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The Stories Of Ernest Favenc, Volume II:
Ernest Favenc:
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The Stories of Ernest Favenc,
Volume II

by

Ernest Favenc

Cover Image

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.


EDITOR'S NOTE

THIS is the second volume of short stories by Ernest Favenc which have not previously been collected in book form since their first appearance in Australian newspapers. They were collected through TROVE, the on-line Australian National Library portal.

The two stories, "The Burning Mountain of the Interior," and "The Mystery of the Pocket Book," were later expanded into the novel The Secret of the Australian Desert (1894). The story "The Kaditcha" is a shorter variant of the novelette The Moccasins of Silence (1896).

—Terry Walker, January 2023


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. A Racial Mixture
  2. The Wastrel
  3. The Living Dead
  4. Never Save a Man from the Sea
  5. The Justice of Captain Dampier
  6. The Kaditcha
  7. The Black Waterhole
  8. The Great Treasure Lobster
  9. Kept Secret
  10. Body-stealing Extraordinary
  11. The Burning Mountain of the Interior
  12. The Mystery of the Pocket Book
  13. Jim's Latest Experience
  14. For Peace and Quiet
  15. A Christmas of the Past
  16. The Birds of the Air
  17. Something to his Advantage
  18. Captain Etienne Despard
  19. An Outside Incident
  20. A Message From The Desert
  21. The Confession Of Giles Osborne
  22. How We Slewed Old Stoney

1. -- A RACIAL MIXTURE

Australian Town and Country Journal, 9 Dec 1899

IT'S a singular feeling to drop out of life suddenly, and awake in a strange world; but that what happened to me one day. I was driving down the "Long Hill" early in the afternoon, an on looking round saw that the shoe of the brake had dropped off. The horses were quiet, and thought it would not matter much; but eventually it did.

Something disturbed "Cockchafer," an set him off; and "Ploughboy," considered a most sluggish animal, followed his example, and we went tearing down the Long Hill as though the devil was after us. However, it was only keeping them straight, as there was an incline the other side of the bridge, where they would have to pull up. But when we turned the corner, and the bridge was in sight, I saw, to my horror, that there was a road party at work, and half the road was torn up. I remember the men leaving their work and clearing out; I remember a jar and crash; and then I saw the road flying viciously up at me, find there came a blank.

I was bound and swathed in a most disagreeable fashion, and one leg seemed weighed down by some sort of heavy weight, so that I could not move it. I lazily opened my eyes, and looked around me; rather more languidly curious than interested. The room was strange and unfamiliar; but a face I knew was beside me—the face of my young partner on the station, George Forest. This did not surprise me; in fact, I was in the state when nothing could surprise, me; but my languid curiosity was roused sufficiently to say, in a weak voice, "What's up, George?"

"You've had an almighty smash, old man, and broke your head—and your left leg and several ribs. The fellows working at the bridge brought you here, as the nearest place, and here you've been acting the raving lunatic for a week or ten days."

"Where's here?" I asked, feebly.

"Old Multon's place—the two hatters as we call them. The old boy is a doctor, seemingly, and he has fixed you up splendidly; but you can't move till the leg's right. However, he turned out to be a regular white man, though the other fossil, Benjo, is as surly as ever."

Multon and Benjo had a small estate, freehold, next to us. They kept a few head of stock, but it was so palpable that they did not live on the proceeds of the land that everyone concluded that they had a private income, and only lived the life to ensure a quiet time. They were unsociable in their ways, and universally disliked; now it seemed that I was an involuntary guest under their roof. I had an uncomfortable recollection of delirious dream wanderings, and now asked George if I had been talking much nonsense.

"Plenty," replied George, with great cheerfulness. "All the tommyrot one could think of!" This was reassuring.

"You've been here most of the time?" I asked.

"Mostly. Multon and the nigger he calla Alexis and I have nursed you between us. Now you are right in the straight run home, and I can go back for a week to see if the place has not gone altogether to the dogs."

At this moment, the door opened and the nigger came in. What countryman he was I don't know, but he was a well-developed muscular man, and had a remarkably wooden face, chopped out of brigalow by the look of him. As he opened the door there was a whimper, and a dash, and the little fox terrier, who divided his attentions pretty equally between George and myself, dashed into the room, jumped on the bed, and began nuzzling me most demonstratively.

The nigger looked annoyed. "Mr. Multon said not let dog in," he remarked.

"Oh, that's all right," answered Forest, "he can't do any harm."

The black stood up like a ramrod. "Mr. Multon coming to see sick gentleman," he said, like an automaton, turned, and marched out of the room.

Shortly afterwards my host, and doctor, Mr. Multon, arrived He was a tall man, with a white beard, and a stoop. He came to me, smiling kindly, and asked me how I was.

I commenced, to thank him for his care, and apologised for the trouble I had caused, but he put it all quietly aside, and would take no thanks.

"Our friend is on the highway to recovery," he said to. Forest, "and if you have business on the station; I think you can leave him in safety for a week."

"Well, you know, Jim, there are a lot of things that have gone back, as you know, so I won't come for a week, unless I'm sent for."

We had some conversation on business matters, and then George said good-bye. Piggy, the terrier, did not follow him, but remained snuggled up on the bed, with my arm over him. Multon talked with me for a short time, loosened the splints a little, and then left me, and shortly afterwards Alexis came in with refreshments.

So I dozed and ate and drank for a week or more; and I began to want to see Forest's bright face again, and was wondering why he did not come, but Piggy proved a very good companion, and amused me very much. One day Multon came to see me; accompanied by his friend, Bengo, a dark-looking little devil, whom I had never seen before.

"Mr. Iredale," said Multon, "I think it is time we understood each other."

"Where's Forest?" I asked, "why has he not been over?"

"He's been over, but when mortification set in, and you died so suddenly, he did not get here before you were buried, and he only saw your grave. He was terribly cut up, I assure you; it was so sudden and unexpected."

"What folly is this?" I asked, in alarm, all my old dislike of these men coming back at once.

"It's only the solid truth," said Benjo; in a rasp-like voice. "You are dead and buried, so he satisfied."

"I'm hanged if I am," I shouted.

"Hush! Don't get impatient." replied Multon.

If there's anything makes a man a prisoner past redemption it's a broken leg in splints, and I realised this at once.

"What do you mean?" I asked. "Explain this nonsense."

Multon touched the bell, and the nigger came. "Alexis," said Multon, "retire, and return in your national costume."

Alexis retired, and came back naked—that was his national costume, as Multon put it. But he was a piebald man. One of his legs was that of a white man, and I saw now what I had not seen before, that one of his ears was white.

"Funny looking fellow, isn't he?" said Multon; "he would do for a side-show. Go out and dress, Alexis; that's enough."

"Mr. Iredale," Multon resumed, "we owe you an explanation. We are engaged on a wonderful experiment—nothing less than turning a black man into a white man. Alexis has had his leg taken off and a white man's leg engrafted on it; also an ear. We want another leg for him; yours is an exceptionally good fit, and we are going to take it."

"What! you are going to amputate my leg, and put it on the blackfellow?" I yelled, in, horror.

"Yes, we are. Couldn't miss such an opportunity. If Alexis had a twin brother your leg couldn't do better."

"My sound leg?" I gasped.

"Certainly; we don't want a broken leg. Besides, Alexis has got a white left leg already."

"Just remember," put in Benjo, "that Alexia has got to undergo amputation as well as you. You need not make such a fuss about it."

"Not make a fuss about it! Good heavens!

"We had to wait until you were strong enough to stand the operation before telling you," said Multon, by way of apology.

"You'll get Alexis's leg in exchange," grunted Benjo.

"I'm hanged if I will!" I shouted.

"Keep easy; keep quiet. You knew a dead man's leg is no good to us."

"What did you tell Forest?"

"That an unhappy change suddenly set in, and you died of mortification. Speedy burial was necessary. We showed him your grave, and a nice one it is, I assure you."

"Think the matter over," said Benjo. "You'll see the sense of taking it quietly then," and they went out and left me.

Consent to swap legs with a blackfellow! Why, good Lord, they might keep me until I was well from the amputation, and then make me exchange arms! Sooner my head; but I was helpless. I looked around, and meditated; and then that detestable black brute came in, and brought me my lunch. They fed me well, I'll say that for them.

Alexis went out with a grin on his blackguard face, and I sipped a glass of wine and pondered. Piggy smelt the food, and got up for his share. Then a desperate chance flashed across my brain. I had paper and pencil on the table, and I wrote, "Dear George, I am not dead; but soon shall be. Come and save me. Get the men at the bridge to help. Come to-night, and save me. Batter the house down, they are murderers."

This incoherent prayer for help I folded up and secured safely to Piggy's collar. Then I told him to go and find George; to go home and find him. Piggy looked at me doubtfully; but he had done it before and he seemed to remember. The window, was open.

"Up boy," I said, and he bounded on to the sill, to the verandah, and away down the paddock. I felt better.

That evening Multon and Benjo came again. I had secured a bottle of carbolic acid which Alexis had foolishly left on the table when disinfecting the room, and this I held beneath the bed clothes.

"Are you open to reason?" asked Multon.

"We have no time to lose," added Benjo.

"I will never consent; never. You murdering scoundrels, you must use force."

"Use force; we'll use torture. Alexis, see that all the doors are safe," cried the venomous little wretch.

Alexis came in to report that all was secured, and the three approached me. I threw the acid straight in Multon's face, hoping to blind him, and he staggered back with a cry of pain. And the cry was answered by a shout; Piggy had delivered my note.

Benjo and the nigger hurried from the room, but the steps were storming round the verandah, and Forest and the men of the road party rushed headlong into the room, Piggy barking furiously in the lead.

"Collar them! Collar them!" I shouted; but they were too late; all three got away in the night. Benjo was found dead, self-poisoned; and Multon was found wandering about half-blind and quite dazy. Alexis got clean away. Noble little Piggy had gone straight to George, and he had come, hot-foot, and roused the road party to the rescue.

Many years afterwards. I went into a circus in Victoria, and there I saw "the wonderful half-white man." It was Alexis, but his brigalow face never showed any recognitison.


2. -- THE WASTREL

Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser 27 Feb 1907

BEANDABAR was a township that prided itself upon being one of the intellectual townships—I beg pardon, towns—of this State. Collectively speaking, perhaps, the main body of the townspeople attended strictly to business, not intellectual. But a certain section of the social upper-crust threw itself vigorously into mental and moral culture.

Truth to tell, their disciples found that the intellectual strain involved in trying to keep up with their leaders was a bit of a tax, but still they heroically plodded on. The names of the different societies and gatherings were many, considering the size of the place and its population. There was first, the Loyal and Political League of Beandabar, president, Mrs. Seymour Skinnah; then the Literary and Historical Society, with Mr Ropah, a local bank manager, president; the Temperance and Moral Suasion Society, presided over by Miss Smileover; and, many others.

Let it not be thought that the plebeian and business residents of the town were not also proud of it. They were. They were proud of their town hall, their police station and lock-up, and, above all, of their annual pastoral and agricultural show. On the show-ground the Cults and the Philistines could meet on a common ground, and work towards the same end. The editor of the local biweekly paper, instead of being, as he ought to have teen, a leading light of culture, was a Philistine of the Philistine. Moreover, there was a feud between him and the Cults.

Mr. Ropah had written a charmingly clever essay on the name of their town, proving its derivation from the aboriginal word, Beyondabar, meaning (so he said) the beautiful hereafter. It was full of poetical similes and graceful allegories, and the editor published it. Everyone read it, and felt elevated in spirit and fitter to live. But in the following issue he printed a letter signed by the local hotel-keeper, who was quite the oldest inhabitant, stating that from his knowledge of the aboriginals (niggers he called them), they neither knew nor cared about any hereafter, beautiful or otherwise. The name of the town was taken from the brand of the cattle station that formerly stood there. The brand was B and a bar, formed thus, B—, and that was all there was about it.

This was bad enough, but when in addition, the editor declined with thanks a lengthy ode on the duck-billed platypus, by the local poetess, and the first of a long series or articles entitled "The Education of Our Statesmen" from the pen of the son of the local solicitor signed "Politicus," the breach was past healing.

Thus matters stood on the eve of the annual Show.

Now the Philistine party also prided themselves on the possession of a literary genius in their ranks, who could, in their own vernacular, run rings around the poetess. He was a wastrel, a derelict, whom many a good-hearted skipper had tried to tow into port, but in vain. The hawser always parted, and he was hopelessly afloat once more, drifting merrily upon a rosy sea.

The pastoral show promised on this occasion to be one of extra importance, not only on account of the exhibits, but because the Committee had captured a loose Minister on tour with the usual dangling attendance of fussy little members. The Minister, although, of course, his political faith was all wrong, was a man of education, so his coming would afford the various societies an opportunity to "strut and fret" a little. Also, the coming of the Minister was an opportunity to settle a burning question, then flaming fiercely as he happened to be that much-to-be-pitied individual, the Minister for Works.

A line of railway had been surveyed, to come within a mile or so of the town, and the Philistine party wanted the plans corrected and a deviation made so that the railway should come through the town. On the other hand, the cultured party wanted the survey to stand good. Progress and prosperity was the watchword of one, beauty and refinement the war cry of the other; needless to say, both parties had axes of their own to grind.

A deputation was formed from both parties to wait upon the Minister; but, unfortunately, that busy individual had notified, when accepting the invitation, that his coming to open the show at all would interfere with other arrangements, so he hoped they would cut everything as short as possible, as his stay would be limited to a few hours.

Then arose the fruitful bone of contention: Which deputation was to have the first innings? Seeing that there was scant time for both, and the first might so fritter away the time that there would be none left for the second, the matter was vital.

The only man not moved by the quarrel was the Derelict. He had no property, and therefore rejoiced, for at times of excitement like this the editor found a little space for his clever skits and pars.

The reception committee finally decided on their programme. The opening ceremony of lunch, with no speeches, save a word of welcome from the mayor; after that, the deputations—but they must fight the matter of precedence out amongst themselves.

There was a meeting of the deviation party, and the Derelict arose and said, "Let them go first."

The editor seconded, and, under the impression that these two had a card up their sleeves, it was agreed to. The non-deviation party was elated, and set to work preparing their programme, and by the time the preparations were finished they had a bill of fare that would take seven or eight hours to go through; but the opposition must see to that. The first item was an ode, setting forth the primitive beauties of Beandabar compared to what it would be when defiled by the dirt, noise, and hurry of a railway.

The ode was to be read by Mrs. Seymour Skinnah, and was supposedly the work of the poetess, but all the influential members had contributed alterations and improvements until the poor little author was reduced to the verge of shrieking hysterics. Mrs. Skinnah proposed that the ode should be at once printed, for presentation to the Minister and his friends, and after this was agreed to the other items were hurriedly disposed of. Mrs. Skinnah had gained her point, she would shine first as the star; after that the others could be cut short or not.

The Derelict and the editor sat in conclave, which conclave was interrupted by no less a person than Mrs. Skinnah, who brought down the ode herself, in order to give some directions about it. These directions she gave, in the character of a lady of quality giving instructions to a common printer, making great play with her gilt pince-nez.

The editor, who was part proprietor, soon brought her to vulgar earth by mentioning terms, and an argument ensued, in which she showed herself a veritable haggler. The editor was beaten, of course, and the president sailed away triumphant. The Derelict cast his eye over the copy (which was tied together in a roll, with a piece of blue ribbon), but he had not got through a dozen lines before he threw it across to the editor, and fairly "chortled in his joy."

"Give me ten minutes to think it over," he gasped.

Now the Derelict's original scheme was a simple one, nothing better than bribing the coach driver to frighten them with a false start. But the ode opened up undreamt-of possibilities. He confided his amended scheme to the editor, and the two started to work it out.


THE next day dawned auspiciously, and at 11 a.m. sharp the coach, with its Ministerial burden, arrived. The town was quickly deserted for the show-ground, and the opening ceremony commenced. All went off well, and an adjournment was made to the hotel for lunch.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Skinnah and the rest of the non-deviation deputation, were on hot bricks, if such a term may be used to express the feelings of such refined people. Lunch was nearly over, and the ode had not arrived. A proof had been duly sent, and the little poetess had touched the bounds of madness and gratification mingled trying to correct it. She was a literary lady, it is true; but, sad to relate, she had not been much accustomed to proofs, and the present one being more pie than proof she, after a few tears, failed to make much of it, and concluding that it was all right and the correct thing, she proudly wrote her name under it in full with a great flourish, and sent it back.

Time moved relentlessly on, and then, when the eve of adjournment was reached, a breathless messenger arrived with an installment of 100 copies. There was no time to examine them. Outwardly they looked well, and the first words were right enough. Copies were hastily distributed amongst the visitors, and everybody flocked upstairs to the big room to hear the deputation.

Mrs. Seymour Skinnah advanced, amidst a murmur of applause, to read the ode. In a few well-chosen words, as the correct term runs, she gave a short précis of it. She pictured the town in its present lovely state, and then what it would be like if polluted by a railway. She began:—


Where smiling peace and tranquil beauty meet,
Shall drunken navies reel along our streets?


'Navvies, not navies,' whispered the temperance president, who stood next. Mrs. Skinnah glared at her copy. 'It's navies here. Who is reading the ode—you or me?'

Having withered her corrector, regardless of grammar, she went on defiantly. Everyone who had a copy looked at it while these amenities passed.


Where the sweet eucalyptus buds are sprouting,
Shall shilling tourists come out for an outing?
Our youths, in classic groves—renowned afar,
Go courting pretty Jessie at the railway bar?


This was too much. The wretched poetess went off into the long-pending hysterics, screaming out, 'I never wrote it.' Mrs. Skinnah looked round at everybody in choking wrath, and everybody looked hard at their copies, amid ill-concealed mirth.'

In the middle of all came up from the street the clatter of hoofs, the crack of a whip, and the coachman's voice shouting: 'All aboard, gents!'

Never was interruption more welcome. The visitors crammed their copies into their pockets, and, effusively and hurriedly saying good-bye, crowded down the stairs. But at the bottom they were met by the mayor, who turned them aside into the now vacated dining-room.

'Plenty of time, gentlemen. Coachman mistook the time. Let me introduce to you the members of the deputation for the proposed deviation of the surveyed line.'

They were all there. It was impossible to go back after saying good-bye to the demoralised deputation above stairs, so they remained, listened leisurely, promised everything, drank, and departed. As they turned the corner every outside passenger was seen to be absorbed in the ode. A rush was made for the balance of the copies, but some quick-witted member of the cult had secured them.

It was too late. A full report, with the ode in full, came out in the paper next day, and though Mrs. Skinnah threatened legal proceedings she could do nothing in the face of the corrected proof, signed by the luckless poetess, and of which no person could make head nor tail. With wicked ingenuity and misplaced cleverness the derelict had interpolated the ode with rhymes and readings of his own, being careful not to commence his travesty too abruptly, and arouse the suspicion of the reader, but to lure her on until she suddenly found herself reading bathos.

The editor took the Derelict in tow once more out of gratitude, but the hawser parted again, and the Derelict is a derelict still, but quite happy.


3. -- THE LIVING DEAD

Evening News, Sydney, 21 Dec 1901

1. JAMES HUNTER'S STORY

THAT the following story must appear wildly impossible, I am quite aware, but I simply relate it as it occurred, and as plainly and truthfully as can.

It was in the year 1881 that three of us left the Cloncurry diggings intending to push through to Port Darwin, prospecting as we went. We reached to within 100 miles of the Roper River when the strange event happened which completely altered all our plans. My two companions were named respectively Davy and Hawthorne.

Davy was an old friend, but Hawthorne was a comparative stranger, a well-made, handsome fellow, middle-aged, with dark eyes of peculiar force and brilliancy. He had a habit of looking intently into your eyes when speaking, with a weird stern took, that would, without doubt, confuse any man of nervous temperament. His face was marked with a scar extending in a diagonal direction across his upper lip; his moustache partly covered it, but you could trace the course of the seam by the unequal growth of the hair.

Davy and I made his acquaintance by accident about a fortnight before leaving the Cloncurry. He had expressed a great wish to accompany us when our proposed expedition was spoken of, and it ended in his doing so. For the first few weeks we agreed together capitally. Our new mate made himself an agreeable companion, and turned out a capital bushman. After a time, however, the novelty of the situation seemed to wear off, and he showed decided symptoms of laziness—that most prolific source of quarrels in the bush—besides assuming an authoritative, dictatorial tone when any of our movements were under discussion.

At last he fairly shirked his share of the common work of the camp, and quarrels between him and Davy became more frequent than pleasant. I was an older man, and kept my temper better than did my friend. At last Davy and Hawthorne ceased to speak to each other, and the day's journey was generally performed in a moody, discontented manner, and I was thinking of proposing to abandon all attempts at prospecting and making straight for Port Darwin, when the whole aspect of affairs was suddenly altered altogether.

We had been out between four and five weeks; our horses were in capital condition, and our supply of rations still good. Since leaving the last Queensland township we had not seen a white man. We had no trouble with the natives, and thought we were about 100 miles from the Roper River, without having seen a sign of payable gold. This was the state of affairs on the last day of November, when we unsaddled for our midday camp on the bank of a small creek.

The country through which we had been travelling for the last three days had been of a poor sandy description, covered with forest tea-trees and stunted ironbarks. The ridges were badly grassed, but here and there, on small flats on the banks of the creeks we found good food for the horses, and it was on such a small flat that we turned out on this particular day.

After unpacking, Davy went down the creek to fill the billies. He was away for some time, and when he came back he put the billies down and said:

"I saw fresh horse tracks in the bed of the creek."

Hawthorne, who was kneeling down lighting the fire, looked up eagerly, but did not speak.

"Many?" I asked.

"Seems only two," he replied; "one of them has been rolling in the sand."

"Who on earth can be out here?" I conjectured. "People prospecting or looking for country, I suppose. But if so there must be other tracks about, for they would have more than two horses."

"They may have left or lost these two, higher up the creek, for they seem to have come down. They are not far off; the tracks are quite fresh."

Hawthorne had not before spoken. He now remarked, in a strangely amiable tone, that Davy was probably right; the horses must have come down the creek, and if we followed it up we should have probably come to the camp of the owners.

Davy, who at any other time would have opposed any proposition made by Hawthorne, now seemed struck with his altered manner, and agreed with him that perhaps it would be as well to spend the remainder of the day in following up the creeks and finding the owner, or owners, of the horses. I gave my consent, and in an evil hour we started.

Davy and Hawthorne went to catch our horses, which had been turned out to feed while we had our meal, and found that the two strangers had joined them. As we expected to find the camp they had strayed from, we drove them on with our spare horses. We proceeded about five miles up the creek, the country getting more broken, and barren. Small, white sandy hills covered with scrub, and here and there huge piles of granite boulders, were on either side of the creek. The creek itself grew considerably deeper and narrower during the last two miles, the bed being full of holes of white, milky-looking water. The tracks of the horses were plainly to be seen the whole way crossing and recrossing the creek.

Hawthorne was riding ahead; Davy and I were driving the spare horses after him. Presently we saw him pull up and point forward. We looked, and saw in the distance a bough shade. We drove the horses on, and left them to feed about. The three of us rode up to the camp. No fire was burning; a few crows rose as we approached, and flew away, cawing loudly. Davy rode his horse close to the gunyah, and peered through the boughs.

"There's someone asleep inside," he said as he dismounted. Hawthorne and I did the same, and Davy entered the rude shelter unceremoniously.

"Asleep, mate?" he called out. There was no answer.

"Hi!" he called again, then stooped and looked in the apparent sleeper's face.

"The man's dead," he said quietly.

Hawthorne and I crowded in, and saw a man lying on a blanket spread over some dry grass, his head pillowed on some articles of clothing neatly folded up. He was lying upon his back, his eyes half open; no trace of decomposition visible; life seemed to have but lately fled. Lifting my eyes from the dead man, I happened to notice Hawthorne, and was startled by the look of combined joy and recognition visible in his face.

Again I looked down at the corpse, and the dread fancy seized me that the dead and senseless body was aware of the evil glance directed upon it, and that, a fearful, haunted, terrified look was now visible in the glazed eyeballs. I could stay no longer, but calling to Davy I hurried out; Hawthorne, with a half-concealed smile on his face, following.

What were we to do was the next question. Examine the camp, and see if we could find any clue as to his name, and what brought him there, was the unanimous opinion. We did so. Outside the humpy were a riding and pack saddle and a bridle and halter. Inside were some ration bags, containing the usual supplies, an empty phial labelled 'laudanum,' a quart-pot with some tea in it, and a pint-pot, smelling strongly of the drug. That the man had poisoned himself was evident. His body was well fed, free from any marks of violence. We next removed the articles of clothing from underneath his head, and in the pockets found about twelve pounds in notes and silver, and two horse receipts in the name of George Seamore. Underneath the clothes, as though pushed hastily beneath, was an ordinary enough diary, well scribbled in. There were also such slight articles, as a pipe, tobacco, and matches.

We carefully examined the body, and made quite sure of the absence of life. The man had been in life a fine man, with a determined-looking face, grey eyes, which would not remain closed, and the shrinking look I still fancied I saw in them did not, agree with the resolution expressed by the rest of the features.

We now unpacked and unsaddled, our horses, and, after arranging our camp, proceeded to dig a grave, this, of course, being easy with the aid of our prospecting tools. That task finished, as it was growing dusk, we carried the body to the grave, where Davy, who was the son of a clergyman, repeated all he could remember of the burial service. The sandy soil, had proved easy digging, and the grave was about four feet deep. The body was simply rolled in the blanket on which we found it lying.

It fell dark as we finished filling in the grave. I can see the whole scene before me as I write, the desolate-looking hills, an unnaturally large, red moon rising behind them making the fantastic-looking piles of boulders show black and grim against its light; my two companions and myself standing silent beside the mound of earth ere we turned away.

Now, during the time that we had been digging the grave, Hawthorne had left us, and went to the camp, where the body was then lying. Soon afterwards I called to him, and asked him to bring some water with him when he came back. Receiving no reply, I went to the camp myself, being thirsty from digging. On passing through the camp I saw Hawthorne inside the bough humpy making what looked like mesmeric passes over the dead body. I called out sharply to know what he was doing. He started, and stammered out that he was only making sure that there were no indications of breathing. I said crossly that there seemed to be no occasion for that, and he returned to the grave with me.

After our evening meal I tried to decipher the writing in the diary, but it was too illegible to be read without much time and trouble, so I put it away under my head when I went to sleep. From what I had been able to make out, it seemed to be an account of the life of the man whom we had just buried, written by himself during his last hours. We talked for some time over this strange affair, dropping off to sleep one by one. We were sleeping round the fire, having been too busy to pitch our tent.

About the middle of the night, the moon then, shining brightly overhead, I was awakened by feeling something moving beneath my head. Rousing myself, I saw Hawthorne bending over me, feeling under my pillow. Angrily I asked him what he was doing? He made no answer at first, but glared savagely at me, looking straight into my eyes, and seeming as though he would awe me by the very fierceness of his gaze, but my nerves were strong, and I looked back boldly and defiantly, and saw his eyes, drop baffled. But his strange, almost superhuman, look had affected me more at the time, than I had imagined.

"I was feeling for your matches, mine are all gone. I am sorry I disturbed you," he said apologetically. I handed him my matchbox without a word, and he went back to his blankets and lit his pipe.

After a short time I fell asleep, first feeling for the dead man's diary, which I felt sure was the real object of his search. It was still there where I had placed it.

Once more was I disturbed. Davy shook me by the shoulder, and called me by name. I raised myself and looked around. The cool breath of the coming dawn was making itself felt, the moon sinking low in the west gave but a dim half-light, and, threw long shadows of the stunted trees upon the white, sandy soil around us, a few white gum trees on the bank of the creek standing out white and spectral-like.

Davy was beside me, evidently greatly excited.

"What do you think," he cried, "Hawthorne has gone away with the dead man."

I stared at him in astonishment.

"I saw him go, and as I live, the dead man rode with him."

I hope I possess the ordinary courage of men in general, but I must confess that when this weird communication was made to me in that ghastly, dawning light in the desert, far from our fellow men, a thrill of superstitious terror ran through me. I placed my hand an my companion's shoulder, and at the human touch the cowardly feeling of terror that I had so weakly given way to left me, and my courage returned.

"What can you mean, How could he take the dead man with him?"

"I tell you I saw them go. Listen, can you hear anything?"

We both listened, holding our breath, but the grim stillness was broken by no sound, not even the natural and familiar night cries of the bush.

"No," said Davy, "they are out of hearing. A short time ago I awoke and thought I heard the horses galloping in their hobbles, away down the creek. Thinking the blacks might be about, I took my revolver and crept quietly in the direction of the horses. When I got near the horses, I saw two men amongst them catching and saddling some of them. Saw them mount and ride towards where I was watching, I had my revolver ready, and was about to step out and accost them, when I saw that it was Hawthorne, and—" he pointed towards the new made grave.

"The man could not have been dead."

"What time is it?" said Davy in reply.

"Half-past four or so," I said, and stooped for my watch.

"And what time was it when we buried the man?" my companion went on.

"About 6 o'clock or so!"

"Say that he was in a trance when we buried him, would not the weight of earth have been sufficient to suffocate him in less than one hour let alone seven or eight?"

I could only answer, "Yes—but—"

I was going to say, could not Hawthorne have dug the man up again as soon as we went to sleep? Then I remembered that I had seen Hawthorne in the camp in the middle of the night. I looked for the book, with the horrible dread in my heart that the dead man might have been feeling under my head for it, and was relieved to find it still there.

I told Davy of the circumstance of Hawthorne trying to get it, as he was on his knees busy reviving the fire, and its bright cheery blaze seemed partly to scare away the dismal horrors that lingered round our haunted camp.

All Hawthorne's traps were gone; he and his unearthly companion must have carried them down to the horses. We both shuddered at the thought of the living corpse' moving about the silent camp, and perhaps stepping across our sleeping bodies.

Our horses were all there; Hawthorne's two and the strangers we had picked up being absent.

"Shall we track them up?" I asked, when we were ready to start.

"No, no," said Davy. "Let us get away from here. I don't feel myself. I feel quite nervous and cowed."

So we started, first inspecting the grave, which we found tenantless.

We pushed on during the ensuing few days, and in my spare time I managed to decipher the blurred manuscript.

The history revealed by it coincided so strangely with our late experience that we could doubt the evidence of our senses no longer. But it was so unheard of and incredible and brought back all the horrors of that night so forcibly and vividly, that our only wish was to speedily reach a settlement of our fellow-beings in order that our minds would cease to dwell and brood upon what we had seen.

In a little more than a fortnight we reached the overland telegraph line, and, following it along northward, came to a working party, and there Davy fell sick, and could not travel. He rapidly grew worse, and although everybody was most kind, we could do but little, and I soon saw that the end was not far off.

I was sitting by his side one night, when he roused himself and spoke to me.

"I have told you all that I want you to do, old fellow, except one thing, which I have left to the last. When I am dead, watch over my grave for at least a week. Promise that, you will save me from that horrible fiend. Make sure of it before you leave me."

I pressed his hand, and told him that I would.

"Goodbye, old friend; it's hard to die like this, but what we know of would be harder still."

Before morning he died, and I was left alone, the possessor of the horrible secret. We buried him before sunset; all hands knocked off work and attended, and then my watch commenced. They thought me mad, the men on the line, thus to carry out a whim of my dead comrade's, and if they had known what I sought to guard his body against they would have been sure of my insanity, but I did not tell them.

With snatches of broken rest in the daytime, I kept my promise for more than a week, and then, when all semblance of life must have long departed from the body beneath, I relinquished my armed watch, and bade farewell to the kind friends who had behaved so hospitably.

From what I could learn, no strangers but ourselves had struck the line for many months. Where, then, did Hawthorne and his dread companion go to?

I have never learned.

I left poor Davy in his lonely grave, with the silent messages, that had travelled so many thousand miles, flashing over him, and hastened to port.

Change and travel and a busy life obliterated to a certain extent my hideous experience; then suddenly the other day it was all brought back to me. My resolution is taken; I will keep silence no longer. In a few days, if I live, I will leave Australia, and if the body of that unhappy wretch found no peace in the wilderness, perhaps the depths of the ocean will be more kind to me when my time comes.

The reason I have come to this resolution, and publish my story after so many years of silence is that the other day, in Sydney, in busy George Street, I met the man called George Seamore, the dead man we buried in the bush, face to face, and he turned and followed me. Here, to further show my reason, is the dead man's diary, as we found, it in the camp:—

2. GEORGE SEAMORE'S MANUSCRIPT

November 29, 1881

TO-MORROW is the anniversary of the day I was born, and on that day I have determined to die. Why I should have been singled out to be one of those unfortunates who have learned that there exists such people in the world as the living dead I know not. But it is in the hope of escaping from their unhappy fate that I have sought this lonely place to die in.

Death I fear not in itself. Would that the doctrine of the soul's total annihilation were true, how I would welcome death. But if my wretched soul should be forced to reanimate my body, and the baneful influence that has embittered my life finds me out even here, in this desolate desert, O! what unutterable woe will be mine!


Now for my story:

I can say little for myself beyond the fact that I have always been moderately well off and fond of travel. When I was 25 years old two people entered into my life, who affected it I greatly. They were Fanny Berrimore and Francis Hawthorne.

Miss Berrimore I met through her brother, an artist, whose acquaintance I. had made when travelling abroad; the other, Hawthorne's, was a chance acquaintanceship, which, how I know not, from no particular wish of mine, developed into intimacy, but not friendship. Towards Miss Berrimore I soon felt more than friendship; but at the present moment I do not feel inclined to enter into the relation of any of the incidents of our love story, unhappy as it was, excepting the tragic circumstances of her apparent end and after-life, for she was—and thankful I am to say "was"—one of the living dead.

I am Devonshire born; but the incidents I am going to relate occurred in London—London of the sixties and seventies, not London of to-day. I was then living in London, as were both Miss Berrimore and Hawthorne. Miss Berrimore was living with an aunt in the suburbs, for she and her brother were orphans; and Hawthorne, like myself, lived in chambers. On one of my visits to Miss Berrimore I found that she was very anxious about her brother, from whom she had not heard for more than twelve months. I promised to do my best to obtain any information about him; but as I knew he was of a roving disposition I did not anticipate that any evil had befallen him.

A night or two afterwards Hawthorne came to see me, and we strolled to his rooms, and there the conversation turned upon spiritualism, in which we both expressed our entire disbelief. Presently Hawthorne got up, and, standing-with his hand on the mantelpiece, spoke as follows. Every word, for good reason, is printed on my memory:

"Spiritualism! pooh! Mere jugglers' tricks. I believe in what I have discovered myself—or, rather in my realisation of my father's discovery, which an unfortunate accident did not allow him to complete. It is a marvellous secret; but I will tell you nothing of it now. I will tell you something of my ancestry. Have you ever heard of the white Malays?"

"Never. I have, of course, heard the various traditions of white races being found in various unknown parts of the world; but never of a white Malay race."

"Few people have. They are small, but powerful and rich, and are more among the sea Dyaks than the land-dwelling Malays. My father was a chief amongst them. Do I show any trace of mixed blood?'

"I looked at him earnestly, thinking this was all humbug.

"Your eyes are peculiar. Not Caucasian, certainly. Peculiar is the only word I can find; although I have travelled much, I cannot locate them."

"No, of course not. My father was an educated man, who had also travelled much, and married an English lady of good birth, whose family never dreamt that he was of pure Malay stock. Why should they; not half a dozen Europeans know of the ancient race of the White Malays, and they are merely scientific ethnologists pure and simple. My father was on the eve of a wonderful discovery, which would have been actually the consummation of what our ancient priests had been long striving after, when death intervened. A violent death, I need scarcely say; but he had taught me, and I have reached the result he did not live to attain."

"Well" I asked.

"Nothing more at present; the time has not yet come. Would you like to see my servant? I don't think you have met him."

I gave assent, and he rang the bell. The man who came in answer could scarcely have been told from a European, except that he had eyes like Hawthorne's, but covered with a sort of film that deadened them somewhat.'

"Take down that kriss," said Hawthorne, pointing to some Eastern weapons that decorated one of the walls. The man obeyed.

"Draw it."

He took it from its sheath

"Why is it not clean?"

"Your orders, Mr. Hawthorne," came the reply, in a dead level voice, without intonation.

"Kiss those rusty old bloodstains."

The man bent his head and kissed the discoloured blade, then replaced the weapon, and left the room, without having taken note of my existence.

"That man was my father's murderer, and that was the kriss he killed him with."

I rose from my seat, disguising what I really felt.

"I confess I did not at first believe in your story; but now, somehow, I do. At least, you ought to have Malay blood in you, unless you are only an actor, and a clever one."

Hawthorne only laughed.

"Come to-morrow at 10 o'clock. I am going to see a man in the condemned cell at Newgate. I want you to come with me. Will you come? The visit partly bears upon what I have been telling you."

I hesitated, but consented, and left. I slept soundly that night—no ghostly visitant haunted my couch—and I was only just in time to keep my appointment. On our way to Newgate we talked of the man and his crime. It was a notorious one, principally from the disappearance of a large sum of money which the victim had lost his life in defending, and the stolidity and indifference to his fate of the culprit.

After the usual formalities we found ourselves in the condemned cell, and in the presence of two warders and the prisoner. Strange to say, I recognised the man at once, but could not determine where I had seen him, nor who he was. Then I noticed that he had the same set, filmy eyes as Hawthorne's servant. Some trivial conversation passed between my companion and the man—enough to justify the order of admission Hawthorne had obtained—and we left. But the man never once looked in my direction, although I was anxious for him to do so, to account for the likeness which I could not fix.

Wild suppositions began to course through my brain, for it suddenly struck me that he resembled George Berrimore, the missing, artist brother of Fanny.

"Did you ever hear if the criminal's name of Darcy Blake is an assumed one or not?" I asked as we made our way to the restaurant where we had agreed to lunch.

"I believe that it is his proper name. It is the name under which I had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Why do you ask?"

"Because," I replied, led on by blind impulse, "I heard somewhere that his real name was Berrimore," and I looked hard at my companion.

He started perceptibly. "Berrimore; George Berrimore? He is dead. He died in Marseilles a year ago."

"You knew him, then?"

"Slightly. Did you know him?"

"Pretty well; and that man bears a strong likeness to him. I know his sister, and she has not heard of his death; so she is anxious about him. I promised to make Inquiries for her."

"And you commence by looking for him in the condemned cell in Newgate. Very complimentary to Miss Berrimore."

I could have bitten my tongue out.

"No, but the resemblance was so striking and strange."

"What I know of George Berrimore is this. I met him in Marseilles, where he was ill and friendless. As a countryman, if you can call me one, I looked after him, and finally saw to his burial. I have still In my possession a few sketches of his, which he consigned to my care to deliver to his sister, whose address I have lost. You seemingly know her, and I can now fulfil my mission."

I felt very disinclined to introduce him to Miss Berrimore, but there was not a loophole of escape; and I had to consent to go out with him after lunch. During lunch, I could not help talking about Blake, and the missing money. Hawthorne seemed to dislike the subject, so I dropped it, and, at the proper time we went to call on Miss Berrimore.

It was naturally not a pleasant visit. Miss Berrimore was grieved to have her worst fears about her brother confirmed, and I was sulky at hating been the means of introducing Hawthorne to her. I was glad when the time came for us to leave.

"Seriously speaking," said Hawthorne, as we parted. "I have something of Importance to submit to you. Will you dine with me to-morrow?"

"Something about this wonderful secret?"

"About the wonderful secret."

"Then I'll come. By the way, that poor devil Blake is to be executed to-morrow. I wonder what became of the money?"

Hawthorne turned livid. "I wish you would talk of pleasanter subjects," he stammered, as he turned away.

Hawthorne's dinner the next evening was admirable, and he seemed in exceedingly good spirits; and talked and rattled on as gaily as possible. But when everything was cleared away, and we were by ourselves, his manner became more serious.

"What would you say," he presently said, "if I asked you to swear, never to confide the secret I am about to reveal to you?"

"I would swear, if you desired it; and if the secret to be learned justified the importance of taking an oath."

"Then swear." he said; "or give me your word. I hold that as good.

"The secret is connected with science?"

"The secret is connected with the most abstruse science."

"Then you have my word."

"Never to reveal to living man what I am about to tell you."

"It shall not be revealed by me during my life."

"My reason for telling you is, that I want a coadjutor. I might look long before I found a man to suit me as well as you would. You possess every requisite, of firm nerves, strong will, and vigorous health; Will you assist me? Will you share with me a dominion greater than man ever dreamt of before? A dominion over the dead."

"What can you mean? You are mad," I sternly replied.

"I mean that I have realised my father's dream. I have found the true source of existence. Not the elixir of life, but almost the opposite. I can bring to life those who are called dead, if I can obtain possession of their bodies within twenty-four hours of their decease, or apparent decease."

"Pshaw! You are fooling me!"

"Fooling you? Was I fooling you when you saw my father's murderer kiss the bloodstains on the kriss? A man whom I killed, and then brought to life again."

"You ask me to believe that you possess the prerogative of the Almighty. That we still live in the days of miracles. I cannot believe it."

"Then you shall have proof; but if I give you proof will you consent to join me?"

"To what end?"

"I will communicate the results to you. Know that the men by me restored to life, for good or evil, know no will but mine. They are my slaves forever after. My influence permeates their new being, and they, they live again but to carry out my wishes!"

"Grant that you are not raving; still, I do not see the end."

"Not see the end!" he cried, his dark eyes blazing with excitement. "Not see the power it puts into the hands of two such men as you and I are—with life growing strong enough within our veins to revivify a hundred dead men! Not see the end to which such abject slaves could lift us—men who, at our bidding, and for our sakes, would dare and endure all the evils and dangers that beset life, would go at our command to the ends of the earth—and the foot of the gallows!"

"Wretch!" I cried, starting up. "Do I read you aright? Was that poor man who died this morning a death of shame one of your victims? And was his crime committed at your instigation?"

"He died as you say, at my command. Now do you believe?'

"And his name was, as I thought, George Berrimore?"

"His name when he died at Marseilles a year ago was George Berrimore.'

"And you received the missing money?"

"Certainly. I did not get the man hanged for nothing. Since I killed the man you saw acting as my servant, I cannot return to my people to claim my father's wealth."

Conviction was forced upon me.

"And you ask me to join you in a career of robbery and murder!" I cried in blind rage and indignation. "Rather do I esteem it my duty to humanity to kill you where you sit."

He started visibly as I advanced towards him, and I saw where his weak point was—that he was a coward. In spite of the terrible knowledge that he possessed, I was physically and morally his master, by reason of my higher courage and firmer nerve.

"Stand back!" he cried. "You have sworn never to reveal my secret, and I defy you to break your oath."

"I did not pass my oath to keep such horrible crimes as yours secret."

"Do you want Miss Berrimore to learn that her brother perished on the scaffold? Do you wish the criminal's real name, and her name, too, to be made a public scoff?"

He was right, however he had guessed it. For her sake, I made the sad mistake of not taking that wretch's life on the spot. He saw my irresolution, and springing to his feet sought by quick mesmeric passes to subdue me to his influence. But my will was too strong for him to cope with, and I laughed contemptuously.

"No, no. I am mot to be made one of your slaves quite so easily. I leave you, this time, unharmed, but do not cross my path again, or seek to exercise your unhallowed arts any more, if they are aught else but wild dream. If we again meet, it will be as bitter enemies, so beware;" and I caught him by the collar and shook him till he trembled in every joint when I released him.

Such a fierce gust of passion had never before possessed me, and I felt strong enough to defy Hell itself; and if ever a fiend from Hell stood before a mortal man; it was that man.

As I turned to go, he mustered up some little courage and said, "Beware in your turn. Your spirit now is more powerful than mine; but if I find you when that life, now so strong and fierce within you, is ebbing weak end low, then it will be my turn. Beware of death and my power after death, wild dream as you call it."

I only laughed in derision, and left him.


I SAW Miss Berrimore a few days afterwards, and found her somewhat recovered from the shock of the news of her brother's death. Now that I knew the truth about Hawthorne and her brother, I felt in a difficult position. I could not well warn her against the man who, she believed, had befriended her brother in his last moments, without giving her some potent reasons, and the real reason was too horrible and Incredible to even hint at. I had to go home to my parents for a short time, and on my return we were to be married. In that brief space it was not probable that Hawthorne, after the thorough fright I had given him, would venture upon anything do bring down my vengeance on his head, so I left on a three weeks' visit to my home. After a week I became restless and uneasy, and on the tenth day could restrain myself no longer, but hastened back to town, and my first visit was to Miss Berrimore.

The house was but a pretty suburban cottage, for her aunt's income was limited, and when I reached there I found, to my surprise, the door ajar, and the servant apparently out, for no one responded to my ring. I entered, therefore, unannounced, and, proceeding to the drawing-room, found Hawthorne and Fanny alone together. A look of deadly fear came over him at my appearance, but, forgetting everything in the violent wrath excited in my mind by seeing Fanny and Hawthorne on apparently affectionate terms, I simply sprang at my enemy, and the next moment he lay on the floor with his upper lip split open.

There was no struggle worth speaking of, for the craven made no resistance. Fanny cask into a chair, and, even in the midst of my fury, I could not help notice her listless manner, and even indifference to what had just taken place. I looked from her to the man who lay on the floor, afraid to move, and, spurning him with my foot, I left the house, choking with rage. I walked quietly home when I got in the street—my rage was too deep for any outward demonstration. All idea of Hawthorne's pretensions to infernal or demoniac powers was lost sight of utterly is the whirlwind of jealous frenzy excited in my breast by what I thought to be Fanny's duplicity. I left town, and returned home, but could not persuade myself that I had not been misled during the dreary months that followed. So wretched did I get that I went again to London, determined to seek an explanation which I thought might be forthcoming.

I went to the cottage, and was received by her aunt, who was dressed in deep mourning. She refused my hand, and asked me stiffly what brought me there. I stammered out that I called to inquire—to see Miss Berrimore.

"You will find my niece in Kensal Green Cemetery," she said, bitterly. "Where you sent her."

My amazement must have been visible in my I face, for she went on, "Without cause or reason you neglected and left her, and, in her state of health, that killed her."

What could I say! Her aunt was evidently in complete ignorance of my visit and discovery, and, rightly enough, judged me with the greatest harshness. I said something about there having been a misunderstanding, but she stood coldly and silently awaiting my departure, bad I could do nothing but leave, writhing under the feeling chat I had been made a dupe of by Hawthorne. I visited Kensal Green, and saw her grave. With deep penitence in my heart for the girl I had wronged, and a determination to wreak the utmost vengeance on Hawthorne when I found I him, even if it brought me to the gallows, I left the cemetery.

Months passed, and I sought my enemy high and low, but could find no trace of him. He and his living dead men were too cunning for me. One day I saw him, or thought I did, and turned to follow him to make sure. Directly afterwards I was run against violently by a well-dressed person, who apologised for his clumsiness. But the accident was enough. I had lose my man. It was no accident, I knew, for I had recognised the peculiar face, and the set eyes, of the man who had kissed the kriss, in the person who had bumped against me.

A few days after this incident I was loitering I moodily on one of the bridges one night. The hour was late, and the crowd was thinning, and I stood for a moment looking at the lights of the town, and the shipping, and the dark water running beneath me.

A policeman was watching me furtively, evidently expecting me to take a header over the parapet. A female figure hastily approaching brushed close to me, almost touching me, a strange thrill passed through me, and I an uncontrollable impulse made me spring after her. I overtook her just as she was passing under a lamp.

It was Fanny! The woman whose body I thought lay in Kensal Green Cemetery was by my side! My exclamation of surprise and horror seemed not to affect her in the least, for she kept steadily on her way, and I by her side. The policeman looked keenly at us. He little thought that it was a dead woman I was walking beside. The merry party who made room on the pavement for her would have had their mirth suddenly checked had they known the girlish form that flitted through them had stepped from amongst the buried. Steadily she kept on, and the joyous thought flashed through my brain that by following her I should find Hawthorne, so I dropped a step or two behind. On we went—the living and the dead—until she turned down a narrow blind alley, reached a door in the wall, I opened it with a key, and passed in. Before she could close it, I had pushed in too, into a small courtyard, surrounded by high buildings rising in the gloomy night.

She did not notice my entrance, but hurried into one of the houses—I still close behind her—Up a narrow stairway into a lighted room, where three men were sitting. They took no notice of either of us. A hasty glance assured me that my enemy was not amongst them, but I felt assured that I had found the lair of himself and his slaves.

Fanny opened a door leading to an inner room, and in it I saw a man lounging indolently in an easy chair. I had found him. She handed him a note, and then sat down. He tore the note open, and read it, while I stood behind his chair, my heart leaping gladly. Having read the communication, Hawthorne tore it up, and stooped to cast the fragments in a basket, and in doing so he caught sight of me. The scream of terror he gave was such music in my ears; and the next moment he was calling loudly to the men in the next room for help, for he saw murder in my face.

They came rushing in, but before they could do anything I had hurled him half strangled to the floor, and was standing over him with a hastily snatched-up decanter in my hand.

"Order them back," I cried, as they were rushing at me, "or your life pays forfeit first. I'll beat your brains out quickly."

"Back! back!" he cried in an agonised voice. "Don't kill me, Seamore."

"Send them out of the room. Now, what have you done to her?" I pointed to Fanny, who was sitting in a listless and indifferent attitude.

"What do you want? What shall I do?"

"Remove your power from over her. If you can. Give her back to me."

"I cannot. She will die again if my influence is removed. She knows you no more. Her name is Caroline Booth now."

"I care not whether she lives or dies, so that she is no longer your victim. I will give you but a few moments to make up your mind. Consent!"

"I consent to anything," he said, cowering and I shrinking.

"If I spare your life, you will relinquish any hold you may have over her mind or spirit, and allow me to take her away wherever I like."

"I will, and never again seek to interfere with I her."

"This is the second time I give you your life for Miss Berrimore's sake; but if we meet a third time, when she is dead, and beyond your reach or power, I promise nothing. I do not trust your word, but I do to your cowardice. I fear no more the punishment I should incur through I murdering you than I do you yourself."

"She will die, I tell you; but you shall have your wish."

He went over to her, and made some mesmeric passes, and she shuddered slightly, and looked a little more like her old self.

"You will go with this gentleman; do you I know him?"

She looked at me dreamily, as though some confused remembrance still existed, then took my hand, and said, "I will go with him," and looked in my face curiously.

I had locked the door when I allowed Hawthorne to rise, and now stood with my back I against it, while I asked him another question.

"Was it through some of your devilish arts I that I was misled that day?"

"It was. Miss Berrimore's aunt was out and I tried a mesmeric experiment on Miss Berrimore, and had just succeeded when you interrupted us. She knew nothing of what passed, and I without doubt it was your desertion killed her. She could imagine no reason for your leaving her without a word of explanation."

I took Fanny away, and have never seem Hawthorne since, hard as I have striven to find and I kill him. But the last glimpse I caught of him standing looking at me with sullen, deadly hate is ever present to my imagination.

His prediction was, true; Fanny soon faded away, and died about three weeks after I rescued her. I visited her constantly in the home I found for her, but she had lost all resemblance of her real life, Me she remembered, more by some mysterious influence I appeared to possess over her than by reason at our being formerly acquainted.

She died, painlessly and quietly; and I buried her in the same cemetery where, even then, her body was supposed to be resting, and I let her sleep under her assumed name.

How Hawthorne obtained possession of her body in order to bring her back to life I cannot conjecture. By means of so many devoted adherents, it would not, perhaps, be a hard task.

Since then I have been a wanderer, and am now weary of it. Often I have recognised the living dead men, and I fancy I am always watched, and the thought has become unbearable. Were it not for his want of physical courage, the power of this strange creature would he immense, for I am convinced that he claims no more than he can accomplish; and, as I cannot find him, I am going to seek rest in this solitude. My body will, I trust, meet no worse fate than to moulder and decay unnoticed and unburied. Still, before I take the last step, I have put these crimes on record.

This is my birthday, and in a few hours my life will be spent, and, hundreds of miles from my fellow men, I will render up my soul, In the hope of at last finding peace.


4. -- NEVER SAVE A MAN FROM THE SEA

Evening News (Sydney) 21 March 1896

I

THE sea beat fiercely on the rock-bound coast; only one little nook, well sheltered, invited landing, while the wind blew from the quarter, it was then in. Over and over again the two men in the boat scanned the uninviting shore before them, until they sighted the entrance to the little cove and the sandy beach beyond. Wearily, but hopefully, they pulled towards it; at the least it meant a rest from the tossing sea.

In time they reached it, and found that it was the entrance to a large salt water creek emerging from the mangroves a short distance inshore. They ran the boat on to the beach, and landing, enjoyed the luxury of a rest, which in the cramped area of the boat, had been impossible. Shortly, one of them got up and strolled round to inspect the spot that had sheltered them. Presently, he came across some rocks above high water mark, the sea-worn holes in which were full of fresh rain water. After taking a refreshing drink, he called to his companion, and when he came and had enjoyed the same luxury, they washed the salt scum from their hair and eyes, and sitting down began, for the first time, began to talk.

'Where to now?' asked one, in French; a short-set, black-haired, black-eyed man, of athletic build, although like his companion, much wasted with semi-starvation.

'That is a difficult question to answer. The ranges behind us are high, and covered with jungle. Whether to go north or south the sooner to strike a town I cannot say, but food we must have soon.'

The speaker was tall, slight, brown-haired and brown-eyed. He was evidently educated, and had once occupied a higher social position than his companion in misfortune.

'I thought you knew this coast,' growled the other.

'Know it,' said the brown-haired man, looking up with a flash in his eyes; 'of course I do, and if I knew where we are could easily find food and shelter; but how in the name of God are we to find out exactly where we are?'

'No, there are no sign posts about here, truly,' assented the other; 'but we can manage with what food we have left for three days, and get on for a day longer perhaps. Say four days. How far can we make in that time?'

'Not very far, if the country is bad for travelling.'

'In the boat?'

'Not so far; this wind from the south-east will blow for many months. I know him.'

'Seems a bad lookout, any way.'

'It does, but we can at any rate stretch our legs.'

The shorter man walked towards the mouth of the little inlet; the other began to trace out lines in the sand with a bit of drift wood. A shout from his companion, aroused him, and he went towards him. A sail was in sight coming past their refuge, seemingly close inland.

'What will she be?' asked the darker man.

The other regarded her fixedly for some time.

'Pearl-shelling schooner,' he said at last. 'I think we had better try and signal them to pick us up; as a rule, they are good fellows, and not particular. Fetch the boat down, Francois, it is our only chance.'

The short man obeyed, and the fairer one remained motionless, watching the approach of the schooner. Very soon his comrade returned, sculling the boat, and entering it, both men pulled steadily to get into the track of the schooner.

They were seen, and the schooner ran up in the wind and lay there with flapping sails until they pulled alongside, and climbed on board. A colored crew were scattered about the deck, but a couple of white men were on board, and one stepped forward to interrogate them.

'Speak English?' he asked, having eyed them up and down, and decided on their nationality in his own mind.

'I do,' replied the fair one of the two.

'Humph!' I needn't ask where from; you've got the stamp of New Caledonia on you.'

'My friend and I have escaped from that hell of an island,' returned the other in very good English. 'But, I beg you to believe that our offences were political only.'

'So I suppose,' returned the other with a sneer; 'but it's nothing to me. I suppose you are half starved, and don't exactly know where you are. Well, you are about 200 miles from anywhere on the coast except a lightship, unless you can cross that range, and that's all jungle and stinging tree. Now what do you want me to do?'

'My name is Hyacinthe Merande; my companion is François Lepêtre. He is a good sailor. I am an educated man; can keep books, or do anything clerical.'

The master of the schooner reflected for a moment. 'I will give you your choice,' he said. 'I can spare you some rations and water, and you can go ashore again and take your chance; or you can come with me to my station and help me for a year, without pay; then you can get a slant to get away, for the hunt will be over by that time.'

Merande, the spokesman, explained the offer to his companion, and after interchanging a few words with him, he intimated to the master of the schooner that they accepted his last offer.

'And the best thing you could do. There is only my station on the island, and no one will know of your being there, for we don't entertain much. But mind you, I make my men work, don't I, Tom?' addressing the other man, his mate.

'By —— you do,' returned he, somewhat grimly.

The skipper smiled, as if at a compliment.

'Is your boat worth anything?' he asked of the Frenchman.

'Firewood,' was the reply.

'Nothing in her you want?'

'Nothing.'

'Jump down Tom, with an axe, and start a couple of planks.'

Tom did so; the sails were shaken out as the wind once more caught them, and as the boat disappeared the schooner flew away to the north with her new passengers.

II

THE station was fairly comfortable, situated on a small island in the Straits, named after Torres. A handsome, brown, island woman, the captain's wife by courtesy, presided over the establishment.

The said captain, whose name was Sween, owned a good number of luggers, and Merande soon found that the work was pretty constant and regular, as predicted. He kept the books, overlooked the stores, and did most of the land work, Lepêtre being berthed on the schooner, and employed on the usual handy sailor's jobs.

Sween, however, was not ungenerous. He supplied both men with all requisite clothing, and treated Merande as one of his household. This naturally brought him much in contact with the beautiful half-caste girl Lurance, and the fire of a mutual passion was ignited. Naturally Lurance's uncurbed nature soon led to her neglecting her protector pro tem, and quarrels between her and Sween became frequent; and Sween, who was a violent-tempered man, often had recourse to personal chastisement.

The end came at last. One night Merande was awakened by the hasty entrance of Lurance into his room. Her eyes flashed in the darkness, and when Merande struck a light he saw that she held a blood-stained knife in her hand.

'I have done it;' she said. 'He struck me again, and then I told him that I hated him, and loved you. He swore he would send you back to prison, and I snatched up the knife and stabbed him.'

'Is he dead?' asked Merande, somewhat overcome by the relation, which so suddenly broke up his own schemes for the future.

'Dead! Would Lurance strike twice?'

Merande pondered. 'Lurance,' he said, 'We must seize the schooner and fly.'

She nodded.

'I can easily forge an order in Sween's handwriting which will satisfy Tom, the mate,' he reflected. Forgery was the crime he had been transported for.

'Lurance, go back and collect what things you want: meantime, I will write an order to Tom in Sween's hand to come ashore and bring four men. That, will leave two on board. With these, two, François, myself, and you, we can manage the schooner.'

Lurance hurried away, and Merande set to work at his desk. He was soon disturbed. Lurance burst in, breathless with terror.

'He is gone. I struck not deep enough!'

'Confound your tongue, woman,' he cried, as it struck him that but for her boast he might have been safe. 'What devil made you confess that you love me?'

'But you do, Hyacinth, you do my love? We can both die together;' and she fell on her knees with her supplicating brown eyes turned up to his.

But her beauty had suddenly become abhorrent to him. All he wanted was to escape, but he was too late.

As he glanced at the door, it was burst, open, and Sween stood there leaning on Tom, the colored boatswain with them, all armed.

Both man and woman were secured, and taken on board the schooner, and with the morning breeze she stood out to sea. But Tom the mate and François Lepêtre were left behind.

Six days afterwards the schooner returned, and taking these two on board, made sail for Thursday Island.

Arrived there, a signal for the water police boat was run up. Lepêtre, quite unconscious of its meaning, was standing on deck when the Resident, his coxswain, and a couple more men stepped on board. Sween drew the Resident on one side.

'The dark man, there, is an escapee from New Caledonia, by his own confession. I have kept him at my station on B—Island until I had time to bring him in. His name is François Lepêtre.'

'I have been warned of his escape, but I confess, captain, that I believed you to have been the last man to have given a poor devil up.'

'I have my reasons,' said the other grimly.

The Resident signed to the coxswain, and the next moment poor François found himself between two men, handcuffed.


ONE of the steamers for China sighted a derelict boat, and as they drew near, saw that it was occupied. A boat was lowered, and in the derelict lay the body of a man shrivelled by the sun, but in his breast, thrust through a piece of paper, was a knife. On the after thwart was the bowed form of a woman tied by the wrists to a ringbolt. When the doctor went down to examine them, he found that her tongue was cut out.

The bodies, sewn in one canvas, were buried at sea with due solemnities, and the boat sunk.

On the paper was printed in plain letters, 'Never save a man from the sea; he will injure you.'


5. -- THE JUSTICE OF CAPTAIN DAMPIER

Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 14 Jan 1899

ON a low, rocky rise, over-looking the Indian Ocean, three haggard and weather-beaten men were seated. The view before them was scarcely encouraging. The tail end of a gale was still slowly dying out, and the grey sea stretched, bleak and gloomy, under the squally sky in a broken expanse of mountainous white-crested waves.

Below them, on the fringe of beach, lay the shattered hull of their ship, at times left almost bare by a receding waive, and, again, covered with boiling foam. In the preceding night of storm the unfortunate Oostkappel had crashed unexpectedly on the gales-swept, barren coast of New Holland; which, owing to the faulty reckoning of those days, the captain and pilot still thought a hundred miles to the eastward.

Three survivors only had as yet mustered up, and now, drenched, hungry, and miserable, sat on the inhospitable coast, wretchedly meditating on their fate. One was short and broad In build, such as the Dutchman is popularly supposed to be, but the other two were tall and fine-looking men, with blue eyes and fair hair, genuine Frieslanders, whose fathers, as the "Beggars of the Sea," had harried the Spanish ships, and flouted the navies sent out by the morose Phillip the Emperor. The Dutchman proper was the pilot, named Jan Jacobs; the other two were cousins. One had occupied the responsible position of second steersman; the other, and younger, man was a simple sailor. Both bore the name of Janszoon, the elder's name being Frederick, and the younger's Pieter.

Janszoon, the elder, got up and shook himself like a dog emerging from the water.

"It's no good sitting here watching the poor old Oostkappel break up into kindling wood; let's go along the beach and see if any of our mates have got ashore, or perhaps a keg of biscuits has been washed up."

Jacobs got up with a groan. "This is a horrible country, and only fit to wreck ships on. People say it shifts its position, and I believe it does, for the bones of many a good ship are on it. It was here, on this accursed coast, that Pelsart lost the Batavia some fifty years gone."

"True, I have heard my father speak of it; he came back with Pelsart in the Sardaarm, when they hanged the mutineers. 'Twas a bloody morning's work, as he many times has told me."

The younger man did not speak, but seemed to implicitly follow the lead of his cousin without question.

"'Twas bloody work the mutineers did here," Jacobs grumbled, as the three proceeded to the beach; "and I hope the sheets don't haunt these rocks and sands, as likely they do."

"Be their Indians on this strange land?" asked the young sailor.

"Indians! aye," replied Jacobs, "and, as report goes, they are giants and cruel cannibals."

Filled with cruel forebodings as to the future, they tramped along the beach, seeking for any wreckage or stores the hungry waves might cast up. They found a cask of wine, and some barrels of flour and biscuit, and set to work to roll them up the beach out of reach of the tide. There was plenty of rain waiter in the rocks, and when Jacobs had eaten, and the wine cask had been started, he began to look at things in a more hopeful light.

"When the tide is low and the sea calm, we shall be able to get down below, if she doesn't break up any more," he said, referring to the hull of the Oostkappel. "We shall get plenty to eat and drink, and some arms against the Indians."

"I fear there are no more living of our company," said Frederick Janszoon.

"No, poor souls, there were so many down below, when we struck," answered his cousin. As he spoke a watery sun shone out, and the clouds began to break and show rifts of blue sky. This raised their spirits still more, and they recommenced their search for any of their shipmates who might have got ashore, but by the evening they had found but three dead bodies, one of them that of the ill-fated captain of the ship.


THE following morning was clear and beautiful. The sea had gone down considerably, and the tide was low when they emerged from the rude shelter under which they had passed the night. Naturally their steps were directed to the wreck, which to their delight they found far enough above low water to be quite accessible. The elder Janszoon went over the hull, while Jacobs and his cousin inspected the hold and cabins. These two looked pale when they came on deck again.

"They lie there dead, many of them," said Jacobs. "It would be a good act to bury them before doing anything else." The late steersman nodded, and their mournful task occupied them most of the morning.

"We can make a boat, I think," said Janszoon, when they had finished, and were eating a meal. "But we need not hurry, for we must not venture to sail for Batavia until the wind sets in from the south-east. Is that not so, Master Jacobs?"

"Yes, in these seas it blows for many months from the south-east, and it is then fine weather. What is that?"

He leaped to his feet as a cry was heard. A human cry, but evidently not an Indian shout. Along the bank at the back of the beach came the ragged figure of a castaway sailor. He waved his hands and shouted to them when they called, to him.

"It is that rogue, Matthys Lants," muttered the young sailor. "The sea could not take him, seemingly, but it took good men."

"The sea knows who will be hanged, and never interferes with them," grunted, Jacobs.

The elder cousin silently went to meet their comrade, whose resurrection did not appear over welcome. He brought him in and gave him food and drink.

"Where have you been?" he asked, when the man was refreshed.

The fellow, who was of the same appearance as the other Frieslanders, replied volubly that he had been dashed ashore half stunned, and when he recovered he had wandered away In the darkness and had only just found his way back to the wreck. He ate and drank ravenously, and no wonder. Jacobs spoke to him as though the fact of the wreck did not alter their relationship as sailor and officer, which was a different tone he used to the other two, and Pieter scarcely noticed him at all.

Next morning the sea was calm, and the weather clear, and all through the time of low tide they worked at the wreck removing stores and what-ever was undamaged. Jacobs, who recovered from his despondency occasioned by the loss of his ship, assumed his proper office, and the work went on smoothly enough.

"I see your cousin still wishes to keep up our quarrel even in this desert land," said the last comer, Lants, to the elder Janszoon, one day when they were away from the others.

"You were not born to be friends, and your character Is not of the best. I should advise you to keep out of Pieter's way, and not to cross him. He is quick with his hands at times."

"And I am quick with my knife, if any one lays hands on me; was it my fault that pretty Geertje preferred me to him?"

"You have been too quick with your knife before now, so many say, and if this wreck had not stopped our voyage you might have danced at the yardarm before we came to Java."

"Those who say so, lie. I have had quarrels forced on me, and know how to take my own part."

"Take care," said the silent steersman, so sternly that Lants went away muttering under his breath.

Once or twice the Indians (as they were always then known) appeared at a distance, gazing curiously at the shipwrecked party, but they never approached close, nor offered to molest the visitors in any way. And time passed, and the boat, which was to bear them to Batavia, approached completion.


THE winter of the southern tropic set in, and the steady south-east trade rippled the quiet blue water all day, and died down in the evening occasionally, only to spring up fresh in the morning. Jacobs looked smiling and he said to Janszoon, "We can hurry now, and soon we shall see the fort at Batavia, and the fine houses along the Tiger Canal. Oh, but I am tired of this sandy, rocky country, where there are no beautiful trees and green meadows."

"I would we were away, for I mistrust that knave Lants; he and my cousin were nearly at blows yesterday, had I not parted them."

"What was the quarrel about?"

"'Tis an old sore. Pieter loved a pretty maid, Geertje Barcman, but this Lants came along, with his pockets full of money, and his mouth full of lies, and he spoiled Pieter's wooing. That's what made the boy come to sea, when he was doing better at home. Geertje, silly fool, found she had lost the straight stick and taken the crooked one. Lants lost his dollars at the gaming house and the tavern, and came on board the Oostkappel a penniless sailor. You know all about him there."

"And little good. I believe he was the man who stabbed Bergman the night of the brawl, though we could not prove it."

All was finished at last. The boat floated buoyantly in a little saltwater creek. She bad been taken out for a sail, and proved herself staunch and sea-worthy. Now she lay with all the stores on board, ready to take wing in the morning. The remainder of the lading of any value had been removed from the wreck and concealed. The men sat around the fire, and Jacobs had served out an extra ration of wine, and they talked of their departure and drank to their safe arrival at Batavia.

One by one they dropped off to sleep, and the musical sound of the sea wash on the beach alone broke the silence. The fire had died out, and the stars showed it to be midnight, when one of the recumbent forms rose up cautiously and listened, then with noiseless footsteps stole out of the camp. It was Lants, and scarcely had he vanished in the shadows of the scrubby trees around than young Janszoon rose with equal caution, and followed him.

Lants crept down to the creek where lay the boat, and stood for a moment listening. There was not a breath of wind, and he knew that he had come down too early, for the wind generally sprang up about two hours before dawn; and he felt that he toad made a mistake, for some one might wake up and miss him from the camp. He stood and hesitated, If he went back and somebody awoke he must forego his treacherous scheme; if he used the oars he might be heard; he stooped and felt the muddy bank—the tide was falling, that would suffice to carry him far enough out before daylight.

He stooped over the painter to untie it from the tree to which it was fastened and felt himself seized from behind. Lants was not so strong as his assailant, but he was strong enough to make a hard struggle, and managed to free one hand, and draw his knife. Then his captor's grasp relaxed, and with an effort at a shout for succour, young Pieter fell. Hastily severing the rope with the blood-stained knife, Lants pushed the boat off as he scrambled in.


UP at the camp Janszoon raised himself up and listened; the muffled cry had partly awakened him. The feeling of unrest in the air awoke Jacobs. "What's the matter?" he asked, seeing his companion sitting up.

"I know not. I thought I heard a cry. Pieter," he called. There was no answer, and rising, the steersman went to where his cousin ought to have been.

"Jacobs!" he cried, "there is foul work on hand; Pieter and Lants are both gone!"

"The boat!" cried Jacobs, and set off towards it.

The boat was gone, and Jacobs feeling about for the painter, touched the body of Janszoon, the younger with his foot.

"The rope is cut," he said, "and here I fear lies your cousin."

They stooped down in the darkness, but the knife had done its work. Blue-eyed Pieter would never see the flat fields around his native village of Luytjegast again.

Jacobs put his hand on Frederick's arm for silence. They listened, but not a sound was borne to them. The cautious homicide was drifting with the tide noiselessly and safe.

"To the beach!" whispered Jacobs, "we may catch him yet."

The party retraced their steps, and, while Jacobs ran to where the creek debouched into the sea, the other went back to camp and picked up a loaded musket. So surely and quickly did he go that he reached tho entrance of the creek almost as soon as Jacobs.

"He is gone," cried the latter, speaking loud in his excitement. A mocking laugh came from seaward, not very far away.

"Speak again," said Janszoon, softly, at the same time pointing his weapon.

"Come hack, you ruffian!" thundered Jacobs.

"Ha! ha! My skilful pilot! Come back to be tried in Batavia for desertion. No—"

The report of the musket drowned his words, and a sharp cry of pain came from the darkness. They listened, but all was silent; when suddenly the steersman exclaimed, "A light, a ship's light! See!"

Far away in the distance a star that wavered and moved shone out.

"A discovery ship, or one of ours from the Texel."

There was a sudden flash, and over the water carne the report of a carronade.

Moved by the one impulse both men made for the camp, where Jacobs picked up his weapon and fired a signal in return. The light burned steadily as they watched, but it did not move on.

"We can do nothing but make the fire up and wait for daylight," said Jacobs.

"Only go for him," answered the Frieslander. Jacobs understood, and together they went in the darkness and brought the body of the murdered man back to the camp. Then they sat down and watched, ever and anon glancing at the steady light at sea that told of hope and help.

The first gleam of dawn appeared, when the pilot suggested they should go on to the higher ground to obtain a better view. As the light grew strong they saw a full-rigged ship hove to not more than a mile away. An ensign fluttered up to her peak and blew out with the light moraine breeze.

"Not Dutch nor Spanish," said Jacobs. "Ah, I know the flag, it is an English one. It is good, she is a King's ship, and we are friends."

They looked eagerly round for their boat with Lants on board, but they could not see him. A boat left the ship and came quickly ashore. As they went to where the hull still lay, the party landed, and a man, who was evidently the leader, advanced to meet them.

"You are from Holland?" he said in fairly good Dutch. "Shipwrecked sailors?"

"I am Pilot Jan Jacobs, and this is the understeersman of our ship, the Oostkappel. She lies there," and he pointed to the wreck.

"I am William Dampier, captain of the discovery ship Roebuck, in the service of the King of England. We are at peace. Can I give you passage to Batavia or elsewhere in the Indies?"

"Surely we shall be grateful as men rescued from a lingering death. But first, Captain Dampier, there is a foul murder to be avenged." As shortly as possible Jacobs told Dampier of the wreck, and what had happened since.

"The boat lies behind that point of rocks. We saw it as we came in; the man will not be far off."

He put a ship's whistle to his lips, and a petty officer came up at the summons. Dampier gave him some orders in English, and he called some sailors, and they proceeded over the neck of land that formed the rocky point Dampier had mentioned. Meantime the English captain and the two sailors proceeded to the camp of the latter.

"Shall I have a grave dug for him?" said Dampier, looking at the body of the young sailor.

"No, captain," answered Janszoon; "give him a sailor's burial."

Dampier nodded, and they waited until the party returned over the rise; with them Lants, his arm, which had been injured by the shot, bound up in a cloth.

As the captain saw the prisoner, a glance of recognition was exchanged.

"You have an old comrade of mine here I find," he said grimly to Jacobs. "The rogue knows me too, and would have put me ashore here when we were In the Cygnet eleven years ago."

"Marooned you?" asked Jacobs.

"Yes, the rascally pirates, because I objected to some of their goings on. By God! it was nearly being done too, and this villain was one of the leaders."

"Captain Dampier has heard of your murderous conduct and would-be desertion of your comrades in distress. What have you to say in your defence?" asked Jacobs.

"I have much to say, but not here. This is New Holland, and I am a free Dutch sailor of the company. Bring me to my trial in Batavia, Captain Dampier, for that's what he is now, I understand, though he was only a buccaneer when I knew him, has no power as a King's officer over me. I demand to be tried by the high court in Batavia."

"The rogue was always a sea lawyer," said Dampier, "and I doubt but what he has right on his side. I fear I shall endanger my commission if I hang him here, as high as he deserves."

Jacobs looked astonished, and Lants grinned.

"What say you, Master Jacobs?" resumed Dampier, "if I take him in irons to Batavia? Will that suffice?"

"It will not suffice me," said Janszoon, "I will kill him with my own hand."

"Nay, my man, there is no killing on my ship, save what I do myself. Now, gentlemen, we are losing a fair wind; we must on board. Justice shall be done, even to such a picaroon as this."

Janszoon would have spoken, but Jacobs restrained him. And, with Lants securely guarded, they embarked for the Roebuck, which, meanwhile, had stood in nearer the land.

The instant Dampier's foot touched the deck he beckoned to his chief mate, and ordered him to call to quarters. Then he turned, and ordered the prisoner to be brought before him. Speaking in English, which Lants understood well, he said:

"I acknowledge your claim to be tried before the high court in Batavia, for the murder of the sailor, and the attempt to steal the boat; it is not my business. But it is my business, as King's officer, to do justice on every notorious pirate who comes in my clutches. I know enough of you to hang you ten times over; but I can only do it once unfortunately. Give him a short shrift and a long rope," he said to the boatswain, and, unheeding the prayers and curses of the unhappy man, he beckoned Jacobs, and went to his cabin.

"There way be some things in your boat that you want to recover, Master Jacobs; you may take a boat's crew and bring them off, and bring back the dead sailor, and we will give him decent burial before that rogue is cut down."

As he went over the side, Jacobs cast a look up at the limp figure swaying at the yardarm with the roll of the ship.

"The sea never takes those that are to be hanged," he said under his breath.


6. -- THE KADITCHA

Australasian, ´Melbourne, 20 July 1907

[This story appears to have been condensed from "The Moccasins of Silence," a novella of some 27,000 words published in 1896 in hardback. This story is 4,000 words. mdash;TW]

I

THE heat was something to be for ever remembered, although the surroundings had nearly as much to do with it as the all-dominant and overpowering sun—sand ridges, uniform in direction, red and fiery in hue and but scantily veiled with the hostile and venomous spinifex and a few stunted and thinly-foliaged trees.

A small cavalcade, consisting of three white men, one blackfellow, and five "ships of the desert," were painfully tolling across the killing regularity of the sand ridges. When they reached the crest of one, the party halted, and temporarily sought refuge, after dismounting, in the most ample apology for shade that could be found; while t he camels relieved their wounded feelings by grunting and snarling at each other and the state of things in general.

The men who dismounted to rest their sun-dazzled eyes resembled the general run of sojourners in the unoccupied parts of central Australia. The youngest was a man of over thirty-five years, who looked as though, when divested of his uncared-for beard and when the deep tan had faded from his face, he would resume easily the tall hat and frock coat of civilisation.

"Well, Barrett," he said to an elder with more of the confirmed bushman about him who had drawn a note-book from his pouch and was consulting some figures on it "How do we stand now?"

"Close to it, I think, and if there were any landmarks about, I could tell our position to a certainty, but this confounded desert is as flat as a billiard-table when you take the level of the crown of the ridges. But that ridge which we are about to tackle looks a shade higher than the others, and we must be about near the place."

"Let us hope this salt lake will turn up trumps, for our camels, are done up, negotiating these sand waves."

"The lake is always dry," said Barrett, "It is only a courtesy title, but the niggers say that the little soak close to it at this end never fails them. Hope they're right."

The third man, who had not yet spoken, and seemed a little inferior in station to the other two; here broke in, "We'd better he making a start, Mr. Glendower; old Sir Hack-a-rib is getting to look uncommonly ugly, and beginning to blow bladders, as if he meant to play up if he doesn't get water soon."

"Right, Joe!"

Wearily the men remounted, and again emerged into the full force of the blistering heat, now augmented by the rising of a hot wind. Barrett led the line, as they descended the slope of the ridge and commenced to ascend the one opposite. By the time they had reached the top the hot wind was terrible, and it was as much as the camels could do to struggle to the crest. Once there, Barrett waved his hand, exclaiming, "There's the lake."

The so-called lake was but a distant sheen of white, glistening salt; an elongated arm of which wound and twisted almost to the foot of the ridge that they had just painfully surmounted. A lake! To call it by such a name was worse than mockery—it was sheer blasphemy. A lake should thing that suggested the deep and cool repose of sleeping water, dark shadows wavering and shimmering under o'er-hanging, green leaves, that trailed and dipped and kissed the surface when the wind—not a hot wind—rustled and played with them.

This lake threw back the glaring heat that smote its burnished front with more painful refraction than did the red sand-dunes; but it was the lake they were bound for, and Barrett led the caravan towards the nearest end of it.

The heat that radiated from the bare surface of encrusted salt struck them with unrelenting wrath and fierceness as they rode on, and they were just upon the edge of a hollow that merged its dry channel into the lake, when Barrett stopped suddenly, and gave an exclamation of astonishment.

A few paces in front of him, on the bare hot sand, lay the corpse of a black fellow. They dismounted, and gathered round. The native had seemingly died of thirst: he was making for the soak, and finding it dry, had laid down to die. He had been dead not many hours, but already the oven-like blast of the wind had commenced its shrivelling work.

"This looks bad for us," said Barrett, "when even the natives of the land come to grief."

"He's stuck to his waddy to the bitter end," said Glenlyon, pointing to a formidable club the dead hand still grasped; "but what is he carrying his dancing-pumps for; what are they for?" he asked, turning to Barrett.

Joe stooped and took from the back of the corpse a pair of slippers, apparently, that had hung round his neck with some native string. He handed them to Barrett with a look of intelligence.

"Kaditcha," he said.

"And what the mischief do you mean by Kaditcha?" asked Glenlyon.

Joe, who did not seem a man of many words, said briefly—"Why murder shoes; but he'll tell you."

Thus appealed to, Barrett took up the task of explaining the problem.

"Certainly they were his dancing-pumps, which he carried to hide the fall of his fairy footsteps when he stole upon his sleeping enemy to hit him on the head with that big club he was so burdened with. He'll never do it again, and it looks as though we shall share the same fate!"

"Are the treacherous things common?"

"No; not very; they are principally used by the blacks of the McDonnell Ranges, not far to the eastward of here. The blacks of the spinifex desert, away to the nor'-west, wear shoes, too; but theirs are harmless ones made of plaited spinifex to shield the soles of the feet from the burning sand."

"What are these made of then?"

"I'll tell you by and by, if we live; but we must see about what is the best thing to do in this fix. There's no water to be got in this soak. See." He pointed with the last word to the dried-up remains of innumerable birds that lay about, and amongst them the corpse of a dingo, with the wild dog snarl still curling its lip.

"Well, we have plenty of water still left for ourselves; but the camels will never manage to get back to the last water; it's nearly a hundred and fifty miles away. Joe, there's the soak down there; have a look, and see if there is any chance to clean it out."

Joe unstrapped the shovel from where it was carried handy on one of the packs, and strolled off on his errand. Presently his tread was heard returning.

"Blacks been following it down already, and found it as dry as a bone," was his laconic comment.

There was a somewhat moody silence for a time; then Barrett, who had been intently watching the camels, and particularly Sennacherib, who was busily browsing on something, and looking uncommonly bland and smiling, suddenly said: "Blessed if there isn't a chance of our pulling through after all."

"Sennacherib find 'em Parakheelia," said the blackboy, at the same time.

"What's all this?" asked Glenlyon.

"Parakheelia growing about here," said Barrett. "It's a plant that's as good as a drink to camels, and old Sennacherib has spotted it already. Bully for the evil-tempered old cuss."

"Let's camp here, then," said Glenlyon. "Let them get a bellyful if it does them any good."

"Does them any good, my dear fellow? It's saved their lives, and ours too. It's a wonderful plant, although it looks so insignificant. We'll camp here all night, a bit away from that dead nigger, though."

"I'll take the shoes of murder first. I'll take them down to Melbourne as a curiosity."

"Oh, they have some there; that's where I first heard about them."

After selecting a suitable spot, they unpacked and formed a camp, and over a pipe Barrett told all be knew about the Kaditcha.

"The accepted notion is that they are used for the purpose of secret murder. D'ye see how cunningly they are made without heel or toe; alike at both ends, so that there is no track left to show the direction the wearer has gone; and, as for being noiseless, no list suppers are anywhere near them. The uppers are woven of human hair, and the soles of dry grass caked with gum and human blood, with a dressing of emu feathers. What the dead owner was doing with them so far from the range I don't know."

That night the camels had a satisfactory feed, and, in a day or two, got safely back to the little camp from which they had started on their prospecting trip.

II

IT was Cup Day in Melbourne, a brilliant cup it had been, too; the weather had been all that could be desired, and the ring had been hit hard, for the favourite had won.

In the crowded street, one of Melbourne's leading thoroughfares, two men met each other with a glad note of pleased surprise.

"Why, Barrett, I'm as glad to see you as I was when the favourite flew past the post first. Never expected you would tear yourself away from that lovely country."

"Oh, I've sold out very well, and am going to have a bit of a spell; think I deserve it."

"By Jove, you do," returned Glenlyon. "We must have a yarn about old times, and that devil of a trip we had together. When will you come out and have dinner, my wife knows you well by repute, and will be delighted to know you personally. Gad, she looks upon you as a second Livingstone."

As Barrett laughingly protested at this estimate, another man sauntered up and accosted Glenlyon, who greeted him in return cordially. A few words only had been interchanged, when the newcomer turned to Barrett, remarking he had had the pleasure of meeting him once. To this Barrett returned a cold acknowledgement. But Glenlyon, noticed nothing strange in his manner, and rattled on—"So glad you fellows are old friends, now look here, you and Carlisle, come out and have dinner on Thursday. Settling-day, I've won a pot of money to-day, and you must come and have a feed, and stay the night to signalise the event. Consider it settled—good-bye till then, Carlisle. I must Lave a bit of a chat with Barrett."

"Where on earth did you pick up that fellow Carlisle?" asked Barrett, when they were done.

"Carlisle? Oh, he's a first-rate fellow, only he's rather out of luck just now. Must have lost more than he knows how to pay over the races to-day. That's why I asked him out; besides, I don't want to seem cold to him, for he was a one-time pretender to my wife's hand. She can't stand the sight of him. But I feel sorry for him, specially now that he's been hit so hard."

"Well," said dogged Barrett. "I confess I wouldn't trust the man as far as I could sling him. There were some worse than shady stories about him up north, where I knew him. I'm not a married man, but I'll bet your wife's instinct is right, and I'd go against it."

But Glenlyon's cheery nature rejected the idea, and he changed the subject, with a parting toast to the memory of Sennacherib.


ON the appointed afternoon Barrett found himself at Glenlyon's pretty villa. He had been asked early, in order to make the acquaintance of his friend's wife, and was soon enjoying the chat with his hostess. The liking was mutual, and Barrett found himself telling her all the details of their northern journey.

"Oh, those horrible murder shoes! My husband has them still, but I must insist on his getting rid of them. Do you know, Mr. Barrett, It may be gross superstition on my part, but I believe that there is an uncanny influence about those shoes. If a man wore them I feel convinced he would be irresistibly impelled to murder somebody, if he was inclined that way. I shall never be happy till they are out of the place."

"I know many people about the part where they used," replied Barrett, "who have just the same feelings about them. Why that man, Joe Keating, who was with us when we got them, as good a blackfellow as ever lived, has since been murdered by a native wearing similar slippers."

"Oh, how awful! Walter shall not keep them another hour. I wouldn't sleep other night in the house with the fatal things."

During dinner, the conversation tended towards the outside experience of Glenlyon and his friend in Central Australia, and Barrett took the opportunity of telling his host about Joe Keeting's death.

Glenlyon was greatly moved by the news, especially when he learned of the details of the murder. "Now, Walter," said his wife, "I have often mentioned my aversion to those murder-shoes you preserve so carefully, I insist on your making a bonfire of them."

Glenlyon rose abruptly, and said, "I will fetch them at once, and we will burn them after dinner; they would always be assorted with poor Keeting's murder."

"Pardon me, Mrs. Glenlyon," said Carlisle. "Will you allow me to take over the seemingly fatal responsibility of their custody? I have a small collection of native curios, and they would be a great addition to it."

When Glenlyon returned with the Kaditcha, his wife said—"Mr. Carlisle has put in plea for them, and he can have them, as long as he takes them away with him, and never see them again."

Carlisle took the shoes from his host, and said—"Your unfortunate friend must have roused the revengeful feelings of the blacks for some, probably, unintentional wrong. I believe these shoes are used when tribal injuries are avenged."

"No," exclaimed Barrett, somewhat tartly. "Keeting never did an ill-turn to blacks—on the contrary, for a man in his position he was exceptionally kind and humane to all he came in contact with. As we learnt afterwards, he was the victim of a mistake. The blackfellow who stalked and killed him unawares mistook him for a man known up there as Jim Dawson, who was noted for his inhumanity, and to tell the truth would have deserved whatever he got."

Carlisle glanced at the speaker with a kind of deadly hatred, but restrained himself. Glenlyon looked uncomfortable, and his wife, whose eyes had been intently fixed upon Carlisle, rose to leave, saying, "The conversation is getting too horrible for me; perhaps after a cigar you will find a less gruesome subject."

She gave an unobserved motion to Barrett, who sprang and opened the door for her. As she went out she said to him in an undertone, "Are Carlisle and Dawson the same man?"

Barrett nodded, closed the door, and resumed his seat.

There was an awkward silence for a while, then Carlisle spoke—

"I presume you meant me when you made that remark just now, Mr Barrett. I thought you and Glenlyon were acquainted with the reasons that I have for resuming my own name, as well as those for using the name of Dawson for a brief time, but I was unaware that I had earned such calumny while so doing."

"I must apologise to you and Mr. Glenlyon," said Barrett to his host. "But the feeling of friendship I had for Keeting must be my excuse—men feel strongly in the outside country. It you have been slandered, Mr. Carlisle, I am glad to hear that the stories of your cruelty to the blacks are false; they are certainly widely repeated in the north."

"Let it pass at that," said Glenlyon. "I am sure Barrett meant no intentional offence. Those Kaditchas seem indeed to breed trouble."

The incident dropped, and the men finished their cigars in outward amity.

III

AN unseasonably cool night had succeeded a hot day, but Barrett tossed and tumbled, unable to sleep. This was an unusual mood to afflict him. As a rule he was a sound and healthy sleeper, and, at last, he rose to seek the bushman's solace of a pipe of tobacco. But his long-tried friend had been left in the room where they had been Bitting, and he had nothing in the bedroom. He thought for a moment, and decided that, as everybody in the house was sleeping soundly this cool night, ne would chance making a noise, and go and Seek it. The more he thought of it, the more desirable did it seem, until, at last, ne had fully persuaded himself that he could not exist without a pipe.

A distant clock struck two as he opened his door, and passed into the dark passage. "I wish I had the Kaditchas on," he thought, as he lingered for a moment, and reflected that even bare feet made a very audible tread, in the utter stillness. Suddenly, he experienced a strange thrill, as if some unseen figure had passed him, and, with a start, he stepped out, and turned towards the head of the stairway. There was a window on the next landing, and again he shuddered, for, surely, a dim and noiseless shadow had flitted between him and the light. He recovered his nerve in an instant, and, inclined to smile at his folly, he moved to the head of the staircase, end commenced carefully to descend. Again in the hall the queer feeling attacked him that a hostile figure was moving without sound ahead of him, but the hall was exceptionally dark, and he could see nothing.

Moving cautiously along, fearful that he would suddenly wake every echo by stumbling against something, he thought himself of the exact position of the smoking-room. Yes, right at the end of the right-hand side, and opposite was the room which Glenlyon used as his office. Then he paused in a start of amazement. The unmistakable sound of a key cautiously inserted into a keyhole caught his ear.

His courage returned with the sudden beat of his heart. This was no shadowy being from another world, but a flesh and blood burglar, who had no terrors for him. A streak of pale light was visible for an instant, and Was then obscured, the silent visitor had entered the office and closed the door. Many thoughts crowded into Barrett's mind. Glenlyon had told him that he had a considerable sum of money in the house that night, and had left it in the desk in his office. His late winnings and some other money were there.

Carlisle, the man who was on the brink of ruin, was after it.

Evidently he must be desperate, for, as Barrett thought the matter hastily over, he comprehended how, equipped with the silent shoes of murder, he must have bad the audacity to enter Glenlyon's bedroom, and take the keys from the toilet-table without disturbing either of the sleepers. There was no longer any necessity for caution: the more noise the better.

In two or three quick steps, Barrett had reached the door and thrown it open. There was a large window in the room and a street light opposite, so the surroundings of the room could easily be seen. Carlisle was standing at the open desk, paralysed at the interruption.

"Bowled out," said Barrett, and advanced upon him.

"It's you, it is?" returned the other, recognising the hated voice. "Look here, Barrett, I'm desperate: there's more than ruin hanging to this. I'm in a corner, and I'll fight. Stand off, for I'm armed."

Not answering a word, Barrett closed with him immediately. Both men were well matched, and clothed only in their pyjama suits. But to Barrett there was a weird unreality about the struggle, for his adversary's feet made no noise, whilst his own stampings were noisy enough and resounded through the silent house. It was almost like wrestling with a ghost, but a most substantial one. Carlisle was armed with a sheath knife, while Barrett was, of course, just as he had jumped out of bed. Barrett had fast hold of the man's wrists, and, although he had received one or two slight scratches, he felt that he could hold him until assistance came, in spite of his frenzied efforts to get away.

They were locked together when the door opened, and Glenlyon and his wife appeared with a light. Both were in their night dresses, and had evidently been aroused by the alarming sounds of the fight. The conflict stopped, and Barrett, releasing his grasp, allowed the baffled thief to draw back. Then there was a minute's silence, broken by the loud panting of the combatants.

"Good God, Carlisle!" said Glenlyon, when he had taken the scene in.

"Yes. I was going to take your money; but this man stopped me, and now there's nothing left for me but revenge, and I mean to, have it, too." What with shame and rage the man was mad for the time being.

"I don't like talking to a man with a knife in his hand," returned Glenlyon. "Hand it over; that's better."

Mrs. Glenlyon slipped hastily out of the room. When she returned, having donned a dressing-gown, the heated feelings had somewhat cooled down.

"I shall not prosecute you," her husband was saying. ''The disgrace and ruin that, according to your own showing, are awaiting you, will be bad enough, and punishment enough in all conscience. Clear out as soon as it is daylight, and don't let us set eyes on you again?'

"And don't forget to take the murder shoes with you," added Mrs. Glenlyon.

Carlisle disappeared, and the one or two frightened servants who had been huddled outside the door were hunted back to bed. After bandaging the one or two slight knife cuts that Barrett had received in the fray, the rest retired to their rooms to resume their interrupted slumbers, Glenlyon first bestowing the cash in a safer place.


SIX months had passed away, and Glenlyon and his wife were seated at their breakfast, Glenlyon, man-like, taking his with his newspaper. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation.

"Good heavens, Connie, it is impossible!"

His wife sprang up and went to look over his shoulder: together they read the announcement:—


News just to hand by the mailman is to the effect that a treacherous murder has been committed at Arconwatta. The victim is a well-known and popular mine-owner of the name of William Barrett, owner of the battery just erected at the Sennacherib mining claim, from which there has been lately such wonderful returns. The unfortunate victim was evidently murdered in his sleep, and a horrible detail is the fact that the murderer had evidently adopted native tactics and muffled his approach with the silent shoes or kaditchas of the blacks, a discarded pair being found at the murdered man's door. Two thousand ounces of gold were taken.

Later.—

A clue to the murderer has, it is thought, been discovered, as the kaditchas have men recognised as having been seen in the possession of a man who is well known. There is only one policeman on the place, but about a dozen smart bushmen have volunteered, and are now on the tracks of the suspected man, whose capture is only considered a matter of time.


"Capture him I hope they will," said Mrs. Glenlyon, "and hang him with those horrible shoes round his neck."

But the judgment that fell on the wretched man was less merciful than that of hanging. The avengers of blood found him dead, with the gold still beside him. He had died of thirst, for when he found the hole he was making for was dry he dared not turn back, but to the last struggled on, hugging the stolen gold.


7. -- THE BLACK WATERHOLE

Evening News, Sydney, 30 Nov 1895

'THE story of the Black Waterhole,' said Tom Donovan, 'is firmly believed in by every man, woman, and child around that part, I don't say but what I feel inclined to put some faith in it myself. However, I'll tell you the truth of it, and you can judge for yourselves, only all I tell you has been well authenticated.

'The Black Waterhole is on the Koramang River; a rare old place about there for the worst kind of selectors. Smart fellows the youngsters are, too, so far as regards the bush, but as ignorant of the outer world as it is possible for any one to be at the end of the nineteenth century. The only books they read are the penny cowboy and detective novels, and they implicitly believe that such fustian heroes really exist in America.

'One day one of these budding Premiers of Federated Australia was fishing in the Black Waterhole when he saw something rise up out of the water and look at him. Look at him hard, with such a look that his heart sank down to his belt and his knees got what he called the 'ager' in them—meaning ague. However, he was able to cut and run for it, which he did. When asked to describe the appearance he could not do so. It was a man's head—it was a calf's head—it was a snake's head—here somebody asked if it was not a donkey's head; but the matter was too serious for joking, for the Black Waterhole was one of the best holes in the river, and if that was haunted it would be a bad look-out.

'At last some bold spirits volunteered to go and recover the fishing line, and four started. Three stopped behind for various reasons, so the fourth found himself alone when, he reached the waterhole, and did not fancy the position at all. However, he took his courage in both hands, and proceeded, to pull the line up. Something was on the end, probably a turtle; but when he hauled it up he saw something that he dared not touch. It was the hand of a man—such a hand! It had come away from the arm at the wrist; it was bleached and rotten and corrupted, but—and the young fellow noticed it at once—the hand was clenched round the line. The hook had not caught by chance in this awful hand. But the dead hand had clutched the line, and become detached from the body.

'The young fellow kept his nerve, and walked home holding the ghastly thing by the line. Arrived there the neighbors assembled to hear has tale, and the youthful hero told it with many embellishments. How he felt the hand haul at the line, and then pull hard against him, etc.

'"The police will have to be informed," said old Philaster. "There's a body in that hole where the hand came from."

'"Let it stop there," returned a neighbor; "we don't want the police poking about here for days, prying into things that don't concern them."

"'That's true," echoed several others. But old Philaster insisted that the police must be informed, otherwise it would look suspicious if the thing leaked out, which it was sure to do, sooner or later.

'So the police were informed, and the drowned hand, still clutching the line, passed over to them. Then the highly disagreeable of task of searching for the body was proceeded with, and the horrid thing at last found, brought ashore, and recognised by the young fisherman as the horror that rose up out of the water and stared at him.

'Now came the question, who was the deceased, and how did he come in the waterhole? And that question neither the police nor any one else was able to answer.

'It was three years afterwards, and, things about the Black Waterhole had much altered for the better. The selections had been fenced for the most part; and the face of the country, on account of the clearing of the timber, entirely altered in appearance.

'Two troopers with a prisoner rode to the Black Waterhole one midday, and turned out for a short spell. The man was a horse thief, who had been caught after a long chase; they put leg irons on him as soon as he dismounted.

'When they had prepared their food, and given him some with a pannikin of tea, he looked tip.

'"What place do you call this?" he asked, sullenly.

'"The Black Waterhole," answered one of the tippers, shortly, for their prisoner was not a man to rouse their sympathy.

'"The Black Waterhole," he repeated. "The country was different when I was here last."

'"Yes. Three of us camped here about four years ago, and one is here still. No, thanky, no tea for me," and he emptied the pannikin on the ground.

'"What's the meaning of this?" asked the trooper.

'"Leary's dead, I believe, so I can do him no harm if I tell the story. When we camped here I was mortal sick, and that was the reason we stopped two days here camped, for I could not ride. Leary was a swell, down on his luck, and Bardie was the same; both had come up country for a spell to get away from their debts in town, I suppose. I had been breaking, and we met accidentally, and travelled together.

'"In the afternoon of the day we stopped here they had, a row, and came to blows, but Bardie was much the better man, and the fight did not last long, but I was too weak to interfere. It was something about a woman, I think. Next morning, after we had had breakfast, I got up to try and use my legs a bit. Bardie was sitting on the bank fishing, and as I staggered up I saw Leary sneak up behind, and suddenly shove him in the river. Bardie could not swim, and when I saw that it was murder I crept behind a tree, for I knew Leary would not let me live if he knew I had witnessed it. I suppose in his struggles Bardie got further away from the bank, for, presently I saw Leary pick up a big stone and hurl it at something in the water; then he commenced to run up and down the bank, calling to me. When I came up he shouted, 'Bardie is drowning; he fell into the lagoon, and I can't swim.'

'"I'm too weak to go in," I said.

Just then Bardie came up for the last time, looking awful.

'"Do something," cried Leary; "throw him the fishing line," I took the line the man-had been using, and he caught it, but as soon as we put a strain on it, it broke, and he went down, for good.

'There was a pause.

'"That's not the end of it," said the trooper.

'"So far as I am concerned, it is," replied the prisoner.

'"What became of Leary?"

'"He went to Coolgardie with the first rush, and I heard died of fever. We parted as soon as possible, you bet."

'"Bardie has been out of that hole some three years, and it has been; flooded half a dozen times since, so you can drink your tea."

'"How was he found?" asked the prisoner.

'"He caught hold of a boy's fishing line, and his hand came off, and came up holding on to the line. Then they found the body."

'The prisoner stared at him with a white face.

'"It's true," went on the trooper; "the hand catching the line is in spirits in Sydney. But you have solved the mystery, and if you make a proper confession when we get in, and give a good description of Leary, it may do you good. Leary may not be dead, after all."


'LEARY was very much alive, and had done well at Coolgardie. He was back in Sydney under another name, swelling round the bars. He was tracked down without much difficulty, for he had a tattoo mark on his hand, made when he was a boy at sea.

'One day the inspector who had the warrant for his arrest, and had purposely made friends with him, remarked to him that, if he would walk as far as the Central, he had a curious thing to show him. Leary complied, and when there the inspector took him into a room where, on a small scale, there; was a museum like that of Scotland! Yard.

'"What do you think of this?" he asked, holding up the glass jar containing the hand, from the Black Waterhole.

'Leary fell back, every line in his face crying guilt.

'"His hand," he murmured. "Bardie's hand!" and the next minute the handcuffs were on him.'


8. -- THE GREAT TREASURE LOBSTER

Evening News, Sydney, 24 July, 31 July, 7 August 1897

PART I

Illustration

LIFE on a trepang fishing station is not by any means a round of delirious excitement; the weeks follow one another in a certain monotonous manner, your only relaxation being quarrelling with your mate. My partner was a man named Campbell, whom you could not quarrel with, for the simple reason that he was so dogmatically sure or everything that he could not conceive the possibility of anybody differing from him.

Our station was on the inner edge of the Great Barrier Reef, in the neighborhood of what is known on the chart as No. X Island. Campbell, myself, two South Sea Island boys, and half a dozen mainland blacks constituted the inhabitants of our little world of sand and coral. Collecting the slugs, drying and smoking them, was our occupation, varied by an occasional trip into Cooktown with our stuff for shipment to China. At low water we had leagues of shallow reefs around us; and at high water we lived in the midst of a pale green sea.

Things had been exceptionally dull some time, and I was seriously thinking telling Campbell that Bobbie Burns was inferior to Shakespeare, in order to rouse him into argument when a strange event happened.

A little to the south of us was a break in the reef, one known as the Pandora Passage, and at low water you could go to the inlet and watch the tide racing out to the Pacific. One morning I saw Campbell coming from the direction of this inlet in company with one of the kanaka boys, carrying a good-sized piece of timber. He put It down on the sand with a slightly defiant air, and said, 'What do you make of that?'

I examined the piece of wood, and remarked that it was a very old portion of a ship.

'And you see nothing else?' said Campbell in a superior tone.

I looked again, but had to confess that I saw nothing but a commonplace piece of timber. Campbell snorted and made an insulting remark about blockheads, and then drew my attention to the way in which the timber had been severed or cut in two.

It certainly was strange. The wood, and very old seasoned wood it was, had been torn asunder as though by some terrific force far beyond what I could just then comprehend. If a giant had taken the baulk up and snapped it across his knee it would have explained the way in which the timber had been treated.

'It is very remarkable,' I said, rather feebly.

'Remarkable,' echoed Campbell, 'can you explain how it was done, and what sort of creature did it. Why, man, the force used in severing that piece of timber would have built the Pyramids.'

We stood contemplating the wood without saying anything; it certainly was a very curious sort of thing to be cast up on the Barrier Reef.

'This is not the first piece that has been stranded,' remarked Campbell at last, 'and they have all got the same devil's mark upon them.'

'What wood is it?'

'Oak, to all appearance, but it has been a long time in the sea.'

It was some time afterwards that Campbell, whom this derelict seemed to trouble, proposed that we should take a trip to the outer edge of the Great Barrier; we could follow the Pandora Passage in our dinghy, and there was a bit of a sand bank there that we could camp on for the night.

I agreed, for we had nothing very much to do just then, and accordingly we started. The trip was not an interesting one to men who spent their time on an island of about ten acres but it was full of interest before we came back.

On the outer edge of the reef was the island I mentioned—a long, narrow strip of sand, with some low bushes growing on the highest part of it. Right alongside this island, on the northern side ran the passage; deep and abrupt, just a gap in a wall of coral. We had been taking things leisurely, and it was evening when we reached the island. I took the boat round into a quiet pool and amused myself fixing camp, and Campbell went strolling along the beach.

Suddenly he called to me. I found him looking at some peculiar marks in the soft coral sand.

'Man!' he exclaimed, 'what's that?'

That was more than I could answer. The tracks were deep and dragging, as though, if such a thing were possible, a traction engine had run over the island. But they were not wheel tracks; more as if some extraordinary bird had been stalking about with mammoth tread, and digging his feet in as far as he possibly could.

'Now what sort of a mermaid is that?' said Campbell.

I could not say. If there existed one lovely spot in the world one should have thought it was where we were then standing. The tide was full, and the surf breaking to a long line north and south of us. To the east was the ocean an ocean that seldom saw a ship. Yet, strange to say, something had been wandering about that island, and something that made tracks different from anything mortal that I had seen before.

'I give it up,' unless its the sea serpent.'

'Sea grandmother,' returned Campbell, 'do you know a serpent's tracks when you see them?'

'Well what is It then? A gigantic seal might make tracks something like that, but it isn't a seal, and I am sure I don't know what it is.'

Campbell said nothing, but looked out to sea, and seemed to be troubled in his mind about something.

'Look,' he said, suddenly, 'there's a log coming ashore.'

We went down to the water's edge and met the castaway. It was like the other one, and of old sodden wood, and had been broken and twisted by the wrenching it had undergone.

'Those are the marks of teeth,' he said 'or something very like it.'

'I think we had better go back,' I replied. 'If this island is a place of resort to things of this description they might pay us a visit to-night—'

'The very reason we will stop,' replied my mate. 'Surely it's possible that there may be beings that no man knows of, who come to the upper air in such lonely out-of-the-way places as this. If so, we shall see it. A thing who can chew up timber like that would not be an agreeable companion; however, I'll stop.'

It was nearly sundown, and I went to the bushes to see if I could get enough dry sticks to make a fire. A couple of birds rose up as I approached, and I found that, like most of the Barrier islets, there was a depression containing brackish water.

But there was something more. Campbell, who had followed me, gave a gasp of astonishment, and we looked at one another in amaze. Concealed amongst the bushes, partly in the depression, was a heap of some sort of curious objects—masses of metal, seemingly solidified and fixed into angular blocks. There were also casks and kegs, and the remnants of planks, and beams; but what we saw, and what caused us to gasp with wonder, was the fact that these masses of metal were composed of coin—gold and silver so kneaded together that they looked like solid blocks.

The sun set whilst we were examining them, but there was no doubt now about our staying the night.

'How did they come here?' was the question we asked each other, but could not answer.

Evidently the treasure had been stored there by somebody, and was not the result of a wreck, for no ship could have been cast up as high as was the little belt of bushes that concealed the treasure.

Naturally we did not sleep very soon, and sat up long discussing our strange find, until it must have been nearly midnight. Then I dropped off to sleep, but only to be awakened a few hours later by Campbell shaking me.

A dying moon had just risen, giving to light the strange scene, the waste of shallow water, the line of tossing foam, and the strip of sand we were resting on.

'Beames,' said Campbell, 'come here.'

He led me down to where the deep channel flowed past the island. 'Did you ever see the moon under the sea?'

I followed the direction of his finger, and truly there was a strange and wonderful light deep down in the water. What the marvellous thing was I could not tell, but it was there, fathoms below us and seemingly full of life. It flashed and twinkled as we watched it, and then suddenly went out.

'What can it be, Campbell?' I asked.

'How can I know? I shall be glad when it is daylight.'

'So shall I,' I replied, and though it was a fairly sultry night I shivered.

'Suppose we start back,' I suggested, 'and then bring the boys with us to cart that money away.'

'Why if they saw that light down there all the gold in the world wouldn't hold them. No; we will try to find out what it is in the morning. Goodness! Look at it now.'

Suddenly the submarine light had blazed out again—blazed out with a far greater brilliancy than it had done before. It seemed to illumine the depths of the sea beneath us, and we saw shooting streaks across its beams as though shoals of frightened fish were dashing past. We could do nothing but gaze at this wonderful thing, but suddenly there was a new development. A lot of shimmering spots seemed to detach themselves, from the main body of light and rise up towards us. Up they came, growing brighter, brighter as they seared the surface, and then, with a dazzling glow they burst, and the steady light only remained.

'I think we'll go and sit in the boat till daylight,' said Campbell; and though I did not sea how that would improve matters, I followed him across the sand, to where our dinghy was moored.

'It must be connected with that treasure,' I remarked when we reached the boat, which felt homelike, at any rate. 'But how can such a light exist down that depth?'

'I don't know, but we'll find out, please goodness, when daylight comes.'

Immediately he spoke the surface of the ocean seemed lit up with a wonderful glow, almost as though it had caught fire. Right at the place where we had been standing watching the strange appearance rose a brilliant and blinding sun. As we stared at it dazzled and dazed, it suddenly vanished, and although the moon was shining it seemed as though black darkness had suddenly fallen over everything. When we had recovered our sight, we were not alone on the islet.

Out from the sea emerged a long, cylindrical body, dark coloured, and about twenty feet in length. It glistened in the moonlight, and the drops of sea water rained down from it in a shower as it came slowly on to the beach. This object had legs, on which it travelled, somewhat clumsily, but steadily, but what made me feel queer, and Campbell the same, was that the being, whatever It was, had a huge pair of formidable nippers, or mandibles. As though a lobster had suddenly shot up into tremendous proportions.

'That's what tore the timber up,' chattered Campbell, and I quite sympathised with him, for my heart was banging against my ribs. Fancy the position—a little patch of sand, no shelter or cover, and this monster slowly approaching in the ghostly moonlight.

It was bad enough in all conscience, but suddenly it was worse, for the brilliant light shot out again from the front of the creature, blinding us entirely. I gave myself up for lost, and expected every minute to feel those awful nippers embracing me, for we had to shut our eyes and trust to chance. However, nothing came of it, and then I dared to open my eyes once more—the light was gone, and I could see again.

We were now fairly cornered; whatever the thing was, it had us completely at its mercy, for there was evidently no good in running away, so perforce we stood our ground.

In its jaws, If you can call it so, the creature held a box or case of some sort; it advanced with this towards the bushes, and we heard it crashing through them. Presently came a long wailing noise, like the sigh of a lost nation; and then, I don't know how Campbell felt, but I knew what was blue funk for once in my life, for the monster turned round and came directly for us, and the blaze and glare of the brilliance it emitted left me powerless and helpless. We had backed as far as the water, and could not go much further without the risk of being taken by sharks, but fortunately the thing stopped of its own accord, and again there was the long wailing sigh.

I said 'goodbye!' I don't know why, but it seemed the right thing to say on the occasion, and then, thank goodness, that awful searching light went out.

PART II

Illustration

HE bright light that had blinded us so died out, but there was still a sort of glow 'hovering about', the strange being, enough to show its fantastic outline and the horrible lobster-like claws. A voice came from the interior of it, but what it was we could not exactly determined. At last a beam of light shot up from the monster's back, and we saw a figure come out in the radiance and jump down, on the sand. Campbell grasped my hand, and gave a deep sigh, of relief.

'It's some sort of submarine boat, or diving fake after all;' and we strode forward to meet, the figure who was advancing towards us.

'Who are you fellows, and what do you want on my island?' demanded our visitor, a not very tall but thick-set-looking man.

'Your island!' I replied. 'If at comes to that, what are you. doing on 'our', island, for we are on our own fishing ground?'

'Well, I won't argue about it, but just give you five minutes to clear out, or I'll make mincemeat of you and your boat too.'

He turned round and was making a step towards the machine, when Campbell, who had grasped the situation, whipped out his revolver, and covered Mm. I followed his example, for I saw at once that if he got into his machine again he was safe and we were at his mercy.

'Stop,' cried my mate. 'Move a step and we fire.'

The man stopped with a curse. Evidently he was alone, for he would otherwise have called for assistance.

'Now,' said Campbell, 'we are two to one, and we'll talk a bit. I suppose we have as much right to that coin as you, when all's said and done.'

'There's no chance of any more meddling fellows like you coming knocking around?' he asked.

'Not the slightest.'

'Very well, then,' he said in a different tone. 'I've enough for you. Put your pistols away.'

He advanced with his hand outstretched, and we returned our revolvers to their pouches, and all three shook hands. 'My name is Vowlson, what's your's?' asked the stranger.

'Mine's Beames,' I replied, 'and this is my partner Campbell. We have a trepang fishing station on the inner edge of the Barrier.'

'So that accounts for your coming here. I thought I had found one spot in the world where no one ever came fooling around, but it appears I made a mistake.'

'We probably should not have come but for finding those chawed up pieces of wood,' returned Campbell.

'Well now you're here, I suppose you can guess what I am doing.'

'You've found an old wreck I suppose?'

'Yes; and I'll find a good many more. If you like we'll sit down and I'll spin you the yarn about any doings, and then you can come a trip with me. I had a mate, but he's away at present. Would you like a drink? I suppose you have nothing with you?'

He arose and walked towards his machine. For a moment a suspicion of foul play darted across me, but I dismissed it at once. The man's manner was convincingly honest. No doubt he would have bounced us at first if he could, but failing that he now seemed to accept the situation.

He ascended his machine, descended through the man-hole, and came back with a bottle of whisky, and we drank each other's health. Then, we lit our pipes and, sitting down on the dry sand with the dim crescent moon lighting up the scene, we listened to the following story told to the accompaniment of the booming surf breaking on the outer edge.

VOWLSON'S STORY

'I DON'T know what first turned my attention so much to submarine navigation, but it was for a long time an interesting study with me. By profession I am an engineer, and always of an experimental bias. Perhaps things worked unconsciously, but one day there fell into my hands a work upon sunken wrecks containing treasure, with a list of those known to be still lying at the bottom of the sea in water too deep to work in. Then the idea got fast hold of me, and I began my experiments. I had not much difficulty in the construction of my design, but the motive power bothered me completely.

'Next I came across a chemist, and we worked together at the plans. He had money and I had a little, and we kept at it until we succeeded in most of our purpose, but the motive power still baffled us. Suddenly Descrants came to one, and for the first time I saw him excited.

'"I have got the germ of the thing, and time will give me the remainder," he said.

'He explained to me that the whole discovery had flashed across him when witnessing some blasting experiments with dynamite. What we wanted was a force or power that would be carried in a small compass, and yet capable of generating an immense degree of strength. Now here was a cartridge of comparatively insignificant size, capable of rending and shattering the hardest rock. Could not that power be modified and made continuous as it were?

'Descrants believed that it could, and persevered until he succeeded. That success was the final triumph of our invention. While Descrants had been pursuing his chemical work, I had been devoting myself to other things, and studying the history of the world of the last few centuries. I was getting on the track of lost treasure ships. I got on them too; a fresh lot altogether. I found out that there was at one time a good deal of traffic between the west coast of America and the Philippines in plate and treasure ships. Accident threw in my way some Spanish records on the subject, and I then found that quite a number of these vessels had never reached Manilla. What had become of them? I traced their tracks out over and over again on the map, and at last hit upon an idea that seemed to offer me a solution of their fate.

'If so many ships had been lost amongst the Pacific Islands some traces of them had surely been found, often times. If they had been driven, far south of their courses where would they have come; naturally on the unknown east coast of the Great Southland, or to speak plainly, Australia. But the very part of the coast which, they would have reached was guarded by the Great Barrier Reef. On this unseen and dangerous reef they would strike and founder, and under the Pacific waves at the bottom of the outer wall of reef there rested, I had no doubt, the remains of many a stout ship, and, what was more to the purpose, the treasures they had carried.

'I became entirely enamored of the notion, and the more I thought of it the more I was convinced that this part of the world was the right one wherein to try our experiments. Now came the selection of an island, some seldom visited island on which to build our machine, or rather put it together. We found to the northeast of here one that suited our purpose admirably, toeing sparsely inhabited by only a few families of natives, as we afterwards found, who served us well as laborers. The machine was made in small sections, packed in cases and conveyed to Thursday Island per steamer, thence, we chartered a schooner to the island in question, and then commenced to put it together.

'This work was not hard for so many models and been made over, and over again, that I was quite expert in all the details. It took us three or four months before our treasure-finder was finished.'


THE morn had dawned while Vowlson was speaking, and he invited us to come over and inspect 'the lobster,' as Campbell called it.

The great marine monster stood on six legs and had a cylindrical body 20 feet long and 5 feet in diameter, made of corrugated aluminium bronze. There were two thicknesses of this, and between them was a space which formed the ballast tank for rising and falling. The thick glass bull's-eye port-holes, placed at intervals, glared like the eyes of some dead beast. At the top was another tank for air, which could be used for various purposes, but what attracted our attention most was the gigantic and formidable claws.

Cover Image

'With the power I possess,' said Vowlson, 'I can exert a pressure of hundreds of tons with these little nippers. I suppose you know what they are there for?'

'For tearing down the wrecks, I suppose.'

'Yes, once inside I cannot, of course, come out, but I can manipulate these claws as if they were my own hands; I can tear down and destroy anything, and crush it into powder.'

He patted the terrible claws affectionately, and then led us round the machine.

'It is as strong as a mountain,' he continued, for he was evidently quite in love with his invention. 'Do you know what the pressure is down below there at the foot of the reef?'

'Pretty strong, I expect,' replied Campbell.

'About 350lb per square inch; that's why we didn't make our little beauty any larger, or it might be more comfortable inside than it is. Isn't it a daisy,' he said, falling back and gazing with delighted eyes at the grotesque-looking monster. It seemed to him a great relief to get somebody to talk to, and no wonder! it must have been pretty lonely down at the bottom of the reef.

'We'll have some breakfast and I'll finish my story; and you can inspect the interior.'

He seemed to have grown quite chatty and sociable by this time, and climbing into his 'beauty' and soon got out a respectable meal of tinned stuff, and we made some coffee and sat down and enjoyed it heartily, for Campbell and I had been fasting pretty hard on the station.

'Where did I leave off?' said Vowlson, when we had finished. 'Oh, just when we had completed the machine on the island. Well, we set to work experimenting, going down deeper and deeper each time, and found everything work like clockwork. So being quite satisfied with the capabilities of our craft, we concealed the rest or our stores and things, and making the natives' understand that they were not to tell any 'white men' who called of us or our belongings, we started for the Great Barrier Reef. I may as well tell you that though the natives of that island worked well for us, as soon as the affair was finished and they saw it move, devil a one would come near it.

'It was calm weather, though that did not matter much, for we, could always go down if it was rough, and we paddled along easily and comfortably, sometimes coming to the surface for a look round. Once we came up close to a steamer, and I bet there's a sea-serpent story going the rounds of the papers, at present.

'In good time we sighted the Barrier, and, landing at a little islet something like this, got our position, and prepared for business. It was a queer feeling for the first time going down alongside the coral wall—down, down, with our lights full on, flashing on all sides. At first we saw many kinds of fishes, which were not at all scared by us, and once or twice strange-looking objects, whose nature we could not determine; peered in through the bull's-eyes. But when we got deeper all life seemed to vanish. I tell you it's a cold dead world down there. The reef does not descend altogether vertically, but there are ledges covered with marine growth and other debris. At the bottom it was, to our astonishment, quite smooth and unencumbered—white coral sand like this we're sitting on, smooth and hard, with, no sea growth of any sort. Turn our lights where we would we saw no life of any kind. The dead men who go down in sunken ships have a quiet residence down there.

'At last we found our first wreck. She had settled down perfectly upright, and was apparently an old Spanish ship, with the stumps of three masts still standing. Her decks had been swept clear of everything, and her bows were smashed and shattered by the force with which she had been hurled on the Barrier. We inspected her thoroughly, and after consultation determined on our mode of proceeding. First we attacked the high-decked poop, and very soon had that laid bare. Our claws, which I will show you at work presently, made short work of everything. It was not long before the inside of the poop was open to our view. There was nothing in it; ornamentation and decoration, whatever there once had been, had long since disappeared. There was nothing there for us.

'We now commenced on the main deck, and ripped it up plank by plank until all was exposed to our inspection, and we there found a mass of stuff that had once been cargo of some sort, but now we could make nothing of it. At last we found where the plate and other coin was stored, and got out the kegs and barrels, when they were sound enough, for most of them had rotted and crumbled, and put them in a row on the bare sand. The plate, mostly silver coins and silver ingots, we found to have become firmly welded together, so that even when the kegs and barrels had dropped to pieces from decay we found ourselves just as well able to handle them. But you have seen those up there among the bushes, and will understand what I mean.

'Our next move of course was to come straight up to the surface, and find out if there was a safe place to deposit our treasure, for that is the one drawback that I don't see how to remedy just at present, namely, we could only bring to the surface two kegs at a time, holding them between the claws. We took two of the kegs and ascended with them up and up until we reached the surface, and sprang out into the early morning, and never did I hail the light so much as when we extinguished our light and saw the sunbeams glinting on the water. It was calm, so rising as high out of the water as we could we opened the manhole, and I scrambled out, and stood on the top. What a blessed feeling it was to be in the upper world after that silent, lifeless one below, and I stood inhaling with pleasure the fresh sea air. The wall, as I told you, slopes outward in ledges, so we had come up some little distance from the Barrier, which was visible by the line of surf. No islet was in sight, but due west I fancied I saw an opening. If so, that would suit us just as well, as we could deposit the treasure just inside the outer edge in the first shallow water we came to.

'I descended, and Descrants took my place, and confirmed me in my notion; so we re-covered the manhole and paddled quietly for the entrance. It fully answered our expectations, much resembling this Pandora Passage here, but without any island, only the reef was bare in patches at low water. Without going into details, we got all our first lot of treasure up, and deposited it there, where I think it's pretty safe. Now before I go on with my story, would you like to come and see the inside of my little beauty?'

We rose, and followed him.

'This,' said Vowlson, 'is our propelling power both by land and sea—these legs. You see they are spatula-shaped at the end, and on land we walk with them; at sea, and under sea, swim with them. There are six, and though we don't attain or want to attain any great rate of speed, as they all work independently, we can turn rapidly, or get into any position with ease. Now come in.'

Vowlson climbed in, and we followed. Of course we had to stoop, but otherwise there was room enough. But what astonished us was the smallness of the machinery used. This stood in what might be called the stern-recess, and appeared to be simply three short, squat pistons, with a crank to each. From this a few pipes and wires ran round either side of the vessel to the recess forward, where was the machinery for working the enormous claws.

'You see,' said Vowlson, 'our motive power might be called modified nitro-glycerine. In this vessel is nitric acid; in this, which you see is somewhat larger, is an oily fluid, the nature of which I am not at liberty to mention, as it is the very essence of the discovery made by Descrants. These mingle slowly there at the bottom of these pistons, and explode just as slowly, driving the engine on much the same principle as a gas engine, only with this one, small as it looks, we can, if necessary, work up to 200 horsepower. We use hydraulic power to work the legs and nippers, and that is a small dynamo for our electric light. The breathing apparatus is simple—the one known as the Fleuss apparatus, and is merely caustic soda to absorb the hydrogen, and a cylinder of compressed oxygen. Now come forward; and see how the nippers work. You, perhaps, noticed when you were looking at them from the outside, that the points were not alike. One is square, with an angular depression in it; the other pointed; That is to facilitate breaking articles small enough to grasp without troubling to put our full tearing power forth.

The machinery to work these enormous jaws seemed of the simplest, merely a kind of sliding lever. When the shafts of the jaws came through the front part it was packed with hydraulic packing; so, too, were the legs. The interior was well padded, and furnished with racks, instead of shelves.

'Now, will you have a ride round the island?' said Vowlson.

We agreed, and he went aft and started his machinery, which emitted nothing louder than a slight continuous crackling noise. The short, squat pistons rose and fell, then the legs began to move, and with a jolting sort of gait we made the circuit of the island. It was not very rough, and sitting athwartships, with our backs fitting into the rounded sides, not particularly uncomfortable.

When we stopped at our former position Vowlson opened the man-hole and we got out again.

'Now,' said Vowlson, 'we'll have dinner. I'll finish my narrative up to date, and we'll have a chat about future proceedings. But, first, I'll give you a taste of something that many a man in Europe would pay for in gold, measured by drops. Wait for me.'

He returned to the lobster, and brought another bottle and a wineglass.

'Unfortunately, I have but one glass; but this liquor must not be drunk out of tin like common whisky.

'Once we found a cask in a wreck—a cask that was sound and had resisted decay. When we brought it to, the surface we discovered that it was full of wine. Wine that had been made in Spain when, perhaps, the Armada set sail for England, had gone to the golden shores of Mexico and Peru, and returning again: found along resting place at the foot of the Great Barrier Reef, one hundred fathoms deep. We broached the cask of some long dead hidalgo, and after tasting it filled some bottles to take with us. Now, drink.'

He poured out a glassful and handed it to me.

Never had I tasted anything like it. The bloom and bouquet of a hundred vineyards was in it, the sunshine of a hundred summers. He refilled the glass and handed it to Campbell.

'Man,' he said, when he had finished it, 'worth money, did you say? Why, that cask means molten gold once away from the Great Barrier!'

Vowlson laughed, and drank a glass himself.

'Now for dinner,' he said; 'you're nice fishermen for the Great Barrier not to have some bêche-de-mer soup ready.'

However, with the tinned stuff and some turtle we had with us, we had a very merry dinner party, and then we settled down under the shadow of the grim lobster, which was the only shade on the island, to hear the end of the yarn.

'After placing the proceeds of the first ship on the reef, we agreed that, as all our conclusions had turned out so correct, we must proceed in a more methodical manner. We decided to make a complete submarine survey of the foot of the reef first, and locate all wrecks we found, chart them, and then on the surface we could find the nearest points on which to land anything we found. Then, of course, it would be all straight ahead work, and we could convey the stuff to Tiau Island, where we had put the machine together, where we could call for it at our leisure.

'Down' we went again, and continued our search along the foot of the reef, systematically plotting it as we went, Somehow we never grew accustomed to crawling along the bottom of the sea in that lifeless region—it got on our nerves. With regard to wrecks, I may as well tell you we were working from north to south. We found three more—one, the one I am working on here. About fifty miles south of this we sighted a fine ship, perfectly upright, with all her masts standing. We threw all the force of the dynamo into our light, and the great hulk of the ship stood out clear and distinct, the tall masts being lost aloft in the diminished glow. She had been a ship of the first-class, high-decked fore and aft; with portholes, with the mouths of cannons still peering out, and bore no injury save the ragged rent in her bows that showed that, strong ship as she was, the Barrier Reef was stronger. It must have been fine weather when she dashed on to the unknown reef of the south, and sank immediately.

'We rose and alighted on the main deck, and turned the prow of the machine towards the entrance doors of the stately poop cabin. They were wide open, and as we stopped at the doorway, and looked through the bull's-eyes our intense light lit up the whole of the interior, as though the lamps in the lofty cabin were all aglow.

'As yet we had seen no horrors, not a vestige of humanity had we found in any of the foundered ship's but now. There had been a gay party assembled at the table when that tall vessel suddenly sank to the bottom, and they sat there still. But their smiles had changed to grins, their fleshless bones alone (how held together I know not) remained of their once brave forms. There they sat round the table in the stillness of that stagnant, silent sea, holding high carousal that had lasted centuries. Fair women might have been once amongst them for aught we could tell; for all had gone but the grim white skeletons, some of whom still wore, slackened belts around their hips, in which there were thrust the jewelled hilts of swords. At the head of the table sat one, erect and tall, evidently in death as in life the chief of that goodly company.

'We were kneeling side by side gazing intently through the glass bull's-eyes when Descrants gave a harsh, jarring laugh that sounded frightful in that spot. I looked at him, and he at me, and his eyes had a wild light in them. He moved backward towards the manhole, but I stopped him, demanding to know what he meant to do.

'Why, go and join them. Don't you see they've been waiting for us ever so long,' he shouted. 'Come, help me force the manhole up, it's not civil to keep them waiting any longer.'

'Then I knew what had happened; the long continued strain of the invention, the weeks of wandering down in the sea without life or movement or sound, had done their work on Descrants's high-strung nerves, and this unexpected sight of horror had upset his reason. I was alone in this cylinder at the bottom of the sea with an irresponsible madman.'


'ORDINARILY I save pretty stout nerves, and I retained my presence of mind, outwardly at any rate. How I really felt, I leave you to guess.

'"Listen, Descrants," I said, trying to reason, with him, "Let us go up above first, and see the sunlight; I don't feel equal to joining that dinner party just now."

'"Why not? I've felt miserable enough these last few days: but now I am well again, help me to force the man-hole up, and we'll go to them. Don't be frightened of them, man, we'll be like them soon."

'There was no doubt we should if I didn't act quickly. I weighed the chances of a struggle with, him; but that was doubtful—he was as strong as I was, and had the strength of insanity to boot. Muttering to himself and chuckling in a blood-freezing manner, he went to the man-hole. Then I saw my opportunity. He could never move the cover at the depth we were then, even if we both had had the strength of ten men we could not do it. I turned off the electric light, add started the pump—the pump that raised us to the surface. Black darkness shut down on that grim party in the cabin for ever, on the madman and myself.

'Darkness that seemed like something real and tangible. It startled him for the moment, and that moment saved us. I felt that we struck something, probably one of the masts, so I knew we were rising. Then Descrants was on to me like a mad dog. I had hoped that the sudden shock of the darkness might have restored his reason, but it made him worse, I think. There we fought like two worrying wolves, in that awful blackness, to the accompaniment of the noise of the piston rode. That noise kept me up, if I could husband my strength and keep form from damaging the machinery until we reached the surface I might manage him. It seemed ages, centuries, before we came to the top, and there in that confined space we rolled over and over, and choked each other, and fought such a fight as never was fought before. Suddenly, I could see a little, then plainer, plainer, and we shot out into open day, with the sun blazing through the bull's eyes.

'I gave a shout of joy, breathless as I was, and with at mingled the whistling scream of the air rushing in through the waste pipe to fill the exhausted tank. Such strength did the sunlight give me that I twisted Descrants on his back, and got my knee on his chest, with one hand on his throat. There was no help for it, I saw, by the look in his wild beast's eyes; I must stun him. A small spanner we carried with us was within my reach. Before he could throw me off I seized it, and struck him a blow on the head. He fell back senseless, and it was with a sigh of relief I got up and opened the man-hole, and put my head outside to recover myself. It was calm, and in the distance I could see the white line of the breakers of the Barrier, otherwise there was nothing in sight. I turned my attention to Descrants. He had a pretty good scalp wound, and I let it bleed, thinking it might do him good. Then I fastened his hands and feet, and put him in as comfortable a position as I could, and tried to recover him. I succeeded after a while, and when he had struggled a bit, and found it useless, he became quiet, and I dressed his herd and gave him a big drink of wine and water. I had decided in my own mind that the only thing to do was to make straight for Tiau Island, and try and nurse Descrants there.

'I had our position pretty well, so, shutting the manhole, I went down five or six fathoms, and steered straight for Tiau. That was a nasty trip for a man who had already had his nerves pretty well tried, but fortunately it did not last long. Sometimes Descrants raved, sometimes he was sullen, and sometimes apparently sensible, and begged me to release him. But I said, "No, my boy, next time you might came out top dog instead of me;" so I kept him tied up, and fed and nursed him, and looked after him like a mother, until we ran on the beach at Tiau Island.

'The natives came to meet me at a distance, but they wouldn't come close to help me get out Descrants, but I coaxed him into a good humor, telling him I would let him free as soon as we got ashore, and finally undid his feet, and he got out. As soon as he felt the land he turned quite silly, and commenced to laugh like anything. He was quite quiet when I let him go free, only loony, altogether loony. I saw there was no help for it—that I should have to finish the work myself, for I never would trust myself with him again. I stayed some days to see how he shaped, but he was just the same—quiet, but silly and harmless. The niggers were not frightened of him, and I gave them some trade to look after him until I came back; and then I started for here, and have been working here until today.'

'Do you think Descrants is safe with the niggers?' asked Campbell, when the tale was told.

'Safe enough if he doesn't get violent, when they might knock his brains out to keep him quiet. But he won't do that; we'll find him there right enough.'

We then proceeded to discuss our future movements. We had a. very smart little lugger at the station, which could be brought through the passage to where we were. With this we could take toe stuff to Tiau Island, and use the lugger for transhipping purposes afterwards. We agreed to make trial trips in the lobster, and see how we liked it, and then one of us could go back in the dinghy for the lugger, and bring it down, with a couple of the boys. There was a bit of a bight in the reef just behind the island that would hold her like a dock made to order.

Campbell and I tossed up who should go down first, and it fell to me. So just as the sun was sinking we sank as well, beneath the surface. I felt a bit queer at first, but the easy, confident manner of Vowlson reassured me, and, by the time we got to the bottom, I was just as easy as he was. That is to say, I pretended I was. At any rate, I had a good look around, to sea as much of the bottom of the ocean as I could. As Vowlson had said, it was a very quiet place—there seemed to be an utter absence of everything but the comparatively smooth, white-looking bottom, and a shimmering, misty-looking vapor, or, of course, what looked like vapor, but was really the effect of the brilliant electric light on the smooth water.

'Come and look at the side,' said Vowlson, and I went forward, and looked through the bull's eyes. There she lay on even keel, but all the side opposite to us had been torn out of her by the monster nippers of the lobster, to give access to her hold. Behind her the reef rose up like a wall. While watching this strange sight I saw something on the wreck move. To see anything move in this sea of stagnant stillness was startling in the extreme. I directed Vowlson's attention to it, and he increased the volume of light by altering some arrangements of reflectors. We both watched attentively, for something was moving on the wreck—a naked man was seemingly climbing over it from the other side.

As I stared with astonishment I saw what looked like another nude figure coming over the far bulwarks, then another and another.

'What is it, Vowlson?' I asked in a fright, for the thought struck me that these must be the ghosts of the drowned sailors, and I didn't like it.

'D—d if I know,' he said, 'but we'll make it out directly.'

Then as I looked I saw that these things were, not naked men, but huge flesh-colored snakes. They went crawling and writhing about the broken-up deck, growing bigger and bigger as more of their bodies appeared, and then a head and face looked over the side, and I nearly shrieked with horror! Imagine the gigantic face of a wicked old man, hairless, with the flesh in folds and wrinkles. Imagine a huge beak planted between two fiery, savage, glaring eyes; and imagine that from this loathsome, naked face sprung all the flesh-colored makes, writhing and twisting about, and you have the shuddering terror that had stopped to look at us

I glanced at Vowlson, expecting to see him jump astern, to start the machinery to fly up to the surface, but 'he was standing looking quietly out of the bull's-eye.

'What is it?' I gasped.

'It's a deep-sea octopus,' he replied, 'a creature whose existence is discredited, but we can see for ourselves now that it really exists.'

'But I've seen an octopus; it's black, not that awful color, and nothing like so huge,' I protested.

'This fabulous creature, as they call it, lives only in the deep sea, and never comes to the surface; that's why it is bleached like that. It's a horrid looking thing, I admit.'

'Will it attack us?'

'I believe it's coming on with that very intention.'

'Won't you go up?' I asked.

He looked at me contemptuously, but did not deign to answer. I turned: and watched the brute, who was now evidently advancing towards us! The nearer it got the more horrible it was; the color gave it a human-like aspect, that was shuddering to look at. The repulsive-looking creases in its face and body moved, and worked as it approached us, and I think those naked wrinkles and creases were almost the most awful thing about it. But the eyes were devilish, and seemed to fairly blaze in the full glow of the light. Vowlson stood like, a rock, one hand on a lever, watching it come on.

Now the advanced snakes had reached us, and commenced to climb and twist around the body of the lobster. Of course, we could not really hear them, but, to my heightened fancy, it seemed as though I distinctly heard their creeping crawl round our casing.

And the head, with the flaming eyes, the great parrot jaws, and the naked wrinkling face came nearer and nearer.

I remember thinking that we were inside a walnut, and our shell would be cracked and be picked up, when I saw Vowlson smile. He touched a button, and the pistons rose and fell.

The face was now close, to us, the eyes glaring in the full light of the bull's-eyes. Vowlson pulled the lever over. The lobster's nippers seized that hideous head between its jaws; a rush of black water darkened all around, and we could see nothing through the bull's eyes but inky blackness, with what seemed writhing, naked figures showing out now and again.

We were moving; Vowlson was backing to clear these writhing arms. Back we went until the water grew clear again, and we could see once more. The lobster's jaws had done their work; the awful thing now trailed shrunken and dead, with its arms lifeless and quiet. Vowlson released the lever, the jaws opened, and the deep sea monster dropped on the bottom.

Then Vowlson broke loose.

'Isn't she a little beauty!' he cried, insanely patting the side of the machine. 'Isn't she a dainty darling? Bring on another octopus; bring on your sea serpent, she'll tackle it!'

I really thought he was going mad like Descrants; but I was relieved to hear him say, 'Bring out that wine, old fellow; it's the only thing fit to drink her health in,' for I sadly wanted a nip. I felt when he said that, that he was certainly not mad.

We drank her health with three times three, and then had a yarn over it. When we had finished we went back to the wreck, for the water had cleared again; and taking two boxes, ascended to the surface with them.

Campbell went down next. No adventure happened that trip, and during the next twenty-four hours we made several descents, and got up all the treasure there was.

We then held a council as to our next proceeding; as to whether it would be better to go and get the lugger down at once and proceed to Tiau, or visit the two remaining wrecks that Vowlson had charted-down. The big Spanish ship to the south Vowlson would not visit again on any account. The skeleton dinner party and the madness of his companion had evidently given even his iron nerves a turn.

We decided in favor of bringing the lugger down, loading her up, and going to Tiau at once, and seeing how Descrants was getting on. Vowlson offered to go up with one of us, whoever went for the lugger, as he wanted to see the inner edge of the Great Barrier, and the third man could stay on the island and wait there.

Campbell and Vowlson, therefore, went up for the lugger in the dinghy, and I stayed on the island, with the lobster and treasure for company. The treasure was right enough, but I never got reconciled to the lobster, much as I respected that machine. There was a solemn-looking air of dormant life about it that made me always expect to find it some day sedately walking about the island, musing on the follies of mankind. One gets these sort of thoughts when one has to keep a lonely watch on a little patch of sand and listen to the constant boom, boom of the surf.

I was heartily glad when I saw the lugger's sails in the distance. The two boys that Campbell had brought down ran below and hid when they first saw the lobster, and it was some time before we could reconcile them to coming close to it. However, we set to work, and soon had the bullion loaded, and then prepared to start for Tiau. Vowlson was going in the lobster; we were going to take the lugger across.


THE run across was a pleasant one, for the south-east monsoon was blowing, and the days and nights were fine and clear. We soon sighted Tiau, and making for a little bight that Vowlson had told us of, dropped anchor, and went ashore. The lobster had not arrived; but we expected to reach the island before Vowlson, so were not alarmed for his safety.

The natives recognised some words that Vowlson had taught us to repeat, and also our description of the lobster; so they became friendly at once, and from one of them, who could speak a little broken English, we inquired about Descrants. They managed to convey to us that he was still silly, and lived by himself on the other side of the island. We agreed that it was better to await the coming of Vowlson before disturbing him, so returned to the lugger to wait.

The next morning the lobster arrived, after an uneventful trip, and we went over to where the natives said we should find Descrants. He was sitting in front of a gunyah built of boughs, looking idly out to sea and playing with some pebbles. He was crooning to himself in a low tone when Vowlson went up and spoke to him, and did not evince the least surprise at thus unexpectedly seeing his old comrade. He was a fine-looking man; but his eyes had a queer, furtive look in them, and he would not look up at you. He was dirty and unkempt, but the natives bad kept him well fed, and he looked strong and healthy enough.

He did not seem to be at all aroused by Vowlson's appearance, and we went away, seeing that our presence did no good. Vowlson seemed very downcast at finding his friend so bad, and once, as we walked back, he said: 'I'm afraid I hit him too hard with that spanner.'

Between ourselves I was afraid he had; but I didn't want to add to his troubles, so said nothing.

We came to the edge of the beach, and Vowlson was just saying, 'I think I'll shift the machine out of sight,' when we were startled by a loud yell, which was echoed in a frightened chorus from all sides by the islanders. We soon learnt the cause of it. The maniac had followed us back; unknown to us, and now the sight of the lobster had brought on an acute fit. He dashed past us, hurling Vowlson to the ground as he did so, and made straight for the machine.

'Shoot him! shoot him!' screamed Vowlson, picking himself up and racing in pursuit.

Too late. Before we could fire or Vowlson come anywhere near him, the madman had reached the machine, clambered in with the greatest agility, and closed the man-hole after him. Vowlson halted and ran back.

'Take to the bush!' he shouted, and we saw what he meant. Descrants had started the lobster, and was making towards us. Vowlson was just in time to swarm up a palm tree, but that availed him nothing.

Descrants, who, whatever his madness, possessed perfect command of the lobster, halted and wheeled the machine. The awful jaws closed on the tree, and in an instant it was twisted and torn down, and Vowlson flung sprawling, but unhurt, on the sand. Campbell and I could do nothing but look on in dumb terror of what was coming; for inside the cylinder the madman was impregnable. But the catastrophe was averted. Vowlson gained his feet before the fatal claws clutched him, and doubled short round behind them, as it were. Before we guessed his purpose he had leaped on to the joint of one of the legs, and thence climbed to the top of the cylinder, where he was safe for a time.

Even with the danger overhanging us, Campbell and I could not help laughing at what followed, for Descrants, losing sight of his victim, turned the ungainly machine round and round till it looked like a live creature searching for something it had lost. Apparently it became patent to the disordered brain that was guiding it what had became of Vowlson, for the lobster started straight for tho sea.

'Pray goodness he does not sink the lugger,' said Campbell. But this was not the motive. Descrants evidently meant to wash Vowlson off in the sea, where he would be an easy prey. The lobster headed for the mouth of the little bight, where there was a surf. I had great hopes that a resolute and ready-witted fellow like Vowlson would manage to escape somehow, and anxiously we watched the lobster and its rider.

A great wave met them as they entered the sea, and when we saw the lobster again Vowlson was gone. We saw the machine once or twice more, amongst the broken water; then it disappeared for ever from our gaze, and so far, that is the last I know of the great treasure lobster.

Quietly and fearfully the natives came out from their hiding places, and went with us down to the beach to see if our friend's body was washed ashore. Suddenly a great cry went up, and, away from one side, came a staggering dripping figure. It was Vowlson.


'YES, that first roller saved me. I managed to dive into it, and he lost sight of me in the broken water, but I had a devil of a job to get ashore; I got nearly washed out two or three times. If he had gone into the smooth water in the bend I should nave had no chance. But I'd just as soon be dead, for what will become of my machine?'

And the strong man looked as though he would burst out crying.

'You can build another,' said Campbell, soothingly.

'Never such a little daisy as that. I tell you, man, she had a soul in her. Beames, you saw her stand up to that deep sea octopus and crush it, didn't you?'

We got him up to the bushes, and camped there all night, and watched for the reappearance of the lobster, but it never came. In the morning Vowlson had regained his spirits; and we set to work making preparations for our departure. We had the treasure in the lugger, and we could recover that which was placed in another part of the Barrier by Vowlson and Descrants, so we came out of it very well.

What has become of the madman Descrants and the lobster? Did he go to join the dead company feasting under the sea, or is he still roaming about somewhere? His intellect had recovered sufficiently for him to be able to manage the machine, but might it not, irresponsible as he was, lead him to some terrible deed of madness.

He might enter some crowded port and sink ship after ship if he liked. Always I shall dread to hear of something like this happening. The idea of the most perfect and powerful submarine vessel the world ever saw, roaming the seas in charge of a raving maniac is not a reassuring one.


9. -- KEPT SECRET

Australian Town and Country Journal, 19, 26 Dec 1896

I

THE bar was full of tobacco smoke, bad language, and expectoration. Men were, boasting and wrangling about themselves, their horses, and their bullocks; for it was the night after a bush race meeting, and the denizens of that particular portion of the Queensland back blocks had gathered from far and near. The meeting had been a success. Strange to say, everybody was satisfied, especially the local publican. Those who had won wore naturally content, while those who had lost vowed that, at any rate, they had had a run for their money. True, there was a fly In the publican's honey-pot. The run on bottled beer had been phenomenal, and he saw no means of replenishing his stock. A shortness of rum or whisky might be met and overcome, but bottled beer was beyond his chemical skill.

The confusion of tongues, noise, and hustle were at their height, when a revolver shot, in another room, startled everyone into silence.

"Who's that monkeying with a pistol?" said the owner of the place, leaving the bar and going In the direction of the sound. He entered the little, rough bedroom from which a smell of powder and a whiff of smoke came. Meanwhile, the conversation in the bar welled up again. The simple discharge of a pistol did not mean much at that time, in that part of the world.

The room was dark. "Anyone In there?" said the landlord, after listening for a minute. There was no response, and he struck a match.

The sudden blaze of light showed him a figure extended on the bed. One arm, holding a revolver in the hand, was thrown over the side, and tho weapon trailed on the earthen floor. Blood was dripping from a wound in the temple, and the eyes, wide open, but without speculation, told a tale of sudden death. The landlord had presence of mind. He made no sudden outcry, but going quietly back, drew one man aside.

"Mr. James, you're a J.P.; I want you to come in this room. Old Cousens has just shot himself."

The man addressed, a tall, sunburned fellow, hardly moved a muscle at the sudden information.

"Is he dead?" he asked.

"I scarcely looked. I came back for you."

They moved on as they spoke, the landlord carrying a candle which he had lit. Together they stooped over the recumbent form—a man over middle age, dressed in ordinary bush dress, which might mean any station in life, grey-haired and grey-bearded.

"He's dead enough," said James. "Send Joe Kennedy in, will you?"

Tho landlord departed, and presently Joe Kennedy, a young man about thirty, entered the room.

"Here, Joe; you were a sucking sawbones once. Old Cousens has shot himself. Just have a look, as I shall have to report it."

Without displaying any emotion, Kennedy examined the dead man. "Shot himself, right enough. Hair singed, death instantaneous. Nothing else, old man. I don't suppose you want a p.m."

Jones was looking about the room. The head of the bed was close to a window shuttered by some deal packing boards nailed together. He tried it, and it swung easily open on the old leather hinges.

"You're pretty sure ho did it himself, Joe?"

"Well, I didn't see him do it, any more than you did, but the shot was fired close to his head, and he's got the pistol in his hand, and-No, he hasn't," said Kennedy, breaking off abruptly. "Didn't you say so?"

"No, I didn't. Barker said so."

"I think he had the revolver in his hand. Fact, I'm most sure of it, but I only struck a match," said Barker.

Kennedy stooped. "Here it is under the bed." He picked it up and fitted it into the empty pouch on the dead man's belt. "Seems to be his, right enough," he said.

"Oh, that's his," cried Barker. "He was shooting crows with it the other morning."

It had reached the bar that Cousens had shot himself, but, though it stilled the talk somewhat, there was no eager rush of morbid curiosity, such as would have happened in a town—no ghoulish, loafing men and women, nor self-important young reporters, anxious to see blood-and brains; that is, somebody else's blood and brains. The miserable, degraded love of gazing at humanity hurt, or dead, Is not so common in the bush as in the town. The men strolled off to their camps on the river bank, save three or four who stayed at the pub, and Cousens's requiem was pronounced in the common sentiment that it was just the sort of thing one would have expected Cousens to do, and it was a wonder he had not done it before.

The dead man was known as a man of bad temper. He had been fulfilling some droving contracts In the district, and was therefore well known, but by no means popular. Only that day he had made himself disagreeable on the course. He drank heavily, and had been drinking during the two days of the meeting.

"You are not quite sure that he had the revolver In his hand when you first saw him?" asked James, as the little group stood discussing the matter.

"I feel pretty sure, but I wouldn't swear to it," returned Barker, to whom the question was ad-dressed.

"His hand had not stiffened. The revolver may have fallen from it and been kicked by one of us just under the bed," suggested Kennedy.

This seemed probable enough, but James was not satisfied. "What sort of a state was Cousens in when you saw him last?"

"Drunk as a biled owl. I helped him into the room, and he just chucked hisself down and lay there like a log. If anyone had told me that in an hour he'd have got up and shot hisself I'd have said it was a blooming impossibility."

"Only an hour. He couldn't have slept it off enough to have regained consciousness, do you think, Joe?"

"He might have done it without being conscious—fit of delirium come on. Anyhow, he did it."'

"I'm not so sure of that,"

"Why, who the deuce would have done it? He wasn't liked, but that was no reason for blowing his brains out. Don't think anybody had a down on him enough for that."

"Not here, perhaps; but nobody knows anything about his past life, and I'll bet it wasn't one to blow about. Anyhow, Barker, see if you can keep that place clear in front of the window. I want to have a look for tracks in the morning."

"I'll do what I can, but I don't think that you'll make much of it."

There was nothing to be done but straighten out the remains of the unfortunate suicide, whom nobody regretted, over whose sudden decease not one word of sorrow was spoken, not one tear shed.

"Think, you could get that bullet out, Joe?" remarked James, as they stood looking at the corpse, now composed; and decent.

"What fad have you got in your head? I'll try. Perhaps I can."

It was a gruesome sight. The mean, rough room, the motionless body on the bed, and the two men, one holding the flickering, guttering candle, the other at his surgeon's task with rude, impromptu tools.

Kennedy heaved a sigh of relief. "Look here," he said. In his blood-dyed hand rested a small round object, like a larger clot of blood. "It was only just inside the skull—just penetrated the brain," he added.

He dipped his hands in a bucket of water and washed them and the bullet—a small, conical one.

"By Jove, you're right," he continued. "There's something crooked. This never came from Cousens's pistol. It's one of those damned cheap affairs. A ball from this," and he picked up the deceased's Colt, "would have gone clean through his head at close quarters."

"True; and it's much too small for his weapon. This must be reported at once. Barker, you must send to the native police barracks."

"Have no one to send. Besides, they're out on patrol, else you may be sure Fortescue would have been down here to the races—only that blooming idjit of a camp-sergeant's there."

"Well, he'll have to come, idiot as he is. I'll send a note. One of the chaps will go in the morning, if you ask them."

"All right, Mr. James," returned Barker, yawning, and he strolled off to his virtuous couch.

James owned the run that Barker's pub was situated on, and it behoved the latter to be civil.

By this time daylight was nigh, and Kennedy and James waited up until it broke, and when the light was sufficient, set to work examining the ground underneath the window. Then, getting some hurdles from an old sheep-yard handy, they, enclosed the space.

The weather did not allow of much lying in state, and before noon all that was earthly of Cousens was laid under the heated ground prayerless, for the strictest search throughout the hush pub failed to produce anything in the shape of a prayer book, with the exception of some loose pages of the Commination Service, which James thought might lead to criticism if read. So Cousens was put underground without any form of words being read over him, and presumably slumbered just as soundly. James took down the depositions of the different witnesses, and handed them to the camp-sergeant to deliver to his officer on his return. But the proper authorities, whoever they were, evinced no desire to trouble about it. After a passing shower had obliterated the tracks James and Kennedy had sought to preserve, a raw new-chum of a policeman, fresh from the sod, turned up to make inquiries; which inquiries, mostly conducted in Barker's bar, led him to assert that it was as simple a case of suicide as ever was, at all. So he departed.

II

THE summer had passed, and the bright, sunny winter weather of the tropical interior had set in. Kennedy had ridden over to James's place on some business errand and found that individual pondering over a letter just received. He silently handed it to his friend to read.

It was long, but the gist of the matter was to inquire after her husband, Geoffrey Cousens, who, the writer understood, had committed suicide at the Bowgango Crossing. If so, had he left any property behind, and who held possession of it? It was signed Gertrude Cousens, and she informed James that she had obtained his name from the list of Js.P.

Kennedy looked at the address, Melbourne.

"Wonder she didn't write before," he said.

"Yes, she's had plenty of time. But one strange thing I notice: although she professes only to have seen the account in the newspapers, which was merely, a couple of lines, she lets slip every now and again that she knows all about the details; and as my name was mentioned in the paragraph, she goes, out of her way to tell me that she looked up any name in the list of Js.P. That lady knows more than we do."

"What shall you do?"

"Simply write that, all his possessions were handed over to the Government, and she had better apply to the curator of intestate estates. But she won't, you see."

"Why not?"

"Because she is not his wife, and to get his money—there were some hundreds to his credit—she will have to prove her identity."

"I believe the man was murdered. But then, neither you nor I could afford to waste our time and money, and we had no interest in the fellow."

"I shouldn't wonder if this dame could tell us something we don't know yet."

"Remember those tracks—" James suddenly darted by his visitor, nearly upsetting him, and rushed out on the verandah. There was a scuffle, and loud voices. When Kennedy got out James was holding a young man by the collar who was protesting vainly against it.

"What were you listening at the door for?"

"I wasn't listening; I was coming in, and looked in first just to see if you was engaged."

"You young liar; I saw your head once or twice before I came after you."

"What should I be listening for? I only came to see if there were any letters."

"It's the mail-boy, isn't it?" asked Kennedy.

"Yes, and I'll find out what he was sneaking about the verandah for, or it will he the worse for him."

Kennedy whispered something to him. "Go inside," said. James.

The young fellow obeyed sullenly.

"Who wrote this letter?" asked Kennedy, picking it up and holding it up so that the lad could see the writing.

The boy, for he was little more, hesitated. At last he seemed to make his mind up.

"My mother," he said, firmly.

The two exchanged glances. "You wanted to hear the contents, I suppose. How did you know that it had come. Did you open any bag?"

"No. My mother wrote to say that she was writing to you."

"Too thin, any friend. You could give her as much information as I could about your father's death. He was your father, I suppose?"

"Yes, but he and my another had quarrelled, and he would not acknowledge us."

"Us? Any more of you?"

"I have a sister."

"A good-looking girl—barmaid at the Criterion, in Islop. I recognise the face now. You have run the mail between here and Islop for the last year?"

"Yes."

"Were you at the Bowgango Crossing at the time of your father's death?"

The boy hesitated. "No," he said.

"That's easily found out. I believe you were. Now I understand how it as that your mother knows so much about the affair. Of course, you told her."

"Yes. There was no harm in that."

"Certainly not. But even if your father would not recognise you, why did you not avow yourself as his son at the time?"

"There were reasons."

Kennedy looked hard at James, and he dropped the subject.

"I suppose you know your father was murdered?" he said, suddenly.

The mail-boy turned deathly white, and held on to the table.

"No," he exclaimed, hoarsely. "I left early in the morning."

"You left early in the morning! And you were not there at all, at the time? Come, you had better make a clean breast of it. You have betrayed yourself."

The young fellow sat down and burst into tears.

"I was afraid so," he sobbed,

"Now," said Kennedy, "if you tell us the whole truth, we will help you if we can. You were at the Crossing when your father died?"

"No, I was not; I told you tho truth. My sister rode the mail that trip. She wanted to see my father, to beg him to behave right to us."

"To behave right to your mother, you mean?"

"Yes. They were not married. If he had married her quietly and acknowledged us, as though he had been married all along, it would never have been known that we were illegitimate."

"And your sister saw him, and he refused?"

"So she told me. I know nothing more."

"I will go to Islop and see your sister," said Kennedy.

The boy started up. "You will see her alone, Mr. Kennedy? You won't do anything else, will you, sir? I have been so frightened ever since she persuaded me to let her go. She is so proud, and ashamed of the truth about us being known."

"I have always heard a very good character of her. I will ride back with you to-morrow."

The boy left, after a wistful glance at them both, as if beseeching their pity.

"So this accounts for all," said James. "That strange track was the girl without her boots, and she changed the revolvers when Barker was away. Well, it is a domestic tragedy that I shan't interfere with. Seems to me Cousens got all he deserved."

"Yes. Fancy that chuckle-headed fool of a policeman being sent here on such an errand. I think you'd better let me go alone, and compound this crime, as you're a J.P."

"Damn the J.P.! But you go and do as you like. I will agree with anything you promise."


THE girl told Kennedy her story, defiantly enough.

"I saw him atone," she said. "He cursed me, called me vile names. My mother, who, whatever her faults, has been true to him, he called the worst he could put his tongue to—said he didn't believe he was my father, and would hound us both out of the district: would tell all the men at the races that I was a girl riding about the country in my brother's clothes, and then drove me away from him.

"I went to the window of his room to try him once more, looked in, and heard him snoring in his drunken sleep. I don't know what came into my head, but I thought if he were dead we could say what we liked. I drew out the little revolver my brother always carried, and putting it to his head, fired. He threw out his arm. I put tho revolver in his hand and dropped the arm; then I closed the shutter, and as I did so remembered the mistake I had made. Someone came into the room and struck a match. They went out again. I opened the window, leaned in, took the revolver out of his hand, dropped it on the floor, and got away with my brother's, just before you came in.

"I did not hear that anything but suicide was suspected."

"No; James and I only got snubbed about it, so we held our tongues. But you were in your stockings when you went out the window, were you not?"

"Yes; I took my boots off."

"We couldn't 'make head nor tail of the track. Why did you get your mother to write to James? He could do nothing."

"I didn't know anything about the law regarding dead men's property, and thought that he would tell her."

"She could not prove her marriage, as she would he required to do; so she could not claim any-thing. Well, and what next?"

"That rests with you. I shall not run away."

"That's just what you'll have to do, and the sooner the better. James and I will give your brother something to help you off, and we shall say nothing. I don't consider your father any great loss to society, and what you did was done in a moment of passion. Good-bye."

III

SOME five years after, Kennedy went to England on the death of his father.

"Who do you think came out in the same steamer as I did?" he asked his friend James one evening after his return.

"Anybody! How can I guess?"

"The heroine of the Cousens affair. She married a rich man in Melbourne, and had been home on her wedding trip."

"I suppose you didn't discuss 'the past?"

"My dear fellow, we were strangers right through the trip, or as nearly so as fellow-passengers can be. It was the best way out of the situation."

"Decidedly so," returned James.


10. -- BODY-STEALING EXTRAORDINARY

Evening News, Sydney, 13 Nov 1897

THE ELDER BACKFORD'S STORY

February 5.

THOSE who persist in saying that I, in any way consented to the experiment, either lie deliberately, or are entirely ignorant of the circumstances. Bletchford could bear me out in this if he chose! but he is only anxious to evade all responsibility, although he was the prime mover in the matter.

My younger brother Francis had always been weak and delicate, and possessed a highly imaginative disposition. This did not assist him to regain health and strength; his mind was too vigorous for his body, and was gradually wearing it out. Many times, when we were boys, have I had to follow him through the house to see that he did not come to harm during his somnambulistic rambles.

Gradually he grew out of this habit; but became a confirmed visionary, always attracted by any new speculations on the occult and the unknown. Fortunately he had too keen a brain to permit of his becoming a prey of the vulgar impostors calling themselves mediums; but where the theory appeared rational and logical he pursued it with avidity.

The separation of the soul from the body during life had a peculiar fascination for him; and he used to fast and experimentalise on himself to see if he could attain the desired object of leaving his body at will. In vain I remonstrated with him, and pointed out how he was undermining his health when he had none too much to spare. He only laughed at me, and told me that because I was robust and found my pleasure in outdoor sports, I was not capable of appreciating such deep and abstruse questions as occupied his time.

It was just then that Bletchford came on a visit to us. At this period I was 36 and my brother 30. Our parents were dead; we had each a small private fortune, and lived together for the sake of company. Bletchford was an old friend, and I hoped that his coming would rouse my brother, and lead to his interesting himself in less morbid pursuits.

In this, to my great disgust, I was greatly disappointed. Bletchford had caught the craze and was deeper in the study of occultism than my brother. Instead of weaning him from his studies he encouraged him to continue in them, and, disgusted and sick at heart, left them to themselves, and sought my own diversions.

About three weeks after Bletchford had been with us he came to me, and, taking my arm confidentially, said:

'We have completely succeeded, at least in the case of your brother. I am too gross, apparently, to enter into the higher circle.'

'Higher humbug,' I replied, rudely. 'What does all this tommyrot mean?'

'It means that your brother can enter at will into the spirit world, leaving his body apparently lifeless.'

I forget what I said, but it was something very personal and offensive, but Bletchford took it quietly.

'As yet,' he said, 'your brother has made no sustained effort, and instead of there being any injury to his health, he looks better and stronger. To-night we are going to prolong the experiment. Will you be present?'

I told him hotly that I would not countenance any such sinful folly. Then I went to my brother and sought earnestly to dissuade him from dabbling with things better left alone.

He only smiled good-naturedly, and told me he was surely old enough to judge for himself. I departed in anger, and left them to continue their experiment by themselves. I declare that I did my best to stop it, and failed. I saw neither of them again that night, but at breakfast next morning Bletchford turned up looking very white and, haggard.

'Where's Francis?' I asked.

'He's lying down,' he said. He spoke very little, and I concluded that their precious experiment had failed, and that they both felt ashamed of themselves. Breakfast finished I rose, intending to go see my brother, when Bletchford stopped me at the door.

'Are you going up to Francis?' he asked.

'Yes, I am,' I answered. 'Don't be alarmed, but he's still unconscious; but it will be all right directly. The experiment was only to last three hours, but his soul has not returned yet.'

I shook his hand off, and hastened upstairs without a word. My brother lay on his bed fully dressed, his countenance was calm and placid, but there seemed no sign of life about him. Hastily brushing past Bletchford with a very strong oath, I called our man servant and told him to go directly for a doctor. Bletchford tried to speak to me while we awaited the doctor's arrival, but I refused to answer him.

The doctor came and made an exhaustive examination of my poor brother's body.

'He is not dead,' he said, when he had concluded. 'It is more like a cataleptic trance than anything else. The pulse is extremely weak, but steady. He must be watched continually, and at the first indication of returning life the vitality must be carefully nursed with restoratives.'

After a few more instructions the doctor departed, and I got everything ready against the return of life, Bletchford wandered about with a hangdog look on his face, but I felt no pity for him. All at once there was a movement in the inanimate body. A deep sigh escaped the lips, and I hastened to follow out the doctor's injunctions to the letter. With joy I noticed that I was successful. The life seemed to grow while I watched. In a short time he sat up, and looked wonderingly around, then at us in a dazed sort of way.

'Where am I? What's the meaning of this?' Francis said. Bletchford and I looked at each other, dumb with astonishment.

My brother, although so delicate, had a strong, manly voice. The voice that asked the above questions was the soft and rather pleasing voice of a young girl. Then I looked in the eyes, and they were not the eyes of Francis.

'Now, is this some trick?' went on the voice. 'Why am I here dressed in man's clothes? It's a very poor joke, and not one gentlemen would indulge in.'

'O, great heavens!' said Bletchford, sinking on a chair, with a look of despair on his' face. 'There's been a mix up somehow, and the wrong soul has come back. A girl's soul, too!' and he covered his face with his hands.

'Gracious! What's the matter with him?' said, the new Francis. 'What does he mean about the wrong soul coming back? Let me think a bit.'

We all remained silent. The situation was too tremendous.

'I remember flying headlong out of the buggy,' went on the girlish voice, after a while. 'Then sparks, and nothing more. What's today?'

'Thursday,' I answered, finding my voice at last.

'That was on Tuesday. Where am I?'

'In one of the suburbs of Sydney,' said Bletchford, speaking up like a man for the first time.

'From what you say you were thrown from a buggy and rendered senseless?'

'Yes; Jessie Carter bet me a new hat that I couldn't drive the buckboard over a three-foot log.'

'Where did this happen?'

'Why, where we live, at Jamestown, in South Australia.'

'Let me explain,' went on Bletchford. 'While you have been unconscious, your soul, absent from your body, has entered the body of Francis Backford, then lying in a trance. His soul, therefore, cannot get back to its rightful body, but I think I can put matters straight. If you will permit me to put you into a mesmeric sleep, the soul of Francis Backford will regain its shell, and you will be able to do the same.'

'Who am I, after all?'

'At present you are my brother, Francis Backford,' I answered. 'You have eight hundred a year of your own, and, as my brother was not an extravagant man, I expect there is a balance in the bank. Now, I think you will see the reason of submitting to Mr. Bletchford's mesmeric powers, and get rid of a body which must be only an encumbrance to you, and make way for the rightful owner, whom you are keeping out in the cold.'

Our strange visitor pondered, and presently raised her—no, I mean his—head, and I saw a wicked gleam in his eyes.

'Now I'm here, I think I'll stop here. I've often wished to be a man—they have much better time than women. Now I have a chance to try what it is like.'

'But,' stammered Bletchford, 'that would be unfair, preposterous, unwomanly—'

'I'm not a woman,' interrupted Francis, 'and I intend to stop.'

'But,' I said, 'your people will bury your real body.'

'Let them; I've got this one. Now, a last word. I'm your brother, and you can't deny it, and this is my home. Is this my room?'

'It is,' I sighed.

'Then I'll trouble you to go out. I want to overhaul my new wardrobe, and get the hang of these masculine garments.'

We left, and I was too downcast even to reproach Bletchford.

March 5.

IT is just a month since the new Francis arrived, and my hair is rapidly turning grey. Bletchford has deserted me, and she—no, he—has been going on in a way to blast my brother's character for ever. Whether it is owing to the new vitality infused in the body of my poor lost brother or not, I cannot say; but it has developed an appearance of health and strength really wonderful. Every girl in the neighborhood is in love with him, and I have received countless letters warning me that he would get his bones broken if I didn't stop him from interfering with other men's girls; but he only laughs. His innate knowledge of the sex, I suppose, renders him perfectly, irresistible. Didn't Olivia fall hopelessly in love with Viola?

March 9.

HE informed me to-night that he had joined a 'push.' Says he never imagined that men had such jolly times of it; wouldn't be a girl again for anything. I'll advertise for Bletchford; he left no address. At least he must see me through, for I cannot stand it alone much longer.

March 15.

THREE communications from different lawyers, stating that unless compensation is forthcoming, writs for actions of breach of promise will be at once issued. Only three, I expected a dozen.

March 16.

HAD to bail him out of the lockup last night. Thank heaven Bletchford has written to say that he will be here to-morrow.

BLETCHFORD'S STORY

BACKFORD has told the tale of our unhappy experiment, and has asked me to write the sequel. But, first, I want to state that I have solemnly renounced all accursed dabblings with things that are wisely hidden from us; and I earnestly entreat all others to do the same lest they go through the tribulation we have gone through.

Old Backford welcomed me with effusion. Poor fellow, he looks ten years older. The new Francis didn't seem to like my coming at all. I see a gleam of hope. This racketing about has upset his nervous system, and if I get the chance I'll soon have him under control.

Francis has come back. Yesterday a tall, gaunt, powerful man, with a broken nose, came to the door, and inquired for Backford. Soon afterwards I heard my name loudly called, and going downstairs found the two standing hand in hand.

'This is Francis—my Francis!' said Backford, with tears in his eyes.

'I held out my hand in doubt and astonishment.

'Yes, Bletchford,' said the man in a deep, hoarse voice, with a villainous accent which I won't reproduce; 'I got tired of hanging round waiting for that vixen to let me have my property back, so I collared the first body that came to hand. I'm Boko Ben, a pugilist, at present. Knocked out senseless in a glove fight at Melbourne the other night.'

We both were delighted, and at once proceeded to discuss our plans.

'Supposing I pick a quarrel with him, and knock him senseless?' said the real Francis, bringing his leg of mutton fist down on the table.

'Never do; he wouldn't fight,' said his brother. 'He'll only scratch and pull your hair.'

'Well, we must wait and watch for an opportunity,' said the real Francis, alias Boko Ben.

The new Francis did not seem to enjoy the advent of Ben at all; somehow he seemed instinctively frightened of Him. So things went on for nearly a week, Francis still continuing to pursue his wild career; whilst poor Ben groaned to witness the way in which his body and reputation were being treated.

I never have seen Miss Sophy Humber in her own proper person. She might possibly be well-behaved and fascinating; but while she was masquerading in her stolen body, there never was such an incarnate spirit of evil, nor one more cordially hated by the three of us. We'd have poisoned her willingly; but that would only have spoiled everything. During my absence I had learned her name from the papers, the incident of her lying at her parents' residence in a cataleptic state having naturally aroused much interest.

We were at dinner one evening, the three of us, when the door opened, and in staggered the new Francis—drunk. This was his first outbreak in the drink line, and my heart gave a bound as I thought that at last my enemy was delivered into my hand. He held on by the back of a chair and laughed foolishly.

'Givesh glassh wine,' he said. I arose, approached him, and got his eyes under my control. He seemed to get uneasy, and muttered something about 'an old ape,' and 'knocking my blooming head off,' but I saw with joy that the fumes of drink were passing away, and I had him in my power.

I made some quick downward passes, throwing all my energy into them, and at my command he relinquished his hold of the chair and walked steadily over to the sofa, and laid himself down.

'Quick,' I said to Ben. 'Put all your will into it, and be ready to slip into your body directly there's a chance.'

I very soon had him under my influence, and Boko Ben, an apparently lifeless shell, lay inert in an armchair. I went over to the other, and throwing all the psychic force I possessed into my work, willed the soul of Sophy Humber out of the body of Francis Backford.

The eyes were open, and gradually light and life went out of them, and I knew that she was gone. There was an oppressive silence while Backford and I watched with intense anxiety. Then life kindled again in the eyes, the breath returned, and as Francis sat up his proper self I dropped fainting and exhausted on a chair.

When I was restored to my senses the brothers were standing by me and Boko Ben was sitting up in the armchair.

'I say,' he said, 'that was a mean trick to take advantage of a man when he was screwed.' We all three burst out laughing.

The girl's voice coming from the frame of the broken-nosed bruiser was too funny; the soul of Sophy had taken refuge in Ben's body.

I was about to offer to mesmerise her again, and give her a chance to go back to her own body, which was getting tired of waiting; but Backford whispered to me, 'I think four and twenty hours in Ben's body would do her good.'

I nodded assent, and Backford turning to the sham pugilist, said, 'Here, be off as quick as you can; you've got money, in your pocket, and can get a lodging elsewhere.'

'What do you mean? I'm not going to be turned out.'

'Yes, you are, if you don't go quietly; you've no business here.'

'But I won't go. I'm big enough to smash the three of you, and I'll do it.'

'No, you won't. You have the size, but only the spirit of a girl inside it. Now go!'

'Send me to sleep, and let me get back to my own body,' said Ben, turning to me.

'Not to-night; I'm too tired out,' I replied. Ben rose, he saw there was no help.

'Have a look at yourself in the glass before you go,' suggested Backford. Ben approached the mantelpiece, and looked. He gave one heart-broken wail and went out. The disfigured face and broken nose were too much for the soul of Sophy Humber. For the first time I felt pity!

Next morning about 12 o'clock Ben appeared again, a dilapidated ruin. From what we could learn he had sought to drown his sorrows in drink, obtained in threepenny pubs, had passed the night in the police cell, and had only been just released.

I was about to take pity on him, when Backford stopped me again. 'Supposing Ben's spirit does not come back for his body,' he said, 'we don't want the apparent corpse of a pugilist in the house.'

I took the hint, and made an appointment with Ben to meet me elsewhere. To make a long story short, I released the soul of Sophy, and as I saw about her wonderful recovery in the paper, I infer that she got back to her body safely. What became of Ben's husk I know not, but as I've heard nothing of a startling discovery, I presume the rightful owner appropriated it again.

The Backfords had to sell their house, and go to Victoria. Sophy had made it altogether too hot for them. The actions were squared, and altogether it was a most costly experiment.


11. -- THE BURNING MOUNTAIN OF THE INTERIOR

Queenslander, Brisbane, 15, 22 an 29 March 1890

[Ludwig Leichardt, the German-born explorer successfully explored overland from the Dalby area of Queensland to Port Essington north of Darwin in 1844-46. In 1848 he set out again, this time intending to cross the continent to the Swan River on the west coast. The party was last seen on 3 April 1848 at a cattle station west of Roma, Queensland, and then vanished without trace. The mystery greatly impressed later explorers including Favenc, who had his own theories. This fantasy story includes an encounter with the last living member of the expedition, among other unlikely things. —TW]

CHAPTER 1

The Start for the Burning Mountain—Sand and Scrub


IT is the beginning of November. The sun has gone down at the close of a day of blistering heat, and the short twilight is rapidly fading into the darkness of a moonless night. Under the veranda of a rough mud hut, far up in the north of South Australia, in fact almost on the boundary line that separates that colony from its dependency, the Northern Territory, three men are sitting, indolently smoking the evening pipe that usually follows the last meal of the day.

The hut is the principal building on a northern cattle station, and the three occupants of the veranda are the owner thereof, a young relation (who is gaining that much talked of article, colonial experience), and a friend from a neighbouring station.

"Well," says Morton, the owner, a sun-tanned wiry little fellow, addressing his neighbour, "what do you say, Brown, to having a look for the burning mountain?"

"Um!" grunts Brown, who differs considerably in size, owning as he does some 6ft. 3in. of humanity; "isn't this weather hot enough for you without looking for burning mountains?"

"We've nothing much to do for two or three months, and I've long made up my mind to see if there's any truth in the yarn the niggers have."

"I never could make anything out of it," remarked Brown.

"Nor I," said Morton; "but everybody puts it down that they mean a burning mountain. Now, I've tried very patiently and can only get from them that there's a big fire burning always in the same place, but when I ask about a mountain they say no. None of them have ever been there, and they seem frightened to talk about it."

"They have much the same word for rocks, stones, and mountains."

"Yes, and it is rocks I think they mean."

"What has your boy, Billy Button, to say about it?"

"Billy comes from a tribe nearly a hundred miles from here; he has heard about it, but has never seen any blacks who have been there."

"North of west it is supposed to lie; how far have you been out there, Morton?"

"Some fifty miles, all scrub and sand, but the niggers get across in some seasons, and I think this is the right time, as there have been plenty of thunderstorms in that direction."

"Well I'll go. A little scorching more or less does not matter much up here. You ought to have kept some camels when the teams were up here."

"Didn't think of it, but I fancy horses will be handier; we have a thunderstorm nearly every day."

"And shall have till we start," replied Brown; "then you see they will knock off. How many of us will there be?"

"The pair of us, and—what do you say, Charley? Are you anxious to distinguish yourself?"

"I hope you won't leave me behind," replied Charley in rather a hurt tone.

"All right; Billy Button will make four, and that will be enough. To-morrow we'll have all the horses in and get everything ready for a start the next day."

"How long shall we be away?" asked Charley, who bore upon his shoulders the onerous duties of storekeeper.

"Can't say! What do yon think, Brown? About six weeks?"

"We surely ought to find something in that time, if it's only the remains of Leichhardt."

"Make up two months' rations, Charley; I hate to go short; lucky we killed the other day, the beef will be just right."

On an outside cattle station where so much camping out has to be done the preparations for such a trip do not take long, and the morning of the second day found everything ready.

Brown had sent over to his place for horses, and in all they started with fourteen, two apiece for riding, four packed with rations, and two with water and the necessary blankets, tent, and fly. At the last moment the blacks about the station tried to dissuade Billy from going by horrible stories of the fate awaiting them all, but Billy scorned to remain.

The first thirty miles of the first day's journey in search of the burning mountain, the discovery of which was to immortalise the finders, was over country well known to them; beyond stretched a waste of sand hills and mulga scrub, into which Morton had once penetrated some twenty miles. With full water bags and a firm determination not to be beaten back without a struggle, our adventurers commenced the second day's journey. The sombre scrub and heavy sand without a sign of break or change in the depressing monotony was their experience the whole of the day; scarcely the note of a bird or insect broke the silence as they toiled on without much heart for conversation.

Towards evening a piece of good fortune befell them; on a small flat between the sand ridges they crossed a patch of short green grass, the result of a thunderstorm that had fallen some time before. No water, though, could be found; the hot summer sun had evaporated all that had been caught by the shallow clay pans.

The horses, however, stopped well on the soft young feed, and by daybreak the next morning they were once more on the move. About 10 o'clock they ascended a sand ridge a good deal higher than those formerly crossed, and from the crest they were able to look around on the sea of scrub that encircled them. Not far off in the direction they were going Morton drew the attention of his companions to a thin column of black smoke.

"Burning mountain already?" queried Brown.

"Niggers hunting; the scrub looks thinner there," said Morton. "They won't be far from camp at this time, but I expect it's only a soak-hole, not enough for us."

In less than an hour they were riding over patches of still burning grass thinly scattered over a bloodwood flat; but the sharp eyes neither of Morton nor Billy could detect a sign of the hunters. After searching for some time the boy found the tracks of a blackfellow, two gins, and some pickaninnies coming from the westward, and these they followed back for about a mile to a freshly abandoned camp. It was situated on a tolerably open piece of country, partly covered with coarse drift sand; not far from the camp was a ragged old gum-tree, much tomahawk-marked.

Billy, who had gone to this tree at once, gave a low whistle and the others came up. He pointed to a remarkably small hole close to the butt, and, dismounting, put his arm down and then peered into it.

"Water long way flown," he said; "gone bung, I think;" by which they understood that the supply had dried up.

After some search a long sapling was procured and thrust down. The hole was about ten feet deep, and the end of the sapling brought up some wet mud.

"How did they get down, Billy?" said Brown.

"Pickaninny go down," replied the boy, pointing to a tiny foothold in the bank.

"Well, boys," said Morton, who had been poking the sapling down vigorously and examining the point, "I don't see much to be got out of this; evidently there's been just one family here, and they've been dried out; it would take us two hours to open up the hole, and then we'd get little for our pains."

"Water gone bung," repeated Billy.

"What do you say to following this flat? It's going partly our direction; it may lead to something."

No one having anything better to suggest, they resumed their journey once more until a mid-day halt was made.

"Well, respected leader," remarked Brown after the meal was finished and pipes were lit, "I'm afraid our horses will look mighty dicky to-morrow morning unless we get them a drink to-night."

Morton glanced lazily at them where they stood grouped under whatever scanty shade they could obtain.

"Beginning to look tucked up," he returned, "but we'll pull up something before dark."

"I hope so," said Brown as he stood up; "go ahead, Captain Cook."

About 4 o'clock the open flat which they had followed grew narrower until at last the scrub closed in entirely and they found themselves confronted by a thicker growth than any they had yet met with, the mulga having given place to a species of mallee. Morton who was leading stopped.

"We had better push through it," he said; "it may be only a belt, and if we start to follow it round we shall be all night in it."

"Yes," replied Brown.

"I'll take a turn ahead if you like. I prefer being first in a scrub." Morton laughed and dropped behind, and for about an hour, the scrub getting worse and worse, very slow progress was made. The sun was getting low, and the cheerful prospect of a night in the scrub was before them, when to the relief of all Brown suddenly called out, "Hurrah! we're out of it!"

CHAPTER 2

A Native Cemetery—Billy's Explanation—
Stopped By Scrub—Discovery of a Strange Road.


AS the party one by one emerged from the scrub their eyes were delighted by a prospect of open downs country dotted here and there with clumps of gidea scrub; but, better than all, not a mile away was plainly to be seen a line of creek timber, whilst the presence of water was shown by the flights of white corellas hovering about. It was not long before the party were comfortably encamped beside a good-sized waterhole and the horses luxuriating in a full supply. Brown with his pipe as usual under full blast was enjoying the scene, when Billy, who had been wandering about the camp, came up and remarked, "No sleep here."

"What's the matter?" asked Brown.

Billy pointed to a thick patch of scrub a short distance off, and beckoned to him to follow. Brown noticed that the tops of the trees looked remarkably thick and dense, but it was not until he was close that he saw the reason. Nearly every tree of any size bore a rude scaffolding, and on the top of every scaffolding was either a bleached skeleton or a dried mummy-like corpse. The ground, too, was covered with bones and skulls that had fallen down.

Brown called to the others, and they came and looked with awe at this strange sepulchre.

"I've often seen them in the trees, one or two in one place, but nothing like this. Why, there must be over a hundred here," said Morton.

"Strange!" remarked Brown, after a closer inspection; "all the dried bodies have a red smudge on the forehead."

"No sleep here; by-and-by this fellow get up, walk about," insisted Billy.

This remark rather dispelled the slight gloom caused by the sight of so many human bodies, and Billy had to undergo a good deal of chaffing, but it was evident that his fright was real.

No ghostly visitants, however, came to the camp that night, but just before daylight Charley woke up, and, finding Billy fast asleep, a wicked idea came into his head. Brown dabbled a little in sketching, and Charley soon found the colour-box in one of the pack-bags, and proceeded to paint Billy's forehead red after the manner of the mummies in the scrub.

"Halloo, Billy," said Morton as the quarts were boiling; "what's up with your head?"

Billy grinned, not understanding what was meant.

"Look here," said Brown, taking his hand glass out of the pack. Billy looked and turned as white as he possibly could.

"He come up," he said at last, pointing to the scrub, and looking all round as though he expected to find some mummies still walking about.

"Tell him you did it, Charley," said Morton. "I'm afraid you've funked him, and if so he'll bolt."

Charley laughingly complied, and after Billy had been induced to wash off the paint and had inspected the paint-box he was somewhat comforted, but evidently still thought that the subject was not a fit one to joke about. Struck by this, Morton after some trouble got from him that he had heard of the men with red foreheads who were supposed to live near the burning mountain that they pretended to be dead during the day but got up and walked about at night.

"This looks like being on the right track," said Morton to Brown. "Um! nice sort of company you are bringing us into; however, death or glory! Lead on, Major Mitchell!"

And in a short time the water-hole and the ghastly scrub beside it were left behind. The patch of open country proved unfortunately to be of very limited extent; in a short time they found themselves again entangled in the dense scrub, which was now becoming a most formidable obstacle.

Towards the middle of the day even the sanguine Morton began to despair of pushing on at the slow rate they were going, and to meditate a return to their camp of the night before and a fresh start in a new direction. At noon they were compelled to halt; the desert hedgewood had now made its appearance, and the barrier presented by it was almost impenetrable.

"What do you say, Brown?" asked Morton when their meal was finished; "will you go north for a mile or two, and I'll do the same south, and see if there's anything like a gap in this confounded scrub?"

"My dear Captain Flinders, I am entirely at your disposal. I think we shall get along faster on foot."

"I think so too. Charley, you and Billy stop here till we come back."

It was a good two hours before the cracking of boughs and muttered bad language from the south announced to Charley and Billy the re-turn of Morton.

"How did you get on?" was the query.

"Get on!" returned Morton. "I didn't get on at all; don't believe I got half a mile from here. It's the worst old man scrub I was ever in; I've barked my hands nicely. If old Brown did no better we shall have to go and cut him out with a tomahawk."

Almost as ho spoke Billy held up his hand, and said,

"Mitter Brown come up."

In a minute or two his tall form emerged from the thicket. "I beg to report, sir," he said to Morton with much solemnity, "that the main road to somewhere is about three-quarters of a mile to the northward."

"What on earth do you mean, old man?"

"I assure you it's a fact; after going through some of the most awful scrub I ever met with I came to an 'illigant' cleared road, gas lamps, mile-stones, and probably bridges and public-houses."

"Well we'd better go there. I wonder you came back before visiting one of the pubs."

"I didn't exactly see all that I have stated, but I really have no doubt of their existence," returned Brown. "Joking apart, there really is a cleared track out there, but we'll have to out a road to get the horses there."

"Well this beats all; however, it's getting late so we had better shape. Charley, you and Billy go ahead with the tomahawks; we'll dodge the horses along after you."

It took some time and labour to negotiate the distance indicated by Brown, but about an hour before sundown, to the astonishment of three of them, they stood upon what was evidently a cleared track, about the width of an ordinary bridle track. Morton examined the limbs cut off, and pointed out that it was all done with a stone tomahawk. Billy was looking for tracks, but none had been made since the last thunderstorm had fallen.

"It's running westward; I suppose it's all right, but this beats my experience. What say you, Brown?" said Morton.

"Forward, Cortes, while the light lasts," was the reply of that individual.

The progress was now easy, for the track had been most carefully cleared, and the horses, all old stagers, marched along in single file without any trouble. Darkness, however, fell, and the scrub around was still unchanged.

"Morton," said Brown, breaking the silence, "I've an idea."

"Good gracious, man, have you at last found one in this scrub?"

"Don't be funny, Macdowall Stewart; but I should not be surprised at any moment to meet a first-class funeral coming along."

"You're as bad as Billy."

"That's just it; it strikes me those mummies, etc., we saw down there have all been carted along this road, from—wherever we're going to. That's the reason it's so carefully cleared."

"Jove! You're right. Rather a surprise for the mourners if we blunder on to them in the dark."

"Just what we want to avoid; there's some thing ahead no white man has yet heard of, and if we can sneak along without being seen so much the better."

"What do you think is the best thing to do? We can't budge a step off the track, and if unluckily there's a funeral ceremony on to night we shall fall foul of them all the same."

"We'll go on until we get a bit of open country and then pull off and wait for day light."

"All serene, but our tracks will let on."

The conversation had been carried on without halting, and in silence the march continued until midnight, when a low whistle from Morton gave a signal to pull up.

CHAPTER 3

A Midnight Halt—A Mysterious Procession—Sudden Dispersion
And Flight—Open Country Once More, and Another Mystery Ahead


AS well as could be made out in the gloom cast by the scrub they had reached a small break, and Morton wheeling off, the horses followed, and the party dismounted, as the leader judged, some two hundred yards from the track. Morton gave his orders in low tones, for the atmosphere of awe and mystery affected everybody. There was no grass, so the horses were just relieved of their packs and tied to trees; then the men lay down on their blankets without making a fire, and, save for the occasional snort of a horse, the scrub was as silent as before.

Not for long. It seemed to Brown that he had scarcely closed his eyes when the camp was aroused by a distant melancholy cry. No one spoke; all were intently listening; the cry sounded again, louder, nearer; and in a chorus of many voices.

"What bad luck!" whispered Morton, to his friend; "a day or two sooner or later and we would have been right."

Nearer and nearer came the plaintive wailing noise, and the gleam of firesticks was visible. It was a most uncomfortable sensation that our adventurers experienced, lying motionless in the gloomy scrub, listening to this uncanny procession passing. They were well armed, but the sights they had encountered had been so much out of the ordinary routine as to make even such old hands as Morton and Brown slightly nervous.

Charley was naturally greatly excited, whilst Billy was "larding the earth" with the perspiration of abject superstitious terror. The party of natives were now opposite, but a short distance away, and by the number of firesticks there seemed to be a good many in company; every now and then the wild wail or chant kept breaking out, and the shuffling noise of their bare feet was distinctly audible during the silent intervals.

They had almost passed the hidden watchers when the procession was interrupted by a discordant shout from the leaders; a babble of voices followed, the firesticks gathered together, and were then dashed on the ground and extinguished; then, came the noise of flying feet back along the track, dying away into silence.

"Saw our tracks!" said Brown with a disgusted sigh, breaking the spell that held them all quiet.

"How could they see them in the dark?" asked Charley.

"They could both feel them, and smell them," returned Morton. "The track is caked hard from the last thunderstorm, and all our horses walking one after another would cut it up soft, and of course with their bare feet they'd tell the difference directly. And the scent would be as plain as possible at this time in the morning even to one of us. What's the time, Brown?"

Brown struck a match,

"Three. It will be breaking day soon after five; let's wait till then."

"Why?" said Morton.

"We might as well get on while it's cool; there's the remains of the moon just rising."

"Why? You think with me that it was a funeral. Now, I should like to know what they did with the corpse; they never carried it away at that pace."

"Never thought of that," returned Morton. "Yes, we might pick up some information if we wait. We'll make a fire and have breakfast."

The time soon passed in discussing the strange scene just witnessed and the possible result of their trip. Morton reminded Brown of the Freemasons that Stuart met in the interior, and Charley, who had not heard the former conversation, was enlightened as to the probable meaning of what had passed.

As soon as daylight was strong enough the investigation commenced. On the track where it had been hastily thrown lay the body of a tall old man fastened on to a rude litter made of saplings. The forehead was smeared with red pigment, and a triangle in white was inscribed on the dusky breast. Brown gave a low whistle.

"That's a thing I never saw blacks draw before," he said to Morton.

"Nor I. He's a fine-looking old boy. What a long white beard he's got for a nigger!"

The body was fastened to the litter with rude strips of currajong bark; and they were turning away after noting all the details, when Brown suggested that they might move him off the track.

"You know," he explained, "we might come hustling along the track in the dark in as big a hurry as those fellows did and tumble over the old gentleman."

The litter and its burden were shifted a few paces in the scrub, and full of expectation the party started on their interrupted way. The country soon became more open, and as it did so the track they had been following became less marked; it was still, however, quite plain for any bushman to follow easily.

At noon, to the great relief of the horses, they came to a small pool of rain water and some fairly good grass. Here they turned out for a long spell.

"Question is," said Brown, when the usual discussion commenced, "where did those nigs camp? No sign of them here. By the way, any gins' tracks among them, Billy?"

"No," replied the boy, "all together blackfellow."

"Must be more water ahead, and I hope so, for this won't stand in another week, and we want some to come back on. Now I'm going aloft on the lookout," said Morton.

Charley looked at him curiously as he slung the field glass over his shoulder, and taking a tomahawk proceeded to an exceptionally tall bloodwood tree near the camp. At the foot he took off his boots, and cutting niches into the trunk like a blackfellow was soon up amongst the top branches. Ensconcing himself firmly he took a comprehensive sweep around, and then directed his attention to the westward. "Below there!" he shouted, after a lengthened scrutiny.

"Hi, hi, sir!" returned Charley. "Brown! Will your long legs bring you up here?"

"Will it hold us both?" demanded Brown.

"Yes, safe as houses."

In a short time Brown was up alongside his friend, and a very earnest discussion followed extremely tantalising to Charley below. After taking a compass bearing to some distant object they descended; and Charley, who was already barefooted, immediately attempted the ascent, slipping ignominiously down after getting up two or three steps, to Billy's huge delight. With the black boy's assistance he managed to reach the first branches, and from there gained the perch occupied by Morton on the top.

What did he see when he got there?

The forest to the westward came to an abrupt end, and beyond stretched a wide gray plain, bounded by something that Charley could not make out, and had evidently puzzled Morton and Brown. It was not water, although it looked something like it; it was a broad sheet of pale blue, glistening in places under the sun's rays, and beyond, above a quivering haze, was a dark object like a distant ridge.

"What name, Billy?" said Charley to the black boy who had climbed up with him.

"Water?"

"No water," said Billy decidedly. "Water here, close up," he added, pointing to the edge of the forest.

"What name then?" repeated Charley.

"Me think it mud, where water bin go bung," was the blackfellow's opinion; and with this they both descended.

"Well, Charley, what do you make of it?" said Morton. "Billy thinks it's mud where the water has dried up," returned Charley, as he had no opinion of his own to give.

"And Billy's right I believe, it's the bed of a dry salt lake, but we'll get on to the edge of the timber and camp."

On the margin of the plain they came to some fine lagoons and good feed; but nothing could be seen of the mysterious object ahead, unless from the top of a tree. About the lagoons they found abundant traces of the natives, and it was evidently a main camping place. Many of the trees were marked with triangles, which sign considerably puzzled both the elder travellers.

CHAPTER 4

The Limestone Plain—The Devil's Tracks—A Night March


THE morning found them early on the alert, and still following the faint track that led towards the dark ridge visible beyond the blue expanse. Before sunrise this supposed dry lake had been visible from the camp, but as the sun rose it disappeared, nor did they again sight it till nearly eight o'clock.

At ten they were close to it, and all doubt as to its character was set at rest. They pulled up, not at the edge of a dry lake, but of an unbroken sheet of limestone rock. Nothing was visible but this bluish-gray sea, over which a heated haze was hovering; the dark line beyond, resembling a ridge, had vanished; and the wind that blew in their faces across the surface of this strange plain was as hot as though it came from a furnace.

Morton turned and rode along the edge of the rock to where the track joined it, for they had left it for the last few yards. He whistled and the others came up. The track still continued right on across the rock, but it was now indicated by other means. On the surface of the limestone had been scratched or chipped with infinite care an imitation of human footsteps, or rather more than human footsteps, for the gigantic tracks were twice the size of a man's, and the stride indicated to correspond. Side by side, about six feet apart, these two awful foot-steps strode into the quivering mirage.

"I've seen that mark before on the West coast," said Brown, "You notice there are six toes to it. It's supposed to be the devil's footprint."

"By Jove, what work it must have been!" returned Morton. "But what shall we do now?"

"Go back to the lagoon for this afternoon, and hold a council of war; no good stopping here."

This was cordially agreed to, and a return to their last night's camping ground was at once made.

"We can't take the horses across there;" was affirmed by Brown when the discussion commenced.

"Certainly not, and I doubt if we can cross on foot in the daytime. We should be baked to death with the rock underneath and the sun overhead. We should get no shade to rest under."

"It's quite agreed, we must follow this thing out?" said Brown.

"Quite!" returned the two.

"Then the first thing to consider is what to do with the horses and packs. Will they be safe here?"

"I think so," replied Morton. "I don't think there are any natives behind us; they are beyond that limestone somewhere ahead of us, so that nobody will come here without our knowing it, for they only use the one track seemingly, and we shall be on that. We'll plant the traps and leave the horses hobbled; they won't stir from here before we come back, the feed's too good. Let's dig a hole this evening to plant the things in."

This plan, on further consideration, was approved of; a light pick and shovel had not been forgotten in the pack intended for water digging, and a grave, as Charley called it, was soon made and the impedimenta buried. They made their packs as light as possible, but with three days' rations, firearms, ammunition, and water bags, they felt heavy enough, and all hands devoutly hoped they would be off the rock before daylight.

With all the despatch they made they did not reach the edge of the rock before twelve, but it mattered little, as the surface was only then getting cool, and would have been unbearable any earlier. Billy was sent first with bare feet, he being trusted to follow the track by feeling when they strayed off it, as he would then cross the rough surface made by the sculptured tracks, the remainder of the limestone being almost as smooth as marble.

It was a weird and weary tramp across this rock by the light of the stars, with vague darkness all around them. None of them felt inclined to speak, and an awful silence reigned everywhere. A sickly moon rose just before daylight, and its faint beams cast the long shadows of the travellers across the gleaming surface of the limestone. The thought in the minds of the three men was the same—what would daylight show them? Billy plodded along mechanically; most of the time he was half asleep. Daylight came at last, and the black line that they had seen from the tree top gradually came into view, apparently not far ahead; and each felt grateful that he had not to encounter the force of the sun on the face of the naked rock.

When it was broad daylight the dark line resolved itself under the glasses into a row of basaltic boulders, with some bushes growing in their clefts and a bottle tree here and there on their summits.

"We shall be there before it is hot," said Morton thankfully as he closed the glasses; "let's push on."

They did so, and before the sun had attained much power found themselves amongst the boulders. The track led straight into a gap, and on one side a huge block of stone, supported by two others, made a rude cave, under which the weary men gladly took shelter after their toilsome tramp. Evidently it was a halting place for the blacks, for the remains of fires were about, and a supply of firewood, which came in very handy for the tired men to cook their breakfast with.

A satisfactory meal and a smoke being finished, the situation was reviewed. Behind them lay the bare expanse of rock just crossed, and before them the unknown. Now, too, they would have to keep a keen look out for lurking foes, for in amongst these boulders every step was fraught with danger, especially as the blacks knew of their approach; and it was evident that they were trespassing on tabooed ground.

The future movements of the party were now, as might be supposed, a matter of serious consideration, and Brown and Morton were in earnest discussion when a loud report like a clap of thunder suddenly startled the little company to their feet. A low rumbling followed that seemed to shake the very rocks. Hurrying outside nothing was seen that could possibly have caused the strange noise; the sky was cloudless, the air still and sultry. Suddenly Billy pointed to the westward.

"Fire jump up," he said. A puff of white smoke, or vapour, was rising seemingly only a short distance from them. Silently they watched it ascend and disperse.

"Blacks here have artillery apparently," said Brown. "Salute in honour of our arrival."

Nothing more following, they returned to the cave, leaving Charley at the entrance on the look out.

"If these fellows know nothing about the effect of firearms," said Morton, "we may be able to establish a funk; they may have heard of them only from the other tribes."

"I don't think they have much communication with the other tribes by the look of it, but, if they live amongst these rocks, what on earth do they exist on?—for there's no game here."

"Well, all we can do is to keep a sharp look out and our powder dry—What's up?"

"Here's the corpse!" cried Charley, falling back from the entrance in amazement.

Billy gave an awful yell; the others started to their feet as a tall native coolly walked into the cave, and squatted down on the ground. It certainly was enough to give them all a fright, for the visitor, in outward appearance, greatly resembled the dead man left in the scrub. A second glance, however, showed points of difference which proved him to be a denizen of the earth; he was marked with the white triangle on the breast, and the red smear on the forehead, but was naked and unarmed, whilst his manner showed no trace of fear.

Recovering themselves somewhat, Morton lugged Billy forward to see if he could converse with the new comer. This proceeding, however, did not suit their visitor, for he addressed a furious tirade at Mr. Button in some unknown tongue, winding up by violently spitting at him.

Billy slunk back scared, and the native rising took Brown by the arm and led him to the entrance; pointing alternately forward and backwards he made signs for them to turn back, and not to go on. Brown returned by signs that they must go on. The blackfellow shook his head vigorously, and then held up his hand motioning them to listen.

Again the loud report was heard, and a puff of vapour ascended as before. To the apparent surprise of the native, the whites showed no alarm, and Brown taking his carbine stepped back, and fired it into the air. The black gave a decided start, and trembled a little, but stood his ground; then his mind seemed to change, and, making a sign to Brown to stay, he strode off and disappeared behind the surrounding rocks.

"Is he coming back, do you think?" said Brown.

"I think so," replied Morton. "He's a fine fellow, with plenty of pluck."

"Then we'll give him twenty minutes' grace—but here he comes, and all his sisters and his cousins and his aunts."

Sure enough their former visitor appeared, accompanied by some half-dozen others, similarly painted and all unarmed. He spoke a few words to them, and pointed towards Brown, upon whom they gazed curiously.

"Now, then, Brown," said Morton, "you're the star; evidently they want an exhibition."

Brown, who had reloaded his carbine, fired in the air again. The fresh arrivals showed more alarm than the first man had, some of them squatted hastily down and all started with fear.

"It appears to me, Brown, that they consider you 'brother belonging' to this noise ahead," remarked Morton.

"It looks like it, and we must keep up the pleasing fiction, for these fellows have us on toast in amongst these rocks. I wonder how many more there are round about."

"Let's see if we can go on now," said Morton. On Brown indicating their wish to proceed, the most ready acquiescence was displayed, and at a few words from the native who had first arrived the others showed by signs their intention to carry the strangers' packs.

Before starting, however, names were interchanged, that being generally found the easiest steps towards intimacy. Brown, Morton, and Charley (or Sarley) were soon picked up, and the chief, as he appeared to be, introduced himself as Columberi, which, of course, was at once turned into Columbus by Brown, and the oldest blackfellow amongst the others was named Yarlow.

With Columbus appropriately in the lead, the march commenced, the tracks winding in and out of the rocks in a very intricate fashion. For nearly five miles they kept on, although in a straight line they would not probably have traversed more than two, and at last arrived at an open space surrounded by bottle trees, and from the number of humpies, built of mud and grass, apparently the headquarters of the tribe. Here they halted. About twenty more blacks were sitting about, who at first made a show of taking to their heels, but a call from Columbus brought them back. Selecting a shady tree, Brown indicated that their swags should be brought up, and this being done he remarked:

"What do you say to a feed, and then getting Christopher here to show us the ropes?"

"Just as well," returned Brown; "we must take everything as a matter of course, and show no surprise." Billy made a fire, and the quarts were put on to boil, a proceeding which interested the spectators greatly. Brown by signs then invited Columbus to sit down, and presented him with a piece of damper thickly coated with sugar, at the same time eating a piece himself to inspire confidence.

The native started to eat in a slow and doubtful manner, but after a bite or two finished it off with great gusto and indicated a wish for more. The quarts now bubbled up, and the blacks with one accord emitted, a united "ha!" and pointed to the westward; evidently the boiling water bore some resemblance to something in that direction. Columbus now described a mark in the dust like a half-circle, and pointed in the direction they had come.

"He means the horse tracks they saw," said Morton after a pause. He nodded vigorously to the old man, who continued his pantomime by lying on his back as though dead. Morton nodded, again and patted the ground pointing backwards to indicate that the corpse was still there. Columbus then called the other blacks aside, and after a long talk about a dozen of them drew off and disappeared amongst the surrounding boulders.

"We must follow up this burning mountain business," said Brown as he meditatively ate his dinner; "now old Columbus has disposed of his private affairs perhaps he will take us there."

"Call him back and let's make inquiries; see if he'll eat beef."

The chieftain approaching, Brown offered him a piece of salt beef. He examined it curiously, and then without any demur ate it in the most appreciative manner. He then pointed to Charley, and made signs as though cutting with a knife which for a time were quite unintelligible.

"Blessed if he doesn't mean to ask if you're good to eat," said Brown at last.

He shook his head, and the native appeared both surprised and disappointed.

On their indicating their wish to proceed in the direction of the strange reports, he rose and led the way. The whites only took their carbines, as they felt assured that as yet their coming was too novel for the blacks to interfere with their belongings. They had but a short distance to go.

Rounding a rugged wall of basalt they saw stretched before them a singular and striking scene. At their feet was a large circular shallow depression, about a mile in circumference, filled with pools of clear water divided one from another by narrow ridges of rock. In the centre of this depression was a hill of small elevation with a flat top; not a vestige of green weed was to be seen about the water, nothing but bare rock. Without stopping, their guide led the way along one of the narrow strips of basalt intersecting the water.

"Keep your feet," said Morton as they followed him, "for it strikes me that water's scalding hot."

Warned by this, the whites carefully continued their course to the central hill, Columbus mounted it, and then pointed down. They were on the edge of a crater.

At no great distance below was a mass of seething boiling mud. The crater had lip-like fractures in various parts, and to one of these their guide now directed their attention, at the same time motioning to them to stand back from the edge. The water in the pool at the back of the lip was curiously ruffled; presently it assumed the appearance of boiling, and rising suddenly poured over the edge of the crater into the molten mud beneath. A deafening report followed, and the rocks on which the party crouched trembled again. Then came a rush of steam, and all was still once more.

By a great effort the strangers had preserved their coolness, and looked on the display unmoved; then in response to Brown they discharged the carbines simultaneously, an act which nearly made Columbus topple into the crater.

CHAPTER 5

Columbus Takes A Fancy To Charley— The Secret Of
The Limestone Cliff— A Feast Of Cannibals—
A White Man With The Blacks— Initiation Of Recruits—
Charley Makes A Proposition.


BY the language of signs they were given to understand that the rocks through which they had found their way extended in every direction. Another low elevation a short distance away resembling a limestone cliff was noticed, but about this their guide, who had now recovered his composure, could, or apparently would, not afford them any information.

After a more lengthened examination of the strange surroundings they returned to their camp in the open space, which they found deserted by the natives. Columbus, however, showed no signs of leaving them, and the whites, with due regard to strategic purposes, pitched their tent and made themselves as comfortable as circumstances allowed.

"The thing that puzzles me," said Brown, after all arrangements had been completed, "is—What do these natives live on? Columbus, whom we have feasted on strange dainties, shows no desire of leaving us; but the others are all away, evidently in search of grub. There are no gins visible; perhaps they are away hunting, but I doubt it, for within a hundred miles of here there isn't a feed for a bandicoot."

"I don't understand it either," returned Morton, "but we'll stop and see it out any way. Charley, our friend Columbus has taken quite a fancy to you; he can't take his eyes off you."

Charley looked very uncomfortable at the chaff, and muttered something about a "nigger's cheek;" but it was quite evident that the native had transferred all his admiration from Brown to Charley.

Whilst still talking and discussing the situation a sound like a distant uproar of voices be came apparent, and Columbus commenced to evince signs of uneasiness. The sound came from the direction of the limestone cliffs, and grew louder and more distinct as they listened.

All the party naturally rose to their feet, although the native made energetic signs to them to keep quiet. After a short time the shouting became stationary, and it was evidently not intended as an attack upon them, or such loud warning would not have been given.

"Shall we go and see what's up?" said Morton.

"We'll fix the direction, any way," returned Brown, and they proceeded to clamber up one of the high boulders by which they were surrounded, although Columbus evidently pro tested against the proceeding. From the top of the boulder they could make out the summit of the limestone cliffs, and ascertained that the uproar certainly came from there, and moreover that the shrill cries of gins mingled with the many voices.

It was well on towards sundown, and after a short conference Brown and Morton determined to defer further explorations until the next day, so they returned to their camp, Columbus, who seemed much relieved by the proceeding, now made signs for Charley to accompany him in the direction they had been just looking. At the same time he made it plainly apparent that Charley was to come alone.

"I'll go, Frank," he said to Morton. "Let me go and have all the honour and glory."

Morton and Brown both replied in the negative, and Brown intimated to Columbus that to-morrow Charley should go, but now it was nearly night and he wanted a sleep. This seemed to satisfy the blackfellow, who now evidently wanted to get away himself, and presently, as soon as he thought the attention of the party was not directed towards him, he disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived.

"I have not got to the bottom of this little affair yet," said Morton; "but I think we shall to-night. What do you say to paying a visit to these cliffs as soon as it is pitch dark; I have the bearing?"

"The very thing I was going to suggest, my dear Flinders. Charley, it strikes me that our new friend wants to make long pig of you."

"What's that?" asked Charley.

"Well, a favourite dish amongst some natives who have an acquired taste for human flesh."

"Do you think he's a cannibal?" said the boy, rather aghast.

"I should be sorry to slander a stranger, but he certainly looks something like it."

As soon as it was quite dark the party set out on their way to the cliffs, which they judged to be about a mile distant; it was a difficult matter shaping a course by the stars amongst the gloom cast by the surrounding boulders, but an occasional murmur of sound helped them on, and after scrambling and twisting about they found themselves near the low cliffs.

Here Billy was told to strip and reconnoitre, and his black figure was lost amongst the rocks almost before he seemed to have made a step. He was absent nearly half an hour; then a subdued whistle announced his return, and in a low voice he communicated to Morton the result of his investigations.

About four or five hundred yards from where they were waiting there was a cave in the cliff, and the blacks it appears were in there. Billy had gone close to the entrance, but could see only a light in the distance, for, according to him, "hole been go long way."

Under Billy's guidance they soon reached the cave entrance, and found it to be a kind of tunnel evidently leading to a large cave, for a red glare of firelight came round an angle, and the sound of many chattering voices was audible.

"Shall we go on?" said Morton in a whisper.

"No, wait a minute," replied Brown; "it strikes me there's another entrance to this place; they must have a lot of fire going, but yet the place is not full of smoke. I can smell the fire, but that's all. I think there must be an opening in the top, let's send Billy up to see."

The face of the cliff was easily climbed, being mostly detached rooks that had fallen down, and very soon Billy came back and reported that "fire come up alonga top."

One after the other the adventurers ascended and found themselves on a rocky plateau full of fissures and holes, through some of which a bright light was streaming.

Approaching this portion carefully on their hands and knees, they soon found a fissure through which they could gaze with safety on one of the strangest scenes ever witnessed in Australia.

The cavern below them was seemingly of some size, and was well lighted by a number of fires, the smoke from which somewhat annoyed the unseen spectators. A far larger number of blacks were assembled than had been visible before, and many of them were armed and painted, being also marked with the red smear and white triangle. One large group was composed of some twenty, or thirty young men and women; they were huddled together, apparently much frightened, and had no marks whatever upon their bodies.

Columbus was soon recognised squatting at one of the fires with some of the other old men, and, like all but the group of boys and girls, busily engaged in eating. Morton felt his arm clutched suddenly and tightly, and Brown hoarsely whispered in his ear, "It is meat they are eating; but what meat?"

Morton was struck with horror as he listened, and the truth flashed across his mind. It was a feast of cannibals they were overlooking. The armed natives had just returned from a foray, and the trembling group in the corner were prisoners destined to death.

An awful feeling of horror came over the whole party as they realised their situation and possible fate. In a wilderness of savage rocks, surrounded by an expanse of desert, almost in the hands of some fifty or sixty fierce cannibals—no wonder the first thought of each was to slip quietly back the way he had come under cover of the night, and leave the natives to their former obscurity.

Their natural courage soon returned. At present they were masters of the situation; with their breech-loaders they could have shot down half the natives, helpless in the cavern below, if so inclined. But, with all their horror of the scene, affairs did not seem to justify armed intervention just then.

Contenting themselves with being spectators only, they watched the doings in the cave, at times having to stifle a cough brought on by a puff of smoke from the burning wood fires, or a time the repast below went on with the usual accompaniments of a blacks' camp, but as it came to an end it was evident that some extraordinary occurrence was going to take place.

Gradually the old men mustered together around Columbus, and the other blacks proceeded to combine all the fires into one large one near the wall of the cavern. The added blaze gave to view a huge figure painted on the rock; it was the semblance of a human form, but the head, instead of being represented round, was grotesquely shaped like a triangle. At the foot of the painting was a rock, and, while the rank and file of the natives grouped themselves in a circle around the fire, Columbus and some others retired into the darkness out of sight of the watchers.

The chant of a corroboree now commenced, and the blacks slowly circled round the fire for a short time, suddenly ceasing and breaking into a half ring, with the open part towards the grim figure painted on the wall. Then Columbus and the others appeared, supporting between them a striking and venerable figure—an old, old man, with snow-white hair and beard, bent so double that, as he hobbled along supporting himself on two short sticks, he appeared like some strange animal walking on four legs.

This decrepit being was carefully helped and guided to the stone beneath the figure, and seated thereon; then the others squatted on the ground, the blacks in the half ring remaining quietly standing. The old man seated on the block was now full in view of the whites above, and the brilliant rays of the fire fell directly on him. Brown and Morton turned to each other with the same smothered exclamation on their lips, "By Jove, it's a white man!"

Almost as dark as the savages around, painted like them with a hideous red smear on the forehead and a white triangle on the breast, the experienced whites felt sure that before them they saw one of their own race. Apparently the venerable being was either blind or nearly so; and he kept turning his face restlessly from side to side.

From the half circle of blacks then arose a shout or chant that sounded like the repetition of "Mur! Fee! Mur! Fee!"

"Hulloo! we're amongst countrymen," whispered Brown; "that sounds awfully like Murphy."

A terrible noise was now commenced like a hundred mad gongs let loose. Four blacks came forward beating furiously with clubs on what appeared to be sheets of metal. At the sound the old man on the rock smiled and leant forward, and, stretching forth his trembling hands, appeared to say something. At this Columbus arose, and, followed by the gong-beaters, went over to the throng of trembling captives. After a short inspection he selected a young gin and pulled her along by the hand towards the old man, followed still by the gong-beaters.

The poor wretch seemed stupefied with fear, and when in front of the stone she sank down, trembling visibly. Columbus drew back, and the gong-beaters, dancing madly round, made a still more deafening din. Suddenly one of them, instead of striking his gong, dealt the unfortunate creature a terrible blow on the head, the others followed his example, and in an instant the wretched gin lay dead on the ground.

The effect of this scene on the whites above was maddening. Charley had his gun to his shoulder, but Morton stopped him in time. The gin was killed before interference was possible.

"Come away," said Brown, "let's have a confab. I'm sick of watching those brutes."

They scrambled away a short distance, and after a pause Brown spoke.

"We've got our work cut out, there's no doubt about that. We must find out all about that white man if possible, and we must let those poor devils go and give these cannibals a lesson."

"In justice to our friend Columbus," said Morton, "let me remark that 'these cannibals' are only following up what they have been taught; they have no horror of the thing like we have. At the same time, the man who lifts his hand—or nulla nulla—against a woman is unworthy the name of a British sailor, etc., etc."

"Are you convinced that is a white man?" said Charley.

"Yes," replied Brown, "but who he is is another question. He appears to be blind, deaf, and imbecile. I suppose we must fall back upon Leichhardt."

"He's been a big man when younger and erect," said Morton; "far bigger than Leichhardt was. However, we'll suppose it to be one of his party—he looks old enough."

Brown gave vent to a low whistle.

"By jingo, supposing that was 'Murphy' they were shouting. I believe there was a man of that name in the lost party."

"We shall find out I hope soon. Meantime, what next?"

"I know," said Charley; "let's go back to camp. You promised Columbus I should go with him to-morrow. Well, I'll go and find out all about it."

Morton put his hand on Charley's. "It's a real plucky bid, my boy, after what we've just seen; but do you think I could let you go? Why you'd be cooked and eaten in no time."

"Hold on!" said Brown; "I'm full of ideas just now; let me think this one out; there's something in what Charley says."

"Now, oracle, as soon as you're ready," returned Brown.

"Well, I may be right or wrong, but my notion is that Columbus does not want to eat Charley. Why, they've got enough rations for a month. I think that they keep this old man as a sort of fetish, and that Columbus and a few of the knowing old fellows see that he must soon die. Now they want Charley to take his place." Brown paused triumphantly.

"I verily believe you've hit it," said Morton. "You ought always to live here, considering the amount of intellect you are developing."

At this moment a renewed din once more pealed up from the cave, and the party crawled out find out the cause. The gong-beaters, Columbus, and his privy councillors were parading the captives, and the spectators shuddered as they looked down upon hideous remains of the late feast scattered about the sandy floor of the cavern.

This time a fine looking young man was selected and marched up to the venerable figure on the stone. The gong-beaters fell back, and Columbus and his companions proceeded to smear the youth's forehead with red pigment, and marked the cabalistic white triangle on his breast. He was then led away to a dark corner out of sight of the watchers. Brown muttered a deep oath.

"That's what has been puzzling me," he growled to Moreton, "how they kept their numbers up; of course they recruit from the best looking prisoners."

"See! they are going to select another," whispered his friend; "bet you two figs of tobacco they choose that tall fellow with his hair tied in a knot."

"Done! I'll back the nuggety fellow along side him."

Brown lost, the tall fellow being marched out to receive the marks of the cannibalistic brotherhood.

Columbus and the others now assisted the old man to hobble away, and the blacks squatted down by the fire and relit fresh ones about the ground.

"Get back to camp," said Morton; "the fun is over for to-night."

Scrambling down the cliff, and using every precaution, the party soon regained their camp, which they found as deserted as they left it.

CHAPTER 6

TIRED out with their exertions and the continued night work the party slept soundly, and awoke at dawn to find the camp as calm and silent as if no such tragedies as they had witnessed were ever enacted in the neighbour hood.

"Terribly sultry, is it not?" said Morton; "I suppose it is these rocks retain the heat so."

"It seems in the air. Look what a haze there is. I don't think I ever felt it so hot at this time of day. What do you say to a walk to the crater after breakfast?"

Charley called out just then that the meal was ready, and during its progress the plan of action for the day was discussed and agreed upon. On arriving at the crater they found it in a great state of activity, most of the pools were in violent commotion, and constantly overflowing into the crater, causing a succession of reports.

Returning to the camp they found that Columbus and two or three of the old men had arrived, all looking as mild and gentle as if they habitually lived upon milk and water.

"Look at the old scoundrel," said Morton; "his mouth is watering to see us roasting on the coals."

"I think he only wants to get rid of us and to induce us to leave Charley behind. Now let's try him," returned Brown.

Preparations were then apparently made for departure, Charley intimating to Columbus that he intended to go with him. The native appeared hugely delighted, and when the time for departure arrived neither he nor the others could restrain their expressions of joy.

With their swags on their shoulders Morton, Brown, and Billy strode off along the track by which they had come, ostentatiously waving their hands to Charley. No sooner, however, were they hidden from the camp than Morton and Billy slipped aside amongst the rocks, whilst Brown plodded steadily on, making as much noise as possible.

For nearly a quarter of a mile he kept his course and then stepped on one side and stood quietly behind a boulder. After five minutes' waiting the sound of footsteps was heard, and a native came along, evidently following the track to make sure that the white men left the place, for he was unarmed and alone.

He was close to Brown before he saw him, and then with a frightened cry sprang away, but he was too late. Brown had hold of him, and exerting all his uncommon strength threw him heavily down amongst the rooks, where he lay stunned and quiet. Brown waited patiently for some time, but nothing could be heard; one native only had evidently been sent to watch them away. Leaving his swag in a secure hiding-place, Brown then cautiously directed his course towards the limestone cliff, using every precaution to escape being seen.

He arrived in sight of the mouth of the cave after a toilsome journey, and after cautiously reconnoitering gave a low whistle. There was no answer, but voices could be heard approaching, and peering carefully out Brown saw Columbus, Charley, and three other old men emerge from the rocks and enter the cave.

At the same moment a low whistle sounded near him, to which he instantly replied, and in a few minutes Morton and Billy came creeping silently along and joined him.

"It's splendid," said Morton. "Columbus took Charley on one side amongst the rocks, then he gave a signal and all the blacks came along the track and squatted down in the open space where we were camped. Columbus and three old men then went away with Charley, whom they carefully kept hidden, and I think those are all we have to deal with; so come along for I can't bear to let that boy stop alone with them long, although I think he's safe enough."

"We'll just rush the four of them, and then take our time examining the place and the white man—is that it?" said Brown; "but how we're to get away afterwards I can't make out."

"We must trust to chance and our rifles; I think we can manage, but come quick." Noiselessly they stole along the narrow en trance that led into the inner cave and cautiously peered in to be sure of their ground before making their attack; the prisoners were there and the three old men, but Columbus and Charley were absent.

"Quick!" whispered Brown, and sprang forward on to one, while Morton felled the other with a nulla nulla he had picked up. The third made a bolt for the entrance, uttering a shrill yell as he did so, but Billy, whether through sudden fright or not, fired his carbine at him and the black dropped dead. Startled by the yell and report, Columbus came rushing from a dark earner of the cave; his eyes were flashing, and all the cannibal in his nature seemed aroused.

"Hit this fellow on the head!" roared Brown, releasing his struggling prisoner and grappling with the new foe. Morton dealt the native a stunning blow with the waddy, and then turned to assist his comrade. Strong as Brown was, it would have been hard work for him to subdue the infuriated Columbus without assistance. Between them they got him down and bound him with what straps they could master.

"Now for Charley!" cried Morton, turning in the direction of the dark corner. "Some thing must have happened to him!"

"I'm all right, old man; come with me." And Charley showed himself at the entrance of another and inner cave.

First stopping to tell Billy to wait and watch the prisoners, and shoot them if they attempted to escape, the two friends followed their young companion, leaving a strange scene behind them—Billy Button on guard at the entrance of the passage, the prostrate savages on the ground, and the captives for the cannibal feast, who had preserved a frightened apathy throughout, still huddled together.

In a smaller cave than the one they had just quitted, lighted like it through fissures from above, the three whites found the old man seated on the sandy floor, gazing with his half sightless eyes at the unaccustomed figures, for this much could he apparently discern. In a hasty whisper Charley confided to them that he had been speaking to him, and thought he could make him hear.

"Try again," said Morton eagerly.

Charley stooped down and shouted in the old man's ear, "Englishman! White man!"

A faint gleam of intelligence seemed to illuminate the poor creature's face, and he pointed eagerly forward with trembling hands. The friends followed the direction of his hands and saw a heap of objects piled in a dusky corner of the cavern, and Brown strode forward to examine them. The attention of the other two was confined to the ancient white man, who seemed strangely moved. He tried to rise and speak, but could only struggle ineffectually. It was awful to watch his convulsed features and think what secrets he carried hidden in his breast that time had forbidden him to reveal. At last with panting effort he half rose up, and with a quavering hoarse voice cried distinctly, "Yes! Englishman! White man!" and with a gasp fell back dead.

Awe-struck and startled, the two men looked at the body, when suddenly a series of yells from the outer cave and the report of a rifle aroused them all. Rushing out, the cause was instantly explained. Billy's attention was occupied with the lady captives; Columbus had freed himself from the straps, and the first Billy knew about it was a blow from a waddy and a figure flying up the passage, at whom he had hastily and vainly fired, as was evident by the frantic shouts of Columbus outside.

"Get your cartridges ready; we must fight for it!" cried Brown. Almost as he spoke there was a rush of flying feet and furious yells at the entrance.

"Fire like blazes!" added Morton, setting an example that was followed by the others until the white smoke nearly filled the cave. Madly and fanatically the natives had dashed up the narrow passage, but with four breech-loaders playing on them the attempt was useless; they fell back, and for a moment there was silence.

"Top! top! Look out!" suddenly screamed Billy, and none too soon; clambering up the cliff the blacks were on the roof, and forcing their way down in half a dozen places, so that the whites had scant time to escape into the open air over the bodies of those they had shot down. Outside, to their astonishment, they found themselves unopposed, the cannibals having all made for the top to gain the cave.

"What's up, Brown? You look like a ghost!" suddenly cried Morton; "are you hit?"

"No, I think not, but I feel drunk, and you look sick; for God's sake, come to the rocks."

An awful feeling of nausea and giddiness suddenly and strangely attacked them all. Staggering to the rocks in front of the cave they threw themselves down in what shade they could find, quite regardless of their enemies. The air was like the blast of a furnace, the reports from the crater deafening, and the earth seemed rocking underneath them.

From the mouth of the cavern came a melancholy wail, the death chant over the dead white man. By a great effort Morton rallied, for it suddenly flashed across him what was going to happen.

"Come!" he shouted, making to where an overhanging boulder afforded some slight shelter. With difficulty the others followed. As they crouched down completely unmanned they felt the earth rock under them, then came a terrific report that seemed to rend the rocks asunder, and the air was filled with blinding steam and mud. Utter silence reigned for nearly ten minutes, then Brown gave a deep sigh and raised his head.

"All aboard?" he cried. "Anybody hurt?"

One by one they answered and stood up and looked around.

"That's an experience one does not get every day," remarked Morton. "Those fellows in the cave were best off."

"Were they?" cried Brown excitedly. "Great God! look there." He pointed to the cliff, and they all saw what had happened.

The month of the cavern had disappeared, and the shape of the cliff was altered. The shock of earthquake they had just experienced had brought down the roof of the cavern, and all their late enemies lay buried beneath. The death wail they had lately heard had been the death wail of the whole tribe; the cannibals and their victims had shared the same fate.

"And the secret of that white man lies buried there too," said Morton after an awe struck pause.

"Not quite," replied Brown; "I brought something away with me that I found in that heap," and from the bosom of his shirt he drew an old leather pocket-book. A hasty inspection showed that it contained many pages of faded writing, but the time did not suit for close examination. They all felt that it would be a relief to get away from the place and proceeded to make for their late camp.

"Poor old Christopher," said Morton as they trudged along; "I feel sorry for him, he was a fine plucky fellow; do you remember how coolly he came to meet us?"

"Yes, and after all we had no business, according to their idea, to interfere in their little private ceremonies. They offered us no harm."

"We're lucky to get off as we did. We wouldn't have had the ghost of a show amongst these boulders. What do you say to having a look at the crater? it seems quiet enough now."

A wondrous change they found had taken place; the crater had disappeared. It had subsided, and an unbroken sheet of water flowed over the site. The mud on the boulders and the turbid condition of the water were the only signs of the late convulsion of Nature.

"And so," said Brown, "the burning mountain, such as it was, has gone for good, and we are the only men who saw it, or ever will see it."

"That's so," commenced Morton, when he was interrupted by a footstep from behind. They all turned. Scarred, bleeding, and burnt, a most miserable object, there stood Columbus, the only survivor of his tribe. He looked abjectly and imploringly at the whites—apparently it was to their power he attributed the disaster that had happened—and came forward with a crushed and broken air, gazing woefully at the space where once the crater had stood. Brown beckoned to him and he came readily towards to them, and followed silently to the camping ground. Here, after recovering their swags, they made a meal, the late cannibal chief eating and drinking gratefully what was given to him. With excited curiosity they set themselves to work to decipher the contents of the old pocket book, a task that occupied all their wits until dark.

"And now what's to be done?" said Morton when they had fairly well made out the matter it contained. "It appears to me that our work is not half finished, provided it's all true what is written there."

Brown nodded. "I think there's little doubt. What do you say to a rest, and then making back to our horses, starting from here about midday?"

"Agreed on; but how about Columbus?"

"Well I think the poor beggar means to stick to us if we let him, and if we can teach him to ride and speak a little, it strikes me he'll be thundering useful. Wonder how he escaped?"

"Poor Charley's asleep already, and I shan't need much rocking. Good night; whoever wakes first call the rest;" and Morton put his head down and was almost instantly asleep.

Night, dark and silent, closed in, and the tired survivors forgot even in their dreams the tragedy they had that day witnessed. It was with no small pleasure that they found themselves back at the lagoon where they had left their horses. Everything was safe, and their steeds looked first rate after their spell; evidently they had been enjoying better times than their riders.

With some trouble they got from Columbus the story of his escape; he had rushed out after the whites, but when just outside had been struck down by a falling rook, and knew no more, excepting that all the others were crushed under the rocks.

Everything being ready for a fresh start on their errand to follow up the discoveries recorded in the pocket-book, the explorers bade farewell to the friendly lagoon and started in high spirits, Brown remarking, "We found the burning mountain and lost it again; let us hope we'll have better luck with our next find."


12. -- THE MYSTERY OF THE POCKET BOOK
AND WHAT IT LED TO

Queenslander, Brisbane, 5, 12, 19, 26 Apr, 3 May 1890

[The direct sequel to "The Burning Mountain," picking up where that story left off. Here Favenc offers a fantastic explanation to the disappearance of the Leichardt expedition —TW]

CHAPTER 1

The First Day—Arrival At A Native Well—
Reading Stuart's Diary—The Mystery Of The Pocket-Book


THE course taken by the party when leaving the lagoon which had afforded such a good refuge for their horses during their trip to the burning mountain was to the north of that strange formation, now the sepulchre of a tribe. Their first day's journey took them through fairly good pastoral country, alternating between limited areas of chocolate-soil downs and bloodwood forests, partly grassed and partly overrun with spinifex.

Towards evening a change took place, and they found themselves amongst thickets of hedgewood, and at sundown Columbus led them to a dry lagoon in a patch of open grassy country. In the bed of this lagoon there was a native well, containing a very fair supply of water. All around were many remains of old native camps, and well defined pads radiated in all directions from the lagoon. Evidently it was a main halting place, constantly used by the late residents of the burning mountain when on their periodical man-hunting expeditions.

Watering the horses was a somewhat tedious job, as all the water had to be drawn from the well a billyful at a time and poured into an extemporised trough, made out of a waterproof sheet. This job finished, supper disposed of, and beds made down, the usual discussion ensued on the morrow's movements.

"Our mutual friend Columbus, if I may now call him so," said Brown, "seems to have his foot upon his native heath, by the way he brought us here. When are we to reach our goal according to his primitive mode of reckoning?"

"The day after to-morrow," returned Morton, "I make it, but it's not altogether clear, for you see he doesn't understand what sort of a day's stage horses can make yet."

"And what do you think of his yarn about the water and the boats, now that we've deciphered and made a clean copy of that never-to-be-too-much-admired pocket-book?"

"Well, he couldn't have invented it, for he's never seen a boat, and as he certainly can't read he couldn't have got the notion from the pocket-book; so I think there is something in it."

"Now what do you say to making another copy of the contents of the book and Charley and I keeping one, and you sticking to the original? I don't anticipate any disaster, but accidents will happen, etc."

"A good idea, and we'll do it to-night if Charley and Billy will get the tent rigged."

The noise of the tomahawks cutting tent pegs was soon heard, and in a short time Morton and Brown were engaged in their task by the flickering light of one of the candles they had brought with them, one dictating, the other writing.

The substance of the record that had fallen so strangely into their hands we will now transcribe. Of the contents of the pocket-book some parts had suffered from mutilation and some from water; on the whole the writing, although faded, was well preserved, and the text in spite of many omissions tolerably coherent. It ran, as follows, commencing abruptly, there being no clue as to how much had preceded it:—

THE NARRATIVE OF THE POCKET-BOOK.

EVER since the doctor injured his hand through the musket bursting he has been subject to attacks of feverishness and temporary madness, and this has greatly added to the hopelessness of our position. I have often asked him for some definite statement of his intentions, but he seems quite unable to go into any details, and I am afraid we are fearfully out in our reckoning. Hentig still terribly bad with scurvy.

May 1, 1849.—Since my last entry we have buried Hentig, and the doctor must soon follow. If we could only get across this dry country ahead of us we might be able to move on, but since we are almost without rations and most of our horses dead it seems as though we must leave our bones hero, for there is no turning back. Doctor much worse. Kelly says that there is only two days' more water left in the hole. No sign of rain. Weather getting cooler.

May 2.—This morning, before the sun got up, I climbed the tall tree on the edge of the plain and distinctly saw a faint smoke to the westward, in the same direction that Kelly thought he noticed it when we first came here. To-morrow we will start towards it; it is all we can do. How we shall get the doctor on I cannot think; he is almost helpless, and his mind is quite gone. We have four horses, fourteen goats; and two mules. Be side the doctor, whom I look upon as a dead man, there are Kelly, Murphy, and myself (Stuart). Hentig is buried under the tree with the cross cut on it. Klusen died on the river Roper five months ago. I will bury a copy of this in a powder-flask in Hentig's grave.

(Here there is an evident gap in the narration.)

I have been too ill to write for many days, how long I don't know, for we have all of us lost count. I am only just beginning to remember our journey across that horrible desert. We started in the direction I had seen smoke after using up every drop of water for the animals at the camp where Hentig is buried. We took it in turns to hold the doctor on his horse, but he got very bad a few hours after we started, and when the sun got hot he begged us to lift him off the horse for a little while. We had all the canteens full, and Kelly had made a bag of calico and rubbed it outside with goat's fat, and it held water tolerably well. So we gave the doctor plenty to drink, but he got no better, and about noon he died. He talked a good deal to himself in German, but had lost all knowledge of us or where he was, and a good thing too. We could not stop to bury him, for we had to push on, so we left him there on the big plain where I think no living thing ever comes or ever will come since we were there. It was the second day out when we got on to that prickly grass plain with deep red sand, and then our horses began to give up, and we had to walk and try and drive all the beasts, but they were so thirsty they would not keep together, so we stopped and talked about what was best to be done.

Kelly and I agreed that it was best to unpack all the animals, and, taking all the water and as much food as we could carry, to march on, and perhaps if we soon came to water we could come back for the beasts. Murphy did not think, so, he thought we could drive them on on foot when it got dark; but we persuaded him that we were right, and we started. We walked on long after it got dark, and then we lay down and slept on the sandy plain amongst the prickly grass, for since leaving the camp we have never passed a tree. In the night Kelly called me and pointed to a light in the west, which was evidently the reflection of a large fire.

Next morning we met it, for a wind had sprung up in the morning. It was well for us that it was almost barren country where we met the flames, for else we had been burnt. As it was we were nearly stifled with heat and smoke. Afterwards, all that day and night, we watched the glare of it behind us blazing amongst the dry prickly grass we had passed through, carried on by the strong wind that now blew, and we knew that our animals, saddles, and the doctor's body would be burnt up, and no one would ever see more of them; so it was with sorrowful hearts we walked on. That day I saw some trees on ahead, and we turned—

(Here the journal had been effaced, apparently by water, but nothing of importance appeared lost.)

Murphy was the weakest, but we stood by him, although the burned country was very distressing. Kelly got a little light-headed towards morning, and I began to feel the same. I don't remember much more; it all seems a dream of stumbling along and helping each other, sometimes talking to the phantoms we all fancied we saw walking with us; and then I came partly to my senses under a rough shade of boughs, and before me was this great lake, and I knew, by the smell of the place and almost without looking around that I was in a camp of the natives. Kelly and Murphy were alive, and better than I was. They remembered something about the natives helping us to the water, for we had passed it, and were going right away—

(Another gap.)

June.—I have put down June, for I think it must be that time of the year, as near as I can make it. Neither Kelly nor Murphy can read or write, so while I was ill they did not keep the time. The natives are very friendly, and Kelly, who was born in the bush of New South Wales, has attained great influence over them, as he is very active, and can use nearly all their weapons.

I have been round the lake; it is nearly sixty miles round, but very shallow, except at the end where our camp is. The natives tell me it dries up some seasons, with the exception of the deep hole here. They have canoes made out of shells of trees, and can manage them very well, standing upright and poling or sculling with a spear. They know nothing of any other blacks, excepting a tribe to the eastward; of whom they seem greatly frightened. They are a very simple people, and live well, as there is plenty of fish in the lake and wild fowl.

Kelly and Murphy have quite settled down to the life, but how different it is for me! When I think of my own people and how I am doomed to live and die amongst savages I nearly go mad; for unless other white men find their way here I must die here; and who would cross that horrible sand plain? If the doctor had but lived we might have found some way of escape, but he and our horses and saddles are all burnt up. What is the good of keeping this record? No one will ever read it. I will become a savage like those around me, and forget what I was.

July.—I must write or I shall forget my language, and that I must keep while life lasts. A strange thing happened to-day. The old man Powlbarri came to me and made me understand that he wanted me to go with him, he had some thing to show me. I followed him to the ridge where the great sandstone rocks are, and he led through a gap between two of them so narrow that we could scarcely squeeze along.

In a short time we stood in a spacious cave that penetrated seemingly into the depths of the ridge. There was a bar of limestone in the side and a few stalactites, but not many, and light was admitted dimly through cracks and crevices overhead. But when my eyes were more accustomed to the light I, started with affright, for partly overhead and partly confronting me was a strange gigantic shape with outstretched hand.

I recoiled for an instant, and then saw how I had been deceived; it was a rock painting on the sloping roof of the cave. It bore no resemblance to the ordinary crude tracings of the natives. I looked at it narrowly, and tried to get out of the old man who did it. He gave me to understand that it had been always there—as well as I could comprehend him, longer than the blacks knew of. The figure was of heroic size, with straight symmetrical features, the head surrounded by a halo or turban, and the body attired in a rough semblance of a robe. The whole figure was of grave aspect, and much reminded me of the drawings I had seen of Egyptian gods.

The old man beckoned to me to withdraw, and I was not sorry to do so, for I wanted time to think, and intended to come back with Kelly and Murphy and explore the place thoroughly. We passed out of the cave and had just squeezed through the gap when our ears were greeted with a shrill discordant yell of terror from the camp. With an answering shout my companion with extraordinary agility bounded from my side, and I ran after him.

CHAPTER 2

The End of Stuart's Journal—Once More on the Way—The Great
Sandy Spinifex Desert—The Approach to the Lake—A Ghastly Outpost.


THERE was little doubt what had happened; the dreaded tribe from the east had surprised and attacked the camp. When I arrived on the scene the fight was just assuming extensive proportions. At first the boys, gins, and old men had been easily overpowered, some killed and some captured; but a hunting party came up, amongst whom were my two companions, who now went naked, and were nearly as dark as the natives.

Kelly, who would have made a brave and dashing soldier if fate had so willed, plunged at once into the thick of the fray, followed by Murphy, who was slower in his movements. Their appearance disconcerted the enemy, who wore horribly distinguished by a red smear on the forehead and a white triangle on the breast. They rallied, however, but Kelly's onset, so different from the ordinary method of native warfare, had evidently staggered them.

I was about to join our side when I remembered that nearly the only part of our equipment saved was my double-barrelled pistol and ammunition bag. This I had never used, reserving it for our own protection, and I ran to my whirlie and come back with it loaded. A tall blackfellow was engaged with Kelly, and rushing up I fired at and shot him.

There was an instantaneous lull of surprise, and at the discharge of the other barrel the attackers straightway fled, and even our own side seemed inclined to follow their example.

Alas, our victory was dearly bought! Kelly was speared through the chest, mortally I saw at once; and so it turned out, for the poor boy died with his head on my knee in a few minutes. We buried him that evening, and never did I feel more sorrow than for my bright young companion, who, although uneducated, had many noble qualities, and—

(Here there is a large portion of the journal quite undecipherable; the few words distinguishable seem to point to a visit to the cave with Murphy.)

The strange mystery of the cave paintings still puzzles me. The additional smaller drawings we is discovered are most singular, and certainly point to other authorship than that of the natives. In many places there are signs like a written language, and the peculiar portrayal of dress indicates an Asiatic origin. (Another gap.)

I miss Kelly still. Murphy is dull and intractable; he has sunk to the level of his savage companions. O God, have pity on me, for I shall never ever see my countrymen again. Surrounded by deserts, impassable to me on foot, I must drag out my life here, hoping for the succour that will come too late to save me.

(Here the narrative breaks off, although several more blank leaves in the pocket-book were available.)


ALTHOUGH by this time well acquainted with the contents the re-reading of the manuscript excited fresh discussion, late as the hour was when the task was finished.

"Can you make out whether Columbus in tends to take us round by this camp where Hentig was buried?" said Brown.

"I think not," replied Morton, "he will probably stick to the route he knows best; and by Stuart's narrative the cannibals did not cross the spinifex sandy desert, but came some easier way, at least so I infer."

"I expect you are right, but I should like to have gone by Hentig's grave and verified the spot."

"Well, suppose we try and find out in the morning if we are anywhere near it? Mean time, good night;" and in a few minutes the whole camp was wrapped in profound slumber, which lasted until daylight.

Columbus, on being interrogated the next morning (for he and Billy had made up a kind of pigeon talk between them), expressed ignorance of the place, which Morton indicated by marking a cross on a tree in the same manner that he supposed Stuart would have cut it.

It was all in vain, however; their former enemy made them understand that there was only one way to the lake, and they had to conclude that the sand and spinifex were of such extent as to prevent the blacks ever crossing it. All this had occupied some little time, but a comparatively early start was effected, and they soon found themselves following one of the pads that ran from the lagoon.

As long as they were in the hedge wood scrub they found the track rather a nuisance, for it turned and twisted underneath boughs too low to let the packhorses pass below, causing a considerable amount of trouble occasionally.

By noon they were once more in open forest, and in an hour or two's time they found themselves on the edge of a plain, a belt of scrub visible in the distance. Towards this Columbus, who was getting rather knocked up with the unaccustomed riding, directed their course. It proved to be a fringe of gutta-percha trees on the edge of a blue-bush flat, and a corresponding fringe on the other side gave the flat the appearance of a broad watercourse, which in heavy wet seasons it probably was.

Down this flat they proceeded until sundown, and then, although there was no water, Morton determined to camp, evidently much to the relief of Columbus.

Next morning their course still continued along the dry flat, the gutta-percha trees now getting scantier, until at last all was lost in one bound less extent of plain, growing sandier with every mile they progressed, and the grass rapidly giving way to spinifex.

"Morton," said Brown, "I wonder if this old fraud knows where he is going to and whether he understands that horses can't live without water. Things are looking pretty dry on ahead."

"Let's pull up and investigate," returned the other. Columbus stuck steadily to his story and indicated that when the sun went down they ought to get there; so the party resumed their way over the most depressing country they had any of them ever witnessed—loose red sand covered with spinifex all around; strain their eyes as they would, not a break was visible on the horizon. About three o'clock, however, some dark specks, quivered in the haze that hung over the heated plain, the sand gradually gave way to harder ground, grass once more reappeared and then, suddenly as if by magic, but in reality through the travellers topping an imperceptible rise, a blue expanse of water lay outstretched a few miles ahead of them—the lake they were in search of.

They instinctively pulled up to look at their goal.

Apparently it was of large dimensions, and was bordered by coolibah trees; a slight rise, on which, by aid of the field-glass, huge boulders could be discerned, was visible at the end nearest the adventurers, significant of the site of the cave. The thoughts of the three whites found vent in the one expression, "Is he alive still?"

Columbus either would not or could not give them any information; but neither Morton nor Brown entertained much hope.

Murphy, a phlegmatic ignorant man, could perhaps live on to old age, but it was unlikely that Stuart, evidently by his diary an educated gentleman, could long endure the loneliness and misery of his surroundings. However, all doubts would soon be cleared up, and it was with hardly suppressed excitement that they rode on towards the end of the lake.

"How about that old sinner, Columbus?" said Morton. "If he's recognised the natives here will probably make it very sultry for him."

"Yes, no doubt," replied Brown, "but he seems to have put the whole onus of the thing on our shoulders; he's coming on quite cheer fully. What's that on ahead?"

The object when approached turned out to be the bald, dried, half-decomposed body of a blackfellow.

"This is some of your men's doings, my friend," said Brown, glancing at their guide, who grinned quite innocently and complacently.

The sun was near setting when they reached the edge of the lake and watered their horses, and, this job completed, they rode on towards what appeared to be a camp at the foot of the sandstone ridge.

CHAPTER 3

The Camp of the Dead —A Few Survivors— Brown Recognised As Stuart—Reception of Columbus —His Fate—Examination of the Cave—Stuart's Grave and his Last Manuscripts.

NOT a sound was heard and not a living thing was visible as they approached the group of gunyahs that formed the native village. No smoke ascended, but from the trees around gorged crows and kites arose at their approach and flapped unwillingly away.

A pestilential smell hung heavily in the air, soon accounted for; for around the camp lay at least a score of corpses, in the same stage of decay as the one they had passed on the plain.

Mostly they were old men and women, though the smaller bodies of children could be seen here and there. Brown drew a long breath as he and the others gazed at this scene of slaughter.

"What a blessing it is," he said, "to know that all those murdering scoundrels are crushed into jelly under a few tons of rock."

"Yes!" muttered Morton. "And for two pins I could send that hoary old sinner there to keep them company."

At that moment Billy Button gave a low whistle; when his master looked towards him he indicated by a nod of his head the direction of the ridge. A thin column of smoke was stealing up from the back of it.

Whispering to Charley to take Billy and ride round the foot of the hillock, Brown and Morton rode straight over the top and into a camp formed by the wretched remnant who had survived the massacre: two old men, about half a dozen gins and children, and one young fellow badly wounded.

Too startled and frightened to run away they huddled together in fear, which was considerably augmented when Charley and the boy rode up. Brown dismounted and walked up to them. When he did so an exclamation of surprise and pleasure broke from the old man, and they commenced jumping up and down and shouting and laughing uproariously.

Instantly it flashed across the minds of the whites that they were mistaken for those who had formerly lived with them.

Morton and Charley left their horses and came up, when the conference was abruptly interrupted by the appearance of a riderless horse. A difference of opinion had arisen between Columbus and his steed when the others abruptly left him, which resulted in the discomfiture of the native, who now followed limping after his horse.

Although dusk was closing in the old men recognised their enemy at once. They stamped, raved, and spat at him, and one picking up a spear drove at him with such vigour that only a nimble jump saved Columbus from being transfixed. For his part he returned their vituperation with interest, and, the gins joining in, a perfect war of words ensued.

Seeing that nothing could be done till they were alone Morton told Charley to round up the pack horses and with Billy and Columbus go and camp on the bank of the lake where they would join them. Once their enemy was out of sight the blacks quietened down, and one of them commenced a voluble speech to Brown, addressing him as "Tuartee," from which it was evident their first surmise was correct.

After some trouble they made them understand that they were going to sleep at the edge of the lake, and left them quietened down a little.

"Do you think they will be there in the morning, Brown?" said Morton as they rode away.

"I think so," returned the other; "curiosity will detain them."

Too tired to talk much the whole camp was soon asleep, none recking of any danger from the poor wretches they had just left.

Columbus and Billy had made a separate fire a little apart, and were sleeping coiled round in black fellow fashion.

Towards morning Morton felt somebody shake him; looking up he saw Charley sitting up, who whispered to him:

"I'm sure there's somebody sneaking round the camp; just listen! I was woke up some time ago by a stick breaking."

Sitting up Morton looked around. All appeared peaceful and quiet. The fires had died down, and the light of the stars alone illuminated the scene. The sheet of water alongside them was unruffled and gave back the reflection of the thickly studded sky over head. Not a sound, not even the cry of a night bird, could be heard. For some minutes both men listened, when Morton said in an undertone:

"Must have been fancy, Charley; there can be nobody here but those poor brutes over the ridge."

"No!" said Charley; "I am sure somebody was moving about the camp, I felt it as soon at I woke up. Listen!"

As he spoke load cries in chorus arose from the blacks' camp they had visited that evening. Brown, too, started up.

"The devil!" he said, after listening. "That old Columbus at his cannibal tricks again. See if he's there, Charley."

Billy, aroused by the outcries which rung out clear on the silent night, was struggling to his feet.

"Here's Columbus," cried Charley, giving the prostrate chieftain a good kick. "Wake up, old man!" he cried. But Columbus never stirred.

"There's something up!" said Charley hesitatingly, with a shudder. Morton struck a match, and so did Brown. It only needed one glimpse; Columbus lay dead, his skull smashed with a two-handed club which had been left lying there. The shouts of the blacks were tokens of rejoicing over his death.

The whites gazed at the dead man in silence, and each felt cold at the thought that the whole camp might have been as easily despatched.

"Retribution!" said Morton with a sigh. "He deserved his fate, but I can't help feeling sorry for the old rascal. Billy, my boy, sup posing they had made a mistake and tapped you on the cobra?"

Billy shook his head.

"This one country no good," he said; "I think it go back alonga station."

"Billy, you're chock full of sense," replied Brown; "but we shall feel better after the sun jumps up. Let's make the fire burn and have breakfast, it's breaking day over there."

By the time the meal was concluded the first rays of the sun were just visible, and whilst Charley and Billy went after the horses Brown and his friend visited the blacks' camp.

The killing of Columbus was, after all, only a just act of tribal vengeance which under like circumstances they would probably have performed themselves; they therefore did not intend to let it interfere with their intercourse with these natives from whom so much might probably be learnt.

They were greeted with cries of "Tuartee!" and no sign of fear was evinced by any of them. Brown endeavoured to make one of the old men understand that he wanted to be shown the cave, but evidently the old fellow, if he did comprehend him, thought his guidance was quite superfluous to a returned spirit who ought to know all about it.

He imitated all Brown's gestures, and pointed politely in the same direction he did, but that was all they could get out of him. The stock of patience on both sides was running low when Charley and Billy came up riding two of the horses bare backed, and the question of the moment was dropped in order to determine their next movements.

It was evident that some days would have to be spent in the neighbourhood in order to thoroughly investigate the fate of Stuart, so, to avoid the neighbourhood of the dead bodies, they determined to camp in a clump of timber some distance away from the foot of the ridge.

Charley and Billy therefore went back to the lake to shift camp, and Brown and Morton started on an independent search of their own. They had no hope of finding Stuart alive; the recognition by the blacks proved that he must have been dead for years.

They were fortunate at once. Naturally they selected the two most imposing looking boulders which seemed to answer best to the description in the journal, and on nearer approach a well-worn pad indicated that they were on the right track. Squeezing through the narrow aperture described by Stuart they found themselves in the cavern confronting the strange form painted on the roof and side. Prepared as they were for the startling appearance of the figure, they could not refrain from feeling a certain awe as they gazed at it, and recognised at once that it was never the work of the Australian aborigines. A movement behind made Morton turn hastily.

One of the old men had silently followed them and was standing a pace or two away. Seeing Brown look curiously around after the first survey of the figure he advanced and, beckoning to him, led him to the side of the cavern to a place whereon the light fell strongly from above.

There in the rock neatly cut out with care was a name, "Charles Neil Stuart"; underneath—"Came Here 1849. Died"—then followed a date cut, or rather scratched with a feeble hand, and which they made out to be 1864.

With uncovered heads the two white men gazed sorrowfully and reverently at the resting place of their unfortunate countryman, for both intuitively felt that here was his grave.

The native advanced, and putting his hand into a crevice in the rock drew out a package done up in the skins of some small marsupials and further protected by a casing of bark; this he gravely handed to Brown, who received it, but refrained from opening it at once.

After a short scrutiny around they left the cave, and on a convenient rock sat down and inspected the precious parcel. It contained an old-fashioned double barrelled pistol much rusted, a powder flask, a bullet-mould greatly dinted and battered, and a roll of loose leaves of paper on which there was much faded writing. Together the two friends pored over the leaves which told the sad concluding portion of the castaway's life.

Thus ran his story:—

I AM now alone, and I know not whether my comrade is living or dead. It was a year after Kelly's death—by my reckoning, which I have kept by notches on a rock in the cave—that I went with three natives to a scrub about ten miles from here to get a peculiar kind of wood I was looking for to make bows of. For now that I had made up my mind I would never be rescued I thought I would try to teach the natives the use of the bow and arrow, and we would lead them against this tribe whom they dreaded so and who killed Kelly, and perhaps obtain peace.

There was no wood suitable near the camp, but from the description given by the blacks I thought I could obtain what I wanted in the scrub indicated by the blacks. There was water there, and we stopped two days, cutting and dressing the sap lings so as to make them lighter to carry in, for as we only had stone tomahawks it took a long time.

On the evening of the second day we heard a girl wailing and crying in the distance, coming towards us. The blacks stopped their work and ran to meet her, crying out in the same tone. I knew something was wrong and followed them. It was sad news, awful news.

The Warlattas, as the hostile tribe was called, had attacked the camp at night, had killed and wounded many, and carried off a number of prisoners—amongst them Murphy, who was a heavy sleeper and had no chance to defend himself. I knew that these Warlattas were cannibals, and that the prisoners they took away were probably eaten.

We got back to camp in the middle of the night, and the next morning I tried to get the men who were left to follow me after the cannibals, but they were all so cowed they wouldn't, although I showed them the pistol and fired it off. I tried to track the enemy by myself, and if I could I would have followed them, but I lost the tracks and nearly died of thirst.

The Warlattas had taken nearly all the few things we had saved, including my pocket-book; these few sheets I am writing on were picked up about the camp.

CHAPTER 4

Continuation of Stuart's Narrative—The Slaughter Chamber—Billy Button's Discovery—A Sail on the Lake


1853.—That is my reckoning. All this time I have written nothing, as I wanted to husband my paper and I had little heart after Murphy was taken away. I made the blacks build a place with stones—a sort of barricade to sleep in at night—and it was lucky I did, for the Warlattas came again; but, thanks to the barricade and my pistol, we beat them off without losing a man, and now the natives have great confidence, and I think will beat them again.

I often tried to get them to follow me to where these people lived, as I thought Murphy might be alive and I could rescue him, but they seemed to be horribly frightened at the thought and refused always. On examining the bodies of those that had fallen I found them all marked the some way with some sort of pigment, a red smear on the forehead and a white triangle on the breast. This and something in their appearance led me to think if there was not some connection between the figures in the cave and this strange people.

Thinking long over this, I explored the cave thoroughly, both it and any in the neighbourhood, and finally it led me to the strange discovery that has caused me to write my journal once more, in the faint hope that some day it will be found and read by civilised man. Searching around the cave containing the painted figure I found an aperture which apparently ran for some distance. It was on the ground, the rock coming to within about two feet of the sandy floor, and on stooping down it seemed to me that I could feel a current of fresh air passing through.

On inquiry I found that none of the blacks had been into the opening, as they had a superstitious dislike—scarcely, however, amounting to dread—of the cave. The aperture was too low to easily admit me, so I got a slim young fellow to explore it. He soon crawled back, saying there was another big cave beyond, but too dark to see anything.

I got some more boys up and set them to scoop the sand away until the opening was big enough for me to pass in. We took fire and bark and wood with us, and when we emerged in the gloomy cavern beyond we immediately kindled a fire.

As the blaze arose and illuminated the recesses of the cave a shriek of terror burst from my juvenile companions, a wild try of "Warlatta! Warlatta!" and in an instant they disappeared like a bevy of black rats underneath the rock where we had entered.

I looked around in surprise, but soon divined the cause; on the opposite side appeared, drawn in white on the wall, a large triangle, the sign ever associated in their minds with murder and rapine. Heaping more wood on the fire, I advanced and examined the surroundings.

Underneath the triangle was a huge block of yellowish-white sandstone, but its purity was marred by a horrible reddish stain which marked one of its sloping sides. Its purpose flashed on me at once—in some old time it had been used as a sacrificial stone.

The fire now blazed up merrily, and I had ample light for my researches. The smoke disappeared through crevices in the roof, and the ventilation seemed excellent. Marks of old fires were visible all over the floor, which was of white sandstone with the same reddish stains visible in places. Searching more minutely I found in one corner a knife or dagger, made of steel (since then I have found it to be tempered so hard that the edge can scarcely be turned by the hardest rock). The handle, if it ever had one, had disappeared through age. In addition, there was a broken ring of the same metal, seemingly part of a chain, and on the walls were characters in red, but of no written language that I could remember.

This was all that I saw on my first visit. Voices at the opening told me that the natives had recovered from their fright, and were in search of me. I called to them, and emboldened by my voice and the firelight some of them crept in and joined me.

I found out that they had no knowledge of this chamber, and in hopes of finding another I set them hunting round for any more openings that might exist, but none could be discovered. Whilst so engaged one of them brushed against the stone altar, and immediately it commenced rocking, whilst a squeaking piercing scream, like a human being in intense agony, thrilled us all with horror.

The blacks threw themselves on the ground, and it was a few moments before I could summon up courage to approach the stone and examine it. The rocking was gradually ceasing, and the shrieks grew fainter as the motion ceased. The stone I found to be most beautifully poised, so that the slightest touch started the oscillation. As to the machinery that produced the screaming noise, that I could not investigate without capsizing the stone, which evidently weighed some tons.

For a moment I shut my eyes, and seemed to see once more the hideous drama that must have been many times enacted in this chamber of death—the savage priests, the manacled victim, the streaming flood, the trembling captives, and the harsh shrieking of the rocking stone adding its awful voice to the groans of the dying man and fading away into silence with his last cries.

What horrible ingenuity had devised such added terrors to the scene? By degrees I got the blacks out of their fright, but it was amusing to see the celerity with which they disappeared as soon as I gave the signal. I have made no further discoveries, and all the time I have spent over trying to decipher inscriptions has been vain. I can only conjecture that these relics are of great antiquity, and that the belief and some of the rites, notably cannibalism, survive amongst the Warlattas, who are mixed and degenerate descendants of the ancient race.

I have but little paper left, and that scrap I must keep for any necessity that arises. If anybody find this let him take a copy of the inscriptions, for some men may be able to decipher them.


1861. —I have given up all hopes, and have devoted my time to improving the condition of those natives, who are gentle and tractable. We have twice defeated the Warlattas with great loss, and now they never come. I have taught them to build better huts, to use bows and arrows, and to cultivate yams, and to be more cleanly in their habits. Some of the younger ones understand written characters, and most of them now go partly dressed.

I might have done much more, but rheumatism has crippled me of late. I have explained to the natives to bury me in the cave underneath an inscription I have cut—my name and the date of my arrival here.

One thing I could not with all my influence accomplish, and that was to persuade the natives, or a portion of them, to set out with me and travel to the eastward. All my promises were of no avail; a superstitious feeling that I cannot overcome binds them to this lake.

When I feel myself dying, unless I fall by accident, I will try and inscribe the last date on the stone; it will stand for my death. If my companions had lived we might have worked our way back, but alone it was hopeless to attempt it. I know my end must be near, and I thank God that though I have lived so long amongst these savages I have not sunk down to be one of them in my habits, but rather have taught them better things.

To whoever of my countrymen finds this I leave the greeting and blessing I would have given him in life.


"POOR fellow!" sighed Brown after a short silence; "I wish to goodness we could have come here thirty years ago, his life would have been worth saving."

"Fate, old man," returned the other. "Let us go to the camp; I expect Charley is anxious to hear the news."

The morning was spent in arranging their camp, and in the afternoon they returned with some presents for the natives on the ridge. The old men went round with them, and showed them the roofless stone huts, the dismantled barricade, and the remains of other improvements all now in ruins. The death of Stuart seemed to have been the signal for a return to their old habits, his life amongst them not having been long enough to make a permanent impression.

Even the bows and arrows had disappeared, and it was evident that the Warlattas had resumed warlike operations with a success resulting in the almost complete extermination of the tribe.

Morton tried to explain that their enemies were dead, but it was doubtful whether the old men comprehended him or not. An immediate incursion into the inner cave was determined on, and, provided with candles, the party and the two men soon found themselves at the opening.

The sand had worked in and somewhat blocked up the space, but this was soon removed enough to enable them to wriggle like snakes underneath the rock. Half a dozen candles served to brilliantly light up the inner chamber, and there untouched shone out the white triangle over the sacrificial stone. Brown started the stone rocking, and immediately the shrill half human screams echoed through the cavern, much to Billy's discomfiture. No examination could detect the trick that caused the sound, nor could the presence of the stone be explained unless as a most singular freak of nature.

"I have it," said Morton at last; "the stone was part of the rock, and they cut it away underneath; it must have been an awful job, but that's how it was done."

"And about the squeaking machinery?"

"That's more than we can find out without shifting the stone, and that's a job I'm not on for unless we intend to stop here a month or two and chip it to pieces."

"A charge of dynamite would do the trick, and next time I come exploring I'll bring one," returned Brown.

"What do you think the thing was put there for?" asked Charley.

"Well, I've just had an inspiration," said Brown. "You know amongst many savage nations it is a matter of religious belief almost to make your enemy howl when you have got him down. Now, perhaps, some of these poor devils who were cut up on this stone declined to sing out, or fainted, or did not somehow give amusement enough, so the stone was set rocking to atone for deficiencies and fill out the programme. What do you think?"

"I think it is most likely, and is a piece of devilish cruelty, just of a piece with their other doings."

"I suppose poor Stuart searched the place so thoroughly that we need not expect to find any thing fresh," said Charley, "but let's have a look anyhow. Come, Billy, you've got sharp eyes."

Whilst these two were investigating the walls and floor, Morton and Brown took a careful copy of the hieroglyphics and a sketch of the cave and position of the sacrificial stone and triangle.

By the time they had finished evening was coming on, and they returned to camp to discuss the novel incidents of the day.

"There's no doubt," said Morton, "that what we have seen are relics of an ancient people; but what I can't understand is, why, if they were so civilised as to wear dresses, and to have a developed religious belief, savage as it was—('No worse than the Carthaginians,' remarked Brown)—to know how to obtain iron and temper it, they did not build permanent dwellings the ruins of which would remain."

"Mud, my dear fellow, mud," replied Brown. "Remember the nations who have disappeared off the face of the continent of America, and can only be traced by their pottery and their burial mounds. Why the gorgeous cities of ancient Mexico were built of mud bricks, which go back to their original mother earth once the domiciles they form are abandoned."

"But their smelting works for manufacturing iron?"

"There you have me; but we must try and find that knife; perhaps they buried it with Stuart."

"Billy got something from one of the old men, but I don't know what it was," said Charley.

"Billy, what old man been give it?" asked Morton. Billy grinned, and produced from inside the bosom of his shirt the knife mentioned in the diary.

It was a curious looking weapon, about a foot long, broad, and slightly curved. Even after the work Stuart had done with it carving out the inscription it seemed as sharp as an ordinary knife.

"That's a Malay weapon," said Brown after a pause; "wherever our ancient Australians came from it was from the north. Well, I suppose we must wait until we get the writing deciphered, if ever we find a man clever enough to do it."

Looking closer they found that the blade had the fatal triangle engraved on it. This constantly recurring symbol led to much speculation as to whether they were not an early off shoot of Freemasons, who, after the completion of the temple, had wandered into Central Australia, but as Charley ingenuously reminded them that these fellows had not built anything the theory had to be discarded.

Next morning Billy, by aid of one of the old natives, found an old canoe not far below the surface, and brought it up and bailed it out. It then was explained by the old man that the Warlattas on their last incursion had sunk all the canoes.

The one recovered was a large one and fitted up with outriggers, and leaked but very little. Charley soon improvised a mast by lashing two spears together, and with a blanket for a sail announced himself ready for a voyage. Morton determined to accompany him in a voyage of discovery round the lake, Brown preferring to continue the investigation of the cave drawings.

There was a fair breeze, and in half an hour's time the canoe was nearly out of sight. Meanwhile Brown wandered over the ridge, telling Billy to try and talk to the blacks and inform them all about the tragedy at the burning mountain.

Several lesser caves attracted his attention, but only one seemed to promise any result. To this one he devoted himself, and after some trouble discovered as inscription resembling the former ones in character, but differing in the arrangement of the letters. In this case they were placed perpendicularly in two parallel rows.

After copying the inscription, Brown stood in thought for some time, mechanically thrusting a yam stick he held in his hand into the sandy floor of the cave.

Apparently the soil over the bed rock was but a few inches in depth, but suddenly he was aroused from his reverie by the yam stick going down more than a foot without meeting with any opposition. Sounding hastily he soon made out that a trench extended at right angles to the rock immediately under the inscription.

Running outside he coo-eed loudly, and Billy and the blacks came running up. He set them to work to clear all the sand away with their hands from the neighbourhood of the trench, and it was soon visible, evidently artificially out in the rock.

It was about three feet long and a foot broad, so the work of cleaning it out did not promise to take long. With so many hands at work the depth of three feet was soon reached without anything being discovered; then the fingers of the worker struck a hard substance, and very soon a sheet of copper was disclosed, cut the size of the hole.

Greatly excited in spite of his usual assumption of calmness, Brown inserted the point of the yam stick under the metal and prized it up.

CHAPTER 5

THE shadow cast by the sides of the hole was too deep for Brown to see at once what sort of treasure he had unearthed, but a nearer inspection did not afford him any more satisfaction. Apparently there was nothing beneath the sheet of copper but a deposit of damp mouldy earth, emitting a pungent smell of a most repulsive nature.

Brown drew back somewhat sickened, and told the natives to clean out the trench while he went outside for a breath of fresh air. In a few minutes he returned. The heap of mould alongside the now empty hole told him that the work was done.

The blacks were on their knees eagerly examining some small objects they had found amongst the contents of the trench.

Billy handed them to Brown. The first was a chain of small steel links, of most beautiful workman ship, bearing as a pendant a tiny triangle formed of the same substance. A metal plate some few inches in diameter covered with hieroglyphics similar to those inscribed on the walls of the cave was the next he examined, and then came a dagger resembling the one already discovered. This, however, had a handle, or what appeared to be one, made of finely twisted gold threads wound tightly round the haft. This was all.

Puzzled exceedingly, Brown put the relics on one side and strolled to the crest of the ridge to look across the lake and see how the voyagers were getting on.

Apparently they had experienced what is known as a soldier's wind, for the canoe was coming swiftly back with a flowing sail. Brown and Billy walked down to the bank to meet them. The trip had been uninteresting; the lake was but a shallow clay-pan only some six or seven feet deep at the outside, with the exception of the end near the camp, where there was a hole nearly eighty feet deep. Brown told them of the discovery he had made, and they revisited the cave together.

"It's my opinion," said Morton after a lengthened examination, "that it is a grave; this mould is all that there is left of a body—probably burnt before being put in the grave. The necklet plate and dagger are the ornaments and weapons worn by the corpse at the time of burial. He must have been some great priest."

"The conclusion I have been working round to," replied Brown; "the plate is a breast plate like those we read of in the Old Testament."

For three days the trio continued their explorations and researches, but nothing further was found, and the question of their return became the important one of the hour.

Brown had a great desire to return by Hentig's grave, which was not shared by Morton, who contended that there was a great chance that the water at the native well would be dried up, and if so it would be as much as they could do to reach the lagoon with all their horses, without going on a wild-goose chase for a place the direction of which they did not even know.

Brown allowed himself to be persuaded, but it was evident that his heart was set on following back, step by step, the path of the long-lost exploring expedition.

For the first time since they started there was an atmosphere of contention in the camp which made them all unanimous in one thing, that it was time to return, and on that resolution they slept.

The sun was high the next morning, and much to the surprise of the others Charley slept on with the blanket drawn over his head until at last Morton roused him. The boy sat up and, looking vacantly round, recovered himself after a bit, and proceeded to get up. He refused anything to eat, and contented himself with drinking more than his allowance of tea. Morton watched him uneasily.

"What's the matter, old man?" he said at last.

"I don't feel up to the mark," replied Charley. "I had a wretched dream last night; it kept me awake afterwards until nearly day light."

"I feel off colour, too," said Brown. "Last night I could have quarrelled with my shadow. I hope we didn't release any evil spirit from that grave."

"Don't say that," returned Charley, "for that is just what I dreamt of. Strange you should think the same."

"Tell us what it was, sonny," said Morton; "we'll soon fix up any intrusive old ghost."

Charley, as the others could see, had been up set by something, and Morton felt uneasy when he reflected how far away from help they were in case of sickness.

"I dreamt," commenced Charley, "I was on the edge of the lake. I was alone and horribly frightened. I thought you both had gone away and left me here. I tried to cry out but could not, and turned round, for I felt some fearful thing was approaching me from behind. True enough the great figure from the cave was there looking at me with terrible eyes. On his breast was the plate we found in the grave, and I could read the characters written on it."

Charley paused.

"What was it?" asked Brown, interested by the boy's earnestness.

"I can shut my eyes and see it now. It ran: 'The spirit of evil is everywhere. Worship, then, the spirit of evil and do his behests.' As I looked and read, the form smiled mockingly at me, and I woke up in cold perspiration, and could not sleep again."

"Charley, my boy," said Morton, "we will discuss your dream by-and-by; meantime, I am going to mix you some quinine and snake bite antidote—otherwise brandy—and we'll make a start for home at once, I think."

"Do you know?" said Brown to Morton as they were packing up the horses, "I don't feel at all right either. I feel as though I had been told that these awful rites of old will claim another victim before we're out of their influence."

"Here, don't you talk like that before Charley, he's sickening with malarial fever, and we must get him home at once," replied Morton. "So no more superstition, old man, but work like a nigger."

"Talking of niggers, what about these beggars here?"

"Why, I suppose they will die out in time. We will leave them all we can spare; game is plentiful, and the Warlattas are all dead. We can do no more, but they are bound for the great majority in a year or two."

By ten o'clock the horses were packed and ready. The poor remnant of the tribe that had sheltered the survivors of Leichhardt's expedition watched them depart with the stolid apathy of their race, and in a few hours the timber of the lake was lost to view, and the travellers were on the spacious plain of the desert.

Charley was feverish and almost light-headed, and Morton was rendered irritable by anxiety to get on and a doubt whether there was any water left, in the native well. Their horses were fresh, and he determined to trust to his bushmanship and travel all night if Charley could stand it.

Brown was in a more than usually apathetic mood, and even Billy seemed to share the gloom that had seized upon the party. All through the dark moonless night they rode until, about 8 o'clock, Charley begged for a rest, and they dismounted and unpacked the horses, but tied them up, meaning to start again in an hour or two.

The short sleep refreshed the sick lad, and as day broke they were again on the way, and by noon were at the native well. Morton gave a sigh of relief; the water had not sunk an inch since their visit. Tenderly he helped his young relation to the shade of one of the old native gunyahs, and made up a bed for him.

That night poor Charley was in a raging delirium. Day after day of weary monotony passed. Both men watched unremittingly by the side of the invalid. To move on was impossible. They could only wait, and, if it so turned out, help the poor boy in to the station, or bury his body in the wilderness.

Rations were eked out with game, and fortunately the well, fed by some small spring, remained the same, and so in constant anxiety passed the time.

On the sixth day the patient was terribly restless and feverish, his mind wandered continually, and he always raved about the giant figure in the cave, standing at his side, threatening him.

Brown, who had been watching by him, arose and asked Morton to take his place; then he retired to their tent and soon afterwards went away into the bush. In about half an hour he returned.

"How's Charley?" he said.

"Been asleep for the last ten minutes, and I think he's going to got better," replied Morton. Brown said, "Umph!" with a very gratified expression, and retired to his couch. In the morning Charley was unmistakably better, and from that time commenced to steadily improve.

Rations were now running short, for they had been very liberal in what they gave the blacks, and it was necessary to make a fresh start as soon as there was the slightest chance of doing so.

It was after much toil that they once more arrived at the lagoon whence they had left for the burning mountain. The long day through the hedgewood scrub had been very trying on the still weak invalid, and another short rest was imperative.

"Brown," said Morton during the day as they were lying listlessly smoking, "let's have another look at that plate with the figures on it. Where did you put it."

"Well, to tell you the truth, old man, it's gone. I returned it to mother earth."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, I'm certain there was something uncanny about that thing. I never told you, but I got that same dream Charley had over and over again, and could always see that plate with the words on it: 'The spirit of evil is every where. Worship, then, the spirit of evil.' If we'd kept that I believe not one of us would have got back, so I took it away and buried it, and that night Charley got better at once. Now what's the verdict?"

"Well, I was going to call you a thundering superstitious old fool, but in view of the facts I won't. It must have been a tribe of devil worshippers who free selected that cave originally."

"That's a weight off my mind. I thought you'd turn rusty when you found what I had done, for there's no doubt that relic was precious, and something might have been made out of it, but we have got the copies of the inscriptions in the same character for the learned to wrangle over."

The distance separating them from the burial place was easily covered by means of the well cleared track they had accidentally stumbled on, and they rode along recalling the incidents of the midnight procession, and all they had discovered since, until they arrived at the open country round the first waterhole.

"I think I'll bring some cattle out here some day, and take this bit of downs up," remarked Morton.

"You'll have quiet neighbours at any rate," replied his companion, indicating the scrub full of the burial scaffolds.

"They won't do any duffing, that's certain," said Charley, who was now getting stronger fast.

All felt rejoiced when on the morning of the fourth day the plain, homely, but welcome buildings that formed the station came in sight. Of the speculation and wonder that followed the recital of their adventures nothing need be said.

Billy Button was regarded by the other blacks as having wiped out the Warlattas single handed, a belief which he diligently fosters.

Copies of the writing on the cave walls have been sent to Europe, but as yet they have not been deciphered. Meanwhile, it is rumoured that the Governments of the different colonies intend to bring in the remains of Stuart and Hentig and accord them a public funeral.


13. -- JIM'S LATEST EXPERIENCE

Evening News, Sydney, 21 May 1898

SINCE Jim Parks wrote to me about his experiences with the spiders, whom he succeeded in finally banishing, I had not heard from him until the other day, when he wrote and told me that he had an entirely new experience to relate to me, if I could find time to run up and see him.

As Jim is always good company, I gladly accepted the invitation, and was cordially welcomed by him and his wife.


THIS last experience of mine, (said he, when yarning time came) regularly floored me for a while. I was going to write to you at the time, just to hunt up some more of those old books about witches and such like; but I didn't like to confess myself beat, and went a lone hand, and pulled through. I read all that Mr. Stead had to say on the subject in his books about real ghost stories, and the Borderland, and so en, and found not a word there bearing on my troubles. Look here! if Stead had only applied to me, I would have pitched him a far better lot of yarns than he has published, wouldn't I now?

'I'm sure of it, Jim.'

I was haunted for a long time before I could exactly locate what was wrong, and then I suddenly found out that there was a conspiracy against me, a conspiracy of ghosts.

You see, they'd got narked at my poking fun at them, and telling everybody that the best way to floor a ghost was to make game of it, so they determined to give me a lesson. And they did, too, for a time. I'll say that for them though, that they never troubled the wife. She's not used to the ways of ghosts like I am. Fortunately, she went away on a visit to her eldest married sister, who had just had twins, so I was able to tackle the ghosts alone.

The trouble commenced with a Scotchman, a Highlander, who pretended that he could only talk Gaelic, and consequently could not answer when he was spoken to. I got rid of him quickly by treating him as though I did not see him—walking through him, and generally ignoring him. He was a foolish sort of ghost to send to frighten me, and I wonder, by what occurred afterwards, that they were so green as to do it.

The real trouble commenced the day after the Scotchman disappeared. I had been out at work since daylight, and had come in to breakfast, when one of the men who were fencing came running in to tell me that Dick Trumbles, my neighbor, had just cut his throat—would I come over, and do what I could?

Dick was a good fellow, but had been rather down-hearted lately on account of a girl having chucked him over. The man said that a messenger had run over to tell him, and hurried back again; so I put on my hat, and went at once. The first man I saw was Trumbles, harnessing one of his horses.

Like an idiot I did not drop to the trick at once, and blurted out, 'Why, Dick, they just sent over for me, because you'd cut your throat?'

Dick looked at me, and seeing that I was pretty flustered with running, he said, 'Uh! Jim; got 'em again; bad this time, too.'

I got mad, and asked him what he meant by rousing a hungry man from his breakfast with his stale old jokes. So we had some hot words about it, and presently he walked over with me, and interviewed the fencers. They said that certainly a man had come running up to them with the message. I guessed the truth at once, and made it right with Dick, and went in to my breakfast again. As I sat down I heard a he! he! kind of laugh from somewhere.

I confess I didn't like it, for I could see no end of worry sticking out, and for a while they certainly did give me fits. One time the police and a whole lot of men armed to the teeth came rushing up, and I was nearly shot down like a dingo because a man had come up and reported that Jim Parks had gone raving mad, and was murdering all hands on his selection.

It undoubtedly was mean, the way they went about it, for they would not appear to me so that I could get a chance at them, but always to somebody else; and they did it so well, too, that nobody would believe it was ghosts doing it all the while. I began to get into bad odor. People said I was a confounded nuisance, and suggested that I should give some other locality a turn.

Just then I was thinking of writing to you to send me some more books up, when I hit upon an idea which, made me prefer to tackle it myself. I wrote to the wife and told her not to hurry back; then I laid myself out to worry the ghosts in return.

Of course, it looked a pretty hard contract, for I had to catch, one first, and while they could always locate me, I could not locate them. However, I waited and watched, and at last succeeded in getting speech with one. As ghosts are always fond of a yarn with human beings, he was ready to talk after a few words.

I asked him what they meant by plaguing me, to which he answered that I knew, too much about ghosts, and was bringing them rapidly into contempt. Very soon nobody would care a snap about ghosts, and where would their business be then? Was it fair on my part to take, so to speak, the bread out of their mouths?

Having once got him into an argument, I was safe.

'Now look at the matter plainly, from a common-sense point of view,' I said. 'Did a ghost ever do any good to anybody? What's the sense in acting the giddy scarecrow and frightening women and children. You can't frighten me, and you know it, and I'll find a man besides that the whole boiling of you wouldn't frighten.'

The ghost laughed scornfully.

'Why, I could, and a ghost who can materialise himself into shapes that would make you die screaming with fright.'

'Bring him along,' I said. 'If he frightens me or my friend I'll give in, and have no truck with ghosts any more. If we're not scared, you just clear' out, and leave me alone for the future.'

'I can't decide myself,' he replied. 'You see, there's been a committee of ghosts appointed in, this matter. We're going to bust Jim Parks—that's you. It's called the Jim Parks Abolishment Society. It's a strong branch of the Society for the Suppression of Sceptics. I'll lay the matter before the committee, and faring you their report.'

The ghost, who was a highly respectable old gentleman to look at, was about disappearing, when I stopped him.

'Can't you fellows materialise yourselves solid,' I asked, 'so that you could catch hold of anything?'

'Some in the higher planes can. This ghost of whom I am speaking can do so.'

'All right, it's an offer, pay or play.'

The ghost departed, and I sent into the township for a young fellow I knew well. He was a doctor looking out for a place to start a practice; but just then doing nothing. He was death on ghosts and all that kind of work, understood hypnotism, and had studied the phenomena of spiritual manifestations, as lie called it. He came out at once, and was delighted at the show I promised him. We were sitting at dinner when I heard a voice in the verandah call out, 'Jim Parks!'

'That's the ghost,' I said. Then sung out, 'Come in; there's no one here but my friend.'

The ghost stepped inside. Then a strange thing happened. The doctor got up all white and shaky, staring at the figure as though he had turned loony all of a sudden. Here's a breakdown, I thought. If he's frightened of a quiet, gentlemanly ghost like this, what will happen when he sees the one promised us. But I was wrong; it was not funk, only astonishment.

'Why, dad,' he said, and then I knew that it was the ghost of his father who stood there.

'Well, Robert, my boy,' replied the spectre. 'How are you; and how are you and Lucy getting along?'

'Lucy and I are not married, and I'm looking round to build up a practice somewhere.'

'Good gracious!' said the ghost. 'Why aren't you married, and why did you not keep my practice on?'

'Well,' said Robert; 'the practice was sold to pay off that old debt to Solomons—'

'To do what!' interrupted the old ghost. 'Why, Solomons was paid off before I died, and I made sure that you would have got along comfortably with my practice—it wanted a younger man; and you would have married Lucy and settled down.'

'We could find no receipt, and Solomons swore that the debt was not settled, and he could not wait any longer for his money.'

'The scoundrel!' said the ghost, now in a towering rage. 'The swindler, robber, thief! I'll give Solomons a turn! Fifty per cent I've paid him. Not find the receipt; why, I put the receipt in, in—now, where did I put that receipt?'

We waited in silence, but the ghost was evidently astray.

'Did you get my prescription for "Bunce's Miraculous Moist Powders?"' he asked.

'No; I looked for that everywhere.'

'Very strange, very strange! Won't I give that Solomons fits!'

Somehow, I felt sorry for Solomons. Old Dr. Bunce, or his shade, puzzled his brains in vain. At last his son said, 'I have an idea. Would you mind allowing me to hypnotise you?'

'On no account,' said the old gentleman, testily. 'You know my rooted objection to all that humbug.'

'But this is a matter of the greatest importance. Perhaps it will set me up on my legs, and enable me to marry Lucy. Do let me try.'

The old man was moved.

'You can't hypnotise a ghost,' he protested.

'Let me try, at any rate.'

To cut it short, he consented, and Robert went to work. He started the old ghost looking steadfastly at a saucer full of tea, and begged him to concentrate his thoughts on the missing receipt. We waited in perfect silence. Presently Robert made some passes, and told his father to look up.

The ghost raised his face. His eyes were open, but set fixedly. Evidently he saw nothing.

'When Solomons gave you the receipt for the money where did you go?' asked Robert.

There was no answer.

'You are not dead,' went on the son—'you are alive, and coming away from Solomons' with the receipt in your pocket.'

'Yes,' said the ghost.

'Where do you go?'

'I go home and straight up to my consulting room and lock the receipt up in my cash box.'

'Go on. Perhaps you took it out again.'

'I do take it and the other papers out again—my lease and other things. I look at the date of the lease; then I put them back again.'

'You are sure you put them all back again?'

'I think so, but I am not sure.'

Robert was at fault. 'We have searched everywhere. The cash box was locked, with the lease and other papers in it, but no receipt.'

'I remember nothing more but that.'

'Ask him about the prescription?' I whispered. 'What did you do with the prescription of "Bunce's miraculous moist powders?"'

'I wrote it out on a piece of paper, and put it in the leaves of my Nomenclature.'

That was all that could be obtained. Further questioning could elucidate nothing fresh—no clue of any sort. Robert made some upward passes and restored the ghost of his parent to consciousness.

'You didn't succeed, then,' he said.

'Yes, I did. Look at the clock. You've been in a hypnotic trance for over fifteen minutes.'

'Did you find out anything?'

'You took the receipt home and locked it up in your cash box.'

'So I did; I remember now. Well, go on.'

'It was not in the cash box when you died. You took the papers out once to look at the date of your lease, but, to the best of your belief, put them all back again.'

The old man seemed very perplexed.

'How did Solomons know the receipt was lost?' 'He got it out of me in an unguarded moment.'

'I'll get at him in an unguarded moment. Did I tell you anything about the "moist powders?"'

'Yes; you put the prescription in amongst the leaves of your Nomenclature.'

'So I did, so I did. I remember it all now. How weak my memory must have got just before I died. Have you got the book still?'

'Yes; but I have never opened it, as I have my own Nomen.'

'Anyway, I'll commence on Solomons. I'll frighten the soul out of him.'

He was starting off to put Solomons through a preliminary canter, when I detained him.

'You have not delivered the committee's message,' I reminded him.

'No, no; I forgot. They accept your challenge, and will meet you here at 12 o'clock to-night.'

'How about this top-sawyer ghost? Can I make him angry?'

'Yes, but don't; he could hurt you.'

The old fellow vanished, but suddenly reappeared.

'It's against rules to give advice, but Robert, you hypnotise him if you can.'

Then he went out for good.


WE made ourselves comfortable against midnight, and passed the time in conversation.

Dr. Bunce always enjoyed my conversation, like you do. (Jim never gave anybody else a chance to speak, when he was, what he called, conversing.) Young Bunce was in good spirits. He said, anyhow, if Solomons was not frightened out of the money, he would make a good thing out of the moist powders, which was a real good medicine.

Midnight struck, or at least it would have done so, but my clock doesn't strike. Nothing happened for awhile.

Suddenly Bunce shivered, and said it was cold. I pushed the whisky bottle over to him, and then saw that the door was slowly opening. I confess I felt more frightened when we were watching that door slowly, slowly, opening than at anything we saw afterwards, and Bob says the same. What was coming in so silently?

A hand appeared—a huge hand, of a dull white corpse color; a hand big enough for a giant of immense size. It came in the room, and the arm also—a white, ghastly, bloodless arm. To watch it, and think what creature must own such an arm that was so gradually creeping towards us, was the most awful thing.

Presently it began to search about, as though seeking something—as though striving to clutch its prey with those terrible looking fingers. It hovered over the table, and every second we expected it to lay hold of us.

Suddenly Bunce broke the spell of fear.

'Don't take our whisky,' he said, in a choky kind of voice. That saved us. I mustered up a very artificial laugh. The arm was suddenly withdrawn, and the door closed angrily with a bang.

'That part of the show is over,' I remarked with relief; and I may tell you that it was a near go with both of us.

Then the door opened again, and a ghastly figure entered—a mutilated human form. The nose and ears had been cut off, the eyes gouged from the sockets, the mouth cut into a hideous slit, and landless, bleeding stumps were extended towards us.

As the thing advanced, a sound of agonised sobbing accompanied it, seemed to hover around it, and fill the room with the moanings of a being under torture. Horrible as this appearance was, it did not affect either of us as did that cruel searching hand. It wandered round the room, waving its stumps, and moving its horrible face this way and that. Then, coming close to Bunce, it put its face down, and a soft woman's voice of great sweetness seemed to come from the gaping mouth:

'Kiss me, my lost love.'

This spoilt the whole show, arid both of us burst into a loud laugh!—the effect was too absurd. In an instant the thing vanished, and the door slammed. 'I think they'll fail now,' said Robert. 'D—n it; look out!'

He started up, for a snake, a death-adder, was wriggling about on the table.

'It's that Tomfool ghost,' I said. 'Let it alone.'

We did so, and it wriggled away.

Then darkness fell on us. We could see the lamp like a speck of fire, but it gave no light. I struck a match, but it was just the same. Cold, slimy hands pawed over our faces; they circled round our throats, as if threatening to strangle us; and the room was full of a rustling sound, as though it was filled with gliding forms. It was very disagreeable, but we constrained ourselves to sit still, and presently the light shot up again, and the room was empty.

Bunce reached out to the bottle, but it was instantly snatched away.

'Put that back,' he said, 'that's an old trick I'd be ashamed of.'

The bottle was returned, but when he went to lift it it seemed rooted to the table.

'That's only fit for a side show,' I remarked, and the bottle was free, and we helped ourselves. For two or three hours or more they tried it on in all manner of ways, but as they did not succeed at first they lost their chance, and the performance only got amusing.

'I'm tired of this,' I said at last. 'It's our turn now. Where's that boss ghost who frightens cats and babies?'

'I'm here,' said a voice in my ear that made me jump.

'Well, just appear; show yourself, man —don't hide.'

'How shall I appear?'

'As a good strong man,' I said.

Immediately there stood by the table a brawny looking fellow, dressed in bush fashion.

'Are you the ghost who can materialise himself solid?' I asked.

'Smell that,' he returned, thrusting a brawny fist against my nose.

'You'll do,' I remarked. 'Now, strong as you are, you can't stare at this tumbler for five minutes and then look my friend in the face.'

The ghost sneered; then fixed his eyes on the tumbler and stared at it. At the end of five minutes Bunce made some passes over him, and then told him to look up. It was all right; we had him safely hypnotised. We had our plans arranged also.

'You know what ringbarking is?' said Bunce.

'Yes,' answered the mesmerised ghost.

'Then, as soon as it is daylight you can go and begin, and don't leave off until you're allowed to.'

It was just beginning to dawn when that materialised ghost started ringbarking, and it was dusk in the evening when Bunce removed the influence, and a sadder, wiser ghost returned to spirit land. We told the men that it was a bet that he could keep ringbarking all day without knocking off, and to their surprise he did it. There were many spectators during the time he was employed, and if the ghosts were listening they must have been edified by the critical remarks passed. What surprised everybody was the disappearance of such a master ringbarker; but, as you may believe, he was never seen in this district again.

I drove Bunce into town again, and he started off for Sydney and Lucy, his books being packed up there. A week afterwards I got a letter from him. This is it:


Dear Jim,

I owe you a lot for that ghost racket. What do you think—my old father had written out the prescription for the 'miraculous moist powders' on the back of the receipt which he must have left lying on the desk when he opened the cashbox to look at the date of the lease.

I went to Solomons, and found him ill and penitent, and only too willing to make restitution. He did not enter into details as to what had occurred, but from what he let drop I fancy dad kept his word, and Solomons has been having a really bad time lately.

Lucy and I are to be married very soon, and then we'll come up and see you. As I said, I owe you something, and, by George, I'll pay it! When the 'miraculous moist powders' are ready for the market you shall be the first man I will doctor with them.


'I DON'T know what the moist powders are good for,' said Jim, as he finished the letter; 'but I'll be hanged if he will.'


14. -- FOR PEACE AND QUIET

Australasian, Melbourne, 16 Nov 1889

[The Richmond and Croydon in this story are in outback Queensland. —TW]


"I NEVER said much about my domestic troubles, did I Jack?"

The speaker, a tall, big-jointed man, with a mild good-tempered face, was seated on the cross-bar of a bunk at the entrance of a tent. He was smoking with an air of tranquil enjoyment, and lazily watching his companion, a young fellow of about five-and-twenty, with a bright, sunny face, who was engaged in sharpening some tent-pegs.

"No, Joe; you've hinted they were not exactly of the common order, but you never went into details."

"Well," returned Joe, "I belong down to the Richmond way, and have got a tidy little farm there now. But worse luck, an old man and his daughter had the next farm, and nothing would suit the old man but I must be his son-in-law. He got at me all roads—told me how the poor girl was crying her eyes out at my cruelty, which she never did—until at last, for the sake of peace and quiet, I did it."

"And did you get what you wanted?" asked Jack, who, having finished his pegs, was filling his pipe.

"What? Peace and quiet? Why, the rowing commenced almost before the ceremony was over. Such a pair for tongue as that old man and his daughter you never came across. You see they had been going for each other all their lives, and now they had me for a common object, and they made the most of it. Of all the wicked-tongued old men, that man was the worst. Being my father-in-law, I couldn't well hit my hand to him; so when he got extra bad I used to shake him all the way from the house to the back gate, and my wife pitching into me all the way with whatever weapon was handy. Lord, I was never without a couple of black eyes in those days."

"You got peace and quiet with a vengeance." assented Jack. "Things got worse and worse, and one night, after I'd shook the old man choking speechless. I went back to the house, packed up a few things, told my wife that there was the farm and some money in the bank for her use, walked out, and left her before she got her breath properly. I heard afterwards she advertised for me in the papers to come back and all would be forgiven, but as I had done nothing to want forgiveness for I didn't go back. No, I came up here, we fell in together, and now this is heaven."

His companion looked round with a peculiar smile—certainly no place could have been more unlike the popular idea of heaven. They were camped on the outskirts of Croydon, on a clay box flat. The time was the middle of summer; not a vestige of grass was visible. Every horse-pad or wheel-track was indicated by about six inches of fine floury dust. The leaves of the trees seemed crisp and withered, and crackled with the intermittent puffs of hot wind. In the west the sun was setting behind a lurid storm-cloud, the edge of which was every now and again illuminated by a blaze of reflected lightning.

"I suppose," said Jack, after gazing round at this picture of heaven, "it was your love of peace and quiet made you out Roaring Bill through the window the other night. By the way, did you pay old Jenkins for the damage?"

"Well, Bill would keep picking up quarrels, and as long as he stopped in the bar there to no chance of peaceable yarn. As for paying for the window when old Jenkins asked me. I offered to show him by putting him through that I never actually touched the window, but Bill did it all."

"Did he agree?"

"No, said he'd make it up out of Bill."

"And was it a love of peace and quiet made you roll into the bullocky the other day for flogging a lame bullock?"

"Yes, he'd have only got mixed up with the police over it, and taken away from his team, so I gave him a practical illustration."

"Yes, you knocked him down, took the whip from him, gave him a couple of old-man cuts, and asked him how he liked it himself. You'll do, Joe. Now I'll just tighten up the fly with a few extra pegs, and if the storm does come we are all taut; and tomorrow we'll see what my gully turns out."

Like everyone else the two friends had had to register their claim, a very promising reef, until the break-up of the drought and the arrival of machinery could enable them to work. Meanwhile Jack had been doing a little prospecting, and had dropped on a patch in a gully some fifteen miles distant that he thought might pay them to stack against a thunderstorm fall. The horses were a long way off on one of the few bits of feed still left, so the two resolutely made two journeys on foot with their belongings, there being a very little water in the gully that might possibly last them, if not intruded on, for a week or two.

The new camp settled, the two set to work with a will. Every night the storm-clouds would gather, and every night they would sunder and vanish with loud thunder, and a few heavy drops of rain. At last, when they had worked out the patch, it came. Next morning the gully was a torrent of muddy water, and then commenced the most satisfactory part of a digger's career, washing up. Especially when, as in this case, their luck was far better than they expected.

They were about half-way through their work when a horseman rode down the gully, and pulled up where they were busy.

"Well boys," he said, "struck a patch?"

Jack, who knew him well, nodded and laughed.

"Anything left, old man, for we are all about stone broke."

The two mates indicated the most likely places they knew of, and next day their solitude was invaded by a party of four, who were shortly followed by others, until the once lonely gully was quite a lively camp.

Some did tolerably well, but as usually happens, the pick of it had gone to the first prospectors. Joe and his mate had cleaned up everything, and were thinking of shifting their camp back to their reef the next day, for, as Jack said, they could afford to do a bit of pointing now.

"I saw that vagabond Jimmy the Greek sneaking round here to-day," said Joe. "Wonder what he's up to; no good, I reckon."


THAT night Jack was aroused by Joe crying. "I've got him! Strike a light, quick, he's stuck me in the arm."

Jack had a light in a minute and found Joe with the blood dripping from his arm, holding by both wrists Jimmy the Greek.

The other men soon came in, Jimmy was secured, and Joe's arm bandaged up. He said he was awakened in the night by a hand fumbling under his pillow; he caught the wrist belonging to the hand, and immediately received a stab in the arm. Making a grab with the other hand, he was lucky enough to secure the hand with the knife and held the man until Jack came to his assistance.

There was great discussion as to Jimmy's fate, but it was decided as the best thing to hand him over to the police at Croydon. Joe loudly lamented he had not shot him at once.

"It would have only been justifiable homicide," he said, "and everything would have gone off in peace and quiet. Now there'll be a trial and all sorts of bother."

Jimmy was escorted into Croydon next day, and Joe and his partner followed. But a knife-stab in the middle of a North Queensland summer is not to be trifled with. When they got in Joe was feverish; next day he was delirious, and then for a week or two he began to hover between life and death.

The hospital at Croydon was still in embryo, so Jack got a hut and took his patient there, where he nursed him with all the tenderness of a generous and affectionate nature.

Often the sick man would murmur his favourite formula when Jack put the cooling bandages from the water-bag round his hot forehead—"Ah! it's just Heaven!"

Meanwhile Jimmy the Greek was waiting his trial in the sultry oven of a lock-up, with the agreeable uncertainty of wondering whether he would be tried for his life or not. Jack's nursing and Joe's constitution triumphed. In due course he was able to appear at the police court, and the case was sent down to Townsville, where Jimmy got peace and quiet for seven years. Joe had determined to take a trip south to get his strength back, so his young partner returned alone. Jack had been back some months, putting in a pretence of work at the claim, and praying like everybody else for the rain to come, when one evening he espied a tall familiar figure approaching from the direction of Croydon.

It was Joe right enough, with a new felt hat with six inches of crape on it. He said nothing, but gave Jack's hand a mighty grip that made him cry out; subsided on to the cross-bar of his old bunk, and commenced to fill his pipe.

"Anyone got this bunk?" he asked.

"No old man. I knew you would turn up some day; the boys have a tent of their own." By this time Joe had filled and lighted his pipe. He gave two or three puffs and calmly observed, "Now this is heaven."

"Well, Joe, your trip has done you a world of good, but who are you in mourning for?"

Joe regarded the crape waggishly.

"Father-in-law; she would make me wear it as a mark of respect."

"I say," said Jack, sitting up suddenly, "none of your doing, I hope, none of that shaking business."

"No, lad, I was away. Cussed himself into a fit, and fit had the best of it, couldn't cuss himself out of it. Had a first-class funeral, and has got an epitaph stating he was beloved and venerated by all who knew him. Funny, isn't it?"

"And your wife?"

"Worse and worse. Will have it that I'm living a life of riot and debauchery up here. Said I got knifed over some scandalous female: says she heard all about it."

Joe was silent; then commenced shaking with suppressed laughter.

"What's the matter, you old fool?" said Jack.

"Heard all about you, too. Who do you suppose you are?"

"Why myself, I suppose."

"Not at all. You're a good-looking girl dressed up in man's clothes."

The combined shout of laughter from the two nearly startled the whole camp into life.

"Yes. Jack, you're a shameless hussy, following of me round dressed in boys clothes, and if ever she gets a hold of you she'll put a mark on you will spoil your good looks."

"I say, Joe, this is getting serious. I'll clear out. You're too dangerous a mate to have."

"And how have you left things?" asked Jack, after a pause.

"The old man's farm came to his daughter, and, I suppose, is mine; but anyhow she's got the use of both, and a tidy bit of money in the bank. There's a slip of some sort of cousin knocking about down there, so I put him on the old man's place. He's not much account; but he's got a steady man under him, and can't do much harm. He was brought up boy and girl with the wife, so she can take it out of him when she feels so inclined. Strike a match and light a candle, Jack; I'll show you her photograph. I had it taken this time when there was peace for five minutes."

Jack looked at it curiously. Surely there was some mistake; he had expected to see a vulgar shrew, with a miserable temper showing in every line of her face, and here was a mild, trustful-looking girl's face that looked as though it always shed around an atmosphere of peace and good temper.

"This is a puzzler, Joe; why, she looks a perfect saint."

"Doesn't she? If that photograph could speak, you'd hear a saint talk; as for language, a bullocky isn't near her."

"Well, she's too young and pretty to be left alone there, Joe."

"Think so," said Joe uneasily. "But no, she's good enough, all but her temper. No, no, old man, don't you hint anything like that."

Jack apologised, and the two went off to sleep: but the younger was aroused in the middle of the night by the elder striking a match and lighting his pipe.

"Jack," he said, "you and I have been mates now nearly two years."

"About that, old man."

"And never had a word, not even a civil growl, all the time; have we?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Strange now, isn't it, considering you're a scandalous female, going about with me dressed up in boy's clothes;" and Joe went off into a fit of chuckling.

"I believe," he said, after a pause, "that Roaring Bill had been about there; he comes from that way."


FOR some weeks peace and quiet reigned, and; Joe shone like a beatified saint. Then came a thunderbolt. It was a letter from the agent, who was Joe's business man on the Richmond. The ne'er-do-well cousin and Joe's wife had gone off together, taking what cash there was in the bank and whatever money they could raise by the sale of the farm stock.

Jack could say nothing in the face of such a blow, but his heart bled for his partner. All light seemed to go out of Joe's life at one breath. His disgrace was more than he could bear; it seemed to him that every one pointed at him as the man whose wife had run away with another man. He shrank from everyone but his partner, to whom he was always the same, and Jack impotently cursed the woman who had broken such a trustful, generous nature.

Six months had passed, affairs were prospering with the two men, and here was the outlook of a fortune ahead of them. From a whim of Joe's, which Jack humoured, they still occupied a tent instead of putting up a hut, and one night Jack was awakened by the familiar scratch of a match, and knew that poor sleepless Joe was trying to while his thoughts away with his pipe.

"Jack," he said at last, "you know when the trouble first came you asked me if I was going to take any action in the matter, and I told you no. I had my reasons."

"Yes, old man."

"Well, I've thought and thought many a long night, and I've worked it out that I did not do my duty by that woman."

"What more could you have done, Joe?"

"You said. 'She's too young and pretty to be left alone,' and I left her alone."

"But she drove you from her every time."

"I should have stood it. Now they would run through that money in no time, for he's a wasteful young hound; and as he never could earn a penny, by this time I know they must be in want; or she is, for he'd leave her when the money was gone. Jack, I'm going down south to find her and save her."

Jack could say nothing. Evidently Joe's resolution was taken, and no words would move him. At last he said. "We have a good manager; if you go I will go and help you."

Joe sprung from his bunk, and without a word came over and wrung his friend's hand hard: then he went back, and both slept till daylight.

With a purpose to work out Joe regained some of his old tranquil humour and brightness, and after due business arrangements had been completed the pair were soon on their way south.

Melbourne or Sydney were the goals they looked upon as the most likely places wherein to trace the errant couple: but they searched for some time, with trained assistance, without getting a clue.

One afternoon Jack was coming home through Lower George-street when he saw a sight that always roused his sense of shame and pity—a young woman was being taken to the lockup by two constables. One had hold of each arm, and she was fighting desperately but silently to free her wrists. She raised her head as Jack passed, and in an instant be recognised the Madonna-like face of the photograph, Joe's wife.

There was soon little doubt, for throwing all restraint away, she commenced a torrent of abuse against the constables that made Jack shudder to listen to. He had to follow. Never ceasing in her stream of invectives, she was forced on step by step until the door of the lock-up closed on her and her conductors. Then Jack returned sorrowfully to tell Joe what he had seen; but Joe took it quietly.

"I expected it," he said, "all the more reason I must do my duty now and save her."

They returned to the police office, and Joe introduced his business and himself to the inspector. He met with the most cordial sympathy; the matter could be easily arranged by entering into certain recognisances for good behaviour, she would be released on the opening of the court in the morning, but the inspector strongly advised him not to bail her out that night. In this Jack backed him up. "You must make some arrangements first, man: you could not take her to an hotel, or she might fly out and disgrace you before everybody." Joe assented to reason, and then obtained permission to see his wife. He was shown into the cell, but what passed between them Jack never heard.

By the time the court opened the next morning Joe had secured a furnished cottage in one of the suburbs, and there he commenced on his work of reclamation. Jack started immediately for the north; to him the sight of the woman was positively hateful. Joe kept him posted up as to how things went.

"The last craze," he wrote, "is that I'm an idle, loafing vagabond. Why am I not at work at something instead of dawdling my time about Sydney? Black eyes are not going yet, but language is still incurable."

At last came a letter in black. The miserable woman had caught a cold through going out bareheaded in a storm in a fit of temper, and she had ceased to be a burden to anybody any more.

Joe arrived soon after his letter; he looked well and almost his old self. "Jack," he said, when he had got himself into his favourite heavenly seat—"I didn't tell you all by letter, because there are some things I would sooner speak about than write about. One thing, I don't blame myself like I did at first. That woman would have gone wrong with all the care in the world. After she died I discovered that that young cousin had found us out, and she used to give him money on the sly. Many a time she used to sham one of her tantrums to go out to meet him, and she caught her death going out that stormy night for the same purpose."

"Lucky for him you never caught him."

"It was, but he was always mighty careful of himself."

"Well, old man, let's forget all the miserable past, and try for peace and quiet in future."

Joe nodded, and his eyes glistened.

Again the familiar scratch of a match roused Jack up in the middle of the night. "What on earth do you want, you restless old cuss?" he asked discontentedly.

"Jack, I've got an awful idea. I'd just got it all cut and dried, everything laid out for a long a spell of peace and quiet, and then all of a sudden it came on me like a knock-down. You'll be getting married one of these days."

Jack modestly admitted the possibility.

"There, say no more, I won't disturb you again, but my sleep's spoilt till I get used to the notion."


15. -- A CHRISTMAS OF THE PAST

Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, 9 Dec 1908

1. -- FROM AN OLD DIARY

December 24, 187— Leave camp for a three days' trip to the West, keeping further to the northward than where we went on the unlucky day when three horses died of thirst. All the horses are now in very good condition, thanks to our long detention here. I intend to make a push to the west as far as I can get. Hillesly is going with me with a horse packed with water-bags. We'll leave them hung up on a tree to await my return, then he will go back to the camp with the horse.

I shall take the cob, as he is a very hardy brute; but he is not fond of being alone, so will want watching the first night. Hung the bags of water on a small bloodwood tree at about 3 o'clock; then Hillesly turned back. The bags are on the bank of a small, dry creek. I shall thus get a drink for my horse on my return journey, 15 miles before reaching our camp, which may mean all the difference.

Hillesly was unlucky in his shooting yesterday, so I have only two flock-pigeons to last me till I get back. However, he vows that he'll get an emu or a plain turkey against my return.


December 25— Passed through splendidly-grassed country all day yesterday. Mostly downs, with Mitchell grass and other good grasses; no sign of water. . My cob nearly gave me the slip last night. I had been keeping awake listening to him till past midnight, when he stopped feeding, and I suppose I fell asleep. When I awoke I could not hear a sound. The silence was intense. I had brought a small horse-bell with me, but though the silence was so complete that, according to the common saying, "you could hear a pin drop," although in reality neither I nor anybody else ever heard a pin drop, not the most distant tinkle, rewarded me.

I was gazing up sadly at the stars, and thinking of the long, hot tramp that lay before me on the morrow, when suddenly, afar off, came, the blessed sound of the bell. It was only a faraway refrain, but the bell was one of the old-fashioned, bullfrog kind, and it was impossible to definitely locate the distance. Anyway the horse was within reach. I took a careful survey of those companions of a lonely man, the faithful stars, and definitely fixed the exact spot where the bell had sounded. Then picking up my bridle, I started after the fugitive.

The bell sounded no more. Evidently the delinquent was a bit tired with travelling in hobbles, and was having a rest. After going the distance I calculated the bell had sounded, I paused to have a good listen. All was still on that wide, treeless expanse, and though my eyes were then pretty keen, I could see no object silhouetted against the skyline. Suddenly, apparently not a hundred yards away from me, came a low and welcome snort. There was the giddy cob, in a low hollow of the downs, taking his rest.

I commenced to whistle cheerfully, both because I did not wish to startle him by suddenly breaking on his peaceful slumbers, and really, because I did feel relieved at seeing him. He, too, seemed pleased, and when I put my hand on him greeted me with a cordial whinny; as if to say, "Glad to see you, old man. Awfully lonely out here, isn't it?"

I slipped the bridle on his head, and started back. Now there was only one indication of where I had been camped, and that was my saddle lying on the bare plain, for there was no need for timber or a fire, but when I reached the spot where I made sure that I had left it, no saddle was visible. So, knowing that it was no good fooling about in the dark, I concluded to wait until daylight, as it was not far off now.

When the dawn came the saddle was but two or three hundred yards away, but, of course, it was not able to announce its near presence. "So the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token." I soon saddled up, and was on my way westward once more.


December 26— For several hours the level country was treeless and unchanged; but about 10 o'clock a distant low line of blue began to show above the horizon to the northward; and just then I saw that I had come upon the traces of a passing thunderstorm. It had evidently fallen over a fortnight before, for the grass was green and fresh; but there was no place that would retain water. I turned slightly towards the timber, which had now got very distinct. The cob kept making snatches at the green grass as we went on. Poor devil, he was getting thirsty as the sun grew hotter and hotter.

We reached the timber in about a couple of hours, and found that it indicated a change of soil; the familiar but unwelcome spinifex appeared ahead. The traces of the thunderstorm were still visible; so after a short look round I got off under a beautiful bauhinia tree to have a rest and take council with myself in default of anybody else. My horse wanted water, but not badly, and he would evidently last through the next day, and carry me back to where I left the bags, even if I did not come across any water; so things seemed pretty right to have a further search, as I had a little water in my bag.

Feeling inspirited by my reflections, I decided to attack one of the pigeons. What was my horror and disappointment to find that they were both bad! My saddle-pouch was lined with black, shiny leather, and as it had been on the sunny side of my saddle, my sole stock of rations was uneatable. I was very hungry, but had not yet reached the stage of being able to tackle tainted bird. If they had been a little high and gamey, they might have gone down; but they were too far gone. There was nothing for it, and the pigeons quickly became the prey of the surprised tenants of a neighboring, ant-hill.

Fortunately, I had still a morsel of tobacco with me, so with a smoke and a drink of water, I tried to forget my lost dinner, and started on once more. The spinifex belt with its gravelly soil was evidently the crest of the long, low watershed of the downs country, so I turned west once more, and rode alongside it, hoping to cross a stray rivulet that might still hold some remains of the thunderstorm I did find one or two, but only found a hole where the soil was still damp, to the infinite disgust of my horse, who smelt the moist earth, and started to paw the ground, as though he fancied himself a second Moses.

Still on to the westward, when suddenly the spinifex forest on my right hand retreated backward, and before me the downs declined into a broad valley. At the bottom, seen through the heat haze of the afternoon, were several black dots, which, as I rode on, resolved themselves into separate trees. There was seemingly a streamlet of some kind there. The trees were stunted, and grew far apart, but the grass was green. Suddenly a flock of small birds, almost the first signs of life I had yet seen, arose, wheeled and circled in the air for a few minutes, and then descended, chattering loudly at each other as they settled down.

I recognised them at once, the pugnacious little spur-winged plover. I was as sure of water as if they had been a flight of ducks. A breath of wind had evidently conveyed the news to my horse, for he cocked his ears, and was eager to go on. Very soon we were on the brink of a fine serpentine lagoon, and my horse had enjoyed a most welcome drink.

But greater surprise was in store for me. There on the bank was a good-sized camp of natives, all standing staring at me, without making a sound. The trees were stunted coolibahs, and most of the women had climbed up these, while the men were grouped around the stems. They still kept silence until I made a step in their direction, when they started shouting and energetically waving their hands at me to go back. The nearer I came to them, the more excited they became, but showed no weapons nor seemed hostile, only most anxious that I should clear out.

As I advanced nearer to them their motions became more excited, until I thought of the old signal of holding both hands up to show that my intentions were peaceful. It worked like a charm; they instantly stopped shouting and held up their hands likewise. They did not object to my coming close to them, but professed great terror at my horse, and when he gave a snort they all gave a start of real or feigned alarm.

After a time the ladies descended from the branches of the trees, and I found that most of them had caught up either a piccaniny or a dingo pup in their flight. The kiddies were mostly plump, brown, little monkeys, for the babies of the aborigines are not black for a few years. They had stacks of fresh water mussels in the camp, and gave me a fresh-caught fish, which I gladly cooked at one of their fires and ate. My meal finished, my dusky friends appeared to wish me to "stand not upon the order of going, but go at once."

I was rather-glad to get away, for truth to tell, I had no firearms of any sort with me. My own revolver had been disabled, and my rifle was too heavy for the work, so on the whole I was glad that they were so friendly. During the time I was in the camp I had noticed a group of half a dozen big boys, who kept apart and did not approach me, and seemed inclined to conceal themselves behind tree trunks. One white bearded old man appeared to hover near them and see that they did not push themselves forward.

As the sun was getting low, and both I and the natives seemed to have had enough of each other's company, I made preparations to depart. They all of them solemnly and silently watched me as long as I could see the camp, and then I feel sure that one or two stole after me a short distance, to make sure that I really went away.

I was five or six miles away before it struck me what was the real reason for their strongly displayed wish for my departure. They were about holding some of their ceremonies, and the group of young boys that kept by themselves, were about to undergo the rite that made them men. This rite is very select, so it was no wonder that they did not wish a white spectator. Camped before I got off the traces of the thunderstorm, the horse well fed, and I got several snatches of sleep. No sign of the blacks.


December 27— Got back to camp early this morning, bringing the water bags I had picked up on my way back. Found all well, and Hillesly had kept his word and managed to get an emu, which I enjoyed very much. My companions were delighted to hear of the water, but did not lay much stress on the blacks being there.

(End of the extract from my diary.)

2. -- HILLESLY'S ADVENTURE

THE adventure that afterwards befell Hillesly was in some sort a sequel to my meeting with the blacks, but I never saw them again. When we removed to the lagoon a few days afterwards, they had departed, and only the remains of the camp was there to tell the story. But I shall never forget the last look I had of them when I looked back that afternoon, the savage figures grouped there, all standing motionless gazing, gazing, after me as if my disappearance was most urgently needed.

It was four years later, the country then untraversed, was just being stocked and opened up, and Hillesly had been engaged by a firm to take a mob of cattle up to the same lagoon. They had formed a temporary camp there, and were waiting for the wet season to be over before beginning their work. The blacks had not been openly hostile, but had kept away from them, and showed no signs of wishing to be friendly.

Hillesly was sleeping under a tarpaulin beneath which they had the stores stowed. The other men were camped in a couple of tents close at hand. Hillesly had rigged himself up a bunk and mosquito net, for the latter were very bad when there was a break of sunshine. One night he woke up with that strange feeling of there being uncanny lurking about. It. was a fairly bright moonlight night, and he lay for a while listening, but without avail.

Suddenly four black figures appeared in front of the opening of the tarpaulin, and stood there silently watching. Each of them had a big club, and their intentions were not evidently as peaceable as when I had interviewed them. As he was in shadow and under the net, the blacks could not make him out, which they evidently wanted to. Both ends of the tarpaulin were open, and as they looked through from moonlight to moonlight, they could see the outline of one leg, for he was lying on his back with one knee raised.

Instinctively Hillesly straightened his leg down, and the natives quickly and silently dropped, thinking that he was awaking. He was a cool fellow, and lay quite still, to see what they would do. After a few minutes one sneaked in on his hands and knees. It required the exercise of strong, firm nerves to still remain quiet and feign sleep; but Hilllesly did so, and presently was awarded. The blackfellow rose noiselessly up and peered through the net with his face close against it.

Luckily Hillesly had taken his revolver under the net with him. With his finger on the trigger he followed the black face rising higher and higher, until he saw the eyeballs glitter; and then fired. Hastily disentangling himself from the net, which was smouldering, and putting it out with his hands, for it had caught fire from the flash of the pistol, Hillesly had enough to occupy him for a moment. But nothing more was needed; the blacks outside had dropped their clubs with a clatter, and bolted.

The dying man, with a revolver bullet in his mouth and down his throat, staggered out and fell to the earth, choking with blood, where one of the men, who had run out of the tents, stumbled over him. The three or four other men got away, but the man who had been shot soon gasped his life out. The clubs that they had left behind were very large ones, made for using with both hands, so that they had evidently intended to make sure of their game.

This was many long years ago, and the natives only linger in the shape of a few half-civilised wanderers; but I believe that they were never known to camp at that lagoon again.

What made them so quiet when I first saw the tribe I don't know, unless it was as I suspected, and there was a ceremony coming on, and they were anxious to get rid of me. In the country news of this journal I have several times noticed, of late years, the arrival overland of large mobs of bullocks to their destination in the northern towns of this State, to be trucked thence to Sydney, coming from the very far-away and then unknown country where this incident occurred.


16. -- THE BIRDS OF THE AIR

Sydney Mail, 20 Nov 1907

'THE beauty of gold,' said the weather-beaten prospector, 'is that it's as good as cash from the moment you find it—meaning, of course, alluvial gold,' he added, after a moment's pause.

'That's so,' assented his mate. 'The mint will at once give you its honest weight in clean, bright, wholesome sovereigns; but they won't do the same for copper ore, or tin, or wolfram, or anything else a man has the luck to strike.'

'Right oh,' went on the first speaker, 'and that's why I've always followed gold, and that's why I'm in this God-forgotten country at the present moment; but no company promoters, nor mining agents, and brokers for me, to lick all the gilt off the cake before a man has a chance to get a bite himself.'

Concluding his speech with vindictive emphasis, as though he had formerly been a sufferer, the utterer of this philosophy got on his legs and looked around.

They were in Central Australia, the surrounding country, though hardly of the best description, was, nevertheless, not the actual 'desert' of the far north-west, nothing but sand and spinifex. A blind creek dragged its shallow, dry channel along to a final disappearance, and on the tiny flats bordering its 'banks, was a growth of rough grass, off which three horse were disgustedly trying to pick their mid-day meal. The ridges on either side, were gravelly and rocky, and in the far distance the crest of a range peeped up.

The two prospectors were out following their vocation on one of the western slopes of the Macdonnell Range, and though many people, from the great solitude that reigned around, would consider themselves as being well within the borders of the great unknown, the two fossickers only reckoned themselves to be the proper distance from semi-civilisation and their fellow men, a place where a man could enjoy uninterrupted peace and quiet.

They had caught their horses, preparatory to resuming their journey, and were busy settling the somewhat cumbersome pack, when an unmistakable pistol shot rang out clearly and sharply. It sounded from across the ridge they were then on, and after listening some minutes in surprise for a repetition the two men mounted and rode in the direction of the sound. They gained the crown of the ridge, then pulled up, and looked curiously ahead.

The lightly-timbered decline was but a gradual slope, but though the view was unimpeded, there was neither sign nor token of life.

'It must have been a white man, and he must have left some tracks,' said Rutter—the man who had spoken so strongly on the subject of brokers. 'Let's have a look for them.'

'Yes, keep straight ahead, and we should cross them; wonder who it can be?'

They continued in the same direction for about ten minutes, then stopped simultaneously and abruptly. They had come across the tracks; horse tracks going from west to east. Rutter looked around at the grim solitude wherein was no sign of bird or beast.

'Somebody on the same lay as ourselves; what the deuce could he have been firing at—some new-chum fool blazing off his revolver for sport. He'll live to want that cartridge some day.'

'He shot something at any rate. What's that?' and the other man pointed to an object lying on the tracks, in the direction whence they came. They rode quickly over to examine it. It was the body of a blackboy, huddled up as he had fallen; crouched oh the ground lace downwards. They dismounted, and examined the dead Rutter pointed to the still bleeding wound. Shot clean through the heart from behind he must have told the poor beggar to look round at something, and then have shot him—cowardly hound he must be.'

Neither of the men boasted any overstrained sense of morality, and the shooting of the boy under the pressure of self-defence would not have shocked either of them, but this bore on its face the evidence of such a cold-blooded, treacherous murder that they felt the hot surge of shame at the thought that it was the act of a white man's hand and brain.

One of them stooped and turned the body over. He was in reality a boy, not a conventionally-called one, like most blackboys no matter what their age. This one had been a merry-faced little rascal, and looked as though he had been laughing when the bullet did its cruel work.

'What on earth could he have shot the boy for?' mused Bob Staines. 'Couldn't have been an accident.'

'No fear,' replied Rutter, 'no blooming accident about that. Strikes me it's this way. He's struck a patch out west, he had to come back for rations, and as he was afraid the boy would get talking, he shot, him to keep his mouth shut.'

'But why not have shot him out at the place?' said Staines.

'Why? Because there were only the two of them, and he wanted some help with the horses. He's not so very far to go now.'

'A couple of days will bring him to the ten-mile camp. What shall we do?'

'....Cawwr, cawwr,' croaked an alighting crow, suddenly. Both men started; the bird had apparently appeared from nowhere.

'Cawwr, cawwr,' croaked another in reply, as a second one appeared, and settled alongside its mate, both of them regarding the men knowingly, as much as to say, 'We know all about it.'

'Wonderful birds; I could have sworn that there was not one within coo-ee of here; but you'll be sold, you black brutes. We've got the tools with us, and can spare time to cover the poor wretch up.'

'The beauty of gold,' said Staines, quoting his mate's words as they shovelled the last of the dirt over a shallow grave.'

'All depends in what hands it gets, returned Rutter. 'Now, look here. Staines; we can do no good following this skunk into the camp, they will all treat it as a yarn. I vote that we follow his tracks back and find out what he struck; we've got plenty of rations, and we are bound to get water on his tracks. What do you say?'

'I'm on; we'll have a look anyhow.'

They rode away, and the two crows, after a little confabulation, had an unsatisfactory inspection of the new-made grave, and followed them.


BY following the tracks back Rutter and his mate Staines arrived in a day or two at a patch of auriferous country, and it had not been marked out and pegged, but the finder had evidently relied upon the lonely seclusion of the place, which seemed almost enough to warrant it against chance discovery.

There was a little permanent spring within about a mile of the patch, and the two prospectors, respecting the original rights of the finder, settled down to work at once, finding plenty of payable dirt elsewhere. Naturally, the two men kept a sharp lookout for the return of the unknown, whom they knew from experience would not be too particular in the methods he adopted when found that two more knew of the gold, although, as both agreed, it was not worth the murder even of a black boy.

'The man must be half crazed, and has evidently got the most exaggerated notions about the value of the find, and the value of human life,' said Rutter one day.

'All the more dangerous on that account,' said Staines.

It was on the tenth day of their sojourn in the spot were they were working that the remembered 'Cawwr, cawr,' came from a neighbouring limb. It was not long unanswered; there came another 'Cawrr,' and the fellow crow alighted, and both gazed knowingly at the two men.

'Bless'd if I don't think it's the same old crow that turned up at where we found the boy. He's come to warn us that there murdering villain is coming,' said Staines.

Sure enough, not many hours had elapsed when there was the tread of a horse, and a horseman rode up and stopped on the bank within speaking distance of where the men were working. A dark-featured man, evidently from his speech a foreigner, presumably from the south of Europe.

'Good day, chaps! So you've found my little plant?'

Rutter stood up and regarded him curiously.

'Yes; we saw your pegs, and acted square. Got back all right?'

'Oh, yes. Had some trouble with the horses wid myself, that keep me.'

'Couldn't raise a black boy, I suppose?'

'No; the one I bin have he run away. You no see him?'

'No,' replied Staines shortly, and at the instant the watching crow gave a contemptuous 'Cawwr.'

The man looked at him. 'Dat crow he bin follow me dis two days.' He shook his head at the bird. 'I shoot you, old fellow, directly,' he said. After a few more words the man rode back to his camp.

'Wonder whether he came back the same way and saw that the boy had been buried? I think not,' said Rutter, quietly.

The next few days passed in comparative peace, the dago, as Staines had christened him, sticking sullenly to his camp, whence were heard occasional reports throughout the day.

'Bah!' said Rutter, 'let him blaze away. There is nobody but himself to shoot up there. Suppose he's pegging away at those crows; they never come down here.'

The next morning the dago turned up.

'Mornin', you chaps, hab you not got one shotgun you can lend me, dat crow he leave me no peese; he keep on wid his kawr, kawr, all de day, and I no 'it 'im wid my revolver.'

'Very sorry, but haven't got such a thing.'

'Dat bird, 'e 'ave de evil eye; 'e drive me mad.'

And the man left, muttering strange oaths to himself.

'He's nearly mad already. Did you notice his eyes? And he does not speak as plain as he did. Bully for the crow.'

The next day the man was down again. He looked wretched, haggard, and with bloodshot eyes. Evidently he had not slept for some time.

'How you get on?' he asked.

'Oh, fairly well,' said one. 'We're thinking of cleaning up and making a shift tomorrow; the place didn't pan out like it promised.'

'You go and leave me alone wid dat crow—but you not go before to-morrow, and I must zleep. Will one man come and camp wid me for one night, you see I am zick for sleep.'

Rutter interchanged a glance with his mate.

'No; you're camped too far away. Look here, come down here and bring: your blanket; the crow doesn't visit us.'

'Thank you; I will come willingly. Oh, I haf not slept for nights.'

That evening the man came. He refused any food, but lay and smoked and chatted until long after dark; then, encouraged by the peaceful silence, all hands fell asleep.

Through the dead silence of the dark bush rang a sudden cry that woke both men.

'He is dere again. You no hear him, wid his infernal kawr; no, but I stop it,' and the darkness was broken with a flash of light, and a revolver shot rang out.

'Here, stop it; don't get shooting at random, or we'll take a hand.' And the two men hastily scrambled up and gazed at the demented man.

'He is here again, dat devil crow. Do you not 'ear 'im wis 'is beastly kwar. Oh, I finish you,' and the haunted man, pistol in hand, started across the little creek.

'Mind where you're going,' called out Rutter. 'You're right amongst where we were working.'

He had hardly spoken before there was the sound of a stumble and a fall, followed by a volley of oaths, a shot and another fall, then succeeded an unbroken silence.

'I suppose we bad better go and see what has happened?' said one, and the two prospectors picked their way across to the scene of the disaster. The man, stumbling along in his blind fury, had fallen over some rubbish in the creek, and in attempting to recover himself had had an accident with his revolver, and was now lying dead.

This much they made out by the fitful light of the stars, and with no words of sympathy they agreed to let things rest until the morning, and went back to resume their interrupted slumbers.

Both men were awake at break of day, and while one was making the fire up the flap of heavy wings broke the hush of early morning, and the ominous crow and his mate came and alighted on a bough, and gazed on the dead man with a sneering 'Cawwr.'

'I suppose we must bury the man and collect his traps together, and whatever gold he's got stowed away, and hand horses and everything over to the police. We've finished our work here, anyway, but it is a confounded nuisance. For my part I felt inclined to leave him to the investigations of our friend up there.'

'Cawwr,' agreed the crow.

'What a nice mess we would be in if anyone came along just now, and caught us with a dead body here; suspicious circumstances, to say the least of it. Well, let's go to work and carry out the programme.'

They did as Rutter had proposed, the South Australian Government was the gainer by some gold and three or four horses, the locality of the find became the scene of a small unprofitable rush, and in a few months the incident was forgotten by all but the two men who had been unwilling witnesses of the sordid tragedy.


17. -- SOMETHING TO HIS ADVANTAGE

Evening News, Sydney, 23 July 1898

THE noisy chattering of some laughing-jackasses aroused Drummond from his stupor, and he looked curiously around and tried to gather his scattered wits together. The pain in his head was intolerable, but it put his thoughts on the right track.

He was just wheeling that infernal blue stag, when the brim of his hat flopped over his eyes and his head came against a mulga bough. Yes, that was it. He was lying about fifty or sixty yards from the edge of the scrub, and the last thing he remembered was catching sight of open country through the trees; then came the blank.

What time was it now? Sundown or sunrise? He got up, weak and staggery, wondering how the deuce it was that his brains had not been knocked out. Helping himself along by the trees he reached the edge of the scrub and looked across the open patch of country. The two jackasses were on a bloodwood a short distance away, and the mulga threw long shadows across the grass. The fresh smell of the air told him it was morning, and the unpleasant smell of a few gidea trees scattered through the mulga strongly impregnated the atmosphere.

He had been lying senseless all the afternoon of the day before, and all the night. He felt in his pouch for his pipe, haying a silly sort of Idea that a smoke would do him good, but the flap was open, and knife, pipe, tobacco, and matches must have tumbled out when he got the spill. This annoyed him worse than the pain in his throbbing head, and he wandered back to find them. After some search he found all the articles but the matches, and that annoyed him still more.

'What's the good of a pipe without matches?' he demanded, in a querulous tone; and a voice far away in the scrub seemed to repeat his question.

'I'm going? dotty,' he thought, and moved a step away. Then he found that he had been standing oh the matchbox, which was satisfactory, and he picked it up and went outside the scrub again. He began to dislike the scrub. He lit his pipe and thought of starting home, or at any rate to water, where he could rest and bathe his head and wash his hair, which he could feel was clotted with blood.

Slowly he went on reflecting what a fool he was to tackle the blue stag and his mob by himself, on a horse not used to scrub work. But the temptation was too great to resist, coming on them as he did, so close to the edge of the scrub. He remembered that he must have left his whip behind, and was almost turning back for it, for it was a favorite one, and the dogs would get it.

Strange how these things worried him, and he could not concentrate his mind upon what lay before him, namely, that there was only one man and the jackeroo at the hut. The man had been sent over to straighten up the horse paddock, and was no good at anything but fencing and such work. The jackeroo was still comparatively a green new chum whom Drummond, for his sins, had to break in, and neither of them, in the creation of cats, could ever track him up.

His only hope was that one of them would have the sense to ride over to the head station and get one of the fellows there; for he felt himself growing weaker and fainter as the sun rose.

If he could only get to water, he'd wait till he got better, or they found him. A black shadow suddenly flitted in front of him, and a crow perched on a tree ahead and looked at him. Then another joined it, and both looked at the stumbling man and gave vent to a mirthless kind of taunting caw. He went past them, and the pair flew on ahead again. They were following him, and he cursed them heartily, and went doggedly on through the open forest with his two evil-eyed followers.


AT the hut, when it fell dark, the fencer and the new-chum discussed his non-appearance at their evening meal. There was nothing in it, Drummond was often late. They cleared up, and sat down to play euchre by the murky light of a slush lamp, and finally went to bed not feeling at all put out at his absence.

In the morning they remarked that Drummond would be hungry when he got back, and, after breakfast, the man went to his work and the jackeroo proceeded to spoil green hide.

Twelve o'clock, and the missing man had not turned up. The new-chum held a consultation with the fencer as to the desirability of doing something; and the fencer agreed with him, but neither could decide what the something should be.

Suddenly the jackeroo saw somebody approaching on the bridle track that led to the head station, and with a sense of relief decided that it was Drummond. The fencer, however, decided that it was Long Jerdan, and Long Jerdan it was.

Long Jerdan, a tall, spare man, burnt almost black by the sun, dismounted with the leisurely manner of his class, and shortly demanded:

'Where's Dick?'

The jackeroo informed him of Drummond's absence. Jerdan was taking some papers from his saddle pouch, and turned round with them in his hand. 'Where was Dick going?' he asked.

'Round by the long scrub on Baxter's Creek.'

'What horse was he riding?'

'Dandy. But the horse hasn't come home,' said the jackeroo.

'What should he come home for?' demanded Jerdan, with lofty scorn. 'That's one of the yarns you get out of the story books—the good horse that comes home and tells 'em his rider's broke his leg. Dandy's not such a blooming Idiot.'

'Where would he go to?' asked the sat-upon youth.

'Where would you go to when you got rid of the man on your back? Why, back to your feeding ground, and look up your mates of course. Where does Dandy run?'

'On the Blue Flat?'

'Well, we can go there on our way, and, if we find him, we'll know something's happened to Dick. Put the billy on, and we'll have a feed before, we start. You've got a horse or two in the paddock, I suppose?'

The fencer put the billy on to boil, and the jackeroo, feeling greatly relieved at Jerdan's advent, went down the paddock for the horses.

'There's a letter here from the boss for Drummond,' Jerdan stated, when they were seated at the meal, 'and a paper with an advertisement in it, asking for information concerning Richard Wallingford Drummond, of Throwley, Devonshire, last heard of in Western Queensland, because if he applies to some lawyers in Melbourne he'll hear of something to his advantage. The boss thought that Dick might be the man, and I came over to see him. So now we've got to find him.'

Taking rations and blankets, the two started as soon as they could, and rode to what was known as the Blue Flat. Sure enough, amongst half a dozen of the station horses was Dandy, with the saddle on his back and a bridle with broken reins on his head. He was a quiet horse and easily caught.

Jerdan examined the saddle, but found no marks on it.

'The horse didn't come over on him, anyhow,' he said, 'but Dick's had a nasty spill, for Dandy's easily caught. Take the saddle and bridle off and put them up in a tree.'

The jackeroo did as he was told, and Jerdan commenced cutting up a pipeful of tobacco. The jackeroo, whose name was Winter, waited respectfully silent, for Jerdan had a reputation as an all-round bushman, and was not to be disturbed by green hands. Tired at last of his leisurely proceedings, Winter suggested that they had better make a start.

'Right you are, my son,' returned Jerdan; 'go ahead.'

'Where to?' demanded Winter.

'Oh, I thought you knew,' said Jerdan, with bitter sarcasm. 'If you think we're going to find Dick by riding through the country like a couple of bush missionaries with a collection list you're out of it. I was just considering whether I had better follow Dandy's track back or try and pick up Dick's. If Dick got busted late in the day, It would be a deuce of a round both to follow his and find them first, so I'll follow Dandy's track back. Just you stop here till I sing out to you.'

Jerdan rode off, and Winter remained waiting until a 'cooee' in the distance was heard; then he rode in the direction, and found Jerdan slowly jogging along. Winter had a lesson in the art of tracking that afternoon. Often he thought that Jerdan must have lost the track, but, luckily, held his tongue. Twice the silent man ahead set off and picked up pieces of the broken reins, broken by the horse treading on them, and the sun was low when at last they, came to a scrub-encircled lagoon, where Jerdan motioned to Winter to pull up, while he slowly rode round the water's edge.

When he had completed the circuit lie stopped and looked grave. 'I'm afraid Dick's badly hurt,' he said as he methodically lit his pipe.

'Winter looked at him inquiringly.

'You see. Dandy came straight in here and had a drink, but Dick didn't. If he'd only had a middling bad spill he'd have followed the horse this far; it's the only water I know of near Baxter's Creek, for I take it the creek's as dry as a bone now.

The jackeroo nodded. 'It was dry a fortnight ago when we were out here.'

'If he could crawl at all he'd have come here and stopped till somebody came; he knows I could track him up anywhere this weather.'

'Do you think he's killed?' asked the youngster.

'I think he's pretty badly hurt. He came to grief some time in the middle of the day, by the look of Dandy's tracks, and I'm afraid we shan't find him to-night. Whatever it is to his advantage, he stands a good show of never hearing it.'

Two crows flew up to drink, but seeing the men they perched on a bough and regarded them with a glance of wicked intelligence.

'Horse had a drink?' 'asked Jerdan.

Winter replied in the affirmative.

'Then let's make the most of the light; we must camp on the tracks to-night It's plain sailing, luckily, for Dandy would have come, straight here without stopping to feed; likely he'd be thirsty when He got rid of Dick.'

The two started on, the sun was hastening to his setting, and the silence of the bush, and the anxious nature of their errand dashed the spirits of the less-seasoned young man. Jerdan went much quicker now, the horse's trail being less erratic. As the short twilight fell, Winter thought that the grim, silent bushman must be going, by instinct, for to his unpractised eye all traces were invisible, but Jerdan rolled on with his eyes fixed ahead.

It was getting dusk, and when they had got nearly five miles from the lagoon, and were riding through some mulga scrub, which made it darker. Jerdan uttered an exclamation; and stopped. He pointed to the tracks, and in spite of the gathering gloom, even Winter could see that a mob of cattle had been galloping there.

'Dick, old man,' said Jerdan, softly, as if talking to himself; 'I'd give the biggest cheque I've got coming to me for just one hour more of daylight.'

He looked around, and rode straight to where the waning light showed the edge of the scrub. Reaching it he said to his companion, 'Tie your horse up, and make a fire; keep it going.'

He rode off slowly, keeping in the open, skirting the scrub. Left to himself, Winter busied himself making a fire, and by the time it was blazing up 'the tramp of his companion's horse, and the noise of the loud cooees he was uttering, had died away, and a dread silence settled down.

How long he stood there, musing and feeling extremely lonely and miserable, he did not know, but a low whinny from his horse aroused him. There was an answering equine greeting, and into the wide circle of firelight rode Jerdan. He got off his horse, and proceeded to unsaddle.

'Turn your horse out, and short-hobble him,' he said, curtly. 'Don't make any tea to-night,' he said, as, having turned their horses out, the two stood by the fire. 'You must put up with a dry feed, we must keep all the water in our bags, 'gainst we find Dick.'

He filled his never-failing pipe, and lit it with a fire-stick, abruptly declining any food.

'The cattle never came out of the scrub,' he said, suddenly. 'That much I could make out. He might be lying dead anywhere close to us. Dandy's a blundering fool in scrub.'

'Can't we do anything?' said Winter.

'We'll make a start at the first light, and we must watch our horses, and keep them close handy to camp. That's about all we can do. Got your pop-gun on your belt?'

'Yes,' said Winter, who sported a small revolver, although the blacks of the district had long degenerated, into station, and township loafers.

'Fire a shot, and then another one about two minutes afterwards.'

Winter did so, without any result Stillness reigned all around them. The night passed slowly; it was moonless, just a slender crescent had shone during the twilight hours.

'Have you known Drummond long?' asked Winter, during their restless watching.

'On and off a good few years. Dick and I have been always good friends, although he's a born gentleman, and I'm not.'

'I know he's not been a stockman all his life.'

'Not he; his people at home are well off; but he never speaks of them, and I never asked him.

'Take my advice, youngster, and when you meet a man of his sort, never ask questions. It's the sort that are always talking about what they've been who've come down through their own fault, and deserve all they get.

'When you hear a fellow, blowing about it being a nice thing for a man with a University education to have to pick up fleeces, or be a wood and water joey, he's no good. Been kicked out for some rascality. But there's another sort; they don't talk, even when they're drunk. Good men generally; known several of them; Dick was one.'

Winter was rather astonished at such a long speech from Jerdan, who was one of the taciturn sort; but he could see that his companion's feelings were deeply moved, and he listened, keeping silence, while Jerdan rambled on.

'Yes; I've known several of 'em. Good men, as I say, like Dick Drummond, Richard Wallingford Drummond, as it seems his full name is. Mostly got killed. One of 'em killed by the niggers out on the Paroo; they caught him on foot in the morning going to catch his horse.

'Polished off three bucks before he caved in. Another got taken by an alligator up the Gulf way. Went in to help a fellow, one flood time. Fellow, a fool, would try to swim his horse across, and came to grief. Hung on to a tree; singing out pen and ink. Blatchett went to bring him out, alligator close under the bank, took Blatchett and left the fool. Fool's alive now. Fools always live; good men die, like Dick. Suppose if you'd been on Dandy's back, you'd a come through safe.'

Jerdan stood up, and kicked a piece of wood into the fire, savagely.

Winter chewed over the last uncomplimentary remark, and decided that it was neither the time nor place to resent it, just then.

Faintly, out of the far distance, came a noise, like the frightened, angry cawing of crows, rudely awakened from their dreams of dead men by some sudden disturbance of their slumbers. Both men listened intently; once they thought they heard another, irritable croak. Jerdan strode out of the firelight into the darkness, and stood there watching and listening.

'Come here, quick!' he cried to Winter. 'Do you see a light there, over the tree tops, under that bright star? See.'

He gripped Winter's arm, and forced his attention on the point he meant. Looking steadily, the young man, after a few, seconds, saw what certainly appeared to be the glow or reflection of a fire. Even while, they watched, it faded and died out.

'Stop here, and don't take, your eyes off that star,' while I saddle up.'

In an incredible short space, it seemed to Winter, Jerdan had caught and saddled their two horses.

'Keep, your eye on it while I mount,' said Jerdan, 'you've not lost it, have you?'

'No; that's it, under the two bright ones.'

'Right, I have it,' replied Jerdan, who was now in the saddle, 'follow me; we'll leave our blankets and things till the morning.'

On they went, luckily through open forest country, where the guiding star was easily kept in sight, until Jerdan stopped, and said, 'Can't you smell burnt grass?'


DRUMMOND went wearily along, feeling horribly sick and faint, until with a start, he suddenly regained enough sense to wonder where he was going. He bethought him of the scrub lagoon. That was the nearest water, and he altered his course somewhat. But now the sun was growing hot and he was very, faint and dizzy; he would sit down and rest a bit.

The two crows still followed him, black shadows of fate, and they perched on a neighbouring tree, and confided their opinion to one another that he wouldn't last long.

Drummond lay half unconscious during the day; at times he would make up his mind to make an effort to reach the lagoon, but the pain in his head, and the intolerable nausea that overcame him when he, attempted to rise made him always sink back again. Thirst, too, began to afflict him, and occasional fits of brain-wandering set in.

Towards sundown, the crows addressed a few insulting remarks to him, and flew away for a drink. They came back before dark, and disposed themselves for the night. The stars came out, and with the stars and the darkness and the silence came the ghosts. Once he made sure that he heard a distant shot, but when he tried to shout his voice sounded like a faint whisper.

Out of the darkness there came to him a girl's shape. Though he knew it was dark night, and overhead the Austral stars were shining, he could see her plainly. Clad in her light evening dress with the flowers of another clime nestling in her bosom, he saw her-every feature as she came up to him, and put a chill hand in his. The glorious eyes that he had known and loved so welt looked into his own, with the tenderness of the true love of old.

'It is cold, Dick,' she said, as he put his arm around her, 'Cold, and I have wanted you so long.'

He could not speak, he knew that he was lying sick and helpless under a tree, and yet he was standing up, with the sweetheart, who had never been his wife, in his arms once again.

'Ah, Dick, it was weary, weary, after you left. Only a girl! and they were so hard on me. Dick, Dick, you should have stayed with me, and I would have been so strong. Dick, you never came back when you said, and I was forced into it. So young, and all against me. But not for long, Dick, my love; not for long, was it? Oh; it, is cold. Dick, do you remember that summer night; these are your roses, Dick, dear; I wear them still. Kiss me, dear; my Dick still.'

Cold? Yes, it was cold; that still Australian summer night, and the dear dead girl he held to his breast had long slept in a quiet grave across the ocean. No. That was only a dream, a dream that had made him a wanderer. She was here, here, and speaking to him. No woman's voice had ever since had such music for him.

'Dick, my Dick, I must go now, but not for long, dear; not for long. Ah, Dick, it is cold, hold me tight like this—like you used to—and kiss me again.'

She was gone. Above the stars were pale and calm, around was great silence, and he was lying stiff and aching under the tree. Was she really gone? Perhaps the cold and darkness had driven her away, for it seemed cold, though he knew that it should be close and sultry. He would light a fire, the warmth and blaze might bring her back.

Feebly, he got up; this time it was not fancy; groped about, and found some dry sticks. Then, after a good deal of trouble, he struck a match. The dry grass caught. Just close by a patch was rank and long, it flared up suddenly and strongly, and the startled crows flew out, protesting in high displeasure.

Drummond heard them and laughed, and as the small patch of grass blazed, and went out, he sank down again to wait for her coming.


'DICK, old man; I have found you in time.'

It was not her voice that aroused him, nor her hand that was holding the grateful water to his lips. No; it was his old mate who was still talking to him. What was he saying?

'Dick, you must get right soon, the lawyers are advertising for you; there is something to your advantage, they say.'

'Something to his advantage.' What a farce! But be had something to do before he died. Something to her daughter's advantage! He guessed what had happened. Yes, he would live for a while.

They got him in, slowly and painfully, and he fought for life for awhile, until his senses cleared; and he knew that the end was near, and what he meant to do.

In a long interview with the superintendent, he gave him all the needful instructions, and proof of his identity. Then he made his will, and asked to be left with his old friend.

'I'm off to the main camp, Tom; I've left you something, old man, just a little; you must take it for my sake. That's all, 'twasn't Dandy's fault; he's not used to scrub.'

'Another of 'em,' said Jerdan, bitterly, when all was over. 'Seems to me I'm a regular Jonah; I'll never make a friend of one of his sort again.'


FAR away, a girl just budding into womanhood, heard one day that she was a wealthy heiress. But she did not hear that the will which gave her fortune was signed by the hand of the man who was her dead mother's only sweetheart, the mother whom she had never known. Nor that he was a man who heard of something to his advantage, too late—far too late.


18. -- CAPTAIN ETIENNE DESPARD

Evening News, Sydney, 11 Sep 1897

TOM RICHARDS and I were lounging and smoking on our mats, spread on the sand of No. XII Island, on the Great Barrier Beef, at the inside entrance of the Mort Passage. The sun had gone down behind the coast range, which there was pretty near to us, and only a warm afterglow lingered on the sea between us and the mainland. There were no mosquitoes. It was just the sweetest hour of the day.

Richards had been devoted to the study of conchology all his life, and he was now on a quest on the Great Barrier, backed up by half the learned societies of Europe. He had asked me to come with him and take charge of the lugger that, with an old Malay as serang, and a couple of kanakas, conveyed us and our fortunes over the tranquil waters of the Inner Barrier.

We had been anchored off No. XII for some days, as Tom had found that portion of the reef particularly well suited to his low-tide researches. We had made a bit of a camp ashore, and were enjoying our ease on our island, when a cry from the lugger aroused us.

Getting on our feet, we saw that the boys were all clustered together, pointing eagerly down the passage. A sail was in sight. The dusk was fast closing in, and the vessel, whatever it was, had not got near enough to distinguish her before the darkness came. She was some sort of craft drifting in with the slow-incoming tide, and had spread some canvas to catch what little breeze there was to give her steerage way; for the tides in that region are of the most baffling description.

Where we were there would be at times but a rise and fall of scarce eighteen inches; but immediately to the north the tide rip swirled through the Albany Pass in whirlpools and eddies that had ravished a spoil of anchors and chain cables. Up at Thursday Island I had seen many a stout British-India boat have to fight her way at full speed, foot by foot, round the point; and yet, go past the lonely Booby Island, and on the Carpentarian shores the lazy tide crept up amongst the mangrove flats once in the twenty-four hours.

Tom and I pulled off to the lugger to have our evening meal, and did not speculate much on the strange sail. It would turn up in time.

In time it did turn up. As far as we could make out, she was a well-appointed yacht, for lights gleamed from the portholes astern and there were many more amidships. We had our riding light up, and favored by the gusts of light wind she came towards us and hailed. Tom answered, and the voice in somewhat broken English asked if there was good anchorage there?

I replied in the affirmative, and they finally anchored about one hundred yards from us.

'What in the name of all that's blue has brought that boat through Mort's Passage?' said Tom. 'I don't believe anyone has been through it since the day it was surveyed.'

'Well, they're coming off to see us,' I replied, as the familiar sounds of a boat being lowered floated across the water.

'Perhaps some foreign scientific cuss is coming to wipe your eye on the Barrier.'

Tom laughed contemptuously, and presently the boat swept up to our low gangway, where the old Malay was standing holding a lantern. Richards and I advanced to meet the man, who stepped on deck.

He was clad in spotless white, somewhat elaborately ornamented with brass buttons and braid, and wore an ultra fashionable yachting cap. In fact, he was, judging by his costume, more of a stage yachtsman than a man you would expect to meet on the Great Barrier.

Tom and I, in the national costume of a suit of pyjamas, felt rather at a disadvantage when confronted with so much magnificence.

'Ah!' said the stranger, whose face we could not see very distinctly in the uncertain light; 'you are then fishers, bêche-de-mer, not so?'

'No,' returned Tom in French, for he was an accomplished linguist; 'we are here on scientific research.'

The stranger started, and taking off his cap made an elaborate bow.

'Allow me to introduce myself,' he said, in a changed and artificial kind of voice. 'I am Captain Etienne Despard, cruising round the world in my little schooner the Nymph. I came from the New Hebrides last. I adore science, and am charmed to have come across you.'

Tom mentioned our names, and the adorable liar professed to have heard of the 'famous Richards.'

After a little more conversation he Invited us to come on board, and be presented to madame his wife, who was travelling with him. We consented, saying that we would pull off in our own boat when we had changed our clothes. This seemed to suit him exactly, and he dropped into his boat and departed.

We arrayed ourselves in our only presentable garments, a couple of white drill suits, which, however, was full dress on the Barrier, and followed him shortly afterwards.

Captain Despard received us on deck and led us into the brilliantly-lighted saloon, where a tall, dark woman, with the remains of a beautiful face and figure, greeted us most effusively.

'My wife does not speak English,' said the captain to me. 'It is fortunate your friend speaks our language so well.'

A steward, with close-cropped black hair, brought in champagne, cigars, and cigarettes, and we were soon all comfortably chatting, Despard seemingly deeply interested in the countries to the north of us, and gradually he drew me on to an explanation of the shipping rules of Singapore and Hongkong, which places he said he had never visited.

Time soon slipped away, and it was nearly midnight when we roused up our sleepy kanakas to put us on board our lugger. We had promised to come to breakfast about 10 o'clock, and early in the morning, after a bucket or two of salt water, I was standing looking at the Nymph, where all on board seemed to be still caulking. She was a schooner-rigged yacht, built both for comfort and speed, for she had a great show of canvas, which, by the way, was furled in rather slovenly manner for such an otherwise smart-looking craft. She had been recently painted, and was trim enough; but, somehow, there was look of the commencement of neglect about her. A yacht is nothing, unless she is well looked after daily and never allowed to go back.

'That very pretty ship,' said the old serang, who had come silently, barefooted, and ranged himself alongside of me. The old fellow had knocked about at sea all his life, and spoke very fair English. 'I seen her before,' he said, quietly.

'Where?' I asked.

'Singapore,' was the reply to my astonishment, for had not Captain Etienne Despard assured me that he had never been to Singapore, and was so anxious to learn all about the port regulations. The old Malay had a very sly look about him, but he said no more, and presently Richards appeared.

'What's Madame Despard like?' I asked, for he had had to do all the running the previous night.

'I can't make out, old fellow. She seems a mixture. Once or twice, when she got excited over something we were talking about, she dropper into regular gutter slang.'

'I suppose she thought you wouldn't notice it.'

'Perhaps not; but I happen to have lived too long in France for that.'

When we went on board to breakfast, I noticed the same thing that I had observed from our lugger. A general air of untidiness seemed to pervade the deck, and the few men visible did not move about like real sailormen. Captain Despard looked, in his somewhat theatrical rig, as if he might at any time burst out with 'Shiver my timbers!' or whatever was the French equivalent for it. The mate alone, a black-browed southerner, seemed a sailor.

The breakfast was excellent, and as it was low-water, the proposal to afterwards examine the reef, that was bare, and obtain some unique specimens of coral, was adopted forthwith. In spite of due adoration of science, the captain did not know anything about either shells or coral formation, but as I did not know much, it did not matter greatly. Richards did the amiable to Mme. Despard, and the captain continued his inquisitorial queries into the ways and manners of British officials.

We had lunch on board the lugger, although, of course, we had only very ordinary fare to offer in return for Despard's hospitality. That evening we went on board to dinner, and Mme. Despard was taken ill and had to retire. In plain English, she was drunk. I wondered that night whether this was the explanation of the mysterious sort of cruise Despard seemed to be taking. Was his wife a dipsomaniac whom she had to keep out of the sight of the civilised world?

Next morning the captain came on board the lugger. He had a request to make. He had ran out of medicines —for particular kind that madame required. Would we send the lugger into Reedport for the drugs, and eternally oblige him? I suggested that the schooner would go quicker than the lugger, but he was ready with an excuse.

When Mme. Despard was ill her case demanded the most absolute silence, and the noise and motion of the vessel might even prove fatal, while here it was calm and heavenly. We readily consented, as we intended to send the lugger in anyhow in a week or fortnight I volunteered to go with her and see that the things were properly obtained, for under ordinary circumstances the serang could do all that we wanted.

This proposal of mine seemed to relieve Despard immensely. It was a fair wind, and we made arrangements for an immediate start, and in an hour were under weigh. We had passed the Nymph, when suddenly there was a hail from her deck, and I looked round and saw a man struggling with two others; but they immediately disappeared. All was quiet on deck, and Despard waved a white handkerchief to us.

On the sandy islet I saw Richards standing unconcernedly watching us. The whole seemed like a dream, but the old Malay who was at the tiller had seen the struggle as well. However, it evidently was none of our business, and as there was a beautiful, fair wind, we kept on our course, and soon lost sight of the schooner and No. XII. Island.

Despard had given me several commissions, amongst them being the dispatch of a number of telegrams, and on our arrival at Reedport I immediately went ashore to fulfil my mission, and hasten our departure, for I was anxious to get back again.

I was well known in the place, and when I went up to the telegraph office to send off the messages the man in change entered into conversation with me about what had happened since I was in last. He was looking the telegrams over as we talked, and suddenly gave an exclamation of surprise.

'The Nymph!' he exclaimed. 'Why, that's the yacht, stolen from Noumea!' He was going to show me the telegram, but hesitated. Then he said; —

'How did you get this, Donaldson?'

'Got it from the man who has the Nymph, and that vessel is now lying at No. XII. Island, where we are camped at present.'

'Good lord! they are on the lookout for her everywhere. Some escaped convicts boarded her in the harbor at night, and put to sea with the owner and some of the crew on board. It is feared that they would murder them when they got to sea.'

'I don't think they have been murdered,' I said, remembering the hail and the struggle. I went straight to the police magistrate and told the story. He hardly seemed to know what to do, but finally decided to wire to Brisbane for the Government to communicate with Noumea; and meanwhile, as the Nymph was anchored in Queensland waters, he would send an inspector of police and a policeman back with me with a warrant to detain the vessel and crew.

I could not help laughing as I explained that Captain Despard, being an escaped convict, fully committed to a deed of piracy, would not hesitate to heave both the police officers and their warrant overboard. But the magistrate said he could do nothing more, and I was going away, when a happy thought struck me, and I turned back.

'Wire to the Admiral in Sydney an urgent message, and I'll wait twelve hours for the answer, anxious as I am to get back.'

The magistrate still hesitated, to my disgust; but when I suggested that it would relieve him of all responsibility, he consented to do as I wished.

The answer came back sooner than I expected. The lines were clear, and the Sydney authorities must have been better posted up in the details of the piracy. The Admiral's message ran:—


Communicate as soon as possible with captain of 'Vulture,' surveying in Torres Strait, and deliver my message.


Than followed a message tor the captain, which, of course, nobody but the operator saw. In five minutes we had cast loose and were off. Luckily, the wind had changed a bit, and served us to get back again to No. XII. Island.

I may as well mention here that the telegram from Despard, that excited the clerk's attention, was addressed to a high official in Noumea, stating that the Nymph was making for Sydney, and was a bold attempt to throw them off the scent.

We went merrily all night, and by noon the next day were in sight of No. XII.; but there was no schooner lying there. For my part, I did not expect to find her, now I knew the truth. As we drew near we saw a number of men—five or six at least—at our camp on the islet; but amongst them I could not make out Richards. It was not long before I was ashore, and the inspector end I were immediately surrounded by an excited crowd of jabbering maniacs.

At last, one man, who could speak a little English, silenced the others and commenced his story, in a voice of suppressed fury. They were, as I conjectured, the rightful crew of the Nymph, who had been kept in close confinement below, as their dirty and dishevelled appearance testified, and had now been put ashore on the islet as soon as I had disappeared with the lugger.

But where was Richards?

I asked for the captain, and the man who had been speaking, who was certainly the dirtiest of the lot, exclaimed: 'If I, monsieur, if you can believe me, am captain—Etienne Despard, the owner of the Nymph.'

Then his passion fairly overcame him, and he raved and swore against the damnable villain who had robbed him of his yacht and his name, who was wearing his clothes and drinking his wine, and he wound up with stating that his unhappy wife was at Noumea uncertain as to whether he was dead or alive.

I ventured to congratulate him on the fact that his wife was on shore when the vessel was seized; but this did not seem to comfort him much. The idea of 'that cursed Lorette' wearing his wife's clothes, and the other strutting about in his yachting uniforms, seemed to me the bitterest part of the Wow.

Still, I could obtain no tidings of Richards. None of the man on the islet had seen anyone answering to his description on board the Nymph when they were hustled ashore. I could not make it out at all. Richards would not have gone with the pirate of his own accord, but he certainly was gone.

Suddenly it flashed on me that he had been kidnapped to act as interpreter.

That was the solution, and I did not think any actual harm would come to him, for he was a long-headed fellow. I inquired about the struggle we had seen, and was told that the hatch had been taken off too soon, while we were still in sight, and one of the men had made a rush on deck and hailed us.

Now, the one thing to be done was to up stick and find H.M.S. Vulture. The smoke of a northern-bound steamer was in sight, and if we could get in her track and speak her when she overhauled us, she would take the news to Thursday Island, and perhaps the Vulture was in there.

The tank at our camp was full of water, so after landing some rations for the men we started; taking the real Captain Despard with us. We spoke the steamer, a China-bound E. and A. boat, and then cracked on all we could, with our eyes skinned for the Vulture, for a survey vessel looking for uncharted rocks might be picked up anywhere.

We actually reached Thursday Island at the same time the Vulture did. The steamer had taken the news, and a pearling boat who had sighted the Vulture went out to her. The telegram was delivered, and Captain Despard, the two police officials, and myself were transhipped, and a start made at once, everybody on board rejoicing at this pleasant break in the monotony of survey work.

For my part, I was made very comfortable, and thoroughly enjoyed the chase. Even the unfortunate Despard somewhat recovered his spirits with a new suit of clothes. We first visited all the pearling stations, and from one heard that they had sighted a strange schooner three or four days ago. They judged she was making for Samarai or Sudest.

'We Shall catch him,' said the captain, gleefully. 'He intends to snake round the north of New Guinea to the Philippines, and he daren't land at a German settlement; they'd suspect him at once.'

'Perhaps he's made for Guam,' I suggested, as a mild joke.

But the captain took it seriously, and replied that if he'd made for the Carolines we would probably get the schooner, if he didn't purposely wreck her, but not the men.

The suggestion of wrecking was not a pleasant one, feeling certain, as I did, that Richards was detained on board the chase. Fortunately, the Vulture had coaled at Thursday island, and we were able to lay ourselves out for a long trip; but we had to be careful not to over-run our quarry.

The officers went at it methodically, and laid off an imaginary course for the schooner every day, according to the prevailing winds, and on this imaginary chart, we were drawing very close together. At last our doubts were changed into certainties.

A Dutch gunboat had sighted a schooner flying no flag only the day before. She had signalled her, and received no answer, and the captain's suspicions being aroused, she had steamed towards her, when they had hoisted the French tricolor, on which they let her go. For doing so our captain thanked them heartily, but not audibly. No man likes his game taken from him.

We were then about a day's steam to the eastward of the Moluccas, where we hoped to run her down, and everybody went about shaking hands with himself on the accuracy of his judgment. We now easily tracked her up the coast, and through the Morotai Straits, for there were plenty of native vessels, and an occasional tramp steamer to be met with.

Then we heard of her making south, and Captain Ambler, of H.M.S. Vulture, said to the bereaved Captain, Despard, 'I shall have the pleasure of handing your schooner over to you at Ternate,' and to Ternate we straight-way steamed.

It was sunrise when we entered that most beautiful harbor, with its sheltering ring of volcanic, peaks, Tidor and Ternate, and the splintered crests of the more distant Halmahera mountains. It is a free port, and you come and go as you like.

There, at anchor, lay the taut little schooner; the chase was over, and the quarry run down.

'O brigand thief, pig, pirate, robber, I have got you at last,' yelled Despard, shaking his fist at the silent deck of the yacht.

In a short time a boat's crew put the second lieutenant, myself, and Despard on board the schooner. A solitary figure advanced to meet us. It was Richards, looking just as usual, and as though being forcibly abducted was a matter of every-day occurrence.

'They are all gone,' he said, as he shook hands with me, 'excepting two in there, and they had to stop, for there was a bit of trouble last night after we came to anchor.'

We followed Tom into the saloon, and there lay the dead bodies of the unfortunate woman and the sham Captain Despard.

'How did it come about?' asked the lieutenant.

'Oh, when they were getting ready to clear out from the vessel, the miserable woman was helplessly drunk; then all the devil, which, to give him his due, he had hitherto kept pretty well under, came out in the man, and he flew on the unconscious wretch, and commenced to beat her unmercifully. I interfered, but, it seems, too late, and knocked him down. He got up and came at me with a knife, so I shot him in self defence, but I only intended to cripple him. However, he gave me no time, and got it through the heart. The others did not trouble, but left with all they could lay hands on. You'll never get them, and I'm not sorry, for that mate was a very decent fellow, and no end of a sailor. He navigated the yacht right through. I'm glad you fellows have come, for I was just going ashore to find out if there was such a thing as a consul here.'

Despard was looking at his dead enemy. 'He'd put on my best coat to go ashore in,' he said. Then he proceeded coolly to strip the bloodstained garment off the corpse.

It was just as I thought. Richards had been trapped on board, and confined in the saloon till the yacht started. He was wanted for his knowledge of the archipelago, and his ability to speak Dutch and Spanish. It was he who advised them to make for Ternate, instead of going to the Philippines. They did not treat him badly; very well, in fact. The one drawback was that the woman would keep getting drunk, and making love to him.

He had luckily taken the precaution at an early period of the voyage to secrete a revolver, and always carry it. I do not know whether there were any legal formalities gone through; I think not. Captain Ambler put a midshipman and four men on the schooner to sail her down to Thursday Island, and we parted from Captain Despard for the time being.

At Thursday Island we picked up our lugger, and returned to No. XII., and when the Nymph arrived and took the men off, Richards went back to his shells and coral and photographs, and I suppose H.M.S. Vulture went looking for uncharted rocks as usual; and the little episode became only a memory, except to the escaped convicts, who I presume got away from Ternate by degrees, and probably drifted into the hands of the police again.

Once I was reminded of it. A friend from Singapore told me that he saw the Nymph there, and with some others went on board to dinner. Then, after dinner, Captain Despard told an elaborate and altogether mendacious version of the recapture of the Nymph, and going to his cabin, shortly came back, with a frogged and brass-buttoned coat on.

'Here,' he said, pointing to a bullet hole in the breast, carefully left unmended, 'is where the pirate's bullet struck me, as I sprang to victory, on my own deck!'


19. -- AN OUTSIDE INCIDENT

Port Lincoln, Tumby and West Coast Recorder, 26 July 1905

THE two men pulled up on the bank of a small creek or gully running between barren, stony ridges. The heat was intense; the sun, almost vertical, glared through the scanty motionless leaves of the gnarled and stunted trees, affording scarce a square foot of shade. The dull red haze of tropical Australia overspread everything like the looming smoke of a distant bush fire, and though only a few low-lying clouds were visible, every now and then came the mattered growl of faraway thunder.

"Shall we go any further or turn back?" said one of the two prospectors on the Ord River in the days of the Kimberley rush.

"I vote we try this gully first," said the other, a grey-bearded man. "It looks likely enough; and if that thunderstorm comes up we might get show enough to camp here for a bit."

The younger man dismounted and commenced to unsaddle, as did his companion. The horses were hobbled out, and the quarts filled from the water bags and put on to boil. The two men stood idly watching them.

"I wonder which way Moulton went?" remarked one.

"He didn't come this way, at any rate, or we'd have seen something of his tracks."

"Three weeks at least since he left."

"What's that noise?" said Gibson, the older man, as he stooped to put the tea in the quart pots. Both listened.

"What did it sound like?" asked Panton, the younger man.

"Something like a horse, away up the gully."

"One of these big wallaroos, I expect; they make a deuce of a noise in this stony country."

"Very likely," said Gibson, and they commenced their meal.

When finished, the two men started fossicking in the bed of the gully and kept it up for about two hours, without much success, when suddenly the noise they had heard before sounded again much closer and more distinctly.

Both men stood listening, revolver in hand, for out there anything was a possible enemy. The noise approached, and round the bend came a horse in hobbles, picking his way down the rocky bed of the gully. He raised his head when he saw the men and gave a whinny of delight, then came clattering up to them.

"Where the deuce did yon come from?" remarked Gibson. "You've been through bad times, anyhow."

He certainly did look as though he had been through bad times; his eyes were wild and staring, his flanks tucked up with thirst, and his feet cut with the hobbles. But he had a game head, with a never-say-die look about it that showed his pluck that had evidently stuck by him in his struggle through the desert.

"He has come a long way; look how bright the bobble chain is," said Pantos, as he stooped to take them off. Gibson filled the prospecting dish from the pack water-bag, and the stranger swallowed it in one or two mighty swallows. Another and another followed, and their visitor, who seemed mighty glad to see men once again, whinnied gratefully for more.

"Why, hang me if I' don't believe it's one of Moulton's horses," said Panton, who had been regarding the steed curiously. "We must follow his tracks back anyhow," said Gibson, "Let's saddle up and get back to camp." They proceeded to do so, the newcomer following them freely.


NEXT morning, the stranger for obvious reasons not being able to give any clue to his late owners, they started to follow his tracks back. For the first ten miles it led them through broken country, mostly covered with spinifex. About two hours before sundown they emerged on the edge of a plateau, from which they had an extensive view to the southward and westward. At their feet a broad valley ran as far as they could see, widening out into flats and basins as it proceeded. Down the middle they could trace the course of a broad river or creek, evidently of some size, from its dark line of foliage. No sign of life was to be seen; no smoke arose from burning country to indicate the presence of natives; utter solitude seemed to reign over all.

"I don't suppose there's any water there," said Gibson, "or that horse would not have come on in hobbles."

They descended by a rough spur, blasted by a bush fire some weeks before, and rode straight for the river they had sighted. When they reached it they found the track of the horse came from up the river. The bed was broad and sandy, but dry; there were marks of heavy floods, but it did not look like a creek to hold water long. That night they came to a salt pool that the hobbled horse had been pawing round in disgust. By digging they got a little brackish water that did for the horses, so they camped. Next moaning they kept on up the river, hourly expecting to find something. It was evident they must be near the camp the horse had left, for he could not have travelled much further in hobbles without water.

Some crows appeared, and after the uncanny fashion of these birds kept flying from tree to tree, sometimes ahead and sometimes behind, keeping up their mournful croak all the while. The creek now neared a gloomy gorge. There was a little grass on the made soil of the banks, but beyond the ranges were covered with spinifex.

Just before reaching the gorge they came upon more horse tracks, and then, in the distance, they saw the white gleam of a tent.

But all was still and silent; only some more crows flew up and sainted them. The ashes of the dead camp fire were whitening in the sun, and by it lay the body of a man, and from the doorway of the tent projected the feet of another. Both men dismounted in silence, and looked around for spears or other weapons, for their thoughts naturally turned to the natives, but there were no signs of blacks visible. After examining the body at the fire they turned to the man in the tent.

"Why, it's Moulton, the man who left a month before we did." said Panton.

"This is no niggers' work," answered Gibson. The man by the fire had been shot in two places, the man in the tent had been stabbed, and the man who was shot still held in his hand the sheath knife that had evidently done the deed.

"This man," said Panton, indicating the one outside the tent, "stabbed Moulton, and Moulton got to the tent and got his revolver and shot him But what was the quarrel about?"

"I've known men quarrel and part company before now, but never dreamt that men would murder each other in such a place as this," and he looked round at the desolate solitude that encircled them.

"Do you know the other man?" he wont on. Panton looked at the face which still bore sufficient likeness to humanity to be recognisable.

"Yes," he answered slowly, "I think it's a fellow who used to be knocking about Wyndham when I was there—a handsome fellow, who had rather a bad name. Moulton's wife was in Wyndham; do you know her?"

"Yes, I've seen her, a good-looking devil. Poor Moulton was devoted to her, but she—well, I think she hated him."

"And this fellow was always hanging about Moulton's place? By Jove, I begin to see light."

"I it's search the camp. Perhaps they found gold and quarrelled over it."

They made a close investigation, but nothing was discovered to indicate that the dead prospectors had struck anything. They found a damp impression in the river, which, on scraping the sand, revealed a good supply of fresh water. The horses must have filled this up pawing and trampling in the sand after the deaths of their masters, and being unable to get a drink, had started off to look for water.

"If we could make the horses speak perhaps we should find something out," said Gibeon.

"If Mrs Moulton chooses to speak I think we may find out something," replied Panton. "I believe that woman is at the bottom of it."

"D—m it!" cried Gibson, suddenly. "What's the meaning of this—there's only one riding saddle in the camp, and no rations worth speaking of."

"We must find the other horses. They must have gone up the river."

They covered the bodies over and started through the gorge. The tracks of five or six horses were visible going through. Above they found the river ran through an open basin of good grassy country, and there was a good hole of water. The horses had stayed there, and, as they had anticipated, were packed, and one had a riding saddle on. Two of them had got rid of their loads, which were scattered about; but one pack was intact, and the riding horse had only succeeded in robbing his bridle off. Gibson pointed out the revolver strapped over the knee pad of the saddle—a custom common with some men.

"It's as plain as print," he said. "Moulton was out prospecting, and this fellow packed up and was going to leave him. Moulton came back sooner than he thought for. Being on foot, he was in camp before the other knew of it. Then came the quarrel, and that's why the murderer used his knife—he couldn't get at the revolver on his saddle."

"That's it, sure enough," said Panton. "I bet it was a made-up thing with that woman, too. I suppose he didn't want to kill Moulton himself, and thought he could do it just as surely if he left him up here on foot without rations."

"So it would have been hardly possible that he could ever torn up again; however, this man only came off second best."

They drove the horses back to the camp where the death fight had occurred, and turning out, prepared to bury the bodies.

"We'll give poor Moulton as decent a grave as we can," said Gibson; "but that other beggar—for two pins, I'd leave him to rot above ground."

"He's dead," said Panton, simply.

They dug the two graves far apart, and spent the rest of daylight cutting Moulton's initials in a tree at his head, to show that a white man was buried there; but over the other they made neither mark nor sign.

"One thing I can't make out," said Panton that night as they were talking over the affair. "What made that horse turn off from the river and make over the range. It was a very unusual thing to do."

"Yes; and why was he hobbled, and not loose with the others ready to start?"

"He might have been away that morning, and that fellow reckoned to pick him up as he went along; but as to what made a thirsty horse leave a watercourse he was following and make over a dry range is more than I can explain; never heard of such a thing before."

"He came to tell us about it, I expect." The next morning they packed up and left the ill-omened camp to its original grim solitude.

"This saddle that was in camp has Moulton's initials branded on it; so that's more evidence to support what we think," said Panton. They commenced their homeward journey, and when at the place where the track of the hobbled horse left the river examined it well, but found no explanation of the strange fact.

"That's a part of the book we can't read like the rest," said Gibson.

"There's another part yet that we shan't read," replied Panton, "and that's Mrs Mouton."

"I'll leave that job to yon when we go down," returned Gibson.


IT was six months after the discovery that Gibson and Panton returned to Wyndham on their way to the south. They had been lucky, and were going down for a spell. The finding of the bodies had been reported to the police, and the horses and outfit delivered over to them, by whom they were sold, and the proceeds handed to the widow, who, report said, had gone back to her friends in New South Wales.

Strange to say, at the same hotel in Sydney where the friends put up a newly-wedded pair were staying, who attracted soma attention, from the fact that the bride was some years older than the bridegroom with more money than wits. The bride had been a handsome widow of the name of Moulton. She took an opportunity of meeting and speaking to Panton privately, though she had openly showed that she did not wish to be recognised.

"Mr Panton, you and your friend, I believe, found the body of my late husband and the man who accompanied him on his prospecting trip. I suppose that the blacks were punished for the murder afterwards?"

"Blacks? No; the blacks had nothing to do with it. They had not been near the place where we found them for months."

"Oh! but really, Mr Panton, it could have been no one else, I heard the foolish story that got about; but there could have been no quarrel between poor Jim and the other man, Jim had nothing of value upon him."

"I assure you that the blacks are innocent. Your husband and the other man killed each other. It was a case of attempted murder on the part of the other man. That I am as positive of as if I had seen it take place."

"What a romantic story, but bow improbable. No; I am as well convinced of the matter on my part as if I had seen it occur. My poor Jim had nothing to be robbed of, and there was no possible cause of quarrel beside."

"None?"

"None. I am afraid you and your friend are not very good bushmen, Mr Panton, and missed the blacks' tracks. Believe me, the natives were to blame," and she smiled somewhat superciliously and left him.


20. -- A MESSAGE FROM THE DESERT

Adelaide Observer, 24, 31 March 1894

I

SUNRISE on the western plains of Queensland during the tropical summer-time has a peculiar character of its own. Probably the night has been calm and sultry; but as the hour of daylight approaches, light puffs of warm wind come soughing across the almost treeless expanse. There is no hesitation about the dawn, no long, lingering half-light. A streak of gray brightens in the east, widening quickly, and turning a soft, rosy pink; it blots out all the host of stars of lesser magnitude. Soon, none save the brightest are visible. The brilliant triple-jewelled belt of Orion, most perfect of all constellations; the Cross of the South lying horizontally near the earth, with the two steadfast pointers above; and, glorious over all, in pure, lustrous splendour, the Star of the Morning, surrounded with the opal tints of the fast-brightening eastern sky.

The far-stretching plain seems now to bound into sudden distinctiveness of detail, and on the horizon a tremulous shimmering is visible, foretelling another day of heat. The sun's upper limb appears large, red, and glowing, and all the stars die out. Angrily it looms through the quivering haze, mounts until three parts of the disc is visible, then, seemingly, gives a sudden bound of two or three degrees above the horizon, and day has commenced.

A summer's day in December! For twelve unclouded hours the orb of fire will relentlessly blast, and scorch, and wither all the surviving vegetation that the past months have spared. Soon the cattle who have been feeding out in the open country during the night time will come slowly stringing along in single file to seek the shelter of the trees that fringe the banks of the river. Here, in such scanty shade as the vertical sun allows the thinly foliaged trees to afford, they will ruminate all day until the cooler hours of night again tempt them forth to feed.

The river is no rushing, babbling stream; for the most part the bed is dry, sandy, or shingly, the water-holes being often miles apart. For the three months of the wet season it is a deep uncrossable torrent; for the remaining nine, a string of isolated pools.

On the bank of such a river, opposite the end of one of these pools, two men are saddling their horses. There has been a prolonged drought, and what little grass remains looks dry and white; the horses show signs of having been ridden hard the day before, and are pinched about the flanks, as if they had not made a satisfactory meal during the night.

The tire, beside which the men have slept, is still smouldering, and their tin quart pots full of tea are standing near it. The saddles put on, the two men hitch their bridles on to a neighbouring sapling, and sit down to discuss a primitive breakfast of salt beef and bread, washed down with tea sweetened with coarse brown sugar. Both are dressed in collarless Crimean shirts, moleskin trousers, and leggings; both wear the soft felt hat that has superseded the once typical cabbage-tree, and carry revolvers in their belts, for it is the early days of the seventies, and this is a newly settled pioneer cattle station, and as yet the natives are still dangerous. Although one is the owner of the station, and the other his stockman, no distinction is visible either in dress or appearance. They have been on a long excursion down the river after some truant stock, and have camped for the night to recruit their tired horses.

Their hasty meal finished, they are about to mount and start, when a noise on the opposite side of the river attracts their attention. A man, on foot, comes limping painfully down the bank, and on reaching the water's edge, throws himself down on the sand, and plunging his face in the pool, drinks thirstily and greedily.

"Who can that be?" mutters the elder of the two men, for the apparition is unexpected. They silently watch the newcomer until he lifts his head after his deep draught; then one of them shouts to him. The stranger has been too eager to attain the life-saving water to notice them; but at the sound of the voice he now starts and looks up, then eagerly waving his hand, commences to cross the dry bed of the river. When he reaches the bank, he wearily surmounts it, and throws himself down with a sigh of relief.

"You seem to have had a bad time of it," says the man who had spoken before. "Better put a quart on, Jim," he goes on, nodding to his companion, who puts the fire together, unbuckles the quart-pot hanging by a short strap from his saddle, and goes down the bank to fill it.

The tired man recovers himself somewhat, and answers faintly—"Yes; I am just about done."

He certainly looks it. His sun-scorched face and arms are lean and gaunt with famine; his eyes are still bright and feverish with thirst; and his belt is drawn tightly round his pinched waist. In his hand he still holds a canvas water-bag, the dry collapsed Bides of which evince that it is long since it has held water. Above all he has, in his fixed gaze and nervous manner, the indescribable appearance that besets a man after a long, solitary struggle for life.

"Where have you sprung from?" says his interrogator, after a pause, during which Jim, who has returned, places the quart-pot on the rekindled fire, and produces what remnants of their meal arc left.

"I started out six months ago with the Pattens, the two brothers, to look for new country; there were four of us, accounting the blackboy."

"Your name is Burgess, then, I suppose? We imagined you must have made in for the Overland Telegraph Line, as you were so long away."

"We should have done better if we had," returned the stranger; "as it is, I am the only one left."

"Is it possible? How did you come to grief?"

"We lost a number of our horses on a patch of poison plant country—that was the first misfortune. Then no rain fell all the time we were away; and coming back, we got on to a dry stage, and found that the water-hole we had depended on had been dry for weeks. The elder Patten and all the remainder of the horses died of thirst; but the younger one, the black boy, and I, managed to reach water in the Herbert River. There, the blacks got on to us; and as we had abandoned nearly all our ammunition, we had no show at all. The boy was killed, and young Patten so badly wounded that he died two days afterwards. That was more than a fortnight ago, and I have been crawling on ever since."

"How far did you manage to get out?"

"Along way across the South Australian border. It was coming back all the trouble overtook us."

By this time the quart pot was boiling, the tea made; and the famished man attacked the food voraciously.

"It is ten good miles to the station," said Hopwood, the owner. "Supposing you rest here, and I will send a man and a spare horse down for you to ride up."

The other nodded a weary assent.

"Leave me your pipe and some tobacco," he said, "and I shall be all right."

The two men mounted and rode away; and the rescued man, after lighting the pipe with an ember from the fire, lay under the shade of a tree enjoying the welcome luxury. His smoke finished, he rose, and looked around on the lifeless plain. No living object was visible. Putting his hand in the bosom of his shirt he drew forth some folded papers and a small note-book; then seating himself in the best available shade, with his back against a tree, he commenced to write in the note-book with the small leaden pencil appertaining to it. He wrote slowly, like a man unaccustomed to use a pen much, and it was more than an hour before his task was completed; then he leaned back against the tree, lost in thought.

The place where he was had evidently on many occasions been used for camping purposes. Several empty tins that had formerly contained preserved meals or fish were lying about. Rising, he picked up an empty salmon tin, and, after tearing a blank sheet out of the notebook, placed the book and the other papers inside. Next he scraped the ashes of the fire away, and on the site it had occupied dug a small bole with a stick in the sandy soil. In this hole he placed the tin with the papers, and, having filled it up again, rekindled the fire over the place, thus hiding all traced of what he had done. He looked carefully at the different trees, many of which were marked with initials rudely cut with knives or tomahawks. These he noted down on the blank sheet he had retained, then stepped the number of paces from the fire to the nearest tree and put that down. He folded the paper up and put it in his trouser pocket, threw the tiny pencil on the fire, and laid himself down once more under the tree to await the coming relief.

All the time he had been occupied, his face had worn a nervous, suspicious look; and several times he had glanced stealthily, around, as though even in that solitude he feared that he was watched. This look left his face as he threw the pencil in the fire, and he quickly fell into a profound, untroubled sleep.

He was a young man, with a simple, honest face, though somewhat undecided and weak—a man who gave you the idea that while he had plenty of physical courage and tenacity, he could be dominated by a stronger will and intellect.

About the middle of the afternoon, Jim Turner, the stockman, appeared, leading a spare horse; and the pair were soon on their way to the station.

The homestead, called Bendabar, which they reached just before dark, consisted of a couple of huts with mud walls and thatched roofs and verandahs; and a rude stockyard and milking-yard.

Burgess was made as comfortable as circumstances permitted, and in a week or two had fairly recovered from his privations, and was well enough to travel east to Rockhampton and take steamer to the southern colony where his home was.

The story he retold with more detail was substantially the same as that he first related to Hopwood. Naturally, it found its way into the principal Australian newspapers; and after exciting the usual comment, died a natural death.

Hopwood received one letter from Burgess, notifying his safe arrival, returning the money advanced for his expenses, and thanking him for the assistance rendered.


TEN years have passed, and the cattle station that was is now a well-known sheep station; a comfortable house and all the necessary outbuildings have long replaced the primitive mud huts, and miles of wire fencing radiate in all directions. The wave of settlement has swept on to the westward for hundreds of miles, and the solitude that witnessed the fate of the Pattens has been stocked and settled.

Only one evidence of the tragedy has come to light. The bones of the horses that perished on the poison patch have been found; but no trace of human remains has been forthcoming. Bendabar, where Burgess arrived, had been sold and resold since that event, and the occupants had changed several times, so that the story of the man's rescue was now only a hearsay tradition.

One evening a stranger rode up to the homestead and requested an interview with the Manager. After presenting a letter of introduction from the firm that owned the station, he briefly stated his business. His name was Patten; he was a younger brother of the men who had perished ten years before; he had lately received a letter from Burgess, not long dead, which letter was only to be forwarded after Burgess's death, informing Patten that the writer had buried certain papers on the spot where Hopwood bad picked him up, giving him marks and indications how to find the place, and winding up with a mysterious intimation that Fatten did not just then specify.

"Can you show me the place, Mr. Owen?" said the visitor in conclusion.

"I know the place, roughly speaking," replied the Manager. "It still goes by the name of Burgess's Relief;' but without Hopwood or Turner it would be hard to find the exact spot. The last big flood altered the position of the waterholes a good deal."

"Burgess says in his letter that it had been often used for a camping ground, and that several of the trees round about were marked with initials, of which he encloses a list."

"Unfortunately for your purpose, we have used a good deal of timber from that part, and ten to one these marked trees have been out down. However, I will drive you down to-morrow morning, and we will have a look."

Early the following day Owen and his guest drove down to the place.

"This," said the Manager as they pulled up, "is the place known as Burgess's Relief; but the exact spot I cannot indicate. This used to be the end of the waterhole, so I should say it was somewhere about here. As you can see, the water now extends nearly half a mile farther."

Patten took out a piece of paper from his pocket, and read:—


Five paces up the river from a gumtree much marked; the initials A.F.H. over J.L. facing 'the plant." Another gumtree farther down, with R.O. and M.H. marked on it; and up the river a coolabah-tree with a cross on it.


"We had better turn the horses out and have a systematic search," said Owen. "That coolabah-tree is the best clue, as it is not likely to have been cut down."

The horses were unharnessed and hobbled out, and the two men went opposite wars up and down the river, examining all the trees. They returned, and exchanged reports of their ill success.

"Without either Hopwood or Jim Turner, I am afraid I have not much chance," remarked Patten.

"Did you make any enquiries about them?"

"Yes, as I came here. Hopwood is in New Zealand. Turner was last heard of three years ago, going out to the Northern Territory with a mob of travelling cattle."

"Advertise in the leading papers."

"That will he the best, I think, and quickest."

"How were the things buried?"

"In an old salmon tin; and that reminds me that Burgess said there were many lying about."

"There are any amount of empty tins lying about now, for the splitters have camped up and down this bank. What was his reason for burying the papers?"

"That I am not at liberty to relate; but" —Patten went on, as if to make up for the abruptness of this answer; "I may as well tell you that the two relatives of mine who were lost were only half-brothers, although I find they were regarded as brothers here. The youngest was my elder, and my own brother; the other, was six years the senior, was our half-brother."

Whether it was fancy or not, Owen could not decide, but he imagined there was a certain ring of dislike in his companion's voice as he spoke of this half-brother.

They caught and harnessed up the horses, and were about starting, when Patten said suddenly, and as though he had been thinking the matter over, "I may as well trust you, if I ask you to keep it to yourself. I must find those papers, for I have reason to suspect foul play, and the truth lies in them."

"The truth of what?" said Owen, in surprise.

"How my brother died," returned Patten.

"Did Burgess murder him?"

"No; but he knew who did. He told some of the truth, but not all the truth; my brother's wounds were not inflicted by the natives."

"But if Burgess did not do it, who did? Your half-brother died of thirst beforehand."

"Did he?" said Fatten, as he stepped into the buggy. "I have a strong belief that he is as much alive as you and I are now."

II

THE Pattens came of a squatting family. The father had been the owner of a compact and paying sheep station in the south-west of New South Wales. He died shortly after the death of his two sons in Queensland; and the youngest son, who had lately visited Bendabar, now held possession of the property, owning a half-share, and managing for his mother and two younger sisters who inherited the other half.

It was some three months after his northern visit, and he sat in the small verandah room that did duty as an office, regarding a letter he had just received from New Zealand. The letter was from Hopwood, in reply to one from Patten, Hopwood having forwarded his address on seeing the advertisement that bad been inserted. The writer described the position of the place to the beat of his memory, but candidly stated that, after such a lapse of time, and the alteration entailed by cutting the timber, and the effect of the flood, he did not suppose he could do more than go approximately near the spot, even if he visited the locality.

From Jim Turner there had been no response; and Patten moodily thought that his only plan would be to go back and turn up about half a mile of the bank; and even then, with the utmost care, such a small article as a salmon tin might easily be missed.

The whole affair had an atmosphere of mystery about it that was depressing. In the first place, Burgess, when he returned, had managed to evade a personal interview. Both Patten and his father had been naturally anxious to see him, and hear from his own lips the account of the tragedy; but although Burgess had written several letters, he always managed to miss any appointments, and finally disappeared without leaving any address. Young Patten was then bent upon going up to Queensland and personally searching for the remains; but his father was breaking up—he could not be spared from the station; and so he had perforce to remain until it was too late to do any good.

The years rolled on, and he had almost forgotten the fancies that had troubled him when he first heard of the catastrophe. He and his half-brother, who was the only child of the first wife, had always mutually disliked each other, and Robert Patten, the younger, had strongly objected to his brother's going on the trip. The eldest son had always been of a morose, passionate nature, and had systematically bullied his young half brothers until they were old enough to resent it. This the youngest one did more than his brother, who was of a quieter disposition. In consequence, it was with rather a prejudiced mind that Robert now turned over the various circumstances that had lately cropped up concerning the deaths in the west of Queensland.

In the first place, he had met an old friend, who said to him, "By the way, I always understood that your eldest brother died in the bush in Queensland."

"So he did, I am sorry to say."

"Well, I saw either him or his ghost in Adelaide about two years ago."

"Nonsense, man—a case of mistaken identity."

"It is you who are talking nonsense, my boy. Why, I know your brother AIf Patten better than I do you."

"Did you speak to him?"

"No. In fact, to tell you the truth, he seemed to avoid me."

"It must have been a ghost, then. If it had been my brother, why should he have avoided you, and why has he not come home?"

"Well, it was a wonderful likeness. I was on my way home to England at the time; and I certainly told several people on board, who knew him and had heard of his death, about it."

Patten was naturally disturbed by such a piece of information. If his brother was alive, he owned the whole of the station, and all the property left by his father, for the will, made shortly before his father's death, only left it between his mother, sisters, and himself, contingent upon the deaths of his two brothers being confirmed; for, owing to the strange reluctance shown by Burgess to a personal meeting, the old man had been impressed with the idea that Burgess had deserted his companions, and, in reality, knew nothing of their fate. Under these circumstances, why should his brother stay away, if alive?

Not many weeks after this the letter from Burgess arrived, enclosed is one from a brother, stating that the writer was dead, and had requested that on his death the enclosed should be forwarded as directed. Burgess in his letter merely said that he had buried certain papers belonging to his brother confided to his care, and gave a description of the place. He made no explanation of his motive for concealing the papers, nor for his conduct in avoiding an interview, but wound up with the ominous sentence—"In these papers you will find the true account of your brother's death."

It was noticeable that he only referred to one brother, although he had stated to everybody that both were dead.

Patten mused dejectedly for some time, then wrote a short letter to Hopwood, thanking him for his letter.

"Blanche," he said that evening to his eldest sister, whom he had to a certain extent taken into his confidence, "I have already told you that I have reason to believe that Alf is still alive. Now I want you to communicate this belief to the others, for I should not be surprised to see him turn up any day."

"Surely, Bob, you have not heard from him, have you?" she returned, in surprise.

"No; but I have reason to think that the only obstacle to his reappearance, has been removed. If he is alive, as I believe, I'm pretty confident that we shall see something of him shortly."

"But it will make an awful difference to you, will it not? In the station I mean."

"Certainly; it all belongs to him. Our mother will have a third by law, which will be enough for her and you girls; but I shall be asked to leave, you may be sure, as soon as Alf comes in possession. Fortunately, I have made a little money on my own account during the last ten years, so shall not be quite penniless."

His sister left him; and Robert remained smoking on the moonlit verandah. Like a flash of light, it had suddenly illumined his mind that the reason Alf did not reappear was because of Burgess. Once he heard of Burgess's death, he would not hesitate to come and claim his heritage. There was now no doubt in his mind. Burgess had been either a witness or accomplice in some deed that would not bear the light of day.

He turned to go inside the house, when the tread of a horse approaching made him look round. Instinctively, he knew who was coming—the supposed dead man had returned to his own place.

In the bright clear moonlight he easily recognised the rider, who dismounted, and hung his bridle on the picket fence that surrounded the garden, then approached the gate that led to the house.

Robert called to his sister—"Blanche! our expected visitor has come," and strolled down the path to meet his half-brother.

"Well, Bob," said the latter as they met, "I suppose you hoped never to see me again?"

"On the contrary, Alf," said Robert quietly, "I have been expecting you for some time. What have you been keeping up this farce so long for?"

"That I will tell you presently. Are we to go back on the old terms, although ten years have passed? Have you got neither word nor hand to welcome a fellow?"

"Let's have a mutual explanation first, both with regard to Sam's death and your silence."

"Very well. Evidently, you are not pleased at the boss coming home. Will you tell one of the fellows to turn my horse out, and then we will see if the others of you are a little warmer in their welcome."

Robert called one of the men, who took the horse; and the two men entered the house.

Mrs. Patten and the girls received the wanderer with at any rate an assumption of cordiality. They knew nothing of the graver doubts that tormented their brother, and, with womanly tenderness, endeavoured to make the unexpected arrival feel that he was welcome to his own home. The ten years of absence had not altered him much, save that, to Robert, he seemed coarser and rougher in his manner and conversation, as though his time had been passed amongst inferior associates.

He at once told his stepmother that he was going to have a long talk With his half-brother, and explain his absence; and taking the hint, the women soon retired and left the two men together. Both smoked in silence for a while, then Alf suddenly remarked, "What did that hound Burgees say when he got in?"

Robert had anticipated the question. He handed his brother one of the old newspapers containing the printed account.

The other read it through in silence. "A tissue of lies, with a word of truth here and there," was his comment when he came to the end. "How did you think I was alive, after such a statement as that?"

"Old Broadhurst saw you in Adelaide over two years ago."

"Did Burgess tell you any more than he has done here?"

"I never saw him. For some unaccountable reason, he dodged me always, and I could not get a personal interview with him."

"Now, I will tell you what really happened," said Alf. "In the first place, the statement that we were successful in getting beyond the South Australian border for some distance is true. On our return, we camped near a patch of poisonous plant, and lost a number of our horses. That also is true."

"The bones of the horses have been found," interjected Robert.

"But no human remains?" said the other, somewhat hastily.

"No."

"Of course, because there were none to find—at least, there. We got on to a dry stage, and found the water we depended on, dry. That is true. Now come the lies. We stopped at that dry hole dead beat, and debated what was best to be done. Before us were about fifty miles of dry country, and at the end of it an uncertainty. Behind us were thirty miles dry country and the water we had left, a certainty. We decided to turn back after taking a few hours' rest. We had only five horses left. Two of them were fairly strong, and the other three weak and knocked up. That night, while we slept, Burgess sneaked off with the two strong horses and nearly all the water and rations, and left us to our fate. No wonder he would not meet you."

Both men were silent after this disclosure.

"What happened then?" said Robert at last.

"When we awoke and found Burgess gone, we could do nothing but tramp back to the water we had left. There we arrived more dead than alive, with two out of the three horses, the other one having died on the road. We decided to make for the Overland Telegraph Line. This, to make a long story short, eventually we did; but I was the only one who reached it. The black boy died, I cannot say of what. He gave in, and lost pluck. Sam was speared by the natives on a creek about a hundred miles east of the line, and died in about an hour. We had used up every cartridge when they tackled us, or it would not have happened."

Robert started at these words, for they seemed such an echo of the story told by Burgess; and yet, according to this version, Burgess could have known nothing of the fate of the men he deserted.

"I got to the Line, and luckily came across a repairing party, and they took me in to Barrow Creek Station—"

"And with the telegraph right at your hand, you never wired our father a word of either Sam or yourself?" interrupted Robert.

Alf got up, and impatiently walked about the room. "To tell you the truth, I had not the heart. I blamed myself right through. I had no business to persuade Sam to come and risk his life. I would rather you thought us both dead, than have to come home alone; I felt that I had been the cause of his death."

"What did you do then, Alf?"

"We had some good country on our way across; and when I got down to Adelaide, I took up the lease on it, and sold it very well. I fell in with some men going to South Africa; and as I had a roving fit on me, I joined them, and was there five years. I volunteered for the Zulu War, and saw a good deal of it. Then I came back to Australia, and went up to the gold rush at Kimberley. Everywhere I did well, just because I did not particularly want it, I suppose. At last I got tired of knocking about, and determined to come home and declare myself. I may as well tell you that I had seen the notice of the old man's death in a Sydney paper, and you know as well as I do that after his death there is not a soul here who would not prefer that I had never returned. I am not, and never was, a favourite with my father's second family. As it is, I suppose that I appear to oust you; but I have no intention of doing so. There is enough for us all. I could never play the part of the modern squatter."

"It is late, Alf," said Robert, rising. "I have much to think of. Believe me, that nobody here is sorry to see you back; but you must admit that your silence and absence under such circumstances as the death of Sam were peculiar. Is it not so?"

"Perhaps; but I presume you are satisfied as to my own identity! Tell me," he went on, as his brother halted for a moment at the door, "has little Kate Rudder grown up as pretty as she promised to be?"

"Miss Rudder," returned Robert coldly, "has grown up as pretty and good as she promised to be. Now, good night. Your old room is ready for you. You know the way." He closed the door almost as he spoke.

Left to himself, Alf smiled somewhat grimly. "I touched Master Bob on a tender spot seemingly. Evidently he has his eye on Kate Rudder."

He turned the lamp out and went to his room.

It was quite true Alf Patten had touched upon a tender spot when he mentioned Kate Rudder's name to his brother. The Rudders owned the neighbouring station, and the two families had always been on the moat friendly footing. Kate, the youngest and only unmarried girl, was now a brilliant and beautiful young woman of one-and-twenty, with half a dozen aspirants for her hand. Robert was sorely smitten, and had reason to believe that he had some chance of success, but his brother's remark gave him some troubled thoughts that night. Robert Patten, the owner of half the station and a good deal of other property, and Robert Patten beginning life afresh on a small and limited capital, were two very different men. He had no reason to think the girl mercenary or capricious, but his nature had a warp of distrust in it which often led him to suspect the motives of other people without cause, and in the present instance influenced him against accenting the liberal speeches of his returned relative without large discount.

III

THE return of the eldest son and heir to the station created the usual amount of gossip in the district. Alf kept up the character he had first assumed of careless liberality, and did not interfere with Robert's management. He soon renewed his intimacy with the Rudders, and, as was but natural, became a devoted admirer of Kate's. On her part it was only to be supposed that she should feel interested in him. He had plenty to talk about that had a certain charm of novelty; his adventures during the Zulu War and in the outside districts of Australia were told without boasting, and served to put him on a small heroic pedestal in the community.

As may be presumed, this intimacy with the Rudders was not at all to Robert's liking; and both men felt that it was, after all, but a hollow truce between them, and one that might be ruptured at any moment. Kate Rudder had no thought of arousing the younger brother's jealousy by treating the elder so intimately. She sincerely liked Robert, and it only wanted a word from him to awaken a warmer feeling.

Unfortunately, it was different with Alf. He had fallen head over ears in love with Kate, and felt certain that it was returned. It was evident that such a state of things could not go on long without an explosion of some sort. Blanche had long guessed Robert's secret, and was prepared to become an active ally should the turn of affairs necessitate it.

The smothered feud broke out one night when the two men were smoking a pipe before retiring.

"I intend to try my luck to-morrow," said Alf. "It's time I settled down and got married."

"I quite agree with you," returned Robert, somewhat meaningly, "Where are you going to condescend to throw the handkerchief?"

"Oh, don't put on side. You know very well I am going to ask Kate Rudder, and have every reason to suppose she will say yes."

"It's a lie," replied Bob furiously, a sudden gust of passion completely overcoming him.

Alf started, but checked himself. "I can afford to laugh at you," he said. "Rave away; it won't whistle your sweetheart back."

"If you put your boast to the test tomorrow," said Robert in a calmer tone, "you will find yourself mistaken. I should advise you to stay at home."

"Keep your advice to yourself, and don't provoke me," said the other, who was now in his turn losing his temper.

"Provoke you, indeed!" repeated Robert contemptuously.

"Yes, you beggar, or I'll soon get rid of you."

"As you did Sam!"

Alf leaped to his feet, speechless with a mixture of rage and fear. Next minute the two men would have been at each other's throats, but the door opened, and Blanche entered.

"I heard your voices raised," she said, affecting not to notice their menacing attitudes; "what are you quarrelling about?"

"Oh, we never could agree of old," said Robert, trying to calm himself as his sister approached him.

"Look here, my fine fellow," said Alf, "tomorrow you take yourself, bag and baggage, out of this; and just see that your accounts are square when I come to overhaul them."

Robert's face turned fiery red; but Blanche caught his band. "If Bob goes, I go too," she said.

"You are quite welcome," returned Alf, who had completely dropped the mask.

"I will give you full satisfaction about the station accounts to-morrow morning," said Robert; "and in a short time I trust you will be able to give an equally satisfactory account of what I shall require from you."

"What do you mean?" demanded the other fiercely.

"Simply I do not believe your version of your trip out west. I will see what Burgess has to say in the matter."

"You will have to go to another place than Queensland, then, for he is dead."

"Oh, you knew that, did you? And yet you pretended to ask after him."

"Pshaw! I will not stop to listen to any more nonsense. To-morrow I will show you who is master here." He left the room.

The brother and sister had a long conversation, during which, for the first time, Robert told her about the buried papers and what he suspected of their import. Blanche was naturally horrified, and reiterated her now fixed determination to leave on the following day. Robert impressed upon her the necessity of absolute secrecy; and they were about parting, when she asked him where he was going to when he left. For herself, she was going on a visit to an aunt for a while.

"I'm going to the Northern Territory or South Australia to look for Jim Turner," he said.

As he spoke, he had his hand on the door, and half opened it. A noise outside struck his ear, and he threw it wide open, and looked along the passage. A dark shadow vanished at the end as he did so, and it immediately occurred to him that Alf had been listening.

"Forewarned is forearmed," he thought as he retired. "I must guard against Master Alf getting any inkling of those papers, or he will be beforehand with me." Then he thought that if Alf had been listening he would have heard all he confided to Blanche, but on second consideration, he remembered that they had spoken low, all but the last words referring to Jim Turner, and it would be hard to trace anything from that.

Blanche had given her brother a hint that he had better test his fate with Kate Rudder as soon as practicable, and he determined to do it the first thing in the morning, if possible before he settled up with his brother. With this object in view he was up at daylight, and by sunrise was on his way, calculating that he would arrive at the Rudders' Station in time for breakfast, he managed to hit the meal very nicely; and while seated thereat, he informed his friends of his resignation, or rather deposition, in favour of his eldest brother. As the terms on which the two men stood were pretty well known, this intimation did not surprise anybody. It elicited, however, a quick glance of sympathy from Kate, which was sufficient satisfaction for Robert.

He soon made an opportunity to ask the momentous question. As two ships converge towards each other in mid-ocean on a calm day, so the wooing and the wooed have a silent occult speech of their own which is better than an outspoken language, and serves just as well to convey the intended meaning.

In the old nursery and schoolroom, now turned into a lonely kind of lumber-room seldom visited. Kate and Robert plighted their troth; and then he departed with a light heart to seek the consent of her parent. Old Rudder half expected what was coming, and Robert was delighted to find that the return of the rightful heir did not affect his suit. The fact was that Rudder had seen enough of him and his management during the put ten years to feel assured that young Patten was one of the men bound to rise, and than the present would be merely a temporary eclipse.

The fifteen miles home—home no longer—were soon covered, and he entered the house to find his half-brother waiting for him. To his surprise Alf approached him in the sunniest manner possible.

"Look here, old man," he said; "we shall always be snarling at each other, I suppose, at long as we are together; but let us have a try to do better in future at any rate. I will take back anything I said last night, if you will do the same."

"I have made up my mind to go away and strike out for myself," returned Robert, after a pause. "As you admit, we should always he quarrelling; so it is best to part. I am glad it is not in anger, and am willing to forget the hasty words exchanged last night."

"I suppose that is as much as I can expect from you," replied the other. "Go or stay, I shall not quarrel with you."

After a hasty packing up, Robert and his sister started in a buggy to the neighbouring township of W—, whence they would take the train to Sydney, where Robert intended to leave Blanche with their aunt.

Meanwhile Alf went headlong to his fate. He had determined to propose to Kate Rudder, and rode over that day for the purpose. What he then learned did not improve his temper. He rode home in a mood of sullen spite, revolving in his mind the best way to obtain his own will and thwart his rival.

Robert wrote a short but explicit letter to Owen, the Manager of Bendabar, on whom he thought he could rely, asking him to observe the strictest reticence concerning the buried papers and their whereabouts, and if any one turned up enquiring for them, to put the seeker, if possible, on a false scent. He further took him into his confidence concerning the return of his eldest brother, supposed to be dead; and also told him of his purposed quest for Turner, who seemed to be the only man who could point out the hiding-place. He then made a hasty trip to W——to say good-bye to his sweetheart, and started ostensibly to look for a suitable pastoral investment; in reality, he took the first steamer for Port Darwin.

A long narrow clearing through a dense scrub of upright "mulga." In the centre of this cleared track runs a row of telegraph poles, supporting a single wire, the slender link that traverses the Australian Continent from north to south, and binds it with an almost living bond to the rest of the world. At the edge of this thicket of mulga is a patch of open country, thinly timbered with coolabah trees. Here, alongside the rude dray track that winds side by side with the line, are a couple of iron tanks, each containing about four hundred gallons of water, tanks such as are used on board of sailing ships. A line-repairing party are camped on this open spot, and the tanks are kept full for the use of the men employed in the maintenance of the line. There are three men in the camp—an operator and two line-men—it is the middle of the day, and they are taking it easy in the shade; their riding and pack horses, hobbled out, are feeding a short distance away.

"Here comes the man they were telling me about when we spoke to Daly Waters Station," suddenly remarked the operator, gazing up the long northern vista of the line.

"The man who is in search of Jim?" said one of the men, glancing at the third, who looked rather conscious.

Jim, who was the long-sought-for Jim Turner, busied himself in putting the fire together and placing a quart pot of water on to boil, for hospitality is the sacred creed of the bush; and the party were silent until the stranger rode up to the camp and dismounted.

"I suppose you are the repairing party from Daly Waters?" said the new comer, after the customary greetings.

"Yes," returned the operator, "and I presume you are the man they wired to me about looking for Jim Turner. This is Turner," and he indicated the man in question.

The two nodded, and Patten—for it was Robert—remarked, "I have had a long hunt for you. I suppose you are wondering what it is all about?"

"Better turn your horses out and have something to eat." interrupted the operator; "plenty of time for business afterwards."

Patten accepted the invitation; and after eating his meal and finishing the regulation pipe, drew Turner on one side and broached the object of his visit.

"You were a stockman on Bendabar," he said, "and were with Mr. Hopwood when you picked up Burgess."

Turner assented. "The fact is simply this, you left Burgess to rest down there, while you went up to the Station, got fresh horses, and came down again. While you were away, he buried certain papers he had, enclosing them in an old salmon tin that he had picked up there. He is dead now; but before he died, he wrote and told me of these papers, giving me directions to find them by means of the marked trees about. I went to the place; but it is now all changed. The trees have been cut down; and a heavy flood has altered the appearance and size of the water-holes in the river. No one on the station knew the exact place; and as the clue he had given me was useless, my only chance was to find Hopwood or yourself; so I advertised in the leading papers."

Patten paused.

"I never knew of the advertisement until the other day," said Turner; "and then one of the chaps spotted it in an old number of the Australasian. Did you hear from Mr. Hopwood?"

"Yes; and he wrote and said that, under the changed circumstances, he did not believe that he could point out the exact spot."

"Then I'm blowed if I could," said Turner.

This was hard on Patten, and he hesitated for a moment. "Look here, Turner," he returned; "there's no occasion to speak hastily. Think the matter over, and see if you cannot remember any slight thing that will bring it back to you."

Turner pondered for a short time. "I might find the place if I was back there," he hazarded doubtfully at last.

"It's most important that I get these papers," went on Robert. "I have been tracking you up now for six months, and I am not going to be baulked for a trifle. I believe if you were on the spot it would all come back to you. I will tell you what I will do. I suppose your billet here is nothing very much. You could do as well in Queensland."

"Just as well," was the answer.

"Then I will pay your expenses round to the place, and allow you a couple of pounds a week during the time we are travelling. If we are successful in getting the papers, or what is left of them, I will give you a hundred pounds."

"I'm in it," cried Jim, without any hesitation; and they turned back to the camp.

Patten was sound asleep that night when he was suddenly aroused by somebody shaking him by the shoulder. Rousing himself, he found it was Turner.

"It has all come back to me," he said in an excited sort of whisper. "I lay there thinking about picking up that man, and trying to puzzle out how I could make sure of the place, when all of a sudden I remembered about filling the quart pots. Right straight under our camp a bar of rook crossed the bed of the rivet. I remember it well because the water was deep just alongside, and it was so handy to stand on and dip the quarts, Of course, Mr. Hopwood doesn't recall it because he didn't go down the bank; but I was down two or three times."

"By Jove, that's something definite," returned Robert; "but I noticed several bars crossing the river here and there."

"Ah! but this one was a slate bar with a seam of quartz running beside it. No flood could alter that, could it?"

"I shouldn't think so," said Patten.

They left the camp; and in due time they arrived in Keppel Bay, where, leaving the mail steamer in which they had travelled, they ascended the Fitzroy River in the tender. Robert stood on the wharf waiting for his luggage to be put ashore, when a hand was laid on his shoulder. He turned to find his half-brother beside him.

"I expected, you Bob," he said. "Now, supposing we make this little trip to Bendebar together."

Robert was scarcely surprised at the unwelcome appearance of his half-brother. He had all along suspected that he had overheard his conversation with his sister relative to the search for Jim Turner, and naturally would have kept a watch on his movements. He therefore accepted the situation without much comment; but as soon as he could get away without exciting suspicion, made his way to the telegraph office. Here he wired to Owen at Bendabar, giving him the clue of the rocky bar and all other details furnished by Turner. He asked him to follow the search up at once, and if successful, to keep the papers until his arrival, and restore the spot where they were found to its original state, as though it had been undisturbed. This done, he felt more at ease.

He knew that Alf would soon get all he wanted to know out of poor, simple Jim; and he was not at all sure that he did not intend to play him some trick on the way up and get ahead of him. The four hundred miles to the station were, however, negotiated without any mishap. He did not trust himself to exchange glances with Owen, lest Alf's sharp eyes should note it; but as soon as there was an opportunity, the Manager told him that he had been quite successful. The papers were still in the tin; but Robert begged his friend to keep them where they were until the farce of a search had been gone through.

Next morning they started down the river and Jim Turner soon identified the spot where they were camped when Burgess appeared. Needless to say, the search—extended into the next day—was fruitless. The general conclusion was that if Burgess had buried anything, it had been only just beneath the surface, and the tin was probably soon laid bare. In that case, the first bush fire that swept over the spot would destroy the contents.

Alf did not seem at all elated at the fact that nothing had transpired; and Robert guessed that the state of uncertainty was worse to him than the discovery of the hidden tin would have been.

Jim Turner was rewarded; and Alf took his leave, Robert announcing his attention of spending a few days with his friend Owen. From something he noticed in Alf's manner, he mistrusted the fact that he had really left the station, and believed that his suspicions had been aroused by the non-discovery of anything, and that he was still keeping a watch on his movements. So impressed was he with this idea, that it was not until he retired and locked himself in his bedroom that he commenced his investigation. The tin had preserved its contents with wonderful fidelity. On lifting the lid the papers appeared to be in almost as good a state of preservation as when first placed there. There were three folded papers and a small notebook. He opened the folded papers. They were all in his brother Sam's writing, in pencil, and, by a strange coincidence, he read them in their proper sequence. The first was addressed to himself, and ran:—


Dear Bob—We have had back luck, and worst of all, I have met with an accident that has crippled me. I am just scribbling this to say good-by in case things take a turn for the bad. If I don't turn up again, you know how to act for the good of all at home.


Then followed some affectionate messages to his mother and sisters.

The second paper bore date the next day, and was but a few lines:—


Burgess has come back. I am much worse, in awful pain; shall never leave here. Thank God, I am not deserted by everybody.


The third and last was almost illegible; the reader managed to decipher—


Burgess will tell—too bad—I had forgiven—now left here—die.


The rest was unintelligible.

Robert dropped the message from the dead man whose bones lay in the desert. His half-brother's name was not mentioned; but he read the whole story as though it had been printed. Sam had met with an accident, and Alf bad left him to get on as best he could. But what was the accident? and how did he meet with it! The notebook would tell him that.

He took it up and opened it. Just then all the dogs on the station commenced to bark furiously, as though some one was coming. He opened his window and looked out; but all seemed, quiet; and after a fight among themselves the dogs subsided into silence.

He commenced the notebook, wherein Burgess had, as he said, told the true story of Sam's death.


"I promised Sam Patten when he was dying that I would tell the truth; and I swore to Alf, after he saved my life from the blacks, that I would not. I will write it all down; hide it, and never speak of it again. I don't know what to do. From the start Alf Patten made himself disagreeable; and although Sam stood it very quietly for some time, at last he quarrelled with him; and after that, there was nothing but rows between them. The morning we found five of the horses poisoned they had the worst quarrel. Alf was away, when we camped the night before, and he blamed his brother for not noticing the poison plant about. While they were still at it, the black boy and I started after two of the horses that had strayed away. While we were tracking them up, we both thought we beard a pistol shot in the direction of the camp. When we got back with the horses, we found that there had been an accident. Sam, while doing something to his revolver, had accidentally touched the trigger and shot himself through the hand. That was the story they told us. It was a clean wound; and I did not think it would turn out bad. We had good country and easy travelling for a day or two, and Sam's hand seemed getting on very well; then we had a long dry stage and hot weather. Sam's hand took a turn for the worse, and when we got to some good water and grass, he said he could go no farther, but must stay there until his hand was easier. Ever since that morning the brothers had not spoken, and Sam would not let his brother help him in any way. We spent three days at the waterhole, and the rest and plenty of cold water bandages did the wound good. A If had been getting very impatient, and at last he said that we had come nearly as far as we wanted to, and seen most of the country they had come to look at; that the best thing to do was for Sam to stop in the camp, while we went on about fifty miles further, and then we could go home by easy stages. This meant that we should be away from Sam for nearly three days, and I would not agree to it. But Sam himself persuaded me; he was anxious to get home, and thought that by the time we got back he would be able to ride, and there would be nothing to detain us. We started the next morning. While we were packing and saddling the horses, Alf went up and spoke to his brother. Whatever it was he said, the quarrel broke out again at once, and when we started, Alf bad gone back to one of his fiendish tempers. We went about thirty miles that day and camped. The next morning, as we were starting, I asked Patten how far we were going before turning back. He said—'Right on to the Overland Telegraph Line.' I pulled up, and said I would go no farther, but would return, to the camp. He argued with me that Sam was all right, and even tried to threaten me; but I rode away, and he and the black boy went on.

"I got back to camp that evening, and found Sam very bad. I think the excitement of the quarrel with his brother had inflamed the wound again. Next morning he was in terrible agony, and his arm was swollen right up to the shoulder. He was delirious, and kept praying me to out his arm off. I never left his side except to get water to keep the bandages wet. The next afternoon he suddenly fell asleep, but woke up just at sundown. He was quite sensible, and had no pain at all; only, he said, 'he felt too weak to move.' He talked to me quietly about going back, thinking, now the pain had left him, he would be strong enough to ride in the morning. He told me that his wound was not an accident, but that his brother in a fit of passion had threatened him with his revolver: that he had tried to take it from him, and in the struggle it had gone off and shot him through the hand. He never meant to say anything about it, but for his brother going away and leaving him; and asked me to tell the true story if anything happened to him, and I promised. Presently, he said to me—'This is heavenly to be free from that terrible pain; I shall sleep so soundly to-night, old man.' He never spoke again. I scarcely know when he died, but I think it was about an hour afterwards."

IV

"NEXT morning, I was digging a grave as best I could, when Alf and the black boy came up. They had been riding all night. He was like a mad man when he saw Sam's body, called himself a murderer, and vowed that he would go back and give himself up to be hanged. After Sam was buried, this fit seemed to wear off; and next morning we started home. We scarcely ever spoke during the next few days. Once he asked me what story I was going to tell when we got in, and I said, 'The true one.' A week after Sam's death we got to the Herbert River, and camped near a waterhole. Suddenly the place seemed alive with blacks, and a shower of spears and 'nullas' fell around us. The black boy was speared clean through the body; but I only got a crack with a nulla. I used my revolver, and made a rush for a carbine that was lying where I had been sleeping; but before I got there I was knocked down, and the niggers rushed in and got hold of me. Another moment and my brains would have been beaten out; but just then Alf came to my relief and saved me. The black boy was dead. That night when we were talking it over, Alf said, 'I think I saved your life today, Burgess. Poor Sam is dead and gone, and it will do no good raking up our quarrel; cannot you hold your tongue when you get in?' Of course he had saved my life, and I scarcely knew what to say. 'How shall we account for Sam's death?' I said at last. 'He was killed here by the blacks,' he replied, pointing back to where the fight had been. So it fell out that I agreed. He swore that he intended to go away and change his name rather than face going home, and I promised to tell the story we made up that night. Next morning we parted. He took three horses and most of the rations, as he intended to make for the Overland Telegraph Line, and I took the two worst horses, to try and get in to the nearest station. They died on the road, and I have walked in. I do not know whether I have done right or wrong; but this is the truth. With this book I bury three letters that Sam wrote and gave to me. Alf knows nothing of them."


It was all out now; and Robert knew that every word was plain truth. He could see his half-brother in every line of the confession—the outbreaks of uncontrollable temper followed by fits of short-lived remorse. Doubtless, when he parted from Burgess he fully intended to keep his vow, and be henceforth a dead man to those who had known him. But time had blunted his feelings of regret; his character had degenerated; he had grown tired of his self-imposed exile, and the death of Burgess had been too great a temptation to return, removing as it did the only witness to his crime, for although no laws could touch him he was as guilty of his half-brother's death as if he had shot him through the head.

What was he to do? He looked up, and stared; there, pressed close against the glass of the window, was the face of his half-brother. The expression on it arrested Robert in the not of rising. He scarcely knew whether he was gazing at a living face or a dead one, it wore such a ghastly look. While he was hesitating it vanished.

Robert went to the window, which was an ordinary French light, opening on to the verandah, unlocked it, and was about stepping out, when he paused. A meeting between them just then had better be avoided; evidently Alf's uneasy conscience had dragged him back; he knew now that Robert knew the truth, and he could do no more harm.

He stood at the door and listened. There was a sudden outbreak from the dogs; then he heard the sound of a horse cantering down the paddock. The nocturnal visitor was gone. But Robert's way was no clearer, and he passed a wretched, sleepless night.

On the third day, a man rode up to the station with a note for Robert. It was from Alf, and ran thus:—

Whatever Burgess wrote is true. I know you found the papers, and have read them. I am going a long way out West, and this time I shall not return.

Good-by.


The writing was so unlike Alf's hard, firm hand that Robert instinctively asked the man, who was the ostler at a small public-house some thirty miles away, whether his brother had been drinking heavily.

"He went it pretty hot for a couple of days," returned the man; "but he seemed all right when he started this morning."

"He had gone, then?"

"Yes; started the same time that I did. He said he was going to Barr Downs to-night," naming a station to the westward.

Robert pondered over the communication.

Was it reality this time, and did it point to a suicide's expiation?

He determined to follow. Turner was still on the station, having taken a place as boundary-rider, so he engaged him to accompany him; and Owen provided him with a black boy, a good tracker; for there was no knowing how far he might have to go. By the time he was ready Alf had three days' start of him.

It was easy enough to follow him, for he was making due west from station to station, and travellers were not very common as they got into the sparsely settled outside district. He could not gain on him, however; at every station where he stopped the night Alf had always left just the three days before. The last place they crossed—the Herbert — Robert thought he recognised the waterhole where the blacks had attacked Burgess, but all tokens of the fierce fight bad long been dispersed by successive floods.

At last they came to the most outside station, within about fifty miles of the Queensland Border. Beyond was still unsettled country for about three hundred miles to the Overland Telegraph Line. Alf had stayed the night at this place, and next morning he had gone on by himself, leaving the people on the place in some perplexity as to where he was bound to from then on out. Robert knew they would have to follow his tracks. Once in the unoccupied country this was comparatively easy, and they went on the first day without a check. Robert knew as well as if Alf had told him that their destination was Sam's lonely grave—would he get there too late?

They camped the first night at a small hole of water at the head of a rocky creek. Next morning, still following the tracks of the two horses, they crossed a low range, and emerged on to a wide plain. By night they found themselves on a small clay flat with tired and thirsty horses. They had water for themselves in their canvas bags; but unless there was some ahead, their horses would not last through another day of such fatiguing travelling.

Alf had, however, camped on the flat, so it was evident that he was making for some place ahead that he knew of.

On again the next morning. Straight across the plain went the tracks, and with jaded horses the party followed them. When within about a mile of the creek the black boy, who was ahead tracking, pulled up and pointed to the trees.

Half a dozen kites were circling slowly in the air over a particular spot, looking like black specks in the distance.

"There's water there," said Turner.

Robert did not answer, but motioned to the boy, and they pressed on. In a short time they rode up to the bank of the creek, in the bed of which was a shallow pool of water. The loose horses ran down and commenced greedily drinking; two others, who were feeding on the edge of the waterhole, greeted them with loud whinnies.

A glance told Robert he was too late. He motioned to Turner and the boy to go on to the water, and dismounting, tied the reins to his stirrup-iron, and let his thirsty horse go loose after the rest.

A man was lying at the foot of a coolabah tree. He might have been asleep, but people as a rule do not sleep in the noontide glare of a tropical sun. It was his brother, dead by his own hand. On the tree, at the foot of which he lay, a sheet of bark had been stripped off years before, and on the surface of the wood beneath, the initials S.P. had been rudely out. Robert at once divined that the letters had been carved by Burgess, and beneath was Sam's grave.


THEY buried the lifeless form that had once held such fierce conflicting passions by the side of the man whose death lay at his door; and in the grave Robert placed the written testimonies of the expiated guilt. The message that had come from the desert was left to moulder there—no man now would ever know it. Alf himself had solved for Robert the question of what he should do with the knowledge bequeathed him by the dead.

Next morning, with a saddened heart, the only surviving brother retraced his steps through the untrodden waste that surrounded the two graves.

In after years, when wife and children were his, and prosperity and contentment, his thoughts would often be recalled by a chance word to that time, and like a picture would rise clearly before him the scene he saw as he turned in his saddle for a last look—the gaunt and desolate plain; the creek, bordered with dwarfed, distorted timber; the soaring, tireless kites; the fierce sun overhead beating down on the graves of his brothers beneath the stunted, shadeless, coolabah-tree.


21. -- THE CONFESSION OF GILES OSBORNE

Evening News, Sydney, 25 June, 2 July 1898

PART 1. -- THE STORY MY FATHER TOLD ME.

I WAS born in a port town, in the south of England. We were nearly all sailors in that town, from the time we were boys, old enough, to go on board and earn "monkey's allowance". When I was born Nelson was still alive, but on the eve of death and Victory, and naturally every boy's thoughts turned to the sea. My father was a warrant officer who had sailed with the great navigator, Captain Cook, and was with him when he found the southern continent of Australia; and with him, too, when he was murdered by the savages same years afterwards. So it was but natural that I always looked upon the sea as my future home.

My imagination was also fed by the stories my father told of the beautiful islands of the south, and the joy of sailing over unknown seas, never knowing when some strange and wonderful land might at any moment be sighted by the look-out. My father, from his long voyages in discovery ships, had imbibed ideas above the average man-of-warsman, and from what he had seen was impressed by the advantages that education gave a man, even in the navy.

So I had to thank him for being educated above the other boys of my class, end when I went to sea as a boy I could read and write well and easily, which few of my shipmates could. But it was not until after the Battle of Waterloo had been, won and peace established, and everyone rejoicing that Boney was safe on St. Helena, that I made my first voyage, and, to my intense disgust, on a merchantman.

However, my father, who was still hale and hearty, said that now peace was declared, there would be no chance at sea for men-of-warsmen, and the merchantmen would have the best of it.

So, into the merchant service I went, and when my father died I had worked my way up, through the hawse-hole, to third mate. My first voyage in that capacity was, strange to say, to the only country I had not yet visited in my many voyages—Australia. The ship was the Lucretia, 389 tons, with a general cargo and passengers, bound for a new settlement called Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia, or New Holland, as it was still often called.

I was then 26 years of age, with the reputation of being a smart sailor, and nothing besides, for my father's pension had, of course, died with him, and his savings had been consumed in eking out the scanty dole that rewarded a life of hardship. I had no kith nor kin that I knew of, and the world was before me.

The second mate of the Lucretia came of a better stock than I did. He was about two years older; and his parents were impoverished gentlefolks, but he had not worked before the mast like I had. His father had held a commission in the army, and had fallen at Waterloo. His name was Holmer, Daniel Holmer, and mine is Roger Osborne, and at that time we were fast friends; but never after that voyage.

Amongst the cabin passengers was an elderly gentleman, with two daughters, who, like so many more at that time, had turned all he had into ready money, and, allured by the tempting offers of the Government, had emigrated to Australia, to take advantage of the liberal grants of land then bestowed. Like many more of that day he was totally unfitted by training for the life of an emigrant, but then none of us on board knew any better, nor dreamt that the land we were bound for was as yet an untouched wilderness. The Government who promised these people estates that to English eyes seemed boundless did not tell them that it all had to be reclaimed by years of laborious toil.

The daughters, Kate and Mary Bonner, were both handsome girls, but, with the perverseness of fate, both of us must needs let our affections become ensnared by winsome little Mary. We had bright hopes, and much assurance, truly, to think of marriage with such girls, two penniless mates of a chartered emigrant ship, for that was all the Lucretia was; but if matters had been well ordered and we had not both fixed our fancy on the one maid, they might have bad worse husbands in a new country than Holmer and myself.

The just-settled port of Fremantle was a strange eight in 1829, when we dropped anchor there. The newly-arrived settlers, for some half dozen vessels had arrived before us, were encamped on both banks of the river, at the mouth of which the town was to be built. They lived in tents and all manner of makeshift shelters; and handsome furniture stood about, being rapidly spoiled by exposure.

As we did not commence discharging at once, Holmer and I had time to go ashore, and one way and another we got Mr. Bonner and the girls shipshape, and much more comfortable than most of the others were, I had heard about Sydney and Port Jackson, and somehow I thought to find this new place just the same, and so did all the importunate people who came out.

Well, we soon had to turn to discharging into whatever boats we could get beside our own, and there was no more shore-work, except when we could get away after dark, but Holmer had the ear of the chief mate, and nearly always managed that I should have to stop on board. But for all that I had succeeded in distancing him in Mary Bonner's affections, and he knew it. From that time his behavior to me was intolerable, and it's a wonder that I did not half kill him and desert my ship. He had told Mr. Bonner that I was tine only son of a common sailor, and while at sea my acquaintance could not be well avoided; on shore, his daughters should not recognise me.

Bonner was a disappointed man; the discomforts of the voyage, the difference in the condition of the colony to what he had been led to expect, had soured his temper, and he intimated to his daughters that he wished them to discourage any intimacy with me. But he was too late.

In those days of comparative freedom from conventionalities, restraint was difficult to exercise, and in spite of father and jealous rival, Mary and I had come to an understanding. In this we were favored by her sister Kate, who had formed a romantic and unrequited attachment for Holmer. I could bear with, him better now, knowing that I was successful; and my dream of deserting my ship and working my way in the new colony changed to a more ambitious prospect of entering the East India Company's service on our arrival alt Calcutta, where we were bound next, by way of Singapore. The time came for us to sail, and I managed to get leave ashore for a while, and meet my sweetheart to say good-bye. She told me that her father thought of returning as soon as he had secured his title to the land, to which his coming, and the property he had imported entitled him. She gave me the address of an aunt in England in case they returned, and we were bidding each other a lingering farewell when Kate hastily warned us that her father and Holmer were approaching.

I stood my ground, for I was not going to slink off as though I was a criminal. Banner's voice echoed his displeasure, when he coldly accosted me and bade me farewell; but Holmer's chagrin got the better of his discretion, and he roughly demanded what I was doing ashore.

I told him that I had leave from the captain; to which, he answered that he did not believe me, and ordered me to go aboard at once and send the boat back for him. He spoke meaning to provoke me, and be succeeded. I replied that I should go on board when my time was up, not before, upon which he caught me by the shoulder, and pushed me roughly forward, saying that I was a common, insolent dog, and he would have me put in irons if I did not obey him at once.

Now, no man can stand being hectored before his sweetheart, and I returned Mr. Holmer the compliment between the eyes and knocked him down. Bonner protested loudly against such ruffianly conduct on my part; and Mary came and stood beside me, and took my hand, flushed and defiant. Altogether there seemed the prospect of a pretty row. Holmer got up, and a man does not look at his best when he is picking himself up after being knocked down. Kate looked at him eagerly, as though expecting him to fly at me like a tiger; but he did nothing of the sort.

'I will settle accounts with this fellow on board,' he said to Bonner. 'I am afraid I forgot myself for a moment,' he went on, bowing to the girls.

Bonner called his daughters, and turned away with Holmer, and Kate slowly followed. Mary remained for a moment with me.

'Shall you get into trouble?' she asked, as she nestled in my embrace. Poor girl! She had visions of yard-arming and other dreadful punishments; but I reassured her that the easy discipline of the merchant service did not take note of a quarrel ashore between two mates, and that where Holmer was concerned I was quite able to take care of myself—a remark which was entirely unfounded, as the sequel shows.

We parted there, in the bright moonlight, on the bank of the Swan River, with the camp fires of the motley crowd of emigrants glimmering and flickering around. I went on board, and sent the boat back for Holmer, who had a very pretty pair of black eyes the next morning. Nothing more was said of the scuffle between us. The skipper was a rough, easy-going old man, who would have told Holmer to put up his hands in a row, and not come paying out slack to him; and so the matter dropped, and Holmer and I only spoke on duty.

Six days out we ran into a howling gale from the nor'-west, a regular hurricane at times, that beat us remorselessly on to the barren coast to leeward. We were only in ballast, and light at that, so we had a poor chance from the outset, and when on the second day we saw during the lifts in the rain squalls a line of breakers, ever growing nearer, we began to think of our prayers.

We could not carry on any canvas worth speaking of, the fury of the wind was too great, and we were being tossed towards the shore as a mere plaything, awaiting the inevitable crash.

'Your eyes are sharp, Roger,' said the old man to me as we hung on and gazed at our approaching doom. 'See if you can make out a bit of beach just to nor'ard of that black point. I keep fancying I see a stretch.'

The beating, driving rain eased off for a moment and I saw the strip the skipper meant, and told him so.

'We must go for it, then, and the higher up we get the better chance to save our long-boat. Go aft and give a hand, and make yourself mighty fast, for we'll ship some snorters directly.'

I understood him, and crawled aft to join the two men at the wheel, lashing myself as securely as I could. I watched the skipper's signal. He lifted his disengaged hand, and we let her fall off. As the wind caught us, the jib went flying to leeward as lightly as a lady's pocket-handkerchief thrown overboard, and sea after sea came sweeping on board. Our staysail—all we had left—stood to us bravely, and straining every nerve the two men and I; our eyes fixed on the beach, strove to keep her head on for it. It seemed but a minute from the time we got her round before the gale and the instant when we were thrown down a bound and struggling heap amid a rain of falling spars and tangled rigging.

One incident only I remember of that anxious race. One of the men with me incautiously looked behind during that short flight. The look of horror that came into his face I shall never forget, and he seemed to crouch within himself. I knew what he saw, and did not follow his example, but, strange to say, he was the one killed of us three by a falling spar, and the scared look on his face died with him.

The sudden cessation of motion told us that we had succeeded in beaching the poor Lucretia in her last port, and we proceeded to disentangle our bruised and stiffened limbs and look about us. We had been thrown well up on the beach and our forepart was comparatively safe, and to that we made our way amongst the tangled, wreckage that cumbered the deck. One by one the remnant of the crew gathered on the fo'csle, and we found that ten of us were alive and comparatively sound.

The skipper was badly hurt, and we found him buried under a heap of wreckage. We got him out still alive, and be made eleven. They were, the wounded captain, Holmer, myself, the boatswain, cook, and six sailors. The chief mate and the others had either been washed overboard, or killed by the fall of the masts and yards when we struck.

We got ashore easily, and carried the captain back to a belt of low stunted trees growing above high-water mark. Here we settled ourselves in the best shelter we could find, and the boatswain and cook and a couple of men went back to try and get some food.

I busied myself tending the captain's hurts. The others broke down some boughs and made a bit of a screen to keep the driving scud off, and Holmer sat moodily under a tree doing nothing. Presently the provision party came back with a good load of stores, and the welcome tidings that the long-boat was apparently uninjured, and could be launched when the weather moderated. This was good news, for I, for one, had made sure that the boat could not possibly have escaped injury or destruction from the ruinous fall of the spars.

The mainmast, however, had stood the shock, the main topmast only being carried away. The cook had managed to get some dry chip wood and flint and steel and tinder, so we made a fire, and after a good feed and some rum and coffee felt comparatively comfortable.

The captain too revived a little, and the pounding of the surf smote harmlessly on our ears, for we were safe ashore, sleeping the sleep of tired and wearied men.

Next morning the weather was clear, bright and beautiful. The gale had blown itself out, and the sea was rapidly going, down, so after breakfasts we turned to with a will to clear away the longboat. She was well found, and with fine weather and a continuance of the nor'-west winds we ought to make Fremantle easily in a week.

The work went on merrily that day, and even the sullen Holmer seemed to regain his spirits, though be still kept the same evil front towards me. During the day we recovered two bodies and buried them in the sand. One was the chief mate, and Holmer said to one of the sailors as they stood regarding it, not knowing that I was within bearing, 'See how the sea takes a d——d good fellow like that and leaves a swab like Osborne alive.'

I excused him because the first mate had been his friend, and I was not, but it showed me how he nursed his hatred, and what I bad to expect from him if ever be got a chance. The next day a party of natives turned up, but they did not appear hostile, nor very anxious to approach us, but their coming, I am convinced, put the devilish idea into Holmer's head which he afterwards carried out.

The captain continued to improve, the weather remained settled, and the boat would soon be ready to start. One evening Homier came in to camp and said to the captain, who was now able to sit up, that it would be as well to send a party out back a short distance to see what the country was like, so that we could report upon it to the authorities at Fremantle, as they were very anxious to learn all they could about the new possession.

The skipper thought well of the idea and agreed to it so a party was made up to go a day's march back from the sea and to return another course. The party consisted of Holmer, myself, and two men. The first part of the day's journey was very fatiguing, as the country was sandy and heavy, but presently we caught sight of a range and made for that and got on better country. We reached the range at sunset, and found it not so high as we had expected, and agreed to ascend it the first thing in the morning, and take the bearings of any striking landmarks.

We passed a quiet night, and in the morning Holmer with one man, I with the other, made our way up two peaks of the range, not very far apart. From the top of the peak I was on not much was visible but dark forest country, and a distant range. There was but little to do, so I told the man to go down to our camp and begin to get the things together for our return march.

Then I sat down on a rock and commenced, marking the direction of any few points I could see. I finished my work, and was lost in a day dream, thinking of seeing Mary Bonner again so soon, when I felt myself seized and violently flung forward, so that I fell on my face with my head down the slope of the hill. The next minute someone was kneeling 'on me, and Holmer's voice said, 'Got you at last, my friend. Now you'll just stop in this smiling paradise, while I sail away to Fremantle and marry pretty Mary. She'll soon forget a tar-barrel like you, particularly, when I tell her some nice tales about you. Ha! you'd try it on would you? Take that!'

I had made a furious struggle, and with the word, be gave me a blow on the head that stunned me.

It was past mid-day when I came to my wits again, and then I was dazed and my head ached badly. Gradually I collected my senses together. Holmer's game was plain enough. He would go back with the men, two dull-witted fellows, and report that I bad been killed by the natives. Then the long-boat, now ready, would sail away and I was doomed to linger here in the wilderness. It was a refined piece of revenge, worse than killing me outright.

I understood that my only chance was in hastening back. Perhaps, something might detain the beat. I rose and staggered down the hill, but I rapidly got worse, and by the time I reached the base of the bill I had to sit down and rest. I persevered, however, throughout the night, and early the next morning I reached the sea, faint and exhausted.

But, imagine my dismay to find no sign of my comrades. The wreck, the boat, our camp, had all disappeared, and I realised with despair in my heart that I had wandered, off my course during the night, and come to the beach in a different place.

I was lost, and could not tell whether I was north or south of the scene of the wreck. I wearied myself searching, but: the place seemed to have utterly disappeared, and at last I threw myself down to die.

I was aroused by voices, hearty, and familiar voices, and lay for a moment thinking that I was awaking from a nightmare, and that I was back in our camp, and bad only dreamt that I was a lost and abandoned outcast; then I came to my senses fully, and recognised the voices, and leaped to my feet.

The longboat was passing by, close inshore. There was scarcely enough wind to fill the sails, and the men had the oars out, end were pulling easy and talking. I had wandered to the shore some miles to the south of the camp, and under a mistaken notion that I was north of it, had gone still further south. The start had been delayed, and the wind being so light the boat had come slowly along, and I was saved.

They shouted back to me when I shouted, and pulled quickly to the beach, where I met them.

Their wonderment at seeing me was great, for Holmer had told a most circumstantial story about seeing me attacked and killed by the natives, and having himself escaped by a mere chance. He had appeared to the two men who went with ms, for he, too, like me, had sent his man back, excited, and spent with running, and now he stood there a convicted liar, guilty of the unpardonable crime of deserting a shipmate.

They had landed, and made the boat fast while they stood around and listened to my tale. There was silence when I had finished.

Holmer broke it with a savage oath. Addressing me, he said, 'Curse you; the sea won't have you; and the desert gives you back again; but it's not over yet.'

The captain spoke. He was now fast recovering, and as I said before he was a rough, easy-going man, but one who when roused would act.

'You acknowledge your guilt, then, Holmer?'

'Yes; I acknowledge that I meant to leave him behind to give him a lesson. You all know, that there is bad blood between us. It is no business of yours; the quarrel is between, us only; else I should have reported it to you when he struck his superior officer.'

'We have been through peril of our lives together,' went on the old man, while we listened in astonishment at hearing him speak thus; 'and should agree together, and help one another if only out of gratitude to the power who saved our lives. Instead of that, you contemplated murder. Are we a set of bloody pirates or honest seamen? Bury your quarrel, and shake hands.'

Feeling, as the captain said, full of gratitude for my own wonderful rescue, I stepped forward, but Holmer sullenly turned away.

'You refuse,' said the skipper; 'then remain here. We will have no Jonah on board.'

'No, by God!' repeated the boatswain. 'No Jonah on board with shipwrecked sailors.'

And a hoarse grumble went round, 'No Jonah aboard.'

'Do you mean to maroon me?' demanded Holmer.

'There is plenty of provision on the wreck, and when we reach Fremantle we will notify your position, and the northern ships will keep a lookout, and if you keep a signal flying you will soon be found.'

Holmer turned fiercely on me. 'Fight it out now, and here, and let he who loses remain.'

The boatswain stepped forward before I could answer.

'That's a noble offer, ain't it; to fight a man with a clout on the head who's been wandering around without bite or drink. Now, look here, Mr. Holmer, the captain's said his say; and, whether he alters his mind or not, we're not a-going to alter ours, and we say you're not a-coming with us in that long boat; that's flat. You'll do well enough back at the wreck till some barky picks you off; and that won't be long for two or three were going to come up this way when we left.'

A glance around at the faces of the men showed that against this sentence there was no appeal. The captain and I were powerless. The doomed man met his fate with stubborn courage; and turned away that none should see his face, and commenced to walk firmly towards, the wreck. As if his absence brought good luck, a fresh breeze rippled the water. We hurried into the boat, and cast her off. The sails filled, and I, a late despairing castaway, was heading back to life and my love.


I PUT down my pen when I had reached thus far in transcribing the story that my father had told me, his son, Giles Osborne, just before he died. I looked out of the window into the still and quiet night. All was silent and dark, but far away one light twinkled as if some man as restless as myself was watching, and could not see the path clear before him. I wish I had known my father's story sooner; the way would be clear then. Now it is dark, all dark.

PART 2. -- MY FATHER'S STORY CONCLUDED.

WE reached Fremantle easily and safely, and I had the joy of seeing Mary once more. But, excepting from her, my welcome was anything but cordial. From, the old man I expected nothing else, but Kate, whose mind was warped in consequence of the passion she cherished for Holmer, would bear of no justification, and with all the want of fairness common to a woman when her feelings are concerned, condemned the abandonment of Holmer as a wanton and wicked murder.

Naturally, this made it very hard for me to obtain any stolen meetings with Mary, and, altogether things looked bad. But I was buoyed up by youth and hope, and trusted in the future. The captain had, of course, notified the proper authorities, and several shipmasters had promised to keep a look out, so there seemed every chance of Holmer being soon picked up.

For us it was a bad prospect; the colony was depressed, and many were leaving. There was no scarcity of sailors and others willing to work their passages to get out of the place, and so I looked in vain for a berth. Mr. Bonner was shortly leaving with his family, and there was no inducement for me to stop at the Swan River, for even food was getting short in the new settlement, but it was rather a puzzle for a shipwrecked man, who had pretty well lost what little he had, to get away.

Fortune favored me, however. A week after Mr. Bonner and his family had left I met an old shipmate, now chief mate on a barque going on to the eastern coast called New South Wales, to the convict settlement at Port Jackson. By his good offices I got a chance of working my passage over, and arrived in Sydney in 1828.

Sydney was little better than West Australia for a man without money or friends, and there seemed fewer chances of getting a ship than at Fremantle, for a great many vessels were then arriving at the latter place.

After undergoing considerable hardship, I got employment on a Government expedition, going into the interior exploring. It was under the command of Captain Sturt, and was destined to find the course of the River Murray, although I was not with them on that glorious boat voyage, being left behind with the party who remained at the depot camp at the Murrumbidgee.

I learnt bush experience, and got to know the pioneer squatters, who were then following the river down. We were disbanded on the return of our gallant leader, and I took to bush life, and succeeded. During the years that followed I heard several times from Mary Banner, and at last was able to write to her and say that I had a home to bring her to, and was coming to claim her; and I went.

Now, up to the time I landed in England t had heard nothing of the fate of Holmer, nor had Mary, or she would have told me, but when I arrived at Mary's home I found them steeped in grief. Holmer had suddenly appeared in the quiet country town where they resided, and renewed his acquaintance with them. He told Bonner, who had always been friendly to him, that he had been picked up by one of the vessels from Fremantle, and had since done well. He did not trouble Mary, but he and Kate became affianced, and Mary told me that she suspected that Holmer had some business with her father of a speculative character that suddenly fell through.

Holmer was forbidden the house, and then Kate disappeared. A week afterwards the house was broken into, and Bonner, who was awakened, was attacked by the disturbed robbers, and badly hurt. This was the state of affairs when I arrived, and Mary's father was dying. I must hasten over these circumstances, and would not detail them, but they are necessary for you to show, in order for you to act wisely and justly. Old Bonner died, and by his will Mary and Kate shared his wealth, which, with the realisation of his West Australian land grants, was considerable.

Mary and I were married, for I could not leave her alone after her father's death, but before we went we strove to find her sister. We should not have succeeded, but Kate wrote to us herself; and her sister went to see her. She had fled with Holmer, and they were married, and now he was arrested and about to stand his trial as an active member of a gang of robbers and coiners.

She never told Mary what we both suspected, that it was Holmer and his companions who had broken into Bonner's house and caused his death, but I know now that it was he. Kate was still infatuated with her husband, in spite of his villainy. She accepted her share of the fortune, and it was in consequence of her being able to spend money on his defence that he was not hanged like his companions, but transported.

We left for Sydney, and Mary afterwards heard from her sister, that she, too, had come to Sydney, and hoped to be able to get her husband his liberty as her assigned servant. But we were up on the Murrumbidgee, living a happy, peaceful life on our station, when this happened. And I may as well say that Mrs Whitton, which was the assumed name Holmer bore, was successful in getting her husband assigned to her, and for four years he enjoyed comparative freedom.

Then his evil nature asserted itself, and he got mixed up in a low affray, in which a soldier was murdered. Holmer and another escaped, and took to the bush, and became outlaws. Kate, doubly widowed, secluded, herself as much as she could, and devoted herself to the two children she now had—a boy and a girl.

The years passed, and you, the youngest of our three, were not born until we had been ten years on the Murrumbidgee, and the station was then well in settled country, for others had gone far beyond us. You were only a mere child when the great tragedy of my life succeeded our first great sorrow! Your only sister died, and soon afterwards a band of escaped convicts began to make themselves dangerous in our neighborhood, and at last we mustered together to hunt them down, and try and rid the country of them.

They led us a long dance, and when we captured some of them we found we had only got a few of the least dangerous, who had been set to lure us away while they made a sweeping raid on the stations. Mine was a special object of attack, and I returned to find it pillaged, the buildings burnt, and my wife and eldest son murdered. The few men and the boy—your brother—had made a gallant defence, but the odds were too great, and only that the woman who had nursed you fled and concealed herself, you would nave been one of the victims.

The savage who led the outlaws was Holmer, and he left a message with one of the men they spared, to me to say that he would not rest until I, too, was killed. This murderous outrage raised the whole country, and one by one the perpetrators were shot, captured, and hanged. I devoted myself only to tracking down Holmer, and I succeeded. After months of toil I found out his retreat, and wounded and captured him single-handed. I wanted him to die on the gallows, and he did. He was hanged as the notorious Captain Fang.

Now, when I captured him, and had him securely bound, he told me that when he was left on the shore of West Australia, he found, before he was taken off, the wreck of an old Spanish ship, and a considerable treasure, consisting of casks of rix dollars. He kept this secret, but never could get enough money together to secure a snip to go there and take it off.

That it was over this he had quarrelled with old Bonner, who was going to advance him the money, put heard sufficient to discredit him. He had robbed the house, but been disappointed. The rest of his career was known to me. He had an illegitimate son, the mother being a woman who had followed his fortunes through good and ill. He cared nothing for the wife who had been so devoted to him, and nothing for her children. But he was fond of the boy, and wanted him to get the money. His death on the scaffold would settle our long score of hatred; would I find out his boy and tell him of the wreck and of a treasure, perhaps help him to go there.

I did not promise, but said I would consider about it, and not make any other use of it, accept to inform his descendants. I did nothing in the matter, nor would I make up my mind what to do.

The secret and money, if it was true, belonged rightly to Kate's children, your cousins, yet by the father's wish is should go to the bastard. I leave it to you to act in the matter, or not as you determine. You will be well off, and can afford this time to look these people up, for which I leave you what few hints I know of to find them.

PART 3. -- MY CONFESSION.

THIS was the legacy left to me, and after much pondering, I had determined to carry out the bequest, and acquaint both of them, if I could find them, with the position. If they quarrelled over it, what did it matter to me?

With this in view, I had come to Sydney to set on foot my quest. I knew but little, excepting that my aunt had assumed her rightful name of Holmer, and probably the illegitimate child went by the name Whiddon.


DAWN was breaking when I finished writing down what my father bad told me; and, thinking a long walk would refresh me, I left the house in the suburb where I resided and strolled towards the city. It was still early when I reached there, the lagging night-birds were yet loitering about before slinking away to their hiding places, and some of them came and whined to me for alms. I gave one some silver, a man prematurely grey with the look of a broken-down gentleman about him, and, as he turned away, to seek one of the public houses just opening, a quick step came up level with me, and a brisk, sharp voice said: 'Excuse me, sir, no offence, but indiscriminate charity is the worst possible thing; it encourages half the poverty we see.'

I felt inclined to answer him sharply that it was no business of his, but looked at him before speaking, and what I saw amused me.

He was a clean-shaven, well-dressed man, about my own age, or a little older, with the most self-complacent smirk I ever saw on a man's face.

'Yes,' he continued, seeing that I was not annoyed by his freedom, 'gentlemen like you, easy-going, with money in your pockets, give us more work to do than anything. Now, if you supported well-conducted charitable institutions, and placed what money you can afford in the proper hands, it would reach the deserving poor, and not be squandered by the loafing vagabond class.'

'Are you connected with the police?' I asked.

'No, I am an active organiser and collector for some of our principal charitable institutions. It is in connection with that I am out so early.'

He glanced curiously at me, as If wondering what brought me out with the milk.

'Well,' I replied, 'this cut-and-dried sort of charity may be all very well, but, for my part, I should think that a poor devil would be more grateful for a shilling or two spontaneously given than the same money doled out to him, accompanied with a lecture.'

'Quite a mistake, sir. But a very common one, I know. Take that man you just relieved. I know him well. Good education, and a qualified lawyer at one time. Drink brought him down with a run; struck off the rolls, and now a common loafer. That's his story; he'll get boozed if you gave him enough, and pass to-night in the lockup. There you are, you see argument right into my hands.'

'I can't argue on the subject, because it's a matter of feeling. I felt rather interested in that man's face. Cannot any of your societies help him?'

'Bad case; been tried. His name's Holmer. Old mother spent her all on him; lady by birth, and tried to make, him a gentleman; now she's blind, and daughter supports her by washing, charring, and odd jobs.'

I looked at the man with astonishment that I quickly hid. 'Do you know where the mother lives?'

'Got it down on our books; send address to you if you like to do anything.'

'I should be much obliged if you would; here's any card.'

He looked at it.

'Very well, Mr. Osborne. Here's my name. If you feel disposed to contribute to any of the charities mentioned there, I'm your man.'

He gave me a businesslike-looking card, and, bidding me good morning, went rapidly down a cross street.

On his card was written 'G. Rumsey Whiddon, charitable organiser and collector of—', then followed the names of several societies.

I stood aghast; but I had travelled too much not to know that the singular coincidences of life are sometimes too startling not to be true. Had I met both the men I was in search of, the half-brothers, on one and the same morning?

I turned back to see if I could find the wreck of the lawyer, Holmer, my cousin. He came right out of a public-house door almost on the top of me, and tried to sneak past; but I stopped him. The drink had put a little courage in him. When he found that I did not read him a lecture on intemperance he explained to me the conspiracy that existed in the world through envy of his undoubted talents, and I listened quietly as I watched him, and saw that he was hopeless. To tell him that I was perhaps his cousin would saddle me with a needy loafer, and I left him, feeling sure that he was the man.

Rumsey Whiddon, as I found he was generally known, sent me the address of my unfortunate aunt. I found her in a squalid suburb, alone, her daughter being out at work. She was sitting in a front room, and sharply demanded who was there on hearing my step.

'Mrs. Holmer,' I said, 'my name is Giles Osborne, and I have come to see if I can be of any assistance to you in your old age. I am your nephew.'

'Osborne!' she cried, putting her hands up. 'No, No; they are all dead. You are not the son of Roger Osborne? How can you be?'

She put her hands before her face, as though she could still see, and rocked herself, moaning.

'What are you saying to mother?' said a woman's voice, and the daughter entered. She had not fallen as low as her brother, but there was a look of the streets and the slums in her appearance. 'She gets bad at times,' she went on, 'and talks nonsense about horrible things. What's your name, sir?'

I told her that I was a relation, and had called to see if I could be of any assistance. Her manner changed, and she became voluble in abuse of her mother and a recital of their hardships. The old blind mother only moaned and muttered to herself. I did not stop long, but for reasons of my own told the woman not to say anything of my visit to her brother. To this she eagerly assented. Evidently she did not wish him to share any luck that was impending. I gave her money, and left. I had one more visit to pay, and that was to Ramsey Whiddon.

Was he the man or not? He was quite open—told me that he knew nothing of his father, but his mother was still alive, and would be very glad to receive a visit from me.

I found her living in a comfortable house, and in full possession of her faculties—a much younger woman than my wretched aunt, of whose existence, to do her justice, she knew nothing. When I explained who I was she was perfectly frank in her communications. She could not understand my reason for wanting to furnish the son of the man who had killed my mother and brother with any valuable information, but accepted it as true.

From her loose style of conversation I learnt that Rumsey found the charity game pay, and was well looked-on by the promoters of the charities. Of course, I had guessed that he was a humbug. Well, my mission would be soon accomplished, and I could at once wash my hands of the whole hateful business. I was disgusted with what I had found—the drunken, dishonest lawyer and his half-vicious sister, and the smug hypocrite, with his comfortable, vulgar mother. My poor, half-demented aunt alone excited any real compassion.

I need not dwell on my explanations with the whole crew. I finally made arrangements with the half-brothers to accompany them and locate the wreck, and if the treasure was there, would assist them to secure it. Meanwhile I would undertake to provide for Mrs. Holmer and her daughter.

Whiddon promised to devote himself to keeping his half-brother sober.

I meed not go into the precautions adopted by me to get to the locality with our motive unsuspected. It was tolerably easy, under the plea of inspecting some country. The instructions were true, and we found the old wreck still the same as when the dead bushranger had discovered it. The timbers lay in an inlet that led into a salt-water lagoon that the high tide filled.

The ship had been wrecked on an outer reef of rooks, end finally the hull had been swept in to where it found its final resting-place. At high tide the wreck was under water; at low tide it was nearly bare; and the tide on that part of the coast was a pretty high one. Whiddon, who was an ingenious fellow, showed me how, with the timber that was still sound, and rocks, we could build, a sea-wall across a gap that gave access to the tide. A reef only covered during spring tides protected the wreck elsewhere.

We set to work at it, and in a few days had it completed, the gap not being large. We could not, of course, make it quite waterproof, but the leakage was inconsiderable. Then, the two set to work to empty the casks. I did not afford them much assistance, for, being a lover of botany, I devoted some time to that. I did not intend to take any of the treasure. I had enough without.

One day I strolled down to the wreck of the Lucretia, and on returning, lay down to rest under a clump of trees at the back of the tent. Whiddon and Holmer came up from working at the wreck, and laid themselves down for a smoke inside the tent, without seeing me.

Presently they began to talk; and I overheard the following conversation:

'What do you think, Rumsey? Won't that fellow Osborne want a share of this after all?'

'Tain't much to divide. If it had been gold it would have been different. But I've got an idea. Now, you're a lawyer. Answer me this. Osborne has no relations but you and your sister and mother. If he croaks, who does his property descend to?'

'His next-of-kin if he's made no will.'

'That's you?'

'Yes; undoubtedly.'

'Well?'

Whiddon got up and looked around, but the tent concealed me. 'I vote that he does croak, and, as I'm your half-brother, you'll be generous and go halves. With his property and this little swag, I reckon we shall be set up.'

'Accidents are very common in places like this. I don't see why an accident should not happen,' returned Holmer.

'You understand, and you're with me, then?'

'I am.'

'Shouldn't wonder if that accident happened to-night.'

'More should I. Shake hands on it.'

Some more talk followed, and then they got up and went back to their work. My death was arranged for.

I sat and pondered over what I should do, and then a sense of justice took possession of me. I had found these men out and put fortune in their way when I owed them nothing but a debt of vengeance. In return they plotted against my life. I felt that, like their common father, these men would become a scourge to society!

My murder would lead to more and more, as their bloodstained money was spent. I arose perfectly determined, and conscious only of a strong sense of duty. I felt myself to be merely an instrument in the hands of a just fate. With my rifle on my arm, I walked down to the wreck, calmly and quietly. They were busy down below, and did not see me until I stood on a plank and called to them.

They started and looked up, and I covered them.

'Holmer! my blood-thirsty cousin, and you, his half-brother, are sons of your father; I heard your talk just now, but instead of an accident happening to me, one will happen to you.'

They looked at me with their white faces—they who talked so coolly of murdering me—and Whiddon stammered, 'It was only a joke, Osborne!'

'So is this,' I replied, as I sent a ball through his head.

Holmer fell on his knees and commenced sobbing and praying to me piteously. It was mercy to put him out of his abject fright, and I did so. Then I turned away, feeling neither compunction nor regret for the deed; and as I did so I heard a crash.

It was a high tide, with a westerly wind blowing, and the sea-wall we had built gave way and the waves came leaping, bounding in with a rush that nearly caught me in their hungry grasp. There the two men and the rix-dollars rest under the waves together, and I still think I was right.


22. -- HOW WE SLEWED OLD STONEY

As by "Dramingo"

Queenslander, Brisbane, 23 March 1872

"WELL, you wouldn't think it, would you? but this here horse cost me fifty pounds."

"Must have been a bad debt you took him for."

"Well no it wasn't a bad debt; but I'll just tell you how it was. Were you ever on the Bluefly?"

"No; can't say I was."

"Don't you ever go there then? I was living down that way and raised a pretty good cheque, and like an ——, must go and swamp it at Old Stoney's—he keeps a pub at the crossing. His real name's Sucker, but everybody calls him 'Old Stoney.'

"Well, I knocked down every sixpence, and got a bit in his books, too; so, as he had some colts to break, the old sinner offered me a job there for a bit, just to pay himself; not out of any favor he had for me. He was a bit of a cockatoo squatter was Stoney, had a few head of cattle scattered over the neighboring runs, and used to make as much fuss sending to musters and looking after them as if they had been newly imported; and well he might, for you never knew such cattle to breed as they were.

"I stopped with Stoney a matter of three or four month, and if ever one man treated another mean he did me."

"After you with that match.—Thanks!

"If ever there was a shout on he would try and get me left out, even though he lost the shilling by doing it, or serve me out a nobbler from a bottle of cold tea he used to keep for his own drinking whenever he was asked.

"'Brandy for you, Jim?' he'd say; and at first, before I dropped to it, I'd have it swallowed, but of course he only played me that trick once or twice. All this made me hate the very sight of him, but I was as deep in his debt as ever.

"He had a nephew who used to help him about the place, a down-looking customer. Some people said he was a closer relation, and he was like the old chap. No doubt on that point. He and this kiddy used often to go out for two or three days at a stretch. First I did not notice it much, but latterly I used to think there was something up.

"One day they came home after being away three or four days.

"'Been into One-horse township, 'bout eighty miles away,' so they said.

"Next morning old Stoney says to me, 'Jim, just you take the Kid and old Stumpy and go over to Ooloo for some sugar.' I thought it pretty good that they should have just come from the township and not brought some with them, but being about half screwed didn't puzzle much over the matter just then. Ooloo was a station belonging to some company or other, 'bout fifteen or twenty miles away. The station on the other side was about the same distance, or a little bit further p'raps. It belonged to an old fellow called 'Lookee-there-now,' because if anything went wrong—and he was a scotty old soul—he would let nothing out of him but that, and he would keep on at it. You'd think at a distance he was swearing at the rate of a hunt.

"His real name was Swinkle; he used to brand with an S on the rump, and a half ha'penny out of the ear, both on the off-side. Now, the company used to brand: circle on near rump, swallow-tail ear-mark. And old Stoney used to brand S in circle, top off off-ear, a regular crop. You'll see by-and-by what I'm telling you all about the brands for.

"I catches Kid and Stumpy and starts. This Kid was one of the colts I had broke in, and as wicked a brute as ever I backed; he'd go off with you as quiet as a lamb, and all of a sudden, if he thought he had you, he'd start and buck a town down. 'Twas nearly all ranges between the Bluefly and Ooloo, and I suppose I had gone about ten miles or so, not so much I dare say, when I struck a match for a smoke, and, not thinking what I was a doing of, let the reins drop on the Kid's neck. At it he went directly, and very soon hoisted me as high as a county cabin. The old pack-horse stood stock still like a brick, and when I picked myself up I soon caught him, but the Kid was about a hundred yards away going in a docker with the saddle; he couldn't sling it though, and after a bit he set off. The saddle was my own, the only bit of property I had left in the world, and I didn't see the fun of losing it, so I clambered on to old Stumpy—luckily I had a riding saddle to pack the sugar sack on—and started after my beauty. Stumpy didn't go very fast; but by working my passage pretty well, I managed to keep sight of the Kid. He was making straight for the range, and after going through some pretty broken country, I got close to him on the bank of a creek, just where a cattle track crowd, and as I went along I noticed fresh tracks on it. In he went into the creek, but instead of crossing he turned and followed the bed up. On we went for a bit, and presently I saw we were coming to a regular gorge. Thinks I to myself, you're blocked now, my chicken, but he still kept on, clattering over the stones, and in amongst the oaks and tea trees, till I lost sight of him altogether, for the old horse waa getting pretty nearly done. We were now right in amongst the hills, and I knew he was bound to follow the bed of the creek, so I had nothing for it but keep going ahead. All the way, I kept on noticing fresh cattle tracks, and wondering what oould have brought cattle into such a shop. After overing some pretty rough boulders, just where the gorge began to get precious narrow, I caught sight of my noble Kid standing atill, and a bit of a brush fence across the bed of the creek.

"Well, this slewed me altogether, and after catching the brute, which I did after a bit of trouble, I looked about and fonnd a slip-pannel. In I went and soon the country opened out, and I got on a good plain cattle track. Well, there was as pretty a little pocket up amongst them hills as ever you'd wish to ace. There was a yard, with a good crush in it, too, and a bit of a hut. I shoved the mokes in the yard, and went down to the hut to explore. The door was locked, but I found a loose slab and got in. A couple of bunks, a table, and some rations in bags; but that wasn't what I wanted. I looked under one of the bunks and there were the articles I was looking for, an S brand and a circle brand. I heard some cattle singing out while I was poking about the hut, and went up the creek to have a look at them. I saw a mob of about thirty, all young things between two and three years old, freshly branded—that is to say, part of the brand was fresh. Some had a fresh S put inside the old circle brand, and others had a circle put over the old S, and all their eara were freshly cropped. I saw by the tracks there were more cattle about, but didn't wait any longer as it was getting late. I got to Ooloo that night, but didn't let on a word of what I had seen, for I had not made up my mind exactly how to work it.

"I went home the next day, and who should I see drinking in the bar but an old mate of mine, and the very man for the game I meant to play. Old Stoney asked me how it was I didn't come home the night before, but I spun him a yarn about the bores getting away and knocking up that satisfied him. Than I got Jack outside and just told him all about it. Well, he was on the game like a bird at once; but not in quite the way I would have liked to get even with old Stoney, but I yielded to Jack, and together we soon had it all out and dried.

"We strolled into the bar, and Jack asked me to have a drink. Then we commenoed. I asked him what he was a doing of, and he said:

"Oh! he was having a look round. He had a few head of cattle coming up the road behind, and he came to see if there wae any sale for them. Old Stoney cocked his ears at this, and began asking all manner of questions about the cattle, 'cause he was allers on for buying travelling cattle, so as to get plenty of brands; he could claim most anything then that came his way. Well, my mate said he had bought the cattle at a pound sale, but was short of money and would be glad to sell the lot cheap. After a good deal of barneying old Stoney said be bad a little money to invest, and offered thirty shillings, but Jack wouldn't hear of it, and at last got him to bid two pounds; Jack said he had fifty head, and stuck out like a man for two ten, but in the end they fixed it at two ponuds a head. Jack then said he would like me to come back and give him a hand to fetch them on, as the man he had with him wanted to leave. Old Stoney agreed, and we started after dinner, not back to any cattle, but up to the pocket to do a little mustering on our own account.

"Now, Thursday was mail day. Old Swinkle and the company's super used often to come in themselves about dinner time to get the mails, with their letters and Queenslanders. Well, Jack said we would be up with the cattle, about the time the mail came up, and on Thursday morning we were there. Just before we got to Stoney's yard, who should come with the mailman but a couple of traps,* going up the country on some lay. One of them was not used to riding, and they were going to spell that day. Nothing could have happened better; we had the cattle in the yard before Btoney knew anything about it; there were the two bobbies lounging on the verandah, and in an hour or two you oould bet on old 'Lookee-there-now' and the company's man being up. We had managed to muster up fifty with the brands on them hot and fresh, for Stoney had meant giving it ever, so had gone in for a big haul the last time. We had brought the brands with us too, so we had him right. Jack rides down to the house, and I stopped at the yard.

* Mounted policemen.

"'Will you oome and have a look at the cattle, Mr. Sucker,' says Jack.

"'All right,' says Stoney; 'I'll be there directly.' And presently up he comes. When he saw those cattle I think he was the sickliest looking live man I ever saw in my life. He didn't know what to say or how to aay it. He looks at me, and if he had bad something handy I believe he would have finished me, but I only laughed, and shook one of the brands at him. After gathering his wits a little he apoke, and asked us what the devil we meant by meddling with his cattle; that he'd call the bobbies and give us in charge.

"It was all blow of course, so we told him to call away, and when he saw things were getting serious he began to draw in hia horna, and tried all manner of dodges to get me away from the slip-rails; but I wouldn't move, and vowed the first man who tried to shift me would feel the weight of an S brand. So he saw it waa a case, and agreed to pay us the two pound a head for the cattle. Had be not done so we would have kept them in the yard till one of the real owners came, and he knew better than we did that he daren't stand a prosecution. The fact is, I wanted the owners to get their cattle. Jack went down to get the money, and I stopped at the yard till it was right. Presently Jack comes up with my dunnage rolled up, and a cheque for a hundred on the bank at Mudflat township.

"So off we started at once, but were not well out of sight, so I heard afterwards, before up came both old Swinkle and the super of Ooloo. The blessed bobbies had been stuck in the verandah looking at us all the time, but of course didn't know what was up, and had no curiosity to come down and look at a mob of cattle. I was riding an old horse of Jack's—this very identical animal I have now; so after we got past the station, Jack says to me, 'Look here, Jim, I doubt old Stoney will be playing some tricks about this cheque if he can get down before us, that old horse don't get along very quick, so if you like I'll just push on ahead and get it cashed. You can come down easy.'

"It was a hundred and seventy miles to the Muddy, and I thought 'twas the best thing to be done, for I knew the old sinner to be as full of tricks as a dingo, so said yes. I had known Jack a long time, and had no suspicion of him. He said he'd wait for me at the Royal, and we parted.

"In about five days I got down. I went to the Royal and inquired for Jack.

"'Oh! Yes,' says the barman, 'he was here right enough. Went away to New Zealand in the steamer that left yesterday morning.'

"'Gone,' says I. 'Did he leave no message for me. My name's Jim Soft.

"'Ah! I remember,' says the fellow, grinning like a Cheshire cat, 'he told me to tell you to be very careful of the horse for him, and he'd give you that money you know of, next time he saw you, or if he didn't see you soon, he might send it.'

"But he hasn't sent yet!"


THE END

Project Gutenberg Australia