. Her features were of a peculiarly straight and somewhat angular cast; like the facial contour of no living race; but it reminded me at once of some of the sculptured images of the prehistoric times, whose origin we cannot trace. The face was by no means beautiful, but it was somewhat stern and inexpressibly mournful.

And we now saw at once that It was a blind face. This sightless being was carefully guided by the two old men; but as she came nearer we could see that there appeared no defect outwardly visible in her eyes. The remainder of the party were men of the ordinary aboriginal type, and besides their weapons they carried a rude litter.

Our tracks, of course, at once attracted their attention, but after some debate they seemed satisfied that we were gone, and proceeded to the body. The robed woman knelt beside it, put her hands on the shoulders, and stooped down until her face touched the face of the seeming corpse. She stopped in this attitude for some time, then lifted her head and threw it back a little, as though drawing breath.

Twice more she repeated this performance, the two old men standing gravely by, and the other blacks gathered in a knot, a little distance apart, silently watching. Then she rose to her feet, and at a sign from her the rude litter was brought forward, the body placed on it, the calabashes and coolamons gathered up, and the whole party moved off, carrying the body of Lafont with them, going back the way they had come, apparently straight for Condon's Bluff.

'We must follow them,' said Falke.

'But not now,' I returned. 'They evidently mean no harm to Lafont. If he is, as I suspect, still alive, we can easily track a large party like that. Let us go back to the station and get fresh horses and rations, for there's no knowing how long we might have to be away.'

Falke agreed with me, and we hastened home. By daylight next morning we were off, well supplied for a week. The track led straight in the direction of the Bluff, ana the country grew very rugged and broken as we drew nearer to it, and it was with some difficulty we managed to stick to the trail. Finally we lost the tracks, and of Lafont himself we saw no more, until six months afterwards, when he returned to tell his strange story himself. Of the matter of his discovery and experiences it is best to let his personal narrative speak for itself.

II

'THIS is the truth about what occurred to me while I was under the rocky dome of Condon's Bluff. How I got there I cannot now remember, because owing to my horse falling I became came insensible from a wound on the head. I can only tell of my experiences after I came back to consciousness.

'It was black dark all around line—terrible darkness, that seemed like a blow, smiting you, on the face. And I awoke also to a sound of wailing and crying.

'Then, suddenly, came light. I found that I was lying on a hard stone couch of some sort, covered only with a mat of woven grass. The whole thing was so startling and surprising, that the superstitions of my youth came back to me at once, and I presumed that I was dead, and in the nether world.

'In fact, it was a realisation of all that has been pictured and imagined by the world's religious, and for the moment I thought I was in the fabled hell of torture.

'As I uprose from the place whereon I was reclining, two figures came to my side, both evidently aboriginals, white-headed and white bearded. This brought my wits together. I was still on earth, but on what part of earth?

'The blacks apparently had no animosity against me; they simply seemed to be obeying seme superior power, and assisted me to rise and walk, leading me forward.

'The light in this place where I found myself was now intense, and every detail was visible; but it sprang from clefts in the rocky walls of the great cavern I was in, and they were not lit by human hands. The internal fires of the earth were illuminating the scene. Then the two old nun helped me to my feet, and led me to a figure who was advancing to meet me. It was a woman, but of a countenance that I could only describe by saying, that it was a face you might see carved in stone, but never in our modern life.

'The woman met me, and came forward. Like myself, she was led by the hands of two old aboriginals, and then I saw she was blind.

'My two conductors and the others met, and she lifted her hand, apparently guided by some instinct unknown, and said, "Is this the white man? The man of the race who did not exist when our fathers did?"

'Then the old men spoke. "This is the man." And the woman said, "I am going to tell him of a strange race who live here in darkness. The story of those who became blind through the sins of their fathers."

'I naturally stood waiting to hear what was the result of this strange promised revelation, which, owing to the singular surroundings, and the effects of my fall, impressed me more than if I were in a normal state to hear it.

'"Man, I cannot see you, and I never knew your race, but you are living; while we are dead—dead as a nation. We belong to a past that you never knew of, and I, one of the of the Royal race, am able to tell you about them, because you are the nation which carries on a story such as ours."

'I could only stand and listen, supported by my two old men. Then the woman began in a loud voice: "I am blind!" and immediately a chorus arose from the surrounding space, "We are blind!"

'By this time I began to comprehend what had happened to me, and that I was there to listen to a tale that man had not heard before. I therefore stood and quietly noted what the people about me were doing. The four blackfellows were the usual type of our own aboriginals. But the dim forms that I saw crowding around—I could not tell of what nation or country they were.

'The stern-faced woman seemed to be chosen as speaker, and she commenced as follows:—

'"White man!—for those who have helped me to bring you here tell me that that's what you are called—I have to relate to you the history of the people who dwell here in darkness and blindness, and the great sin that led 'to our punishment. Our kings are dead and gone, our story is unknown, but at one time—so long ago as I can scarcely tell you—we were the race that formed the glorious nation that held the southern seas in subjection."

'I must say here that I fully understood what she was speaking, though not what language it was.

'"I have said that we were the race that owned the southern seas. Our fleets went to a great continent across the ocean to take tribute from them; people who worshipped the sun; people who held human sacrifices that we never held. We swept their coast; and made their proudest kings pay homage to us, and yet we were only a nation living in a few lonely islets, while they were great in a land of towering mountains.

'"Then came the time when we got islands and lands nearer home, and made those who lived thereon serfs and slaves, and the fleets of our people ravaged greater lands. So came our fall, and vengeance came upon us. Now we are blind."

'Came the answer from the shadows, "We are blind!"


'"OUR story," continued the woman, "has been handed down to us in a direct line, and I am the last to receive it, and now there will be no one else, for I am also the last of the Royal race entitled to hear and repeat it. This is why, O white man! you have been brought here to listen to it; that the name and glory of our nation should not disappear from the world for ever. For we are blind, and cannot write it down."

'Again came the answer from the shadows, "Yes; we are blind!"

'"Listen, then," continued the ancient woman of the unknown past. "Our people possessed strange arts and sciences unknown to you of the present—arts that I still know enough of to have been able to bring you back to life, and cause you to understand what I say. Sciences that enabled us to raise palaces of mighty stones by means you little dream of, to build our waterways far out amongst the coral, and overcome the nations of the surrounding lands with ease.

'"Power and cruelty were what ruined us—not either gold or lust of riches.

'"I told you that I still possess some of the arts that once made us so powerful, and thus I know some of the countries of which I shall speak, although I sit, blind, in the darkness of an underground cavern.


(I may here say that in repeating the history that I then heard, I have put into the woman's mouth the modern names of the countries she refers to, in order to make her tale intelligible, although, of course, she did not actually use the terms. —Note by Lafont.)


'"IN the beginning of our glory we dwelt on islands; beautiful islands, whereon always burned the great earth fires. One, whereon our great King dwelt, was called Acithema (Tahiti), where was a beautiful circular valley on the crest of a mountain. Here his palace was built, and to Acithema, at certain times of the year, came his chiefs in their ships from the lesser islands whereon they dwelt.

'"One time the chiefs came, and the face of the country was changed, and over all the land was blackness and desolation. The beautiful valley wherein the King's palace was built was a burning, steaming lake of lava; all had gone save a few wandering inhabitants, who had escaped the earth fires. Then the chiefs held council, and swore that they would unite and follow round the earth fires, conquering as they went, and at every place where they came to they would cast their prisoners into the craters of the volcanoes, to follow the great King.

'"Then, aided by the secret arts I told you of, they pursued their path of cruelty from island to island, conquering as they went, and taking toll of prisoners to follow the great King to a fiery death. At last their fleets reached a great land, called by the people Aliquipacho (New Guinea).

'"Here they were first foiled, for though the volcanoes were there, the land was a desert. They searched its coast, but found no one, and they had to sail away with their tale of vengeance unslaked. Then they came to a land called Moata (Java), and here they found a rich and powerful race, who fought desperately, and it was long before they could subdue them. But they did eventually, and then some of the chiefs said, 'We have wandered enough; here we will sit down and settle, and when a hundred years have passed our grandchildren's children can carry on the war of vengeance and the sacrifice to the volcanic fires.' So they agreed to this, and lived in the cities of the conquered people, and made them slaves.

'"So a hundred years went on, and then terrible outbreaks of fire occurred, and many cities were destroyed by them; and the descendants of those who had been such great conquerors decided that it was a warning to them to depart on another mission of terror; so they manned their ships and left. First they sailed north, and on a large island called Oktabar (Borneo) they looked in vain for any people or cities, nor was there any sign of volcanic outbreak. So they went north again, and came to some islands, Laguasson (The Philippines), and there the fires were rending the earth but there also there were no people, save some black dwarfs. Many of these they caught and sacrificed.

'They sailed south, and passing through many dangerous straits, reached this great land on which we now are. They found here a race of people of a light color, who had walled towns and fought amongst themselves. Therefore, they were good warriors, and my people could not, with all their arts, conquer them. They, therefore, held a parley, and, if they went in peace, these people said they would allow them to pass to the south, where they would find the great fires they seemed in search of. So they left their ships, and journeyed south, and found the volcanic fires raging, and settled down and built towns, and overran the country in time. Then, when they were strong enough, after hundreds of years had passed, they turned on the people of the land, with whom they had lived in friendship, and killed and enslaved them, casting them again into the craters of the volcanoes.

'"This, oh! white man! was the great sin that brought down on us the punishment the poor remnant of us have suffered from since.

'"For, though years passed, and we had subjected all the native people, and had glorious cities, now under the sea, and ships that sailed far away, our punishment was only awaiting us...

'"It came at last when, in our arrogance and pride, my ancestors doomed hundreds of the unfortunate slaves to go to the great fires that then burnt nearly everywhere. That night there were signs and tokens that something was about to happen. Something strange and awful.

'"The tremor of the earthquake ran through the land. The seas moaned and sobbed as though in pain. The volcanoes lighted up the night with their fires; and in all the cities the people waited and watched.

'"And at last came blackness and darkness that even the sun could not penetrate or pierce. The earth rocked throughout and the cities fell in ruins on the terrified inhabitants. Then came the fain of fire and ashes from heaven and completed the destruction, and the sea rose in anger and overwhelmed nearly half this great land. For days there was thick darkness, and when it lifted all our great nation had vanished save only a few trembling survivors. Our cities were buried either deep beneath the fire-dust, or where the sea had made fresh bays and gulfs and covered them.

'"Thus perished for ever the glory of the great nation of the south; for not only was the destruction of our towns complete, but the awful wrath of the powers that punished us prevented the poor survivors ever taking heart again. They took to living in caves and caverns in darkness underground, and wherever, they felt safe from the destroying fires they had so often fed with the bodies of their victims. Even when the earth became quiet, and the mountains ceased to flash and thunder, they only stole out fearfully to get what scanty food they could.

'"Amongst those who survived were some of the Royal race, who retained their knowledge of some of those arts now lost to the world. This they determined to transmit to their descendants, together with the history of our people's greatness, their crimes and punishments, in the hope that at some future time we should arise again.

'"But that time has never come, and now it never can, for from our life, led in darkness and beneath the earth, we are now all blind, and few indeed are left.

'"Before the final punishment of blindness smote us, another race sprang lip on the new land that replaced the old one we had inhabited—a poor race of black-skinned people, well-nigh as miserable as ourselves. But they were kind to us in their way, and as we gradually grew blind they fed and looked after us. And now that we have dwindled down to this scanty handful here in this great cavity in the earth, they keep the secret of our existence from the white race who have usurped the land. But we are dying fast, and before my time came I wanted to tell one of the race the wonderful history of our grandeur and war disappearance.

'"Now, white man, I will show you something more. She ceased, and one of the blacks, taking my hand, led me forward. The gleams of fire that illumined the place had died down, and only a dull glow remained.

'"Look! Look! and you shall see the great city that once stood close to this place." Thus the woman spoke, and I looked, and a wonderful vision appeared. I saw a plain, smiling and covered with verdure, and a beautiful and lofty gateway leading through a massive wall. Beyond rose domes and pinnacled roofs, and at the gate stood tall men, armed, like soldiers on guard. I looked in astonishment and admiration, the vision, or whatever it was, faded and vanished.

'"Look again, white man."

'Another picture came into view. It was evidently inside the city, and showed a wide street, and on either side lofty and well built houses with flat roofs. Chariot-like carriages were in the street moving without visible traction power. The street was busy, all the people being tall, dark, and dignified in appearance. To the left some building was in course of progression. The blocks were huge, and the workmen, who were evidently the light-colored race the woman had spoken of, seemed only preparing the stone. When it had to be put in position one of their dark masters approached. He had but to lift his hand above the stone, and the block followed his movements wherever he wished. No wonder it took the volcanic fires of mother earth to destroy these people, possessed with such terrible knowledge. The picture faded out, and once more the voice told me to look.

This time a lovely and exquisite palace came in sight, built on row after row of steps, flanked our either hand by colossal figures. I cannot describe the architecture, but it was such as I have never seen before. This, too, faded in the darkness, and I spoke for the first time, wondering if I should be understood.

'"Did you say that this city stood at the place where I was found?"'

'"Yes," said the woman; "and it is there still, but buried far beneath the earth."

It was dark now, and I only heard the distant wailing, and the sound of falling water somewhere.

'"It is time to go,' said the woman's voice. 'Those from the upper world must not tarry long with, the blind moles of the under-earth. You will take with you the remembrance of our history. Same day, though not in the same way, it may be the fate of your own proud nation."

The lights glimmered again; two old blacks took me by the hands and led me through dark passages until we emerged into the glory of noonday.

I determined to make my way home on foot, as I felt strong enough to do so, and thought I should probably meet someone on the road tracking me up.

Strange, I found when I started that I was naked, and sunburnt all over, and that my feet were horny, and it did not hurt me at all to walk barefooted. The blacks went with me part of the way, and then they left me; and I went on alone, making straight for the station. I must have gone some five miles when I heard a shout, and saw my cousin Falke galloping madly towards me. He threw himself off his horse, and seemed to go nearly mad with joy.

'How did you get away from them?' he kept asking me.

'Get away from whom?'

'The blacks. We gave you up for dead. Surely you must have been with the blacks all this time?'

'All this time?' I repeated.

'Six months, at any rate.'

I looked at my cousin, and mechanically put my hand up in astonishment.

'Six months! About forty-eight hours.'

'I see you got a harder crack then we thought. However, we'll set you right now. Jump on my horse, and I'll walk.'

I did so almost mechanically, and afterwards, when we had reached the station, and I had rested, I told my story.

'We certainly saw some such woman as you describe, but we might have been mistaken. One can easily be when the blacks are in question. However, you have assuredly been doing Rip Van Winkle for six months, old man.'

'Yes,' said Sherwin; 'you must have got a harder knock than we thought; but thank God it's all right.'

Perhaps it was; but was I wandering crazy with the blacks for six months, or did I really hear about prehistoric Australia and the forgotten nation which once ruled the Pacific?


27. -- DARKIE

Evening News Sydney, 14 Aug 1897

THE races were on at Bungleton, and the town was full of undesirable and desirable strangers. The desirable ones came to spend money, the undesirable ones came to try to make some, and, as they were not particular in their methods, they were not enthusiastically welcomed by the residents. Amongst them was Mr. Conway Delawbon, who by his name should have been included amongst the desirable ones, but of whom the landlord of the inn he patronised felt doubtful.

In the first place if Mr. Conway Delawbon was the swell he represented himself to be, why did lie not stay at the swell hotel, and if he was a spieler, why did he not stop amongst that fraternity? His own house was only frequented by bushies, amongst whom a detected spieler would have stood little chance, and they consequently gave it a wide berth. Mr. Delawbon, however, did not attempt any little tricks, but made himself rather popular with the stockmen, boundary riders, and drovers who patronised the Golden Harp.

The second day of the races saw everybody out on the course, and the township was a town of dead marines. The sport, was exciting, and when the ladies race was won by the barmaid of the Golden Harp, the public-house mentioned above, the joy of the patrons of that hostelry was loud and deep. Mr. Delawbon, who had made himself very agreeable to pretty Maggie, was as excited as anybody, and shouted as enthusiastically as anybody. Then he slipped quietly and quickly away, and cut across the bush to the township.

Another man was before him, and they met in the yard of the hotel.

'It's our horse right enough,' said Conway; 'but when the devil he got up here I can't make put.'

'Who owns him, or claims to own him now?'

'Deeling, who has the station just across the river. I've sounded all the fellows at the hotel, but they know nothing beyond the fact that Deeling has him in charge for some young fellow or other.'

'And they only entered him for that ladies' race; they are either a lot of chumps or they know all about him.'

'Looks like it, but there must be some amongst them who know all about him. That girl could scarcely hold him. If she hadn't been a first-class rider, they would have noticed how she pulled him.'

'Bet you two to one she knows. She's our mark. You'll to have to make the running there.'

'I'll try, but Miss Maggie knows a thing or two, and just now she can pick and choose.'

'Here are the jolterheads coming back again; well we must settle something. Pity we can't bluff Deeling with a warrant.'

'No chance; what have we got to show in the matter? It's all that confounded brother of mine. I should like to get hold of him for five minutes, the young wretch to go back on us like that.'

'Well, we have not come this far to go back empty-handed, if we have to steal him again.'

The two men parted without more words, and Delawbon, as he called himself, went back to the house.


THAT evening when Maggie was off for an hour or two she slipped out and went to the small hospital standing on the outskirts of the town. She went up to the ward wherein were but two inmates, an old man and a young one. The youngster had evidently broken his leg by the way the bedclothes were arranged over it on a cradle.

Maggie went up and greeted him.

'Did you win?' he asked.

'Of course, but he nearly bolted with me.'

'It was risky of Deeling to run him, but I couldn't tell him the real reason I didn't want him run.'

'It's my fault, said the girl; 'I persuaded him. I wanted to win the race. But I think there's someone after the house. There's a fellow stopping at our place whom we can't make out at all. He calls himself Delawbon, but that's not his same. He's not a 'tec, and I can't put a name to him.'

'What makes you think he's after the horse?'

'The way he looked at him when I came in, and he took the opportunity of coming up and speaking to me when I was going to start, and I'm certain he knew the horse.'

'Good heaven! It's not my brother?'

'Is your brother like you?'

'No, not a bit. He'd kill me if he found me.'

'Well, Jimmy, there's only one thing to do. I must find out all about this man, and if he is your brother, after you and the horse, I must clear out and meet you somewhere else.'

'But you'd be followed and known anywhere.'

'Not I. It won't be the first time I've ridden in boy's clothes, and, as for Darkie, I'd take him us a pack-horse, looking like a regular old moke.'

'Confound this broken, leg. If it wasn't for that I'd have been out of this long ago.'

'Well, good-bye. I must be back at once,' said Maggie, as she departed.


SIX months before the young fellow had come there, looking for work, and obtained it on Deeling's station. A month afterwards, hearing that the Golden Harp wanted a barmaid, he had told the landlord that his sister wanted a billet, had written to her, and she had come up and taken the place.

The young fellow, who called himself O'Reilly, had two horses with him when he arrived, one of them the horse that had that day won the little race. While laid up with his broken leg, his ostensible sister had persuaded Deeling to lend her Darkie for the race, and, seeing that he thought it was her brother's home, he did not like to refuse.

That evening Maggie was in the bar, when she overheard a conversation between the man she suspected and one of the men working on Deeling's station. They were talking of the horse.

'So, he belongs to this young O'Reilly. Where is he?'

'In the hospital, with a broken leg.'

'What's he like; perhaps I know him?'

The man described him tolerably well, and Maggie saw the scowl on the other's face, which he could not repress. It was the brother evidently, and Jimmy had often told her of his dread of this brother ever finding him. She knew some of the rights of the case, but not all; she knew, however, that the horse in question was a valuable stolen racer, but that was enough.

Maggie's morality was nowhere, but her loyalty was great, she must act at once, to-morrow would be too late. She knew the matron at the hospital, and could manage to get to see her alleged brother that night, and get him to give her an order to Deeling to take his horses and clothes. For the rest, she could manage herself.

When Maggie did not turn up the next morning there was consternation, and, when it was found that she had gone, the usual expression of opinion was, whom had she gone with? She had gone over to Deeling's late at night, had obtained her brother's horses and things, and vanished. Opinion veered to the conclusion that Maggie had played very low down on her brother, and cleared oft with somebody, and his horses, while he was down on his back. But, although the girl would not have felt at all shocked at these aspersions on her character, they were not true, and she had carried out the programme she had hastily sketched out alone.

The effect on Delawbon was crushing, and he could do nothing, except by moving in the matter he would probably get five years' penal servitude. He could not follow Maggie, for, born and bred in the bush, she had kept off the road. She knew as well as any man how to strap down a wire fence and get a horse over it, and she left no sign as to which way she lad departed. His only course was to keep an eye on his brother, who, as he guessed, had a place appointed to meet Maggie. He could not, unfortunately, as he thought, go into the hospital and half kill him.


TWO years before a valuable racing colt had been stolen from a station, in New South Wales, and its body was found afterwards with the brands cut out of the side, and otherwise disfigured. That is to say, some people swore it was the colt, some swore it was not. It was not, the colt being then in the possession of the three men who had stolen the horse.

Then the younger brother stole it from his brother and mate, and they had vainly looked far him since, until, at the race meeting at Bungleton, they had come on the horse, only to lose it again.


IT was some two months afterwards, and Maggie, who had managed her escape with the cleverness of an old hand, had taken service at a rather thriving roadside pub, and the horses were safely in a neighboring paddock, when she received a letter from Jim, informing her that he would join her the next week. On the day appointed two men arrived, and road up to the house, and Maggie's heart leaped as she recognised in one the brother whom Jim so dreaded, riding amicably with him. She felt somehow that her recreant lover had betrayed her to save his own skin.

And so it had proved. Jim had thrown all the blame on her, and, under threats, had confessed the place where she was in hiding with the horses. Maggie took it quietly enough, the horses were run up from the paddock, and put in the yard. She did not utter a word of reproach to the young cur for whom she had worked so loyally, but simply said:

'I want to go down by myself and say good-bye to Darkie. I have got very fond of him since we have been so long together.'

She went into the bar, and took something out of the drawer, then went out to the yard. The two men did not follow her, but sat down to the meal they had ordered. They were in the middle of it, when they were startled by a shot outside. Hastening out to see what was the matter, they met Maggie walking back to the house, a revolver in her hand. In the yard lay poor Darkie, the capital of the two thieves, bow worth nothing. Maggie had shot him fair and square through the brain.

'You daren't do anything,' she said, coolly, 'or you will get into quod. Besides, so far as I know, he was my horse. I have kept that order you gave me for Deeling; I gave him a receipt for it.'

Maggie is now the mistress of the thriving roadside pub, the owner, a widower, having lately married her.


28. -- SUNDERED PATHS

Evening News, Sydney, 9 July 1898

I

IT was a remote and somewhat lonely, suburb on the outskirts of Sydney. At one time there had evidently been a short-lived land boom in the locality, and the signs thereof still remained in the shape of surveyors' pegs and trenches, indicating where streets intersected, the said streets, as a rule, ending abruptly nowhere, after a brief career of a hundred yards. A few houses had been built here and there, but the boom tide had apparently not been taken at the flood, or the locality not been popular, for the habitations were few and far between, and the majority of the choice building sites' were covered with the low scrub and heathery bushes common in the neighborhood of Sydney. The roads and pathways were unmade, neglected and unlighted at night. Some telegraph wires certainly stretched along what presumed to be the main street, connecting other and more favored localities, but telegraph posts do not add greatly to the cheerful outlook of any landscape, and on a grey day, when a blustering wind is blowing, their wires sing a melancholy song of their own which is not inspiriting.

Traffic here was small. A few tradesmen's carts and the suburban postman were about the only wayfarers; the latter, in his semi-military uniform, looking like a mounted rifleman on vedette duty, who had mislaid his offensive weapon. What houses there were, were not built in neighborly vicinity, but scattered abroad, and separated by empty areas of bush. The houses were fairly good cottage residences, evidently not inhabited by a very poor class of people. One, standing well back from the quiet road, was distinguished by a well kept lawn and a garden gay with flowers, and by its bright aspect seemed to enter a protest against the monotony of its surroundings. It was tenanted by a lady with a little boy about nine years of age; a middle-aged, childless couple, who had the appearance of country people, forming her domestic staff.

The neighborhood was not curious, nor very social, and calling was a conventional custom more honored in the breach than the observance, so that few but the tradespeople and the postman knew that her name was Rutledge, and none could have told you whether she was a widow or no. She seldom went out, had no visitors, and had lived there nearly three years, a quiet retired life.


ONE morning, about 11 o'clock, a gentleman above middle-age, walked down the road leading to Mrs. Rutledge's house, looking about him in an inquiring manner. The semi-military postman, with the cavalry hat, met him, and in answer to a question indicated the house referred to. The gentleman took his way there, entered the gate and walked across the little lawn. His footsteps had not been very audible, but his approach must have been noticed, for the mistress of the house stepped through the French light on to the verandah to meet him. They greeted each other like old friends, by their Christian names, and each looked curiously at the other, as though they had not met for some time and were seeking alterations in each other's appearance.

'You are looking extremely well, Frances,' he said, when seated inside.

'And you have not altered.'

'As well preserved as ever, you should say,' he interrupted, with a smile. 'But I don't know how long I should remain so in the calm stagnation of this locality. It suits you, evidently.'

'Yes, just at present it does; but I must move soon, for Herbert is growing fast, and must attend another school than his mother's.'

'Don't keep him too long at home, or it will be harder for the boy when he has to go.'

'I won't make a milksop of him, but you will see him directly yourself. Meantime, where have you been these years?'

'Doing the Wandering Jew business, as usual, you know, I can't rest.'

'Have you seen Ralph at all?' she asked in a quiet, even tone although she was speaking of her long absent husband.

'Yes. Do you correspond?'

'Not now. He took offence at some remarks of mine; intended for his good.'

'Doubtless!' interrupted her visitor, softly, with a smile.

'And replied that he would rather not hear from me, than be lectured on a subject on which we could never agree.'

'Well, that was reasonable enough; could you not write to each other without touching on the forbidden subject?'

Mrs. Rutledge was a handsome, refined-looking woman, of thirty years or so, with a still girlish appearance and figure, but her mouth tightened, I and her eyes turned hard as she replied.

'No. I know what is my duty, and I will perform it; no matter what I suffer in the performance.'

'Or make others suffer. Really, Frances, I came out here—and you know my selfish disposition, which, as a rule, refrains from meddling with other people's troubles—hoping that I would find you in another mood; it seems perfect insanity that two people should have their lives ruined for a sentimental idea.'

'No, Herbert; I am still the same. I love Ralph still, as well as ever, but my duty is plain and straightforward. Why did he let me remain in ignorance of the iniquitous trade he was engaged in? Why did he ever marry me without telling me that he was a slave-dealer?'

Herbert Rutledge got up from his chair in irritation, but his voice was quiet when he spoke.

'Knowing, as you do, my personal sentiments on the subject of marriage, I agree with you that it would have been for the happiness of both of you if my brother had told you that he owned some vessels engaged in the island trade, but I know that your remarks are inspired by that old humbug—excuse me—who first caused the trouble. But this mad exaggeration is too bad! My brother's vessels were engaged in a properly supervised and legitimate labor trade; and to speak of him as though he was running slavers to Cuba, as in the old times, from West Africa, shows how much your mind has been warped.'

'My mind is not warped, and Mr. Stammers was quite right, and doing his plain duty when he informed me of the horrors of that awful traffic in human souls and bodies; and lent me books containing accounts of the atrocities perpetrated by these engaged in that sinful calling. Then I learnt for the first time that my husband, with whom I had been so happy, was one of those monsters. Do you wonder that I insisted on a separation until he led a new life?'

'And do you wonder that a man of my brother's disposition should refuse to listen to such folly and feel indignant that his wife should allow a canting old hypocrite to come between them with a tissue of sensational trash.'

'Mr. Stammers was my father's old and dear friend, and you know he does not deserve the epithet you have just bestowed on him. He is a good man, and you know it.'

'I don't know it. Good men, really good men, don't destroy the happiness of others. Professing good men do very often. But I came out here to see you and my nephew, not to quarrel. Is the boy in?'

'Yes. I will go for him; but I do not expect that he will remember you at once; memory is not long lived at his age.'

She left the room, and her brother-in-law stood contemplating the surroundings with a frown on his generally good-natured face. Suddenly it cleared, and he emitted a slight chuckle, which he stifled as the door opened, and his nephew, a bright, healthy-looking lad, came in. He soon recalled himself to the boy's memory, and when they parted after lunch they were firm friends.

'When do you go away?' Mrs. Rutledge asked.

'Almost immediately; but I will come out and say good-bye. I am going down to the islands to see Ralph—better let me take Herbert with me for a holiday; I'll bring him back myself.' The woman started, and looked at him with a changing face.

'His father has a right to see him,' he continued; 'and he has no vessels engaged in the recruiting business now; so you will not be departing from your principles.'

'Has he seen the right, then?' she asked, eagerly.

'Not as you mean; but there is business that pays better. Shall I take the boy for a trip?'

'I don't know; I can't answer you suddenly. I will consider. I will strive to do my duty. Goodbye.'

'How on earth are you to convince a woman of her disposition?' mused Rutledge as he strolled towards the railway station. 'Brought up in a narrow-minded school, she suddenly finds that some of her husband's vessels have been chartered to recruit South Sea labor, under the supervision of the Queensland Government. An interfering old fool, a friend of her sainted parents, gives her a. whole lot of sensational newspaper cuttings to read, and she rounds on her husband, one of the best and kindest-hearted fellows going, and accuses him of being a murderous slave-dealer, won't listen to reason; and insists upon a separation as long as his hands are red with the blood of the slave! He's too hot-tempered to stand it, and hence all the trouble. I'm glad it struck me to suggest the boy taking a trip—it will patch things up, perhaps. I thank my lucky stars that I am a bachelor!'

Herbert Rutledge wound up his reflections on the little station platform, and sat down to await the train with a good conscience.

II

IN her now very lonely cottage home sat Mrs. Rutledge some weeks after the visit of her brother-in-law. Acting always, as she persuaded herself, under a strong sense of duty, she had consented to her son accompanying his uncle to the islands, to see the father who was almost a stranger to him. The fact that parting with the boy had been a severe pang to her was, in her mind, a proof that it was the right thing to have done. But how weary had been the time ever since. Somehow, in her great loneliness, the past bore a different aspect. After ail had she been right to refuse to listen to argument or reason? To trust only the words of those who were prejudiced, and practically ignorant? She recalled to mind a peculiarly murderous piece of literature that her father's friend had recommended to her notice—an account of the massacres that had taken place on the notorious 'Carl.' Could her husband possibly be one of those blood-stained fiends? No; her heart cried out against the idea. There were bad brutal men in all occupations, but that did not brand them all as her venerable friend inferred. She remembered, and with her strict training the idea was horrible to her mind, that there were bad clergymen who had been cast out of the Church, but this did not contaminate the rest of the clergy. In her brooding loneliness, these trite and childish kind of arguments appealed to her, and she wondered she had not thought of them before.

For the first time the words of the esteemed Mr. Stammers seemed weak and commonplace. What a simple woman she must have been to have received them as unassailable facts!

The click of the latch of the garden gate aroused her from her moody musings. She went to the door and took the morning paper from the boy. Since her son's departure she always turned to the shipping news first. There was nothing there of the Vesuvius, the steamer in which the voyagers had departed, but a wire from Auckland presently caught her eye.


The Clansman reports that when she left Suva, news of a hurricane had just been received from Levuka. No details were to hand, but the island trader Vesuvius was overdue.


That was all; but it was enough to excite all a mother's fears. She sent the man in to Sydney at once to scan the notices on the Post Office boards, and to await the issue of the evening papers. But he came back with no fresh news. Only the same paragraph repeated, with an addition that the mail steamer due in Auckland in two days would probably bring fuller tidings.

Two days. Two long, weary days. How would she ever live through them? But they crept on somehow, and she opened the paper one morning and read her fate. It was plain enough; for, like most tidings of wreck and disaster, it was headed with large cross headings.


GREAT STORM IN THE ISLANDS, NUMEROUS WRECKS

THE 'VESUVIUS' DRIVEN ASHORE ON OVALAU

LOSS OF LIFE


Then followed the names of others, trading schooners. But her dry eyes passed them over till they came to the details. The Vesuvius had gone ashore when making Levuka. By great and heroic exertions of those ashore communication had been established; but many had been drowned in the surf. A full list of those saved was not obtainable, but most people would learn with regret that, amongst the rescuers, Mr. R. Rutledge, the well-known island merchant, while attempting to rescue a boy from the surf, had received fatal injuries. The steamer Glamorgan was expected to call in a few days, and would probably bring the survivors on to Sydney direct.

So, the blow had fallen. No chance now to forget and forgive. Even if she had sent a message by Herbert it would not have reached her husband. He was dead; and, perhaps, it was his own boy whom he was unknowingly striving to rescue when he met with his death. And the boy!

The miserable paper could not say whether the boy had been saved or not. She did not even know for certain whether she was a childless widow or not; and at the picture fancy conjured up, of the childish figure beaten on the black rocks by the wild surf, she sank, down and lost consciousness for a time. She was aroused by a voice speaking to her; and opening her eyes saw her father's old friend, Mr. Stammers, standing before her.

Sitting down, the well-meaning but foolish old man commenced the usual orthodox string of consolatory platitudes. Mrs. Rutledge listened in silence till the good man, having exhausted his stock of conventional sayings, unwisely remarked that if his advice had been followed Herbert would not have been allowed to visit the islands, and she would not now be bewailing his loss.

Never had the complacent Mr. Stammers roused a wild cat with his utterances before. Mrs. Rutledge arose in her wrath, wild-eyed and terrible in her indignation.

'Your advice! Your advice! Only for your advice I should now have husband and son both, and should never have been parted from them. Only for your advice he would not have died far away from me, with never a good-bye between us. Only for your advice I should now be a happy wife, instead of a wretched widow. Leave me, old man, before I say more; for my eyes have been opened by misfortune. Go, and never during your remaining years seek to part husband and wife.'

He was gone, without a word, conscience-struck and astonished, but the storm of aroused passion had done her good, and given her back her self-control. She had nothing to do but await the arrival of the Glamorgan.'

Another day and another, and it was growing dusk and dark, when she lit the gas, and called to the man who had been in Sydney, watching for the Glamorgan to be signalled. He had no news, and she sat down and ate her sad and solitary meal. After dinner she tried to read, but her eyes would wander; and she saw only the drowned faces of her husband and her boy. The door opened, and with a start she aroused herself, and saw Herbert, her brother-in-law, enter.

'You have come back!' she said, as she sprang up. 'And alone! You have come back to me without my child.'

'Herbert is safe. He has not quite recovered, and I left him in Sydney, rather than fatigue him further to-night by bringing him on here.'

'O, I must go to him at once; I believed him dead.'

'Stay!' said Herbert, with a ring of sternness in his tones. 'Have you no more questions to ask?'

She clasped her hands, and looked beseechingly at him; but he made her ask the question.

'My husband?' she said, at last, with trembling lips.

'Saved the boy's life when Herbert and I were washed off the line in the surf. There was some brave work done that day by both whites and blacks, but his was the bravest.'

'Dead,' she whispered, 'and he will never know how I longed for him. Were you with him when he died?'

'He was not dead when I left the island.'

'And you left him to die alone—the brother you so upheld? I must go directly, if I have to charter a steamer; I may not yet be too late. Let me pass, Herbert. Why do you stand before the door?'

'You need not go so far to find him. I did not leave him. He was badly hurt, it is true, but I brought him with me. He has heard from your own lips what he wanted to hear, and what you can now tell him.'

Herbert opened the half-closed door, and as he passed out the listener at the door passed in.


29. -- A VISITATION

Evening News, Sydney, 3, 10 and 24 Jun 1899

I

'TAKE me out and bury me deep,' said Newton as he dropped an open letter on the table and assumed a look of despair.

'What's the matter?' asked Mullins, a jackeroo of nearly eighteen months experience, looking up from his letters; for the mailman had just left the bag at Cramby Downs cattle station.

'Matter!' returned the afflicted manager. 'Only old Bonwick is coming up here to stop a month, and is bringing his two daughters up with him.'

Mullins, who considered himself a full-fledged bushman on account of the eighteen months' experience, stroked his budding moustache and simpered as he answered, 'Rather a pleasant break, old man?'

'Rather a pleasant break!' echoed Newton in a rage. 'We haven't an unbroken chair to sit down on, thanks to you and the Behemoth, skylarking all through the muster, the table is rickety, there's nothing in the store but tea, sugar, and flour, the kerosene is done, and we'll have to make fat lamps, and, to wind up, I've told Ah Foy to clear at the end of the month, so we won't even have a cook unless you turn to. Pleasant break, indeed!' and Newton snorted wrath at the Jackeroo, who sat appalled, with his mouth open.

'Don't sit there catching flies,' went on Newton; 'think of something, can't you. They'll be here in a fortnight. They're on the sea now.'

'Perhaps they'll be wrecked,' muttered the wretched Mullins, for the verbal assault had knocked all sense out of him.

'I'll wreck you, you thundering ass, in a moment Somebody will have to go down to Portshore with the buggy to meet them at once. Who is to go? I can't trust you, and I can't go myself.'

'Bring up some rations in the buggy,' suggested Mullins, feebly.

'Your intellect's rapidly failing. I shall have to send you down in handcuffs if you don't look out. How much rations do you imagine one could bring up in that crazy old buggy with four people in it. Old Bonwick's a load in himself, and you bet the girls are bouncers.'

'Walker!' suddenly exclaimed Mullins. Now instead of Newton flaring out on hearing this apparently flippant remark, a look of relief stole over his face.

'Right you are, the Behemoth will help us.'

'And so will Mrs. Walker,' said Mullins, much encouraged. 'I'll go over at once. Tell Paddy to get a horse up,' and glad of the idea of putting his troubles on the back of a friend, Newton turned to the rest of his correspondence.

Bonwick was the owner of the station—not that he had ever seen it or knew anything about cattle. He was a city man, who dabbled in station property, and being remarkably shrewd and businesslike, generally did well. Cramby Downs came into his hands cheap, and had paid pretty well, for those were the days before the devastating tick marched through Queensland. But his daughters wanted to travel, and a journey up to Queensland, and to the station during the pleasant tropical winter, was a desirable trip they had been told. Therefore it was that Newton was so upset and had gone over to visit his near neighbor, Walker, alias the 'Behemoth,' who owned the neighboring run, and whose station was but ten miles away.

Walker was at home, and he and Mrs. Walker, a pretty young woman who had not yet lost her complexion in the Queensland climate, welcomed, him warmly.

'I'm in a heap of trouble, and you must give me a hand,' he said, when he had had a drink and got into a chair. 'Old Bonwick is coining up on a visit, bringing his two daughters with him, and I've nothing in the store, and the place is not presentable, we've only two rooms and a skillion; and your husband and Mullins smashed what little furniture we have during muster time. The girls are bound to be bouncers, and old Bonwick will worry the soul out of me with his ignorance of station matters, and wanting to interfere and advise and what with one thing and another, I think I'm about tired.'

This was poured out in one long string to Mrs. Walker.

Mrs. Walker smiled sympathetically.

'What's a bouncer, Mr. Newton?' she asked, ignoring the rest of the tirade.

'O, a great big fat girl, who'll give every horse on the place a sore back.'

'I can relieve your mind on one score. I have met one of the Miss Bonwicks, and she is not by my means a bouncer, according to your definition at that term. She is a very pretty girl—'

Here Newton groaned.

'What's the matter?' she asked in surprise.

'That fool Mullins will be getting spooney on her, and I shall never get a bit of good out of him.'

'You must chance that. I don't think the girl I met will encourage Mr. Mullins. She is remarkably clever and quiet.'

'A bluestocking. Does she wear specs?'

'No, she does not. Kindly don't interrupt me any more. Now how can we help you? We'll do all we can.'

'In reality I don't know how you can help me. I came over for suggestions; some proposal to save me from utter disgrace and humiliation.'

Mrs. Walker laughed.

'Not quite so bad as that,' and the Behemoth grunted, 'Nothing wrong; station in first rate order, couldn't find a fault. Only awfully mean of you to say I smashed your old furniture; never knew you had any before.'

'You know you did; you kept betting that donkey Mullins that he couldn't lift you up sitting on a chair, and every time he tried a leg was smashed. Now they're all bound up with green hide, and a pretty sight they look for a drawing room.'

'Now, listen,' said Mrs. Walker. 'George will drive me over to-morrow morning, and I will see what the capabilities of the material are which we have got to deal with. You stop to dinner and then ride back by moonlight, and meanwhile talk it over.'

'I must go back, Mrs. Walker. Mullins will be doing some absurd thing under pretence of getting ready, which will assuredly bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. I shouldn't wonder if he was not now painting an emu and kangaroo on my best roll of canvas with "Welcome" written between.'

'Ah Foy's a good, cook, that's one thing,' said Walter.

'But I've sacked Ah Foy at the end of this month, and where to get another I don't know.'

'What did you sack Ah Foy for?' asked Mrs. Walker.

'Cheek,' returned Newton.

'That's all right, I'll make him apologise to you, and you can take him back.'

Husband and wife here exchanged an amused smile. Restored to hope and confidence, Newton ate a. hearty dinner, and, after a smoke with the Behemoth, so called on account of his massive size, was about to start home, when Mrs. Walker called him inside the house, from the verandah. She showed him a photo—the likeness of a girl not only pretty—but with, an unusually frank and intelligent appearance. The girl did not appear to be. sitting for her portrait, but as though it was a natural attitude, and she had been caught unawares by the camera.

'That's the Miss Bonwick whom I met,' said Mrs. Walker. Newton looked at the laughing eyes and the speaking mouth, and laid it down with a sigh.

'And I called this girl a bouncer,' he said. 'Good night, Mrs. Walker; I'm awfully obliged to you, and shall be delighted to see you to-morrow.'

Newton rode home at peace with himself at having secured the help and guidance of his friends, but down at heart at having called the original of the photo, a bouncer.

Next morning early Mr. and Mrs. Walker drove up to the station and the first thing Mrs. Walker did was to ask Newton if he had missed anything of late.

'I haven't got much to lose,' he said, 'but the only thing valuable I possess—a gold watch—has certainly disappeared.'

'Send Ah Foy to me, and leave us alone for five minutes,' returned Mrs. Walker.

Ah Foy came in, looking most abominably frightened, and hastily letting his pigtail down.

'So you cannot resist watches even now?' said Mrs. Walker. 'Put, that one of Mr. Newton's back at once, and go and apologise to him, quick, and ask him to take you back. Mr. Walker let you off before, when you stole my watch, but only on condition that you behaved in future. Now go.'

Ah Foy went, a very frightened Chinaman. He had hoped to be well away with the stolen watch before Mr. or Mrs. Walker heard of it; that was the reason he had checked Newton in order to get the sack.

'Newton,' said Walker, taking his arm, and leading him up to the stockyard while this scene was going on, 'I'll lend you my big waggonette, and help you make up a team of four horses if you go down and meet the old man and the girls. Meanwhile the wife will straighten things up here. Mustering's over; there's nothing to do, and you can start 'Blasphemous Ben' down with the dray for some loading. That will get him out of the road, for you can hear him swearing half-way to our place, and you can't cure him. Our store is full, and I can lend you what you want until he comes back.'

'By George! Behemoth, you are a good fellow, and I shall pull through all right, but it's not fair to rush a couple of town girls on a man without warning.'

So things were decided, and on returning they found that Mrs. Walker had also decided favorably with regard to the house, namely, that if Newton and Mullins rigged up bunks in the store for themselves, and left the house to Bonwick and Co., everything could be managed.

After lunch, the benefactors departed, promising to come over the next day.

'Isn't she a brick?' said Mullins to Newton.

'I wouldn't call her a brick exactly,' returned Newton, absently. 'She seems to me more of a dream picture than a reality.'

'Well,' said Mullins, 'I should never have thought of calling Mrs. Walker a dream picture, and I am thankful to say, under present circumstances, that she is very much of a reality, and a very nice reality, too.'

'Oh! it was Mrs. Walker you meant?'

'Now, who else could it have been?'

But Newton did not answer.

II

IN Walker's roomy waggonette, with Paddy the black boy trotting behind, driving two spare horses, Newton felt tolerably happy as he travelled down to Portshore. If a man's spirits are not roused by holding the reins of two free, fresh horses, on a Queensland winter morn, along a fairly good road, just bushy enough to make you attend to your driving, then that man has no spirits to rouse. Newton's spirits, at any rate, were high. The honor of Cramby Downs would be saved, thanks to the energy and knowledge of Mrs. Walker, and the friendliness of the Behemoth.

Ah Foy had come humbly and repentantly to beg forgiveness, and ask to be taken on again. It may be mentioned here that watches are a source of temptation to which even the strongest minded pagan is liable to succumb. He may be poor in pocket, but if he is the proud possessor of three or four watches, he is, by reputation, a rich man. Hence Ah Foy's fall.

'Blasphemous Ben,' who could go on for an hour, and never use the same oath twice, would be out of the way, and the incorrigible old ruffian, who was the best horse-driver in the country, would not get back until the visitors had gone.

So Newton drove on gaily in the fresh morning air, and thought but little of the two hundred and fifty miles that separated him from Portshore. The country was fairly well settled, and most of the stations were comfortably fixed up as regarded homesteads, so the hardships of camping out were not to be apprehended for his charges.

He arrived in Portshore the day before the steamer was due, and secured rooms for the expected guests at the principal hotel. The steamer duly arrived, and Newton took his place at the end of the long jetty, the pride and glory of Portshore, to be ready to board her at once. He knew Bonwick by sight, having met him once in Sydney; but the prospect of meeting the original of the photograph was far more interesting than the idea of rotund Mr. Bonwick.

Slowly the steamer was warped up to the wharf, and when the gangway was in position, Newton was one of the first on board. He soon recognised and accosted the proprietor of the station, and while talking to him two young damsels standing near attracted his attention.

'Bouncers,' he said to himself, and they certainly were of the type he designated by that term, and the thing was exaggerated by their resemblance in height, features, and dress. He was casting his eyes around in search of the 'dream picture,' when Bonwick said, 'Oh, I must make you known to any daughters.'

Turning round to the two young ladies, he presented Newton to them, saying:

'Girls, this is Mr. Newton, the manager of Cramby Downs.'

The two girls, who had good-tempered faces greeted Newton with becoming warmth, while he, sick at heart, tried to conceal his disappointment. What on earth did Mrs. Walker mean? Was it all a cruel joke? He recovered himself as well as he could, and before they got to the end of the jetty, he found himself chatting freely and pally with the girls who, if they were bouncers, were very kindly and unaffected ones. Bonwick had stayed behind them, on the steamer, to transact some business, and when they reached the end of the jetty, Newton looked round, and saw him following with a lady.

'O, papa forgot to tell you,' said the eldest Miss Bonwick, as she noticed the direction of his glance, 'our cousin came up with us. It was only decided just at the last moment. She has not been very well lately, and the doctor thought the trip would do her good. I am afraid we shall put you out terribly, Mr. Newton.'

Newton made the necessary polite disclaimer, with a beating heart, for something told him that this cousin would prove to be the lady of the photograph, and it was; but she greeted Newton with far less interest than her cousins had done, which was, perhaps, but natural. The party proceeded to the hotel, and a start was arranged for the following morning. In the course of the evening, Newton did not manage to make much progress in his acquaintanceship with the young lady of the photograph, who appeared to be somewhat pensive and absent-minded. She was also a Miss Bonwick, which accounted for Mrs. Walker's mistake. Her Christian name was Jane, reduced to Jennie by her cousins, which Newton thought was nothing less than desecration. The eldest of the two bouncers, a name that Newton felt secretly ashamed of for calling them, in his heart, was plain Mary; and her sister, a year younger, was Grace. Thanks to these two, however, the evening passed pleasantly enough.

Newton was up by daylight the next morning, and plunged once more in the depths of despair. The accommodation of Walker's wagonnette, stretched to its utmost extent, could not contain with anything like comfort the three young ladies, Bonwick, himself, and the luggage. He could certainly borrow a horse and ride, but who then was to drive the four horses. Bonwick, he knew, could not, and the four horses would have to go in. He was dejectedly seeking comfort from the groom of the hotel on the subject, when, to his intense astonishment. Miss Grace Bonwick, the youngest bouncer, appeared upon the scene.

'Good morning, Mr. Newton. Horses are my hobby; and I came down, early to see what sort of a team you have for the trip.'

Fortunately, the team was a good one, and elicited Grace's approval.

'I like driving four-in-hand,' she remarked; 'particularly free horses.'

Newton was just going to exclaim, 'drive up to the station,' when the young lady took the unspoken words out of his mouth, by remarking, 'I am going to drive up, now I have seen, the horses.'

'I will take you into my confidence, Miss Grace,' said Newton. 'I am in a bit of a fix how to settle things. With all the luggage, none of which can be left behind—'

'Certainly not,' interrupted Grace.

'Well, with all that and ourselves, we shall be one too many for comfort. If I thought it was quite safe, I would ride, and let you drive.'

'Tell the groom to put the horses in, quick. Help him, Mr. Newton; I'll show you whether I can drive, or not,' and the youngest of the bouncers looked fierce enough to drive a team of wild zebras.

The horses were soon put in, and the groom stood at their heads, while Grace Bonwick took the driving seat, and Newton handed her the reins, and got up beside her. Newton at once saw by the workmanlike way she settled down that her boast was no idle one. The main street of the town was nearly empty at that time of the morning, and the horses went at a rapid trot alone the comparatively good stretch of road.

'They'll do,' said Grace. 'Do you think I can manage them now?'

'Yes; I'll borrow a horse, and ride up; and that will make plenty of room,' he replied. 'Mr. Newton; I've got something important to tell you, and this is a fine opportunity. Don't be shocked; Mary and I tossed up last night who should do it, and she won. It's about my cousin.'

Newton started, 'She has got into an entanglement with a man altogether beneath her, in fact, quite impossible. It's a case of infatuation, and we hoped the change up here, and absence, and all that, would put things straight.'

Here Grace paused, and seemed to consider her words, while Newton waited, feeling rather confused, and the rhythmic tread of the horses alone broke an uncomfortable silence.

'You wonder, of course, why I tell you this about my cousin; but it is better that you should know, because the man came up in the same steamer that we did, following her, you see. He kept himself pretty well concealed in the steerage, but Mary and I detected him. Now, why I have told you about it is this, having come this far, he will follow us up, to the station, and all our care and trouble will be thrown away.'

'What's the man like?' asked Newton, after a pause. The horses' head had been turned, and they were on the way back.

'What is he like?' repeated Grace. 'He is swarthy rather, and good looking. Says his family comes from southern Italy. He's an adventurer, and that's not the worst of it, though that's bad enough.'

The girl paused, and Newton never thought that her good-natured face could wear such a look of disdain and contempt. 'Once you'll see him, you'll see for yourself. What is the worst of it, he calls himself De Luna. If I was a man, I should call him a d——d nigger.'

Newton felt as though he had got a blow in the face. The girl used the forcible adjective more as the utmost expression of contempt she could think of, and it did not seem at all out of place at the moment. But the shock to Newton came from the fact that the girl with the beautiful face which he had half fallen in love with should be mixed up in such an entanglement.

'A nigger!' he repeated, in amazement.

'Well, not a full-blooded one, but a gentleman of color all the same, with a decided dash of the tar brush. There, I have told you all. Perhaps he'll come up to the station, and you might get an excuse to stockwhip him, that possibly would disillusion her. It makes us very miserable for we are very fond of cousin Jennie. Now do what you can, but don't talk about it. There's papa looking out for us, he must think we've eloped.'

Newton got the loan of a fresh horse, and the party were soon on the road for Cramby Downs, which they finally reached after what the two bouncers termed a very jolly trip. Mrs. Walker and the Behemoth were there to welcome them, and the first spark of animation Newton had seen on the cousin's face was when she returned Mrs. Walker's greeting.

Newton was much troubled in mind. Here he had not only the responsibility of entertaining his visitors, but the additional trouble of having to keep watch and ward for a half-caste adventurer pursuing an infatuated love-sick girl. He had heard and read of such cases in both sexes, but be had no desire to have one so immediately under his notice.

Mrs. Walker had everything in apple-pie order, and had even imported furniture and linen from her own place. Mary Bonwick was of a domestic disposition, and assumed the reins of government. Mullins made himself the devoted slave of all and everybody, and old Bonwick proved himself a very amiable companion, and did not want to interfere in anything. Everything was going on well-oiled springs, excepting the confirmed pensiveness of Jane Bonwick and the lurking suspicion that the objectionable suitor was hanging about somewhere waiting for a chance to open communication with the girl.

One day, when an opportunity offered, Newton suggested to Grace that it might be better to take Mr. and Mrs. Walker into their confidence. It would be an additional protection, and both of them were thoroughly friendly and true.

'Possibly Jennie has already told Mrs. Walker her version of the matter. But I'll consult Mary.'

Mary agreed that there would be no harm in confiding in the Walkers, and Newton made an excuse for riding over the next day. He found, as Grace had expected, that Mrs. Walker had already a very fair inkling of the affair, but she had no idea that it was as bad as it really was. As for the Behemoth, it would have fared ill with the man if he had shown up anywhere in the neighborhood of his place just then.

Newton stayed for dinner, and left with an assurance from Mrs. Walker that she would do all she could to bring the foolish girl to her senses, short of reasoning with her, which she assured Newton would only confirm her in her obstinacy.

It was a brilliant moonlight night, and when about half way on his way home Newton saw a horseman standing in the road as if awaiting him. It struck Mm at once that this was the man who called himself De Luna, seeking an interview with him. He rode on, and, as he expected, the fellow accosted him by name, and asked permission to ride with him a short distance, as he wished to have a few words with him.

Now moonlight has the effect of making dark appear darker. An ordinarily sun-tanned man in the moonlight looks like a black fellow, and the moon had this effect on the swarthy visage of the man who had accosted Newton, so that that gentleman felt very nettled, and his answer was not put in very courteous language.

At the station Grace was being called to order by her sister for restlessly going in and out of the verandah.

'I can't imagine what makes Mr. Newton so late,' she said in reply.

'Not very late,' her father said; 'only ten o'clock.'

Time passed on, and at eleven Bonwick announced his intention of going to bed, and went, like the respectable father of a family should. Grace was still restless, and asked her sister to sit up with her a little longer, to which Mary grudgingly consented. Half an hour passed, when both girls were startled by tie shrill neigh of a horse at the paddock slip rails.

'I knew! I knew something had happened!' cried Grace; 'Here's Mr. Newton's horse come back alone. Go and knock Mullins up at the store.'

Without waiting for an answer Grace sped off the verandah down the track to the sliprails at an astonishing pace. The horse was standing with his head over the top rail, and when he saw Grace, he whinnied in greeting. Grace got through the fence, and caught the horse. It was one she had ridden several times. She knew how to manage on a man's saddle, and fixed the stirrups up and threw the off one over to the near side. Then with the aid of the fence she mounted.

When Mullins and a man came along the road and reached about half-way to Walker's place, they found Grace Bonwick seated on the grass, with Newton's head in her lap.

'He's lost a lot of blood, but I've managed to stop the bleeding,' she said quietly. 'Did you think of bringing some spirits with you?'

Mullins looked at the dark stain on the ground, and on Grace's dress and hands, as he took a bottle from his saddle pouch. 'Is it murder?' he asked unsteadily.

III

NEWTON replied to the man who had accosted him that if he had anything to say to him he had better look sharp, as he was in a hurry to get home.

'I am a traveller, bound for Bangston, a township some short distance to the westward. My packhorse has got away, and I wished to ask the favor of your hospitality for the night. I believe I am speaking the manager of Cramby Downs?'

This was pretty cool, and then it suddenly flashed across Newton's mind that it was only a clumsy pretext to get to the station at night, when there was nobody likely to be about to recognise him. Evidently the dark gentleman had no suspicion that Newton knew anything about him. Bush hospitality is proverbial, and the speaker had evidently no thought of being refused.

'I do not wish to appear inhospitable,' said Newton; 'but there are certain circumstances connected with yourself, Mr. De Luna, which leaves me no choice but to refuse your request.'

The man was evidently put out, but he mastered his surprise, and replied quietly, 'You seem to know my name, and from your allusion, I imagine, that you have been told that I entertain a deep and respectful admiration for a certain young lady, and that her relatives have represented me in an entirely false light.'

'I think not,' replied Newton, 'and I have the pleasure of bidding you good night.'

'I presume the road is as free for me as for you,' said De Luna.

'Certainly it is; but remember that the station is not. By the way, if you are in want of a night's camp, there is a blacks' camp close to the station.'

'What the devil do you mean, sir?'

'Only that they are compatriots of yours, if somewhat darker.'

'So that Grace girl has been telling you some of her lies.'

For answer Newton raised the crop he was carrying, and laid it vigorously over the other's shoulders. With a perfect scream of rage, De Luna leaned towards him, drew his sheath knife, and the next moment Newton felt a keen stab under his collarbone. His assailant pulled the knife out.

Newton dimly remembered hearing him calling himself a fool for giving way to his temper, and then he rode away. Newton felt himself growing sick and faint, and with a last effort he got off his horse, staggered to the side of the road, and fell down. The horse waited a short time; then finding itself free, started off for home.


MULLINS rode hastily on to summon Walker, who was known to have some knowledge of surgery. The man went back in hot haste for the buggy, and Grace resolutely maintained her lonely watch by the unconscious man. The buggy and Walker arrived almost at the same time. The burly Behemoth examined the wound, complimented Grace upon her pluck and skill in binding it up, then lifted Newton up as though he had been a baby, and put him in the buggy.

On arriving at the station Grace went in to change her dress, and Walker took Newton and put him In his bed in the store, then proceeded to bandage him up in a scientific manner. Newton recovered consciousness, and recognising his friend bending over him, said feebly, 'I say, old man, it was really my fault. I struck him first.'

'All serene, old boy, I guess who you mean; but you must lie still without talking. You've lost a tidy lot of blood.'

Grace found her father and Mary waiting on the verandah. She told them what had happened in a few words. They went to the room occupied by the three girls. To her surprise her cousin was there fully dressed, and she cried out in alarm at seeing the state Grace was in.

'Whatever is the matter?'

'Matter enough! Thanks to your folly Mr. Newton has been, probably murdered!'

'Murdered?'

'Well, he's not dead yet; but he might die. He met that darky lover of yours,' went on Grace, who was not in a mood to show any mercy; 'and they had a quarrel, and he stabbed Mr. Newton.'

Her cousin put her hands up before her face.

'I suppose Mr. Newton provoked him,' she said through her fingers.

'Very likely he did; but it's only half-castes who use knives.'

Her cousin took her hands down, and the worm turned.

'One would think, Grace, that you were in love with Mr. Newton by the way you are going on?'

'And if I was,' said Grace, turning on her in wrath, and struggling into a fresh dress at the same time; 'I should be in love with a white man, at any rate. Why are you dressed? You went to bed hours ago.'

Jennie said nothing, and Grace, after regarding her for some time, went up and said something in a low voice, to which her cousin did not reply. Grace finished her toilet, and hastened out on the verandah. She took her sister on one side.

'Keep your eye on Jennie,' she said. 'She meant to bolt to-night.'

Then she went on to the store to inquire after the patient. He was well, although still weak; but Walker assured her, beyond the loss of a good deal more blood than was conducive to health, there was no harm done but what rest and time would cure. The knife had not gone downwards, otherwise there might have been another tale to tell.

Grace went back, and, feeling naturally tired out, soon fell into a sound slumber. In the morning Walker reported his patient as progressing in, the most satisfactory manner, and after breakfast took Bonwick aside, and asked him what they should do in the matter?

'I have been posted up in part of the affair,' he said, 'and suppose that unless things turn out badly with Newton, you want no steps taken in the matter. He himself wants things kept quiet. He says that he was the aggressor, as he struck the man across the shoulders with his crop.'

'You are quite right, Mr. Walker,' returned Bonwick. 'I do not want any steps to be taken, provided Newton is all right. It is a most unhappy affair, and has been a source of great trouble to us.'

'The girl has money, I suppose?'

'Yes, she has. She is the orphan daughter of my brother, and I am her guardian, but as she comes of age in about three months, I cannot see why the fellow was so desperate, unless he is absolutely penniless.'

'Who is he at all?' 'An adventurer of some sort. You know how. ready people are in our cities to take a man on his own showing if he says that he is descended from a titled family. That's the way my niece met him. Some snobbish friend introduced him to her.'

'Is he a half-caste?'

'Well, Grace, vows that he is; but I must tell you that she has a constitutional dislike to colored people. About two or three months before her birth her mother was frightened by a colored man. As Grace grew up I have noticed that she was always prejudiced against anyone dark or swarthy.'

'I think it is a good job in this particular instance that Miss Grace is so constituted. But for her telling Newton, and this little trouble occurring, your niece would have been off last night with this adventurer, to her eternal misery. Miss Grace told me she was waiting fully dressed. If Newton had not known the truth and guessed at once who the man was, he would have allowed him to camp here, and the next morning the birds would have been flown. Truly, Miss Grace deserves all the credit of the checkmate; but her cousin owes her world-long thanks, as she will know when she has got her senses back again.'

There, seemed nothing more to do but await Newton's recovery, and it was after he had been permitted to talk freely that Grace asked him for a full account of what passed between him and DeLuna. Newton related it until he came to the part when the insolent language used by DeLuna caused Newton to strike him. This he slurred over somewhat, and Grace was dissatisfied.

'There was nothing in what you have told me to lead to blows,' she persisted, 'Now just tell me the truth.'

Newton had no help for it, and told all that passed.

'Thank you, Mr. Newton,' she said, holding out her hand. 'I hope that you hit pretty hard.'

'As hard as I could,' he answered. Grace save him a bright smile as she left that set Newton thinking how it was he could have thought the cousin pretty when Grace was by.

The taint of colored blood, unfortunately for the possessor, carries with it many dangerous tendencies, revenge being a prominent one. Against Newton DeLuna did not feel much spite. He considered the knife thrust was quits between them. He had learned at the township of Bangston that Newton was alive, and that no steps had been taken to trace his assailant. He shrewdly guessed the reason, and also that no steps would be taken.

It was against Grace that he vowed vengeance. Time was slipping away, and he knew well enough that the temporary infatuation he had inspired the girl with could not last much longer.

Bonwick was quite right. Not only want of money had inspired him to follow the party up to Queensland, but also the overshadowing presence of a persecuting creditor, who had advanced the money for him to carry on the campaign with. This creditor was getting, anxious and importunate, and insisted on accompanying DeLuna to Queensland to see how he got on. Naturally after the stabbing of Newton, this man did not think very highly of his chance of getting the debt paid, with the big interest owing.

'Look here, Dan,' he remarked to the aristocratic DeLuna. 'This game is played out. I can see it if you can't. You've got plenty of letters of the girls. Sell them, man; they will bring you in enough to pay me and leave a good balance for yourself. Bonwick will buy them and pay well for them. It's your only chance now.'

'And mine, too,' he added to himself.

De Luna reflected over this advice, He recognised that his game was nearly played out, and marriage with the heiress getting improbable; it was surely better to take what he could get. And then the thought of a possible revenge on Grace came into his headland, like Will Carey, he 'licked has wicked lips.'

The consequence was that Grace received a letter which, when she read the signature, she touched as she would a black snake. The epistle stated that the writer, a friend of DeLuna's, who, for certain reasons, could not appear in the matter, would be willing to meet Miss Grace Bonwick at any place she would like to appoint, provided it was five miles from the station, and there deliver into Miss Grace Bonwick's hands whatever letters Mr. DeLuna possessed written to him by Miss Jane Bonwick, and give a written assurance by Mr. DeLuna that he absolved Miss Jane Bonwick of all pledges and promises, that had passed, and would molest her no more, for and in consideration of a sum mentioned—a pretty tall one, by the way.

Grace duly considered; then she carried the letter to her father. Bonwick agreed to the terms, and told Grace he would accompany her; the letter and the recovered letters would be enough to convince his niece of DeLuna's true character. But his offer did not suit Grace.

'I will get an escort,' she said; 'only give me the cheque.'

Bonwick, a very obedient father, gave her the cheque, and Grace sent off a letter ordered Mullins to saddle a horse for her and one for himself to escort her over to Walker's station, and started. The appointed day and time arrived, and Grace rode out to the rendezvous she had appointed.

She was not a bit astonished at seeing DeLuna himself there instead of his pretended friend, and haughtily acknowledged his presence.

'I, of course, guessed you would be here,' she said. 'You are a very trumpery liar; a white man would have had more sense. Now be kind enough to give me tine letters and written promise, and I will hand you the cheque.'

DeLuna bit his lip, but held his tongue; he felt that he could not hold own against a woman in a war of words.

'For your cousin's sake you might be civil,' he said. 'Here are the letters and promise.'

Grace took them, looked over them, and read the premise.

'Of course, I have no means of knowing whether they are all here or not—I most take your paltry word for it. Here is the cheque.'

The man was standing close to her horse on the off side, as she passed him the cheque; he glanced at it, and pushed it into his pocket.

'Now to settle our account,' he said; and, catching the bridle with one hand, and throwing his left arm round her waist, sought to pull her from the saddle. In an instant Grace changed the whip into her left hand, where she had more play, and rained down several vicious cuts on him.

Then DeLuna felt himself in the grasp of a pair of hands the like of which Hue had never experienced. The Behemoth could walk as softly as a cat on occasions, and he had accompanied Grace, and been on watch as agreed upon. De Luna was a child, a babe in his hands. Walker did not strike him; he liberally swept the bush track with him. Then with the man's mouth full of dirt, his head full of dust, and his face bleeding, he made him kneel down and beg Grace's pardon in the most abject manner.

'Turn him inside out,' said Grace, 'and see if there are any more letters left.'

Nothing loth, the Behemoth did so, and found two more small packets in his pocket.

'Is that the lot?' he asked. 'If I find any more I will towel you up and down the road again.'

'It is all,' pleaded the culprit.

'Then go!' said Walker.

'What's that lying there?' asked Grace, pointing to a white piece of paper on the road.

Walker picked it up.

'It's the cheque you gave him. Shall I tear it up?'

'No; leave it lying there; it was, a bargain, and we have the letters.'

Walker looked at her as they rode home; then, under some pretence, rode ahead while she had a little hysterical cry now that it was all over.

'I have a bone to pick with you,' said Grace to Newton one day, after there had been a very satisfactory explanation between them. 'What made you tell Mrs. Walker that I'd turn out a bouncer and give all the horses I rode sore backs?'

'Good heavens! Did Mrs. Walter give me away?'

'Of course she did; isn't she a woman?'

Presumably DeLuna picked up the cheque and left, as nothing, beyond the fact that the cheque was duly presented, was ever heard of him; and the dream-face cousin married a very prosaic stock and station agent, and is now stouter than the present Mrs. Newton.


30. -- THE LEGEND DRAMEEDAH TOLD

Evening News, Sydney, 28 May 1898

I HAVE translated Drameedah's tale into ordinary English. As he could talk pretty fluently, and I understood some of his dialect, and so could always help him out with a leading question, I got the yarn pretty well in its entirety.

Drameedah was an ancient black fellow; he set up to be a bit of a doctor and a rainmaker, consequently he was a trifle above his fellows in mental acquirements. I can't say much for his rainmaking, but it produced about as much effect as a civilised 'day of humiliation' does. His method was to wait till a good threatening thunderstorm was approaching, and then to retire to a cave and there remain knocking two stones together, and performing other incantations, until the rain came down.

This was his version of what he did, but as he would never show the cave or allow anybody to accompany him, I am of opinion that he went and planted in a bit of a scrub and went to sleep. If the rain came, he went back to camp, and received the credit. If not, why he had always some fine excuse ready.

As to his doctoring, it consisted mostly of the application of ashes in surgical operations, or putting hot stones into water, and pouring the water over the wound. As his patients were generally pretty healthy, and rather liked to have a big scar left, he may be said to have been happier at healing than rain making.

He was an old man, with one good eye and one with a white speck on the pupil, owing to haying received a firestick in it when a youngster. His beard was scanty and grey, and he had no legs worth calling so. Anyhow, he was the man who told me this story, about his father—or he said it was about his father—and both he and his father were natives of North Queensland.

When his father was a boy, they had heard of the whites through the stories of them travelling from one tribe to another from the fringe of settlement. But their idea of them was very vague, and as the descriptions they received generally mixed up the men and horse they had not conceived a very correct idea of this new being.

One day Drameedah's father, then a boy of about fifteen, saw a strange track, which he followed, and came to a dead horse. There were many other tracks about where the horse was, and presently he saw a very strange-shaped foot, without toes, going in the direction the horse had been going. On this, Drameedah's father made for his father, and acquainted him with the circumstance.

Some more blacks assembled, and they followed the tracks up, and finally found a white man in a state of collapse from thirst. It was his boots that had puzzled Drameedah's father. Fortunately for the man, the blacks were shifting camp, so some of the gins had coolamons of water with them. Thus the man's life was saved, and the blacks took the stranger to camp with them. He recovered, and stayed with them some time, and from what Drameedah could make out from his father he was one of a party of whites who had somehow got parted from them and lost. At that time there was no enmity between the blacks and whites, for the blacks had had no experience of the strangers; so the white was not injured, and the blacks got very fond of him. He must have been with them some years, for, according to the yarn, he had grown a long beard and learned to talk their language and use their weapons.

One day, when they were a good distance from the spot where he had been found, they came upon other traces of whites, and at night time went and looked at their camp, which was a large one. At daylight the white man said that he would go back to them, as they were sure to be friends. The blacks didn't want him to go, but at sunrise he stepped out from the scrub, where the natives were hidden, and called to the whites in their own language. There was a great bustle in the camp, and they all came crowding around the rescued man. There was a lot of noise, and presently to the surprise of the natives there was a struggle, and they heard their white man calling to them for help.

There were a great many natives there, all armed, and they' rushed on the camp, although the others fired guns at them. The strange whites had big knives, and their white man had got one of these from them, and was fighting with it. In spite of the guns and knives the blacks got the best of it, killed about half the whites, and wounded the others. Their own white man had been hurt, too, but not badly. Then he told them that these were not friends of his at all as he had thought, but bad white men, and they must keep those they had wounded, and not let them get away. So the dead were buried, and all the knives and guns, and the clothes of the dead men, were taken away, and also the guns and knives of the live ones.

The blacks were camped on the bank of a large river, just above where the salt water came up, and had a large camp, for it was a good time for fish, and many natives had come from all about, that part, both to corroboree and see the white man. Now, amongst the six white men taken alive was one that at once excited the curiosity of Drameedah's father—a youth with bright black eyes and curly black hair, the same as some of the blacks have.

All the men were black-haired, while Congaloo, as they called the white man whom they had first found, was fair, nor could he speak or understand the others very well. The gins told Drameedah's father that this was a white woman, and Congaloo had a bough hut made for her, so that she could live by herself. There was another man amongst them, a very big man, with a big black beard. He had been badly hurt on the head, and Congaloo and the woman looked after him while he was sick. After the camp was fixed, and there were now so many blacks that the new whites could not get away, Congaloo and several blacks, all good strong men, got some canoes, and went down the salt water, for Congaloo said that these men had come in a big canoe, and not on horses, like he had come.

Drameedah's father begged to be allowed to go and Congaloo took him with him. They went down until they came to the big water which is the end of all land, and there they saw a big canoe, like those that come up now, stuck fast on an island. The blacks did not like to follow Congaloo on board, but, when they saw him going about for some time they mustered up courage. Drameedah's father was one of the first, and he ran up to Congaloo when he got on deck, and took hold of his hand, and hid his face, for he was frightened, for there were white men lying dead about the deck, and the sun had scorched and dried them, and the blood and the stench was awful. The dead men had died fighting, and when they went into the cabin, it was all broken and knocked about.

Congaloo made the blacks help him to throw the dead men overboard, and wash the decks down. There was a little canoe on board; and that was put into the water, and after Congaloo had put some things into it, he took it round to a safe place, out of sight of the big canoe.

There were some, blacks living on the island, and they told them that the big canoe had come there one dark night, and that afterwards they heard noises on board that frightened them, and saw flashes of fire. So they hid away. Congaloo showed them where he had put the little canoe, and told them to look after it till he came again. Then they went back to the camp.

After that Congaloo, who wore clothes he had found on board, and cut his beard short, became quite a different man. He did not always go hunting as he did before, but he and the woman, whose name was Marca, so Drameedah's father told him, soon learnt to understand each other, and were always talking together. The big man and the others got well, but they, too, were always talking together, and the blacks did not like them.

One day the old blacks came to Congaloo, and told him that they had decided to kill the new white men, as they were frightened of them. Congaloo told them not to kill them, but he would send them away, in a little canoe. Then he and Marca talked together, and she was pleased, and clapped her hands, and she went and talked with the big black-bearded man. He got in a great rage, and lifted his hand up to strike her, but Congaloo interfered, and there was a great noise, all the others crying out, and talking fast. She blacks all got round with their weapons, and only for Congaloo they would have killed the new white men.

Then they got quiet, and it was settled that all the new men should go down to the big water, and make a new canoe, and go away. All except Marca, who did not want to go with them, but to stop with Congaloo. The black-bearded man was very sulky, but the others persuaded him, as they were frightened of the blacks.

Then Congaloo told Drameedah's father that he was frightened that the black-bearded man would try to hurt Marca before he went, so Drameedah's father was to go away with her that night, to another place, and stop with her there, and keep a good lookout till the men were gone. When it was night, my father and another, young man waited outside the camp, and presently Congaloo and Marca came and joined them. Congaloo went with them a little way, and then he talked some time with Marca, and they kissed each other, although my father knew nothing of kissing at that time, and then Congaloo went back to camp, and the two young men and Marca went away to the hills, so that my father did not see what happened at the camp for some days, but only knew what he was told.

The white men started in the morning for the canoe. The big man was very angry when he found Marca was gone. Congaloo had sent some blacks down before them, to tell the other blacks who lived there that the whites were coming, and they were to watch them, and see them go away, and then come up and tell us. They were also to get the small canoe, and hide it in a safer place. So they went away, the black-bearded man raging and shaking his fist at Congaloo, up to the last. Then Congaloo went out to where Marca and Drameedah's father were, and remained with them until word came that the white men had made a little canoe, and gone away. Then they all went back to camp, and there was a big corroboree, because they were glad that the whites had gone.

Congaloo and Marca and the two young men went down one day to see the canoe on the island. A lot of it was broken up by the men when they were making the boat, but they had not taken very much. Then Drameedah's father saw a very strange thing. Congaloo and Marca were talking together. She was laughing, as she always was now, since the whites had gone, and she and Congaloo were all alone. The two young men were looking at the strange things scattered about, when suddenly Drameedah's father saw a head poke up out of a hole in the deck and glare at the two talking and laughing together, and then, catching sight of the youth, it disappeared again. But Drameedah's father called out, for it was the black-bearded man whom he had seen. When he had told Congaloo, Marca looked very frightened, but Congaloo called the ether blacks, and they watched all round while we searched all over the big canoe, but found nobody.

Suddenly Marca said something to Congaloo, at which he seemed delighted, and she clapped her hands. All the blacks were got together, and they were told to watch all around, some in canoes, while some of them burnt the big canoe. Congaloo showed then how to pour blacks' stuff over the wood, and presently they had the canoe all of a blaze. They watched her burn all night, but nobody came out, and in the morning they could find no trace of anybody having been burned. But Congaloo would not leave for a long time, but searched everywhere.

Now some of the blacks thought that Drameedah's father had made a mistake, and had not seen the black-bearded man; but two days after the canoe had been burnt the island blacks found that the little canoe that they had hidden had been found and taken away, so he must have been there, and managed to escape somehow.

Congaloo and Marca, however, seemed not to care, and they went back to the camp, quite happy. For a week or two they were quite quiet. Marca could sing, although she had never done so before, and the blacks would listen to her as long as they could. One night Drameedah's father heard a noise in the hut where Congaloo and Marca lived, and being half asleep, and seeing nothing, he went off to sleep again, but in the morning there lay Congaloo with a deep cut in his forehead, and Marca was gone.

The blacks attended to Congaloo, who was not dead, and when he came to his senses, and found that he was too weak to stand, he was nearly mad. He begged them to go after the man, who must have taken Marca, and when they told him they had followed the tracks down to the water, where he must have had the small canoe, he begged them to help him down to the canoes, which, luckily, the man had not seen, or he would have destroyed them. They got him down, and a number, of them went, but they were too late. When they got to where the black beams of the big canoe lay, there was poor Marca tied to one of the upright ones.

She was not quite dead, but had been stabbed all over the face and body. She could not see, but when she felt Congaloo's arms round her, heard his voice, she seemed quite happy, and smiled, and lay there in his arms till she died. Congaloo sat there crying over her, and all, blacks cried and wailed, and the gins belonging to the island cried, and cut their breasts with sharp stones. Then one of the men told him that they had seen the man go away in the little canoe on to the great water that has no end. That they were watching him when they came, and did not see what he had done to Marca.

When Congaloo seemed to understand that the man had gone away, he got quite quiet, and they dug a grave for Marca under a big tree. There they buried her, and Congaloo, after he had kissed her dead face, all marked as it was with the knife gashes, would let no one put the earth tip her but himself. Then he brought great stones, and built them over her grave, and when he had finished all the light had gone out of his eyes, and he went and sat on the beach and looked out at the great water without an end, where the man had gone.

'Now this,' said Drameedah, 'I know myself, for when I was a boy I went to that island with my father to catch turtle, and he showed me the big stones, and perhaps they are there still.'

That night the rains came—the great wind that comes every year with thunder and lightning. It blew for two days, and all through it Congaloo sat there, or walked about the beach, and when Drameedah's father took him food and spoke to him he said, 'I am waiting for him to come back.'

In the morning it was bright, and beautiful and the blacks came running to Congaloo, and told him that the little canoe had come back. Then they searched and found the black-bearded man asleep, and they brought him to Congaloo, and he laughed.

Not a word did he say, but whenever the main spoke to him he smiled, and then told the blacks to give the man food and drink. He was hungry and thirsty and ate and drank; Congaloo still smiled.

Now between the island and the great land you could get across without a canoe when the big water went down. Half-way was a clump, of mangroves, and one very big tree amongst them with stout roots. Here Congaloo had the man taken, and he tied him to the roots so that his head would be out of the water when the big water came. All about there were crocodiles and sharks when the big water came in, and the blacks never went that way if they could get a canoe.

Congaloo sat up in that tree and watched that man die. He was three days dying, for he was given drink and food. The crabs walked over him and ate off his lips and his eyelids and his ears and nose, and the red sun glared at him from the east, and he couldn't close his eyes. When the alligators and sharks came near, Congaloo would frighten them away with his gun, for he did not want the man killed. The salt water would come around his neck, and when he would shriek and call out with pain Congaloo would laugh. And so he died, and by and by the crabs ate his body up.

Then Congaloo came back to the camp and told the blacks that he was going away to try and find his own people, and there was great crying about it. Congaloo went, but before he left he said that he would tell his people that he had been well treated by the blacks, so that when they came there would be peace between them.

Drameedah's father had grown to be a man, and had often seen the whites who had begun to come out with cattle and horses, when one day he went back with his tribe to the old camp at the river. They had not been there long before a black fellow from the island came up, and said 'Congaloo has come back.' They went down to the island to see him, and there he lay dead, on Marca's grave.

His beard was long and white, and his hair was white, and he was gaunt and worn. But he had died with a smile on his face, and the blacks buried him there with great crying, for they had loved him.


31. -- BROWN'S RANGE

Argus, Melbourne, 20 and 27 March 1895

THE black water reflected the brilliant Southern constellations burning in the clear sky overhead. These mimic stars wavered up and down and spread into long bands of light as the dip of the oars rippled the calm surface of the river. On either hand the dense, gloomy mangrove swamp was alive with flitting fireflies, and rife with the smell of the ooze left bare by the receding tide. At times the boat glided beneath trees laden with flying foxes chattering amongst the branches, adding their unsavoury odour to the pestilential stench of the flats. The tide was running out, and the boat, manned by three men, was making good progress towards the sea.

"Keep your eyes skinned, Jim," said one of the men who were rowing, to the one who was steering; "don't go astray in a branch creek or run us on a mud-bank."

"Let Frenchy come and steer now," returned the man addressed. "We are past nearly all the blind creeks, but one can't tell the difference between wet mud and water by this light. Frenchy's the man most interested in our not getting stuck."

"Do you hear, Frenchy," said the man who had first spoken. "Jim will take a spell at rowing."

"Right," said the third occupant. "I have eyes like the cat." He shipped his oar and Jim and he changed places, the boat meanwhile drifting down with the tide.

Nearly half-an-hour passed, when suddenly the boat ran smoothly on to a mud bank and stopped.

"So much for your cats' eyes," said Jim, as he thrust his oar into the soft mud and found no bottom. The Frenchman muttered a curse in his own tongue.

"What to do?" he asked.

"Nothing but wait for the tide to turn and float us off."

"How long?"

"A couple of hours. It's still running out, but not far off the turn."

Once more the Frenchman cursed. The two men, Jim and his mate Sam, made some fruitless efforts to get the boat off, but the slimy mud offered no purchase strong enough, and they gave it up.

"Here come the mosquitoes," said Sam, as the first flight of the voracious myriads settled on them; "a lively two hours we shall have."

They lit their pipes, the Frenchman rolled a cigarette, and sullenly waited through two hours of torment, listening to the mysterious noises of that dreary region.

"We only want an alligator to come aboard to make it quite cheerful and social," grumbled Jim.

"We'll be afloat again soon," said Sam, who was of a more equable temper; "the tide is making fast now."

"What is that!" quickly exclaimed the Frenchman.

They all listened intently. Far away in the distance carne faintly a rhythmic beat, gradually growing louder.

The three recognised it at once. "The steam launch after us," said Sam.

"He is on board," muttered the Frenchman; "but we don't both go back alive."

"How long before they arrive?" he asked aloud.

"Some time," answered Sam.

"They have a big bend to come round and are going half speed. Beside the tide is against them."

"How long before we float off this cursed mud?"

Sam put his hand over the side. "Very shortly."

"We shall be off before they can get here?"

"Yes, easily. But they will overhaul us long before we can put you on board the schooner."

"Will you resist? Fight?"

"No," returned Jim. "Why should we get ourselves into a row with the police, for I bet that is their launch? We've agreed to put you on board the schooner, and we intend to try to do it. It will be bad enough to lose the passage money without getting into quod besides."

"Look at the odds, too," said Sam. "There's an engineer, a stoker, and I suppose a couple of traps, beside the man you seem to expect, five men, and the police men armed. No; when they tell us to stop in the Queen's name we must do it. Hark they are full speed now."

The Frenchman cursed them for cowards in his own language.

"I will double the pay."

"Not worth it; but we'll dodge them if we can."

Sam and Jim held a hurried conversation.

"How long will the schooner wait for you?" asked the former.

"Not beyond the day after to-morrow," said the Frenchman, after short consideration.

"The best thing to do, then, is to slip up an anabranch there is just below here. I remember this mud bank now. The branch is narrow, and runs into the sea a mile or two above the mouth of the river. We will lie quiet all day, and put you on board to-morrow night."

The noise of the approaching pursuers was now ominously near.

"We shall just manage it." said Sam. "Got a handkerchief round your neck, Jim? If so, muffle your oar in the rowlocks with it, and paddle quiet."

The boat was now afloat, and the men in a few strokes cleared the bank just as the light of the launch hove in sight round the bend. Keeping under the bank, where the tide was slack, they strove silently to gain the opening of the anabranch wherein lay temporary safety. Suddenly the noise behind them ceased. They heard a sharp order, and the churning of the reversed screw.

"Glory!" chuckled Jim, "we're safe enough. They've gone full split on to that mud-bank. It will be half an hour before its deep enough to float them."

The Frenchman turned and shook his fist triumphantly at the now stationary light. Soon they made out the opening of the anabranch and turned into it.

The rowers now took it easy, keeping close to one bank of the creek. The branch ran at no great angle to the river, and in the silence of the night they could still hear the voices of the men on the launch. Presently Jim said something to Sam, and they stopped rowing, close to a little marine plain, dimly visible in the blackness of the mangroves. The water was deeper, and a sandy bank enabled them to lie alongside and land if they wished to, but they remained in the boat as yet.

"There is a splendid hiding place just below," said Jim in a low tone. "I found a black fellow's canoe planted there once; the mangroves grow right across the mouth of a little inlet. I'm doubtful if I can find it in the dark, so we had better keep still here and find out what the launch does. If she turns down here we can make dart for a creek there is nearly opposite and turn up there until they pass."

Their passenger grunted assent, and they all sat still, patiently awaiting the departure of the launch. It was not long before the beat of the screw was heard again, then came a minute of anxious suspense, and they all drew a breath of satisfaction. The launch kept on down the main river.

"We have the pull over her," said Jim, "We can hear her coming, but they can't hear us."

Feeling now comparatively secure, they landed on the little plain, first, by Sam's advice, taking off their boots.

"You see," he explained, "Those dunderheaded police don't know the difference between a black's truck and a white man's, so long as its a naked foot."

Here they could wait more at ease for the advent of daylight, but not much conversation went on and the mosquitoes entirely precluded all thoughts of sleep. At last the white mist preceding the dawn began to rise, and the wearied men looked longingly for the coming of the sun, for their spirits were naturally affected by the dismal nature of their surroundings. The morn came, and they made a fire of driftwood, black fellow fashion, that is, putting the sticks in a circle with their ends together after the manner of the spokes of a wheel. This was Sam's notion, for the further confounding of the police in case they should land and look for tracks. A meal was soon prepared from some rations they had, and a breaker of fresh water in the boat.

"Now," said Sam, when the hasty meal was finished, "let's get the boat planted snug, for that launch may come puffing around the corner at any moment."

The fire was put out with a few handfuls of mud and entering the boat they paddled a short way down until Jim said, "Ship your oar."

Pulling the boat along by the branches of the young mangroves, which completely masked the entrance, they found themselves in a tiny ditch with a bend in it, quite concealed from the view of anyone passing up the river. They had nothing to do but lie still and watch the young alligators crawling about amongst the muddy roots when the tide was out, and the armies of crabs marching to and fro, and occasionally disappearing leaving nothing but bubbles behind them in the liquid mud. They could not smoke, lest the smell should betray them in the event of the launch passing.

At 11 o'clock or thereabouts, they heard the little steamer coming up the anabranch from seaward. It came steadily on, but a bare twenty yards of mangrove scrub separated the hunted from the hunters. The two men for whom the earth was not big enough for both to live on.

Was it some instinctive feeling of their neighbourhood made the civilian on board the launch say something to the senior constable? The launch stopped, and with the way on her ran into the sandbank bordering the little plain. Two men landed, they walked up and down and saw the tracks, but Sam's manoeuvre was successful; they put it down to a wandering party of natives on a fishing excursion.

The steam launch backed out from the bank. The men in hiding heard her go up to the junction; then the sound indicated that she was on her way up the river again.

"Gone home again!" cried Sam; "didn't I slew them nicely about those tracks."

"Gone home be hanged," growled Jim. "Gone back for coal and water. They've seen the schooner, and know of course that she would not be there still if we had put Frenchy on hoard. No fear, they'll soon be back."

The passenger took his hand out of his coat pocket, where it had been tightly clutching the handle of a revolver, and asked quietly:

"And after?"

"What are we going to do now?" said Sam as the two men, by aid of the branches, overhauled the boat back in the stream. "Why, put you on board as soon as ever we can. We are just as anxious to get rid of you as you are to see the last of us."

The men pulled with a will, and in a few minutes they emerged from the mangroves into the open sea, and at once sighted the schooner lying some distance out. The mast was stepped, the sail set, and, with a light breeze blowing they were soon dancing over the blue wavelets.

"Glad to see you," said the skipper, as the Frenchman climbed on board followed by the two men. The anchor had been weighed at first sight of the boat, the sails were now being shaken out, and every preparation made for immediate departure.

"There was a launch poking about all the early morning," went on the captain "Once she started to come out to us, but turned back for some reason."

"Found their coal and water wouldn't carry them home if they came on," chuckled Sam.

The Frenchman, whispered to the captain, and then took the men apart.

"You have done your duty like men," he said. "Accept my thanks and the double pay I mentioned. Your way was better than mine."

The men acknowledged his words and the money somewhat clumsily, wished him good luck, and after a hasty word or two with the skipper and a short adjournment to the little cabin, clambered into their boat, each carrying a bottle of rum. The wind was freshening, and the schooner went off with a fair breeze.

Standing at the stern, the Frenchman lifted his hat ironically and bowed towards the shore.

"Foiled my dear friend, foiled," he said, half aloud, in French. "But what a long bill you will have to pay in the future! My disgrace, conviction! The hell of New Caledonia! That boat voyage here, and—" he ground his teeth savagely as he thought of the last indignity—"to have run from you like a dog and be called 'Frenchy' by two fishers of trepang."

Jim and Sam meanwhile were beating back to their little fishing station, behind a sheltered point, when the pertinacious launch once more shot out from the mangroves and made to cut them off.

When hailed the men ran their boat up in the wind and waited, with the sail flapping. The launch ran up alongside them, manned, as Sam had predicted.

"Hullo, Sam Ford," said the senior constable, who had two stripes on his arm.

"What took you out to that schooner?"

Sam nodded. "I don't know that it's any business of yours, Tom Dawson, but, as you're not a bad fellow, I'll tell you. We went off to get this," and he held up one of the bottles.

"Who did you put on board?" continued the constable, not noticing Sam's equivocation. "And what schooner is it?"

"How do you know that we put anyone on board? As for the schooner, she's a trade schooner going up to the pearlers."

"Oi'd arrest them on suspicion," said the other policeman, who was a raw Irishman.

"Shut up you ass," muttered his superior.

"And fwhut for didn't you arrest them musqueteers fwhat peppered ye's last night?" returned Jim, who had had a suck at the bottle, mimicking his brogue. The engineer and stoker laughed, for the policeman's face was covered with a rush of pimples.

"Well, Sam," went on the other policeman, "if you put the man we want on board that schooner, which I know very well you did, you have helped one of the biggest villains to escape who was ever lagged to New Caledonia. You've also lost your share of five hundred pounds, which is the price on his head for he killed two warders in escaping. A French detective is here with a warrant for him, and this gentleman has come up from the south to identify him."

"This gentleman," who had not yet spoken, was a fair bearded man with cold grey eyes. He now put in a word.

"And every morning when I awake I shall expect to find my throat cut."

"I know nothing about putting anyone on board," returned Sam stolidly.

"Go ahead!" said the policeman.

The launch sped buck, and the boat shaped her original course.


IT was an evil hour for Bertin when he met Masterton and made a friend of him. Bertin was well off, was fond of England, and spent a good deal of his time there. Masterton had a scheme. Bertin had money and enthusiasm.

Masterton had a glib tongue and an insinuating manner. His scheme was to found a colony on co-operative principles, where, in course of time, the down-trodden and oppressed of the earth would take refuge and build up a model community. He asserted that he had large areas of land ceded to him by native chiefs in a group of islands in the Pacific. He proposed to Bertin to join him in this great work, and the idea at once took possession of Bertin's somewhat romantic nature. Bertin found the cash to start the scheme going, and entered into it with implicit and simple confidence. It was agreed that an effort should he made to build the foundation on a French basis, and for this purpose Bertin undertook to work amongst the country people of Southern France. Should the natural disinclination of the French peasant to leave his native soil prove too strong they would fall back on Italy.

Elaborately got up pamphlets were issued, containing glowing descriptions of the agricultural capabilities of the soil and the salubrity of the climate in these far-away islands. As for the natives, they were so friendly and gentle that they were only too glad to welcome the whites and work for them for next to nothing. Photographs of rich tropical scenery were distributed through the work, and a paradise was depicted only waiting for the advent of civilised inhabitants. Bertin worked hard, and his success was beyond his anticipations. As the deposits were paid in by the intending settlers they were at once forwarded to Masterton in London, who, it was understood, was superintending the fitting out of a large steamer.

Suddenly a well-known newspaper, which sustained its popularity by exposing bogus schemes, dropped on this one.

With bitter denunciation it pointed out that the only two places mentioned in the pamphlet which had any tangible existence were barren, people-less atolls; that some of the photographs had been recognised as having been taken in Fiji and Samoa: that in one word the whole affair was a bare-faced swindle.

It burst upon Bertin like a bomb. He made no attempt at flight, he was too stunned at finding himself an accomplice in such a cruel swindle. Instead of being a philanthropist on a large scale, he was a common thief. Masterton disappeared, and so did the money. No steamer was in preparation, the whole thing was bogus from beginning to end, and so well had Masterton succeeded in keeping his name in the background that he was hardly known in the matter save, perchance as a victim.

On Bertin descended the whole of the popular fury. His friends, who knew and believed in him, fought hard on his behalf, but in vain. The wall of New Ireland and the name of the Marquis de Rays was not forgotten, and the innocent and unfortunate man, the last of an honoured family, left the shores of his native land to serve a long sentence in New Caledonia. He left behind him, too, a broken-hearted mother, who devoted herself to striving to obtain a remission of his sentence.


TWO years passed, years of brooding that almost obliterated every thought from his heart but the one hungry craving for revenge on the man who had robbed him of everything and consigned him to a convict's doom.

About this time a distinguished officer visited Noumea. He had been a friend of Bertin's father, and although his visit was ostensibly official he had a deeper purpose in view. He firmly believed in Bertin's innocence, and made use of his influence to obtain a private interview with him. He could hold out no hope to the prisoner of a speedy remission of his sentence, but he did something more, for he was a man who felt strongly when injustice had been perpetrated.

He gave the son of his old friend a sum of money and obtained for him some concessions which allowed him more liberty. He did not say in plain words "Escape at the first chance," but he told Bertin that as he returned to France he would lodge a sum of money in one of the banks in a Queensland town in an assumed name, and furnish him with the necessary credentials to claim it.

Bertin understood him. Not long after his friend left an opportunity occurred, but here again his bad luck dogged him. By an accident he was forced to consent to take another convict with him who had discovered his plans and threatened to report them to the authorities. This man was a brute of the lowest type, and through his stupidity they were forced into a scuffle with two of the warders, one of whom was fatally stabbed by Bertin's companion.

Then followed an awful voyage in an open boat with scant rations and water, to the north Queensland coast. When at last they landed Bertin lost no time in separating from his abominable companion. This man worked his way down to Brisbane in a few months' time, and was there recognised by a French detective who was on the lookout for escapees. He at once betrayed Bertin, and laid the death of the warder on his shoulders.

Masterton had come to Brisbane, and his ill gotten gains had thriven. He had had marvellous success in some mining speculations, and was now a rich man.

One day he read in the newspaper of Bertin's escape, which made a little stir at the time. From that moment he became a prey to abject fear. The French detective who had arrested Bertin's companion in flight, had reason to believe that Masterton was one of the victims of the colonisation scheme, and appealed to him for an accurate description of Bertin. He believed he had traced and located him in a northern town, had obtained an extradition warrant and was about to proceed up there. Masterton, in nervous anxiety to settle the matter, consented to go with him and identity his man.

Bertin meanwhile had been living quietly, maturing his plan of escape. He did not dare risk proceeding by any of the regular mail steamers, the chance of recognition was too great, but he had entered into negotiations with the master of a schooner running up to the Torres Straits pearling grounds to take him on board and land him on Thursday Island, where he might pick up a China bound steamer without exciting any suspicion.

Sam and Jim, the two trepang-fishers kept watch at their station for the coming of the schooner, and the same evening that Masterton and the detective arrived over land, the two men had come up to warn Bertin of the schooner's arrival and take him down to her.

The start was to have been made the next morning, but from his window that evening he caught sight of his hated enemy, and one whom he immediately recognised as a French detective.

Their errand was patent to him at once. As soon as it was dark he slipped out to where he knew the trepang-fishers were to be found, and induced them to make an immediate start.

When the police, whose assistance had been invoked by the Frenchman, went to arrest him, the bird had flown. Immediate pursuit was essential, but the detective was sickening with malarial fever and dared not tackle the night air in the mangrove-lined river so Masterton, much against the grain and with a sinking heart had to accompany them to identify Bertin. But the capture did not take place, as we have seen.

A ray of good fortune for once befriended Bertin. In those days the telegraph line had not yet been extended to Thursday Island, and long before information of his flight could be sent to the police there he had taken passage to Singapore and disappeared in the motley population of that seaport. He reached England in safety and was there joined by his mother, who lived to see her son once more—not free truly, only an escaped convict in hiding.

She slowly faded and died, and Bertin was left to pursue the craving desire for vengeance that occupied every thought. He had money, for his mother had quietly realised all her property in France and left it in an available form for him. He dared not show amongst his former set for fear of recognition; he could not go to France nor anywhere on the Continent, lest some of the ubiquitous tourists might know him, and, by some foolish remark, betray his whereabouts to the French authorities. He was an outcast, and Europe knew him no more.

Masterton meanwhile throve and was met with success at every turn. He passed many months of nervous fear, always expecting the coming of the avenger, but at last time worked the usual change, and although he still woke at intervals from some deadly nightmare with a beating heart, he began to enjoy life once more.

He married and realised what had been his desire ever since he knew of Bertin's escape. He had a steam yacht built and spent most of his time at sea. There alone he felt safe.


BROWN'S RANGE is not a range in the usual acceptation of the term. It consists neither of hills nor mountains. Brown's Range is the title of a series of small islands, ranged in an ellipse or rude circle, in the heart of a network of coral reefs—the centre of a maze.

Brown's Range lies north of the equator, somewhere about latitude fourteen, and was one of the uninhabited atolls selected to give an air of reality to the colonisation pamphlet, wherein it was represented as an isle of Men.

Three miles from these narrow banks of sand lies the outer reef of encircling coral, and to the windward, on the eastern side, for nine months of the year, breaks, roars, and thunders the never ceasing surf, night and day a fury of foam and spume. On the leeward side to the west there is a fitful peace, and a boat can succeed in slowly working through the parallel lines of reef and reach the islets which surround the wide bosom of a still lagoon.

On these islands are but four things—sand, coconut palms, pandanus, and nuku trees. The coconuts form the outer fringe and incline stubbornly seaward. The nuku and pandanus trees stand erect, the singular twisted stems of the latter, which have gained them the name of screw palms, held firmly in the ground by their long, tenacious, fibrous roots. There is nothing else. Nothing but this calm lagoon encircled by these lonely islets, and the wide barrier of coral and broken water, with the brilliant sky of that region overhead.

Masterton, in his yacht the Stingray, had been cruising amongst the Caroline Islands. Looking over the chart one day he found that they were no great distance from the spot the name of which he had once selected at haphazard from the Admiralty chart to further his swindle, and a desire to actually see the place sprang up in his breast. His wife and baby son were on board, and the weather was not fine. The Captain received orders to go there.

It was a perfect morning when they sighted Brown's Range. Although but a light breeze was blowing, the "brave white horses" still reared their tossing crests on the eastern reef. The steamer worked round to leeward, and Masterton, bidding adieu to his young wife, and promising to attend to her laughing request to bring back green cocoa nuts for the boy, got into the boat, accompanied by three men, and started to pick their way through the intricate reefs to the islands.

When at last they arrived Masterton and two men landed. His men proceeded to get the coconuts, and Masterton wandered across to the lagoon and stood there musing for some time, trying to put away the disagreeable thoughts that were forced on him by his situation.

Had he any to bestow on his one time friend? Any remorse for the untoward fate of the man he had dragged from prosperity down to a living death? Not one; his only prayer was that their paths might never cross.

At the end of an hour he strolled back, and found the men waiting with the coconuts. The boat keeper had been fishing and had caught some tempting looking fish. They had made a fire, and some were cooking on the coals. Masterton threw himself in the shade on the sand. "Take the coconuts on board," he said, "and then come back for me. Bring Mrs. Masterton if she wants a run ashore."

The men looked longingly at the fresh fish on the coals, but Masterton had no feeling for others. They sulkily manned the boat until they were far enough away to express a vigorous and unqualified opinion of the moral and physical nature of the owner of the Stingray. Fat was serving them a good turn, as they had to acknowledge afterwards.

The fish had been turned once, and were now nicely cooked Masterton was an epicure, but he took great care of himself, and was rewarded with good health and a fine appetite. Fresh caught fish, broiled in the open air on a wood fire, is a dish to tempt a dyspeptic. The sailors had brought up the steward's basket, which had been put in the boat, and spread the contents on the sand. Masterton sniffed the odour, then helped himself to one. It was so good that he tried another. He had just finished when a shout from seaward attracted his attention. The boat had not yet cleared the reefs, but the halloa had been to draw his attention to a vessel that was coming round from the windward side of the island. A schooner, and she hove to much nearer the reel than the steamer did.


WHEN Bertin changed his name and disappeared he took refuge in the wandering life of a south sea trader. His love of romance and adventure that had led him astray in the toils of Masterton burned within him once more, and at times he found himself forgetting his sufferings and his wrongs. But he never forgot Masterton. In the position that the latter was he could not change his name, but he always hugged the thought that Bertin would not dare return to the Pacific, but, in all probability had fled to America.

Bertin, under his assumed name, had gained much popularity amongst the inlands—always of a generous nature, suffering had ripened him. Everyone was his friend, and a hundred unconscious spies kept him posted up in Masterton's movements when he was cruising in the island. On the other hand, Masterton had not improved by years. Save by toadies and spongers, who would fawn on any rich man, he was disliked. Bertin dogged the Stingray from place to place awaiting his chance.

When he first escaped from New Caledonia his one idea had been to get Masterton by the throat and never let go his grip until he had choked the life out of him. Now he had something better in view. Somehow, whenever chance presented the opportunity he would get Masterton in his power, and compel him to write a confession of his guilt and sign it before trustworthy witnesses. For this reason the schooner was always more than full handed.

The Stingray was on a pleasure cruise, time was no object, and they were economising coal, it was therefore easy for the schooner to follow her on to Brown's Range. Bertin felt that the time had come. If all else failed he would board the yacht and carry his enemy off by force.

A boat left the schooner containing the trader the skipper, and two coloured men. At the edge of the reef they met and hailed the boat returning to the yacht.

"Yes," replied the men innocently, "Mr. Masterton was on ashore alone."

Bertin felt that life had dealt him a hand full of trumps.

Masterton, meanwhile, watched, with little interest, the approach of the strange boat, which made a better passage through the reef than did the yacht's boat. A strange kind of apathy had attacked him, and he felt every now and then a strong and painful muscular twitching.

The boat ran up on to the beach. Bertin, the captain, and one of the native boys got out. Masterton felt a thrill of fear go through even his numbed faculties. Bertin was sun blackened and bearded, but those eyes! They had haunted him too often in his dreams for him ever to forget them.

He tried to stretch out his hand to his gun, but his arm shot out without him being able to control its movements, and his clutching fingers grabbed a handful of hot sand. He turned his face, distorted by a hideous grin, towards the approaching men, while his feet and legs jumped and jerked uncontrollably.

"My God!" cried the captain, as he grasped Bertin by the arm, "the man is poisoned. I have seen men wounded by poisoned arrows like that. But there are no natives here."

The boy, who had been looking round, drew the skipper's attention to the fish and the preparations for a meal.

"He has eaten of the fish of this reef. He must die," said the boy, in his own tongue.

"What do you mean?" demanded the captain.

"Only when the rains come can one eat the fish here and live. He must die, tied up in a knot."

The captain told Bertin.

The paroxysm was now passing. Masterton was awaking to consciousness—and terror.

Bertin regarded him grimly. The sight of his enemy had banished every softer feeling; from the jaws of the grave would he wrench a confession from the man.

"Masterton, you are a dead man," he said. "Justice has at last overtaken you. Do me justice before you die?"

Masterton's tongue bud now regained its use. "O for the —— do something tor me. Save me from this agony, and I will do anything, make every restitution."

The captain whispered to Bertin, "Leighton knows something about medicine, send off for him, and some morphia."

Bertin nodded. "Have you a doctor on the yacht?" he asked. The dying man shook his head.

The skipper said a few words to the native, who went back to the boat.

"Have you strength left to write and sign a confession, declaring me completely innocent? Otherwise, I recall the boat."

Masterton groaned an assent. Bertin, who never went without writing materials lest fortune should at any time deliver his enemy into has hand, as had happened, produced them. With faltering hand Masterton wrote out a short confession, which he signed and the captain witnessed.

They were but just in time; a second paroxysm now attacked the wretched sufferer with added violence. His frame was racked with cramp, and his face drawn with twitching, while his hands and feet beat themselves convulsively on the ground.

"Here's the yacht's boat returning," said the captain, "and two women in it."

They did what they could to ease the man's torments, which was but little.

Berlin went to meet the woman as they landed. As he guessed, it was Masterton's wife, baby son, and nurse.

"Madame," said the trader, raising his hat, "I regret that I have the worst news for you. Your husband is seriously ill. He has eaten some poisonous fish."

Mrs. Masterton glanced at him in a frightened, suspicious way, then hastened to her husband, followed by the nursemaid.

The three sailors in the boat who had overheard the conversation glanced at one another but said nothing just then.

Mrs. Masterton was kneeling beside her husband, who was returning to consciousness.

"We have sent to the schooner for our second mate, who has studied medicine," said the captain, "he may be able to give him ease."

"Madame," went on Bertin, from whose breast all pity seemed to have died, "your husband has written here his last wishes, in case of the worst happening." He produced the signed confession. "Will you witness his signature?"

Mrs. Masterton looked at her husband, whose features were still wrung with agony.

He looked up at Bertin, who bent down to him.

"She need never know," he whispered. "Is the doctor coming?"

Bertin satisfied him on both questions, and Masterton motioned to his wife to sign the document, which she did.

"Your maid, too," suggested Bertin. "It is an old business between your husband and myself of importance. I have followed him far for his signature."

The girl signed, and the captain of the schooner notified that their boat was coming back. The boys rowed well, and, knowing the reefs, made a quick trip. A young man came up to the group just as the first throes of the paroxysm fastened once more on their victim. He took a case containing a hypodermic syringe from his pocket, and without waste of time in words injected a strong dose of morphia into the sufferer's arm. Although the convulsive seizures did not at once cease, it was evident that the pain was deadened.

"Will he die?" sobbed the wife, appealing to him after the manner of women, as though he held the thread of life in his hand. Leighton, who had heard all about the case from the kanaka boy, shook his head. "I can help him to die painlessly, that is all."

"Have you anyone else on board? Any other passengers?" asked the captain of the frightened maid. She answered in the negative.

Bertin and the skipper exchanged a few words

"Madame," said the latter, "I must return on board. Captain Seacombe and Mr. Leighton will remain to render you all assistance in their power. I need not say that anything we have on board the schooner is at your disposal."

He lifted his hat, and went down the beach to his boat, where the black crew and the white crew were discussing the fish question.

At sundown, when the western sky was a blaze of red and gold, of blue set, blue sky, and all the splendour of a tropic eve, Masterton died.

"I don't want that experience again," said Seacombe, as he stepped on the deck of the schooner.

Bertin looked inquiringly at him.

"Leighton's morphia seemed to lose its power at the end, and lockjaw set in. His groans were awful, and he was bent, doubled up nearly. As Tonga Joe said, he died tied up in a knot."

"And his wife, does she take the body on the yacht?"

"No! Leighton said he must not remain above ground an hour later than can be helped, or it won't be pleasant to bury him. I am just going to pick myself up with a nip and a bite, and go ashore again to read the service over him. The men have gone to the yacht for tools."


FEW men ever visit Brown's Range. Those who have may have seen a sight uncommon in an uninhabited atoll of the Pacific—a marble tomb, setting forth the virtues of Robert Masterton, guarded by an elaborate iron railing. His disconsolate widow revisited the place on purpose to see it erected, and vowed a yearly pilgrimage to the spot.

Before the end of the year she had married again—and now the sand drift has buried half the marble stone, and the iron railing is rusty and tottering.


THE END

Project Gutenberg Australia