an ebook published by
Project Gutenberg Australia
The Stories Of Ernest Favenc, Volume VI:
eBook No.: 2300181h.html
Date first posted: Feb 2023
Most recent update: Feb 2023
This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat
View our licence and header
British-born and educated at Berlin and Oxford, Ernest Favenc (1845-1908; the name is of Huguenot origin) arrived in Australia aged 19, and while working on cattle and sheep stations in Queensland wrote occasional stories for the Queenslander. In 1877 the newspaper sponsored an expedition to discover a viable railway route from Adelaide to Darwin, which was led by Favenc. He later undertook further explorations, and then moved to Sydney.
He wrote some novels and poems and a great many short stories, reputedly 300 or so. Three volumes of his stories were published in his lifetime:
The Last of Six, Tales of the Austral Tropics, 1893
Tales of the Austral Tropics, 1894
My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899
His short stories range from bush humor to horror, supernatural to strange, and to the privations of late 19th century exploration in Australia's unforgiving inland. His first two short story books (consolidated into one volume, as there is considerable overlap), are available free as an ebook from Project Gutenberg Australia.
—Terry Walker, January 2023
'DID I ever tell you about Mrs. Birrell and her milkers?' asked Jim one evening, when the mosquitos were especially annoying.
'No; another flame of yours?'
'Flame be hanged! She was old enough to be my grandmother. Birrell and his wife had a farm up north, in the sugar country. Both of 'em were a bit ratty. He had a notion of matching plaid match boxes, making the top and bottom Join evenly according to the pattern. Did you ever try it! Yes, of course you have, and never succeeded, no more did anybody. Well, when old Birrell had wasted two years at this game he went off his chump, and insisted that people's heads didn't fit their bodies and wanted to screw 'em round till they did; so they had to send him to the asylum, and the store keeper of that part said it was an outrage on the liberty of the subject. When he was in his cups he let out that old Birrell used to buy his matches from him by the gross, and as he never wanted to strike any, the storekeeper bought worthless stock, so when Birrell went into retirement the storekeeper lost a little income.
Old Mrs. Birrell's fad was temperance—rabid teetotalism—and when the old man went away she had the land they had planted with cane ploughed up and put under grass and lucerne, because rum was made from cane juice.
'She was more consistent than the big brewers, at any rate,' I said.
'Oh the old woman was quite honest, but her cows—and a very nice milking herd they had—did not approve of the change, because they had got used to eating the trash, and when cattle take to that it's just like opium with a man. So when they found their supply stopped they just knocked the slip rails down, and went out and joined the other vagrant cows who picked up a living on the road. When the carts came by with cane going to the mill they used to follow them up and help themselves from the tail. This went on for some time, and the old cows began to fancy this vagabond kind of existence, and forgot to come home early, and got regular rakish-looking. One afternoon Mrs. Birrell was driving home, when she came across some cows, and she thought she was dreaming. There was one of her best-behaved milkers, 'Mother Hubbard,' fighting a pitched battle with a low little rat of a cow, with a white back and liver-colored sides. Mother Hubbard charged her adversary into a wire fence, and bent down two panels of it; then she commenced to cavort round and trumpet. The old woman had just got over the horror of this, when she saw another of her pets with a damaged eye and other signs of bad behavior. The old woman was plucked. She got down and drafted those erring cattle out of the others on foot with the buggy whip. Then she started them on ahead of her and drove after them till they came to the slip rails. She turned them in, put the rails up, and went smack off into a faint.
'I had my team there at the time breaking up the ground for 'em. There was a fellow there milking and doing odd jobs for the Birrells. He was a broken-down swell, and he used to come out and give me a hand at times—said he found my conversation interesting when I wasn't too digressive. Well, as luck would have it, we were close by, and got her round and helped her to the house.
'"O Jim!" she said; "isn't it an awful thing those animals going out of their nature to abuse the gifts of God. I assure you, Parkes, that I found those cows in the road reeling drunk and fighting with disreputable cattle from the township."
'I tried to cheer her up, told her that they were only a bit lively after a feed of cane which they'd been used to; and the 'Wreck' he pitched a lot of yarns about elephants always getting an allowance of toddy when they were working. But she was very miserable over the falling away of her cows, and told the Wreck to go and make new pegs for the rails and wedge them in tight. That afternoon she sent the Wreck into the township with a message to the storekeeper, and he came back with about twenty yards, more or less, of blue ribbon. This she ornamented the cows with when they were brought up in the evening, and after telling them to be good and she would forgive them, they were turned out. But you can't lick a knowing old milker for getting slip rails down, and the next morning the Wreck had to go down the road ever so far for them, and sort them out of their dissolute companions. This was most unfortunate, for he met a friend, and they had several rums together, so the Wreck came back with the cows rather owly. Worse still, the friend gave him a bottle of white rum, and he brought that back inside his shirt. Then he sat down to milk. He got on very well with Mother Hubbard and another cow, and then, as he told me afterwards, he began to think of his misspent past, and it preyed on his mind to such an extent that he felt he must have another nip to bear up against the painful memory. He took out the bottle and had a tidy swig. Then a brilliant idea awoke in his besotted brain, and he emptied the contents of the bottle into the half bucket of milk he had between his knees. Now just as luck would have it, I came up at that time with a pannikin to get some milk for my breakfast, and he hadn't time to bide the bottle.
'"Shim," he said, "milk's got staronary taste this mornin'; shust you try it, o' feller."
'I tried a pannikin of it, and real good it was. I had just finished, when Mrs. Birrell came in to the yard, and wanted to know how the cows were that morning.
'"Found 'em milesh away," said the Wreck. "Shee here, empty bottle with them;" and he held up the dead marine.
'Mrs. Birrell looked hard at him; then at me.
'"Milk has got a queer taste this morning, Mrs. Birrell," I said.
'"Let me taste it."
'I dipped out half a pannikin full, and she sipped and sipped until it was gone.
'"It has a strange taste," she said. "And oh my! there's all their ribbons gone and twisted and mucked up. Isn't it shocking when even the beasts of the field are led astray by the accursed thing!"
'The Wreck took advantage of the opportunity to take another pannikin of the milk, to make sure of the queer taste. He handed me the pannikin, and I had another lot, as it was a pity to see it wasted. The Wreck supported himself against the calf-pen, and remarked, "Allshrunkashkloee;" then he slid down in a sitting position, with his legs like the letter V, and went to sleep. He meant to say "All drunk as Chloe," meaning the cows, but the will was better than the deed. Mrs. Birrell had a little more of the milk. Then she began to cry; said she was worse off than a widow, and that her own cows went back on her and got shamelessly intoxicated, and would I help her indoors. I took the old dame in, got another bucket, and finished milking. I put what was left in the first bucket safely away, as I thought, but while I was busy, blest if one of the calves didn't nose it out, put his head in the bucket, and drank every blooming, drop. In about ten minutes he was as drunk as a fiddler, and commenced playing up old top ropes.
'There was a nice situation for a temperance household! The Wreck asleep in the calf-pen, Mrs. Birrell camped indoors, and a drunken bull calf in charge of the paddock. Just then the parson rode up, for it was getting late.
'"Good morning, Parkes. Is Mrs. Birrell in?" he asked, getting off his horse. I. was just saying that she was a little unwell, when that intoxicated calf took offence at the minister's horse. He gave two or three prances and a bellow, then prodded the poor innocent nag fair in the ribs. Away he went down the paddock, stepping on his bridle until he broke it. The calf kicked up his heels and took after Jim, and all the others, as they will do, did the same. The rails were down, for the Wreck had been too muzzy to put them up, and into the road and away out of sight went the whole crew, leaving the parson and me with our mouths open like codfish. The parson said, that he would go in and see Mrs. Birrell, and I let him go, for I wanted to have my laugh out.
'Fortunately, the parson had been too much occupied with the loss of his horse to notice the Wreck, and when I went in with the milk I found Mrs. Birrell telling him all her troubles, and asking him to pray for the misguided cows. The parson went away on foot, quite mixed up, and it was soon all over the place that there had been a nigh old spree at Birrell's farm, and the parson had fallen off his horse, and all the rest of it. The Wreck made it worse, for he endorsed every word that was said, and a lot more; in fact, he managed to keep drunk for a week on the strength of his yarns.
'It was some weeks before things got straight, and the cows broken in to staying properly at home. Mrs. Birrell fired the Wreck, and got a girl in to milk and then the cows made trouble again, they were a misguided lot.
'I thought a girl was coming in,' I remarked. O! This had nothing to do with me, but she was a study was that girl. She told me that she liked milking because it was such a romantic occupation, and did I think there was any harm in changing one's name? I told her I believed there was no law against it, so she confided to me that she thought her own name horrid—it was plain Eliza Thomas. She'd seen a name in the "Answers to Correspondents" in a paper. "Daisy Dimple." Didn't I think that would do lovely? I said it would, but that people might make fun of it, and call her "Pimple."
'After that she didn't confide in me.
After Eliza had been there some time, a travelling photographer came round. He wanted to take some views of the farm, so I gave him the wrinkle to propose the cows, who were in favor again now, and Mrs. Birrell dropped to it, and ordered one of Mother Hubbard and another cow. Eliza got hold of that photographer, and he promised he would take the cows in the morning, when, they were being milked. Sure enough, when I was yoking, up the bullocks in the next yard, I saw a sight that nearly made me scream. How the deuce the girl had managed it I don't know, but there she was tricked out in a sort of Dolly Varden dress, with a little wooden bucket, and a three-legged stool all complete. She posed herself alongside the cow, and looked as killing and saucy as she could. Mrs. Birrell was not well, and didn't turn up, so it all came off smoothly, and the photo-man was very complimentary, and in a day or two he came back with proofs.
'Now poor Mrs. Birrell's eyes were getting weak, and the photos were pretty smeary, and when she looked at 'em she could make out nothing but a cow's head and tall, and a petticoat. Lord! the poor old woman went on worse than ever. She said the devil had surely got into those cows for her sins, and that they were sending her in sorrow to her grave. They had given up drink and taken to fine dress, and were a lot of painted Jezebels. Eliza, however, was quite charmed, and took some of the copies, but Mrs. Birrell wouldn't have any, or pay for any. This made the photographer wild, and he printed a lot, and sold them in the township as a portrait of Mrs. Birrell and her cows. Everybody thought that the old woman must be as mad as her husband, and the parson came and lectured her on the vanity of it, and the sin of dressing herself up as a girl at her time of life, when she ought to be thinking of the next world, and so on. This so upset the old woman that she took to her bed.
'Eliza heard the yarn, and she was so put out at being mistaken for Mrs. Birrell that she gave notice straight away, and married the Wreck, who had just had a remittance sent out to pay his passage home, and was busy drinking it. Yes, those cows had a kind of bad luck about them. That bull calf that got drunk, he chewed up a waistcoat of mine, leastways part of it. The Wreck was there at the time I'd laid it down, and he was arguing with me, and my back was turned. I got the best of him, and he was spiteful.
'"You'd best get your waistcoat back, anyhow what's left of it," he said, and walked away. I looked round, and there was that calf chewing away, as though he was bound to get it finished in record time, and had a bet on. There was a £5-note in the pocket, and he'd mashed it all into pulp, and though I belted his ribs with a yoke, the bank wouldn't recognise it. No, there never was no luck about those cows, somehow.'
I STOOD in the street at midnight,
The pubs were shutting up fast;
The moon shone over the township,
And my shadow behind me cast.
I saw its bright reflection
On the galvanised roof-tops shine,
Like bright ore with metal encrusted,
From a rich galena mine.
And far in the hazy distance,
With a sparkling lurid sheen,
Came the glare of the burning furnace
That belonged to the crushing machine.
As I felt in my empty pockets,
And thought of my late career,
A flood of reeling came o'er me.
That was closely allied to beer.
I thought what a vain creature man is,
How bliss unalloyed he'll ne'er sip:
Thus thinking, I turned into "Annie's,"
To comfort myself with a nip.
And I saw there a radiant female.
With a wealth of greasy hair;
She gave me no change for a shilling,
Which seemed to me hardly fair.
Soon my head was aching badly,
The brandy was far from good;
The houses seemed staggering madly,
And reeling round me as I stood.
The earth began rocking wildly,
Like a storm-beaten vessel at sea,
That to save me from utter destruction,
I had to lay hold of a tree.
As I lay in that haven of safety,
And looked at the moon above,
Seemed to me that her placid features
Looked down with a smile of love.
Seemed to me a wonderful symbol,
Set up for all men to see,
That when overburdened with liquor,
They had better make fast to a tree.
MULLUCKVILLE was anything but a lively township; like other dogs it had had its day, and now that its day was done, the night seemed to have descended doubly dark upon the wretched spot. Some years before, a wandering prospector 'dropped upon' a small patch of gold; rumor, as usual, magnified the amount of the find, and a rush set in upon the doomed place.
In less than a month it had returned almost to its primitive state of solitude. The hastily run up stores and public houses had been taken down, the less pretentious habitations of bark and saplings had been left to fall to pieces at leisure by their original constructors, and but one place, which combined within itself the attractions both of store and public house, remained to supply the wants of the few fossickers who still struggled for a living and the chance of a haul. It will therefore be seen that Mulluckville was scarcely a township wherein any man whose unhappy lot did not foredoom it, would choose of his own accord to spend the festive season which is supposed to usher in a new year.
Tom Duval was perhaps the most wretched specimen of humanity to be found in Mulluckville on the particular New Year's Eve I am writing of. He had come with the rush, and had remained there ever since; his periodical earnings, scanty as they were, were all sacrificed at the altar of Bacchus. The time had been when Tom was a comparatively respectable member of society; but sobriety and he had long since cut one another, and now—well, he was scarcely a desirable acquaintance.
The clock struck 11. Tom looked out of the door of the public house, and into the cool fresh night. His own funds were exhausted; few of the residents of Mulluckville were in a condition to shout, and he had not yet reached the condition in which he delighted to go to bed. He snuffed the night air for a few moments, then turned his head and looked back into the bar—longingly he looked at the bottles, beseechingly at the proprietor, contemptuously at the only other customer, who had money and would not spend it; then, like a blast, away he passed out into the night.
Adown the rambling apology for a street, haunted on either hand by the skeletons of houses, or the more substantial-looking ghosts of bark humpies; but they were but dead ghosts the souls that had inhabited them had passed away, and were making merry elsewhere. No publican in snowy shirt came and asked him to step in as he passed, no songs echoed from the interiors. Here and there flickering campfires shone out; but the owners were courting sleep, and dreaming of the fortunes their picks were yet to win for them.
Tom sauntered on until the dark mounds of earth around told of the search for gold. He reached the old claim of the lucky prospector, and in a fit of spleen cursed his luck for not having been the man to strike it. Musing on his bad fortune, he ascended the rugged pile of dirt, and throwing himself down on the top, gazed into the black mouth of the shaft.
"I've a good mind to take a header into it," he thought; but like a good many men before him, he had a better mind not to do so, so remained where he was.
"How light it seems down there!" was the next thought that crossed his mind, and then the unmistakable sound of human voices struck upon his ear. He lifted his head and listened—silence all around!
Again he stooped his head into the shaft, and heard the murmur of many voices. "There must be a lot of fellows up the drive." He listened intently; a burst of laughter, a short silence, and then a wonderfully clear and powerful voice began singing—
Go March through the page
Of a long-past age
For a despot with power untold,
And find, if you can,
Since the world began,
A king with such power as gold.
There's no tie so true
I cannot undo,
No secret I can't unfold—
As for beauty and mirth,
Pride, valor, and worth,
They are all of them slave to gold.
At the end of each verse a chorus of many voices took up the last line, and repeated it as a refrain; then again the singer went on—
I humbled the proud,
And can laugh aloud
At the childish tales that are told
Of honor unbought;
For to me 'tis but sport
To beat down honor with gold.
I have great and small
At my beck and call,
Men's hearts at my will I mould;
Look all the world round,
Men will ever be found
To barter their souls for gold.
The song ended, and a short silence succeeded; then a glare of light suddenly shone in the bottom of the shaft, as though a door in the side had been opened. A dark figure crossed this path of light, a strange scrambling noise followed, and before Tom could recover from his surprise, or attempt flight, the figure was beside him.
"Come," said a deep voice, and a hand was laid on his shoulder—such a hand! the fingers, hard as steel, seemed to bury themselves into his flesh, and he felt there was no escape. The figure caught him up in its strong arms, and the next moment they stood at the bottom of the old shaft. He followed his guide on hands and knees along the drive at the bottom, too astonished for words or resistance; they paused through a door at the end, and Tom saw a scene such as mortal ne'er saw before:
A man—a golden man apparently—sat in regal state at the head of a long table. Opposed to him, at the foot, was a being of silver; and ranged down both sides were forms and figures of such dazzling lustre that Tom's bloodshot eyes winked again. It was not their dresses that caused the splendid effect; the light and brilliance seemed to radiate from their faces; their eyes emitted flashes like lightening, and glancing down the board, every color and shade of color sparkled in rays of fire from these strange creatures.
Tom's guide left him standing a few paced from the entrance, and took a vacant seat on the king's right hand. Tom saw that he was a gigantic being; his features were noble and stern-looking, though his color was jet-black—not a dull black, but bright and sparkling; at intervals, his face seemed to glow like heated metal. On the left hand of the king was a precisely similar figure.
Of the king's face, Tom could make nothing; it seemed be changing from a man to a woman's, from a soldier's to a priest's, but through them all, the lips wore a sneer. Although they all seemed carousing, and the table was covered with eatables and flasks of wine, their faces bore no trace of mirth, but one and all looked hard and stern. They all turned their blazing eyes upon Tom as he stood there a picture of human degradation; and the king, after an earnest gaze at him, as he stood bewildered where hid guide had left him, with a grim smile said, "What's yours?"
Never before had Tom been at a loss for an answer to such a question. Now his tongue failed, and conscious that the whole of that brilliant company were looking mockingly at him, he could only at last feebly stammer, "Whatever you like."
At a sign from the king, the dark right hand man arose, and filling a glass with some colorless liquid, approached Tom and offered it to him. Nerved by the thought that nothing could make his situation much worse, Tom, whom no liquor ever daunted before, seized the glass and swallowed the contents. Instantly his frame grew light and buoyant, a warm glow coursed through every vein; he was a new man.
"Shake yourself," said the king. He did so, and as he said afterwards, "shook his body off." Yes; surely that was dirty, drunken Tom Duval lying in a heap on the ground. Then what was he? He could not tell; he only knew that he looked with unutterable loathing on his late body, now lying motionless and lifeless at his feet.
"His body was found huddled up in a heap at the bottom of a deserted shaft, and he was supposed to have fallen down during one of his drunken fits. A verdict of accidental death was returned," said the king, in a sing-song voice, as though reading from a newspaper.
Tom shuddered; the figure on the floor looked horribly like a corpse. The king arose, and looking at a clock, said:
"My friends, here's to our next meeting—this day twelve months."
The glasses were filled and emptied.
"Five minutes to twelve. Good-night, all," said the silver man, and vanished.
"Good-night!" re-echoed through the cavern, and the golden king and Tom were alone.
"Come with me," the king said, beckoning to him, and opening a door at one end of the cavern. Tom advanced, and followed him through.
Instantly he found himself flying through space and utter darkness with frightful rapidity. A sudden shock brought him to a halt, and he was conscious that the king was beside him, opening a door, through which a stream of light gushed out.
"We are now in the centre of the earth," said the king, pausing with the half-opened door in his hand. Somehow Tom felt no whit astonished at the information. They entered. In a vast hall, like the interior of some mighty cathedral, a venerable old man was seated in an easy chair, before a brightly burning fire; his long white beard hung down upon the ground, and he sat and gazed into the fire in a drowsy, abstracted manner, with half shut eyes. A short distance from him, a very dirty man was writing with great haste on the last page of a thick volume. Neither of them took the slightest notice of the king or his companion as they advanced towards the fire.
Gold stationed himself in front of the fireplace, his back to the warmth, and nodded to Tom to take possession of an unoccupied chair standing near. He did so, and his attention was soon taken up watching the strange freaks the burning embers seemed to be playing. Like living things, the glowing coals climbed up over each other, changed, and altered their positions until they had formed what appeared to Tom to be the model of a fair town. As he looked, the likeness grew more and more distinct—stately buildings, beautiful churches, and wide streets shone out in miniature. All appeared perfect, when the old man in the chair slightly waved his hands, with a low laugh, and they all crumbled into ashes.
A noise at the far end of the hall diverted his gaze from these strange proceedings. He looked and saw a number of men rush in, laden with large sacks, the contents of which they emptied on to the floor. These contents appeared to be thousands of pieces of white paper, and the heap thus formed soon began to assume astonishing dimensions.
"What can they be," thought Tom.
"Good resolutions," said the king, answering his unspoken thought. "But they'll come to nothing, heaps of them every year. His successor," and he nodded towards the silent figure still writing as though for life, "will put them through a refinery."
"Phryne!" said the ancient figure in the chair, apparently starting up out of deep musings. "The naughty little flirt! I remember her well; but she hadn't half the figure Cleopatra had," and he chuckled feebly.
"Pshaw!" said Gold. "I know as much about them as you do," and he glanced contemptuously at the other. But the old man went on mumbling out aloud, "Yes, yes! She stood out a long time; but I was too much for her. Couldn't beat Old Time."
The door through which Tom and the king had entered here opened, and a man walked in, so like the man writing at the table that Tom started. In all respects save one, they were exactly similar, and that one was, that whilst one was outrageously dirty (in fact, seemed rapidly growing worse), the new comer was painfully clean and neat. The new arrival walked up to the silent figure still writing hard, and stood waiting beside him, glancing once up to a clock over the fireplace. Tom looked up too, the hands were nearly on the stroke of 12.
Everybody was silent, save the busy figures at the far end of the hall. The seconds crept on, and suddenly a mighty boom burst forth, reverberating through the lofty hall like thunder—another and another. Time started from his chair.
"Eh, what!" he said. "Bonaparte at it again?"
"Sit down," said Gold. "It's only the New Year."
At the sixth stroke, the dirty figure sprang from his chair, and before the seventh could sound, the clean man had seized his relinquished place and pen, and was hard at work on the first page of a new volume. The relieved scribe came towards the fire, yawning wearily, and nodded carelessly to Gold.
"Tired?" said the latter.
"Rather," returned the other.
"You've got to tell him all about it," and Gold nodded towards Time.
"Yes; and he's getting deaf."
"He's a poor creature! Look at me, now, and I'm a tidy age."
"Got an astonishing memory, though, when fairly awake."
"Well, I will leave you to 'vex his dull ear,' as Shakespeare, who—"
Here Time woke up again with a screech.
"Shakespeare! I hate him. His confounded plays will see me out yet."
Gold laughed, and beckoning Tom, passed out into black darkness again, and then into a spacious cavern filled with naked toiling gnomes They were working amongst gold, digging it up, carting it away, and passing it from hand to hand. Strange to say, Tom felt not the least desire to appropriate any of the precious metal so carelessly kicked about.
The king threaded his way through the turmoil, until he reached a desk where some were acting as clerks. One handed him a paper. He read it, muttering over strange, outlandish names, and some that seemed familiar to Tom's ears.
"Palmer, eh! Make it patchy there," he said, as he handed the paper back. Then he waved his hand. The cavern and toiling multitude had disappeared, and they were walking along the crowded street of a town. Not once did the hurrying crowd of passers appear to notice them; but Tom saw his companion slightly touch some of them, and their faces assumed a joyous expression at once. They went into a house, and on the stairs they encountered a form coming down, upon whose face Tom felt that he dared not look, and as he passed, the very air seemed to freeze.
In the room they entered, mourners were weeping around a bed, and the king took the cold hand of the dead, and gazed upon some amongst the crowd, and self-satisfied smiles soon chased away the tears; only those upon whom Gold did not look went out speaking bitterly. They passed out, and into another house, where a man was vainly pleading for the love of a beautiful girl; but she averted her head, and would not listen to him. Then Gold looked over the man's shoulder, and laughed bitterly; and when they left, the coy fair one had turned so kind.
They went into a poor, mean house, where, in spite of poverty, a happy family were laughing round the fireplace. Gold stood amongst them, gazing into some of the smiling faces, and bitter dissension broke out. Then they went into a quiet churchyard, and the king, pointing to the rows of graves, said, "There, I have no power."
Then they went into a large building, where there were many men with vacant, foolish faces and some like wild beasts, and Tom saw that they were all mad.
"Here," said the king, "my power is but small; but—" and they passed into the street, and he pointed to the moving crowd, "—these are all my subjects to save or destroy."
As he spoke, a poor girl passed them, hastening on with such a look of despair in her face, that Tom's heart was wrung.
"Save her!" he cried. They overtook her as she reached a bridge; but even as the king stooped to look into her face, she sprang on to the parapet, and down into the river. Forgetting his incorporeal existence, Tom would have followed, but his limbs refused to obey. He turned to Gold. The king had thrown himself down upon the pavement, and was whining pitifully.
Aghast at such a change, Tom stood gazing in astonishment; but the moans soon died into deep curses.
"I cannot change human nature," he muttered sullenly, when he arose. A great crowd now bore them along until they were in front of a gloomy gaol, and in the open space arose the black beam whereon a man was shortly to die, and the king again hid his face, and moaned out that he "could not help human nature."
Then they went amongst great factories and foundries, and the king pointed out the figures of the two black men he had seen at the bottom of the shaft, though invisible to all others beside.
"They are Coal and Iron," said he, "and they are my slaves; but they are happier than I am."
"And the others," said Tom.
"There is one," said the king, as they passed again into the street, and the silver figure glided by. "He, too, has good work to do at times; but I!—am a curse, and you men make me so."
He ground his teeth, and glanced at his companion so wrathfully that Tom blessed his stars that he had no longer a body upon which the king could wreak vengeance. They went into balls and gay assemblies, and gliding unperceived amongst the revelers, Tom saw many of the figures he had seen in the cavern.
"Tom Duval," said the king, turning suddenly upon him, "do you want to become the subject of a coroner's inquest?"
Tom reflected; life did not appear to be such an unmitigated boon. But he answered, after a pause, "No."
"Then change your mode of life; there is still a chance awaiting you. Forty yards due south from the old prospecting claim, you will find what will help to lift you out of your present state. Whatever you get, keep to yourself; and do not bring a lot more fools there on a vain search. I have still five minutes to spare; then you can go back to Mulluckville. And remember, that as you use my gift, so will it bring you happiness or—"
And the king looked significantly upon the ground.
"I LIKE coming here," said Gold. They were standing upon the bank of a small creek, strange beautiful birds were in the tree-tops, rich vegetation all around, overhead a cloudless blue sky. On either side of them, gently sloping green hills arose, and at the end of the valley that opened up before them they saw bold ranges rising one above the other, terminating at the top in picturesque peaks. No sign of man was anywhere to be seen. The water trickling along the bed of the creek wound its way amongst boulders of pure gold. Perfect peace and quiet seemed to impregnate the balmy air that they were breathing. Flowers were amidst the herbage on the ground, gaudy butterflies flitting from one to the other. The king's face wore a look of great calm and contentment.
"Once it was like this everywhere," he murmured.
"Where are we?" said Tom.
Gold turned suddenly and fiercely upon him. "Why do you ask?" he screamed, harshly. "That you may bring your fellow-fiends, and take from me the only spot of earth where I am left undisturbed? But that you never shall."
Doubling his fist, he struck Tom on the head.
HE was lying on the edge of the old shaft in Mulluckville, rubbing his head where he had struck it against the crazy windlass. The sun was high and hot, and he felt very uncomfortable.
Next morning he started to work, a changed man. Forty yards from the old claim, he put down a shaft. When he had bottomed it, Mulluckville knew him no more.
THE Morrisons, said Jim, always thought very highly of themselves because they owned a buggy. It was a family affair, this buggy. Old Morrison bought it when he was first married, because his wife was a Powens, and could play the piano. She made a point of it, that he must either buy a piano or a buggy before she would condescend to marry him, and, as he thought the buggy would be most useful, he bought the buggy.
In course of time it descended to his son, and, although it had naturally seen its best days, still young Ben Morrison was very proud of it, because you see he had been properly brought up in the matter, and taught to respect it. He was always in a state of alarm about it, and it's a wonder he didn't build a glass case for it.
He lost a very nice girl indeed through the buggy—Bally Braggins—she whose brother Tom once saw a man hanged. Awful nuisance Tom was about it ever afterwards; you couldn't be in his company ten minutes but that he wouldn't bring the conversation round to executions. Sally, however, was a real nice girl, with no nonsense about her, fresh and good-looking; the only thing was, being a tall, well-made girl, she was a trifle heavy, and the Morrisons were all undersized people, which was the reason, I suppose, that Ben Morrison hung his hat up there.
There was to be some races, just a kind, of a picnic you know, and Sal told Ben to drive round with his buggy and take her there. Ben came round accordingly, and Sal came out, looking; as pretty as a full blown sunflower, and got up. Ben's face fell when she got in, and he kept hesitating and walking round the buggy, and looking underneath before he got in himself, until at last Sal asked him what on earth he was doing.
Then he, like a fool, up and asked her if she would sit nearer the middle, for it was a trifle heavy on the spring, and he misdoubted they might come to grief. If there was anything Sal was touchy about it was her weight, and she bounced out as savage as a meat axe. She miscalled Ben all the wizened little dwarfs she could get her tongue round, and long Gavan happening to be riding past, she hailed him and asked him to run her horse up from the paddock and saddle him while she put her riding skirt on; and off she went with Gavan.
'I wouldn't have minded it,', said Ben afterwards, 'if she hadn't abused my buggy so. She well nigh blistered the paint on it. Said it was an old shanderadan only fit for fowls to roost on.
It was awful work when anyone wanted to borrow that buggy. Ben would walk round and talk about the paint getting scratched, or the wheels dirtied, and would go all over it with a screw-wrench before he would let it out of his sight.
What a blow he got when old man Hitchins died. Young Hitchins came to borrow the buggy, and Ben, thinking it was so that the family would make a bit of a show following the hearse, lent it without a word, never dreaming it was wanted to use as a hearse itself. Fancy his feelings when he rode up himself, just as the funeral procession was starting, and saw the seats had been taken out of his buggy and the coffin put in. And there he had to ride at a snail's gallop for two miles behind his own buggy turned into a hearse.
'No,' he said to me afterwards, 'I'm not a particular man, but I'd never have the brazen cheek to ask for the loan of a man's private carriage to stow a corpse in. Too bad altogether.'
Poor Ben! He was bent on getting spliced, but the girls used to poke such borak at each other about going to church, in Morrison's hearse that he hadn't got a show. At last one Polly Dancer took pity on him. Polly was going off a bit, so set up to be a girl of sound common-sense, and talked of vanity and worldliness a good deal; said she saw nothing wrong about the buggy, except that it was a bit old-fashioned, but that didn't matter, it would carry more than that flash trotting sulky Gavan was always driving Sally Braggins about in.
So she let Morrison take her to church in it, although he was on pins and needles all the time for fear that some one would steal it while he was praying inside.
Polly Dancer soon became Mrs. Morrison, and Ben didn't do badly, for, although she wasn't a patch on Sal for looks, and nearly as old as Ben, she could work like a nigger and make everyone else work too, and that '-was Just what Ben wanted. Strange to say, she took to worshipping the old buggy near as bad as her husband, until at last the two of 'em got so blooming careful of the old rattletrap that they'd never use it. You know how when a man's got a favorite horse, or cow, or worker, he loves to go down and sit on a top rail and look at it along with a mate. Not talk much, you know, only now and again a word, smoke solemn-like, and throw in a sentence now and again. It's about as joyful a way of spending a morning as I know.
Ben and his wife used to do just the same. They'd stand there together, and admire that old buggy in a way you'd scarce credit. Never seemed to get tired of it. They had a boy, and, as he got old enough, he learned to idolise that 'ere buggy too, and then a terrible thing happened. The buggy was stolen.
Stolen one dark night when it was raining cats and dogs; and a good horse of Ben's as well. It was the talk of the place. People went about discussing it, and some women went up to see Mrs. Morrison, and found her in bed, with Ben keeping her spirits up with gruel with a stick in it. Ben was woefully broken up, and didn't seem to care a bit about the horse, which was worth twenty, of the buggy. But nobody could make out what on earth anybody could have stolen the buggy for, for the blamed thing wasn't worth driving away.
Three days afterwards the bank was stuck up at Daintee Hill. You remember, it was at night, and they tied up the manager and accountant, and carted a small safe away that they hadn't time to open, 'cause the manager slung the keys in the tank. Some of us went in to moon about, like men will when they can't do any good. I was talking to a trooper I knew when up came Morrison all excited.
'Jack Davis,' he said to the trooper. 'Those villains stole my buggy to carry that safe away, you mark my words; if they didn't I can swear to the track of that buggy, anywhere. You take me with you, and let's make a start.'
Jack Davis looked at me and we were both going to laugh at Morrison, who seemed to think all the world was after his buggy, when it struck us both at the same time: that perhaps there was something in it. Just as likely as not, no other vehicle was missing. Davis went and consulted his superior, and the upshot was that the sergeant and he and Morrison went, off quietly together.
They had a long bout of it, but Davis told me that Morrison picked out the buggy track on the road when they got clear of the township. He showed them a peculiar wobble by one of the wheels by which they could tell it as well, although he said he knew it without that.
It turned off, and they had a deuce of a job tracking it over a low rocky range, but they came up with it at the end of the second day. Too late; for the thieves had busted open the safe and cleared off with the horses, leaving the buggy behind. Such a buggy it was! Davis said he never saw such a scarecrow. The weight of the safe had damaged one spring, so everything was all askew, and one tyre was off, and altogether It was a ruin.
Morrison, however; was quite silly with joy. He went round the buggy pitting it affectionately and asking the two men if she was not a brave old girl, and hadn't she acted proud? He didn't seem to care twopence about the money not being there, only he'd got his buggy back. He wouldn't go any further with them, which didn't matter as they didn't want him. So they started off on the trail, and Morrison went to work wedging the tyre up, and he never left that buggy until he got it safe home, and it took him over three days to do it.
But it was through the buggy after all that the men were caught, for the two troopers ran them down in thirty miles, with most of the money on them. And it's a fact, if they had not taken Morrison's buggy; but someone else's, they might have got away, for nobody else would have made such an eternal fuss about it as he did.
The bank was mighty well pleased, and would have given Morrison a reward, but he wouldn't take it, and said that if they would have a silver plate let into the buggy he would be more than satisfied, and they did it.
After that Mr. and Mrs Morrison and their old-fashioned kid thought more of it than ever, and used to visit it and stare at it every evening; while Ben told his son how It would be his some day, and how he must keep it as a precious thing all his life, and the boy said he would.
Poor Ben, he got kicked by a horse he was shoeing about a fortnight afterwards, and although he lingered for a long time, the doctor held out no hope, and he gradually sank; but before he died; he asked that his last bed might be made up in the buggy, and it was; and there he died very quietly, and was taken to his grave in it, patched up for the occasion.
About a year or eighteen months after that, what did that fool of a woman do but get married again; and a nice sort of a loose fish she married. A regular rackety, horse-racing, card-playing wastrel. Luckily for her Ben, who was a sensible enough fellow where the buggy was not concerned, had tied everything he had up pretty tight, and she could not interfere with it for she only held it in trust for the boy. This made, the fellow she had married, a distant cousin of hers of the same name Dancer, thundering wild, and he began to abuse her and the boy.
Of course; nobody could interfere, although they were willing enough to do so, as Morrison had been a harmless little fellow, and a good enough neighbor. Besides, he belonged to the place, which this fellow Dancer did not: However, no one, as I say, could interfere, and things, went on from bad to worse. But Dancer did not get much from it, for Polly, seeing the bitter mistake she'd made, hung on to everything for the sake of her boy, and not a shilling more than she chose to give could either curses or kicks or kisses get out of her. Then he thought of a new plan to worry the soul out of her.
The old buggy had been straightened up for the funeral, as I said before, and Dancer said one evening that he was going to drive it in to the township. She begged and prayed him not to, and at last consented to give him a cheque for a few pounds if he wouldn't. He agreed; but when the devil had got the paper he laughed at her, and went out, and took the boy with him to help him harness up. He was going to take the old buggy after all. Then she turned to and cursed him properly, but he took no notice.
Now, it was a bright moonlight night, and the boy says that the old buggy creaked and groaned something wonderful when they took it out, which was not to be wondered at, seeing how crazy it was. But what he stuck to, and he was a sharp youngster for his age, was that when Dancer got in and took the reins something else that he did not see got in the other side and sat beside him. The boy said that the spring bent, and the buggy creaked when it got in, but Dancer drove off without seeing it.
He was away two or three days, and when he came back the silver plate had been wrenched out of the buggy. It was of no great value, but still the bank had acted handsomely, and it was of solid silver, and worth a few pounds. Anyhow, it was gone, and Dancer swore it had fallen out; but, of course, he had prized it out, and made away with it. Mrs. Dancer said nothing; but she must have felt bad inside, and when a few days afterwards he told her he was going in once more she did not offer him money to stay, but told him that if he did he would never come back in it alive again.
So he harnessed the horses up, and the boy says that the something got in the buggy again, and went off with it, sitting beside the driver. The moon was at the full that night, and about one o'clock in the morning the boy was woke up by hearing the noise of something coming' along the road. He looked out of the open window, and saw the buggy coming; but Dancer was not in it as far as he could see. Still the reins were held by something, and the horses jogged steadily along as though they were being driven. On it came right up to the stable, where the horses stopped, and then the boy saw something like a shadow in the seat next to where the driver should have sat—something that faded away even as he looked, but on the floor of the buggy was a darker shadow that did not fade.
The frightened boy rushed off to his mother, and she called a man, and they went into the yard. There was the buggy, the horses standing quiet waiting to be unharnessed, and at the bottom, where he had fallen from the seat, was Dancer's body. The doctor who came out and examined the dead man said it was a fit brought on by alcoholic poisoning. But nothing will shake the belief of young Morrison and his mother that Dancer suddenly saw what was sitting beside him, and the horror of it frightened the life out of him. Then that awful passenger took the reins and drove home with his body.
Young Morrison is growing up fast; but you bet he'll never part with that old buggy in which his dead father drove his wicked, dead stepfather home.
'Not quite, Jim. Good night.'
I PAID a visit, the other day, to my old friend Jim, now a substantial and well to do member of society.
'I've been wanting to see you for some time,' he remarked. 'I've had a most curious adventure.'
'Yes, and I've learnt a good deal more of their habits and customs, although I thought I knew a lot already.'
'When you die, Jim, you won't feel lonely in the next world.'
'No, I don't think I shall, but I have no desire to peg out just now. You see that range up there? Well, there's a haunted hut there that I never heard of until about three months ago.'
'And of course you've spent a night there?'
'Of course I have. I made some excuse to the missus and went and camped there, and, as I tell you, had quite a new experience. I got there about sundown; and a lonely-looking spot it is—just a slab hut with a zinc roof, standing in a thick forest of peppermint-gum-trees, alongside the scummiest-looking waterhole I ever saw.
'It was once a boundary rider's hut, at the corner of a big paddock, and the posts of the fence are still standing, but the wire has been taken out. Of course, there's a yarn, that the last man who lived there cut his throat; but I don't lay any stock on that, and it has nothing to do with my story. I had left my horse at a friend's place about two miles away, for I knew he wouldn't stop in hobbles, so I had nothing to do but open the door and walk in. Pretty dank and dismal it was, and I gave a bit of a shiver and said, half aloud, "Mighty lonely quarters." There was a sort of a sigh went round, and I seemed to hear a voice say, "Ah! you're right."
'Just then there was a rustling in one corner, and blessed if a thundering big black snake hadn't taken up his abode in the hut. I soon taught him that there was not room for two, and then I had a good look round for some more of his family, but he seemed to have been an orphan, for I saw no more. A distant relation of his, a centipede about six inches long, was the only other tenant I had to chuck out. By the time I had got a roaring good fire and boiled my quart it was dark, so when I had finished I went outside for a smoke. My! wasn't it quiet and still up in that range! Not a sound of any sort could I hear, not even an owl. The sky looked black up between the branches of the trees, and only a few stare were reflected in that dark pool.
'I shivered a bit, and went in to the fire again.
'Now, those frauds who pretend to show spirits say that they don't like a strong light, and don't like to be looked at, and all that nonsense. It's part of their fake. A good honest ghost likes light and company when he can get it I was not a bit surprised, therefore, when, on entering the hut I saw a man sitting on one of the sawn logs that served as seats by the fire.
'He was a decent-looking chap, just dressed like any ordinary man in the bush dresses, a man who might have four figures in the bank or nothing. I eat down opposite to him, and bade him a civil good evening.
'He smiled as though pleased, and said, "That's a relief, anyway." I looked inquiringly at him. "Oh!" he said, "I expected you to bolt out yelling like all the other fellows have done, and I so longed for a yarn."
'"I'm not frightened of ghosts," I answered. "Fact, I came out here to-night on purpose to look you up."
'"That was kind of you, very kind. 'Tisn't many people who are thoughtful about a poor ghost nowadays. We are laughed at, and not believed in, and yet when a fellow shows himself, what's the result? Why, the man who doesn't believe in ghosts runs for his bare life."
'He seemed rather warm on the subject, so I guessed he'd had some disagreeable experiences in the matter.
'"I HAD a great bit of fun once," he said, regaining his good temper. "This is my residence, as a rule, but sometimes I take a holiday, and on this occasion I went to Bladderatong to look up some old friends who are buried there. There was a woman who called herself a medium (how we ghosts do laugh at those mediums), and she was to give a sťance that night; so we determined to go and see it. We went in a body—I don't mean the body, but we made up a surprise party, and attended that sťance.
'"The room was darkened, and the medium had all her preparations ready—masks, wigs, lazy tongs, and all the other accessories—and she started in to materialise the spirit at somebody she called Jonas. Well, Jonas was a dummy, of course, and she paraded him, and the audience sat in the gloom and gasped. Then we took a hand. I appeared first, and then the woman sang out that it was against the rules, and called out to her husband to put me out. You see she made sure I was a live man. Her husband came and ordered me off, and went to put his hand on my shoulder, and, of course, he went right through me.
'"By Jove, it's a real one," he yelled out, and ran into the street without his hat to the nearest pub, and drank four whiskies in succession before he recovered himself. I vanished.
'"Well, the woman was plucked. I believe she thought it was some monkey trick of her husband's; but at any rate she stuck to her guns, and explained to the audience, who were getting uneasy, that I was a bad spirit.
'"It was Frank Dodd's turn next. Now, Frank was thrown from his horse, and lay for days dead in the bush before he was found and buried; so he was a ghost whose appearance was not at all inviting, though he's a good fellow. Well, when this sun-dried corpse appeared there was no mistake but what he was the genuine article.
'"The medium screamed like a locomotive, and let poor dummy Jonas fall, exposing what he really was. That was a lucky, thing, for some sensible fellow amongst the audience burst out laughing at seeing the corpse of Jonas, and others followed suit and somebody turned the gas up, and stopped a panic. Then they all went out, and we ghosts were left there with the medium lying on the ground and moaning, 'I'll never do it again; only forgive me.'
'"I believe she recovered her spirits and cheek the next morning, and accused the Mayor and Corporation of having entered into a conspiracy to play a trick on her. But some youngsters had got hold of Jonas, and carried him up and down the street, so that gave the show away altogether."
'"YOU seem to have rather a good time of it where you are," I said.
'"Only at times," he replied. "It's beastly dull here as a rule."
'"Have you no company?"
'"Yes, but I don't want them. One's an old shepherd who wants to tell stupid yarns all night, and the others are two flash fellows from about the ranges somewhere who tell a fresh lie every night of how they came to grief."
'"Would you mind telling me your own fate?" I asked.
'The ghost started, got up, and walked up and down the hut. "You'd take me for a liar at I did," he said at last.
'"No, I would not," I said.
'"Well, mind, every word I tell you is true. How long have you been in the district?"
'"About three years."
'"Ah, then, you know nothing about this country when it was a cattle-run, before it was all selected. I owned it in those days. You ought know where the remains of the old homestead and the garden and orchard are?"
'"I know it well," I answered.
'"That was any home, and as pretty a one as ever a man brought a bride to. I brought mine there—a young girl whom I had known for years, and her parents ever since I was a boy. She was as fresh and pure-looking as an opening bud at sunrise, and—" He got up and walked about again in evident, agitation—"as false as though she she'd been born and educated in Hell. Just a few months of perfect trust and happiness, a fool's paradise, and then an awakening and death—that was any lot.
'"The man who betrayed me was, naturally, my best friend. Oh! since I have been dead, how much of that sort of thing have I not seen! He came up to stay with us. He had been sick, and wanted a change. I was busy and they were thrown much together. I believe every soul on the station knew of my dishonor excepting myself, for, naturally, none dare tell me. I am sure I would have killed any man who ventured to hint a word against her.
'"Nature betrayed her. One day, as by a flash, my eyes were opened to her condition as a coming mother. She happened to look at me, and saw in my eyes the look of staggered incredulity, of wonder, of horror and doubt. This intrigue had been going on before our marriage. She read my face like a book, and from that instant another devil of murder entered into her heart.
'"She became wildly gay, and was in the best of spirits. Next day I was coming out to this hut, where a boundary rider then lived, and she proposed that she an Hammond, my false friend, should accompany me. I had not decided on anything at the time. My brain was to a whirl, and I could not see my path clear before me.
'"We came to this hut. The boundary rider was absent on his rounds, and we unsaddled and prepared a meal. My wife was still in the highest spirits, and took upon herself the preparation of the meal. We had brought quart-pots with us, and my wife superintended the boiling of them, and made the tea. Did ever three such people sit down to a meal, two of them with black murder in their hearts, for if my suspicions were correct Hammond, I swore, would never see another sun rise. But in my wife's heart was murder of the loudest kind.
'"I was thirsty, and as soon as my tea was cool. I took a long drink of it. In less than five minutes I felt an uncontrollable start go through my limbs. For the minute I did not know what it meant. Then, as another and more violent spasm shook me from head to foot, I knew what had happened.
'"I was poisoned, poisoned with the strychnine which the boundary rider kept in his hut for baits for the native dogs.
'As I rolled over in agony I saw that beautiful fiend burst out laughing, and Hammond rise with a white, frightened face. Though racked from head to foot with recurring spasms of the utmost agony, I heard all that passed. Hammond came over to me. 'Good God!' he said, 'what is the meaning of this?'
'"He's poisoned!" laughed the woman. "I did it! I saw in his eyes that he knew, and now he will not trouble us any more. It's no good, Tom, he's got to die, die like a dingo of a poisoned bait."
'"You infernal murderess," said Hammond, rising to his feet. "I can bring you to the gallows on your own confession I will."
'"Rolling and writhing to the most horrible agony as I was—for of all forms of death, poisoning by strychnine is the worst and cruelest, yet I remember all that passed.
'"Tom," said the woman, to a changed voice, approaching him as if to embrace him, "what do you mean?"
'"Mean, you Hell-cat!" he returned, pushing her roughly away, "I cannot help him, and I must go."
'"What, leave me, now, when the future is ours? Leave me? You, my lover?"
'"I hate and loathe you, I hate you; do you understand? and will never see you again!" And picked up his bridle and went to where the horses were feeding.
'The woman stood there with a look of despair on her face; stood as if stricken motionless for ever. Then, as the last mortal agony caught me in its grip and twisted and distorted my features, she laughed load and mirthlessly. "Look how he grins!" she shouted. "Grin away, old man. You've got the best of it, after all."
'Then, crying, 'Tom! Tom! come back!' she fell to the ground, even as my spirit left my body, and my agony ceased for ever.
'When the boundary rider returned he found her a gibbering idiot beside my dead body. Her trouble came on her, but she lived through it, and is now in an asylum, hopelessly insane.'
'The ghost got up and walked backwards and forwards a bit, then commenced again.
'"You said we had a good time. Yes, I am going to have a good time one day, when he comes back, for he's bound to come, bound to come, they always do. And then, and then—"
'He stopped abruptly, and said in his former manner: "You've upset me somewhat. I think I shall bid you good night," and vanished.
'That was the story he told me, and I jotted it down, so that I could remember enough to tell you. I stayed there the rest of the night and received a visit from the old shepherd, and the two flash youngsters, who told me that they shot each other dead in a duel; but after what I had heard these commonplace ghosts had no interest for me.'
JIM stopped and lit his pipe.
'Is that the end?' I asked.
'No; I saw the end. You've heard of the Youvel Mountain mystery? That range as called Youvel Mountain sometimes.'
'I think I do remember something about it.'
'I told you I left my horse at a friend's. In the morning I went for it. I remained there most of the day, for he wanted me to give him a hand with some work he was doing. Towards evening, when I was preparing to start home, a stranger rode up. He was a well-dressed, handsome man, and had a valise strapped on his saddle.
'He said he was on his way to Tantallon Station, and asked if there was not a short cut over the Youvel Mountain. I told him there was, but he could not reach there before dark.'
'"There's an old hut on the track you can camp at if you won't stop here to-night," said my friend.
'I saw the stranger pale at mention of the hut, but he thanked my friend for his offer, and said that he must push on. Then he rode away, and I began thinking.
'About the middle of the day my friend came over here. He looked upset, and I asked him what was the matter.
'"Jim," he said, "you remember that fellow who came along last night, going to Tantallon Station?"
'"Yes; what about him?"
'"Why, his horse came back this morning."
'"Well, why didn't you run the short cut up to see what had become of the rider?"
'"O, I wanted somebody with me, and I thought perhaps you'd come," said the chuckle-head.
'I was too angry to say anything, but got a horse and rode back with him as hard as I could. We rode straight on to the hut. I felt certain we should find him there, and we did.
'He was dead, lying there with wide-open staring eyes. Eyes! but I cannot tell you what ghastly horror and fright were in those eyes. Even that mule-headed friend of mine saw the fear in them, and cried out to me to close them.
'There was not a mark or scratch on him. The doctors who examined the body could find no cause of death. I know as well as if the corpse had spoken out and told me that the man was killed by awful, paralysing terror, that stopped his heart and turned his blood cold.
'When the police took charge of his things and examined them, I learned, as I expected, that the dead man's name was Hammond.'
Jim got up, and went inside, and brought out the whisky. He took a good stiff nip, and then said:
'Do you know, old man, I would go and spend another night at that hut, just to see how those two ghosts get on together, only tar what I saw in those dead eyes. I don't want to be found like that.'
THERE were many obstacles in the way of Arthur Constable marrying Dorothy Clayton, and there was only one thing in his favour, but that one thing, in his opinion, outweighed all the others. Needless to say it was the consent of pretty Dorothy herself. She was willing, but all her family, and there were many of them, scouted both him and the idea.
Dorothy's father was perhaps one of the most objectionable beings to be met with in a world where objectionable people are not rarities. That was the candid and unprejudiced opinion of nearly every one who had any dealings with him. Not that he cared a snap about the opinion of anybody for that matter. He called himself a man of an independent spirit, and there was no doubt that he was; so independent that he had not a friend in the world. The whole family were much the same, and only tolerated each other when they united in doing something disagreeable to somebody outside their own Vicious circle.
The Claytons owned three stations among them. Dorothy's father had the largest, his brother, an equally disagreeable old curmudgeon, owned the next best, and their maiden sister, an especially acidulated old lady, was mistress of the third. She took care to let her people know, too, that she was mistress. True, she had an overseer, but she overlooked everything herself for all that.
Then there were the families of the two brothers, all cast in the same mould, and how sweet and sunny Dorothy came to spring from such a crowd no one could understand. The only other exception was a wild and somewhat dissipated brother of hers, whom she was constantly reforming and saving from the dire penalty of being cut off with a shilling. As for the other brothers and cousins, they were locally known as scrubbers, rank scrubbers, too mean even to be dissipated unless at some one else's expense.
The stations belonging to the Clayton family formed, as it were, three corners of a square, the fourth corner being occupied by the station of which Arthur Constable was the poorly-paid manager. His audacity, then, in falling in love with Dorothy, and her infatuation in returning his affection, can only be called frantic lunacy. Worse still. The owner of the station managed by Constable was in the hands of the bank, whose agent he daily expected to arrive armed with credentials to take over the property. It may be imagined, then, that there was considerable friction between him and the Claytons, but as some compensation he had a neighbour, some fifteen miles to the westward, who was his fast friend and ally. His name was Everett; he was a man of considerable means, and was some years older than Constable.
In due time the expected blow fell. The manager appointed by the bank turned up, and Constable was not sorry to hand over his unpleasant responsibility; for there is nothing more calculated to give a man premature gray hairs than looking after a station tottering on the eve of foreclosure, with all the men growling and dissatisfied. It was then with a feeling of relief that Constable rode over to his friend Everett's place to pay a short visit whilst he decided on the future, a future in which Dorothy Clayton was the central figure.
"I am very glad you are out of a billet," said his host as they chatted after dinner.
"Very kind of you," was the reply.
"Because," continued Everett, "I have gone into two specs lately, and I want a good man. One is a share I have taken in a shelling station in the Straits. The other is some country I have taken up in Western Australia in conjunction with a partner. I want some one to look after my interests in both cases; which would you like to undertake? That is, if you will accept either?"
"I know nothing whatever about pearl shelling," returned his friend. "Oh. it's more for the business part of It that I want a man. The practical details are, of course, in experienced hands."
Constable hesitated. Visions of tropic seas and palm-girt isles, of dusky natives and pearls like eggs, of a broad veranda and Dorothy in a white dress on a cane lounge, flashed before his eyes. He had never been on a pearl shelling lugger nor seen a pearling station. But he was no fool, he knew what Everett wanted. True, Western Australia was a long way off, but he answered quietly:
"I think I'd better tackle what I do understand. I'll go to Western Australia."
Everett looked pleased.
"I am glad of it." he said. "I can easily get a man for the other billet. But I do not know of any one on whose judgment of country I could so thoroughly rely as on yours."
The rest of the evening was spent in explaining the details of the mission on which he wanted Constable to proceed. The country was an enormous area of, as yet, unexplored territory, on and beyond the upper portions of two of the principal coastal rivers of central Western Australia. This tract had been taken up in small blocks, and Constable's work was to thoroughly examine it and to report as to which blocks should be retained and which forfeited. Now it is not to be supposed that, although Constable had been, as it were, struck off the Claytons' visiting list, he and Dorothy never met. The emissary of love was a very artful old black fellow, bound over to faithfulness by much tobacco and occasional rums. The notes were generally carried behind his ear, concealed by his greasy thatch of hair. Thanks to the trusty aborigine they had many a stolen meeting, and wore thus enabled to bid each other farewell before Arthur's departure.
The goldfields (though it was on the eve of their discovery) had not then converted Western Australia into the busy place it now is, but in due time Constable arrive at his point of departure, a seaport to the north of Fremantle, accompanied by one of the men from his old station. Everett of course knew and heartily approved of the engagement, and had promised to stand Dorothy's friend in every way during Arthur's absence, also to act as post office.
Just as he was about to start Constable received the following telegram:—
AUNT DIED SUDDENLY. LEFT ME EVERYTHING. COME BACK AT ONCE. EVERETT WILLING.—DOROTHY CLAYTON.
Constable smiled at his sweetheart's impulsiveness. More than ever must he woo Dame Fortune and not come back empty-handed. His reply ran:—
CONGRATULATIONS. IMPOSSIBLE TO RETURN UNTIL COMPLETION OF WORK. START AT ONCE. GOODBYE.
He smiled again when he thought how good-tempered Everett knew full well what he would do.
DOROTHY CLAYTON stood on the veranda of the homestead of which she was now mistress, wearily watching the sun go down. Her aunt's will had astonished and disgusted all her relations. The only cause that they could assign for its provisions, save that of unsound mind, was the fact that Miss Clayton was Dorothy's godmother, and the girl had been named after her. None of them gave the grim and soured old maid credit for discerning that Dorothy was not built of the same mean and selfish clay that they were. Dorothy's again newly-reformed brother Frank looked after the place for her, and while she prayed for Arthur Constable's safety and speedy return her relations fervently hoped that he might never appear again.
As Dorothy stood looking sadly out on the landscape she noticed a horseman approaching. She knew who it was; beyond her harum-scarum and shallow brother, Everett was almost the only friend she had in the world. Her heart was too engrossed with the thought of her lover for her to dream of such a thing happening, but, truth to tell, Everett found that acting as a kind of guardian to his friend's sweetheart had become a task conferring as much pain as pleasure. He was loyal to the core, however, and never by word or look Indicated what his feelings were. He rode up to the stable, dismounted, and gave his horse to a boy, then walked up to the house.
"No news?" asked Dorothy as they shook hands.
"None," replied Everett. "I left, however, before the mailman came, as I had to go round by the Lagoon Camp. I told them to send any letters after me here."
"Eighteen months now," said Dorothy sorrowfully. "Seventeen since we last heard."
"And it should have taken eight at the outside," Dorothy sighed. Eighteen months had indeed elapsed since Arthur Constable started from the coast town on his journey. One letter had been received by Everett, dated a month later, enclosing, of course, one for Dorothy; since then all had been utter silence. The last letter had been sent back to the furthest outside station, and Arthur then wrote in high spirits. Everything was running smoothly, and he anticipated a successful trip and a speedy return.
The twilight had now set in, and as they entered the house Dorothy turned and looked round.
"Some one coming," she said.
"Letters by the mail, I suppose," returned Everett, and went down to the garden gate to meet the messenger, who had come up and handed the leather mail-bag to Everett, which had come since his departure. He took it into the house. Dorothy was flushed, every fresh mail brought fresh hope. Everett turned the contents of the bag on to the table. Amongst the letters was a curious-looking parcel. He took it up, and Dorothy's quick eye detected the Western Australian stamps.
"At last," she said.
"Wait a minute. What's this?" said he, picking up a Government envelope and opening it. Glancing at she and he saw that it was signed by the Commissioner of Police at Perth. Dorothy and he read it together. It was as follows:—
By this post I forward you a packet, which was found by mounted troopers X and Y in a camp of natives on the G River. With some difficulty we deciphered the address, and I now forward it to you in the same state in which it was found, but with the addition of a new wrapper. Trusting It will reach you safely,—
I am, yours, etc.
P.S.—I may add that the address was so obliterated that it was only by looking up the names and addresses of pastoral lessees in the books of the Lands office, that we were enabled to finally identify it as yours.
Everett took up the packet. What did it contain? Life or death? Death to Constable, and—life to him. He opened it. Underneath the new wrapper was the only one with the almost effaced superscription. He cut this carefully off; a piece of waterproof sheeting came next, then some wrappers of old newspaper, and at last the precious letter. Everett opened it, and silently handed Dorothy an enclosure addressed to her. She tore it open, unfolded the closely written sheet, and down fluttered two or three pressed flowers, the gorgeous blossoms of Sturt's desert pea.
Everett's letter ran:—
Dear Old Man,—
I am afraid I am in a bit of a fix. All went on velvet until we had to examine blocks 380, '61, '52, '58, etc. These all lie beyond the heads of the coastal rivers, on the inlaid slope. It was terribly dry, but we managed to get a little water, enough for no night, and the next night camped at a salt lake where some natives were camped, and fairly good water could be obtained by digging, back from the lake. So far so good, but when Jim the blackboy went after the horses the next morning he came back with four, which had been feeding around the lake. The others must have gone out back on the higher ground, so he started after them. You never saw a blackboy look so white as he did when he returned.
"That fellow bung, altogether bung," he stammered. Vickars and I jumped up and looked at each other. "Poison plant," he said. I motioned to Jim to show us where they were. True enough there lay ten of our horses dead. Up to this time we had not had a single mishap with the horses, and now out of fourteen ten were struck down at one blow, and but for the fact that four had remained feeding around the edge of the lake all would have shared the same fate. As it was we were in a pretty tight place. With only four horses It would be next to Impossible to get back the way we came, more especially as one of the survivors was a dull, sluggish brute, one of the worst, if not the worst, we had.
The blacks, of whom there were only about a dozen all told, were quiet and friendly. Presently, after we had returned to camp, we heard them shouting, and some came running towards us; they had come across the dead horses, and came to tell us of our loss. It was not safe to stay where we were, as we might at any time lose the remainder of our horses. We therefore tried to find out from the natives if there was any other water handy, to which we could shift our camp. One gin seemed more intelligent than the others, and from her we found out, or rather thought we did, that there was water not very far away, but that they camped at the lake because there was plenty of wild fowl on It, whereas there was nothing to eat at the other water. This was puzzled out after a deal of trouble, and I offered one of them a tomahawk to show Vickars where the water was. Before they started Vickars and I searched the place where the horses had died to try and identify the plant. We found something which Vickars said resembled the poison plant of the Northern Territory, and he left with the native. Meanwhile I took stock of the rations, ammunition, etc, and found that we fortunately still had a good supply.
Vickars was back sooner than I expected, and his report was favourable. The water was a shallow spring In a small creek, and much fresher than that we were then on. The grass was fair, and he had not found any trace of the poison plant. In two or three journeys we shifted our belongings, and found our camp a great improvement, and you may fancy we blessed our ill-luck at not striking it in the first place Instead of the salt lake. We came to the conclusion, knowing what we did of the country, that it would be madness to attempt to get back on foot, with the horses packed with water, as it would take too long and they would die on our hands and leave us stranded at the head of the G River, where there Is a long stretch of dry country. Nothing for it but to sit down and wait for rain.
(A later date.)
We have been here now three months, and no sign of rain; a long spell of dry weather seems to have set In. Vicars is down with fever. The blacks at the lake, where we go every day for game to eke out our rations, are talking of shifting north. I would go with them, on the chance of working round to the coast eventually, but Vickars is too ill to travel. Jim has made great friends with the natives, and when I asked him if he would like to go with them he seemed delighted. I have explained to him that if they go near any station, no matter where, he must get in and give this packet to a white man. I enclose copies of my plan and route, and as the work was nearly finished. It will be all right, that is if this ever reaches you. Good-bye, old man. I don't intend to say die while there's a shot in the locker.
Dorothy's letter, as may be imagined, was somewhat different. Arthur Constable referred her to Everett for all particulars, and concluded by saying:
The creek just above our camp is ablaze on either hank with the blossoms of the desert pea; they are such a contrast to the surrounding desolation that they make me feel quite hopeful, so I have plucked some and pressed them for you. Do you remember how all our notes went safely that old Joe used to take? I am trusting this to a native, so I hope it is a good omen.
THROUGH what strange vicissitudes had this packet travelled before reaching the bands of the troopers; and what had become of Jim, the original bearer? The two looked at each other in silence. The last date was nine months old; what had happened during all that dreary time?
"Pray God that Vickars recovered," said Everett at last. "Two men might pull through, whereas one would be lost.
"Is there any hope?" asked Dorothy.
"Hope? Yes, plenty," replied Everett. "No rain has fallen, that is evident; they have four horses for the two of them; and a thunderstorm will put them across the dry country. They are saving up their rations and living on what they can shoot. I dare say they are having a rough time, and will be as thin as rakes; that will be the worst of it." He spoke cheerfully, but he did not quite believe all he said. There was a long pause, and Everett looked at the map covered with close writing, the map that perhaps meant....
"Mr Everett," said Dorothy at last, "I am going over to Western Australia."
"Going to Western Australia?"
"Yes, I am going to look for Arthur. Frank shall go with me."
"You mean you are going over there to start a party to look for him. We can do that from here. The police there will undertake it."
"I am going to start a party and—go with them."
"Girl!" said Everett excitedly, "you do not know what you are talking about. What good will Frank be? He has never been outside of wire fences."
"There must be plenty of good men over there who would go if they are paid."
"No doubt of it, as good as you could find anywhere. Why not pay them to go? You will be only in the way."
"I was born and brought up in the bush; I shall not be In the way. I am going."
He looked in her eyes and saw the unshakable resolution of a loving woman in them. He turned and took two or three strides up and down.
"Arthur went for me," he said, as if speaking half to himself, "and he has done his work!"
He went up to her. "If you go I must go too, both to look for him and to take care of you, as I promised him that I would do."
She caught his hand in both hers, and he saw her eyes become suffused with tears.
"I knew you would," she said, "and now—we shall find him; for, oh! I have such trust in you." They stood for a moment with her hands clasping his.
"I must go back at once," he said. "There is much to do, and the sooner we start the better." He stooped and kissed her on the forehead.
"God bless your true heart," he said, and left the house. The quiet stars whispered peace to him as he rode home beneath their light. The soft night-wind fanned his hot face and bore the same message. The battle had been fought and won; once and for all.
IT may be imagined what the outcry of the Clayton family was like when Dorothy announced her Intention of going in search of the detrimental. But it was useless. Dorothy was now of age; her money was her own; she defied them. Old Clayton blustered and threatened, but half-an-hour's talk with Everett reduced him to as much reason as he ever possessed, and he recognised the helplessness of his position. Preparations were pushed on with all speed, for every day was precious, and, aided by lucky circumstances, the party were soon In the town that had witnessed Constable's departure. Money being no object, the services of a couple of good bushmen were soon secured, and a thorough equipment got together. Just at that time a shipment of camels arrived, and Everett hired six of them with drivers for the trip, as there was no knowing how far they might have to go, or what dry country they would have to encounter in their doubtful quest of the lost man. Before they started, a volunteer was added to their party.
A doctor, who was also an enthusiastic botanist, hearing that they were likely to go beyond the settled districts, requested permission to accompany them, and such an acquisition was gladly welcomed. The journey was naturally uninteresting until they at last reached the point Indicated on Constable's map as the last permanent water before reaching the fatal salt lake.
As it was evident that no rain had fallen since, a dry stretch of at least a hundred miles now intervened. A camp was formed, and Everett determined to leave the two men behind, and push across with the camels and the buckboard they had brought with them for Dorothy's use. Two camels were packed with water for the use of the two buggy-horses, and the party, consisting of Dorothy and her brother, Everett, Dr. Fanshawe, and the two Afghans, made a final start. Dr. Fanshawe, who did not appreciate camel riding, took the vacant place in the buggy beside Dorothy.
It had been debated whether to go straight to the camp indicated on the map or to the salt lake. Everett finally determined to arrange it so that they would camp the last night within easy distance of the lake, and go round by It to the camp, where, however, he had no hope of now finding any one. The journey through the monotonous desert was without Interest to anybody but Dr. Fanshawe, who was continually jumping in and out of the buggy to secure specimens of the flora.
At last the morning dawned that Dorothy had been so anxiously looking forward to, and her heart beat painfully as, in the early hours, they came in sight of the salt lake. Save for the wild fowl it was lonely and tenantless. They waited for nearly an hour while Everett made an inspection of the shores. Coming back he came up to Dorothy, and whispered to her:
"Some one is here. There are fairly fresh tracks about, and some cartridge cases." He showed her two or three he had picked up. They had the appearance of having been lately discharged.
"Keep cool and brave," he said as he helped her back into the buggy.
It was not long before the camp was in sight. The little sandy creek, which began and ended nowhere, was situated between two gently sloping ridges scantily grassed. A tattered, weatherworn tent, covered by a shade of boughs, was all they saw as they approached, but no sign of life save the ubiquitous crows. They halted when near the place, and, leaving the Afghans to look after the camels and buggy, went towards the tent on foot.
Suddenly Dorothy started and clutched Everett's arm. Just to their left was a grave. A grave that had been tended and cared for. It was at the foot of a tree, large for that part of Australia. A piece of bark had been stripped from the lower part of the trunk, and on the wood a rude inscription carved—
Then followed a date but a few days later than the well-remembered one of the letter.
"He has been here alone," said Dorothy in an awe-struck voice, looking round at the desolation that environed them.
"Yes, alone," repeated Everett, "but where can he be now?"
The tent was empty, but the ashes were warm, showing that the occupant of the camp had been there that morning.
"Perhaps he is after the horses?" suggested Frank. Clayton. Everett shook his head. "The horses would want no looking after; they would not leave the water."
A whistle from the doctor, who had been wandering about by himself, attracted their attention. He was standing in front of some heaps of broken stones neatly arranged, almost like heaps of road metal. Dr. Fanshawe was examining one.
"Your friend has luckily found something Interesting to employ his time on," he said, passing the stone to Everett. It was quartz, and showed gold freely. All the heaps were the same, and had evidently been brought in and stacked.
"There is a reef somewhere handy, and he is at work on it now."
A short search revealed a well-worn pad leading back from the creek.
"You had better stay here with Frank," said Everett to Dorothy, but she shook her head determinedly. They followed the pad for nearly a mile when they heard a monotonous sound of knocking ahead. They crested the rise, and, close to them, came on the object of their long search.
Bareheaded under the pitiless sun, burnt nearly black where his skin was exposed, ragged, and with matted hair and beard, Constable was hammering fiercely at the cap of a long line of reef, and talking vehemently to himself all the time. Dr. Fanshawe clutched Everett's arm at the first glimpse he caught of the wild figure.
"For God's sake be careful," he whispered, "the man is mad."
They were unobserved by the toiler, and stood watching him. Presently he dropped the tool he had been using, an old axe battered out of all shape, picked up one of the stones he had detached, and commenced to examine it.
"Gold for Dorothy!" he shouted, "More gold for Dorothy!" As he threw the fragment down he caught sight of them, and a blaze of fury flashed into his unrecognising eyes.
"Ha! ha! You have come at last. I knew you would in time, but you are too late, too late!" and he held out both arms as if to protect his treasure.
"Arthur! Dear Arthur!" said Dorothy, stepping In front before they could stay her. "Don't you know me? I am Dorothy, your Dorothy."
"No! No!" he shouted, then, as a sudden thought came into his crazed brain, "You have been to my camp. You have robbed me, robbed Dorothy!"
He snatched the revolver from his belt, and pointed it at the girl he loved. With one bound Everett was in front of her. The madman pulled the trigger, and shot him through the heart. He gave a choking sigh, and fell on the track, the pumping life blood trickling down till it stained the hem of Dorothy's skirt. Fanshawe was about to rush on the wretched man at all hazards, when, as if startled by his own act, the maniac drew his hand across his forehead and dropped insensible.
Fanshawe stooped over Everett.
"Dead?" whispered the girl with white lips.
"Instantaneous," he replied. She knelt on the dusty ground beside the body, and taking the dead face between her hands, kissed it reverently.
"For me," she murmured.
"Quick!" shouted the doctor to the stupefied Frank. "Run as hard as you can to the camp, and bring up the buggy, bring water."
Nothing loath to quit the scene, Frank sped away. Fanshawe straightened the limbs and closed the staring eyes. Then he went over to Constable, and Dorothy followed him. She had shed no tear as yet, but when she took her lover's head on her lap and saw the change that misery and insanity had wrought her tears fell fast. She nursed it as a mother would a baby, while the doctor felt the galloping pulse.
"He must have had a sunstroke," he said, "and has been going about bareheaded ever since. He will be delirious when this stupor leaves him; we must get him back to camp at once."
"Will he—will he remember this?" she asked, and pointed to Everett's body. The doctor shook his bead.
"Then it must be a secret between is," she said. Fanshawe held out his hand, and the silent pressure over the insensible form sealed the compact. The rattle of the buggy was now heard. Frank had lost no time. The doctor was a strong man, and there was not much difficulty in lifting the wasted frame into the vehicle.
"Will you get in and hold him?" he said to Dorothy. "No!" she replied, "you know best what to do. Frank will lead the horses quietly."
"And you?" he asked.
A harsh guttural croak sounded in the air.
"Will stay here until you return. Do you think I would leave him for the crows to peck at," and she pointed to the tree where the foul carrion birds had alighted. The doctor looked at her admiringly, then got into the buggy and put his arm round the patient to support him. Frank led the horses on foot, and they went slowly away, leaving Dorothy alone in the desert with the dead.
AS soon as Everett's body was brought in Fanshawe sent one of the Afghans back on the best camel to fetch a small medicine chest and some other necessaries from the main camp. Poor Everett was buried beside Vickars, and another inscription carved on the tree. All their attention was now turned to Constable, who, as the doctor had predicted, was now raving in delirium. Tossing restlessly day and night; ever the same cry "Gold for Dorothy! More gold for Dorothy!"
Fanshawe and the girl watched by him alternately, for Frank seemed lazy and useless. At last, after some days, the Afghan returned, and the precious chest containing the opiates the doctor needed was in his hands, and the poor sun-scorched brain had a little rest. When at last he awoke from the long sleep that saved him, Dorothy was watching, and saw that reason had returned. He gazed amazedly at her, then sat up.
"Another dream!" he said faintly, but in his natural voice.
"No dream, dear," she said, putting her arms round him and her cheek against his. "Is this a dream?"
"Yes, Dorothy herself. We came to look for you, your packet reached us after all. This is Doctor Fanshawe," she said as the doctor hearing the voices entered the tent, "who has helped me to nurse you, for we found you ill and delirious."
"But how did you come here?"
"With the doctor, and my brother Frank, and some men we engaged." It had been settled not to say anything about Everett until he became stronger.
From that hour he rallied quickly, and in a few days he was strong enough to go outside, and his sweetheart on one side and Fanshawe on the other guided him round to the heaps of quartz.
"Do you know anything about this?" asked the doctor.
He shook his head.
"I remember finding the reef," he said. "Three or four months after Vickars died."
"More than six months ago," said Dorothy. He looked bewildered. "What has happened to me?" he asked. "You had a sunstroke, I should imagine, and have been temporarily out of your mind. Doubtless this reef kept you here, or you might have made a desperate attempt to get in, and perished," replied Fanshawe.
"But how could I have lived?"
"Instinctively you would have gone on as usual. We found freshly discharged cartridges round the lake."
"Arthur dear," said Dorothy, taking his arm. "I have sad news for you. Everett—"
"Dead? When did he die?"
"The day we got here," said Fanshawe boldly, taking the lie on himself. "It was an unhappy accident. He was taking a gun out of the buggy and the trigger caught. It was one of those careless things the best men will do at times without thinking."
"Where is he?" he asked in a pained voice. They took him to the two graves, and he stood there with the team welling from his eyes.
"But for him I doubt If we should have found you."
When Constable had gained sufficient strength the Journey home was undertaken, much to Frank Clayton's relief, for the bush had no charms for him. The sea voyage helped greatly to restore the invalid, and when they reached Sydney, where they intended to remain for a time, he was almost his old self again. The secret of the reef was confided to the two men who had accompanied them from the seaport and worked well, Constable and Fanshawe retaining a half share between them. Dorothy would have abandoned it altogether, but her opposition was overcome.
EVERETT had made a will before starting, and in it he had left a considerable sum to Constable, enough to enable him to marry Dorothy on equal terms. She had sold her station to her uncle, who had long coveted it, and with her husband settled down to live a quiet life for a few years in one of the principal Australian cities.
The reformed scapegrace, however broke out again badly; very badly this time. His father, much to the joy of his brothers, sent him about his business and he drifted to the city, where his sister lived, and degenerated into c sponger on her and her husband.
Over and over again Constable and his wife tried to put him straight once more. Every position they obtained for him he forfeited, and he finally took to drinking hard. One day in a half-tipsy state he came to the house and asked for money. Arthur, in order to try what a little restraint would do, refused to give him any. Young Clayton stopped for some time expostulating and entreating. Then, in bitter spite at being refused, said: "I don't see why you should lecture me. I never shot a man and took his money afterwards."
Constable sprang to his feet.
"What do you mean?" he shouted.
"Mean?" returned the youth, and as he spoke his sister entered the room. "I mean that you shot Everett when you were mad, and are now living on his money."
Dorothy rushed forward and threw her arms round her husband, in whose eyes she saw the wild light growing rapidly.
"Arthur, dear Arthur," she cried, "it is false! It was—it was an accident. Leave the house, you liar and coward!" she said, turning fiercely with flashing eyes on her brother. "Never dare enter here again."
But the cub was wound up for revenge.
"Fanshawe and Dorothy made up that tale," he said as he backed to the door.
"You aimed at Dorothy, but Everett Jumped between, and you shot him."
"Go! will you?" she commanded. "If I had a weapon here I would kill you! Sweetheart!" she said imploringly as the door closed on the culprit. "It is all false. Do you not believe me and Dr. Fanshawe? He has said it only to torture you."
He put his hand to his head, and she saw to her horror that his eyes had a vacant and terrified look as though trying to recall some dread dream of the past. With an effort he recovered himself.
"Dorothy, wife!" he said. "I seem to remember something. Is it?—tell me, is It true?"
"It is false," she answered firmly. "It was an accident. Just as we told you."
And the lie was the whitest ever uttered. But the mischief was done. He sank back in his chair and hid his face in his hands.
Dorothy knelt beside him. Presently he looked up.
"Gold for Dorothy!" he said. "More told for Dorothy!"
Constable was not violent as before. He seemed to know his wife and be soothed by her presence. He would stay for hours in the quiet garden which was not overlooked, piling up stones and muttering over and over again the old refrain. Fanshawe came to him, and in time his brain cleared and he recovered, but though there was never a cloud between Dorothy and him, one seemed to hang over their quiet lives for years until it was banished by the voices of children.
A seedy, disreputable loafer comes at times to the house, which he is not allowed to enter, and his sister gives him the alms he begs for. Among her treasures Dorothy has a rough serge skirt with a blood stain on the hem that has never been washed out.
JIM DACEY awoke as the sun began to blaze into his face, the flies to crawl over him, and the crows, from the dead tree opposite, to make insulting remarks about him. He had a drunken sleep all night on the hard, earthen floor of the verandah, and woke up with a lime-kiln mouth, and one of the logs it was lately his work to split, for a tongue.
He gazed around, and tried to collect his senses. There was something the matter with one of his eyes, but that would do far later investigation; at present there was only one thing in the world worth having, and that was a nip of strong, hot, fiery rum, something that would grip and bite all the way there and back. He got up stiffly and went inside the bar.
The generally useful loafer, supposed, as usual, to be a broken down swell, was washing out the bar-room, the landlord, in a sleepy fashion, was putting the bottles straight. He looked at Jim and whistled, then without a word put down the alleged rum and a tumbler. Dacey filled and drank a tumbler of it neat, then, with his mouth wide open to give the fumes vent, groped for the water The landlord put it in his hand, and he slaked his parched throat. The landlord waited till the rum got its work in, then he remarked, 'You'll have a fine eye by the time it's sundown, Jim.'
'Fine eye: what the—?' he stopped, remembering that he had a curious bunged up feeling in one optic. 'Hand us that bit of glass,' he said. The man handed him a bit of broken looking glass from the bar shelf. Dacey inspected his unpresentable appearance. His right eye was swollen, and commencing to put on mourning.
'Whose blank fist did that?' he demanded savagely.
'Don't you remember anything?'
'Not a crimson word.'
'You got nasty, as usual, and had a turn up With Dan.'
'What was it all about?' he asked with a lowering frown.
'Suppose somebody else'll tell you, so I might as well. You were blooming well tanked, and Dan came in with some fellows to have a drink, and you commenced going for him. You've got a tongue when your drunk, Jim, you know. Your brother kept his temper, until at last you commenced about his wife; then he gave you that lift in the eye, and that shook you up so that you camped straight off.'
'Was I very drunk?' asked Dacey. 'Well, you might have been able to lie straight on the floor without holding on, that's about all.'
'And Dan was sober?'
'Oh yes. Dan was sober.'
Without a word Dacey turned away and banged open the door of a small bedroom out of the bar. The first thing Dan Dacey knew was that the blanket was snatched off, and he was dragged out of bed by his feet, his head coming whack on the floor.
'Come out and fight, now I'm sober!' yelled his brother. Come out, you ——cur, who hits men when they're drunk, and can't put their —%mdash; hands up!'
Jim went out to await the result of his assault and challenge.
It was not a soothing landscape that met his bloodshot eyes. The great grey plain stretched, without break, towards the rising sun, and over its wide surface the heat-haze was already beginning to dance and tremble. The creek wound through the plain like a wide serpentine ditch, fringed on either hand by a straggling line of warped and crooked coolibah tress, with here and there a patch of rusty polygonum. There was breadth and grandeur about it, but nothing soft nor peaceful, and Jim, at that moment did not want anything soft and peaceful. He had a black eye to avenge. Dan came out of the house with other freshly awakened sleepers. It was what Mulvaney would have called a 'sumptehous fight,' but Jim, as usual, was the victor, in spite of being handicapped with a damaged eye. Dan would not be able to follow the Grand Old Man's advice about chewing every mouthful thirty-five times, for many days.
The enmity between the brothers was notorious in the district. To hate each other like the Daceys was a common form of illustrative expression. One would have thought, where such bitter animosity existed, they would have put the width of the continent between them, but no. Wherever Jim was, Dan was to be found; and when Dan struck out a new line, Jim followed. Like most of the outside men of twenty or thirty years ago, they were good all round—stock-riding, horse-breaking, 'bull-punching,' splitting and fencing, it was all the same, both could take their part. Jim was eighteen months older than Dan, and, when sober always got the best of it when it came to blows.
The vendetta between them reached its climax when Dan cut Jim out with the girl he was courting, and married her. Both men had been tolerably steady before, with the exception of an occasional burst, but after Jim got jilted, as long as he had a shilling to spend it went in drink. And if he came across Dan when drunk the inevitable fight followed for Jim always fell foul of his brother, and commenced to abuse his wife. Dan's wife was a pretty, foolish girl, rapidly assuming the hard-baked appearance of most women in the far west; she was neither wiser nor better than the average woman of her class, and certainly not worth the spoiling of a good man's life. But, as everyone knows, when personal affection between the sexes comes in to the game of life, the rules of the game are at once disregarded. Jim had unconsciously created an ideal, and it was that ideal he thought his brother had stolen from him—not the real girl at all, perfectly ridiculous, but it is what nearly every man or woman does more or less.
The man that the woman loves, and the woman that the man loves, is always the 'twopence colored' print of imagination, not the 'penny plain' one of reality. This ancient truism was doubtless one the first reflections that occurred to Adam and Eve when banished from the unreal glamor of Eden.
The brothers and their mates were returning from finishing a good large fencing contract when this scene happened at the bush pub where they had halted. They kept asunder for the rest of the day, and the next morning Dan departed on his homeward way, and Jim remained, and proceeded to knock down his cheque after the approved fashion of those days. Jim's cheque lasted longer than most men's would nave done. He had an uncomfortable habit of straightening himself up every now and then and ascertaining how the funds were getting on. Moreover, Jim Dacey was an ill man to quarrel with.
Some three weeks passed, and Jim had a sore head, and an empty pocket when Dan and another man rode up. The two brothers glowered surlily at each other, but never interchanged a word. Dan and his companion went into the bar, and Jim remained lolling on the verandah. What passed inside Jim did not hear, but pretty well guessed, from hearing his brother's voice, evidently purposely raised for his benefit.
'Pay for the drinks he's stuck up! If it was to help him out of hell I wouldn't.'
Dan was up, and in the room like a flash.'
'Who has asked you to pay for my drinks, you —————' he demanded, turning fiercely on the landlord, who began to feel sorry that he had spoken, and proceeded to stammer out excuses. Jim never heeded them, but commenced on his brother.
'You wouldn't pay for a drink, wouldn't you? Well, some day I'll see you gasping, praying for a drink—a drink of muddy, stinking water even, and I'll stand by with a full water-bag, and pour it on the ground in front of you. Now, go before I give you another hiding.'
Dan would have retaliated, but his friend got him outside and on his horse, and they rode off. Jim then turned his attention to the landlord, and just as he had cursed him into a fit of, fever and ague and blasphemed the rouseabout till he barred himself in the kitchen, some one with a black boy and loose horses and pack-horses rode up.
The newcomer dismounted, and strode in with a firm tread and a clink of spurs.
'What, Dacey, painting the house red?' said a voice that Jim recognised as belonging to the man he most respected in the world, Balcombe, of Bareela Station, where Jim had raised many a good cheque.
He turned sharply round. 'I was only giving this wholesale poisoner a piece of my mind,' he said. 'Have a drink with me, Mr. Balcombe. Put out some good sniff, if you've got any, you unmentionable thief.'
The landlord grinned a relieved grin; he saw his money now, and hastened to supply the best he had.
'Jim,' said Balcombe, 'this is a stroke of luck, my meeting you. I was just wondering where I could find you as I came along. Now, are you right for a long trip out across the Diamantina? You won't be getting the horrors when we get away from the liquor?'
'I'm your man, Mr. Balcombe, to the other end of Australia with you.'
'Right, Jim, we'll go on to the twelve-mile tonight.'
'Dun's camped at the twelve-mile to-night, and to tell you the truth, I want to keep apart for a bit,' replied Jim.
'Oh! Cain and Abel, I know you, but I'm hanged if I know which is Abel. Very well, we'll stop here, and perhaps it's just as well. Got a house and saddle?'
'I've got two; but this old Jew has them in pawn at present.'
'Well, I'll square that. Now, if you know of a bit of feed about here you might take the horses to it, with Coppertop.'
'You say Dan is on ahead,' remarked Balcombe, as they were starting next morning, 'what's he doing, looking for work?'
'I suppose so.'
'Well, Dan's as good a man as you amongst cattle, Jim.'
'I don't deny it, although he's Dan Dacey.'
'My cousin is coining on with the cattle, and wants just such a man. You and I are going ahead to find a good track and have a look over the country. 'I'll send Dan back with a note to my cousin to engage him; you'll be far enough apart.'
'The better for Dan,' said Jim grimly.
They found the two men spelling at the twelve-mile, and Balcombe made his arrangements, while Jim and Coppertop lounged on with the horses.
Three months had passed, and Balcombe and Jim, after a long and toilsome trip, were slowly returning to meet the oncoming cattle. They had been through months of difficulty and danger, but all bad been happily surmounted, and only one tough piece of work remained to them—to meet and get the cattle over a dry stretch of from fifty to sixty miles that had to be crossed somehow.
In due time the herd came, having had a fairly good trip. Not a word passed between the two brothers when Balcombe and Jim met the cattle; not a word passed between them during the week they spelled on the last water, waiting for the moon to grow full before starting on the dry stage. The sun was low when the herd started, and the setting moon in her turn saw them still steadily pushing on. When the sun grew warm they halted where a belt of mulga afforded a grateful and welcome shade.
The real trouble had not commenced yet; the cattle were, simply tired, and camped during the hottest hours of the day. In the evening the weary way was resumed, the tired men and the now restless beasts, the latter stringing out in a dogged, sullen manner. It was midnight, the moon riding high, in a calm sky.
Balcombe, who was listlessly following the tail of the mob, half asleep and nodding on his horse, heard a gust of wind approaching. It rustled the leaves of the scrub belt they were just then passing through, and with a lingering sigh passed over. Immediately he heard some confused cries and whip cracks on one flank of the mob, as though the men were trying to stop a break away. Hastening round, he was told that three or four of the horses, loose amongst the cattle, had apparently snuffed the smell of water in the passing gust of wind, and suddenly had started off in the direction it came from. The men had had some difficulty in blocking the cattle from following them.
'Had any one gone after the horses?' asked Balcombe. Dan Dacey was after them, but they had got a good start in the scrub.
Then the steady march kept on. Daylight, and they were on the crest of the watershed, and before them lay the long decline of downs sloping to the creek. At dawn two men drafted the horses out and started ahead, and the strong cattle drew out after them, and here and there weak ones in the tail began to fall out, for these last four hours under the increasing heat of the sun were harder than all that had gone before. The creek had on one side the long slope of the bare down, on the other a line of hills escarped by a crown of rocks. By mid-day the last straggler was in, and Balcombe congratulated himself on getting across the dry stage with a loss of only a few head. He rode on to a newly-formed station some seven miles away, meaning to stop there the night.
About two o'clock one of the men drew attention to the missing horses, that had broken away on the dry stage, coming down the side of the hill. They trotted hurriedly up to the cattle, and dashed eagerly into the waterhole and drank greedily. The gust of wind that carried the damp smell that had misled them had probably passed over the wet mud or some just dried waterhole. Dan Dacey was not behind them, and he did not turn up either that afternoon or during the night.
Next morning, when there was talk of going to look for him, the men naturally turned to Jim as the proper man. None of them, now Balcombe was away, knew of the lifelong hatred existing between the two. Some had joined where the cattle had started, and others had been taken on since, and they thought it was only some temporary estrangement between the brothers.
Jim saddled his horse, filled his waterbag, and started to run the tracks of the horses back. These took him diagonally up the ridge, and Jim was three or four miles from the camp when he reached the reef of rocks on the crest. From that elevation he could see far over the lower country, the cattle gathered round the waterhole looking like so many parti-colored dots. Jim glanced carelessly over it, then fixed his attention on the tracks, little thinking that he would look no more over the broad western plains.
In about ten miles or less, the tracks bending round towards the point where the horses had started, he came on the object of his search. Dan's horse was dead, and he was sitting propped against a mulga tree. He scowled at Jim when he saw him.
'How did you get in this mess?' asked his brother. 'Horses bolted for a muddy lagoon; then the brutes made straight off here; they were as mad as hatters, and I couldn't get near them for a long time; then, when I was wheeling them, my horse fell over a boulder and broke his neck. I've hurt my ankle, broke it or something, and I can't walk. Give us that waterbag; I'm dead with thirst,' he added hoarsely.
'Oh! give you this waterbag,' retorted Jim, smiling pleasantly at the suffering man. 'Didn't you say you wouldn't pay for a drink for me to get me out of hell, and didn't I tell you that I'd see you come to me with your tongue out for a drink? It's happened sooner than I thought for, but I'd be ashamed, Dan Dacey, to beg from the man whose sweetheart you stole.'
'D——you! Go, then, if you won't give me the water; don't stop there poisoning my sight. Somebody else will be here soon.'
'No, they won't; nobody but Jim Dacey could have tracked you here over that stony country, unless it's Balcombe or Coppertop, and they're both away.'
Dan turned his face away. The sun had grown hot, and the shade of the tree had shifted. He crawled painfully after it. Jim held the waterbag in his hand, and shook it to make the contents gurgle.
'Sounds pleasant, don't it?' He put the bottle neck to his mouth and took a mouthful. 'Tastes pleasant, too. To my mind, there's nothing like a drink of cool water out of a water bag when you're thirsty. Seems to glide down your throat without any trouble. Better than all the rum in the world, or a false woman's kisses.'
'You devil!' muttered Dan. The cruel sun mounted to the zenith; its vertical rays smote the heated ground, fierce and pitiless. Jim stood there taunting the wretched man.
Dan groaned in agony. 'I wouldn't have minded so much if they hadn't the baby,' he said, brokenly.
'What's that?' asked Jim sharply. 'You've got a child?'
'Yes. We christened him just before I left.'
'What did you call the whelp?'
'It's called after you. For me, I'd have christened him Judas Iscariot before I'd have given him your name; but Louey was sick, and begged me to; said she hadn't treated you well. Which was a woman's lie.'
Jim turned round and stood with his hand on his horse's shoulder. 'I'll give him the water, and help him to camp,' he muttered; 'not for him, but for the sake of the kid.'
'Jim Dacey!' rang out his brother's voice, in an altered tone. 'Bring 'me that waterbag, or you're a dead man.'
Jim wheeled round. His brother had drawn his revolver from his belt and had him covered; his face was fiery red with rage and torment. 'I give you while I count ten,' he continued.
Every softer feeling left Jim Dacey on the instant. If his brother had waited a single minute the tragedy had never happened.
'I'll pour it to waste on the ground first,' answered Jim. He began to suit the action to the word, and Dan mad with fury at the sight of the clear water that he so craved for being spilled on the barren ground, fired at him. Jim staggered forward and fell; his horse snorted, and drew back with a start.
'I was just going to bring it you, Dan,' he gasped, with blood bubbling in his mouth, 'if you hadn't threatened me.'
There was a quick clatter of hoofs, and Balcombe and Coppertop rode up.
'I expected some devil's work of this sort,' said the latter as he dismounted, and bent over Jim. Balcombe came back to the camp about three hours after Jim left. His first inquiry was if Dan had returned. When told that Jim had gone back on the tracks alone he was greatly put out.
'Of course you did not know,' he said to his cousin, 'but you should have sent some one with him. There is not a better man than Jim Dacey, but when you are alone with a man for months in the outside country you are bound to see what he's made of. Jim Dacey is the best man I ever had with me; but on this subject, his hatred of his brother, he's not sane, not responsible; and I don't think his brother is either, but I don't know so much of him as I do of Jim. I'll go after him. Coppertop, get a couple of horses up.'
THEY took Jim's body in and buried it at the camp, and Dan lived on, a moody, taciturn man, for many years. The case, of course, underwent a judiciary examination, but, under the circumstances, Dan was not accounted responsible for his actions.
"CAN'T find 'em, can't you?"
The speaker—a tall, middle-aged man—was leaning against the tail of a horse-dray, addressing a trembling black boy, of about 14.
"Now, just you be off again, and if you are not back with the whole lot before sunset down there," and the speaker indicated a certain point in the heavens, "I'll hide the immortal soul out of you. I heard the bells just before daylight, so they must be camped close handy."
The boy gave a longing look at the fire, for the winter mornings in North Queensland are sharp, and he had nothing on but his shirt; then, with the bridle trailing over his arm, he departed in search of the missing horses.
His master, owner, employer (call him what you will) lit his pipe and laid himself down upon his blankets for a smoke. He was a man who prided himself on having been a gentleman and owning an aristocratic name. He also boasted that he could break in a black boy properly (a small boy, of course), and had a general, all-round swagger about him that, however, could always be reduced by reference to a certain of a station he was once employed on. What time he was conspicuous by his sudden disappearance and immediate return, after the trouble was over, with the announcement that he had gone to the back-verandah of the kitchen to get his revolver. Some of the boys said they found his tracks under the water-tank.
The sun was high above the spot indicated before the boy returned, mounted, barebacked, on an old horse with a muffled bell round its neck. He dropped wearily from its back, having been belting it along with the hobbles and his bare heels, for a couple of miles or more. "'Nother fellow gone," he said regarding the "white" man timidly. "This one bell you bin hear."
Delcourt, the individual in question, got up silently and went to the tail of the dray.
"Last time I send you after horse," he muttered. "Put my saddle on," he continued, "I'll go myself."
The boy saddled the old horse obediently while Delcourt, after rummaging for some time, finally came up with a pair of very small handcuffs. The boy guessed, from experience, what was coming; but, after all, it was no great hardship to be handcuffed to the dray-wheel until Delcourt came back. He could sleep, and he was tired.
Naturally he supposed that was all that was intended—to prevent him running away. He had been served so before.
Delcourt told the boy to go under the dray and he down. He did so, and his hands were handcuffed through the spokes of the wheel, over his head, as he lay on his back. Then his "employer" fastened his shins to two spokes of the opposite wheel with a couple of saddle-straps. This the boy did not quite understand, but he was helpless, his feet sticking out from beneath the dray as far as his ankles, or a little above. "Now, my lad, I'll make you hop along quick next tune you go to look for horses for me. I'll roast your lazy toes for you. You've been sitting under a tree all the morning with the old horse's bell tied up. I'll teach you."
He dragged a burning log from the fire and put it close to the soles of the boy's feet, then he piled on a few more sticks, and, getting on the horse rode away.
For the first few minutes while the fire still smouldered the warmth was not unpleasant, and the wearied lad dozed off. He was soon awakened. The fire blazed up brightly, and agonising yells began to resound through the solitude. They brought no answer, save the caws of a frightened crow, disturbed from its meal at the deserted camp-fire.
In about four hours' time Delcourt returned with the missing horses. The fire had burned itself out, and the boy was either senseless or dead.
He released him, dragged him from under the dray, and threw a blanket over him, for at that moment he heard voices and the tread of horses coming from another direction.
He was busy hobbling the horses when the new-comers arrived on the scene. Two men with a couple of pack-horses.
"Why, Delcourt," said the first one to dismount, a slight, dark, wiry little man with a crippled hand, "you've not got far; we did not expect to overtake you for another thirty miles."
"I've been after my horses all day," returned Delcourt, rising from his task, "and my boy is sick too."
"What's the matter with him?" said the other, a man with white beard and hair.
"Fever, I suppose, you know how blacks cave in." One of the men stopped over the boy and turned the blanket back. "He looks d—d queer," he said; "give me some water." The other handed him a quart-pot full, and he bathed the boy's face and breast, until he revived somewhat, and drank greedily of the remainder.
"You fellows going to turn out here?" said Delcourt coolly at this juncture. Neither answered. The boy, in his clutch at the quart-pot, threw aside the blanket, and the keen eyes of the shorter man were attracted by the appearance of the boy's feet.
"What's the meaning of this, Delcourt?" he said sharply.
"Oh," returned the other carelessly, "we came over some fresh burnt country yesterday, and the young beggar had been hammering his horse so I made him walk."
"You liar!" returned the other fiercely.
"We've seen your tracks for nearly sixty miles, and there is not an acre of burnt country between here and the foot of the tableland. Besides I've seen scores and hundreds of niggers hunting over freshly burnt country, but never saw one with feet like that;" and he pointed to the scorched and crippled members.
The elder man had arisen by this time, and now spoke before Delcourt could collect himself.
"This is some of your work," he said, "I have heard of it before. This time by (here he swore an oath rather too common in the spinifex country) you shall answer for it."
"The boy did it himself," said Delcourt sullenly in answer, without resenting the language used to him.
"That shall be seen to," said the other. "Remember both I and T—here are magistrates, and if this boy is not brought into ——I'll have a warrant out against you for murder."
THE boy never came in. Delcourt said that he ran away! Nobody could do anything. Nobody could prove he didn't run away, although everybody believed it to be a lie. Delcourt got a worse name than before, that was all, and he didn't mind that.
RETRIBUTIVE justice overtook him many years in another land, where the natives slew him. But although in a certain sense it was retributive it was not poetical justice; for a British man-o'-war came along and shot the natives for wiping him out.
A CREEK, that is to say, a depression in the ground which began nowhere and, after a brief course, ran out into nothing. Its one distinctive feature amid the surrounding monotony, a low, ancient, stumpy, scarred and twisted gum-tree, of scantiest foliage, rusty and forlorn appearance, A tree, large in girth but without heart, the mere mockery of a shell.
Around, a dull level of country, neither plain nor forest. Small belts of mulga, then clumps of stunted shrubs, growing on arid soil sparsely covered with spinifex and the withered stalks of other bushes.
But beyond the proud distinction of a gum-tree, or "yalloo," as the aboriginal inhabitants of that region would call it, the creek boasted of a more important claim to consideration. At the foot of the little bank, beneath the gum-tree, grew a few dark-green reeds, wiry and short. They grew beside a small and shallow pool of clear water, so small that one would think a single day of the desert sun would suck it dry. But the old gum-tree knew better and had grown up beside the only weak, struggling, little surface spring there was in all that thirsty land. The water was slightly brackish and nauseous to the taste, but for many miles east, west, north and south it was the sole store Nature had provided in all that desolate region.
The wretched little spring and the old, coreless tree had not many visitors. At times, some of the gaunt, meagre, ape-like denizens of the great Western interior would camp there for a night, halting on their journey across some wide, dry stretch, but there was no game to tempt them to linger. At other times parrots, pigeons, or a tired and worn-out kite came in and drank and rested in the branches of the old yalloo, then hastened on to a more promising land; but, as a rule, the old tree and little spring were lonely, silent and unvisited.
It was the time of day when the old gum-tree cast no shadow, when the wrathful sun looked straight down on the scorched earth, and the earth lay pulseless and faint, that a dark object came limping painfully through the cruel spinifex towards the lone spring. It was a miserable old black gin helping her thin, decrepit legs along with a yam stick not much thinner than they. A poor creature, abjectly bent and worn, with scaly skin, blear eyes and the ribs of a skeleton. How she had missed her fellows and turned off to this soak-hole, led by some old instinct, it would be hard to say; perhaps a bad cut in one of her feet would account for it, but she came hobbling on, until she reached the place and sank down beside the water.
Even then she did not act as a white would have done, and plunge her face into the mawkish, tepid stuff; but scraped a hole alongside for the water to drain into through the sand; then she drank some sparingly, and lay there a while with the sun beating on her poor old limbs and body. Revived a little, she arose, went to an old camping-place, and rubbed some ashes into the sore on her foot; then, from her miserable dilly-bag, took out some roots and a few fresh-water mussels. This was her meal, which she vainly tried to supplement by searching in the damp mud at the foot of the bank for more mussels. At the foot of the old tree was an aperture in the shell about the size of the entrance to a dog-kennel or the manhole of a tank. Into this the old gin crept, apparently knowing the place, and coiled herself up to rest and sleep.
Two hours of drowsy heat, of sultry calm, of unbroken stillness; then, through the haze that rises with the coming of the afternoon, loomed other figures—men and horses. Two white men, with a couple of pack-horses, wild-eyed, with tucked-up flanks, rode towards the old tree.
Some distance away they pulled-up and one went ahead alone. When he saw the water he waved his hat and the other followed; then they hastily unpacked and unsaddled, and the thirsty horses ran down to the water. There was not much more than room for them all to drink at once.
"That was a stroke of luck," said one of the men as they stood looking at the horses, "catching sight of the old tree. You can generally bet on a little water of some sort where a yalloo of this kind grows."
"Think there will be enough for them?"
"Yes, this must be a bit of a spring, for there's been no rain since the country was made, I think," and he looked significantly at the parched surroundings.
"We had better camp here, I suppose?"
"By Jove, yes, and spell to morrow, too, after such a tying-up as the mokes have had."
"Not much feed."
"They'll pick-up something amongst the mulga over there."
By this time the horses had finished, and the little hole was drained dry for the first time. "It will fill again, slowly of course, but there's plenty of soakage still in this bank," said one.
They hobbled the horses, made a fire, and camped by the old tree, which now cast a long shadow.
Inside the trunk the quaking gin had been awakened by their coming—had, even with her rheumy eyes, recognised through a crack the dreaded strangers once or twice seen before at a distance.
Night had set-in, the tired men slept, but the wretched creature could not escape even had she had courage, for the pack-bags and saddles were heaped against the hole by which she had entered. Slowly the moon rose and lit-up the scene, and from amongst the long shadows it cast crept forth other darker shadows, and stole towards the camp.
Blacks, even the most abject, do not desert their sick, old, or crippled, and some had come back to look for the crippled gin. But the white men were sleeping at the tree, and although, at last, emboldened by necessity, they crept in to drink at the water, the wretched prisoner could not let them know of her presence, even had she been aware of theirs. The men slumbered unscathed, the blacks departed; and morning broke, dewless and oppressive.
"Phew!" said one of the two men, "Look at the niggers' tracks on top of our horse-tracks. Wonder they didn't knock us on the head last night."
"Some gins, I suppose, sneaking in for water," returned his companion. "They travel at night very often in this dry country."
All that day the men lounged about, and the inside of the old tree was like an oven, and the frightened creature nearly shrieked when one with a tomahawk commenced chopping his initials on the outside.
Night once more, and when the moon was high one of the men started and roused his companion.
"What the deuce did you groan like that for?"
"Did I groan? Must have been dreaming."
"Don't dream like that again. I never heard such a groan—you ought to sell it."
Next morning they saddled up and left, and the tree and the trampled spring were solitary once more.
IT was many years after settlement of the neighboring "available" country that the old yalloo succumbed to a high wind preceding a thunder-storm, and toppled over. And again, some time after that, a man from one of the stations, visiting the spring, looked into the hollow trunk of the fallen tree and found an old mummy huddled-up, nose and knees together.
The remains were sent away as a great curiosity, and an authority on ethnology wrote a very clever paper proving that this method of "tree-burial" was analogous to that practised in many other parts of the world a few thousand years ago, and it exactly fixed the era of development arrived at by these Australian aborigines.
ON a river running through a well-known cattle district in Capricornia there were two stations, the homesteads of which were within a mile of each other; one being on the east bank, the other on the west.
Marangeebar were the name of the eastern and Ulliebong the name of the western one. Both were managed by their respective owners, who were, and had been since the first settlement of the district, fast friends. In fact, on the river they were regarded as a modern reincarnation of Damon and Pythias. It was a prosperously slow district in those days: Cattle went on breeding up from year to year; fats maintained a steady, if modest, price; the seasons were strangely favorable, and selectors were then nearly unknown.
Almost everybody on the river had a pet hobby, and plenty of leisure to indulge in it. Strange to say, Wilson, of Marangeebar, and Curtis, of Ulliebong shared a taste for natural history, which helped greatly to cement their friendship. Annually, when the slack times would set in, and the usual discussion would crop up in the weekly journals as to whether the young kangaroo was born in the pouch or placed there immediately after birth, they would jointly indite scathing letters to the newspapers, ridiculing the upholders of the first theory.
And when Jim Bolson, the contractor who did most of the fencing on the river, got hold of the editor of the local paper during a fit of the horrors, and persuaded him to publish a long account of a bunyip that Jim swore to having seen in the big hole at the Fourteen-mile Bend, was it not well known that the sarcastic letter, signed 'Incredulous,' exposing the absurdity of the statement, emanated from the near neighborhood of the two stations?
But one circumstance, above all had hitherto rendered their course of friendship as unbroken as the pastoral peace of the district in which they resided, that was, that both of them were confirmed and sworn bachelors.
Now, the owner of Ulliebong had occasion to pay a lengthy visit to New South Wales, and was away much longer than he had mentioned that he intended being; but this fact excited no suspicion in the breast of his friend, nor did the circumstance that he received no communication from him, for the friends were not in the habit of corresponding.
When, therefore, he heard of Curtis's return, no suspicion of the awful truth entered Wilson's mind, and he calmly prepared to saunter over the intervening mile in the cool of the evening, welcome his friend back, stay to dinner, end spend a pleasant evening.
He was just about to put this laudable intention into execution, when a mutual friend rode tip to Marangeebar, and getting off his horse, walked into the house, and, sitting down without a word of greeting, demanded a drink.
Wilson was a taciturn man, and without expressing any surprise, produced the required refreshment. The friend, Summers by name, drank it off, heaved a sigh of relief, and then, without a word of warning, said: 'Curtis is married.'
At this astonishing, incredible announcement, Wilson, though a temperate man, had to sit down and help himself to a stimulant. He would say nothing. The ice being broken, Summers went on:
'They stayed at my place last night. He and his wife and servant—'
'Servant!' gasped Wilson, for such a thing as a female servant had hitherto been unknown on the river.
'Yes, servant. Apparently she comes from the same part of New South Wales as the bride, and between them they sit upon Curtis.'
'Sit upon Curtis!'
'Well, figuratively speaking. When Mrs. Curtis feels annoyed she talks to the servant at Curtis. Brought her up for that purpose, I should say.
'And how is, he?'
'Broken. Not a word to say for himself.'
'And what is she like?'
'Hum! So-so, nothing much either way. I think her people must have been the big people of a little district, you understand. She says that the two chief virtues are total abstinence and frugality.'
'Does she order Curtis about, then?'
'Order him about? I should think, so! Never saw a man so changed. Curtis, used to be a masterful man in his way— good-naturedly so, without any side, but still he'd have his way in his own place, and quite right, too. It's "The Taming of the Shrew" reversed, with a vengeance.
'You'll stay to-night. Summers? I shan't go over now.'
'Stay? Of course; I came with that intention.'
During the dinner, and in the course of the evening, the two could find no other topic of conversation than their sense of wonderment, not so much at the dictatorial manner of Mrs. Curtis, as at the tame submission of their friend.
Wilson determined to put off his call for a fortnight at least, although he was such a close neighbor and old friend the husband. He could always plead that the cause of delay was anxiety to allow them to get settled down first. But when he met Curtis on the run one day, and the latter pointedly asked him why he had not been over to call on his wife; he had no recourse but to promise to come to dinner that evening.
The meeting between the old friends had been constrained on both sides. Wilson had heard so many strange rumours, and Curtis evidently that he must have heard them. So, though all was good fellowship; it was not the good fellowship of former days. True to his appointment, Wilson crossed the river, and presented himself at Ulliebong. He found Mrs. Curtis inclined to be cordial in manner, and her appearance answered to the neutral, description given by Summers. After declining to refresh himself with either lime juice or raspberry vinegar, dinner was announced, and they sat down to it. It was mail day that day, and Wilson was considerably astonished when, just as they commenced on some very thin soup, Laura, the servant, a flat-faced, countrified-looking girl, thrust her head into the room, and exclaimed—
'Uncle John's taken to drink.'
'Dear me, Laura, how shocking!' said Mrs. Curtis, quite calmly.
'Yes, m'm,' said Laura, and retired. A few minutes afterwards she reappeared, and said, 'They're trying to get him to join the Salvation Army.'
'A good idea, Laura,' replied Mrs. Curtis, in her former tone.
'Yes, m'm,' said Laura.
Wilson, as before stated, was a taciturn man, and preserved his countenance. He turned to Curtis, and was about to ask if he still kept up his natural history, when Laura announced once more, 'Aunt Jane's got another baby.'
'Another, Laura?' returned Mrs. Curtis, still unmoved.
'Yes, m'm,' said Laura, end vanished.
'It's the seventh, and a fine gel,' was the next piece of news, and Mrs. Curtis, seeing the bewilderment struggling with the composure of Wilson's face, vouchsafed an explanation. 'You see, I have brought Laura up here, right away from her friends, all of whom I know, and I feel bound to take an interest in her belongings.'
Wilson then began to comprehend that the mail had arrived that day, and that Laura was simply retailing scraps of local information which she had received in a letter from home. Reassured by this information, for he began to think that he had got amongst a set of lunatics, he turned to Curtis, and asked his unspoken question about the natural history, this time aloud.
'No,' replied Curtis; not since my marriage.'
'Do you not think such subjects a great wastes of time, Mr. Wilson?' said Mrs. Curtis.
'I mean, anyone addicted to study could find so much better ones. There's the total abstinence question, for instance, and the theory of thrift.'
'Very good things, both; but, surely, Mrs. Curtis, the study of natural history has its good points?'
'Merely subordinate ones. I should like to lend you some books on the subjects I have mentioned.'
Wilson replied hypocritically that he would be happy to read them, and Laura came in to change the plates, and confide to the company that 'young Jimmy Jones had been seen but walking with a girl.'
Wilson presently went home feeling as though he was in some awful nightmare. He found that Mrs. Curtis had insisted on the storekeeper and one of the men being discharged. Had taken the keys of the store herself, and cut down everyone's rations!
'By Jove!' muttered Wilson, as he stumbled across the sand of the river; 'She'll insist on going out on the run after the cattle next.'
Things went on unaltered for a week or two, and then Wilson was surprised by a visit from his old friend.
''You don't want to sell Marangeebar, do you?' he asked, to Wilson's intense surprise.
'No. Never dreamt of doing so. Why do you ask?'
'Well, Mrs. Curtis rather likes you, and she has written down for her sister.'
'Yes, but what has that to do with my selling my station?'
'Don't you see? She is going to make a match of if between her sister end you. I thought you might prefer to sell the place and clear out in time, if you didn't like the idea. I give you the hint because we're old friends.'
'I say,' said Wilson, as a sudden idea flashed through his brain, 'did anything happen to you, any accident, while you were down south?'
'Only that accident on the race course.'
'Accident on the racecourse? Never heard of it.'
'Oh, they persuaded me to ride in a Steeple-chase when I was staying with Sarah's (my wife's) people. My horse fell at the last hurdle, and I got a nasty spill.'
'Hurt your head?'
'I believe so. Anyhow, Sarah nursed me through, like the brick she is.'
After a little more talk, Curtis rose to go. He refused any refreshment on the plea that Sarah would smell it, and went away, Wilson merely remarking with regard to the sister that he would stay and face the music.
'So the murder's out,' he thought; 'but there seems no help for it, but I am sorry for Mrs. Curtis if Curtis regains his proper frame of mind again. Not that she would deserve any pity. I am afraid her sister is coming up on a fruitless errand.'
Wilson rode over to Summers, and confided to him all he had so unexpectedly learned; but, though Summers was hugely delighted at the idea of the sister having been sent for on Wilson's behalf, he could suggest nothing as regarded Curtis. They could not get him to go south and see a specialist without the consent of his wife, and yet it was heartbreaking to witness him tamely submitting to the tyranny of the 'Martinet,' which was the name by which she was known on the river.
In due time the sister arrived, and proved to be a fair counterpart of the 'Martinet,' without her experience. Unfortunately for Miss Jane, as she I was called, the Martinet had made things so unpleasant for the neighbors that no one came near the place, and her bright hopes were disappointed. Wilson had many invitations sent him, but the invariable excuse was pressing business in some outlandish part of the run. As Jane could not storm his citadel, although it was such a short distance away, she could only fall foul of her sister for having brought her up on a fool's errand.
IT was mustering time on Marangeebar, and Curtis, who was as good a station man as ever, was over—after the usual custom—to look after his own strayed cattle, and assist his neighbor and friend.
One evening they were yarding a mob of cattle, when a beast made an attempt to break away. Curtis went to turn it in. He had scarcely put his horse into a canter when it blundered over an ant-bed, and went down, throwing Curtis on to his head.
When they picked him up he was unconscious, but no bones were broken. They took him home across the river, and, as he did not quickly recover, a man was sent for the doctor at the local township, but long before he arrived Curtis had recovered. Curtis had recovered in more senses then one, for the old Curtis bad come back again.
The actual events surrounding his resurrection were, of course, never fully known, but the results were apparent. Rumor says that the first to encounter the new Curtis was the unfortunate Laura. Being left for a short time to look after him, she, in the guilelessness of her heart, began to read him scraps of information out of her last letter from home.
Within a short space of time she went squawking from the room, like a frightened hen.
Her mistress flew to the rescue, and there was a battle royal, the details of which were never revealed. Curtis strode across the river to Marangeebar just as the men were coming down from the drafting yard. They all saw what had happened, and pressed his hand with affectionate congratulations and sympathy. He took a fair square peg of whisky, and, looking round on his old friends, remarked:
'I've been a bit off color the last few months, but I feel as right as possible now.'
Then Wilson, without any elaboration, told him the facts of the case—how one spill had put him all wrong, and another had restored him to himself again.
'I think I'll stop over here and have dinner tonight, if you'll have me, Wilson,' he said.
A distracted martinet was pacing the verandah of Ulliebong that evening. Two or three times she had made up her mind to go over to Marangeebar In person, and demand the body of her husband, dead or alive, but each time her courage failed her at the bank of the river, and she returned. Within a few days the devoted Laura and the speculative sister departed whence they came. And within a few months the one time martinet became one of the most genial hostesses and the most popular woman on the river.
Wilson and Curtis, when they meet at the bathing hole for their evening swim, discuss—as an appropriate subject—the question as to the lowest latitude in which the Ornithorhynchus parodoxus is to be found, in contentment and peace. And Mrs. Curtis, until other developments in natural history, which are shortly expected, take place, has started a collection of moths and butterflies.
THE scrub, or, rather, jungle, of the coastal ranges of far Northern Queensland is unique in its way. Underfoot is an accumulation of dead leaves and, other vegetable debris; soft, yielding, and noiseless, a veritable carpet of Nature's providing. Overhead the boughs of the great trees twine and intertwine, and the long rope-like vines swing and sway in tangled loops like the cordage of a wrecked ship. It is shady, cool, and silent—very silent. The whip-like crack made by the coachman bird, the coo of a wonga pigeon are the only sounds that break on the ear. The great buttresses of the trees radiate in walls on all sides of the giant trunks, and the broad, baleful, green leaves of the stinging tree are visible here and there. Tall palms rear their plumed crests and intermingle with the canopy of leaves above.
On occasional spans of the range there are open spaces of rank glass, green and matted, and from these vantage points a view of the ocean can be obtained. Amongst these solitudes primeval still roam the few remaining tribes of aborigines as yet but little contaminated by contact with the whites. They know them, of course, and some even join in the trepang and bÍche-de-mer fisheries, taking temporary service. But they soon, return to the fastness of mountain and scrub and their former freedom.
On one of these open spaces commanding a bold outlook over the ocean and the sandy shore of a little cove beneath, stood a native gazing intently seaward. He was a tall, athletic fellow, naked, of course, holding in one hand a boomerang and light nulla; in the other he carried by the tail a dead rock wallaby, while round his neck were the banded coils of a carpet snake. Evidently he was not going to bed supperless that night. His gaze was fixed on the white sails of an incoming lugger, apparently making for the little cove beneath; a visitor from the Great Barrier. As the black stood there watching the white man's boat from his lofty eyrie, so might one of his ancestors have gazed in amazement at brave Cook in the Endeavor picking the dangerous way through the lurking coral reefs.
The aboriginal was motionless as he watched the steady approach of the lugger, until it was quite evident that she intended running into the little cove for the night; then he turned, and rapidly descended the steep side of the range. It was rough travelling, but the native's long legs and hard-soled feet made little of it, and he soon arrived at a camp of his tribe not far removed from the beach.
The lugger, with a light and favoring wind, came to an anchor in the cove shortly before sundown. The crew were enjoying their evening meal as the sun sank behind the range, leaving behind a red glow to illuminate a scene of peace and rugged beauty. The night closed in, and a watch was set for the treacherous and savage nature of the inhabitants of that part was well known.
In the blacks' camp the scene soon became animated, and the rhythmic beat of a corroboree was wafted to the ears of the men on the lugger.
'We shall have some of those bucks off tomorrow,' said the master of the boat to the man who acted as mate.
'Yes, and we must keep our eyes skinned tonight,' returned the other. 'You remember, it was not far from, here that they murdered poor Thornton and two of his men!'
The lugger had come across from a fishing station on one of the low, sandy islets of the Barrier, to try and obtain some native labor. A risky job on that part of the coast, almost as dangerous as recruiting in the Islands.
In the native encampment a large number of blacks were now assembled, and the fun was growing fast and furious. It is astonishing how, after a long day's hunting, blacks will corroboree—no light work—until far into the night Gradually, however, the sounds died down, the fires went out, and the camp grew silent; and, save the armed watch on the lugger's deck, not a soul was awake in the lonely cove, sheltered from the inrush of the long Pacific rollers by the insect-built wall, that the mightiest wave could not surmount, and live.
The sun rose, unflecked by cloud, promising a day of heat. Lazily the men roused up, and drew buckets of the clear, salt water to refresh themselves with by plunging their heads in and laving their bodies. A few more buckets were sluiced along the deck, and the smoke from the galley soon began to rise.
On shore it was some time before the natives showed signs of stirring, for blacks are late sleepers. Moreover, they are usually saved the trouble of preparing any breakfast, for the result of the day's hunt is generally consumed the same night. The men departed one by one, and it might have been noticed that they took with them far more than their usual supply of weapons. The gins, save some too old and crippled to move, went away searching for shellfish and other small game. Two only remained, watching the lugger, one of them, a rather light-colored gin, belonging to the tall blackfellow who had watched the incoming lugger.
After breakfast the men on board hoisted out their boat, and the owner of the craft and two men went ashore to try and open up negotiations. The blacks, however, seemed shy and disinclined to show up. At last the two gins cautiously approached the men, and, after being thrown a lew paltry presents, they appeared to gain a little confidence. At first they pretended they did not know what was wanted; then, as if suddenly enlightened, they made signs that they would bring the men down directly, and departed. The skipper paddled back to the lugger, and lay alongside, chatting with his mate.
'There are the gins again,' said the latter, glancing on shore; 'but I don't see any men.'
'I think I'll bring those two off, and then the men will show up,' said the captain.
'Go easy about it,' replied the mate.'I don't like the way they are carrying on at all.'
The dinghy went to the beach, and the gins explained that the blacks would be down directly. The captain made them understand that they might come aboard if they liked, and they readily consented. When they reached the lugger the mate drew the other's attention to the change taking place in the weather. A white mist was gathering on the top of the range, and stealing down the side.
'A squall,' said the captain; 'better get the anchor up, and shake the sails out, it will just run us out nicely.'
'There are some blacks,' returned the mate; and some three or four were now visible holding up their hands to show that they were unarmed.
'Keep the gins on board,' said the captain as he paddled back. While the men hauled up the anchor and shook out the sails, the mate managed to get the two gins, one on each side of a ring-bolt; and having given them something to eat, to put them in a good temper, he stooped down, and, as if in fun, snapped a handcuff round the ankle of one, and then—passing it through the ringbolt—he locked the other cuff round the other gin's ankle. They took no notice, beyond laughing.
Meantime, the men on shore were bartering with the blacks; the white mist was creeping faster down the side of the range, and a sigh of cold air seemed to break up the calm that reigned. The mate hailed the captain to hurry up. Whether his sudden shout startled the gins, or they suddenly awoke to the fact they were fast, it is impossible to say, but, with a loud cry, they both made an effort to spring overboard.
Of course, they both fell headlong, making the place resound with their frightened yells. The Captain jumped into the boat and made an effort to push off, but both he and the man with him were immediately clubbed to death. Then from every hiding place in the mangroves darted out the canoes that had been waiting their opportunity all the morning.
'By ——, we're nicely caught,' swore the mate.
'Make all fast, and keep them off if you can,' he shouted, springing to the tiller. A gust of wind might have saved them, but it came too late. Just as the lugger began to move slowly the canoes ranged alongside, and the blacks swarmed into her. The whites fought hard, but the odds were too many. The mate shot down the tall black, who was the leader, and then fell, speared through the body. As he did so the white mist enveloped everything, and the squall struck the lugger. His body jammed the tiller, and instead of falling off she gathered way and sped out to sea.
The blacks scarce knew at first what was happening, for they, were busy plundering the boat. Suddenly the mist lifted. Their canoes were gone, and they were far from land. With cries of alarm they sprang overboard, but how many reached the shores, the sharks alone know. On, with her freight of dead and two living passengers, sped the doomed lugger to the Great Barrier.
It was months before she was found, for, steered by the dead man, she threaded safely a narrow, passage and ran up on a reef of soft coral. Her decks, however, had been swept clear of all but three of her ghastly crew. The corpse at the tiller and the two skeletons shackled to the ring bolt.
'GREAT SCOTT!' exclaimed the super of Kamerackity Station as he tumbled out of his bunk on the morning of a certain day after the arrival of the team with medical comforts on board, when there had been a wild scene of hilarity over night, 'if I haven't forgot all about the horses for old Jenkins!'
Strange to say, whisky and a prevailing idea that we are all jolly good fellows have a tendency to make people forget what they ought to remember. Like a man of energy and action, as beseemed the manager of a cattle station in the land of Carpentaria, the first thing Mr. Dick Robbins thought about was retrieving the sin of omission he had been guilty of. Without waiting to doff his pyjamas and don other garments, he rushed outside the stately mansion of slabs and iron, that formed the head station of Kamerackity to see how matters fared.
The sun was a considerable height, and already rather hot. A dread mysterious silence reigned around, save when it was broken by the unanimous bellow of three hungry calves in the calf pen, whose milky mothers were quietly chewing the cud within sight of them. It might, have been 8 o'clock, 10, or 12—nay, the gazer still being confused about the points of the compass, it might have been 4 in the afternoon, with a declining instead of a rising sun. It might have been yesterday instead of to-day, or perhaps even to-morrow, for any sign of life there was to the contrary.
Rising to the occasion, Robbins proceeded to the blackboys' camp, and, after an infinity of blasphemy, managed to rouse two sleepy-headed aboriginals, and start them to look for the horses. On returning past the kitchen the sounds of a loud discussion induced him to look in there. One of the fencers was slanging the cook, whom he accused of drinking a reserve of grog put aside for morning refreshers.
'Think I'd touch yer jolly rum?' said the indignant cook. 'That's not my sort. Us old hands don't round on our mates like that.'
'Where is the jolly stuff, then?' demanded the fencer. 'Didn't I put it there myself last night?'
'Then yer drank it yourself,' returned the cook; and war seemed imminent as Robbins appeared. Peace spread its wings when he called them for a 'doctor,' and the other sleepers being aroused, and likewise doctored, a council of war was held.
Now, the trouble was this: Old Jenkins, the new owner of Kamerackity, in the district of Carpentaria, Queensland, had intimated, both by post and wire, his intention of paying a visit to his new property, and naturally expected to be met with appropriate means of locomotion at the glorious township of Mangroveton. All that was known of Jenkins was that he was a retired Sydney merchant, always dabbling in station property, and although without practical experience, still making very shrewd bargains, as he was gifted with good business instincts and much luck.
Robbins, who had been the manager under the former owners, and had accepted the offer to remain in charge, knew nothing of his owner, except by letter. Now, the mailman, had brought word to Kamerackity that the Lively Dick, the small steamer plying between Saxonton and Mangroveton, was due in the latter port that very morning, and that it would behove Robbins to hasten with all speed to meet the owner of the property in due time.
The blackboys had been dispatched at once in search of the horses, but, alas, they had returned at night horseless, stating that 'that feller jolly rogue, altogether clear out,' and now it was nearly 10 o'clock, not a horse within coo-ee, and Mangroveton fifty good miles away. All hands determined to do something, and two impetuous men picked up their bridles and started off to get horses or die; they got as far as the stockyard before they found out that they were thirsty, and had to come back for a drink; then forgot all about their first intention. Meantime calmer counsels commenced to prevail. Merewether, who was over from the next station, suggested that they should all 'taper off' a bit, that the boys would be back with the horses in less than no time, and that, in point of fact, everything would be all right. Now, when a man makes a statement that 'everything will be all right' with a convincing amount of confidence, a feeling of relief will spread itself throughout any deliberation. Merewether was unanimously voted a shrewd fellow, and it was agreed that the process of tapering off should commence forthwith.
But fate had already taken the matter in hand, and the stars in their courses were fighting on behalf of Robbins in a way he little dreamed of. Although it was known throughout the district that Mr. Campbell Jenkins intended visiting his new purchase, it was not known that he had one fair daughter, and that that fair daughter intended accompanying him to Carpentaria, or the desperate state of affairs might have led Mr. Robbins to seek refuge in a suicide's grave.
Mr. Jenkins was an elderly gentleman, quite destitute of imagination. He had never travelled but by rail or steamer, he never read anything but political and commercial articles, or the reports of his own speeches at temperance meetings.
Now Daisy Jenkins, aged 19, was just the reverse; she had rather too much imagination, although a good share of common sense behind it all. In her heart she suddenly desired to emulate the doings of other lady globe-trotters and perhaps publish a journal of her adventure; so she decided to accompany her parent north. Daisy was essentially a nice girl. She had bright eyes, bright hair, and a bright complexion. She had also a neat rounded figure, trim ankles, and an eminently squeezable waist. She had no more idea of what she was going to encounter than her father. Mr. Jenkins was a highly respectable-looking old gentleman, who would have commanded respect in any British community of merchants, and he had no more idea of what he was going to encounter than his daughter.
If the small centre of population at Kamerackity had endeavored to keep it up properly, Mangroveton had also been seized with a determination to outdo itself. Every man of the population had sworn to bring back the ancient reputation of the hard-drinking township for once; and every publican had applauded the resolution, and said it showed a manly spirit, hard to find in these degenerate days; and those social blisters who went about bragging that they were real old Gulf hands also applauded and talked familiarly of old times and got many drinks in consequence. There were sounds of revelry by night in Mangroveton's halls of light, and the red, red wine flowed without stint, for would not the Lively Dick arrive at any moment with a fresh cargo?
So the joy at night was unbounded, but in the morning there was blank! despair. Every drop of liquor in the town was gone, the residents had a collective head on them, and the Lively Dick had not arrived.
There were numerous gatherings of desperate men, and the liquorless publicans quailed before the public wrath. There was stern talk of pain killer, Worcester sauce, and other substitutes, but each man felt that such a descent would be unworthy of the occasion. The public accused the publicans of not keeping enough stock in hand, and the publicans defended themselves by blaming the abnormal thirst of their customers.
'Why, some of you would only be content with lying down in a paddock and sucking at a hose laid on to a brewery,' said one indignant Boniface, wrath with contemplating lost opportunities.
What could have become of the steamer? That was the question. It was darkly hinted that she had been decoyed up the Turtle River, and that even then perhaps the inhabitants of that river were holding unholy carousals on Mangroveton grog, and the thought was maddening.
Suddenly, a simple child of the forest; clothed only in a saddle strap and a boomerang, came in and remarked, 'Teemer sit down. Alonga a bank. Close up, good way.'
Then there was a sudden joyous awakening. Of course the steamer was stuck on a mud bank down the river! But why had the men not come up with a boat and some portion of the cargo? Why had they not behaved like white men? The crew was strong enough for the purpose. There was the captain, the engineer, the fireman, the general utility hand, the Chinese cook and steward, and a kanaka, who had got religion from the Maryborough Salvation Army. But this must be looked into afterwards.
It was at once moved and carried unanimously that a boat's crew should take a boat down the river and, inasmuch as the boat's crew might forget to come back, it was further agreed that a mounted party with pack horses should also go down the river, and that both parties should be bound under the most horrid oaths to return as speedily as possible to the relief of the thirsty township.
The noble savage had reported truly. As the boat turned a bend in the river half an hour after leaving Mangroveton, the anything but lively Dick was visible, hard and fast on a mud bank. There was little sign of life on board. An elderly gentleman, dressed in snowy white, was blinking at them through a pair of goggles as they approached; the converted kanaka was lazily throwing coke at a crocodile asleep on the bank; and on a bamboo chair the awe-struck gazers saw a female figure. The remainder of the crew were evidently sleeping it off somewhere, and a dismal groan of disapprobation broke from the boat's crew, which caused the sleeping crocodile to wake up and promptly disappear.
This awful sound also aroused the female, for it arose from the chair, and when the foremost of the Mangrovetonians clambered on board he saw such a vision of beauty, dressed in navy blue serge, that all he could do was to ejaculate something that sounded like 'What name?' and sit down on the deck to recover himself.
Then a solemn hush fell on this piratical crew, who had so unceremoniously boarded the Lively Dick, and the word was passed for the remittance man. The remittance man, who was supposed to be able to interview anybody, from a bishop to a blackfellow, with credit to himself and the community, managed, by a vigorous and determined effort, to impart some speculation into his boiled owl's eyes, and challenged boldly the hidden fire of the respectable goggles and the bewildering broadsides of the navy blue serge.
The converted kanaka at this point threw in 'Hallelujah' as a fitting and appropriate remark. Then the remittance man, with most elaborate politeness, explained that they wished to see the captain of the Lively Dick, adding that the craft was freighted with a valuable cargo of merchandise, the non-arrival of which had occasioned great loss to the mercantile community, and in a great measure stagnated trade.
'I am indeed sorry to hear it, but by no means surprised; the captain of this craft is at the present moment quite unfit for duty; otherwise we should not be here,' returned he of the goggles.
The remittance man looked full of sympathy, and expressed, unqualified disgust at the captain's conduct, and a more disgusted-looking lot of men than his fellow-pirates could scarcely be found anywhere; even the kanaka had to give vent to another 'Hallelujah!'
'Could he see the engineer or the fireman?'
'The engineer, the fireman, and the other man who constitutes the crew went ashore last night to cut firewood,' replied Mr. Jenkins, who was of course, the owner of the goggles. 'They have' not yet returned.'
The remittance man looked incredulous; and all the other pirates tried to look as incredulous as their eyes would let them. 'They told me,' went on Mr. Jenkins, 'that that was the object of their departure. They took a case of weapons with them, which they in formed me were warranted to kill at fifty yards, to defend them from the attacks of the natives.'
'Brandy case; Hallelujah!' cried the kanaka.
'It certainly was a brandy case, but I do not know the contents of it. We heard some strange howlings in the night, which may have been natives.'
Just at this moment an uproar on the bank announced the arrival of the land party. On their way down they had come across the 'crew' fast asleep in the shade of an ant-hill. Having compelled him, on pain of death, to divulge the whereabouts of the engineering department, they had likewise unearthed that department, and some of the weapons, which they immediately unloaded for fear of accidents; now they were hailing the steamer.
'Oh, dear!' exclaimed the navy blue serge, really startled a little; 'what do all those wild looking men want?'
At once a brilliant idea shot across the rapidly clearing brain of the spokesman.
'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Jenkins?' he asked.
'You have, sir,' replied that gentleman, and, seeing the look of inquiry in the other's eyes, 'this is my daughter,' indicating the vision.
'Really, Mr. Jenkins, this is more than provoking,' exclaimed the remittance man, angrily. 'We knew of your coming, and, fearing some accident, all our townspeople have turned out to search for the steamer. The conduct of the men in charge has been most abominable.'
'Abominable, indeed,' chorused all the pirates.
'I should not wonder,' continued the speaker, 'if they fell victims to the just vengeance of our friends ashore.'
'Oh, no!' interrupted Mr. Jenkins, hastily; 'nothing of that sort, please. Their conduct has been bad, but I will take legal remedies.'
'In that case,' said Harcourt, the remittance man, 'you had better allow me to go ashore for a few minutes, and explain matters to our friends.'
Half a dozen strokes took the pirates to land, and in a secluded spot, out of view of the steamer, Harcourt revealed the outline of his programme to the choice spirits around him. It was agreed to at once. Some went on board to assist in getting the steamer off; some went back to the township.
Their efforts on board were successful. Steam was got up, and in two hours' time the Lively Dick was alongside the wharf at Mangroveton.
Poor Daisy felt rather disenchanted at beholding the somewhat prosaic appearance of the town, which did not seem to offer much material for her journal; but the kind welcome extended by everybody, the dignified speech of the police magistrate, who had had the one policeman pouring buckets of water over him for the last half-hour, all tended to reassure hear, and the P.M. having vacated his quarters for the accommodation of father and daughter, she began to enjoy her adventure.
Mr. Jenkins had duly inquired from Harcourt concerning Mr. Robbins and his expected arrival, and, having heard from that worthy a full and most particular account of the well-known steadiness of his super's character, so that his non-arrival could only be accounted for by something quite unforeseen and unavoidable, he too allowed his mind to resume its wonted balance. Meantime a raid had been made upon all the white suits in the town, and it was decided that a gorgeous banquet should be tendered to their distinguished visitor.
The Acting-Collector of Customs having hastily cleared the steamer's cargo, retired with the P.M. to compose a speech which should fool Mr. Jenkins to the top of his bent when his health was proposed. Harcourt dispatched a blackboy with a note to meet Robbins, and put him up to the state of affairs, so that he should not be off his guard on arrival.
Meanwhile Daisy, determined to get as much information as she could for her future journal of travels, had sallied out despite the heat. Meeting Harcourt, she had impressed him as escort to show her over the town and explain things generally. This Harcourt did in a manner which would have drawn tempests of applause from his numerous admirers. According to him, Mangroveton was an example of the infancy of a giant; residents and visitors should feel a thrill of pride at being permitted to view this promising outcome of the British Empire while yet in embryo.
'This town, insignificant as it now looks, Miss Jenkins, is destined to be the Carthage of the north. The banks which witnessed the mishap to the little steamer that brought you here will in future see stately vessels glide past freighted with products from the great emporiums of the East. That space' (he indicated a space occupied by five melancholy tea trees and the same number of ant hills) 'is the site of our future Town Hall. There will be the cathedral; there the—let me see—the hospital, in case we should ever need one in this healthy climate; and there will arise the walls of some palatial hotel.'
This was splendid. Daisy really felt a thrill of pride to think that she should be privileged to witness the scene of so many future splendors, unvisited even by the gifted authoress of Cruisings in Many Seas. Surely The Log of the Lively Dick would rival that famous work. Her spirits rose very much.
IT was Sunday afternoon, and, as, although there was a future cathedral, there was no church, Daisy proposed to her new friend, with whom she was now on the best of terms, that as there was a harmonium in the P.M.'s private establishment, they should hold service in the evening. Harcourt enthusiastically seconded the motion. All the presentable boys were rolled up, and bound over to good behavior, under penalty of having to swear off for six months.
It was a delirious success. The P.M., supported by the Customs, read prayers, and Daisy, with a choir of volunteers, played and sang hymns.
'Why, what's come of all the fellows?' asked one disgusted old Gulf hand, who had just woke up, and was looking for someone to shout for him.
'Up at the P.M.'s, singing psalms,' returned the temporary barman. 'The boss is up there, too.'
The old hand gasped out something about, 'Well, I'm—' and there being nothing else to do, had a long drink of water, and went to sleep again.
A full account of the choral service, as it was termed, was immediately wired to Saxonton, making the residents of the town sit up with envy, and causing them to see more green-eyed monsters than they usually did. But the banquet!
Unfortunately, Daisy could not grace the board with her presence. For all that, nothing like it had ever before been known in the Gulf country. The speech, in which the P.M. proposed the health of their distinguished guest, and extolled the glorious future of their district, which had attracted to their shores a man of such unbounded wealth and business capability, almost made that gentleman shed tears. In returning thanks, he publicly forgave the captain and crew of the Lively Dick for their late conduct, and sat down amidst a hurricane of cheers. The captain rose to explain.
He was not quite intelligible, but he was understood to mean that the accident was the result of his sensitive feelings; they had overcome him at a critical moment when rounding Square Gin Point. He had lost an angel sweetheart once in his unforgotten youth, and catching sight of Miss Jenkins at the moment, the memory brought tears into his eyes, and before he recovered himself they were ashore. Here he again broke down, and had to go outside to weep, protesting that ever since Mr. Jenkins put foot on the deck of the Lively Dick he had venerated him as a father.
The grey dawn was stealing through the chinks in the slabs when the remittance man, who was dreaming that he was waltzing with Daisy Jenkins, was roused from his sweet repose by diligent shaking. Waking sufficiently to comprehend that Robbins and Merewether were in his room, having just arrived after riding all night, he recounted to the fresh arrivals the events of the day before, and a discussion ensued as to what was best to be done.
'You can't let the old donkey take the girl up to the station, you know; that would be too much of a joke,' said Harcourt. 'Good gracious, man, I'd never look up again. Why if I soaked that blessed cook of mine in the creek for a week or a fortnight, I couldn't get the smell of rum out of him,' returned Robbins.
'What's she like?' asked Merewether, stroking his moustache, with a side glance in the cracked looking-glass.
'Well, her name's Daisy, I believe, and she just is a daisy. I can't say any more.'
'You fellows must help me out of the scrape somehow,' remarked the super of Kamerackity.
'I've done my best,' replied Harcourt. 'I've gone bail that nothing but the most unforeseen of accidents could have detained you; and have vowed and declared such a character of you as I am sure your godfathers and godmothers would hesitate to endorse.'
'I can easily get up an excuse for not turning up in time, but how on earth to put them off coming up to the station, in its present condition?'
'I don't know,' returned Robbins. 'Give it a spell, old man; go away, and get a feed; while I finish my sleep. Something is sure to turn up.'
'Of course, everything will be all right,' added Merewether, glad to get in his favorite axiom; and for the time they parted.
At breakfast, Harcourt had his plan all cut and dried. A buggy and horses were ready. Daisy was eager to make a start into the mysterious bush, and Papa Jenkins was still smiling over the flattery of last night; so the cavalcade departed, amidst the open-eyed wonder and admiration of Mangroveton, and when the buggy and attendant horsemen vanished from sight, everybody went away to sample something.
It being impossible to reach the station in one day, the three conspirators—for such they now were—had arranged to camp half-way at the crossing of one of the principal rivers, and had prepared accordingly. Harcourt, who was driving, kept drawing Mr. Jenkins's attention to the wonderful productions of nature along the road.
'Ant hills, sir, that only require knocking down and pounding up with water to make the most splendid bricks imaginable. Timber that the white ants refuse to look at; miles superior, sir, to the far-famed jarrah of West Australia. Why, even the Gulf natives show powers of endurance that—'
Here he stopped suddenly, and beckoned to Robbins, who was riding close behind. He leant over, and whispered something impressively to him.
'No, I don't think there will be any about; we didn't notice any as we came down,' returned Robbins in a louder key, audible to the other occupants of the buggy.
'That's all right,' answered Harcourt, apparently much relieved. 'At any rate, we can sacrifice two boys, as usual, if there is trouble.'
Presently, Robbins and Merewether went on ahead with the two black boys; and when the buggy overtook them, they found that a shady camp had been improvised on the bank of the river.
Daisy was supremely delighted with everything; for, fortunately, it was a tolerably cool day, and even Mr. Jenkins began to think that he would be able to tell of his experience as a daring pioneer, without having undergone much real discomfort. The boys were most attentive, and everything looked promising.
Towards evening, however, Merewether came up from the river in great haste.
'They're here, after all,' he said. 'More than ever I saw before.'
'You don't say so?' cried Robbins and Harcourt together. 'What a good job we did not try to cross.'
'May I inquire what is wrong?' asked Mr. Jenkins, whilst Daisy, who was writing up the Log of the Lively Dick, looked up rather startled.
'Oh, nothing, nothing. Don't disturb yourself,' said Harcourt; 'only a little inconvenience that we thought we had guarded against.'
'Are the natives coming?' asked Daisy.
'No, Miss Jenkins; the natives about here are quite harmless. To tell you the truth, it's the crocodiles. They sometimes assemble here in such numbers that for weeks it is impossible to cross.'
'Are we quite safe up here?' hastily inquired Mr. Jenkins.
'As safe, if not safer, than, you would be in Sydney. The only difficulty is crossing to-morrow.'
'I hope they don't get hold of Dickie; he's down after the horses, hunting them back from the edge of the water,' said Merewether.
At this instant there was a wild aboriginal yell from the waterside, and two or three of the horses came galloping up in their hobbles, snorting, and startled. Daisy caught hold of Harcourt's arm, who happened to be nearest to her, and Mr. Jenkins, with great presence of mind, got into the buggy, and put her umbrella up.'
'Crocodile catchem Dickie!' said the other black boy, very coolly. Agonising cries and frantic splashings were now heard from the water.
'Oh!' cried poor Daisy; 'Do, do try to save him,' and before the men could stay her, she was off down the bank, with them after her, calling to her to stop, leaving Mr. Jenkins seated in the buggy crying out loudly for the police.
Meantime the black boy increased his alarm by screaming with laughter, shouting out in between, 'My word! Crocodile catchem Dickie! No you bin hear 'im sing out?'
When the party reached the edge of the water, all was still. Save a few ripples, there was no sign of the tragedy that had just taken place. Daisy was very white and frightened. The men did not dare look at one another, and from the top of the bank came continued calls for the police.
'It is of no use our staying here, Miss Jenkins,' said Harcourt at length. 'I really must insist upon your coming back to the camp. You are not safe, here.'
Daisy took his arm.
'Did they really eat the poor fellow?', she said, with big tears in her eyes, as Harcourt led her away. Robbins and Merewether looked guiltily at each other.
'She's a thorough little brick,' said the former at last. 'We must keep her from being frightened again.'
Merewether nodded, and they followed back to camp.
''I suppose you did not see anything of the unfortunate black lad?' asked Mr. Jenkins from the buggy. 'Why does this native seem so extremely amused at his companion's death?'
Robbins said that it was a way they had; and asked the proprietor of Kamerackity to step aside with him for a moment.
'This is most unfortunate, sir, the crocodiles turning up like this; it may detain us some considerable time; and I suppose you do not intend making any lengthened stay?'
'No. But cannot we cross the river where there are no crocodiles?'
'This is the only crossing place in the river; but we will manage it. I certainly never tried it before, but I will now. We have still one boy left.'
'Whatever can you mean, Mr. Robbins?' asked Jenkins, somewhat startled.
'Nothing particular, sir. I may as 'well tell you, though; and then you can give Miss Jenkins a hint not to feel alarmed at any noise she hears during the night.'
'Mr. Robbins; I insist upon your explaining yourself.'
'Well, the truth is,' commenced Robbins—here he suddenly stopped, and called to Merewether. 'You'd better slip the handcuffs on Jerry,' he went on to his friend, when, he joined them. 'I think he smells a rat.'
'Tell me at once what all this means?' insisted the now thoroughly alarmed Jenkins.
'Nothing shall hurt you, sir; rest assured. As I told you, I have never done it before; but I have heard of it. You see you and Miss Jenkins must be our first care. Now, the crocodiles will be quiet for a time, digesting Dickie; when they wake up again about 2 o'clock in the morning, we will give them Jerry, and that will serve them till we get safely across. Coming back, we will bring two fresh boys. But we must chain Jerry up to-night, or he might give us the slip.'
The eyes of the respectable merchant grew wild with horror.
'Why, it would be murder,' he gasped. 'Let us turn back at once.'
'But you must see the station,' remonstrated the manager.
'I am quite satisfied, I assure you. We will turn back. Do you mean to say that the practice you mention so coolly, is often indulged in?'
'Not often,' said Merewether, 'but I believe it's a good plan.'
'Well, if we don't go on, sir, we will turn back in the morning, it is too late now; but pray, don't mention what we have been talking about.'
'Not for worlds,' replied the old gentleman, as he turned back to camp, much relieved.
'Look here, you fellows,' remarked Harcourt to the others, 'we must resuscitate that nigger somehow; it's taken all the fun out of the little girl's trip; I don't like it.'
After tea, when Miss Jenkins had somewhat recovered her spirits, and was chatting a little again, a rustling was heard in the grass as of someone approaching.
'Dickie come up,' said Jerry, as if it was a matter of course for a blackfellow to be eaten by a crocodile one minute and turn up smiling the next. Daisy looked on, half frightened, as Dickie marched in, with a broad grin on his face, and sat down alongside his companion.
'Bugee titu inkum barrabar?' said Jerry.
'Yow, dutor, dum, dum, dum, dum, cheear,' replied Dickie, with a wide sweep of his arm.
'What does he say,' Mr. Robbins?' cried Daisy, with wondering eyes.
'Says he dived down and got away from them, and then swam right up the river.'
'Oh, I am so glad,' said the girl. 'I shall sleep now. Good night,' and with a bright smile which each man appropriated to himself, she tripped away to the tent that had been pitched for her beside the one for her father.
'You were quite right, Harcourt,' said Robbins, after a long and silent smoke, during which Mr. Jenkins had also departed. 'She is a daisy, every inch of her.'
'Yes,' returned Merewether, 'and would settle down to bush life in no time,' and they all sighed deeply. Presently, Harcourt got up and went over to the back of the buggy, and the two others followed, and a strange and mystic sound like unto the drawing of a cork, was heard. Then that deep, mysterious, solemn hush of the bush, that Australian poets are always raving about, fell over everything.
The return of the party to Mangroveton surprised nobody; they had got beyond that feeling. The Lively Dick was about to return, and the skipper was clothed and in his right mind, and vowed that he would not think of his lost angel sweetheart until the party were transferred to the large steamer at the mouth of the Saxon River.
THE Log of the Lively Dick is not yet published, but three residents in Carpentarialand are anxiously looking out for it.
A fantasy adventure novelette of some 20,000
words, in the "hidden kingdom"
genre, set in the high mountains of what was then Dutch New Guinea.
THE quick-falling night of the tropics seemed to close in faster than ever that evening. There was one, sudden, blood-red gleam on the western horizon, and then the sullen masses of vapor merged, at once, into black night.
There was scarcely any lightning, excepting some distant, fitful glimmerings, accompanied by a low, ominous muttering. The air was dead calm, and stifling, and the men lounged about the deck, gasping, almost.
Moraine walked impatiently up and down, anon glancing to where the northern coast of New Guinea had been visible while daylight lasted. All sail had been taken in; but a jib and staysail were ready for hoisting directly a puff of wind would give us a chance to creep a little farther away from the dangerous proximity of the land.
So time crept on in the still gloom, and the schooner lay helpless, without steering-way on her. Suddenly there was a blaze of blinding white light, accompanied by an instantaneous, crash of thunder, as though a world was falling in pieces. Moraine sprang to the wheel, giving orders to hoist the staysail. The next moment the tempest leaped on us with a scream of fury. The schooner reeled over as though struck by a mighty blow, and I thought she was going to turn turtle; but she recovered herself, and they were able to set the jib, for a lull took place for a second, and Moraine and the mate managed to get the schooner's head to wind. Then the hurricane came on again, and, it seemed to me, animated by seven devils worse than the first. I would have crawled aft to speak to Moraine, but conversation was impossible even had one been gifted with the lungs of a Domain orator.
Everything had been battened down in readiness, and for a time she stood up to it gallantly. But as the wind continued in unabated fury it was evident that our fate was sealed, and that we were gradually but surely making leeway, and drifting down on the New Guinea coast. The sea, too, was rapidly rising, and the waves that the taut little schooner had ridden over at first now buried her nearly under, and occasionally swept her clean fore and aft. I had made myself partially fast with the bight of a rope, ready to cast off when the inevitable smash came, but whether there was anyone else left on board I did not know. For aught I could tell in that fury of wind and sea, and the reeling, staggering craft, every soul might have been swept overboard and I left alone to go ashore with the vessel. I had fallen into an apathetic state when we struck at last. I felt that we were going up on a-mighty wave, and knowing that the end was come I threw off the bight of the rope, but still retained my hold of it. Down we went, but the shock was not nearly so violent as I expected. Then came another giant wave, and again we were lifted and hurled forward.
Things seemed quieter then; the wind appeared to roar overhead of us, and the seas only came in showers of pelting spray; the schooner, too, was upright and steady. Wondering much what had happened, I prepared to make a tour of the vessel, and see if I could find any other human beings. I turned my steps, but had not gone far, feeling my way in the Stygian darkness, before I ran against somebody doing the same. We caught held of each other, and roared out our names, for the noise and riot of the wind and the incessant peals of thunder rendered ordinary speech impossible.
It was Moraine.
'Follow me!' he yelled. I did so, and he groped along to the companion way, and so down to the cabin. Here we could speak.
'What's happened?' I asked.
'Thrown up amongst the mangroves,' he replied. 'It's saved our lives, but the schooner will never come off. There's a riding light down here, if I could only find it and light it.'
After a little while he was successful, and we returned to the deck to muster up whoever might be on board. Only four of the crew turned up—two kanakas, a Manila man, and the old Malay serang. We found the body of Bowler, the mate, lying on the deck. He had been dashed against the mast, and his skull fractured. The rain was falling in torrents, and the wild north-west hurricane hurtling overhead. We could do nothing but wait for daylight, so we assembled in the cable, and Moraine found a providential bottle of rum, and served out a very grateful nip all round. Then followed a dreary time of waiting and watching until daylight came. When it was fairly light Moraine and I went on deck to view our surroundings. There was not much to see; the rain still poured down as it only does in New Guinea.
The force of the hurricane had somewhat abated, but it still roared overhead. For the rest we lay on a bed of mud, surrounded by the dense foliage of the mangroves, but how far the swamp extended we were unable to see on account of the rain which enveloped everything in a shroud of falling water. Apparently the schooner was uninjured to any great extent, but as we possessed no means of getting her off she might just as well have been a total wreck.
The old serang coming on deck, Moraine told him to call the others up, and go forward and make some coffee and get breakfast.
'This comes of trusting to yarns about new banks,' he said, as we returned to the cabin.
To explain matters I may as well state that Moraine, who owned a large pearl-shelling station on Prince of Wales Island, had heard from some vagrant Malays of rich banks of pearl-shell off the northern coast of New Guinea, and had determined to go round and try and find them. Moraine was an old friend of mine, and as I happened to be at Thursday Island at the time, and he told me of his projected cruise, I volunteered, to accompany him as a passenger, which offer was cordially accepted. As ill-luck would have it, the north-west monsoon set in exceptionally early that season, and hardly had we reached the indicated locality when the hurricane burst that put us in our helpless position. There was nothing to do all day but discuss the situation, for the rain still continued falling in sheets, and blotted out all view of our surroundings. We had two good boats on board, and Moraine thought that we might possibly get these into the sea, and make for German New Guinea, whence we could pick up a steamer. However, we could do nothing until the rain ceased, which it did about midnight that night.
The morning was as clear as though such a thing as a storm was unknown in that region. Ascending the rigging, Moraine and I were able to take in our position. We had been carried about three hundred yards into the mangroves, and from the look of things it appeared as though we should be able to launch the boats at high water without having to drag them far through the mangroves. Shoreward the mangroves stretched for about half a mile, when they met a sandy slope on which grew some straggling pandanus trees. Beyond its crest we could not see. Westward the forest of mangroves was unbroken until a point was rounded. Eastward the mangroves died away and became a sandy beach, which, looked as though it would make a good landing-place.
Somewhat comforted, we descended. The state of affairs looked promising, although Moraine had lost his schooner, and vitiated the insurance by taking her into unknown waters. Much against our will we had to consign the body of poor Bowler, the mate, to the slime and ooze of the mangrove swamp, for it was impossible to take it either to sea or shore.
We then started the men, under the serang, to cut a passage through the intermixed boughs and twisted roots of the mangroves, to the sea. This was not a very long job, and by the afternoon it was finished, and by that time we had the boats down ready for tugging out Into the sea. The tide suited, and by the evening we had them both afloat and snugly secured amongst the outer belt of mangroves for the night.
Discussing our movements, we determined to first investigate the sand to the eastward next morning, and then form our plans for escape. This was a mistake of judgment altogether, and I wonder we fell into it so easily. If we had occupied the night in stocking the boats and made straight off whilst the weather was fine we could have escaped what afterward befell us. By our calculations we were near the mouth or mouths of the Amberno River and in face we were actually on a delta between two of its many mouths. All that is known of this river was from an ascent made by Mr. Van Bram Morris, who reported shallow water sixty miles from the sea, but it was supposed that he did not find the main stream. Neither could we have been off the main mouth, for the river in flood makes a strong off-shore current, which might have saved our schooner.
Next morning we started in one of the boats, leaving the serang and the others to get certain stores ready packed for our projected boat voyage, We had plenty of arms, but did not expect any annoyance from the natives, as the schooner was too well concealed amongst the mangroves. We landed at the point we had seen from aloft, and found the country clear and open, but of the usual sandy, barren character common to the coast. From a hill, the country, as far as we could see, to the eastward was also clear and free from mangroves.
We turned, and were descending, when, looking westward, towards where our unfortunate schooner lay in its forest dock, I saw three war canoes coming round the corner, evidently bound for our helpless craft. In an instant we were flying down to our boat and pulling desperately for the schooner. They had reached the opening cut in the mangroves long before us, had swarmed over the vessel in no time, before resistance could be offered, so unexpected was it; and when we reached there we found the entrance guarded by the canoes, and our vessel evidently captured. This was a facer. Even with our magazine rifles we stood no show against three great war canoes, full of men armed with bows and arrows. The men in the canoes did not offer to molest us; but motioned to us to keep off; so we kept off. There was simply nothing else to do.
Presently, some of them came down through the mangroves, and got into one of the canoes. They started towards us.
'Better see the matter out quietly,' said Moraine. 'We can't run, and we can't fight.'
As the canoe approached one man, who appeared from his headdress to be some sort of chief, hailed us, but what he said we could not make out, so we simply stayed quiet until they came alongside. This individual did not speak any more, but looked curiously into our boat, and motioned us to hand him our two rifles. We had no alternative, and did so. Reaching over he took the painter of our boat, and made it fast to the stern of the canoe, and then they started towing us.
'This is an entirely new sensation,' said Moraine, filling and lighting his pipe; 'better take it coolly. These fellows don't seem vicious, unless they intend making long pig of us.'
I followed his example, and in this strange fashion we went on to the westward. We could not see much of our lost schooner as we passed her, but there seemed no excitement of any sort going on.
As we went on the day grew hot. The chief hailed us, and threw us a couple of coconuts on board, which was an act of consideration we appreciated. Very soon we turned into the entrance of a wide inlet, which gradually led us into the mouth of a river, still surrounded by the eternal mangrove forest. Up this river we proceeded, and it was not until the sun was getting low that we reached higher country. After leaving the mangroves for good the current of the river, increased in strength, and on tasting the water I found it fresh, or nearly so. About two hours before sundown we came to a native village, a good-sized one. too, with large houses, with turtle-backed roofs, capable of containing many families. There were sago plantations, and a grove of coco-palms; and what with that and the children and pigs knocking about, the place seemed quite civilised. This I wondered at the more, as I knew that this portion of Dutch New Guinea had been seldom visited.
The chief beckoned to us to leave the boat, and when we stepped ashore he led us to a fair-sized house that was empty, and indicated by signs that it was ours. A woman brought some mats and put them down on the floor. The chief—I call him 'chief,' but there are no chiefs in this part of New Guinea; only every tribe has a kind of headman, who does not possess much authority—then left us and went back to the river, and standing at the door of our newly-acquired villa residence, we saw, to our astonishment, another canoe approaching, towing, our second boat, laden with stores, and Judge our surprise, when in the stern of it we recognised our Malay serang. We stood and watched, unable to understand what was intended by these strange proceedings. Under his direction we saw some of the men take up several packages that he pointed out; then, taking one himself, the whole party came towards where we were standing.
'Hullo, serang; I thought you were done for!' said Moraine, when he was within hearing.
'Thought so, too, sir, when these fellows came aboard,' he answered, with a grin; 'but they seem a good sort after all.'
'Have a fight at all?'
'No, sir. These fellows too quick.'
'Just as well. Where are the others?'
'Still aboard, sir. All safe. I understand them a little, and they told me to pick out what things you would want, and come here with them.'
The men had put the things down and gone away. There was everything we wanted to make us comfortable; but that, of course, was owing to the serang, the Papuans themselves could not have picked them. The other things they had brought they put into one of the other houses.
They were only cases, taken at random from what few stores we had on board, for, of course, we had not much with us. Before dark the headman came up and spoke to the serang, who partially understood him, for he had been knocking about the coast of New Guinea before.
'He wants to know if you will be comfortable?' said Rastan, interpreting.
'First rate, tell him,' said Moraine; then as the headman moved away he went on, 'Well, I have heard that some of the Papuan tribes have a great deal of natural politeness, but, by Jove, Charley, this beats all.'
The next morning the canoes, with our two boats in tow, went down the river, and as they took the serang with them we concluded they were going to the schooner; and this proved correct, for in the evening they returned with the pump and diving gear.
Meanwhile we had passed the day rambling about the village quite unattended. We found much to interest us in it, and the inhabitants seemed perfectly friendly, and showed us their weapons and other implements readily and cheer fully, explaining their uses by dumb show.
The next morning the headman came to us, and, through Rastan, asked us if we would go with him a short distance, at the same time pointing to a not very distant rise. We had no mistrust, and agreed to at once. It was about five miles to the rise, and we found it much higher than we thought. On ascending it we had a splendid view of the mountain ranges of the interior rising in tiers one over, the other. But what made Moraine and, I utter an exclamation of surprise was, that far, far away, rising above the intervening ranges, were snow-clad peaks, their crests just visible, one only ascending in solitary grandeur above the others.
'The Charles Louis mountains,' said Moraine, after a long pause.
The headman said something to Rastan.
'He says that we are going there in a day or two,' said Rastan to us.
'Going there! Where?' I asked.
The headman, as if he understood the question, pointed to the snowy peaks.
This was cheerful sort of information. We were prisoners after all it seemed.
'How are we going? Ask him,' said Moraine.
Rastan repeated the question, and the headman pointed to where a broad river could be seen winding its way in the distance; at the same time he said something in reply.
'There are those who will come for us shortly,' Rastan translated.
The return home was under circumstances of a somewhat moodier sort than what we set out in the morning. We had begun to hope that the natives were friendly by their own account, and we should be able to treat with them to get away.
Now it seemed that we were merely reserved for an unknown fate in an unknown region. More over, we had not the slightest chance of escape either by land or sea. Moraine, with his usual philosophy, accepted the matter, and when we returned had a good stiff nip of the rum they had kindly restored to us, ate a hearty meal of some particularly nice fish that they brought us, and smoked the pipe of indifference after it. I followed his example and felt the better for it.
'Look here, Charley!' he said, 'we've neither of us wives nor families, and nobody who will particularly miss us, so what's the odds. We can't get away, and must face the music. For my part I think that they can't mean us much harm, or they would not have been so deuced civil.'
On consideration I agreed with him, and we grew pretty well resigned to the situation, if not exactly contented.
It was some three days after this communication that there seemed a little excitement visible amongst the natives. Towards noon it increased, and what was the amazement of Moraine and myself when a large kind of barge appeared coming down the river, the crew rowing and not paddling, and equipped in a sort of uniform. Moraine and I watched astounded. Were these the people who were, going to take us away? It seemed so, for the man who sat in the stem with all the dignity of an officer of a man-of-war, stepped on to tire bank, and, with a few words with the headman, approached us.
He was dressed in a white suit, cut something after the manner of a pyjama suit. His face was handsome; and hairless, bearing rather a Semitic cast. His color was a clear olive, and altogether he was a striking and noticeable figure, nearly, six feet in height. He approached us with a genial smile of greeting, which so impressed us that we both involuntarily stepped forward to meet him.
'Good day, gentleman,' he said in perfect English. 'Glad to make your acquaintance, although, it might have been under happier circumstances.'
He extended his hand, and we fill cordially shook: 'This is not the region for visiting cards,' he went on, 'so we must exchange names. My name, outside of New Guinea, is Captain Willis, a Purser's name. My own is Doria Papwan.'
'And mine is Charles Beckford,' I said.
'WELL, gentlemen,' said our new friend; 'Perhaps, as I am better equipped than you, will you come and lunch with me? I can offer you something better to drink than rum.'
We accepted his invitation, and strolled down to where an awning had been erected by the crew of his barge. Underneath lunch was laid out in civilised style, and he certainly kept his word, and gave us some excellent claret.
'I can see,' said this strange man, 'that you are wondering who I am, and where I come from. Since you are going to favor me with a visit, which will probably prove an extended one'—Moraine glanced at me, but said nothing—'it is only fair I explain matters. The European ancestors of the people of our settlement, if I may give it such a name, date as far back as the beginning of the seventeenth century, and were the crew of a Dutch ship wrecked between where we are now and Astrolabe Bay. They saved most of their effects and boats, and had started for Batavia, when, in coasting along, they noticed this inlet, and came in to examine it. There they fell in with two Portuguese sailors, castaways, who had been living with these natives, who have always been of a friendly disposition. These two fellows told them of a wonderful country in the interior, which they had seen in their wanderings, which so excited the curiosity of the Dutch that they determined to go there.
'You must remember that the craze of that age was discovery, and it was not strange, then, for a party of ship-wrecked sailors to start on such a hare-brained expedition. They went up this river, they reached the country seen by the Portuguese, and they liked it so well that they settled down there. They found a distinctive race up there, of whom I will tell you more another time. The Dutch were not strong enough to dispossess them; but they managed to secure the power and authority. The Captain was a typical man of those days—shrewd and masterful; he kept up his communications with the coast, and also with Java, by means of native vessels, thus maintaining the secret of their country. His brother was amongst the crew, and he sent him on one of the voyages in disguise. The Dutch authorities detected him, seized him as a deserter, and hanged him. The native crew managed to escape, and brought back the news. This naturally embittered the captain against his countrymen, and he swore that the secret of the rich tableland should never be known by them. Thereafter he traded through Malay traders with the Spanish and Portuguese settlements. A Malay, as perhaps you know, is one of the most secretive of men. With them he was safe.
'The Dutch took wives from the race they had settled amongst, enacted good laws, simple and natural; sought no religious changes, and before the captain died the people had learnt to love and respect him. His son, carefully reared and educated by his father, carried on the government, And I am a descendant, although not direct, of his line.'
Needless to say, this story was told; when we had finished our meal, and our host, in addition to the excellent claret, had provided us with some first-class Manilla cigars.
'I must tell you that we have been recruited by many castaways since the formation of our race as a people. In the early days two of Dampier's sailors joined us. But the largest number of recruits we got at the beginning of this century. I suppose you know that the British East India Company once took possession of New Guinea, and formed a station on the shore of Geelvink Bay? When they were leaving the transport was blown off by a storm, and a subaltern, a sergeant, and about fifteen rank and file, were left behind. Our people heard of their position, for the natives keep us informed of everything that happens on the north and east coasts, and messengers were sent to them. They consented to come, and they stopped and settled down. They were all intelligent men, and the Ensign, my grandfather, entered into the progress of the community with enthusiasm. He married the daughter of the then Governor, and succeeded him, which accounts for my present position.'
Willis paused, and Moraine asked him if he was then the present Governor, to which he replied in the affirmative.
'I may add that our population is now quite sufficient, and we are In no more need of recruits; but the natives still keep us supplied with information, and a special motive brought me down to see you. We are in want of a doctor. Our medical man died the other day, and although I expect two of our young men back shortly, who are studying in London, it will be some time before they are here. Meantime we want somebody.'
'Studying in London?' I said, in amazement.
'Certainly; I was educated in England, and a proportion of our young man go there at intervals for their education. They are brought up as engineers, architects, electricians, etc.'
'But how do you manage to keep the secret of your existence from the world?'
'Very easily. I have a capital little steam yacht. She lies in a hidden pool in the mangroves. She is registered with papers all complete, and she runs over to Singapore, as a rule, during the south-east winds. Singapore is a free port, where you come and go as you like, no questions asked, and as there are trait from every imaginable part of the world there, we axe unnoticed.'
'Well,' I said, 'I don't practise as a doctor now, but I am one. I never liked the profession, and when I came into some money I slung it.'
'Well, I'm in luck. What do you profess, Mr. Moraine.'
'Nothing useful. I was a broken squatter before I took to pearl-shelling.'
'You will be able to help me, too, and I must thank both of you for paying me this friendly and unexpected visit.'
Moraine looked hard at me.
'Now we will go round and see if it is possible to get your schooner afloat.'
He strolled-down to his barge, leaving us alone.
'Seems a mild-mannered kind of pirate,' said Moraine. 'Did you notice how quietly he put it that we were paying him a visit of our own accord?'
'Yes; there's a decided hand of iron under the velvet glove. But I'm getting interested in the adventure now, and wouldn't turn, back even if we could.'
'I'm the same; but it is remarkable how all the visitors to this wonderful country decided to stop here. Shall we do the same?'
'It seems a case of "no compulsion, but you must;" at least that is our case at present.'
'I should like to know where that yacht is concealed. I know enough about engines to be able to run her in case of necessity.'
'He's not likely to let us know,' I returned.
Willis's voice hailed us, and we went down to the barge, wherein the rowers were now taking their places.
'We too late to go round your schooner today,' he said; 'but you might enjoy a trip up the river. There's a big village up one of the arms that I want to pay a visit to. By the way, that diving dress and pump are the very things I was going-to send for. Now, it is no further use to you; I suppose you will sell it to me?'
Again Moraine looked gravely at me, then answered, 'I shall be happy to give it to you, Captain Willis, or sell it to you if you prefer it. But may I ask what you wanted diving dress for?'
'Oh! laying the stones of water walls and the embankments of our canals. Does your Malay dive?'
'Yes; he's a fairly-good diver.'
In about an hour's time we came to the village, far larger than the one we had been living in. We found much to interest us there during the afternoon, and the inhabitants seemed to stand in great awe of our new acquaintance. On our return we dined with him, and a good dinner he save us, and when we were smoking he resumed the conversation about the people he belonged to.
'The race of people who occupied the tableland have an origin which I cannot trace. They have no marked religion, unless It was a kind of general spirit worship, neither exacting nor entailing much ceremonial. That they were moral and decorous in their behavior, and to all advanced state of more then semi-civilisation, the record of the Dutch captain testifies. They made cloth, went decently dressed, had good houses furnished with mats, cooked their food properly, and, had even a kind of hieroglyphic writing; but where they came from, and how they came to be such a distinctive race, occupying one of the most wonderful spots on earth, I cannot find out. There are ruins and carvings, and I visited the old Cyclopic ruins on the Pelew and Friendly Islands, and also on Easter Island to try and trace some connection, but there is no resemblance between them whatever. No; I am inclined to look to Asia for their birthplace, but I do not connect them with the coming with the spread of Hindooism, which overran Java and other islands.' He paused, and lay back quietly smoking; while I puzzled more and more over this singular man; and I am sure Moraine did the same.
Next morning after an early, breakfast, we were off betimes to visit our poor schooner. Arrived there, we had to clamber along the mangrove roots and branches to get aboard. We found the Manilla man and the two kanakas rather weary of waiting, and heartily glad to see us. Willis went all over the vessel with Moraine, and gave it as his opinion that she would come off.
'You see,' he said, 'the mangrove roots form a perfect network underneath her, and have prevented her sinking in the mud. Get enough power on her, and with a high, tide she'll come off flying.'
'That steam yacht of yours should be able to tow her off,' said Moraine.
Willis darted a hasty glance at him, but only smiled and answered, 'I think we can manage without. I'll tell you what I propose. You will not want her for some time, so we'll strip her canvas off and send it ashore. Her spars and topmasts can come down and be floated round. Then we'll get the anchors out to heave on to, and tail every nigger in the district on to the tow ropes.'
'But, man alive, where are they to stand to get a purchase?'
'Stand! You'll see when the time comes. Now, we'll send for provisions and the serang, and what with my crew and your men we'll soon have her stripped.'
Truly the work that was done during the next two days was wonderful. The men worked with perfect order and precision, and on the morning of the third day the pretty little schooner was a plain hull, with only her two lower masts left in her. The tide would be full about noon, and meantime, the natives gathered in swarms, and were roosting about amongst the mangroves, like so many clumps of flying foxes.
The way through the mangroves had been cut wider, and as the critical hour approached the natives fell into orderly limes on either side of it. They had made rude platform to stand on, but how they clung on to them I could not imagine. Tow lines had been passed on to the barge and two large canoes and one each was held by the natives on either side of the water way. The serang and our men were at the windlass to heave on the anchors.
Willis, Moraine, and myself were also on board, and at noon Willis gave the agreed upon signal. A great shout arose, the oars of the barge and the paddles of the canoes struck the water together, the blacks on the flimsy platforms threw all their weight into one mighty pull. We felt her creak under us, and them there was a distinct move, a start, and away she want, too fast for the men at the windlass to pick up the cable. The natives on the platforms had to let go the rope as she swept on, the barge end the two canoes being now enough for motive power, and before we could recover from our surprise we were floating in deep water. Willis turned to us with a sly look of triumph.
'It's done, and well done,' said Moraine, 'but I never thought you could have get so many niggers to pull all together. That's where I thought you'd break down.'
'I had my fear of it, I confess,' said Willis, graciously, 'but they shaped splendidly. Now we can leave them to bring her up the river, and tomorrow we'll make a start for home.'
Again Moraine looked gravely at me, and certainly the word 'home' sounded strangely to our ears. Nest morning we took our places in the barge, on which a good awning had been spread, and behind us were our two boats in tow, containing the diving dress and pump and other luggage. The serang steered one of them. Willis had politely asked Moraine to lend the boats to him the night before, and Moraine, with a solemn look on his face, had offered to make him a present of them, which Willis would not hear of.
As we progressed up the river the country became more open, and when we landed for lunch we could see ranges ahead. The country was, however, only clear just an the banks of the river; beyond arose the dense forest and jungle peculiar to New Guinea.
'To-morrow morning we shall have some falls to ascend,' said Willis, as we took our seats in the barge.
'Many of them?' asked Moraine.
'About six during the next two days.'
'How do you manage?'
'Oh! we have lines fixed up now, and tow them up without much trouble. There is a track cut round the falls that we can walk up. In my grandfather's time it was an undertaking, but he cleared most of the big rocks out of the way, and made towing paths on either side, and we have done more to it, so it is pretty plain sailing now.'
That night we camped in a pretty little nook, where there was a large, empty native house, but the night was fine, and we preferred steeping in the open air.
Next morning we came to the falls, which in their original state must have been rather rough and broken, but now, owing to the removal of the obstructions, they were smooth, but rapid. We left the boat, and Willis led us by a well-made winding path to the upper part of the falls, where we sat down, and awaited the boats. They did not take so long as I imagined they would, and we were soon on our way again. We now passed through a very barren region, and when we stopped at noon, Willis took us to some boiling springs that ware surrounded by tall trees of most luxuriant growth, somewhat resembling our Australian tea trees. The following evening we surmounted what Willis told us was the last of the falls, and immediately in front of us was a black and rugged range. Out of a narrow defile in this range the river flowed, and that night we camped at the mouth of it.
Our way next morning lay through this gorge, and a grand spectacle it was. On either hand rose a wall of rock over 500 feet high, and between these walls the river ran with a sluggish current. There was no sign of vegetation, anywhere, nothing but bare rock and water and a ribbon of blue sky overhead. Suddenly without warning Willis gave a load shout. Backwards and forwards it was handled between the echoing walls until I thought the repetitions would never cease.
All the morning and the best part of the afternoon this gloomy gorge beset us until we longed for a sight of open country. At last the walls on either hand grew lower, and we shot out between low banks, and at a sign from Willis the rowers stopped and we paddled slowly into the bank.
'Come,' said Willis, and we followed him up the bank on to the top of a small rise. It certainly was a glorious sight, not vouchsafed to everybody to see once in a life time.
Before us outstretched swelling downs, dotted with clumps of jungle. The green billows rolled on until they were lost in a dim haze; but beyond, splendid in their naked white majesty, rose the glittering crests of the Charles Louis Range, the tall peak we had seen before towering above the others like a king of old over meaner men. The monarchs of the present day may not suffice for a comparison, being much given to ran to corpulence rather than dignity.
The range, now that we were closer to it, presented an appearance of great grandeur. The western, sun cast deep shadows on it, making it look more serried and rugged than it really was. Looking at the downs once more we could see the course of the river flowing through it, but it was no longer one main stream but was split up into tributaries, coming from all sides and watering the beautiful country they passed through.
'My goodness! What a sheep station,' said Moraine, all his old squatter instinct aroused. 'Water carriage right to the door. No droughts with those mountains at the back of you.'
He heaved a deep sigh at the sight of such a pastoral paradise being wasted in the centre of New Guinea.
'Wait till you see the range in the early morning when the sun first catches that tall peak which my grandfather christened Mount Orient,' said Willis.
'Where's your town?' asked Moraine, rather abruptly.
'You think you are gazing at a huge stretch of country reaching from here to the foot of the range, but it is an optical illusion my friends. Between us and that range is a broad valley, but the rise that hides it is so gradual and blends so with the country beyond, that you, think the surface is without a break.'
'I have seen the same thing on the downs country in Australia,' remarked Moraine.
'Do you see that branch of the river with some clumps of timber close to the banks? That is the river that flows through the valley, the tributary we shall ascend to-morrow.'
We turned to descend, the hill, and I was at once struck with, the contrast presented by the range we had just passed through. Bare, gaunt, and rugged it frowned upon the beautiful landscape it looked down on as if hating it for its loveliness. There was still an hour or two of daylight, and of this advantage was taken to reach the junction of the tributary Willis had pointed out. There we camped for the night.
Next morning Moraine and I hunted out from our belongings a couple of clean white patrol suits so as to make a due impression on the strange people we were about to meet, Willis telling us we should reach there about noon. The tributary we now rowed along bore evident marks of artificial improvement in its course, canals having been cut across the necks of lands; and the banks, in places, built up with rough hewn and squared stones. At last we came to a well-constructed lock, and having passed through we found ourselves in what was more like a serpentine canal than a river, winding between gentle sloping banks, with here and there cultivated fields running down to the water's edge, but what houses there were we could not see on account of the banks being too high. Noticing our curiosity Willis stopped the boat and we landed.
When we reached the top of the bank we could see that we had entered the valley Willis had spoken of. Open country extended back from the river, bounded by tall forest trees, but the forest was not the massive jungle of New Guinea, but more like an English wood. Around were fields and plantations, and stone cottages, each surrounded with a garden, were visible here and there. Cattle and sheep were feeding in two of the paddocks, which were fenced in with orthodox post and rail fences.
'How in the name of mischief did you import the cattle?' asked Moraine.
'It was a bit of a job, but we did it by degrees. Some are cattle the Dutch left behind when they abandoned their settlement at Triton Bay. Now we have enough to go on unaided.'
We returned to the barge, and were soon passing through country evidently more closely settled. Then on turning a corner we came in sight of two tall obelisks, one on either side of the river, and beyond lay the town—no town of palaces and temples, such as the imagination draws as befitting a strange and mysterious people, but a town of plainly built modern one-storey houses, all with verandahs and balconies, and with small luxuriant gardens in front of them. Broad streets, with avenues of shady trees on each side, we caught sight of, and then we passed between the obelisks.
Willis, or to give him his proper title in his own country, Doria Papuan, turned to us and with a genial smile said, 'Welcome to Ban Yammoo, the city which holds the world in its grasp.'
IT was indeed a marvellous city of beauty we landed at. Imagine a city all composed of prettily built residences, with white walls showing out of green foliage, and balconies and verandahs clothed with carefully trained creepers. We were met at the landing-place by several of the principal citizens, men of the same complexion and cast of features as Doria, who welcomed us in well-spoken language to the City of Ban Yammoo. Then, we sauntered through the beautiful town to the large town square, where were situated a huge market-place.
This, we learned, was the main market place, there being smaller branches in the outskirts of the city. There were no shops disfiguring streets with their gaudy signs; no vulgar advertisements flaunting on hoardings; no noisy traffic; only a smooth-gliding and almost noiseless electric car, which, in cases of necessity could be brought to all almost instantaneous standstill. All supplies, I learned, were brought in too the markets special cars in the early morning. There were houses building, but one did not have to ram the gauntlet of bricks, and stones, and planks and other annoyances that beset the unfortunate pedestrian in Sydney and other benighted towns. All building material was brought to in the early dawn, and the houses, standing back from the pathway, obviated all nuisance to the foot passengers. Ban Yammoo was surrounded by undulating downs country, dotted with smiling farms and green plantations. As a background rose the Charles Louis Mountains, with the majestic Mount Orient.
'Where are your quarries and manufactures?' asked Moraine.
'A good way off,' answered Doria. 'We believe in keeping our living city and our manufacturing city apart. It does not take long to go out there, for our trams travel much faster in the country than you see them doing here in the streets. Now I will show you to your residence, where the serang and a servant I will appoint will look after you.'
He led the way to a pretty, comfortable house, which, on entering, we found quite modern in furniture and detail.
'I live next door,' said Doria, 'but will leave you to amuse yourself during the afternoon, and hope you will have dinner with us this evening.'
He shook hands with us and left us.
The serang came up smiling a broad smile.
'Ever see such a place as this before, sir?' he said.
'Never,' answered Moraine. 'How is it you have not heard of it, Rastan?'
'Keep secret too well,' answered the Malay, with an unmoved face, which convinced me that he had heard of it.
'Did you ever see such beautiful women?' said Moraine to me.
'Never in such numbers,' I answered, and the female passers-by in the street had struck us both by their exceptional good looks. Clear, olive complexion, and large, expressive eyes characterised them all, and the curves of the body and contour of the face would have driven an artist desperate. The elder women were, in their way, as handsome as the young, carrying their years with dignity and graciousness. The men, too, were tall and well-built, of much the same type throughout, enough to mark them as a distinctive race, but a very handsome one. Their dress was generally white, of modern cut, adapted to a warm climate. The women wore some colors, and their dresses seemed like the men's, an adaptation of modern fashions to the demands of the climate.
Moraine and I went out for a stroll in the afternoon, and found the streets more thronged than in the morning. But what streets! No women with vulgar, ill-made dresses, and faces an inch, thick with paint and powder; no street organs nor beggars; no ragged urchins nor loafers; no 'buses, nor goggle-eyed craning cyclists; and no policemen. Some curiosity was evident at our presence, but it did not take the form of impertinent annoyance, as would have been the case elsewhere. We returned, and found that a supply of suits of clothes had been sent in for us to try on and choose from. They were white, like all the men wore, but of finer material, and cut in a slightly different manner.
We bathed and dressed, in what we presumed was equivalent to evening dress, and awaited Doria. He was not long in coming, and conducted us to his house; and, strange to say, did not ask us what we thought of the city—the first question a Sydney or Melbourne man would have put. At the dinner party, most of the principal citizens had been invited to meet us—the two judges, two or three military officers, and others who were noted men in their different departments. Doria's wife, a singularly beautiful and stately woman, as the wife of a Governor should be, had, I noticed with surprise, a tinge of melancholy and sadness in her manner. Not obtrusively so in any way, for she was the perfection of a hostess, but still it seemed to me that she was haunted with, a shadow of coming misfortune which she could not shake off. She chatted cheerfully enough with me, and told me of her travels about the world, which had been widely extended.
'What a beautiful city Sydney could be made,' she said
'And what a place it is,' I interposed
'I did not exactly mean that,' she said, smiling; 'but after our streets the streets of Australian cities seem so different—the eternal rattle of vehicles, the pushing and crowding and lounging in the streets. The way the women stand in groups on the pavement, and in doorways, and never attempt to make way for you, all strike a citizen of Ban Yammoo very disagreeably.'
'I entirely agree with you, and a little energy would banish a number of our street nuisances our Australian cities; but energy, well-directed energy, is what our authorities are deficient in. They expend plenty of energy in getting themselves elected to positions of authority and made members of Parliament, but once there they think of nothing but getting what are called perquisites of obtaining places for their relatives. Did you happen to meet some of our respected legislators and Ministers during your travels?'
'Yes, and do you know, they made me laugh when in private I may be wrong, but they appeared to me so absurdly narrow-minded and full of their own importance. And their appearance did not carry out the dignity they claimed. But, its seems to me that your religion is a great cause of your backwardness.'
'A good many of us think that,' I replied.
'Fancy people professing the same principles split up into sects and factions, condemning and ignoring one another—the priests quarrelling over the silly details of the fables they teach. Why our Mohamedan Malays set you a good example.'
'Don't say you, I am not a professing Christian, as they call it in the cant of their talk. But Captain Willis has evidently an ardent disciple in you.'
Her face, which had been speaking and animated while she had been talking, suddenly changed, and the sad look overshadowed it once more.
'Don't use that name here,' she said in a low voice, 'He is Doria Papwan in this city.'
I bowed, and to change the subject remarked, 'What a change must be worked in feminine nature when you do without shops here.'
'But we have shops, but no 'sellings-off' and 'wonderful bargains'. We have learned to do without them. But are you and Mr. Moraine early risers?'
'Yes; we are pretty used to rising at any hour.'
'Then I invite you to accompany me to the market to-morrow morning. We transact all our shopping before breakfast. I will send a servant to call you.'
I gladly consented, both for myself and Moraine, and the dinner party soon adjourned to another room, whence, after a little music, I was asked into smoking-room. Doria, Moraine, and some half-a-dozen others were there, and I took a cigar and sat down.
'Mr. Moraine was just remarking that if the Dutch were to find as out they would not leave us long in peaceful occupation of this table-land,' said Doria.
'As General Dulsett was about enlightening him as to the impregnability of our position, I thought, doctor, that you might like to hear it.
I replied that I was much interested, and General Dulsett, a dignified-looking man, with a moustache as white as the snows of Mount Orient, took up the tale.
'You came through the gorge when you entered our territory,' said the General. 'I need scarcely explain to you that that entrance could not be forced by all the armies of the world in the face of an enemy; with a small army, it is true, but one whose officers are acquainted with improvements in artillery that the best armies of Europe know nothing of. I have lately visited Russia, Germany, France, and England, and can assure you that an army from either nation would be annihilated if they attacked us, whilst we wouldn't lose a man. On the south we are safeguarded by the Charles Louis Range, which you will also admit is capable of defence by a very small number of men. There remains the range which encircles us to the north and west, through which the gorge runs. This range—of course we know every rock and stone—can be scaled only by five passes, and each of these passes can by our arrangement be simply turned into a death-trap for any invading army. But first the army has to get that far. We should take good care that they did not transport stores and material by the river. You have doubtless heard often enough of setting the Thames on fire; but to us the setting of the Amberno on fire would be a very easy matter. I do not mean you to try and believe that we know how to make water burn, but we are acquainted with a chemical compound which practically would have the same effect, so far as the destruction of transports is concerned. Land carriage, which as you did not see much of the surface of the country you passed through you could not appreciate the difficulties of, would necessitate the building of roads and railroads which we could destroy as fast as they were built. I think we can justly consider ourselves impregnable. The Dutch are the most likely nation to give us trouble, as they claim this territory, though as they have never done anything to establish their claim, and our ancestors settled here long before the claim was enforced, no international court would uphold them. I should like to see them attempt to come in force. They would get a lesson they richly deserve. If our existence became known, Great Britain and America, and all British colonies, would assuredly recognise our nationality. France and Russia would he indifferent, and Germany is the only country likely to interfere; and we'd serve them like we would the Dutch.'
'How about the coming air ships?' asked Moraine.
'We are up to date in the latest known inventions, and will probably have air ships as soon, as, if not before, the rest of the world.'
'If you make up your minds to stop here,' said Doria, 'you will learn some more that will confirm what I said when you landed, that we have, in absolute truth, got the world in our grasp.'
'But you don't seem to want it,' I remarked.
'I have not asked you what you thought of Ban Yammoo,' returned Doria, with a pleasant smile. 'When Captain Willis was doing Australia in his steam yacht, he was absolutely sickened by that question in every seaport he visited; he nearly keel-hauled one fellow who called himself an interviewer. Now, however, I will answer your question by asking you if there is any comparison between this city and the sordid centres of the outside world, with their misery, vice, and starvation, their dirt and disease? Why should we want the outer world? And I say to you,' and he stood erect and his voice was intensely thrilling, 'it will be a signal of the world's social destruction when we fail in the task our forefathers set us, or if our descendants do. The day that witnessed this tableland and its secret thrown open to the world's inrush would be the knell of all order, stability of government, and the social laws that bind people together.'
Moraine and I were silent at this unexpected outburst, and the others listened gravely and approvingly. Then we broke up, for the citizens of Ban Lammoo are an early people.
'What the devil does he mean?' I said as we turned into our house.
'I cannot make out,' returned Moraine, 'unless he has "auld Hornie" chained up in the mountains, and intends to let him loose to have a good time of it.'
It was before sunrise when we stepped outside at the summons of the messenger. Mme. Doria was ready, attended by two men with baskets. She greeted us kindly, and said, 'Stay here for one moment,' and then directed our attention to the towering form of Mount Orient.
On its virgin peak a spark of golden fire suddenly kindled, crept down a short way, and then merged into a rosy-tinted blush. As we looked the golden fire increased on the red more and more; other peaks caught it, until the great white range seemed ablaze with beacon fires. Then quickly they paled and died, and once more, cold and white, they reared their crests to the blue sky.
'That mountain was well named,' said Moraine. Mme. Doria smiled assent, and we started to the market. Everything was wonderful in this wonderful city, and the market was no exception. No dirty row of stalls, with a smell of decayed fruit and stale vegetables hanging about. But, ranged beneath a lofty dome of glass, were rows of shops, each row devoted to one particular class of wares. Between these rows ran a broad tessellated pavement, along which the customers walked to the places they wished to visit. There was no display worth speaking of in any of the windows, so that there was no loitering. Those who served were nearly all young men, though for special articles there were young women in attendance.
It seemed so strange to me to have to carry money about with me, and pay for everything I got, when I first went abroad,' said Mme. Doria, smilingly.
'Have you nothing but a credit system here?' I asked.
'Neither money nor credit. We don't want it. We are a commune in the strictest sense of the word; but we are a commune with a head to it, and a head that is not tossed up by the breath of the mob.'
'You have no mob seemingly,' said Moraine.
'No, we have neither poverty nor discontent to breed one. But Doria will tell you all about the political structure of our community better than I can. Only I have seen the world, and I am frightened of it. You would scarcely believe that I went slumming in London?'
'No wonder you fear the contamination of the world then,' answered Moraine.
'I do,' she said softly; and the sadness that was often in her eyes now spoke in her voice, as she added in a lower voice, 'I wish that Captain Willis would cease to exist.'
Was this the cause then of the shadow on her face? Did she fear that ambition and the love of power so evident in the masterful nature of her husband would get the upper hand of him, and bring him into grips with the world? It was probable enough; Doria was a man who, as statesman and ruler, could have held his own anywhere, and he must have known it. I could guess that it must have often chafed his proud spirit to think that this wonderful community, where trouble and crime were unknown, should go on its way unknown, unrecognised, uninitiated.
Mme. Doria's purchases were soon completed, and we left the market, and turned our steps homeward. Halfway there we met Doria coming to meet us, with him his two eldest children, whom we had not seen the night before, a handsome boy and girl, 10 and 9 years old respectively.
'I've got a busy day for you to-day,' he said, after the morning salutations had been exchanged. 'What do you think of this climate for the medical profession?' he continued.
'I am afraid you would have to build benevolent asylums for them,' I answered, 'if they came here in any numbers.'
Moraine was looking hard at this wonderful man, evidently contrasting his strange enthusiasm of the night before with the sunny, careless side of his character he was showing us now.
'I wonder,' he said, laughingly, 'what the orthodox priest or parson would say if he strayed here, and found a people amongst whom crime was almost unknown, and who yet never kept Sunday, had no churches, and no religion worth speaking of. I suppose they would start missions to convert us. I think I'll catch a missionary some day, and bring him up here.'
We laughed, and Moraine changed the subject by asking bow our busy day was to be employed.
'We will go and see our manufacturing town,' he said. We strolled homeward, chatting on different topics; and parted at the gate of our new abode. A capital breakfast was awaiting us, and as our walk and the buoyant morning air had given us princely appetites, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We had scarcely finished before Doria came in.
'Come,' he said, as he offered us cigars; 'we have a long day before us.'
We soon found ourselves seated in the smoking compartment of one of the electrical cars which ran as easily and smoothly as a sleigh. Once outside the city streets the pace increased to that of an express train, and we rapidly neared an outlying spur of the mountain range, behind which, Doria told us, lay the city of manufactures.
Round this spur we came in sight of the city, and both of us uttered an exclamation of surprise. No tall chimneys pierced the air, no pall of smoke hung overhead, blotting out the blue sky. The buildings, plain but not ugly, stood out as clear and dean as those of the city we had just left.
'Doesn't look much like a big manufacturing town, does it?' said Doria.
'No,' we both replied.
'See that white streak on the range below the snow-line?' he asked, pointing ahead.
We looked, and saw a perpendicular band of white on the face of the range.
'That's a waterfall, and our source of motive power.'
So that accounted for the absence of smoking chimneys! The tram now slackened speed, and in a minute we glided into a station, where two of the guests of the night before were waiting to receive us, and after conversing for a few minutes we proceeded to the nearest tall building.
TO recount all we saw on that day would be wearisome to the reader. As Doria predicted, it was a busy day, and the end of it found us Only too glad to get into the tram and speed homeward to Ban Lammoo. We saw too much that day. Too much to grasp at once, and, consequently, we were brain-tired trying to comprehend it. The absolute order and method throughout all the works was marvellous. And the fine, independent, well-mannered air of the workmen was a treat to see. As Mme. Doria had said, it was the spirit of community in its truest sense that dominated this marvellous settlement.
'I wonder,' I said to Doria, 'that you require either laws or judges here. Every man seems to have the welfare of the community at heart, and seeks to further it.'
'We cannot change human nature, my dear doctor, as you of all men should know. Men will ever differ in their notions, and trouble would ensue, only that we have a court of arbitration and reference, which all respect. I said we had do crime, and we have none. But we have, like every human assembly, the germs of trouble in us; but we check it before it grows. In civilised countries they wait till the criminal has committed his crime before their laws deal with him. Here we anticipate it in the bud. It sounds something like Alice in Wonderland, where the white Queen cries because she is going to cut her finger; but, nevertheless, that is the principle of our law. Again, we have another advantage. What do you call the chief incentives to crime?'
'The lust of money, the lust of power, and the love between the sexes,' I replied.
'The first we don't possess. No one wants money here—it is useless; it is not a motive for crime. With us, in its original shape, we have more than enough—it is dross. As yet the lust of power has not troubled us, the man has not arisen. He may at any moment. I admit that is an ever-present shadow. As for the love of men and women, that is decided by the women themselves. Where rivalry exists, the girl is the arbiter of her own fate, and chooses for herself. You would have fewer divorce cases if you did the same.'
'I am not so sure of that; hasty marriages by young people come into the divorce court often enough. But, talking of incentives to crime, latent insanity is often the cause with us.'
'That we are free from. I ascribe it to the utter absence of worry. The average man has here no cares.'
'The average man,' I repeated; 'but you do not wish me to believe that all here are but average men?'
'No—some of us are troubled with cares; but they are not of the nagging, worrying order that when they get hold of a man never cease to haunt.'
'You're free from the domestic scold, then?' I said. But he only laughed.
We were in the factory devoted to electricity when this conversation was held, and as we turned I caught sight of the face of the chief electrician watching us. He was one of the men who had met us at the station, one of the guests at the dinner party, and the way in which he suddenly averted his gaze reminded me that during that dinner party I had once or twice caught him watching Mme. Doria and myself when we were conversing.
He was a man with a fine, intelligent face; with a dominant look in it like that of Doria's; but there the resemblance ceased. Doria's face gave you the impression of a man of great resolution, who would not hesitate at the means, when there was a great end in view, and that end a good one. La Manca, the electrician, impressed you as a man who could be just as resolute in pursuing a chosen path to the end; but the end would be solely for his own good.
I have always been a keen reader of faces, and during my short career as a physician had often exercised the faculty. Perhaps this habit influenced me now in ray conjectures; but the thought that flashed through my head was the question: Was this the man who might arise and disturb the peace of centuries that had reigned on this wonderful tableland? I thought that it might be. He had vast power in his hands. Evidently electricity was the great motive power used by these people in their engineering works and defences, and here was the man who held the power in his hands. One act of treachery on his part could throw the whole working gear out of order. I made a mental resolve to cultivate his acquaintance, and, above all, I would get Mme. Doria's opinion of the man. Somehow this woman had imbued me with a strong feeling of respect for her judgment. The wonderful instinct of her sex with regard to those she loved enabled her to see clearly the dangers threatening the future of their community.
She saw, which her husband did not, that contact with the outer world would sooner render it impossible for him to continue in their present safe obscurity, and dreaded the future. Mme. Doria was a type of what the new woman dimly and ignorantly imagines that she strives to be. But, dressing in mannish dress, and writing risky, problem novels which would make Fielding and Smollett blush, never produced, nor ever will produce, the incarnation of womanhood represented by Mme. Doria.
Before leaving the manufacturing city, we went out to the artillery ground to witness some examples of the latest developments in arms and ammunition. The force and annihilating power of the explosive used was something terrible.
'You would think nothing could stand against it, would you?' said Doria, smiling.
'Nothing that I ever heard of,' replied Moraine.
'Our chief artificer has, however, made and armour-plate that even our guns cannot pierce. It will never be used, partly on account of its great weight, but, above all, its immense cost. We are able to dint it, but nothing more.'
Along a set of rails a target was now run, and placed, in position against the side of a huge mass of rock jutting out from the quarries. The gun was fired, and apparently made no impression whatever. It struck the target right enough, for if it had hit the rock we should have seen the impact. At Doria's invitation we went over to the armored target to examine it. The mark of the projectile was visible, but no harm had been done.
Moraine examined it closely, and asked if he might be told what metals it was made of.
'Certainly,' answered Doria. 'It is, as you may guess, a mixture of the toughest metals known. But the one which makes it so impossible for practical use is gold. How much gold Is there in that plate?' he asked the chief artificer.
'About £5000 worth,' was the reply.
'You, will see now the impossibility of its being employed in common use for the navies of the world. Fancy the cost of a. battleship plated with armor such as that. It might pay such a power as England to make one impregnable destroyer, to launch amongst the fleets of her enemies, but there is the question of weight to be worked out yet.'
'I think it will be solved by the new backing I am now experimenting with,' said the artificer.
Doria pointed to the top of the rocky spur against which the target had been placed. It ended abruptly in a sheer cliff.
'That is where we conduct our aerial experiments,' he said. 'We are getting on pretty well with them, too; I think we shall fly as soon as the rest of the world.'
We turned away, and walked back to the station, and entered the tram. Both Moraine and I were silent, thinking of the many wonders we had seen that day, and Doria was, I thought, watching us, to note for the effect created. We parted at out abode.
'I will, with your permission, pay you a visit this evening,' he said; 'I have something of importance to say to you.'
'Well, Moraine,' I said when we were alone, 'what does it all mean?'
'Mean, old man—that we have got to spend the rest of our lives here. It might be worse. We are both men without family ties, and the life is pleasant.'
'You think that is the important information he is going to convey to us this evening?'
'I do, and doubtless he showed us his power to-day to clinch things. The well-bred dog leaves the room when he sees preparations being made for kicking him out. So, having impressed us with the utter impossibility of escape, he presumes we shall cheerfully consent to stay.'
We talked the matter over still further, but only came to the inevitable conclusion that what must be, must. Many people would think that it was by no means a hard fate that lay before us, nor was it. But, the sensation of being detained, of being no longer a free man, persists in being ever present amid the most pleasurable surroundings. An unbreakable chain of flowers may grow just as galling as one of rusty iron.
Doria came soon after we had finished dinner, and I at once saw by his manner that Moraine's guess was likely to be correct.
'As you are men of the world,' he commenced, 'it is best to speak plainly and openly. I said that we are not in want of fresh additions to our population from outside, for I am now extremely anxious to promote a feeling of intense patriotism amongst my people, which may stand them in good stead in the future. Fresh blood from the outer world would retard this feeling. But it does not follow but what the advent of occasional emigrants, men with knowledge and experience, will not be of great advantage to us.'
Moraine held up his hand with a queer smile. Doria ceased speaking and looked at him.
'My dear sir, why not put it into plain words at once. We are here and must stop.'
'That is the truth of it,' said Doria, springing up as though much relieved. 'You can see yourselves that your going away is impossible. I might take your words to keep a strict silence, but some unguarded phrase, some unheeded expression may, against your will, betray us, and though I have proved to you our security against force, I have no wish to make a slaughterhouse of our defences; nor to see thousands of doomed men rush on to inevitable death. In short, it is as you say, Moraine, you must stop here. Don't reply to me yet until we return from an expedition on which I am going to take you. I will not insult you by supposing that you are too tired to go with me after our day's outing. Are you ready?'
We both signified our readiness and followed him out. A car was in waiting, and, taking cur seats, we sped rapidly out of the city. We turned off on a branch line, and were whirled along at a great pace for quite an hour. The air grew somewhat cool, and Doria reached down warm overcoats from a rack, and we put them on.
At last we stopped at an unlighted and deserted platform, and got out. Right in front of us rose the base of the range; we were too close to see the summits, but the breeze bore the breath of the snow in its crisp coldness.
'We'll be warm enough directly,' said Doria, as he led the way onward. After half an hour's walk through the somewhat keen night air, we saw a light in the distance, and on our arrival at it, found it illuminated the portico of a building constructed of heavy stone.
Entering, we were greeted by a tall, old man, who seemed to be expecting us. Without much parleying the old man ushered us into a room, wherein were spread rough overalls which Doria said we were to put on, himself setting the example; then, each took a lantern, which, by a system of reflectors, gave forth a very brilliant light.
Following the old man, we proceeded along a passage for some distance, then I noticed a change in the face of the wall, and we were evidently pursuing the course of a tunnel, piercing the base of the range. Channels had been cut for drainage, but drops from the roof dripped steadily on us, and we found the advantage of our overalls. At times we passed air-shafts, and the atmosphere, though warm, was comparatively pure. At last we halted in an open space, in which there was a large closed door.
'Before we enter,' said Doria, 'I must prepare you for what you are about to see. No doubt you have wondered at my occasional allusions to our power and wealth, and that if our country was overran it would end in world-wide turmoil. To-night you will agree with ma That gold can exist in quantities that can scarcely be conceived, you will admit. A ten-ton nugget, if I may use the term, is as possible as a ten-ounce one. Here we have gold in such enormous quantities that we cannot estimate it. The revelation of its existence would at once destroy its standard value in the world. This would mean nothing else than the direst universal ruin that the utmost efforts could not avert. Individuals and nations alike would go headlong to destruction in the revolution that would inevitably follow the blotting out of our present test and value of all property.
'If the change could be worked slowly and gradually, it might be effected, but the sudden knowledge that gold—inexhaustible gold!—existed would set men crazy. They would slaughter each other to obtain it, and when they got it, it would be of no more value than the sand of the sea shore. You can see this result?'
We both replied that it was inevitable.
'We are the keepers of this awful secret. To us gold itself is nothing, only the means of purchasing what we require from the outside world. It is only the travelled few amongst us that realise the danger of this gold mine becoming known. Now you understand that with illimitable wealth at our command we have been able to do so much. It was first found about 150 years ago. Before that, however, it had been obtained in small quantities, as is usual in other auriferous countries. The passage we first followed is the bed of a river, an intermittent flowing river, as it was fed by melted snow descending through vast crevices in the range. During one of its dry periods it was followed up by an adventurous member of the community, and the gold discovered. The Governor at that period was equal to the occasion. He verified, to the best of his power, the incalculable nature of the treasure. He was a wise and far-sighted man. It became through life means one of the fundamental principles of our social being that we are the guardians and warders of this gold, destined for this by the great, unknown controlling power whose attributes we cannot conceive. Other men would have laden themselves with gold, and sailed away, and died in luxurious dissipation. Others would have gone with their knowledge to grasp the power and pomp of the world. Governor Kurtzon did neither. He did as I said, taught his people of the valueless character of the metal to them individually, and inspired them, with the belief that has since been unshaken. We are the warders of the world, our perpetual silence saves it from, ruin. In years the course of the river has been diverted, the passage widened, and when we want gold it is easily obtained, reduced to ingots, and disposed of by the many channels of communication, we now possess with the markets of the world. There has been one honor to the dead conferred, amongst us. It is a statue of the wise Governor Kurtzon. You will see it when this door is opened. Risdant here, our guide, is a descendant of the man who first found the gold. He and his fathers have always lived here, keepers of another secret which involves far-spread destruction in the event of things being so ruled that our land is invaded by the spoiler. I will tell you what it Is when you have seen, what that door hides.'
At a signal from Doria the old man advanced and threw open the door, at the same time touching a button which flooded the scene with electric light. We entered. The cavity was lofty and circular in shape. In the centre stood the statue. Of heroic size, hewn out of white marble, the grand old Governor stood en a pedestal of gold, facing the entrance. He was dressed in a bygone fashion, and wore a moustache and peaked beard. One hand was uplifted and one foot advanced, as if warning or menacing the intruder. The features wore an indescribable air of dignity and stem determination.
'That's an inspired work,' I could not help saying, so much did it entrance my attention.
'It is,' returned Doria, 'and the youth who did it was an inspired sculptor. But he was not to live. On the day he gave the last touch to that statue he died. He was found dead at the foot of it.'
We looked around, and saw gold everywhere, in such profusion that we ceased to wonder at it. It seamed the wall in veins, it was there in patches, discoloring the white surface. Tunnels were cut leading in different directions, but the monotony of the thing tired us, and we did not enter them. Doria stooped and picked up a piece of broken core, composed of alternate layers of gold and stone.
'We have bored a thousand feet horizontally into the southern wall, in six places, and it is all like this. This range, the highest between the Andes and the Himalayas, is formed of gold and golden stone. Did I say too much?'
We could find no words to answer. The sight of what we saw, and the dire consequences that were contained in that lofty cavern, left us speechless, and we gladly went out. Old Risdant shut the door, turned out the electric light, and Governor Kurtzon resumed his endless, lonely watch, in the depth of the range. It haunted me, that picture of the grim old man standing there through sunless centuries keeping faithful watch over the awful charge entrusted to his keeping.
Almost in unbroken silence we retraced our steps, and on arrival at the house Doria led us into a room where refreshments were awaiting us.
'Is this real, legitimate whisky, and not a decoction of fluid gold,' said Moraine, taking up a decanter.
'It is,' answered Doria, smiling, 'I brought it from Scotland myself.' Moraine poured out about four fingers and a thumb, and, adding same water, drank it off.
'I wanted that badly,' he said, apologetically. 'You have too many wonders in this country, Doria. The ordinary white man cannot take it all in without stimulants. Now, if you have any more side-shows, bring them out, and let us get it all over.'
Doria laughed, but, truth to tell, I felt much the same as Moraine, as though my mind was utterly confused.
After a short pause Doria spoke.
'I said that the keeper here held another secret, and it is an hereditary one. The governor who succeeded Kurtzon had the place mined and the mines charged with powder, so that in case of necessity the entrance could be concealed by the explosion. The family of Risdant are bound over to this duty. Since we have mastered the secrets of electricity and explosives the system of mines has been extended and amplified. An explosion, now would shatter a tremendous area, and what the consequences might be I cannot say. Avalanches of snow would probably be brought down, and overwhelm our valley with destruction. Risdant and his son hold the secret by which this catastrophe can be brought about, and if ever the time came that our defences failed us before an invader, he and his would unhesitatingly do their duty, and bury friend and foe. But I do not fear that eventuality. No human power can guard against treachery, and, sometimes in my dark hours, I am o'ershadowed with a dread and terror of that being our fate!'
He ceased, and it seemed to me that a dark hour had come over him then. Rousing himself, he said in a different tone: 'Well, gentlemen, you see the state of the situation. Will you sit down, in safety and peace, as one of us, or remain unwilling prisoners?'
Moraine and I exchanged glances.
'Are we to understand,' I asked, 'that we are never to quit this place if we become naturalised?'
'Not for years, certainly. If you settle down here, and give hostages to Fortune it might be a different matter.'
'I see; but I must ask another question. In the event of some such fate overtaking your community, as you seem to indicate by your gloomy forebodings, would we be expected to fight against our countrymen?'
'No, but as an alternative we should, for our own safety, keep you in close, but honorable, captivity. The same objections would not, I presume, militate against your assisting us with your best endeavors against a foreign enemy?'
'Certainly not—be with you through thick and this,' said Moraine.
There was silence for a time. I was thinking deeply. At last I asked to speak with Moraine alone, and Doria assented, and left the room. Our consultation was not long. In five minutes I went out and asked Doria to come back.
'We are willing,' I said, 'to settle down here and become citizens of our city, and obey all your laws, and give all the assistance in our power to further the good of the community and assist to repel foreign enemies, if the agreement ceases in the event of your death.'
'That is a peculiar stipulation, and I don't quite know whether I can agree to it or not, without consultation with the others. What do you intend in the event of my death, though! I do not see why I should not outlive you. I hope, doctor, you are not gifted with second sight.'
'In the event of your death, which we trust may be long averted,' said Moraine, 'we should, I presume, have no choice but to go into imprisonment. But we should have our parole returned, and could honorably seize any opportunity to escape.'
'By that time you would know all our ins and outs, would you not?' asked Doria, laughing. 'That's our proposition,' I said.
'I cannot give you an answer before consulting my principal men. Till then, forget everything but that you are my guests.'
We bade adieu to Risdant, and started to walk back to where the tram was awaiting us.
'Why was the tram not brought right up to the place,' asked Moraine.
'Too dangerous,' said Doria. 'Mines are delicate things to play with, and we did not think it wise to incur risk by vibration.'
We did not feel much inclined to sleep when we reached home, after saying good-night to Doria; but it was some satisfaction to see our way straight before us in black and white.
'Do you think he will accept our terms?' I asked, as we parted for the night.
'Personally, I think he is willing, but I suppose it will go by the vote of the majority,' returned Moraine, as we parted.
At 12 o'clock the next day, Doria came to us in company with some of the leading men.
'Gentlemen,' he said, after they were welcomed, 'I am pleased to tell you that your terms are accepted, and on behalf of all of us here I heartily bid you welcome as citizens of Ban Yammoo.'
'There is a little formality to be gone through in signing this paper,' said one of the judges, advancing and spreading two documents on the table, the contents of which were specifically what we had proposed last night. Our signatures were soon written, and we became affiliated citizens.
'There was one very strong opponent to your terms being sanctioned,' said Doria, afterwards, to me. 'But only one.'
'I can guess who that was,' I replied.
'Who?' he asked.
'La Manca, the electrician,' I answered.
'How on earth did you guess?' he asked, in surprise.
But that question I could not answer, it had been only an inspiration.
SIX years passed over our heads in the peaceful remoteness of Ban Yammoo. Neither Moraine nor myself had given hostages to fortune, for both of us cherished the idea of finally getting back to the world we had been used to. Such is the contradiction of human nature that, although we had every desire gratified, and every wish fulfilled, we yet longed to re-enter the world of sorrow and strife.
I had resumed my medical studies, and Moraine had devoted himself to the cattle and sheep-breeding farms. Rastan, our former serang, had settled down, and was employed in various avocations. Our friendship with Doria still continued unshaken, and the horizon appeared calm and cloudless.
I had never definitely spoken to Madame Doria of the feeling of mistrust I entertained towards La Manca, for I feared to increase the burden of doubt she so evidently bore. But I had gently approached the matter, and plainly saw that she did not entertain very friendly feelings towards the chief electrician. It was towards the conclusion of the six years of our residence that, through the many channels of communication which Doria maintained, we first heard of the great war that inaugurated the opening of the 20th century, and resulted in dire slaughter and a readjustment of many of the outlying boundaries of the world's many countries.
During the whole of this time Doria had been in a state of repressed excitement, and evidently mastered with the idea of what would result should he appear on the scene of warfare backed up with the unlimited treasure of the Charles Louis Mountains. Madams Doria's face wore a constant shadow of fear, as if dreading that Doria would give way to the thoughts that dominated him.
At last, when half the battleships of the world were at the bottom of the sea, and the armies decimated, peace was restored, and the world set about repairing damages under certain altered conditions. During the time the conflict had lasted I felt certain that La Manca had urged Doria to take part in the struggle. But the sacredness of the tradition that he guarded was too strongly implanted in Doria's character, and the end of war saw the secret of Ban Yammoo still carefully concealed from the outside world.
At last the natives brought up news that a large expedition had landed at the mouth of the Amberno, and was about to trace it to its source. The great struggle had not interfered with the titular ownership of Western New Guinea; the Dutch still claimed it, and the present expedition was a Dutch one.
The world was full of restless spirits of all nations, disorganised by a bloody and almost universal war. Doria was unmoved by the news.
'We have been prepared for this for a long time,' he said. 'It is easy work. The natives will do most of it.'
And so it proved. Misled and guided astray, up the many arms and channels of the river, the expedition at last came to the conclusion that the Amberno was only a mass of intricate branches, a maze of tortuous channels. But their leader thought that with properly constructed boats success might follow, and a main channel be at last found.
Six months afterwards two gunboats appeared somewhere near the spot where we had suffered wreck, and a large party was landed and boats launched. On receipt of this news Doria appeared uneasy. I was not surprised at it. He could annihilate the whole party with ease, but the slaughter of a peaceful, scientific party, unsuspecting any encounter with civilised foes, would be cold-blooded murder. It seemed very improbable that they could be again hoodwinked in any way, as they were evidently a well-equipped and resolute party, determined to reach the ranges.
Things had come to a crisis. As the intruders were Dutch, Moraine and I were invited to assist at the deliberations that ensued. They were long and anxious. Whether the decision arrived at was the wisest I cannot say. Certainly there seemed no choice at the time. Ana also, it was the inevitable that stared us in the face. The world was now too old for there to be any waste places in it left unvisited. The war had for long stopped all geographical research, but now that the world was recovering from it and peace reigned once more, travelling would commence again.
Coming from the council one evening after all had been settled, I encountered Madame Doria. Knowing that she was in her husband's confidence throughout, I was not surprised when she at once entered into conversation with me en the subject then troubling us.
'It is decided then to send a party to meet and interview the leaders of this Dutch expedition, and point out to them that they will not be allowed to enter the country?' she asked.
'Yes, it has been decided to do that, as the only means of avoiding bloodshed.'
'Do you think it will be successful.'
'Successful in turning them back for this time but they will come again.'
'Who will go?'
'General Dulsett, La Manca, and probably either Moraine or myself.'
'Doria will not go?'
'We advised him not. For one thing it would not be safe for him to become personally known to the Dutch. Moraine or I will carry on the negotiations, and, if possible, give them the notion that this settlement is English.'
'I wish La Manca were not going. I am nervous and silly, but I have been troubled by bad dreams lately, and that man's face has been ever present in them.'
'I would not trust La Manca. He stood out against our conditions of residence being accepted, and now advocates the admission of these intruders.'
'Is that the tone he takes?'
'It is. He says, with some show of truth, it is impossible to keep the knowledge of our existence any longer hidden, and it is better to keep the world at arm's length than run the risk of being surprised, and the secret of the gold discovered.'
'Do you agree with him?'
'Partly, and partly not. I think a bold policy would be the best—declaring an independent nationality, and claiming the recognition of our independence from the principal Powers. In that case we should be able to enforce our own laws, and only admit strangers under a passport system. The secret of the gold could be preserved, even as Russia has kept her Siberian gold fields intact. La Manca's idea of alliance with the Dutch, and acknowledging their suzerainty by a yearly tribute, is a temporising, half-way policy, bound to end in trouble.'
'It means more,' she returned, 'Doctor, a crisis is approaching, and I will tell you what is preying on my mind. La Manca aspires to the Governorship; if he carries his point, and makes an alliance with the Dutch, he will so influence them that he will gain this point, and Doria will be deposed, or civil war will ensue. And next to Doria, he is possessed of much power, and all our secrets. Treachery on his part means ruin.'
'I fully agree with you,' I replied, 'and if Doria saw with our eyes it might be different; but he thoroughly trusts the man, and would hear of nothing against him.'
'He does,' she said, sadly. 'La Manca plays his part well, but with you and Moraine and I watching him we may yet baffle him.'
'Could you not go as well as Mr. Moraine?'
'I see no difficulty. I have, I think, only to volunteer.'
'Go, then. I trust in you.'
Time went on, and the natives kept our outposts well informed of the movements of the expedition. They at last found the main channel of the river, and it was time for us to start. My services had been thankfully accepted, La Manca alone objecting. We had a well-armed escort, and awaited the party at the foot of the first cascade. We had only one day's waiting; then two shallow draught steam launches came in sight, evidently fully manned.
Our encampment was in full sight, with a flag flying—white, with a single red star in the centre. Evidently they took us for another exploring party from the east or south, and were proportionately astonished when informed that the country was claimed and settled, and that they would not be allowed to proceed further. At the same time, full geographical details of the upper courses of the river and the heights of and trend of the ranges would be supplied them.
The principal members of the party consisted of a young Dutch military officer, a German officer, two Dutch and one English scientist, so that when we met our parleying was easy. Naturally they pooh-poohed the thing, the Dutch officer being especially arrogant in his manner. The others, however, saw the matter from a serious point of view, and argued very reasonably that if we were a civilised people the coming of a purely scientific and peaceful party could not be objected to.
To all this General Dulsett replied that it was our law and according to our constitution, and, while regretting the want of courtesy it seemingly evinced, it was not to be relaxed. The expedition must not attempt to proceed further, or they would be made prisoners. This roused the ire of the Dutch officer, who began to vapor and fume in a way which only roused a smile on General Dulsett's face.
However, in the course of a speech loudly addressed in Dutch to his countrymen, he made use of an insulting expression towards the English, which Moraine understood. Stepping up to the braggart, Moraine asked him if he had heard aright, if not, would he kindly repeat the term? Looking at him with all the contempt he could throw in a glance, the Dutchman did so, and immediately received a back-hander from Moraine's open hand across the mouth that made the blood start.
Foaming with rage he would have drawn his sword, but the German laid his hand on his shoulder, and in a stern tone bade him desist, which he sullenly did.
This squabble naturally somewhat strained any friendly relations which might have been on the point of springing up. However, the Dutch officer retired to the steamer, and negotiations were resumed. But, talk as they might, the result was the same. The party were not to proceed a step further. That was the unalterable ultimatum, which at last they were forced to acquiesce in. It was past noon when this was finally settled, and General Dulsett invited the party to partake of their mid-day meal with us. They all accepted the offer, with the exception, of course, of the Dutch officer, who was nursing his cut lip and wounded honor on board the steam launch.
Now that the inevitable was accepted, our guests proved right good company. Their curiosity with regard to the tableland was naturally insatiable, and the more they heard the more they desired to go on. This was but natural, and to be expected. But the leading professor was evidently partly appeased by the geographical maps General Dulsett supplied him with. This, at least, would be something to take back.
At the invitation of the party we adjourned on board the launches, and were soon busy examining the latest mechanical improvements. The launches were moored to the bank close together, and, happening to look up, I saw La Manca on board the other one, in conversation with the Dutch officer. Apparently, by their gestures, they were merely talking of certain details in the construction, and, as the rest of us were all on the boat where I was, their conversation would be perfectly private. As we went back to our camp the German officer went with us, and drew General Dulsett aside. After a few words the latter crossed to Moraine, and said something to him at which he smiled and gave a short reply. I guessed it was a hostile message from the Dutchman.
'Doctor,' he said, and called me over. 'Captain Heidekker has brought a request for satisfaction from the gentleman whom our friend Moraine very properly reprimanded this morning.'
'Between ourselves I quite agree with you,' interrupted the German smilingly. 'Moraine, as the challenged party, has selected pistols at daybreak to-morrow. I will act as his friend. Will you come in case of accidents?'
'Of course,' I replied; and after a few remarks we parted.
Next morning at daylight we paraded our men, and Moraine, who was an excellent shot, put a bullet through the young fellow's shoulder. I bound it up for him, and assured him that, but for a little stiffness, he would soon be as right as ever. But he was not a gentleman, and growled out some guttural curses, so, to put him at his ease, I condoled with him on being such a bad shot, at which he squirmed; and congratulated him on Moraine letting him off so easy, at which he squirmed still more.
Preparations for departure were soon made by the Dutch expedition, but we remained for a day or two longer just to see them off the premises as it were. Before leaving however, an incident occurred ominous of further trouble. The wounded officer, who was resting on a deck chair, asked for an interview with General Dulsett.
'As I represent the Dutch Government in this matter,' he said, 'I must ask you by what right you assume complete control over this territory?'
'By the right of first discovery by our ancestors, and continuous occupation ever since.'
'What country do you claim under these conditions?'
'The whole area drained by the Amberno River and its tributaries; from the mouth to the summit of the Charles Louis Range.'
'You actually repudiate all Dutch claims.'
'Utterly. Your countrymen have no claim according to international law.'
There was a frigid bow on either side, and they parted.
Time passed on, and Doria's vigilance never relaxed, neither did my watch on La Manca, but my chance had gone unobserved, or those steam launches had never left the river. Then came the expected news—two transports, convoyed by gunboats, had arrived, and a party was immediately sent to watch their movements.
When the intelligence came that soldiers were landed General Dulsett departed to warn the invaders that their progress would be regarded as a declaration of war, and if necessary to declare it forthwith. Naturally this was laughed at, and hostilities shortly commenced. This was very one-sided. The men of Aurumnia, as the community was named, avoided all open warfare as yet, and with their superior explosives and knowledge of the country inflicted great loss on the enemy without losing a man.
General Dulsett's motive was to weary them out, and disorganise and terrorise the men without inflicting great loss. This was rapidly being done. The Dutch troops had not advanced thirty miles before they were ripe for a panic, and the least demonstration in force by the Aurumnians would have made them lay down their arms. But this was not Doria's policy. He wanted to give them a dread of the country, not to take prisoners.
Small attempts to ascend the river had been made, but they had been easily defeated. In fact, the desultory warfare thus kept up, while it might have been exciting to the Dutch, who bore all the losses, was remarkably tame on our side. But a deeper scheme than we suspected had been hatched in La Manca's treacherous brain.
In that short interview with the Dutch officer he had entrusted to him the plan of a scheme for acquiring the territory of Aurumnia and the riches of the world on certain terms. The answer to this he had received in some underhand manner, and the invasion that followed was the result.
When the great war was on Holland had drifted into an alliance with Russia and Germany, and this alliance was now renewed. This of course I learned after the catastrophe. Russia, Germany, and Holland were to share the dominion of the world, for La Manca had betrayed everything, the boundless wealth, the impregnable armor plates, and the new explosives, of which, however, he fortunately did not know the whole of the secret. The Dutch army at the mouth of the Amberno was simply a bait, poor devils sent there to distract our attention and fall victims in the game. Meanwhile in Geelvink Bay the real campaign was being organised. Russian troops were landed on Schouten and Jobi Islands, and from there drafted slowly on to the mainland, and before the fact became known to us an army of 30,000 men was on the march to attack Aurumnia with its garrison of 5000. The country through which they advanced, though mountainous, offered no such natural opposition as did the advance from the north by the Amberno.
How our information corps had thus failed us we could not then make out, but if treachery was the agent it was easy, as all men's thoughts were centred on the Dutch invasion.
DORIA heard the news without dismay, and merely remarked, 'I'm sorry for the awful slaughter, for not a man will go back: but they rush on their fate.'
I was at his house at the time; and when he left to assume his duties Mme. Doria entered.
'This is treachery,' she said.
'And not hard to guess the traitor.'
'Hard, no! I have spoken to Doria, and told him my suspicions; this is no time for concealing them. But he will not listen, nor have the man arrested. He blames all to the mistake made in giving the Dutch expedition the maps.'
'How can he be so blind? The maps told nothing of the gold, and without that lure do you! suppose that Russia would have sent such an army to conquer a poor little colony in which they have no interest? No! La Manca has told them all. Russia and Germany both came out of the great war with loss and defeat; now, at their feet, defended by a handful of men, lies illimitable wealth and the secret of invulnerable armor-plating. Believe me, we shall hear of the Germans as allies yet. Aurumnia conquered, and the world is at their mercy. Truly this gold might work the world's destruction; but not as the old Governor thought.'
'Can we do nothing more?'
'I will see Doria, and urge on him my views; but I doubt his listening.'
I did as I said. I had a long interview with Doria; but in vain. He would not connect treachery with La Manca's name. It was impossible.
'Is the under-electrician trustworthy?' I asked.
'As true as La Manca.'
'That's not saying much; but I prefer his looks to La Manca. Listen to me, for the country is at stake. Take Mannors with you and examine the defences at the Black Pass; but not a word to anyone about your mission.'
'I will do this; it is my duty; and I will do it at once.'
I sighed with relief. The Black Pass was a defile two miles long, and the only accessible pass on the west. If the defences had been tampered with, and Mannors was a true man, Doria would yet be in time to restore any electrical communication needful, for all their defence work rested on an electrical basis. Moreover, La Manca's guilt would be proved. No one but he could tamper successfully with the communications so as to allow the Russians to pass safely through.
I passed a restless afternoon; the more I thought, the more did the man's diabolical treachery become apparent. I had told all to Moraine, and towards evening, still talking to him, we found ourselves at the tram station, whence the electric system radiated to all parts. A tram started as we stepped on the platform—a tramcar, with only one passenger in it, La Manca. I saw him, but he did not see us. By this time, of course, I was well acquainted with everybody, and as a member of the council met with every respect.
'Mr. La Manca is making a late journey to-night?' I said to the man in charge of the station.
'He is going to the range, I suppose, to see that everything is in order,' he replied. The range meant the gold mine.
'To see that everything is out of order,' was the thought that instinctively flashed through my brain. But I did not speak.
Turning to Moraine, I asked him if he felt inclined for a trip down there. He answered eagerly In the affirmative, and I saw his thoughts were mine. Being a council member, I had a right to a special tram, and the stationmaster had one quickly ready.
'Madam Doria went there half an hour before La Manca,' he said. 'I suppose you will come back together,' he added as we started.
Once out of sight of the station, Moraine went forward and spoke to the driver or guard, for he was both. Our pace increased until it was greater than any I had travelled before. Still La Manca must have travelled as fast, or faster, for his car was standing empty when we arrived at the terminus.
As rapidly as possible we hurried along the road that separated us from the house of the keeper of the secret. Risdant's son admitted us. Moraine struck in before I could speak.
'We have an important communication for Mr. La Manca, and have followed him here. Where is he?'
'In the mine with my father.'
'We must see him instantly. Lead on with a light.'
The young man knew us, and the times were troublous; so he obeyed at once. We did not stop to don overalls; but rushed after our guide. As we neared the circular opening from which opened the door to the treasure cavern we heard loud voices ahead, and at the door we saw a strange sight.
At the foot of the pedestal of the towering figure of Governor Kurtzon lay old Risdant wounded and bleeding. Between him and La Manca, who still held the dagger in his hand, stood Madam Doria grasping a pistol. Without asking a question, Moraine, I, and young Risdant threw ourselves on La Manca, overpowered, and secured him. Then the son knelt by his father, and supported him while I examined the wound.
It was fatal, I was grieved to find; but he might linger for some time. The son went away to procure a litter on which to carry him, and Madam Doria told us the story.
It suddenly occurred to her that a traitor would naturally wish to avert the forlorn hope explosion, which would cover up the source of the gold. Fired with a sudden determination, she started off to warn Risdant not to obey any orders, except those sent by Doria Papuan or General Dulsett. While still talking, in the chamber of Governor Kurtzon, they heard footsteps approaching. She hid behind the pedestal and La Manca came in. He ordered Risdant to assist him in disconnecting the wires, stating that all the enemy had been destroyed, and that Aurumnia was now safe. This Risdant refused to do, and a scuffle ensued, in which, in spite of Risdant's age, La Manca was getting the worst of it; when his passion got the better of him, and he stabbed the faithful old man. He would have repeated the blow had not Madam Doria stepped forward and covered him with her revolver. Just then we made our appearance, and the play was over.
Mme. Doria, under Moraine's convoy, went back to town, taking with them our prisoner, guarded by one of the men employed at the mines. I remained to attend still further to Risdant. The door into the treasure chamber was closed, and wise Governor Kurtzon never saw the light again.
It was nearing daylight before I returned, leaving my patient better and easier. As I walked home I heard rapid steps behind me, and Doria overtook me.
'I have just returned,' he said in breathless tones. 'You are right, Beckford, the treachery of hell has been at work. Oh! when I catch that villain—'
'He is caught,' I interrupted.
'Caught! How, when, where?'
'Tell me your story first,' I said.
'It is soon told. The Black Pass was virtually undefended—an army of babies could have walked through it. All communication had been not only destroyed, but so carefully manipulated that it would have brought havoc on the defenders to work the wires. Before the sun gilds Mount Orient's crest everything will be ready again for the Russian reception.'
As shortly as possible I told him my story and of Mme. Doria's share in it. I was tempted to tell him that if he had listened to the warnings of her intuition it might have been all well still, but when I looked at his worn, white face I refrained.
Neither Moraine nor I attended the council at which La Manca was judged and condemned; it was not our business.
A week passed, and the Russians were allowed to advance unmolested. Then a summons came to us from the Black Pass, and we went there. As I said before, it was a defile, two miles long, with precipitous sides, and could be defended with ease, but the foe relied on treachery for success. We noticed that the outlet was blocked up by blasting the rocks on either side, and the black, narrow chasm stretched straight before us for a long distance without bending.
'It looks like a grave,' I said.
'Then it looks like what it is going to be,' answered Doria. 'The Russians have already sent an advance to reconnoitre, and their main army will probably march through to-morrow. La Manca is here to welcome them,' said the general.
'La Manca,' I repeated. Then he drew my attention to what I had not noticed before. At the head of the pass, on the brow of the cliff, stood a mighty gallows, and from the beam swung a body. I did not ask whose. Judas had received his reward. They told me that he died, sullen to the last.
The night passed undisturbed, and in the morning Doria took his station at the table, on which stood the telegraph instrument. All that fateful morning it clicked at intervals steadily, and Doria and the general relieved one another occasionally. At two o'clock something decisive had happened. Doria pressed down the key hard, and rose from the table; at the same time a soldier announced that the head of a Russian column was in sight, rounding the bend of the defile. Doria lifted his hand, and we heard from afar off the roar of a mighty peal of thunder. The cliffs at the entrance had been shattered, retreat was cut off, and the Russians were in their grave. There seemed some doubt in their ranks. Officers were gathered together examining the dangling body of the traitor through their field- glasses.
Then, suddenly they seemed to conceive what had befallen them, what a trap they had entered but before an order could be issued, the fire of death broke forth from each side. It was most horrible. The murderous fusillade of machine guns was at times broken by the reports of the explosion of mines, which hurled tons and tons of rock down. The smoke from these mercifully hid the terrible sight, and the roar of the artillery drowned the wail of agony and despair that arose. Hemmed between the walls of solid rock, both advance and retreat cut off, they could only await death and agonising wounds. So it went on, and out of that Black Pass arose a smoke freighted with souls just torn from their bodies, until the firing ceased, and in the succeeding silence there arose only a few feeble, dying groans. It was done. The Russian army of invasion was annihilated to a man. Down in that bloody pass they lay, never more to be seen.
A tram car dashed up, and Mme. Doria descended. She almost staggered down to her husband's arms; she had no eyes for the yawning gulf of hell beneath; some dire and dreadful misfortune was evidently impending.
'More treachery,' she gasped. 'A German army has come from the East. The passes have been betrayed by La Manca's men, two have been taken, and surrendered without opposition, and the mines have been drawn. They are now pouring on to the tableland, and are within our defences.'
She finished her tale of horror, and then fainted.
Doria lifted her in his arms, and carried her back to the tram car. Without a word, in the face of such awful calamity, we took our seats, and the car sped back to Ban Yammoo.
All there was confusion and dismay, but no craven fear was visible. As we descended from the car Doria called to us, and we went over to him.
'Moraine and Beckford, we will now say good bye. I give you back your parole. Leave this doomed city, and make the best of your way to the coast; take the serang with you, and take this,' and he handed Moraine a stone with strange markings on it.
'That will be your safeguard through the natives—they will obey that, and serve you. The Dutch have left sick and sorry. There are boats at the landing; take any one and provision it and go, with my kindest wishes for your welfare. You are welcome now to tell what you like.'
'Good-bye, friends,' said Mme. Doria, extending both her hands. In that supreme hour no word of repining had escaped her lips; her duty was plain, and it was resignation.
'But, Doria,' I stammered, 'we cannot act as cowards, and desert you.'
'No, by God!' said Moraine. 'Dear friends, this is folly. The hour has struck. To-morrow commences our last day. But what will my small army of men, unused to war, do against the veterans of Germany in the open. Four times our number. No, it is our first and last fight, but we shall die hard. When the conqueror reaps the victory, as he thinks, the hour of his defeat has come. Defeat! No! An overthrow as utter as befell the Russians in the Black Pass. The victor and vanquished will be heard of no more by the world. When I told you that the explosion there,' and he pointed to the range, 'would work havoc, I did not tell you all. You will see for yourselves soon. Meantime, you helped to unmask and secure the traitor, and for that I will thank you again in some other world.'
He paused, and Mme. Doria broke in, 'You see, dear friends, that however brave and willing your arms are, they would not avail us, only add other victims. Good bye again, and I pray you not to court death uselessly, but to hasten.'
What could we do but obey, and we obeyed. With many a lingering look we were hastening away, when Doria hailed us.
'Warn the natives as you go to keep to the sea shore,' he shouted. I understood him, and waved my hand in the affirmative, and that was the last I saw of the most wonderful man in the world, betrayed by the weakness of being trustful; and the most noble woman.
With the assistance of the serang, who worked with the energy of two men when he knew what we were fleeing from, we were soon off, but when we were afloat and making swiftly down the river, Rastan began a strange, low chant I had never heard before. In fact, I had never heard a Malay sing before.
'What's started you, Rastan?' I asked.
'I saw that big killing at the Black Pass. I nearly ran down with my knife. My blood was mad. How they fell and cried, and how the big rocks crushed them!'
'There will be bigger killing to-morrow, Rastan.' I said.
'I know it; but you know there is something behind, or you would have stayed. I would love to have stayed, but I know that you know what will come, or you would not go. You are not afraid of the killing.'
'Pull, you fellows, and don't chatter so much,' snarled Moraine from the stern, where, in a black temper, he was sitting steering. We pulled and steered by spells, and when day broke we were out of the gloomy gorge through which we had passed up. We kept on; we guessed the end would not come till night, and pushed on to warn the natives.
The first body we met knew and acknowledged the stone. They told us that the Dutch were gone, and we told them to fly to the mangroves, for the mountains would shake and the river come down in flood. We kept on, and, the river being higher, shot the rapids easily, and, towards evening, drew up at a bend where the point of a range ran into the river and turned its course somewhat.
Here we landed, and taking food and wine climbed the highest point before the sun set. From here we could see the black boundary range and the fair white one beyond, with Mount Orient prominent and beautiful. Then we heard the murmur of voices and the pattering of bare feet. The natives, alive to the idea that something was going to happen, had gathered, and followed us. They had sent messengers down the river they said. They grouped themselves around us and waited.
Suddenly a deep sigh went up from them. Flashing through the darkness a ragged zone of fire had seemingly circled the base of Mount Orient, and disappeared. Risdant, or his son, had done his duty. More than ten minutes afterwards a dull, heavy boom reached our ears. Then there was silence and darkness.
An hour passed, and a low cry broke from all, for Mount Orient glowed as when the sun touched her. When first I saw this mountain I said to myself it is a dormant volcano, and one of the highest in the world. Now, the terrific force of the explosion that had rent its base had roused the sleeping fires, and once more they burst forth to ravage and consume as they had done in bygone times.
The fertility of that wonderful tableland was explained, and the presence of the gold. Where would that gold vanish? Nevermore would it be a lure to drag men to the shambles of the battle field. It was gone. And with it the guardian race and their conquerors.
A black pall soon enveloped everything. All the terrors of an awful eruption followed; for days it lasted, and the river ran boiling mud. At last, starved, and wearied with horror, we ventured down and wandered on with the natives to the sea. There, after a while, a Malay proa took us off, and we reached civilisation, bearing with us as the only relic out of the riches of the world the carved pebble Doria had given us at the last. The Russian ships at Geelvink Bay and the German ships at Astrolabe Bay waited long for the return of the men with the gold. But they are buried beneath the lava, where nobler hearts than theirs rest.
If you can have one hidden kingdom in New Guinea, surely there's
room for a second... A humorous and cynical take on the subject.—Ed.
OVER all and through all the mingled memories of my awakening I heard the ceaseless gurgle of the splash of the boat's bow as she tossed up and down, and the crashing noise of the wavelets as they broke against her planks. Gradually, slowly coming to my senses, I found that the noise was somewhat different to the dread monotony I had been accustomed to. The lapping sound was no longer directly beneath my head; but, though it was still audible, it was more remote, and I languidly opened my eyes to discover the cause I was ashore, no longer adrift.
Evidently lying on solid ground. The lap-lap of the hungry waves that had been striving to get at us so long was no longer close to me, for I was no longer In the boat. The smell of burning wood was in my nostrils, and with it that indescribable odor that told me that I was in a native camp of colored men.
Rousing myself, I found that I was lying on the sand above high-water mark, and that, not far away, was a camp of about half a dozen natives. They were not regarding me, but when I raised myself on my elbow and looked towards them one of them came over to me. He was a tall savage, with the yellow-dyed mop of the Papuan and the ready smile and white teeth of the tribes inhabiting the south of New Guinea, These fellows, as I knew, would smile cheerily if they were going to eat you the next minute; but still it was pleasant to see it. But our attempts at conversation were disastrous. As to how I came to be there, or how I had escaped the sea, I could not learn from him. Still, he was friendly, and brought me a drink, and I lay back and looked at the blue sky and considered.
Adam Joyce and I had patched up the boat on the sandbank where our schooner had been wrecked, after the trouble we had had with the kanakas and the Malay serang, who formed our crew. I remembered our labor in the boat, the constant bailing, the thirst, the horror of it all, and then came a blank.
What had become of Joyce? Once more I struggled to get up, and the same young fellow came to me, and assisted me. I tried hard to make him understand that I wanted to know where my companion was; but in return he could only show me the empty, crazy boat drawn above high-water mark, evidently by the savages. One of these fellows offered me some turtle that they were busy eating, and although my appetite was not great, I tried to eat some to regain my strength. The blank in my memory worried me exceedingly, and I tried vainly to piece things together; but could not get beyond the one incident of the madness of Joyce and my attempt to tie him down in the boat to prevent him going overboard.
Striving to recall these disjointed memories, it suddenly struck me whether the delusion was not on my part, and whether all the madness that I thought Joyce displayed had not arisen in my own brain. Joyce had asserted that he saw a woman in a canoe, and tried to jump overboard to swim to her. We were both weak and desperate with hunger and thirst. I had tried to restrain him, for I could see neither land nor canoe. We had struggled together, and try as I could I remembered no more. Evidently we had been near land, and I must have been rescued by the natives while in an unconscious state. One of the natives now made signs to me to indicate that they were going away, and I was to accompany them. They did not seem unfriendly nor unacquainted with whites; but they had not had much intercourse with them, to judge by their ignorance of language fitted to converse in. I was still very weak, and made them understand that I could not walk far, and we set out. Leaving the beach we almost immediately got into low, scrubby country which shut out all view ahead. We seemed to be following a kind of beaten track that was not much used although plain enough to follow easily. Fortunately we had not far to go before we emerged from, the scrub on to the bank of a broad river, and at the edge of it was a large canoe, it was somewhat different from the others I had seen amongst the natives of Papua, but I recognised the ornamentation of the prow. We got in the canoe, and the natives began to paddle up what was evidently the estuary of a large river. I was permitted to rest in the bottom of the boat, and the young fellow I have mentioned before gave me a coconut, the milk of which I found very refreshing.
The six natives paddled silently, steadily, and swiftly, for we were in tidal waters and the tide was making. By sundown we must have Coins many miles and the river's, banks began to be clothed with a forest of gigantic trees, but there was no sign of animal life or human habitation. A few parrots and a flight of two at pigeons was all I saw. At nightfall we landed, and the natives lit a fire and warmed some food. I felt better for the rest and refreshment, and tried to make them tell me what they were going to do with me, and where they going; but on this point they would afford me no information. They were very quiet amongst themselves, and, after eating, smoked a strong-smelling tobacco in bamboo pipes.. They were not much different to the Papuans I had seen, but were rather better looking and more intelligent in appearance, and lighter in color. I could only await with patience their intentions which did not seem to be hostile. They had bows and arrows, but no other weapons, and their dress was only a loin cloth of grass.
I fell asleep for some hours, and was awakened at what I fancied was about midnight by the altitude of the constellations. We returned to the canoe, and our silent journey recommenced.
The dawn was beginning to brighten when we turned off the main stream, and our progress was Slow up a tributary branch, and against a current, for we went much slower. Daylight showed us to be in a narrow stream still, with the huge forest trees on either side of us, but now I saw in one place the tree houses peculiar to New Guinea, but I saw no inhabitants. It was well on in the morning when we landed, and, as they took everything out of the canoe and made it fast in a sheltered spot, I concluded that our water journey was done, and wherever we were bound for it would have to be finished by land. I was, however, now in much fitter state to stand fatigue, and felt in better spirits altogether, but the mystery of my companion's disappearance still haunted me. Apparently he had not been killed by the natives who had me with them.
Leaving the stream, we went through the forest, which had here and there open patches and signs of old cultivation, but in no case did they appear to have been recently tended. At last we came to a good-sized village, but the huts were deserted, and neither pigs nor poultry were to be seen.
We rested, and two of the natives went away, and presently returned with some yams and coconuts, and some birds they had killed. I gave up trying to conjecture what they were going to do with me, and ate what was given me with a good appetite.
Our journey was continued that day as far as another deserted village, where we rested that night. In the morning, soon after we started, we came upon a regular track, apparently at one time well used, but now becoming overgrown and rank with vegetation. Still we went on, the country becoming more hilly and the forest less close in appearance as we advanced. At last we were amongst fair-sized ranges, and our way became toilsome and difficult. Finally, when surmounting a higher ridge than usual, I caught a glimpse of the land ahead, and, from what I saw, concluded that we should soon reach a dividing watershed of some sort. The silence of my captors now somewhat relaxed, and they laughed and chatted to each other more after the fashion of the other Papuans I had met. Evidently we were nearing our destination, and they were pleased at coming to the end of their journey.
Coming suddenly to clear country and a sheer descent, I saw before me the most wonderful and beautiful view I ever saw in my life, or ever will see. A valley was before us, smiling under the afternoon sun, rich in foliage and vegetation, and watered by a serpentine river which flowed through its entire length. The land was park-like in appearance, and rose and fell in undulations. I could see habitations scattered about, and plantations of many shades of green, indicating different sorts of crops. The six natives halted, and broke into a perfect babble of talk that was strange, after, their late grim, silence. They pointed eagerly to different objects, evidently familiar to them, and by their bright looks and evident pleasure, it was quite plain that it was their native home we were overlooking.
Towards the head of the valley, the mountains towered far aloft, and some appeared snow capped. The young native whom I have once or twice spoken of took me by the arm, and pointing to the beautiful valley, said 'Allako!' once or twice eagerly. I nodded and smiled in answer, which seemed greatly to please him, and he patted my arm as if to show me that I was quite safe, and would meet with no harm. Strange, to say the term 'Allako!' seemed familiar to me, but I could not then recall where or when I had heard it before.
I have said there was a sheer descent beneath our feet, down to the valley and, this I saw, would have to be negotiated by means of a zigzag path, which did not look any too pleasant for anyone but a practised mountaineer. However, the natives put me between them, and after I started I recovered my nerve somewhat, and found the descent looked worse that it really was. It took some time, however, and I was glad whet we got to the bottom, and stood on level ground.
The instant we reached the foot of the descent, the six natives dropped on their knees, and bowing down their heads touched the earth with their foreheads. This attitude, so different to the habits of the Papuans, struck me with astonishment, for, as a rule, the natives of New Guinea have little reverence for anything, and hardly any religion, unless the worship of some of their ancestors be considered in that light. Whether their devotional attitude awoke a dormant train of thought or not I cannot say, but, now I remembered there was a legend or myth connecting the word, of 'Allako,' with some unknown race in the interior, who were held by the other tribes in great awe and terror. There were said to be Amazonian women amongst them, and it certainly seemed as though the tribes in the country we had passed through had either been driven out, or wilfully abandoned their homes. Now, had I really come to this wonderful Allako that, as I thought, no European had visited.
The natives rose and pushed on, and soon we were greeted by others Who had been working In the plantations, and now hastened to greet the returned wanderers. They evinced no surprise at seeing me, it was quite evident that these were not homestaying folk, and had been in parts of New Guinea where members of the white race are a familiar sight. They were a handsome race of savages, of a light copper color, and the only actual savage touch, beyond the scanty dress, was the mop of dyed hair; and this I put down to their adopting, on account of being able to pass, when outside their own country, as ordinary Papuans. In this conjecture, I afterwards found I was right. In spite of the anxiety I naturally felt as to the future, I could not help feeling rejoiced at being amongst such a peaceful, simple people, after the perils of the sea I had lately undergone.
The people gathered round us good-humouredly, and we went through the scattered houses until we arrived at the main cluster of buildings. The houses we had seen were much superior to the ordinary run of New Guinea habitations, but the one we approached was large and well built enough to have graced a more civilised country than Papua. Out of the house came a woman of great beauty and European origin, as could be at once seen. She was dressed in a long waist-petticoat only, but she wore jewellery in the shape of gold bangles on her arms, and altogether appeared a person of authority. Her hair was black and her eyes the same, while her complexion was a rich olive, warm-tinted and lustrous. She was a splendid-looking creature as she stood there gazing at me, and behind her came other women dressed like the women I had seen coming along, and with no pretence to any admixture of European blood.
My guardian spoke to the woman as one speaks to a superior, But what he said was of course unintelligible to me. Presently, however, she addressed me, and though I did not fully understand her; I caught enough to know that she was talking in broken Spanish, a language in which I had some experience. I answered her as well as I could, and she seemed exceedingly pleased at having made herself understood. She spoke to the men who had come with me, and they dispersed to their homes and left me standing before the women, whom I took to be the originators of the Amazon myth.
The mistress of the establishment, as she appeared to be, asked me to come in, and I entered the house, and found the interior comfortable and well furnished with mats and articles made of bamboo. I had food brought to me, and I sat down on the ground and ate. Then a bamboo pipe was given me, and I listened while the lady of the house explained the situation. I will put it in my own words.
In the early days of discovery some three centuries ago a castaway Spanish captain and his followers were captured by the Papuans, who admired them very much, so much so that they ate all of them but the captain. He was a notable man, and managed to obtain so much influence over them that he started an independency of his own in the valley of Allako. He was a sensible man, for all he insisted on was quiet, peaceful living and good cultivation. His descendants succeeded him one after another, and preserved their independence, and gradually, by strong persuasions, managed to get the other tribes to withdraw from the neighborhood, and hence they lived a happy, prosperous life in the fertile valley.
But it was part of their belief that the white strain of blood was necessary in the reigning family. To preserve this heritage parties of natives visited other parts of New Guinea, and, to put it plainly, kidnapped men for their representative of the royal family to marry. Thus it happened that I had fallen into the hands of a kidnapping party, and the fate before me was to wed the charming creature whose hospitality I was enjoying, provided that she approved of me. If she did not, the alternative was simplicity itself, I should be put to death.
THE trouble in which I was placed was rather perplexing. It was not as though I could settle the matter myself in any way, but Donnareena, as she was called by the natives, held the power exclusively in her own hands. I might be able to gain her favour, but that was but a fickle look out, and the least mistake might consign me to death. That outlook seemed to stand out plainly, fore evidently Donnareena was accustomed to having her own way, and a husband, more or less, would be nothing to her.
Certainly, I had an advantage in my knowledge of Spanish, but really, beyond saving my life, I had no particular desire, for various reasons, to become a reigning partner in Allako, nor did I intend to, excepting for a chance to get clear. However, I made myself as agreeable as possible, and, finally, was conducted to a large building, used as a sort of bachelor club by some of the young men, and informed that those were my quarters pending approval.
I was glad to find that the cheery young fellow of whom I have made mention was amongst the residents in this house, and he made me comfortable in a very kindly manner. Also, seemingly that I now knew the customs of the country, he did not hesitate to inform me, as well as he could, that he considered me a very desirable occupant of the vacant throne. He as well led me to see the place where undesirable white men were executed, an event which had not occurred in his lifetime, so that he did not conceal the idea he had latent in his mind, that, whichever way, it went, I should be an object of interest to him. As I said, they seemed a very, friendly sort of people, and anxious to entertain strangers.
The particular form of entertainment designed for an unsuccessful candidate to the throne of Allako consisted In fastening him to a post and allowing all the young men to practise on him with their weapons. To practise only. It was considered bad form to bring the pastime to a conclusion by killing the subject outright. That was what I had to expect if Donnareena did not approve of me as a husband. If she did not, I felt instinctively that I should dislike Donnareena very much.
I passed that night very comfortably under the circumstances, and the next morning, after a swim in the cold waters of the river that flowed through the valley, and a capital breakfast of fish, was conducted again to the presence of the lady in whose hands lay my destiny. Donnareena was very gracious. It was obvious that for the present I was safe; but what feminine vagary might interfere with the interest she felt in me I could not tell.
However, I was soon to find out, for in the course of the morning there was commotion amongst the inhabitants of the valley, and this was in consequence of a fresh party of kidnappers appearing, bringing with them no less a person than Joyce, my partner in the schooner. Joyce and I greeted one another with effusion, while the friendly natives looked wonderingly on. This was an event in the annals of Allako—two white men at the same time, two candidates for the hand of the reigning princess.
This thought struck me with a direful feeling, immediately after the first greeting with Joyce, who, by the way, seemed uncommonly like a lunatic. True, he recognised me, but he could give me no connected account of his escape, or parting with me. However, the ceremony of presenting him to Donnareena had to be gone through, and at this I had to attend, as Joyce could not make himself understood as well as I could. Donnareena seemed much struck with Joyce, who was a younger and better-looking man than myself, and I began to feel a nasty qualm like being tied to a post and practised on by my cheerful young friend and his companions.
As soon as possible I got Joyce away, and told him the nature of the situation, but the infatuated fool seemed quite pleased, and remarked that Donnareena was a very fine young woman indeed, and that he believed that it was a vision of her he saw that made him jump out of the boat, for, from what I managed to piece together, Joyce must have jumped out, and left me stunned in the bottom. Seemingly, he was rescued by another party of the men of Allako, and brought to the valley by a different route.
Anyhow, his coming was most unfortunate, as it was evident that Allako did not want two candidates for the hand of the princess, and one of us would have to go to the execution post; that seemed inevitable. Well, we had at least a week to decide the matter, and something might be done in that lime; meantime, we had to make ourselves agreeable to Donnareena. Certainly, Joyce had the advantage of me in youth and appearance, but then, he could not make the lady understand him as easily as I could, therefore the handicap was not at all on his side, and as I had to interpret, I saw a chance open. I proposed to Joyce that we should come to some arrangement in the matter, by which the successful suitor for the hand of the princess should insist upon the rejected one being spared; but Joyce was seemingly so far gone in stupidity that he could not see that we should work together for our mutual benefit. He replied that it was impossible to alter the traditional laws of Allako, and that the man who failed would have to make the best of it. For his part, he did not mean to fail. Donnareena was a magnificent creature, and if he did not succeed, in gaining her affections he was content to die. What had happened to him I don't know, but it was quite evident that his brain was affected past recovery, and that I must work for myself.
That night I was awakened by a most infernal noise, and, going out, I found that besotted fool singing a love song outside Donnareena's house. I had told him of the origin of the people of the valley, and he had got it into his crazy brain that it was the correct thing to do, according to Spanish notions, to serenade a lady. The people had got up, and were listening to him, and, strange to say, they seemed rather pleased at the lunatic's performance, and resented my attempt to restrain him. After he had sung everything he could think of, from 'Wait till the clouds roll by' to 'Ben Bolt,' he condescended, to retire; but it was evident that he had made a good impression by his musical abilities, which I must say were of the smallest.
I did not sleep much, for it seemed evident that such a novelty as a singing white man would have first chance, and I should be wedded to the execution post, and not to Donnareena. I had made Joyce a fair offer to work together, and he had refused it; new I had to set my wits against his.
Next morning I was called up to interpret between Donnareena and Joyce, and had to convey to my rival the expression of pleasure by the Queen at the musical treat he had afforded. I felt much tempted to alter the wording, and tell Joyce that if he started howling again he would get his head cut off, but on second thoughts I did not; I had a better scheme in view. As long as I was needful as interpreter, my life would be safe. I saw that Donnareena was getting infatuated with the interesting Joyce. I could wait until she was very far gone in love's young dream, and then I would manage to turn her love into something like hatred. A jealous or slighted woman will stick at nothing, no more will a man with a torture post in view.
LIFE soon became intolerable. From morn to eve I found I had nothing to do but translate love Passages between Joyce and Donnareena, and the agony promised to be protected, for I soon found out that instead of the week of courtship which should have been mine, I was now condemned to be nothing but an interpreter between Joyce and Donnareena for an indefinite time.
Still, in one way, it was best; it gave me an interval in which to evolve some sort of a plan by which I could eventually escape the doom of the torture post, and Joyce had proved so ungrateful in every way that I did not care if the fates should eventually lead him to death instead of me.
One morning when I had a little relief from the constant interpretation, which I had to undergo, I persuaded the young fellow, of whom I have spoken before, to take me for a walk around the outside the town. I particularly wanted to find out whether any of the other ascents or descents to the valley were easier than the way we had come. He was a guileless youth, and in the course of our walk and conversation let out a good deal of Useful information. I found that some distance to the south of where we had descended there was a gap in the cliffs, comparatively easy of access, but which was guarded by a number of men stationed there, whose duty it was to watch tale—the only easy communication—to the valley of Allako.
I saw plainly that my only means of escape was to sacrifice Joyce. The alternative was painful, but necessary. I was only kept on until Joyce had learnt the language, and I was no longer accessory, and now that love had sprung up between them they would soon understand each other. I formed my plans accordingly. The next day, when engaged in translating their amorous small talk, I made a point of making Joyce say that what a pity it was that such a divine creature should ever grow old. I saw Donnareena's eyes flash at the suggestion, and the answer came us expected.
'Surely I shall never be old in the eyes of Don Joyce?'
This was the sort of catlap I had to interpret between the pair. I ignored Joyce's real answer altogether, and replied for him, 'Not in the eyes of my soul, dear love, but in the eyes of my body you are even now older than I am.'
Then the fat was in the fire with a vengeance. She turned on Joyce and gave him a bit of her mind In choice language, which, fortunately, he Hid not understand; but he could not help understanding her looks, and the tone of her voice.
'What the devil have you been saying to her?' said Joyce angrily to me. In turn she deciphered the angry element in his voice, and naturally concluded that he was giving her a nasty reply through me. I had started a pretty quarrel, and it waxed hotter and hotter, Joyce abusing me and Donnareena, after the unreasoning manner of a woman in a rage, letting Joyce have it, regardless of whether he understood her or not. At last, when she was almost ran down, she turned to me and said that she insisted on knowing in precise terms what he had said. I pretended to protest and deprecate the question, but at last gave in, and informed her that he had only been anxious to inform her that he loved her so much because she reminded him of a dearly-loved aunt.
There was one wild scream of rage, a few sharp peremptory orders, and Joyce was in the hands of a couple of strong women, and literally dragged out at the house before he knew what was happening to him. He was handed over to the care of some of the men, and I, knowing that it was no time for explanations, retired to the portion of the club-house set aside for me.
I found there was great consternation amongst the young men. They could, of course, not guess what had happened to cause Donnareena to perform like that, but they felt frightened of her wrath from whatever cause it sprang. I, who had started the trouble simply to see how events would turn out—for I had no denned plan in my head—was able to sleep peacefully, knowing full well that matters could not be worse as far as I was concerned, and that possibly they might be better.
Well! The next morning, Joyce was brought up before the Queen, and I also was made to take my station as interpreter, and the following conversation passed:
First, she wanted to know what Don Joyce meant by saying that she was old enough to remind him of a beloved aunt? I saw at once that love had reasserted itself, and that she was anxious to give Joyce a loophole of escape. Accordingly I asked Joyce what he meant by saying that Donnareena was old enough to be his aunt.
Of course, he flew into a rage, and denied it, and commenced to abuse me. I pretended to be very indignant with him, and finally, when Donnareena insisted on knowing what was going on, I told her that he was protesting that he venerated her with the same veneration that he bore to his grandmother.
Now, the Papuans have no particular religion, beyond a sort of ancestor worship, and when Joyce, according to me, said that he loved her with the sort of love that the general run of niggers felt for their ancestors' bones, instead of the very human love she expected, why, naturally she kicked up, and the result was that poor Joyce went once more into durance vile.
But though Donnareena was thus hard upon Joyce, you may be sure that it did not soften her one whit towards me; but I did not expect it, my plans were deeper than that. Donnareena retired in high dudgeon, and I wandered, about, and made as close acquaintance as I could with the young fellow I have so often mentioned, whose name was Poorpoorgai, for I intended him to help me in my endeavors to escape. I persuaded him to allow me to visit Joyce in his confinement, and as there had been no orders laid down about it, I was admitted to my misguided companion and former partner. He greeted me scornfully, and asked me whether I considered myself a white man or not? I replied that I did. Emphatically so; but that I did not include him under that category.
He said I had made mischief between Donnareena and himself, and I answered that he, by his opportune arrival, had done the same. But for his coming, I should now be the happy husband of the reigning Queen of Allako, Which, although not a position I aspired to, was better than the death which was likely to be my portion. To this Joyce had nothing to say, and finally I said that, although he had brought all this trouble on us, I forgave him, and we would endeavor to escape together.
This soothed him somewhat, and kept him quiet, and I now sent word to Donnareena, and requested an audience. She assented to see me, and I then informed her that I knew of a way to bring Joyce to, his senses. I assured, her that it was the spirit of an old aunt of his that was afflicting him, and leading his affections away from her, and that I knew of a way to put a stop to it.
She listened very scornfully at first, but after a bit her curiosity was awakened, and she listened more attentively. I lied like a Trojan on behalf of Joyce; told her now he was the same as he always had been to her in reality, a slave to her youth and beauty, but this vexatious spirit of his old aunt would suddenly upset things, and make him say what he never intended to.
Finally, she agreed to my carrying out a plan that would banish the spirit of the old aunt, and bring Joyce back to his senses. But she also informed me that I should answer for it if it did not succeed. Naturally, I expected that—I told her that I must have Poorpoorgai's assistance in the experiment, and she told that youth to do whatever I told him. Then I went to Joyce, and told him. I had made it up with Donnareena, and we would act some mummery, after which he would find himself back in favor again. To this he agreed, and, the fright having somewhat restored his wits, said that when he became the husband of Donnareena he would at once have my life spared. I expressed my gratitude, but privately I did not attach any importance whatever to this, as I guessed that Donnareena would do just as she liked—husband or no husband. I had my own plans for getting away, and they did not depend upon anybody but myself. That night I got Joyce released, and told him to go and do the singing business again, which he did to the great delight of all the people of Allako.
Now, it may be thought that the easiest way to settle the matter would be to stipulate for my release as a reward for restoring Joyce to the allegiance he had never really abandoned, and this was my intention at first, but from something Poorpoorgai had dropped, I found that that was beyond the power of Donnareena herself. No white man must leave Allako, and only one must remain alive In it. This seemed to me rather unfair to the other ladies of Allako, who might have fancied a white husband, and, had time permitted, I would have endeavored to have stirred up discontent amongst them on the subject; but time did not permit. I presume the law was strictly enforced to prevent the advent of a rival royal house. Joyce finished his serenade, as hoarse as a crow, and the remainder of the night passed in peace. In the morning I commenced my hanky-panky.
I led Joyce out To an open place, and stationed the queen and her women in one position, and allowed the people to gather round, but not in a circle, as I explained that I must have a space left for the spirit to escape. I had drilled Poorpoorgai, who was shaking with terror, that immediately he saw Joyce make a movement towards the queen it would be a sign that the spirit had left him. He was then at once to start as hard as he could for the easy passage cut of the valley. The spirit would undoubtedly pursue him, but as he was the fastest runner of his tribe he ought to be able to easily escape her. I was a pretty good runner myself, and in tip top condition; also, the men on guard at the pass had been warned about the thing, so that they would not make any attempt to stop Poorpoorgai with the spirit after him. I had got myself up grotesquely with paint and pigment, and looked a proper wizard for a savage tribe. Joyce had his instructions, and we commenced operations.
I took Joyce into the middle of the unoccupied space, and began my incantations. Joyce howled occasionally and jumped as if in pain, and Poorpoorgai stood in the opening left vacant nearly white with horror, but still ready to do or die, as he had been instructed that principally on him rested the honor of ridding the valley of the spirit of Joyce's aunt. He was told that once without the confines of the valley the spirit was harmless and could not return, and all he had to do was to run hard enough to keep ahead of her.
I kept my foolery going long enough to make the people uneasy and a bit frightened and nervous; then, fearing that I might keep it up too long, I gave the signal to Joyce.
With apparently a great cry of relief and joy, he gave a wild spring upwards (I never thought the fellow could jump so high) and bounded towards Donnareena, and clasped the startled woman in a close and loving embrace. Dire was the consternation; some ran screaming away, some ran to seize Joyce and release the Queen, and some seemed to get quite stupid. The action was so sudden and unexpected, and if you want to get the better of a savage you must always startle him.
Straight and sudden as a released arrow, Poorpoorgai darted away, looking neither to the right nor the left, bent only on getting a good start of the spirit. I had instructed him to make the dash when Joyce executed the big jump of release, and he never delayed an instant.
I was away after him as soon as he was, and I had relied on the confusion caused by Joyce's unexpected embrace of the Queen to enable me to escape unharmed in the confusion. Poorpoorgai had not been told that I was going to follow, and an occasional howl from me lent speed to him. But I had little breath left to howl with. Never did a sprinter make better time on a cinder track than did we two across the valley of Allako. Soon the ascent was in sight with the men encamped there. Now was the critical time. Would they spear me as I passed?
But the agonised expression of Poorpoorgai's face, the desperate haste with which he fled, and the strange figure pursuing him were quite enough. They stampeded with one accord, and Poorpoorgai and I continued our panting way alone and unmolested.
What toil it was letting up that ascent! but both of us were nerved by terror. The Papuan for fear of capture by the spirit, and for fear that there should be somebody after us, for I dared not look behind. Sobbing with distress, we reached the top of the ascent, and there the Papuan fell exhausted on the ground, and I did the same. When I had somewhat recovered my wind and the thumping of my heart had stilled a little, I found myself surrounded by a grateful silence, at least in my immediate vicinity. Far down the valley I heard yells and shouting, and once I caught a shrill cry of agony in what sounded like Joyce's voice.
I glanced around at Poorpoorgai. He lay motionless in the same position in which he had fallen, and, wondering much at his stillness, I got up and went over to him. He was dead. That desperate race with the fancied spirit at his heels had been too much for him, and when he reached the top of the ascent he had fallen dead. I was sorry for the poor fellow, but he had faithfully done his duty as far as I was concerned.
Listening once more for the noises in the valley, I found that they did not approach nearer, and I concluded that Joyce was fastened to the torture post, and that the amusement was too good for anybody to leave it to go in pursuit of me. I am not sure that this was the case; perhaps the shouting might have been joyous greetings at the wedding of Donnareena, but I'm certain somebody was squealing as though they were being hurt.
However, my chief concern was centred in getting back to civilisation; so, leaving the body of my poor friend at the head of the ascent, where it might serve to check pursuit, I turned my back gladly on the valley of Allako, and commenced my journey to the coast. I suffered much on my way, but eventually reached an outpost missionary station, and the native teachers helped me to get in.
These amusing short-short stories with "strange" themes ran (somewhat irregularly) in the Evening News under the heading "Tales of the Unexplainable," from September 1895 to March 1896.
WHEN Maunders got married and took his wife up to the new house he had had built on the small cattle station he owned, he anticipated some years of happiness and steady work. The seasons had been good, and things in their own small way were prospering with him. Their engagement had been one of long standing, but their affection for each other had suffered no diminution from that fact; and Mary Maunders, herself country born and bred, settled down, contentedly enough to the quiet but familiar routine of domestic station life with the man of her choice.
Four years passed quietly and uneventfully. Their eldest child, a little girl, was a lusty little wench of the age of constant prattling, and Maunders himself was two or three stone heavier at least.
He was sitting in the verandah one evening contentedly smoking and wading through his last budget of newspapers, when he heard unusual sounds of commotion inside, and the little black girl who had been trained as nurse for the youngster, came to him with a troubled and scared look on her face, and confusedly explained that 'Missee Maunder' had suddenly been taken ill.
Rising hastily Maunders went in to see his wife. He found her in her room with a wild and terrified look on her face, so intent upon some awful vision of unspeakable horror that it was some time before he could restore her even to recognition of his presence.
'Oh, Dick!' she cried when he had somewhat calmed her, 'that awful, awful face that looked in! and then the waves—they seemed coming right in at the window, and then—they went back again, and carried the face with them.'
Poor Maunders listened in astonishment at this delirious outburst. What could it mean? His wife was always in perfect health, and in no way given to moods or fancies; a practical, sensible woman. He got her to go to bed, waited on her, and watched patiently by her until she seemed to sleep. But it was a restless, broken sleep, and, morning dawned and found him still sitting by the bedside, for all through the long night she had been, starting up and calling to him to keep that awful face away, and drag her out of the reach of the angry waves that swept around and surged up, and then fell back carrying that face of torment with them.
At daylight she seemed to find rest, and late in the morning woke apparently restored to her natural self. All she could tell her husband was that the vision of a face—the face of a Chinaman—had suddenly appeared to her. Not alone was it hideous in itself, but it was blotched and loathsome with disease, and in the dreadful eyes was an expression of most agonised suffering. Then great white-crested waves had come leaping around, and tossed the head about, and finally dragged it away.
Poor Maunders was fairly astray. That his quiet, unimaginative Mary should suddenly have taken to seeing visions, like a man in the horrors, was incredible; but he soothed her to the best of his ability, and stopped with her, and tended her all day long.
That night, however, the delirium was worse than ever, and Maunders dispatched his only stockman to the seaport town, with a led horse to bring up the doctor as speedily as possible.
All through the dark hours she raved of the haunting face and battled with the angry waves, and now, too, it was raging and consuming thirst that tormented her.
'Water, water! fresh, cold water!' was her one cry, in spite of the cool drinks her husband kept holding to her fevered lips. Late in the afternoon the stockman and the doctor arrived on tired-out horses. Maunders had written a description of the case, and the doctor came prepared with sedatives. But the attack appeared to have passed, for that night she slept naturally, and when the doctor left she seemed quite restored.
For many days Maunders felt strangely uncomfortable, and wondered greatly why this Chinese face should thus haunt his wife's dreams. He never employed Chinese, and she had never, in her remembrance, been frightened by one in childhood, or ever been brought much in contact with them. Gradually the feeling faded, and became only a disagreeable memory.
Work went on evenly once more, and Mrs. Maunders enjoyed her usual health again.
THE lazy wavelets broke rhythmically on the untrodden beach. The day was hot, calm, and hazy. The primal forest growing beyond the fantastic and angular pandanus trees was lifeless and still. Nature and her family were having their siesta. On the smooth bosom of the sea, a short distance from the shore, floated some object but partially visible above the surface; the incoming tide was bringing it slowly nearer, for on this part of the Australian continent there was but a slight rise and fall, and even that was of uncertain height.
It was nearly sundown before the derelict touched bottom, floated over a small inequality, and grounded. It was wreckage of a sort. A hencoop, probably carelessly lashed, had been swept off the deck of a steamer. But this theory would not fit, for the coop carried a passenger, only he had been travelling, so to speak, steerage, underneath the water. The body of a dead man lay on the sand beneath the coop, lashed to it by two turns of a rope. When the man died the coop had turned turtle with his weight, and so borne its ghastly freight unseen to shore—to a shore where it was not likely to be found for some time, for the land there was lonely and uninhabited.
It was a spring tide that left it ashore, and there it lay untouched for weeks, save by the vicious red ants and the crabs that came at might from a patch of mangroves not far distant. In time a wandering lot of natives came by, and examined the flotsam cast there fry the sea. The body was shrunken and hideously disfigured, and they let the repulsive thing lie where the wavelets had bestowed their fatal gift to rot on.
A few nights afterwards two blacks were stricken down by sickness, and when the camp was shifted they left some dead behind. Again others sickened, and when they made back up the range Death walked with them through the northern jungle, amidst its close, unwholesome heat, and took toll of them, one by one—Death, too, in hideous guise, who smote his victims first with blindness and madness, and festering sores that made them tear their flesh, in agony intense. And, with the grim pursuer still always on their tracks, they wandered on and on, until a wretched remnant reached the country about Maunders's station, and as the quiet natives camped near the homestead were friendly to them they camped with them, and these, too, began to sicken and die.
When Maunders came home one evening he complained of having a headache and feeling feverish. He went to bed early, but day after day the feeling increased, until at last he took to his bed, and once more a hurried visit to the seaport was made for the doctor. The doctor wore a grave face when he called the sick man's wife to one side.
'Your husband, I am grieved to tell you, has smallpox, and appearances point to a most malignant type. How could he have caught it?'
She had heard of the sickness amongst the natives, and told him of it.
'Is he likely to have gone to the camp?'
'The black boy who goes out on the run with him sleeps there.'
'That must have been the source of infection. It is locking the stable door after the steed is stolen, but they must all be hunted away, and their camp burnt. The child must be kept away from him—and you?'
'I must nurse my husband,' she said resolutely.
The doctor looked gravely at her. 'You must,' he agreed. 'It is only good nursing will pull him through. Will you tell the man to get in fresh horses, and I will go back to town and bring out what is wanted—disinfectants and lymph, for I must vaccinate you all.'
So the blacks had to wander forth with their sick, and the cleansing fire swept their camp and blazed merrily amongst their frail bark gunyahs. But the pest had stayed its hand, and dogged their footsteps no more. They left it sitting at the side of the delirious white man, whose wife kept the spectre company.
The doctor returned and did all he could, and when he went back sat down to prepare a paper for a medical journal on an inexplicable and spontaneous outbreak of the worst form of smallpox amongst a tribe of natives in North Queensland.
IT was before there was much restriction of Chinese immigration, and the Chowatta, a tramp steamer, was coming down the coast with 350 Coolies on board. When they left Hongkong they had another passenger who paid no passage money. Down in the fore-hold, roughly rigged up with tiers of bunks for the trip, the atmosphere was close and heavy with the smell of dirt, and oil, and opium. The dim lamps afforded but a murky light, just sufficient to show the recumbent, half naked forms packed around on the shelves.
One tossed and tumbled in incipient delirium and burning irritation. How delicious it would be to cool himself by a plunge in cold water, and the sick man got up and climbed up the steep, straight ladder on to the deck. It was a rough night, and a high sea was running, but the man with the smallpox rioting in his system noticed it not. He was no longer on the unsteady deck of the Chowatta, but standing on his sampan floating on the still water of the Pearl River.
The look-out turned round as he mounted the bulwark, and as a wave swirled up and received him, the cry of 'Man overboard!' was wafted aft. One of the stewards was on the poop, and cut the lashing of a hen-coop and threw it overboard to the drowning wretch as he vanished into the blackness. The sea was too high and the night too dark for a boat to be lowered, so the steamer was kept on her course.
The plunge under the cold waves restored the sufferer to his senses, and he battled strongly for life. As he struggled his beating hands struck something hard; it was the hen-coop, and to it he clung through the night of terror that followed. In the morning he found a loose piece of rope inside the coop, which had been empty on the trip, and had been made a receptacle for loose articles. With his last remaining strength he tied himself on to the coop, and then the fever fiend got him in his grasp again, and for two days and nights he drifted, drifted, suffering a raging hell of thirst and torture, with the salt of the sea encrusted on his sores. At last death was kind to him, and the coop yielded to the magnetic attraction of the land, and laid the pestilential gift on the sand, even as the Chowatta rounded the North Head with the yellow flag flying.
IN one of the Australian towns there is a young widow with an only child, living on slender means, who, when she meets a Chinaman in the street, shudders and avoids him.
THE moon shone brightly through the many chinks of the old hut, in the walls of which were several gaps caused by the slabs having fallen down. Two travellers who were camped on the hard earthen floor for the night were suddenly aroused by a wailing sound that seemed to pass by their resting place like the sigh of a breeze.
Both raised themselves on their elbows and listened. The wail came round once more, and as it swept by a passing gloom seemed to glide through the hut, as though the moon's light had been eclipsed for one brief instant...
The men were silent. Rising with one accord, they went to one of the gaps and looked out, for the sound was approaching once more. It came, it passed, and for an instant there was again a shade of gloom, and both men afterwards swore positively to seeing a plainly-defined shadow cross the broad path of moonlight. Not a shadowless man, but a shadow without the necessary substance to cast it.
The wail died down in the distance, and the men broke their silence.
'Rum sort o' thing, Jim. See that shadder?'
'My oath I did. And did yer hear what the thing cried out?'
'Sounded to me as if it was calling out, "Blind, blind."'
'Just what I took it to be.'
'Blame these old huts,' said the first speaker, as they returned to their blankets. 'A fellow never knows what he's going to get. If they're not chockful of fleas, why, it's ghosts as come moanin' around.'
When the men reached the next township, some thirty odd miles away, they told their tale. They were two fencers who had just finished a contract and were well known in the district as steady, decent men, not by any means given to romancing.
The story seized on the superstitious feelings of the townsmen, of which every man has a more or less sized share, the oldest inhabitant failing to recall any tragic story connected with the old hut and several excursions were made to test the truth of it by daring spookhunters. They all, with one exception, came back unsuccessful, the exception being a party of three, who, having loaded themselves up inside and out with whisky, returned with a richly-embroidered yarn of ghosts, devils, imps, and hobgoblins, sufficient to satisfy the yearnings of the wildest imagination.
In due time the story was forgotten, save by one man, who, having a theory of his own, had carefully noted the date of the vision of the shadow, and on the following year departed without beat of drum one morning of that date.
Although the moon's age was slightly different, it was old enough to give a good light, and the night was clear and still, and the inquirer after the supernatural slept restlessly, as a man would do who had exchanged a comfortable bed for a blanket on a hard floor. He was awakened by footsteps, not by the mysterious sounds heard by the former temporary occupants. A man's figure appeared at the doorless aperture, peered in, then entered.
'Who's that?' demanded the first tenant.
'Hell!' replied a voice, somewhat cracked and shaky. 'Who's that yourself? I'm not frightened of you, darn you.'
The ghost-seeker struck a match, and saw before him an old swagman, with a white, tobacco-stained beard, having the usual swag over one shoulder. He blinked at the sudden flare of light, then remarked:
'Dossing here, old man? What brought you out here? Don't look as though you were in the bluey line.'
'No; I came here to find out if this hut's haunted as they say it is.'
'Yes, that blessed yarn got in the papers, and as I was coming around this way, I thought I'd just go out of my road a bit to have a look myself; so I'll keep you company.'
And he threw his swag on the ground. At that moment a wail of downright agony, a cry of 'Blind! blind!' rang through the forest without, startling both the men in the hut.
On it came, and with it the gruesome darkening of the moonlight. The ghost-seeker had not recovered himself sufficiently to look out for the moving shadow the others averred they had seen; but on the second approach of the ghostly voice, now wailing loudly, as though knowing that there were listeners to shriek its torments to, he went to the open door and stepped out. There was no doubt of it—a shadow did cross the open space in front of the old hut. A shadow, it seemed to the watcher's excited fancy, like that of a man, stumbling along, holding both hands to his eyes.
He waited for the third repetition, and just as the weird shadow became visible he felt himself thrust on one side, and the old sundowner pushed past him, saying, 'He's come for me. I must go after him, and see what came of him.'
He went on and followed the invisible presence, and the ghost-seeker felt himself constrained to follow too and see the end. On through the silent forest they went, the viewless leader, the muttering old man, and the entranced spectator. On, on, a zig-zag course they kept, until at last they stopped.
The old man looked about still talking to himself, saying:
'He must'a bin about here, must'a bin here as he died.'
The supernatural voice had ceased, and presently the old man squatted down on the ground, with his back against a tree, and the other stooped over him and urged him to get up and return.
'I'm a-going to stop here,' he replied. 'Come daylight, p'raps I'll find him.'
This was all that could be got out of him.
Suddenly the other asked, 'What do you know about this?'
'Know about it? Why, I knows all about it. Just you listen and I'll tell yon. You can't see in the dark, but I'm a boko' (one-eyed) 'and it was Bill Simmons as made me so. It was nigh upon thirty years ago, and I could make good wages anywhere, and one night we was having a bit of a jamboree, and Bill was there, and he was one of the nastiest-tempered fellows in his drink as ever you came across. Bill got on to me, and presently he got my monkey up, and I gives him the lie straight out.
'"Say that again," he shouts; "call me a blooming liar again, and I'll split y'r skull open."
'Of course, I ups and calls him no end of a thundering liar, and what does the cur do but let drive at me with one of them big, heavy tumblers. It caught me fair in the eye, and smashed all to bits, and a piece of it cut right into my eyeball.
'The other fellows bandaged me up, and took me to the doctor, and he said I must go to the hospital; and they took me there. Some of 'em went for Bill, but he never seemed sorry; said it served me jolly well right for calling such names, and he'd never given any provocation, and paid out a lot of slack of that kind. I had to stop weeks in the hospital, and while I was there he cleared out of the district: and you bet he didn't give any address where to find him. When I came out, t'other eye was a bit bandy—doctor says as how it was for sympathy. Queer sort of sympathy, it seemed to me.
'Well, all my bad luck set in then. First of all, a young woman as was going to marry me went back on me—says as how she never could abide a man with one eye; didn't seem natural like. Beside, that dead eye of mine would give her the jim-jams—always reminded her of an old horse her father had who took fright at some washing hanging out and smashed the cart. I told her as how I didn't intend to take fright at no washing; but she wouldn't have it at any price, and I got left. A few of the people who knew what a good workman I had been gave me an odd job, but it was poor truck, and gradually I had to drift about, travelling, getting anything I could do. So years went on, and I never clapped my one eye on Bill Simmons, until one blazing hot day I come to that old hut where you was camped. It was sound enough then, and there was a shepherd there with a flock of sheep. But there was no sheep about when I came there—only a man with his eyes tied up lying groaning on the bunk, and my colonial! if it wasn't Bill Simmons, blind as a bat with sandy blight. I knowed him by his snarly voice, with which he cussed me for letting the light in.
'"I say, damn you, whoever you are," he said, "will you go into the head station and tell 'em as I'm stone blind with the sandy, and 'the sheep's all over the country, and they must send out and get 'em together 'fore the dogs get among 'em?"
'"No, I'm hanged if I will," says I. "My name's Jim Donnelly, who you made a boko of years ago with chucking a glass at him, and you just about ruined me, you cur."
'"Jim Donnelly, are you?" he said. "Yes, I am, and you can just lie on your bunk and swear until somebody comes out from the station. If you wasn't as you are I'd take it out of your hide."
'He lay quiet for a bit; then he said: '"I'm sorry, Jim Donnelly," in a humble kind of voice, and I thought he was going to cry small; but he burst out as savage as a meat-axe, "as I didn't knock both of your cussed, squinting eyes out when I was at it!"
'This got my hair off at once. "You'll repent those words, Bill," I says.
'"I repent 'em! When I get right I'll follow you up and just wallop the soul out of your carcass."
'Well, he kept on raving and abusing of me, and I got madder and madder as I thought of all the years of my life wasted through that wretch lying there blaspheming at me; but I kept cool. I cooked myself a feed of the best in the hut. How he did swear when he heard me opening his pickles and jam.
'When I'd finished, I says, 'Now, Bill Simmons, you want bringing down off your perch a bit—a peg lower will suit you,' so I went over to him and just took the bandage off his eyes. What a scream he gave, just like the way that ghost shrieked.
'"You've blinded me," he cried, putting his hands up to his eyes; but there was a. devil in me, and I only laughed at him. I took all the things out of the hut, as I thought he could find and make fresh bandages of, and emptied all the water away; then I went and sat down on the bundle and smoked his tobacco until sundown.
"He'd stopped raving after a bit, and when it was dark I heard him calling in a very pitiful voice 'Jim Donnelly! Jim! for the Lord's sake bring me a little water to wash my eyes, the lids is all glued together."
I would not answer him, though I felt sorry, so after a while he fell to cursing me agin, and presently he got up and I heard him groping his blind way out. He'd got his boots off, and was feeling for the track to the waterhole with his naked feet. He passed close to me, but I made never a move, although I was beginning to think better of it, and making up my mind that I would doctor his eyes up again and leave him.
'"Blast you, Jim Donnelly," he kept saying as he stumbled along. "May a blind shadder haunt you all your days."
By and bye he gets off the track, and then he comes to grief agin a stump, and gets so outrageous mad over this that he muddled himself up together, and finally got on a sheep track and started to follow that I calls out to I him as he's wrong, but he was so busy swearing that he didn't hear me, so after letting him go on a bit I started after him meaning to bring him back, but being boko of one eye and not seeing well out of the other, I come to grief myself over a stump, and bringing my head agin a tree, and lay there stunned like for a bit. When I picked myself up Bill Simmons was nowhere in sight and I never set eyes on him again, no more did anybody else, although I looked high and low. He must have lost himself altogether, and wandered in the blazing sun next day till he died of thirst, and being without a hat.
'I heard of this yer yarn about, them fencer chaps seeing a shadder at this hut as called out it was blind, so I thought I'd just check up to see if Bill had been found; that's to say his bones or whatever left of him. Now, as it's pretty well daylight, we'll have a look round for 'em, they're dead sure to be about here somewheres.'
The two looked for the bones of Bill without success, until the sun got high, then the ghost seeker tried to induce Donnelly to return to the hut, but without avail. The old fellow announced his intention of staying there until he found Bill's bones or died there.
When the ghost seeker got back to the township, and told of the success of his adventure he became a temporary hero, much to the jealousy of the oldest identity, who now professed to have remembered all about the mysterious disappearance of Bill Simmons, and predicted that the dead body of Donnelly would be found beside the bones of the lost man.
It wasn't, however, for when some curious people went out they found neither the old sundowner nor the swag he had left in the hut; nor has the wailing shadow ever been heard again, nor the bones of the bad-tempered Bill Simmons found.
MY mate and I were camped out west, about as far out as men had got in those days, and we had decided to turn back the next morning. I was awakened from a sound sleep by my companion Nickoll suddenly starting up and exclaiming 'Did you hear that?' I listened, but could not hear a sound, and said so.
'Keep still,' he replied, 'I want to make sure that it is only my fancy.'
I listened silently, and presently, to my astonishment, heard something like a cracked concertina, or a crazy old barrel-organ, grinding out a wheezy tune.
'By Jove, there must be somebody camped near here,' I exclaimed.
'Not at all,' returned Nickoll quietly, 'that organ's ground by no mortal hands.'
'I thought they, went in for harps up there,' I answered.
'What tune was it trying to play?' he asked; ignoring my flippancy.
'It sounded like an attempt at "When Other Lips and Other Hearts..."'
'Ah, then its right enough. I shall never get in again.'
'Tommyrot! Men get their cranks into their heads, and then they work it out themselves. It was a queer noise certainly, but I've no doubt it can be explained away in the morning.'
'I can explain it. It's my death warning.'
'Well, I know nothing about that, but you won't make me believe that there's a spectral old organ grinder knocking about out here.'
'Are you sleepy?'
'Then I'll tell you the yarn. I was in London at the time, and had overworked myself. I was lodging in one of the suburbs, and used to work in my room. I was translating at the time, and the work was as hard as the pay was poor. I was terribly worried by an old organ grinder, who used to come daily and strum his wretched old instrument underneath my window. "When Other Lips" is not an especially joyful air at any time, but when it is ground over and over again by a cracked organ the agony is excruciating. The fellow did not exactly stand beneath my window, but at the house next door to me, and the people used to encourage him by throwing him down coppers wrapped in paper.
'I tried my best to get rid of him. I once threw down a packet of chocolate creams with tartar emetic in them, and, by Jove, I was afraid I had poisoned him for good, for he was absent for two whole days. I tried him with copper coins made hot, and he burnt his ringers and swore, but came back. I threw him a bad shilling, in the hope that he'd try to pass it; but I suppose he mistrusted me, for nothing came of it. Then I took to sending in next door asking them out of charity to me to refrain from their daily dole.
'They were French people lodging there, and they affected to misunderstand my letter, for I received a reply written in what might be called Franco-English, stating "that they fully comprehended my noble sympathy on behalf of their distressed countryman, and if I sent in any contributions they would gladly add them to their small mite."
'This was maddening. I wrote them a letter in excellent French; but it was of no avail. You know how little things worry and distress a man when he is off the track, and what between insomnia and work, the persecution of this old grinder had become a monomania with me. Of course, I had told the police about the nuisance, and once or twice the men on the beat moved him on; but they did it in a perfunctory manner, and I feel pretty sore now that they were tipped by the people next door. How I finished my work I don't know, but I did; but still I would be kept awake with this atrocious "When Other Lips" ringing in my ears, I fancy, until daylight.
'There was a mystery about it, and I felt I should go mad if I did not solve it I was talking one day to a friend of mine who did some confidential clerical work in the police department. He noticed my nervous manner, and I told him the cause. He seemed somewhat struck by my narrative, and I did not see him for a day or two; then I received a note asking me to call and see him. I found two strangers with him, whose occupations were unmistakable. One was a police inspector, the other a French detective. I was told, politely enough, that my story fitted in with some secret correspondence that had been going on lately between the London and Paris heads of the police, and would I describe the man and the occupants of the next house, or lodgers, there.
'I could not describe them, for I had never seen them. If they went out at all it was at night The Frenchman smiled. As for the organ grinder, I gave an accurate description of the fiend, and his habits and customs.
'"Has he lost two fingers on his left hand?"
'A thought struck me. When I threw Mm the hot coins he had picked them up with his right hand and burnt it; then he turned the handle with his left, and I noticed something wrong with it. Now it struck me that it was he had lost two fingers. I told that to them.
'"We shall want your assistance, but you need not show in the matter," said the police inspector, and I agreed to what was explained to me.
'Now, I own I could not at another time have given a poor devil away, but at this time my brain was in a state of abnormal irritation, and I certainly was not responsible for my actions as regards the organ grinder.
'To make a long story short, the organ grinder was a desperate communist escaped from New Caledonia. The French detective had an extradition warrant for him; but he had heard since coming to London that fade ex-communist was in communication with others who were badly wanted, and he was anxious to bag the whole. Through my occupation of the neighboring house the capture was effected neatly. And cleverly. Of course, the papers thrown down wrapped round the money contained cipher messages, and my friend the organ grinder was caught red-handed picking one up, which was just what the French detective aimed at doing. It afforded the link in the chain connecting him with the men in the other house, who were easily taken.'
Nickoll ceased and gazed dreamily into the fire which, for company's sake, we had made to burn up.
'Go ahead,' I said, 'that's not the end.'
'No; the bearing lies in the postscript. Before starting with his extradited prisoners, the French official paid me a visit.
'"See here," he said, "you have done me a good turn. This quick and complete capture means much for me, and I will try and repay it. When we handcuffed that organ grinder I saw him cast a villainous look up at your window. Believe me, my friend, he knows you, and guesses you had a hand in it although your name was never mentioned. Now I know the scoundrel, and a bigger devil's name does not figure in our list. If ever he gets free again he'll put a knife in you, believe me. He has no special enmity against me. He recognises that it was my business. But you were an outsider. He will go out to Noumea for life, and will be kept at it pretty hard; but who knows what may happen? If he escapes a second time I will warn you, no matter where you are, it is as well to be on your guard. It is the least I can do, and I am sure to hear of it Now, can you give me a permanent address which will always find you?"
'I reflected. I had almost made up my mind to return to Australia, which I had foolishly quitted in search of better fortune at the Cape, some years before. I mode it up on the spot, and gave him a permanent address with a friend resident in Sydney.
'"Good," he said, as he took it down. "I will cable you. What is a pound or two to me compared with what you have done?"
'"By the way," he said, halting at the door. "Our dear friend made this remark: 'Tell that damned Englishman that he shall hear that tune I tormented him with so, just before he dies. He has sent me back to hell, and if I die first I'll come and play it to him just before he goes there.' Bah! for all that hell business. But the dog meant something."
And the detective left.
'And is that the end?'
'That is the end of one chapter of my story so far. You will probably see the epilogue.'
I did not answer, and soon fell asleep.
The next morning, while Nickoll was after the horses, I searched round about for any clue to the strange noise, but found none. We started home, and arrived there without any mishap.
Then Nickoll and I drifted apart. Six months afterwards we met in Sydney. Naturally, after the manner of bushmen, we adjourned somewhere for a drink and a yarn.
'Well, old man,' I said. 'I'm heartily glad to see you again, for, by all the rules of the game, you ought to be a corpse now. You remember the ghostly organ grinder out west?'
'Don't!' he replied, and turned, I thought, a little pale. 'That story is not finished even yet. After we parted I came into a little money, and had to come down here to settle the business. What do you think I found awaiting me amongst other letters? A cablegram from the French detective stating that our mutual friend had again effected his escape. From information I have subsequently gained it was on the same hour that we heard the infernal tune out there. Naturally, I kept a lookout, and also found that the Sydney police had received notice from Noumea, and a full description of the man.
'One day, turning a corner, I came right against him. He was well got up, but the recognition was mutual and instantaneous. I expected an attack, and was on my guard for a stab; but he saw that I was a bigger man, and prepared. Muttering a curse, he turned back. His chance had not arrived. At that moment a sergeant of police turned the corner, the very man, luckily, from whom I had been making inquiries concerning this escapee.
'"There's your man," I said, pointing to him. "Quick!"
'"By God, it is!" he answered, and sprang forward. I heard his whistle sound, and there was a scuffle, and the usual crowd closed in. I stood where I was. Presently the ring parted, and I saw my friend led away in handcuffs for the second time. The sergeant's hand was bleeding, and the other policeman had a knife in his hand. That is the end of another chapter.'
THIS happened three years ago. I know that Nickoll is well, but have not met him since.
'SOU-WEST you'll pick up the road from Watervale,' said the man in charge of the repairing party on the overland telegraph line, addressing two travellers with led pack horses; 'but it's almighty rough across there, and I'd advise you to go back to Watervale, and follow the road, You'll find it shorter in the end.'
'Don't like turning back,' said one of the men, 'and our horses are pretty fresh, and shod.'
'Oh, it's not stones so much as sand ridges—white sand and pine scrub. However, you'd better turn out here, and start to-morrow morning, for there's only one place where you can reckon on water, and that's a creek about half way.'
'What came of the old loony who was knocking about here six months ago?' said one of the line-men, addressing the crowd in general as they sat eating their meal that evening.
'Never heard,' returned another; 'but there was some yarn about his tracks having been seen going out the way you fellows are going; and another yarn about his horses having turned up at Watervale, but I never heard the rights of it.'
Next morning the two men started, and towards sundown came to the creek they had been told about. It was a desolate looking spot enough; a bare sandy creek, where a trickle of water down the centre of the bed, cut its way between white sand ridges, whereon gaunt angular pine trees threw their naked arms about. There was a little grass on the edge of the bank, and the travellers soon turned their tired horses out for it had been, heavy travelling all day.
'What's that half-way up the ridge there, Jack?' said one of them.
'Blessed if at does not look like a rag of an old tent. Let's go up and see.'
It was the tattered rags of an old tent which the wind had blown into ribbons, and the late owner sat with his back to a tree as if complacently, contemplating the wreck of his property. He had been dead some months, and the summer heat had dried him to a mummy.
'What the devil's that round his neck?' said Alf to his mate, as they stood and surveyed the relic.
They went forward and found a surcingle round the neck of the corpse, like a running noose, the end of the surcingle having been passed through the buckle and pulled nearly taut.
'Looks as if he'd been hanged and then let down again,' said Jack, glancing up the tree.
There was a suspicious bough handily situated just overhead. They found a pack-saddle and a riding saddle in the camp, and a few of the rest of the impedimenta a man generally carries in outside country; but the dogs had been at work, and the leather had been damaged by the weather.
'I suppose it's the old loony the men spoke of, whoever he was. I reckon we had better bury him in the morning; it's too late to-night' said Jack.
'What on earth did he want to come and die here for?' grumbled Alf, who seemed to look upon it rather in the light of a personal affront.
'I suppose he couldn't pick and choose his own place, could he?' retorted Jack. 'Although for the matter of that I don't see what he had to die of about here. It's not a cheerful spot certainly, but there's no occasion for a man to die on that account.
The men cooked and ate their meal, and soon were fast asleep.
Jack woke up in the middle of the night and looked around, and listened to hear which way the horses were making. It, was bright moonlight and if the place looked cheerless by day, it looked far more so at night The white bare sand and the sombre trees, with their black shadows, did not combine to make up a lively picture. A wind was wailing too, and made a melancholy sound, amongst the pine boughs. Jack's attention was drawn by the flapping of the old tent on the ridge. He looked that way, started, jumped up, and stared with might and main. He glanced at Alf, but he was sleeping soundly. What he thought he saw was a dark figure leaping and waving its arms about under the tree where the corpse lay.
'Must be a moving bough,' muttered Jack. 'Any way, I'll go and see without waking Alf.'
Buckling on his belt and revolver, he went noiselessly to the spot and' came on to a strange sight. The corpse had got up, and was indulging in strange and unbecoming antics—springing in the air; and trying to throw the end of the surcingle that was round its neck over the branch overhead.
At last it gave up, and moaned so miserably that Jack felt sorry for it; he was a soft-hearted fellow.
'What's the matter, old man?' he said.
'Matter!' groaned the corpse. 'Why I've got to roost out here on this ridge without any rest until I've hanged myself.'
'What do you want to hang yourself for? I should have thought you had no need to do that.' (Jack told me this yarn himself, and said he felt as cool as a cucumber all through the interview.)
'You don't understand,' returned the corpse. 'All our family have hanged themselves. My father, my grandfather, and my uncle Bill. My cousin Ned was hanged by the hangman. Now, my uncle Bill was a cantankerous old curmudgeon, who always disliked me, and before he did it he wrote a letter about his property, and in it he said, "I mistrust my nephew Frank (that's me); when the time comes he'll go back on his family, see if he don't."
'And then the old maligner went and did it.
'Now, I felt very hurt about this, and it rather preyed upon me, so one day I made an attempt to prove old uncle Bill a liar, but I was cut down and reprimanded by a magistrate, and altogether made a mess of it. I tried another time; same result. Same result again a third time, and I was getting about tired of it. Then I made up my mind to come out away back somewhere where a man could have a fair show. I got a hankering after the telegraph posts, but I didn't think it quite fair, because those chaps on the line were very sociable, so I came out here, and, would you believe it that very day I started I was taken bad with the fever.
'You know what the fever is, how it takes it out of a man's knees and neck and backbone, and everything else. How I managed to get here, I don't know; but somehow I did, and here I had to camp. I was bad, and a bit off my head for a few days, and when I was able to get about I found that my horses had come to the conclusion that it was a God-forgotten kind of place, and had cleared out Then it struck me that now was my chance. Here was I, all alone, no one to cut me down; I'd show Uncle Bill if I was going to go back on the family. And then, then—' (Here the corpse yelled in agony.)
'I was too weak, too gone in the joints, to throw that blessed surcingle over the branch! I tried, and tried, and tried, and at last one day I made a sort of a cast of it and half choked myself, and being so weak I fell down under the tree, and died.'
The corpse was silent for awhile.
'Ever since then,' went on the defunct, 'I've been tormented by old Uncle Bill coming and jeering at me, and night after night I've tried to do it properly and failed, and never a soul has come to this day to help me. Now,' went on the corpse, in a coaxing tone, 'would you mind giving me a hand. Just a pull on the surcingle, you know; throw it over the limb first.'
Jack took up the surcingle and considered. There could be no harm in hanging a dead man who wanted it so badly. The corpse took up his position, and he threw the surcingle over the limb, but it fell too short for him to grasp.
'Wait a minute,' he said, 'I will go and get one of our's and buckle on.'
Jack went to the camp, and got a surcingle. Alf was still snoring, and the dead man was awaiting him with a heavenly smile of expectation on his face.
'Now, then,' said Jack, 'say when you're ready.'
'Ready!' cried the corpse.
'Up you go,' said Jack, and half way up to the limb he went. Jack took a turn and a couple of half-hitches round a handy sapling, then, saying 'Good-night' went back to his camp, and slept soundly until morning.
THE two travellers got up at daylight. Alf went after the horses, which had gone down the creek in a different direction. Jack got breakfast ready, and glanced at the place of his midnight adventure, but there was nothing hanging on the tree, so he came to the conclusion that it was a nightmare, and made up his mind to say nothing about it. Presently Alf returned with the horses, and they had breakfast.
'Suppose we'd better go and bury that chap,' growled Alf. 'Good job it's soft digging.'
Jack assented, and they started. Arrived at the spot Alf looked round and started.
No wonder! The body lay under the limb, the head a little distance off, and over the branch dangled the empty noose. Evidently the defunct's neck had not stood the strain. Jack kept silence; then Alf strode over to where the second surcingle was fastened to the sapling, and examined it.
'Blowed if he didn't come down and get my surcingle,' he muttered as he recognised his initials marked on it. He unbuckled it and marched off, saying to Jack as he did so, 'Look here, if that fellow could get up last night and hang himself with my surcingle, he can just bury himself as well.'
IT was a hot, tropical night, and a soft, drizzling rain was falling. The sea was calm, with a long, lazy swell, and in the north-west there was a constant mutter of thunder, with an incessant gleam of distant lightning. There was no inducement to stop on deck, and very little to go below. The steamer was built more for cargo than passenger traffic, and, in point of fact, there were only two passengers on board—myself and a Portuguese officer from Goa on his way to Macau.
He was a heavy swell, and no wonder, for his name was Dona Miguel Francisco de Paula da Rocha, and he came on board at Bombay in a meteor-like uniform that made one wink to look at him. However, he had the sense to put on Christian-like garments when we got to sea, and, apart from the little foibles natural to his country, turned out to be a decent enough fellow. Moreover, he had been so long in the East that he could speak tolerable English, and, all things considered, we got on pretty well.
We were between Singapore and Hongkong on the particular night I speak of, and so far had made a very fair passage. I knocked my pipe out at last and went below. The lowered lights of a couple of lamps illuminated the saloon but dimly, and I stumbled over the recumbent forms of the sleeping cabin boys, and used some strong language.
'What is the matter?' asked the Dom, as I passed the open door of his cabin, and we exchanged a few remarks on the closeness of the night and the difficulty of getting any sleep. I took a pillow, and went to lie down, on one of the transoms, and lay there for some time, while the churn of the screw and the beat of the pistons wound themselves up in a sort of a rhyme in my brain and I dozed off.
Presently I awoke, and turning restlessly on to my side, saw that the opposite transom was occupied.
'The Dam must have found his cabin too close, like myself,' I thought, and then I saw that it was not the Dom, but a stranger. I got up, and looked, curiously across at my silent companion. He was dressed in a blue tunic, his black hair was cut short, and he had either bandages or a white handkerchief bound around the lower part of his face. We had been too long at sea for the man to be a stowaway or a deserter from Goa. I thought I would rouse up one of the boys and draw attention to the strange presence; but Dom Miguel heard me moving, and came to the door of his cabin.
'Who's that fellow asleep on the transom?' I asked. He peered, across the table, and then gave a start, and took two or three steps forward. He clutched my arm, and as he gazed his grasp grew positively painful.
'Pedro!' he cried at last, and at the exclamation the figure on the transom rose and looked back at him. Such a face of horror was turned towards us that I don't wonder that the Dom fell down in a faint, with a yell of terror. I know I shouldn't like to have a living corpse look at me so vindictively.
I saved the Dom from a heavy fall, and as I was bending over him the purser came out, and asked what the row was about I told him I didn't know, but that a stranger was camped on one of the transoms, and Dom Miguel had recognised him and got a fright.
'There's no one on the transom, man,' said the purser, and turned the nearest lamp up. There was no one there.
'He must nave slipped away,' I said. 'Help me to get Dom Miguel back to his cabin.'
We roused him somewhat and did so, and just at that moment there was a sharp order and a bustle on deck. Then a roar swept up, and the steamer heeled over, and the sound went hurtling to leeward. The purser and I were both nearly capsized, but Miguel was safe in his bunk. As we were going out to see what all the uproar was about he opened his eyes, and I saw that he wanted to speak to me. I held on, for we had a good list, and stooping down heard him ask if 'it had gone.' I told him 'the man was gone,' and went out to the cabin, where the purser was hunting the boys round, shutting portholes and making all fast.
We had been struck by the outer edge of a typhoon; the sea, was getting up rapidly, and by morning we were steaming head to wind, playing seesaw beautifully.
Dom Miguel was up next morning, although, as a rule, he was only a fair weather sailor, but he said nothing about the night's work, only expressed some anxiety to know our exact position.
The skipper would not leave the bridge, but the chief officer was down for a short spell, and gave him the desired information. He turned more sallow than ever, and shortly after spent to his cabin. We had an ineffective search after the strange man, and I had to stand some chaff about it, but there was no mistake about the fright the Dom got.
About twelve he sent for me, and I went into his cabin to see him. His first question was as to our position. I told him that we were in much the same place, and would be until the wind fell, as we were only keeping her head to wind and sea. He groaned, and suddenly sat up in his bunk.
'And we shall stop here,' he cried, vehemently. 'Why did I ever come back to this cursed coast? Listen to me, you have time before tiffin. That man you saw last night lies drowned at the bottom of this sea. He went down with a shot at his heels years ago.
'I was around here when I was little more than a boy—a smooth-faced cadet—' and here he stroked his long moustache fondly. 'I came from Goa in a gunboat commanded by my uncle, a Da Rocha. He was a man of violent temper, and self-willed to a degree, which had kept him back in his professsion, or he would have been given something better than a paltry little gunboat, but there were so many stories of his cruelty whispered about that even his influential friends could not advance him. This made his temper worse, and the men on the gunboat could not call their souls their own. I was in charge of a small party of ten soldiers and their wives, going round to Macau, to be stationed there for some time.
'One of the soldiers—Pedro, the man you saw last night—had married a very beautiful girl. I don't know of what descent she was, but she was a half-breed of some sort. She had eyes like midnight, and a form as curved and rounded as a Greek statue's. My uncle had his wicked eye on her, but she scorned and avoided him. Then poor Pedro came in for it. Now, I might have asserted myself a little, but you see how young I was, and I could not go against my uncle, as I was under his command on board; so, between one pretext and another, poor Pedro soon found himself in irons below.
'But his wife never left him, and there was not a man on board could have made her, for she had the eyes of a wild beast when roused, and a knife as sharp as its claw.
'Now, Pedro was brought up on deck for an airing one day, and a squall struck us as he was stumbling up and down with the aid of his wife, and put the vessel right over, like Last night. Pedro fell heavily, and broke his jaw against some iron work.
'The surgeon then plucked up enough spirit to interfere, and insisted that the man's irons should be taken off, and tie should be put in hospital. This was done, and the poor fellow was a little better off. Now, for what happened I can only account by supposing that my uncle's temper and his passion for this girl had so Increased that he was not responsible for what he did. Rosita tended her injured husband, and one morning leaving him sleeping she went away to rest herself. My uncle and the surgeon went below, and what passed between them I do not know, but that surgeon was as guilty as my wretched uncle. All I know is this, that when I came on deck shortly afterwards Pedro was on deck, apparently a corpse, and the sailmaker busy stitching canvas round him.
'The captain said something to his officers about a catching disease; the body was laid on a hatch, the engines stopped, the hatch tilted, and poor Pedro went overboard.
'Almost before the noise of the plunge died away his wife was on deck, knife in hand. The stoppage of the engines had aroused her.
'"Devils!" she said, glaring round, "what have you done with my husband?"
'"Your husband, Rosita, died suddenly, and it was necessary for the safety of the crew that he should be buried immediately."
'So spoke the surgeon. She gave him one look of awful contempt then turned to the captain.
'"Liar and murderer," she cried, with blazing, eyes. "He was well, and better when I left him. You have killed him and thrown him overboard; but you will never gain your end, for I will follow him." With knife uplifted for whoever should attempt to stay her she sprang on to the bulwark, and stood there holding on by a stay, while she cursed us all. Such a curse! It rings in my ears yet. It was levelled at everyone on the ship, and the ship itself. Suddenly, while we all listened awestruck, a flash of light gleamed past me, and my uncle fell; next moment she sprang into the sea. Her last act had been to hurl her knife with unerring aim straight into the captain's heart.'
Dom Miguel ceased speaking for a while.
'Now, I will tell you the great crime. That poor man was alive when he was cast overboard. He had been drugged. I saw him open his eyes before the canvas was sewn over his face.'
I was silent after this strange narration. What could I say after what I had seen the night before? Dom Miguel went on—
'We reached Macau an safety, and the gunboat returned in charge of the first lieutenant. She was never heard of again. Sickness carried off every one of the soldiers and their families before the year was out, and I am the sole survivor. I believe we are now in the same place, and last night Pedro came up from his ocean grave to tell me to be ready. I am ready. I want you to see to my effects, and deliver them and these letters to the Portuguese Consul at Hongkong. Now, good-bye.'
I was quite at a loss for anything to say. I took the letters, promised compliance with his wishes, and left him.
The captain managed to get down to tiffin, and to our surprise Dom Miguel in full uniform, ablaze with orders and ribands, put in an appearance. The captain, a taciturn man, stared, but said nothing. There was too much ducking and diving to stay long at table, and when we rose I went up on the bridge with the captain.
It was wild chaos all around, about as tempestuous a sea as I ever saw. We were shipping seas over the bows with nearly every plunge, and there seemed no sign of the turmoil of wind and water abating. Presently we saw Dom Miguel come put and ascend the poop. The captain made some remark about the figure he cut in his gay uniform on that reeling deck, when the quartermaster let her fall off; a huge sea raced along our side, just curling over the bulwarks, then seemed to spring up over the quarter and shatter itself on the poop. As the steamer dived, the water rushed on to the main deck in two cataracts adown the companion ladders, but Dom Miguel was gone; nor in that tumultuous sea could we catch one glimpse of him.
At sundown the typhoon had blown itself out.
I SUPPOSE no man ever had a more devoted admirer than Professor Dodo had in myself. I metaphorically sat at his feet and drank in learning through my ears. He was a very taking man, absorbed in scientific research; but what attracted me most was the fact that he was a daring experimentalist.
At that time I was a young man, living at home with my family, and, like most young men, apt to make a fool of myself by going in for extremes of hero-worship. Just at that period it was Professor Dodo.
For some time, however, he had been somewhat more reticent and uncommunicative than usual. Whatever it was that he was engaged on, he did not invite me to share his confidence. The professor, however, had one weakness, common, as I know now, to the greatest of men, but as I then thought a weakness far beneath him. It was a consuming jealousy of Dr. Panto, a man who could not possibly aspire to rival him. Be that as it may; Panto and he were mortal enemies.
One evening the professor came to our house in a wonderfully pleasant frame of mind. I could tell at once that the experiment, whatever it was, that he had been engaged upon, had turned out a success. I was suffering from an attack of neuralgia at the time, and he soon noticed it.
'I will send you something that will quickly relieve you,' he said as he left, and in about half an hour's time his man came round with a bottle of medicine and a note telling me how to use it. True enough, it relieved my pain speedily, and I slept soundly throughout the night. In fact, next morning I felt stronger and more active than I had done for a long time. I went to see the professor, and on his inquiring after my health I told him how I felt.
'You've run down a bit, my boy,' he said, 'I am not a professional M.D., but still I can give you something that will make a new man of you.' Afterwards I understood the fiendish meaning of those words.
I thanked him cordially, and he sent me the medicine, with instructions how to use it. Certainly it was a wonderful invigorative, and seemed to put the most uncommon strength into my limbs. At the same time, I did not feel up to much brain work, and what I did was with great exertion. One evening the professor strolled up to ask after me.
'I noticed that you were a little feverish to-day,' he said, 'so I have brought round a soothing draught which will give you a sound night's rest. Take half when, you go to bed, and go early. You will probably wake in some three hours, then take the other half. In the morning you won't know yourself.'
We shook hands, and I followed his advice, and fell off to sleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. Then I dreamt a strange dream. I saw before me a boundless sea—a sea that seemed to stretch further than our earthly one, as though I was high up in the air and bad a more extended view. Gigantic creatures of strange and awful shape swam and floated on this great sea, and fought and devoured each other, until it all passed from my view, and there was nothing but mud—mud everywhere—and through, it and over it crawled horrible reptiles of all kinds; and these, too, fought and devoured each other. I awoke with a start of horror, and struck a light; it was half past 12.
I hastily drank the remainder of the draught and went back into bed, trusting that I would nave no more dreams of that description. There was one strange thing which did not strike me at the time, for I fell asleep at once, but when I got into bed, instead of doing it in the ordinary manner, I leaped lightly on the bed from the floor and then laid myself down.
At once I was in a forest so dense, so thick and high, that it made twilight underneath. But that did not matter, for I was one of a band of apes who sported amid the upper branches. How we frisked and fought and swung ourselves about, and watched the great beasts struggling in combat underneath; and pelted them with dead limbs, and then marched away to some other part, and there met with other apes, and battled for the new territory. Oh! it was a mad life; until one day, chasing one of my fellows, a branch broke with me, and I fell clear eight on to the ground....
I was awake; sitting up in my bed, with my heart beating fast. Was this the sound sleep promised me? The day had just commenced, a summer morning, and I got out of bed, intending to dress, and go out, for I felt I must get into the fresh air.
I sat down on the edge of the bed to dress, and quite unconsciously picked up my socks with my toes instead of my hand. I started as I did so, and looked at my foot.
Good God! It was not my foot It was long, narrow, and the great toe was like a thumb. My hands! They, too, were altered. I rushed to the glass, and at the first glimpse I turned to see who was looking over my shoulder. No one! I was gazing at what purported to be my own reflection, but surely that ape-like countenance was not mine? It was, though. It was myself, and not myself. I shuddered with disgust.
This, then, was the experiment he had been employed on. This the hell-brew he had been administering to me! I grew quite calm, for I saw the necessity for it. I would go at once to the villain. Scarcely any one was stirring, and I could depart unobserved. If he refused to undo his devilish work I would kill him first and myself afterwards. I would not live like I was.
I dressed myself, and with some trouble got my boots on; then I started on my errand of vengeance.
What a lovely morning it was, and what a miserable wretch I felt As I crossed the park an irresistible impulse made me leap up and, catching hold of a branch, swing myself up into a tree and sit on a limb; then I remembered myself, and dropped to the ground. Fortunately no one was about to witness this wild antic.
I reached the professor's house just as a sleepy servant was opening the door. Pushing past her, I went straight up to his room, which I knew well. Evidently he expected me, for he was awake and sitting up in bed.
'How do you find yourself?' he asked, sneeringly.
'The question is how will you find yourself directly,' I replied.
'Then your visit is—'
'To choke the life out of you and then kill myself.'
'Indeed! And what good will that do? The whole of my experiment, and its success—Its success, mark you!—is written down and deposited in a safe place. You may kill me, but the record remains. You may kill yourself, but your body and skeleton remain as a proof of my success, which will stamp me the most wonderful scientist in the world's history.'
'I will drown myself from a steamer.'
His face changed, and I saw his hand steal underneath the pillow, but with my ape-like agility I had the revolver from his hand, and sent it crashing through the window. Then I took him by the throat, and shook him soundly. The madman would have shot me for my skeleton.
'Now,' I said, 'will you restore me to my natural shape?'
'On one condition. Allow yourself to be photographed in all the different positions I want, and then I will do it.'
'Remember. If you kill me, you kill the only man who can restore your form. Reflect.'
'I have reflected,' I returned, as a bright thought flashed through me. 'I am going now to Dr. Panto. I will allow him to photograph me, and exhibit me if he likes. I will swear that you had nothing whatever to do with it; that you are a humbug and an impostor; and Dr. Panto shall claim the successful experiment, and reap all the honor and glory of it. Good morning.'
What a howl of anguish burst from that bed!
'You mean it?' he yelled.
'Mean it! Do you suppose a man in my position sticks at trifles?'
'I will do it,' he said feebly, and in a broken tone.
He went to his laboratory, and presently returned with certain drugs, which he told me how to use.
'Now, mark me,' I said, as I left. 'Before I take these I am going to write to Dr. Panto a detailed account of your experiment and its success. This will be sealed up to be opened after my death, so that should you have given me poison you will not gain by it.'
'One thing,' he said humbly, 'have you any sign of a tail coming?'
I withered him with a look, and left. It was still early, and I regained my home without observation. The charm worked backwards, and I arose a man once more.
Dodo died soon afterwards from sheer disappointment. But we did not speak in the interim.
'GHOSTS do come back,' said Jim, indulging in the luxury of lighting his pipe at the slush-lamp, a thing to make one shudder.
'Old Gannon came back, as most people know. Old Gannon died some years after his daughter Mary got married. You knew Mary Gannon, of course?'
'No, I didn't,' I replied wearily, seeing that Jim was going in for one of his complicated yarns, which, at any rate, might send me to sleep.
'Mary Gannon was a nice girl, barring a slight cast in one eye and a habit of coughing at meal times. She married Tom Davis, and he was not a bad fellow, either, only he couldn't smoke without spitting—'
'Oh, hang it all, shut up!' I said. 'Tell us about old Gannon's ghost.'
'Old Gannon's ghost, eh? He was a terror; and the strange thing was that there was no reason for his coming back, so everybody thought until afterwards. He had been well and properly buried in a nice, dry grave, and what he wanted to leave it for no one could make out. However, the first night it happened Tom Davis, who was living in the old man's house, which had been left to them, went out into the verandah for his usual smoke after tea, while Mary put the things away. They had one little boy, about 3 years old, and he went out with his father to be out of Mary's way—'
'Confound it, keep out of Mary's way yourself, and tell us about the ghost.'
'Just what I'm coming to. The youngster being out there with Tom suddenly said—"Why, there's granpa." Sure enough, when Tom looked, there was the old man, just like life, leaning against the fence.
'Poor Tom was a terrible simpleton, for, without a word of preparation to his wife, he said—"Why, Mary, here's father come back."
'Of course, she came straight out on to the verandah, and as soon, as she saw her dead and buried father, gave one scream and fainted. Then the youngster cried out at seeing its mother fall, and with one thing and another Tom had his hands full, so that he never saw how the old man disappeared.
'That was the first time old Gannon's ghost was seen.'
'I hope he was more interesting the next time,' I yawned.
'He was, you may take your oath. He didn't come and lean against the fence quietly, but took to walking round the house and swearing like a bullock-driver. The worst of it was that no one could understand him. They could tell it was swearing, and bad swearing, too, by the emphasis the old man threw into it, but as to what language it was—why, there was not a soul could guess. Now, old Gannon, as everybody knew, had never learnt any language in his life, so where he'd been acquiring foreign tongues during the time he had been buried was the mystery.
'All the people from round about I used to come to see the old apparition gabbling out swear words, and bring every foreigner they could lay hands on, but the only one they had any success with was a Hindoo hawker. He said, and whether he lied or not I can't say, but what he stated was to the effect that he had seen the same sort of thing before in his own country, and it was not old Gannon's ghost at all, but something or another in his appearance who might have come from anywhere—Central Africa, or Lapland, or any other outlandish place. He didn't express any opinion as to the cause of such strange procedure on the part of a disembodied spirit; only asserted that such things had been known in his country, and that, so far as he knew, there was no cure for it.
'Now, this roused all the woman and daughter in Mrs. Davis, who commenced to abuse the Hindoo hawker, asking him if he supposed that she did not know her own dear, blessed father, and could imagine that he would allow any kind of heathen, black or white—and here she threw great force and expression into her language—to steal his body? That, if such things did happen in the hawker's country, why, she had no great opinion of it as a place to live in, although it was quite good enough for him.
'She began to get hysterical, and all the while the shindy was on the ghost of old Gannon kept stumping around swearing volubly, so you can imagine the confusion.'
Here Jim paused, and started his pipe again at the slush lamp. I was commencing to get interested.
'Well, this tireless old ghost began to get a nuisance, and although Mary Davis entreated him to go back to his grave and rest there quiet he paid no attention to her at all. At last the thing attracted so much attention, and began to bring such crowds of people, that Davis had a fence put round the place and made a charge for admission, and the ghost brought in a tidy income, which smoothed things over, and the Davis family began to get proud and uppish.
'Then came their downfall.
'As I said before, the ghost had attracted so much, attention that many people who had studied this kind of thing came to see it, and amongst them a very clever man with at least twelve letters after his name, and he stopped there some days trying to find out the truth.
'One night—the ghost, of coarse, only walked at night—he suddenly struck his forehead, and said some words of gibberish to the ghost, and, to everyone's astonishment, the spectre stopped, and the two entered into an animated conversation, and finally shook hands. You can imagine now everybody crowded round and stared at this scene.
'"Now," said the eminent man, turning to Mrs. Davis, "I can explain this thing. This is your father's ghost, and yet it isn't. Now, have you ever had any blacks about here?"
'"No,'" replied Mrs. Davis, indignantly. "Father never could bear them, and, besides, they've been all dead years and years ago."
'"Ah! I thought so. Just you dig up your father's body, and you will find that you have put him in an ancient native burying ground. The old man evidently didn't like this, and attempted to get up and come and tell you so; but some old blackfellow made an effort to 'jump up white-fellow' at the same time, and the result was that things have got terribly mixed."
'Here the eminent man with twelve letters after his name paused, and Mrs. Davis, as she thought of the Hindoo hawker, burst into tears.
'The scientist went on: "I have been, studying native dialects of late, and fortunately was able to recognise a few words. The result is as you see. I have ascertained your father's wishes, and those are, that he should be dug up again and buried elsewhere. If you do that I am convinced that he will rest in peace." With this the eminent scientist departed.'
I was just going to sleep when Jim commenced again, and woke me up.
'You would have thought that when the Davis family heard all the rights of the case they would have at once acted on the scientist's advice, but, unfortunately, they had grown avaricious, and kept the poor old ghost still running around on account of the income he brought in. However, the truth got about, and the public commenced to buck. Moreover, those who had come at first turned rusty, and demanded their money back. Said that they had come to see old Gannon's ghost, not that of a common blackfellow so they had to dig old Gannon up, and—'
'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.'
'I ONLY found out what ailed the dog by accident,' said Jim. 'You see, it was this way. The dog was not an ordinary dog, but it possessed another identity, a what-do-you-call-it? An astral body, or something of that sort. Quite unexpectedly this poor dog's being would be projected into space somewhere, and then the form that was left could do nothing but sit on end and howl until the spirit returned. This was rough on the dog, and also on Brewster, for he was continually having to fight people for kicking his dog because the brute howled so. Sometimes, too, the astral dog would come back and sit down and jeer at his own body and refuse to go inside, and that body could do nothing in return but howl; so the dog lived in considerable hot water.
'Now, there happened to be on the station a young fellow, horse-breaking, who was just the ordinary kind of bush hand, without a spark of imagination, and he and Brewster were always at loggerheads about the afflicted dog. His name was Cotten, and he particularly disliked being kept awake by the howls of the dog. One night the dog was perfectly quiet, strange to say, and—'
'How did you find out about the dog's astral body, Jim?' I asked.
'Well this way—it was the only theory that seemed feasible, and, as the dog never contradicted it, I came to the conclusion that it was true. However, the dog, although the actual cause of the trouble, was not the chief actor in it. Cotten and Brewster had to go out together early that morning after the quiet night I spoke about, and Brewster hunted high and low for his afflicted dog and found him not. He accused Cotten of having made away with the animal, and they came to high words, and called each other the usual number of scarlet liars. They went away together still quarrelling; but only one came back, and that was Cotten. He told a fairy tale that when they were out together they saw two dogs racing through the scrub. The first one didn't try to dodge trees or anything, but seemed to let the trees pass through his body; the other one in pursuit had to slew about all roads, and lost, ground.
'"There's my dog!" cried Brewster, and started after him as hard as he could lick. Cotten was not such a fool as to go pelting through a thick gidea and brigalow scrub after another man's dog, so he waited where he was, but Brewster did not come back, so he came home. Next morning we turned out to look for Brewster, and, true enough, we found him with a broken leg.
'He was very bad for some time, but at last he began to pull around; but Cotten had to keep away from him, the sight of him excited him so. He declared that Cotten had been up to some tricks with his dog, and blamed him for his broken leg.
'Now, I believe Cotten was quite right in what he saw, or said that he saw, and could no more have invented the yarn than he could have flown; as I said, he hadn't a spark of imagination—he couldn't even tell a decent lie without being found out. The afflicted dog turned up about a week after the accident, miserably poor and thin; but he seemed to have no life in him, and there was a vacant look in his eyes, and, in my opinion, his astral body bad succeeded in giving him the slip for good.
'Brewster gradually got better, and at last was able to hop about on crutches. Certainly, he confirmed what Cotten had related, but, at the same time, he seemed to think that Cotten had cast some unholy spell on the dog, which, at any rate, proved that Brewster had imagination, for the idea, of Cotten knowing anything about "unholy spells" was too immense. The only thing Cotten knew about "spells" that I can think of was when he wrote a letter once a year, and used to put his head down on the table, and stretch his tongue out and curl it round, while he asked somebody if r-a-n-e-s spelt reins.'
'Oh, hang it, Jim! What the deuce has Cotten's spelling to do with Brewster's dog?'
'Nothing, I admit But, at any rate, the dog pined away and died—that is to say, that empty frame of the dog died; and then the tragedy happened.
'You see, Brewster's leg had not set well, and he was bound to limp for the rest of his life, and that made him cranky, and—between ourselves—a bit off his chump, and this dislike of Cotten had become a regular craze, until at last the place became unbearable, and the owner told them that, one must leave. Brewster was the best man of the two before this accident, but what with that and his cranky temper he was mot much good, so he had to go.
'You can imagine that this did not improve his feelings towards Cotten, and when he had his cheque and his horses were brought in, he broke out and threatened Cotten, who sat with has mouth open all the time, not half understanding what it was all about. He was very bitter, and just as he was riding away he forgot himself and whistled to his dog, not remembering that the dog was dead.
'The Chinese cook swore that when Brewster whistled, a dog, just like his, came from somewhere and trotted off at the horse's heels. None of the rest of us saw it.'
'I am glad to hear you admit that, Jim.'
'Brewster went away and five days afterwards Cotten's horse came home without Cotten on his back. Of course, we ran the tracks back until dark without success, and had to give it up until the next morning. For although we tried tracking with firesticks and matches we made no fist of it, and had to give it up. There was, of course, no suspicion of foul play, for Cotten had been riding a green colt; and anything might have happened. We camped where we were, and to the middle of the night we were aroused by a most doleful howl.
'"Hang the dingos!" said one fellow.
'"Dingos?" said another; "them's no dingos; that's Brewster's dog!"
'We all of us listened intently. Sure enough, when the howl went up again, we all recognised it as the howl of Brewster's dog. The dog we knew had been dead for weeks. I tell you it was a very unpleasant camp for the rest of the night. In the morning we started off on the tracks at the first glimmer, and about 10 o'clock we found poor Cotten dead as a herring.
'What's worse, though, he had been killed. It was no accident. There had been a fight and Cotten had been stabbed with a sheath knife.
'Of course everybody said "Brewster!" and with good reason, as it afterwards turned out.
'One of us went back for the tray buggy the rations were carried on, and Cotten's body was taken in and the police sent for.
'Of course they could do nothing but agree with us that it was probably Brewster; but the question was to find Brewster.
'Now, you may think us very stupid, but none of us thought of connecting the howling of that dog that night with the disappearance of Brewster, and it was not till a dog came and howled round the quarters all one night that we thought anything about it. Then Dick Mathers said to me at breakfast, "Do you remember that dog howling that night we were tracking Cotten?"
'"Of course I did."
'"Well, it's my opinion that it was the same dog as was round here last night. Do you think, if we could get leave to go out and camp there, we could fix that spot?"
'"I am pretty well sure of it."
'"Then, let's go."
'To make a long story short we went, and while we were trying to get the right direction, there came the howl again. There was a very fair moon, so Dick and I started after it, and presently, at a bit of an opening, we came to the spot. A dog was certainly sitting there howling, but he seemed to vanish as we came up; but there was something else that did not vanish, and that was the body of Brewster, hanging to a tree.'
Jim paused, and I was just going to say good night, when he spoke again.
'I just want to ask you a question. There's that there astral dog still wandering about somewhere, and I want to know what's become of him? The other dog is a skeleton long ago, so he can't get back there. Has he got to wander around forever?'
'He shouldn't have been such a fool as to project himself out of the other body,' I said. 'It's his look-out anyhow. I suppose the story is true?'
'Quite true,' said Jim, as he went off into the sleep of innocence.
'WHAT'S the name that they call it when a man goes stiff and dead-like, and can't move or speak? Dog—something, isn't it?' asked Jim.
'Catalepsy, I suppose you mean.'
'Ah! I knew it was something either about a dog or a cat. Well, we had a fellow out west who used to go that way—or, at least, he did once on that station. It gave us all a turn, I can tell you, when, we woke up one morning and found him in his bunk as dead as a doornail, to all appearance. It was blazing hot weather, so there was nothing to do but bury him as soon as possible. Some of the fellows started to knock up a coffin, and two of us dig a grave in the softest patch we could find.
Now, there was a fellow on the place putting in time as store and book keeper. He had been pretty fast in his day, and gone to the dogs. He had been brought up as a doctor, but had never passed, for he did something disgraceful, and had to clear out; so he got lower and lower, until at last the boss, who knew something about his people, took him on to the station, to knock about there for a year or two, and see if he would steady down a bit.
Young Pills had looked at Lanty—that was the name of the man—and pronounced him a corpse; but when we had the grave dug and the coffin made, and everything ready, including a prayer-book, Pills went and had another look at Lanty, and he said, "I don't believe this man's dead at all; he's in a cataleptic (yes, I remember now, that's the word) trance." He called the boss over, and he pointed out a lot of things that should have happened if Lanty had been a real corpse, but as they hadn't happened it showed he was only a sham corpse.
'"Why couldn't you have found this out before?" said the boss. "Here we've got a grave and a coffin steady for nothing; I've a good mind to utilise them on you."
'Pills said at wasn't his fault, as no one could tell at first, and perhaps the man might die after all.
'"And how long before be comes to, or dies?"
'"You must have somebody always with him, and at the first sign of life he must be helped to sit up, and, if possible, got to swallow something. When he, begins to smell you can bury him."
'So one of us sat by Lanty all that day, and we had some weak brandy and water ready for him against his waking up.
'When night came on we put a young galoot of a stringybarker on to take the first watch—a real myall, who'd never seen a town bigger than Dustburra in his life. He was to call on of us at once if anything happened, and he did with a vengeance.
'Seems this youngster got nervous like when we all went to sleep and, left him all alone with a dead man, as he supposed, for he knew nothing about cataleptic trances, and after a bit he got looking at the brandy and water, and wondering if it would give him a little Dutch courage. The man was dead, and would never want it. He took hold of the pannikin, and was about to drink it, when a deep sigh startled him. He looked round. Lanty was sitting up in his bunk, looking at him, with a ghastly smile.
'"That's mine," he said, indicating the brandy and water. Next moment that young greenhider was racing down the paddock, yelling "Fire! Blacks! Murder! Help!" and all manner of things.
'We woke up with a start, and without troubling about the young fool, who fell over a stump and lay there until daylight, we turned to and fixed Lanty up, and some of us went to put the coffin out of sight and filled the grave up, for fear it should hurt his feelings. He had a good quiet sleep for the rest of the night, and in the morning he told us of his experiences.
'He said that even though he was lying there without being able to stir, he knew all that was passing; that it was something worse than awful when we were going to bury him, and that, as for Pills, he would never forget his stoping his premature burial.
'Lanty got round soon enough, and Pills warned him that if he went on to a strange station he must tell them that he was liable to these seizures, or he would be whipped underground before he knew, where he was.
'In the course of time Lanty shifted to the next station as boundary rider, where, of course, they knew all about him. He said goodbye to Pills before he left, and almost cried as he remarked, 'I shall send, for you if anything goes wrong again. Then he went away sobbing.
'Some time after that we were mustering, and Pills came with us for a bit of a change. We were camped about fifteen miles from the station that Lanty was boundary-riding on, and just towards one morning we were awakened by a great shout of "Help!"
'We all sat up and listened. I remember the scene well, for the morning star was shining like a moon in the grey dawn to the east.
'Suddenly Pills cried out, "Did you hear that?" We listened, but heard nothing but the horse-bells. "There it is again," he cried, "Don't you hear it? He's crying out, 'They are going to bury me alive. Come quick!' It is Lanty calling. Come, Jim, to the horses."
'Now, I will say this of those ne'er-do-well chaps, that when there is any trouble on, and a little bit of daredevil work to do, they are all there.
'Pills collared the first horse he came to and I took another, and we jumped on them bare-backed, and he was for racing off like that. I said, "No, we shall make more haste in reality by going up for our saddles." So we went back to camp, saddled up, and then the race began. Fortunately, it was a splendid road—all level country, and only two gates. How Pills did go it! The sun was only just over the trees when we were in sight of the station.
'Now, luckily I remembered where two men who had died on the station at different times had been buried, and I guessed that they would naturally bury Lanty in the same place, so I told Pills to follow me and made straight for there instead of going to the station. Lucky we did. The grave was dug, the men were there, and just taking the coffin out of the cart.
'"Stop! Stop!" yelled Pills, galloping up and jumping off his horse. "The man's not dead!"
'"How do you know?" said the super.
'"I must see him first. Take the lid off." One of the men put the blade of his shovel in the frail coffin, and up came the lid. There lay poor Lanty, sure enough, and he had all his clothes on including an old coat that he always used to wear on account of the handiness of all the pockets.
'"Now, didn't you say that if he began to smell we could bury him, when he got into this state?" asked the super.
'"I did," returned Pills
'"Well, smell him then."
'There was no doubt about it, a very strong odour of decomposition came from the open coffin.
Pills knelt down and put his hand on Lanty's forehead.
'"Feel that," he said to the super. "Does that feel like a dead man?"
'The super felt Lanty's forehead, and seemed puzzled. "It does not," he said.
'"Lift him out of the coffin." We did so.
'"Take his coat off, Jim," said Pills to me, as he held the body up in a sitting position.
'I did so, and stepped aside to lay it out on the dray. Then I dropped to it all.
'"When did you fellows kill?" I asked.
'"Four days ago," said the super. "But what has that to do with it?"
'"Everything. If you chaps had taken his coat off you would have found out where the smell came from. He had some old dog baits in his pocket, and I turned them out on the tail of the dray."
'Well, to wind up. Lanty got right again, and says that he knew everything that went on, and he felt that his only chance was Pills, so he yelled out for him. Strange to say, Pills pulled himself up with a jerk. He finished his studies, passed his examination, and has now a first-rate practice in Sydney; and Lanty, who is frightened to leave him, is his coachman.'
'Jim, you seem to have an intimate acquaintance with all kinds of spooks. Did you ever come across the ghost of a barbed-wire fence or a galvanised iron bucket?'
'Can't say in one act. But I'll overhaul my memory on the subject.'
'IT'S a queer thing,' remarked Jim, 'but after you asked me that question last night, I fell to thanking about it, and I distinctly remember a very strange thing that happened about a galvanised iron bucket.'
'You mean to say,' I interrupted, 'that you stopped awake and made one up.'
'No fear. This is perfectly true, and I'll tell you of a man, who you must know, too, was there. You remember Tom Sweeney?'
'No, I don't,' I said.
'His brother married an elder sister of Bill Burke, and, as you remember, Burke was breaking out on the Paroo at the time you passed down with cattle—or it might have been the year before or the year after, I'm not sure which. Anyhow, you must know him.'
'I'll be hanged if I do, and who is it, Burke or Sweeney, that I ought to know? And which saw the ghost of the bucket, Burke or Sweeney?'
'It is Sweeney you ought to know. I only mentioned Burke in order to bring him back to your remembrance. I never said that either of them saw the ghost of a bucket I said that something strange happened about a bucket. Anyhow, I remember that Sweeney broke his neck before you came up on the station, so I suppose you couldn't have known him. He was there, at any rate, and was the cause of what happened.
Ringfield was in charge then. I suppose you won't deny knowing him? He was going to get married, and wanted a lot of heifers broken in, so that there should be plenty of milk and butter on the station when he brought his wife up. Now, there's no fun in breaking heifers in. If they're not choking themselves in the bail, they're kicking the leg-rope off and knocking the bucket into smithereens. Moreover, between, ourselves, Ringfield knew as much about cattle as he did about giraffes, and instead of picking out nice, quiet, lazy-going Shorthorns, he pitched on bald-faced carts of things, who'd yell and squeal and lie down in the bail, and kick blazes out of creation. Naturally, everyone, was in a bad temper; for we had to get up in the morning, and give the doctor a hand, and we generally cussed everything—Ringfield's future wife included. The time came when be started down to get married, and he was to be away for three weeks. Said Sweeney that night—'
'Was that after he broke has neck?' I asked.
'No; how the deuce could it be? No; it was before. And he said, "Look here, lads, I'm sick of man-handling those brutes; let's let them rip, and go out to the old Durham bulls camp and bring in the same number of decent, quiet heifers. There's a lot of good ones there, with young calves. I saw them there this morning. Bet you two to one that Ringfield will never know the difference."
'We all thought it a splendid joke, and the next morning we turned the heifers out, and they were just as glad to go as we were to get rid of them. That evening we had a nice lot of quiet, packed heifers in the yard, and in a few days some of them would walk into the bail without roping, and by the time the three weeks were over the whole of them were like old milkers.
'Now, we had a young sneak of a jackeroo on the station. I've had a lot of experience with jackeroos, and I've found them all sorts. Some as wild as you can make 'em, up to any larks; others sneaks, and I must say that, although I'm a Tamworth native myself, I prefer the imported men. You can do something with them, but the other sort think that because they are born in the country they must know everything, and their conceit is something stinking, that's what it is. This young whelp had never been out of Sydney before, and he'd been sent up by the firm who owned the station, being a relation of one of the partners. But I'm getting away from my story.'
'You have run off the rails a bit'
'Yes; it's a bad habit of mine, I admit. Ringfield came up with his bride, and she turned out a nice, quiet, sensible body, who had been brought up on a station, and knew all about it. Ringfield took her down to the milking-yard one morning, and, would you believe it, that duffer didn't know that those were not the same heifers, and explained to her how he had picked them all out himself against her arrival, and what splendid milkers they had turned out. What does that young fool of a jackeroo do, but blurt out the whole truth might in front of Mrs Ringfield, making a regular fool of her husband. Did you ever bear of such a thing?'
Jim started has pipe again his disgust at the remembrance, then he proceeded.
'Ringfield, of course, was very mad at being made to Hook so small before his bride, and when he toad pumped the jackeroo dry, and found out that it was Sweeney who originated the proceeding, he had it in for him. Now, I do not believe that Ringfield ever anticipated what happened. It was simply done out of spite, but he never meant it would be serious.
'"Sweeney," he said one day, "Miss. Ringfield has taken a fancy to that brown colt. You might try him with a skirt. See how he stands it."
'Sweeney whistled. "I might as well try to break in the devil to a skirt, Mr. Ringfield," replied he. "Why, that brown colt can kick a mosquito off his ear nine times out of ten. He'll never carry a lady."
'"Oh well, if you are frightened of him, that's another thing. I've heard you blow that you could ride anything with a tail."
'Now, this got Sweeney jumping mad as, of course, it was meant to do, and he asked me to catch a horse and come out with him to the One-mile Plain, and he'd try the colt with a skirt. So we went, and Sweeney took a red blanket with him for a dummy skirt. When we got on the plain he tacked this under his leg and let it flap, and, my oath! that brown colt did go it! He never shifted Sweeney, though, and he kept him going right across the plain. There was one tree grew right in the middle of that plain, and—would you credit it?—just when they were close to it the colt put his foot into a hole, stood on his head, pitched Sweeney against the tree, and fell over on his back. There they lay, quiet as possible, the two of them, with the red blanket lake like a sheet of blood, between them.
'I pulled the horse off Sweeney, but both their necks were broken, and I could do nothing but cover poor Sweeney up with the red blanket, and ride hell-for-leather into the station.
'You may imagine what Ringfield felt like, but the worst was to come. Next morning the milk was taken to the little lean-to used as a dairy, and Mrs Ringfield, who had taken the dairy under her charge, went down to strain the milk into the dishes. Suddenly there was a shriek that could be heard all over the station, and when they ran into the dairy, there was Mrs Ringfield in a dead faint on the floor, an empty bucket beside her, and—a dish full of blood on the table.'
'Now, this is a solemn fact! It was the same bucket Sweeney used when breaking in the heifers, and you could milk into that bucket pure, sweet milk, but when you turned it out into the dish—it was blood.
'They tried everything—scraping, and scalding, and scrubbing, till the bucket shone like silver inside. It was all of no avail, and, what is more, the two heifers Sweeney had broken in would not let themselves be milked into any other bucket. They would kick, and bellow, and buck if you tried it on, quiet as they generally were. So they had to be turned out again.'
'What became of the bucket, Jim?'
'It was taken away down to an old hut on the river where travellers used to camp, but it very soon had some holes punched in the bottom, for a yarn got about that the water dipped up in it turned to blood before it was carried to the hut.'
FAR away in the north west of New South Wales there was a cattle station, then one of the most outside ones existing. There was, as usual, much friction amongst the two races at first, but in time this cooled down, and the blacks were allowed to come in and hang about the station unmolested.
There was a married stockman on the place, his wife acting as cook. They had one little girl about six years old; and both parents were intensely fond of her, the man especially. She was also a great pet of all hands on the station. Instead of going ragged and barefooted like most sturdy station children,' she was always neatly dressed, and wore shoes and socks.
One day she was missed. Search was made for her everywhere without avail, and the parents were in despair, the father especially so. Next morning the search, was renewed, some of the blacks being enlisted in the work.
Dick the stockman, the child's father, went off by himself, and did not return until night. He spoke to no one, but sullenly sat himself down and ate some food and drank some tea. After a smoke he went down the paddock, and returned with a horse belonging to himself, which could be easily caught. He said he was going to camp out all night, and took his carbine with him to fire off shots that perhaps she might hear if yet alive, so nobody thought anything about it, and he left unquestioned.
Next morning he returned about 10 o'clock. He hung his horse up, and on his wife going to the door to meet him he handed her one of their child's little shoes.
'I found that in a blacks' camp yesterday, and I went out last night, watched them to see that they did not shift camp, and at daylight shot as many as I could of the wretches. They have killed her.'
The woman staggered against the doorpost, and regarded her husband with eyes of horror and affright.
'Oh, God! what have you done?' she cried, wringing her hands. 'An old gin brought Mary in late last night, and she is now asleep inside. The gin carried Mary in here in her arms, for when they found her she had taken off her shoes. The child was lame, so the old woman carried her in, at first on her back, and then, when the child got sleepy, in her arms.'
The man made no answer, but, unslinging the fatal carbine, walked away and threw it far into the lagoon the station was formed on. Meanwhile the wife hastily unsaddled the horse and let the animal go.
Dick came back and entered, but never spoke, and never kissed his sleeping child, but sat down sullenly on a sawn log near the fireplace and leaned his chin on his hands. His wife asked if he would have some food, but he shook his head, and resumed his quiet, sullen demeanor. The poor woman did not know what to do; if she held her tongue the affair might blow over and never be found out But it was destined to be, and in a strange fashion.
About midday there came a shrill cry from outside. There stood the old gin, naked, shining, and shrivelled. She waved her lean, arms aloft and commenced to shriek out what was evidently a fell denunciation of the bloody deed, and to call down a curse on the doers.
The men who had gathered at the outcry were awestruck. Dick alone kept his composure. He walked quietly up to her, pointed to himself, and stood with bent head, as though willing to stand the whole brunt of it; but she heeded him not. In her fell wrath she heeded him no more than if he had been invisible. She pointed to each one present; she pointed to the sky, as though praying no rain should ever fall on the accursed place; at the cattle and horses visible in the paddock, as though beseeching that a pestilence should smite them. And after having got through a most comprehensive and Old Testament kind of curse, spat on the ground, turned away, and her gaunt shadow disappeared amongst the trees.
Then Dick confessed what he had done, and announced his intention of going at once and giving himself up. All efforts of his wife and friends were vain. He ate a good meal and rode off to the nearest township. He was committed for trial but never tried, as he was found to be insane with a suicidal tendency, and sent to, the asylum during her Majesty's pleasure.
While there a strange disease came on him. It was not leprosy, but a kind of death In life that made its appearance. The doctors could make nothing of it, and only found an analogy in one or two doubtful historical cases. His body emitted an offensive smell, growing worse and worse as his emaciated form, grew more loathsome day after day, until at last when death relieved him he was nothing but a corpse that looked as though it had been buried for days and days.
And the station? There, too, the curse wrought its fell spell, but not on the human beings. The cattle felt its evil influence, and died strangely and in a mysterious manner. The sky was brass year after year, and there was a strange tale got round that on the home lagoon there floated a carbine—a carbine that should have gone down like any stone, but still it refused to sink.
The owners tried to sell the place; but its unlucky name had got about, and it had to be abandoned, and is now a desolate region of pine scrub.
Thus was the gin's curse accomplished.
'THERE are no flies on me,' said Jim, 'when ghosts are around. I don't know why I should have been especially picked out for this sort of thing, but somehow I seem to have come across more adventures of this kind than most men. Did I ever tell you about the ghost who was always "back in ten minutes?"'
'No, he must have been a punctual sort of ghost.'
'That's just what he wasn't, and that's just what made him so fidgety and restless. Did you ever know a man who wrote up on a card on his office door, "Back in ten minutes," who was back under half an hour? No, the most unpunctual man in the world is the man who is coming back in ten minutes.
'This ghost adventure did not happen to me, but to a kind of distant relation of my brother's.'
'How was it he was not a distant relation of yours as well?'
'This way. This fellow's name was Withers, and my brother married a second cousin of his; so, although I cannot quite fix the relationship, it can have nothing to do with me, unless,' mused Jim, 'it comes through old Bowles, he being stepfather to Withers, and having once known my father well. I remember old Bowles as a boy, because he never used to speak without clearing his throat first?'
'Here, Jim. Back in ten minutes.'
'Right. Withers was in a bank or the Lands Office, or somewhere or other, and he had a great chum called Lomley, who was an accountant and general kind of agent. One day he went up to see Lomley, as was his custom when he got out at half past 4, and there was a card with the legend on it, "Back in ten minutes," so Withers waited the ten minutes, but deuce a sign of Lomley. Just as he was turning away up came a nice-looking, elderly lady, and stopped at Lomley's door and read the card.
'"Have you been waiting long, sir?" she asked Withers.
'"Neatly a quarter of an hour, madam."
'"Then its no good my waiting," she said, and taking out her card, case, she wrote something on a card and pushed it underneath the door.
She'd scarcely gone before up came a red-faced man, and he asked Withers the same question. Then the man swore, and he too wrote something on a card, pushed it under the door, gave the door a terrific kick, and stumped off. Thinking it no good waiting, Withers followed his example.
'Next afternoon Withers, having in vain waited at his diggings all the evening expecting Lomley to turn up, went once more to the office. There was the card still, "Back in ten minutes," and there was the elderly lady and the red-faced man, and the latter was more furious than ever.
'He banged at the door, and shouted through the keyhole, "Hie! Lomley, you're in there all the time. You know you are. I can see your coat tail through the keyhole quite plain. I wouldn't skulk in a corner if I were you. Come out and show yourself. It's more than ten minutes since yesterday afternoon."
'Just then Withers noticed that the old lady was crying nervously, so he got the red-faced man to desist, and took the old lady downstairs and put her in a cab, for she was quite hysterics.
'"Oh, sir," she said, "do you think that Mr. Lomley has run away, for if he has I'm ruined," and she began to cry, and Withers, who was very soft-hearted, assured her that Lomley must be sick with typhoid, and had forgotten to send in, or he had been run over by a tram and had both legs cut off, or been bitten by a shark, which would account for it all. He had a happy knack of cheering people up had Withers.
'When he got back he found the red-faced man dancing a combination of a can-can and a war-dance on the landing.
'"Look here, sir!" he snouted, "if you come across that scoundrel Lomley, just you tell him that I've gone to get a warrant out for him. You know me?"
'"I'm hanged if I do," replied Withers.
'"Well, he does, at any rate. Tell him that Jonas Thresher has taken a warrant out for him," and he went down three stairs at a time.
'"Lomley seems to have got into a mess somehow, but I hope he has not made away with any of that poor old lady's money."
So thought Withers, as he waited on the landing, and he determined to wait for a bit, as, if Lomley had been up to any hanky panky tricks, he would probably come in when he saw the coast clear.
'It was winter time, and dusk soon after 5, and Withers was just thinking what a fool he was hanging round there in the cold, when, sure enough, he saw Lomley coming along the corridor.
'"You're a pretty fellow," he said when he got close, "there's been half Sydney up here looking for you."
'"Couldn't help it," returned Lomley in a queer, hoarse whisper. "Had an important engagement on; bound to keep it."
He took the latchkey out of his pocket: and opened the office door. It was much lighter inside the office, and Withers noticed that his friend's neck was discolored.
'"What's up with your throat," he asked.
'Lomley pulled out his handkerchief and fastened it round his neck. "Got bad cold," he said in the same hoarse whisper, "had mustard plaster on."
Now it didn't look a bit like the back of a mustard plaster, even if it was usual to put one round one's throat, but Withers said nothing about it.
'"Look here, old man," he went on, "there's been two people here, wanting to see you badly. One, a very nice old lady, and the other, a regular firebrand, who has gone to get out a warrant for you, said his name was Jonas Thresher."
'Lomley laughed somewhere down the pit of his stomach.
'"That's just what I came back for," he said. "If you see the old lady, her name is Mrs. Bransher, you tell her that her money is all right—or nearly so. It was paid into her account yesterday in the Bank of New South Wales. As for Jonas Thresher, just you tell him to serve his warrant on me halfway between Manly and Narrabeen, on the left hand side of the road. Remember!"
'And he leaned over and stared hard at Withers.
'"Here," cried Withers, jumping up, "don't make such horrid faces at me!" for Lomley's eyes were bulging out of his head, and his tongue was lolling out all swollen.
'Withers stepped back in alarm, and found himself in the cold, dark corridor again, and the door of the office was fast shut and locked. You may be sure that Withers lost no time in getting home.
'Next morning he informed the police, and they searched the bush and found Lomley hanging from a tree, having been dead two days. His affairs we're all abroad, and it was either suicide or bolt with him. Withers did not know what to do about the old lady, as he didn't want his experience to be made known. So he wrote her an anonymous letter, telling her where her money was; but he feels quite certain in his own mind that it was the red-faced man's money Lomley had paid in to make up the old lady's that he had embezzled.
'The worst of it was that the room was haunted ever after. No matter who took it, it was always the same. Every one who came on business always saw a card up, "Back in ten minutes."
'Now this was outrageous. A lawyer took the rooms, his clients came, saw the notice "Back in ten minutes," went away, came back, same old notice, left in disgust for another lawyer—just the same with everybody else. Could do no business, no matter what time people came; always they saw "Back in ten minutes" written on a card in beautiful round hand, for Lomley wrote a splendid hand. So there was nothing left but to let the room as a storeroom at half price.'
'There's a moral in that story, Jim,' I said, 'that Sydney people might take home. If you stick up "Back in ten minutes," mind—'
'You come back in ten minutes, or it might end in you hanging yourself,' interrupted Jim.
'I ONCE knew a ghost,' said Jim, 'who had the most disagreeable habit of any ghost I ever came across.'
'Whose ghost was it?'
'Ah! that was the question. Some said one thing, some another, but, at any rate, it turned out to be wicked Benson's, and this spectre cost the owners of the station a lot of money, for they had to shift the homestead in consequence of it.'
'What was the objectionable habit?'
'Used to pull the bedclothes off you at night. On a cold night it was very nasty to wake up shivering, and find your blankets in a heap on the floor. It used to come into the men's hut after a hard day's work, when they were all fast asleep, just shout 2 o'clock in the morning, and yell out, "Now then, daylight! Tumble up!" And off would go the blankets right and left. But that was not by any means the worst of it. Once there was a governess going up to the next station, and they didn't tell her about the ghost, for fear of frightening her, so in the middle of the night there was an awful shriek, and, when they rushed in, there was the poor girl sobbing and crying, vowing that, a man had come in and pulled the bed-clothes off her, and then she went off into hysterics. Fortunately the super, of that time was a married man, and his wife managed to calm the girl down, although she never believed that it was a ghost that did it.
'Then the bank manager's wife, who came out an a visit from the township, had a like experience, and there was war to the knife over it.
'At last, the owners determined to shift the homestead, things were getting so unpleasant, so it was done, and only a few old huts, not worth worrying about, were left. The ghost must have had a lonely time of it, for his only relaxation was when a chance traveller came along and camped there for the night. He had great sport once, I believe, when two swaggies camped there, and each one accused the other of pulling the blanket off him, until at last they came to blows. Many a blowhard went there determined to find out all about it, but they all failed, until at last one man succeeded. This is how he managed it. He was an ingenious fellow with a mechanical turn, and he set to work and fixed up a complicated arrangement of lanterns—dark lanterns—with slides that worked easily. And these he connected with thin wire so that, if the lanterns were solidly fixed down, one pull would open the lot. He rigged up his machinery in the day time, and then, when night came on, went to bed in the middle of all his lanterns. Of course he stayed awake, and about 12 o'clock felt the first tug at his blankets; he pulled his string, and immediately there were bars of light all over the place.
'Here! I say! Hang it, this is not the rules of the game. You've blinded me,' said a voice.
'Ah! ah! my boy,' said the man. 'Come out into the light; let's see who you are?'
Now this fellow was a plucky fellow, I know, because I was splitting with his brother once, and his brother, the one who married long Kelly's sister, he told me a story about him; at least, I think it was about him. Anyhow, when he saw the object that came out into the light, he nearly took to his heels. It was a nasty, vicious-looking monkey, with a leer on him like a wicked old man. However, he pulled himself together, and said, in as steady a voice as he could command:
'Who the devil are you?'
'I'm old Benson; used to be called "Wicked Benson" when I was alive.'
'Who, or what, were you when you were alive?'
'You see, it was this way,' said the monkey, stealing out a sneaking paw towards Teddy's blankets.
'Stop that,' said Teddy, 'or I'll say my prayers.'
'No; don't do that it's only force of habit; I can't help it Mortmayne was my partner on this station—Benson and Mortmayne. He was a young fellow, with some money, who had been knocking about in the East—Malay Peninsula and those places—and I persuaded him to buy a share in this station and settle down, which he did. He had a monkey with him, and, somehow, this monkey took a great fancy to me, and I taught him all manner of tricks.'
'Pulling bedclothes off, for instance,' said Teddy.
'Yes, that was his chief accomplishment. Mortmayne and I did not agree long. Although he was a new-chum, he soon found out that he had been had—that he had paid double the value of the run—so there was constant quarrelling between us, but just then Mortmayne fell ill. Now, although under pretence of completing some improvements, I had received and given a receipt for the money, the transfer of Mortmayne's share had never been properly completed, and it struck me that if he died and I found the receipt amongst his papers and destroyed it, why I owned the whole place again. One day when he was asleep I searched his papers and found my receipt; then I was determined that his illness should be fatal. He had malarial fever, and I started the monkey to annoy him, pulling his bedclothes off two or three times a night. This, of course, put him into a nervous fever, and he grew rapidly worse. He begged me to chain the monkey up, and let him have a night's sleep, but somehow that monkey was always getting loose, and up to his old pranks at once. He entreated me to send for the doctor, and I pretended to; but the doctor was always fifty miles away, attending to a man with a broken leg, or something of that sort I kept all the men away from him, and Insisted on nursing him myself, I was so devoted to him. One day I had left him by himself for an hour or two, and when I came in he was gone. I tell you I gave a jump. Poor fellow! he had managed to crawl out, intending, I suppose, to find one of the men and get help, but the exertion had been too much for him, and I found him lying a short distance away in a dead faint I carried him back, but I could see that his end was near.
'Just before he died he mustered up enough strength to curse me horribly. He prayed that, after I died, when my time came, I might wander about this place in the shape of a monkey; pulling the bedclothes off people, and playing other impish tricks. Then he called me a murderer, and other hard names, and died. I was in great distress, you may be sure, and called the men in at once, sent for the doctor, and did everything a man should do.
'To cut it short, I destroyed the receipt, wrote home to this people telling them of his death, and how sorry I was; forwarded all his useless traps, and £5 4s 6d he had on him.
'He had no friends out here; but his sister came out to see his grave, and to look after some money he had in the bank here. Now, unfortunately for me, he had money in the bank which I knew nothing of, and there was enough to divert suspicion, for his folk were wealthy, and did not miss a thousand or two. In fact, I overreached myself, for I should have done better to make friends and nursed him well.
'I showed his sister the unsigned transfer, but somehow she did not seem to like me, and, as for the monkey, she refused to have anything whatever to do with him. What she said in the township I don't know, but it was then I got the name of 'Wicked Benson,' and I tell you I tried to deserve it. I shot the monkey one day, and the next my horse stumbled and broke my neck. Ever since I've been at this game, and I'm about tired of it. There is, however, one thing can by done that would release me. If the owners of the station would hunt up the papers, find out the true value of the property, and pay the Mortmaynes back half the value I might get a spell from this.'
Teddy burst out laughing.
'Well, you are the greenest old ghost I ever came across. Is it likely that they will take that trouble to get rid of two or three thousand pounds for your sake? Their title is not likely to be disputed on the strength of a monkey's ghost. If that's all there is to depend on, old man, you must enjoy yourself as you are, as best you can.'
Wicked Benson looked mournful, but admitted the justice of the remark.
'One thing more,' said Teddy. 'Why did that light racket disturb you so?'
'I'm not exactly handsome you see, and object to being seen, and you fixed it up so that I had to cross the light somewhere to get away.'
'Good night. Benson; don't worry me any more,' and Teddy went to sleep.
'There's no moral in that story, Jim, for what had the people who were so annoyed ever done to the defunct Mortmayne?'
'That's true,' replied Jim.
THE moon was full and about half-way to the zenith, and the tall trees on either hand threw black shadows across the bridle track I was riding along. The shadows were abrupt and strongly marked. Presently I heard the sound of a horse's footfall following me, and glanced round to see who it was who was overtaking me. To my surprise, I could see no one, although the footfall had sounded quite close, and appeared to be travelling smartly. Twice this occurred, and I began to fancy that I was encouraging a hallucination, when the station lights came in sight, and I rode gladly on, for a nasty superstitious feeling was beginning to creep over me.
The station was owned by a widow—doubly bereaved—for six months after the death of her husband her only son, a promising young fellow of about 18 or 19, was killed by his house falling on him only three miles from the station. I was living on a neighboring station, so rode up to the bachelors' quarters as a matter of course, and unsaddled and turned my horse out. A hearty welcome, a nip of Mackay, and a rough but plentiful feed, soon drove all thoughts of the supernatural out of my brain.
I told the boys, however, what queer fancies had come into my head on the road, and was astonished to see that they took it gravely and seriously.
'That sound has been heard before,' said Doyle, the oldest man there. 'It was on just such a moonlight night as this that young Murdoch was killed, and at the very place where you heard the footfall. He was cantering along, with the Mack boy riding behind, when his horse tripped and rolled right over on top of him. Killed him instantly.
'And is it only on moonlight nights like this that he walks?'
'So they say; but that is not all the yarn. It was on that same night that Mrs. Murdoch—you know what a severe woman she is—found out that pretty little Maggie, the girl she brought up with her half-servant, half-companion, was likely to become a mother. She got in a terrible state, and when Maggie, in her shame and terror, confessed that young Murdoch was the man, she nearly went mad. Late as it was, she had the horses put in the buggy, and told me to drive Maggie over to the township—she would not have her on the place another night. I protested, but it was useless, and when we got about three miles away, for that bridle track is a short cut on to the road, there was the dead body of the man who had sworn to marry her and save her good name, lying in the moonlight on the dusty track.
'I don't want to go through that scene over again, I can assure you. The black boy had ridden in and raised an alarm, and some men came out to bring the body in. I managed to quieten the girl somewhat and pushed on to the township; but next morning she was in, a raging fever, and what with that and having a dead child born prematurely, poor Maggie nearly died too. She recovered, however, and went away somewhere—nobody knew where. Ever since the clatter of a horse can be heard coming along that bridle track on moonlight nights. I don't know whether Mrs. Murdoch has heard of it or not, but I expect she has.'
MRS. MURDOCH soon left the station which had such bitter memories for her. Doyle and the other fellows had wandered off one by one, until at last there were none of the old hands left. The superintendent had occasion to hire a married couple, and procured one in the neighbouring township. The man was a surly ill-conditioned lout, whilst the woman was neat and tidy, with the remains of past prettiness on her sad and worn face; they were without children. They had not been there long before it was found out that he was in the habit of beating his wife, and being tackled by one of the other men about it, he showed up a cur. But this did not help the poor woman, who probably received extra punishment on the quiet in consequence of the man's interference.
The story of the ghostly footfall had of course been handed down, and it was noticed that often of a moonlight night the poor silent woman would steal out and walk along the ghost's pad, as it was called. One night, when it was almost as clear as day, one of the men, smoking in the verandah of the men's hut, saw the woman steal out along the ghost's pad. Shortly afterwards he noticed the husband slink after her, and, fearing he meant mischief, the man, who was the same one who had interfered before, went after him.
The woman was standing looking expectantly along the road, when her husband went up to her, and, putting his hand on her shoulder, told her roughly to go home. She shrank away from, him and he lifted his fist. At that moment the watcher heard the approach of the invisible horse and rider. Whether the woman really saw anything or not it was not possible to tell; but she lifted her hands up and her face was transformed with joy. As for the husband, he gave one glance in that direction, then took to his heels and ran home.
'After that the woman was free to wander out to the ghost's pad whenever she liked, but it did not alter her husband's behavior to her when on the station. It was about 12 o'clock one night when the whole homestead was awakened by a shriek of mortal terror. It came from the room off the kitchen where the couple slept. Hastening there they found the woman with her face bruised and bleeding from a blow, standing half-dressed in the middle of the room and the man extended on the floor senseless.
'The tale told by the woman was that her husband had quarrelled with and struck her. That then something, she knew not what, had come between them, and her husband had fallen to the floor, uttering the cry they had heard. When the man came to his senses he could tell nothing, excepting that he admitted having struck his wife and being immediately felled by what, he said, was a red hot fist. Strange to say, there was now visible a distinct burn on his temple where he said he had been struck.
'The story was very strange. The poor woman had not the strength to strike such a blow, and the man could not have inflicted it himself. The mystery was never solved, but the man became different after that; less violent, but more taciturn and sullen. Some months after that a distant shot heard in the middle of the night roused one or two sleepers whose rest was light, but nobody took the trouble to rise and investigate the matter. In the morning the husband waited on the super, and told him that he had accidentally shot his wife during the night.
'His story ran that he had followed his wife, suspecting that these visits of hers to the ghost's pad were only a screen for covering an illicit love affair. He saw his wife seated on a log beside a young man or boy, who had his arm round her waist. That he took aim and fired at this man, and that the bullet passed through the man and struck his wife.
The body of the one-time pretty Maggie was found at the place he described, and buried by the side of young Murdoch. And from that date the tramp of the ghostly horse was heard no more.
The author of her death persisted in his story up to the minute that the bolt was drawn and he dropped into eternity. He avowed that the youth embracing his wife was no being of this earth, for the charge had no effect on him at him. And the doctor who had examined the corpse of the murdered woman told a strange story that few could believe.
DO you remember that grey horse of Jonson's? said Jim. Maybe it was not in your time; at any rate his was the only ghost-horse I ever saw or spoke to. Moreover, he was a very exceptional horse. In the first place he was said to be one hundred years old. Now you know the average age of a horse I suppose? This horse, this flea-bitten grey of Jonson's had just succeeded to his hundredth birthday when Jonson came in to possession of him.
Greys get flea bitten with age, and this horse was about the worst flea-bitten horse you ever clapped your eyes on. In point of fact, he need not have been called a grey at all, except as a matter of courtesy, and you must be civil to a horse occasionally. Now, as I stated before, when Jonson got this horse he was just one hundred years old.
How do you know that? This way. Jonson's brother married Sally Parsons; he was a man I never liked, because, although be was a hard smoker, he never carried any matches with him. What has Sally Parsons's husband to do with it? Come to think of it, I don't know, I was only refreshing my memory a bit.
Jonson got the horse from his father, and his father got the horse from his father, and as both of them each lived for fifty years, that made 100, didn't it, when Jonson got the horse—Anyhow, that's how he reckoned it.
When I knew Jonson he was boundary-riding, and, like these men often do, he got gloomy and out of sorts; used to be always talking to himself. Most of these fellows who live all alone get queer that way. One day he came to me and said: 'Jim, what is the best thing to do with that horse?'
'Keep him till he dies or sell him; his keep doesn't cost you anything.'
'Now,' he replied, scarcely heeding me. 'I ask you, as a white man, is it natural for a horse to live over a hundred years. I tell you it's preying upon me, and either that horse or myself must succumb under the strain. Which is It to be?'
'Don't be a fool, Jonson,' I said. 'Go home and let the horse be.'
He left me, remarking that there was bound to be trouble between him and the horse soon, and I did not see anything more of him for some time. About three weeks afterwards he came to me again, and sat down by the fire; it was winter time.
'I had to do it,' he remarked, as he knocked his pipe out, 'I tried all I knew to get that horse to talk, but it was no good.'
'To get him to talk! Do horses generally talk, then?'
'No, not as a rule, but a horse 100 years old ought to be able to. Just fancy all he could remember about the colony. Why he would have made my fortune. Think I was going to lose that. Not me.'
'So you killed him?'
'Yes, it was necessary, there was nothing else to be done.'
'I keep telling you. That horse would not talk. He used to grin at me, and try and express his ideas that way. But I couldn't understand him. No, that horse mistook his vocation. He was meant for a man.'
'Well, Jonson, you're simply a common-place kind of idiot. You could have got a fiver for that horse, old as he was.'
'Perhaps I am. Never mind, that horse had to talk or die; and he was obstinate—and died.'
Jonson got up, kicked my dog, and started home.
I knew what was the matter with him after I had meditated over his case a bit. The ghost of his horse was haunting him, and making things lively. Now listen, I love ghosts; they are twelve-fig tobacco to me; so I thought I would go and camp with Jonson for a few days, and find out what was really the matter. Jonson had a dog, a bad dog in every day. He could eat strychnine bait without a wink.
This dog and the flea-bitten grey had never been friends. The dog considered the horse too old, and the horse thought the dog too young. I have my suspicions that the dog prompted Jonson to the killing of the horse, but I couldn't bring it home to him. This dog was quite altered. He would constantly start and shiver, and give little yelps and howls. Jonson used to kick him for it, and when I found out the real cause I actually pitied the dog, bad as he was.
The shade of that old horse used to come round and worry the life out of that dog. He'd insist on his listening to his yarns, and when the dog did not laugh in the right place, he'd suddenly materialise himself, and kick the dog. The dog never had a chance, for before he could get a bite in the horse was a ghost again. One second he was a materialised horse, kicking a dog, hard; the next he was a spectre, and it's no good biting a spectre. What between, the materialised kicks outside and Jonson's kicks inside, it was not a fair deal at all.
I made up my mind to interview this ghost and try and induce him to stop his visits, for Jonson was getting decidedly loony. So, one moonlight night I went outside about the time that Jonson said the horse usually came. The ghost turned up to time, but for a long time he would only grin at me, and go off into a horse laugh. At last I asked him what the joke was.
'I'm laughing at that fool, Jonson,' he said. 'The ass thought I was a hundred years old when he killed me.'
'Well, everybody thought so,' I said, on behalf of Jonson. 'Didn't you belong to his grandfather?'
'Bah! I wasn't twenty when he killed me. Besides, Jonson never had a grandfather.'
'But he must have had some sort of a grandfather,' I suggested.
'Yes, if you put it that way, of course he had, but I don't suppose he was anything to blow about, or that he ever owned a horse in his life. But what do you want interfering here for? I'm enjoying myself, which is more than I did when I was alive.'
'I tried my best to get Jonson to let you alone,' I replied. 'He was a bit off before, but if you keep this racket up I'm quite sure he'll go clean cranky.'
'Serve him right; but can you suggest any other kind of amusement?'
I thought for a bit, and then his kicking the dog put an idea into my head. 'You could have had great fun on the road,' I said. 'You could materialise yourself and eat up the bread and sugar and salt in the travellers' camps, and have all manner of high jinks.'
'Never thought of it,' said the ghost. 'Tell Jonson I won't worry him any more, but that I shall have an occasional kick at that dog.'
As he spoke he gradually faded away.
I went back and told Jonson of my success. He was very grateful; owned up that the ghost horse had been preying on his nerves, and that he felt like a new man.
In spite of all that, the ungrateful brute turned dog on me in the end.
I told you that Jonson's brother married Sally Parsons. I knew she had something to do with the yarn, and this is where she comes in. She and her husband were the first to see the horse. They were driving home one night in a spring cart, and it was bright moonlight. Jack Jonson had a drop or two in him, and he suddenly saw two horses in front of him.
'Why, dash my buttons!' he said, 'I'm not so bad as all that. Wake up, Sally!' for Sally was nodding.
Sally opened her eyes, but there was no horse there, and she called him a drunken hog, and wished she'd never married him, when she had plenty of better offers, and cried and went to sleep once more. There was the horse again.
Jack Jonson rubbed his eyes.
'Dash my buttons,' he said again, 'if it isn't Teddy's old grey.'
As I say, he had a drop in him, and before that horse could dematerialise himself he'd given him a stinging cut with the whip. The old grey rattled his heels against the horse in the shafts, and nearly knocked the whole caboodle over.
Sally woke up, and gave Jack a bit of her tongue for driving over a stump, and they quarrelled all the way home, so much so, that when Sally's baby was born, folks said it used to neigh like a horse in its cradle.
This game continued, everybody driving along that, road on a moonlight night would see two horses instead of one, or three instead of two, as the case, might be. When they got home and told the story to their wives they were accused of being mops and brooms; and the whole of the married population in the district were soon at loggerheads. How that wicked old ghost must have chuckled.
Now, most of them recognised the spectral appearance as Jonson's flea-bitten grey, and, in consequence, there was much indignation against Jonson for killing the horse, which, as the nuisance increased, came to a head, and a large number of people interviewed Jonson, to inform him that he must either get rid of the ghost or go himself.
Then it was that he played dog on me. He told them that it was all my fault, and that I had invited the ghost of the old grey to play these tricks, so they transferred their attentions to me.
I did my best, I begged and entreated that old shade to give up his tricks, but it was no use. He said he was enjoying himself, and meant to keep it up; so I had to come away. I was sorry, too, for it was a splendid district for ghosts. What became of the dog? Oh, he died. Whether Jonson killed him or the horse kicked him to death I don't know.
Another short-lived themed series by Favenc in the Evening News in 1896
'WERE you ever in love, Jim?' I asked.
'In love! I should smile. The first girl I ever got real, downright shook on was Polly Oldfield. Old Oldfield kept a bush pub, and ran a small farm as well. I really believe I should have married Polly only for her mother. Not that her mother was against it for I was doing well at the time, carrying; but she was so stout. She could scarcely waddle in and out of the bar, and the thought struck me that probably Polly would grow like her. At that time Polly was a nice slim girl, but not too slim. She had eyes like sparks, and a complexion like a red sash and a white shirt. She was a downright pretty girl, and there were plenty of fellows after her; but I felt mighty certain that I had the best show, and could have gone in and won only for that thought, and that kept haunting me. It tormented me so, that one day I asked old Oldfield, in a chatty kind of way, whether Mrs. Oldfield had always been so stout. He laughed.
'Lord, man, when we were married she was just the image of our Polly.' He went into his bedroom behind the bar, and came back with one of those tin things they used to do a long time ago, before they photographed like they do now. Dog—something.'
'Daguerreotype,' I suggested. 'Yes; that's the ticket. Well, in this old picture Mrs. Oldfield was certainly as slim and nice-figured as Polly. That decided me, but I couldn't back out at once—it would look mean. Besides, it would seem as though I was frightened of the other fellows. So I just went on the same as ever and bided my time. It soon came. There was a long slab of a fellow called Watkins. Let's see. His brother got into trouble about some horses, and the judge said that he was a disgrace to humanity. No; hold on! That was not Watkins. That was Doolan—for killing one of his working bullocks with an axe. O yes, he said that he left the court without a stain on his character. Well, this yer long Watkins, not the brother, was always hanging round after Polly, and I think she encouraged him a little, just to make me jealous, and although in my own mind it was all off, still one doesn't like to see another fellow jump his claim straight away.'
'Rather "dog in the manger" kind of thing, Jim.'
'Perhaps so; but anyhow, it's human nature. Watkins and I never could hit it, and one day when I went into the bar and found them with their heads together across the counter I felt mad. I asked for a drink rather huffy, and she looked up mighty saucy and said, "In a moment, Jim." I waited—and then, as she did not attend to me, I stalked out. I heard her call "Jim!" but I paid no attention. I went over to my camp and sulked. But that did not do any good except to make me think what an ape I was. Here was the very opportunity I was looking for to fall out with Polly, and I was not taking advantage of it. You see it was this way: I wanted to break with Polly, but yet I didn't want Watkins to remain master of the field. So I smoked six pipes on end, and then an idea came to me. I got up and sauntered auto the bar again. Watkins had gone by that time, and Polly was pouting behind the counter.
'"Father in, Miss Oldfield?" I said.
'"No," she returned; "what is it?"
'"Oh, I wanted a drink, that's all."
'She said I was a brute ('So you were,' I interjected), and began to cry. Of course I made it up sufficiently to stop that, and then turned the conversation.'
'"Did you ever see anything of Watkin's relations?" I asked.
'"There," she said; "I thought you were jealous of Watkins."
'"Pooh, nonsense," I answered. "But did you ever see any of his relations—seen his sister?"
'"Ah, poor girl! She'd be a pretty girl only she has warts all over her face. Fancy, one right on the tip of her nose, one on her forehead one under one eye and a great big one on her cheek. She never goes without a thick veil."
'"Poor dear thing," said Polly; "but can't she get rid of them?"
'"No; she's tried everything, but they keep coming again. It's in the family—in the blood. Watkins has them too, but he's lucky, for they come on the back of his shoulders and his hands, so they don't show much. Don't you shake hands with him—warts is terribly catching."
'I saw Polly look at her own pretty hands, which were always clean and well kept, and she shuddered.
'"And supposing Mr. Watkins married and"—there Polly got very red—"had a family, would they all have warts?"
'"Of course they would—it's in the family. Watkins's youngest sister has one on each side of her forehead just like two horns growing."
'"Why doesn't she wear her hair low to cover them up?"
'"O, she's only a young girl yet. Perhaps she will when she grows up. Awful infliction, isn't it?"
'Polly shivered. "I couldn't bear it," she said. "I'd take Rough on Rats."
'Now, the worst of it was that I couldn't see the end of it myself; but my mate was there and told me all about it. Watkins did not come back that day, and the next morning I started on the road. Well, my noble Watkins came in and wanted to take Polly's hand, but she drew it back.
'"What's the matter?" demanded Watkins.
'"Thank you, Mr. Watkins; I don't want to catch any warts on my hands."
'"Warts! Is the girl mad? I haven't got any warts on my hands."
'"I suppose not, and you haven't got a sister with warts all over her face, have you?"
'"No. By gum I haven't, because I haven't got a sister at all."
'"Nor a young sister with a wart on each side of her forehead like horns beginning to sprout?"
'"O Jerusalem the Golden! Don't I keep telling you that I have no sisters at all?"
Polly curled her pretty upper lip, and went to the other end of the bar to serve somebody, leaving Watkins in a taring rage, fit to jump on his hat.
'"Who told you all these lies?" he demanded when Polly returned to his end of the counter.
'"Never you mind. Just show me your hands." Watkins spread out his great sunburnt paw.
'"There, I told you so," said the girl, triumphantly; "look here, and here."
'"Them's not warts, girl; warts don't come there. Them's corns from using the bullock whip."
'"O, very well, Mr. Watkins; call them corns if you like," and Polly turned away. But he gave her no peace until she told him who told her. "Didn't he say as well I had a wife and ten children, and used to larrup them all round every night?"
'"No, he didn't."
'"He might just as well, for one would have been just as true as the other. Wait till I get hold of Master Jim."
'This is the version my mate gave me. I knew it would have to come to that one time or another, and at last we met. The fellows said that I got the best of it, but I don't think it made much difference who did, for we were both equally damaged. As for Polly, she would not speak to either of us again. But that was not where I felt it most. This happened more than ten years ago, and Polly got married soon afterwards. I met her last year, and expected to find her following her mother's track, but would you believe it she had just as neat a figure as ever, allowing for her being the mother of five. I was regularly had, and call it downright mean.'
'SO that's the young lady, is it?'
The old gentleman calmly took out his spectacles as he uttered these words, and putting them on, after a preliminary polish with his silk handkerchief, he proceeded to leisurely inspect the photograph he held in his hand.
The young man who had given it to him looked supremely uncomfortable. He turned fiery red, and shifted uneasily about. As though to prolong his agony the old gentleman examined the photograph in every possible way. Held it far away from him, held it close to him, held it in all kinds of lights, until at last he gave it back to the eager hand waiting to secure it.
'She won't do, son,' was the sole remark.
'Won't do? What do you mean, governor?'
'Mean what I say—that she won't do. What did you say her name was?'
'Spells it Jon, without the h?'
'And has got some sort of a pre-name tacked on with a hyphen. Seymour-Jonson or something?'
'Well, it's Howard-Jonson.'
'Thought so. She won't do, Bob, I tell you.'
Bob looked at his father curiously, and reproachfully.
'Do you mean, governor, that you will not consent to my marriage with her when you have not even seen her?'
'That all depends upon circumstances. How old is she?'
'Not twenty. Her birthday is next October.
'Let me look at that portrait again.'
Bob reluctantly gave it to him.
'How well they re-touch these things nowadays,' the old fellow went on; 'you, Bob, are just 22, and your lady love is 25, if she is a day.'
Bob stamped his foot in impatient anger. 'I tell you she is not twenty until next October.'
'How do you know?'
'She told me so herself.'
Old Beveridge went off in a roar of laughter; then he got up and put his hand in a kindly manner on his son's shoulder.
'Look here, Bob, I do not want to hurt your feelings, but really, you are too funny. Now I am going to act the stern parent to this extent: Your engagement must last for twelve months, and most of that time you are to spend up on that country I have just stocked in Queensland. It will do you good to be busy putting the place straight, and you will come to your senses sooner.'
'Never Governor. I shall love her till I die;' and imprinting a passionate kiss on the picture Bob departed, while his father sank into his chair convulsed with laughter.
'O lord! what a thing calf love is. Who would believe that Bob was a really sensible young fellow at bottom,' he thought as he wiped his eyes.
BOB Beveridge bade his sweetheart a tender farewell, and went away north to form the new station. Now there was a very pretty girl on the steamer, just sweet 17. She was returning from Sydney, where she had been at school, to her parents, who Bob found out owned a station not fifty miles from his father's place, where he was bound. This constituted them neighbors at once, and when they landed he was formally introduced to pa and ma, and as their road was the same he accompanied them to their station, where he stayed a few days before proceeding to his destination.
Strange to say, he found himself at times forgetting all about Miss Howard-Jonson, while Kitty Danver's pretty, saucy face was constantly in the memory. He took himself to task for his fickleness, and as his fiance took care to send him a weekly letter, full of her heart's outpourings, his memory was not allowed to flag. O, the bore those letters became in a month or two; he quite dreaded the arrival of the mailman. At last they grew shorter, and then, to his great surprise, not to say relief, they stopped altogether. Fearful to break the spell, Bob took no notice of this, and went on steadily with his work, and allowed himself to dream of Miss Danver occasionally without any self-reproach.
'The governor knew a thing or two, after all,' he mused at times.
My dear Bob, ran a letter he received shortly afterwards,
I may as well come to the point at once. I am going to get married. Life has become too lonely altogether, so I am going to give you a stepmother. It will make no difference to you, dear boy, as I intend to make over all my station property to you before the event comes off. I have plenty without that. Come down at once, so that you may be at my wedding.
Bob scarcely knew what to think of the epistle. His mother had died when he was quite young, so he did not feel any jealousy on her account. His father had a right to please himself, and as Miss Howard-Jonson seemed to have thrown him over, why, he was at full liberty to urge his suit with Kitty Danver, now that he would have all his father's station property.
So it was in a cheerful mood he packed his valise and started south, stopping for a day or two at the Danvers' station on his way.
'WHAT'S her name, governor? You forgot, to tell.'
'Her name is—hum! Jonson.'
Bob sat bolt upright, and stared at his father.
'She spells it Jon, without the h?'
'And she's a Howard-Jonson, or something of that sort?'
'Yes, there is some little weakness of that kind, but she'll be Beveridge shortly.'
'How old is she?'
'Confound your cross-examination. She was 20 last October.'
'How do you know?'
'Hang your impudence. She told me so, of course.' Bob yelled.
'She won't do, governor,' he spluttered out.
Beveridge jumped up in a towering rage. 'You graceless young scamp I'll cut you off with a shilling; I'll—I'll—I don't know what I won't do.'
But Bob only laughed the louder.
'Why, she's thirty-five, if she's a day,' he managed to get out.
Finally peace was restored. Old Beveridge, it seems, had made himself known to the Howard-Jonsons in order to see what the young lady was like, and had himself fallen a victim to her innocent wiles. The marriage duly came off, the bride meeting her former youthful sweetheart with the utmost coolness.
'How the deuce could I have been such a fool as to get spooney on that woman?' cogitated Bob, as he left the church. 'Why I believe that she's old enough to be my mother.'
Bob was not long before he was back in Queensland, and had followed his father's example ere many months had passed.
TWO years had fled, and one evening Bob and his young wife were seated on the verandah, he smoking, and she retailing to him all the wonderful, precocious doings of baby, during the day, when a buggy was seen approaching, and an old gentleman descended therefrom.
'Why, it's the governor!' cried Bob, jumping up and going to meet him.
Beveridge, senior, kissed his daughter-in-law and grand-child, then sank down in a chair, and remarked, 'I was right in the first place, Bob, and so were you in the second. She didn't do.'
And although he remained with them to the end of his days, that was all they ever got out of him.
MAD MACGREGOR was worried. For the first time since his very young days he was desperately in love. In love too with a saucy chit of a young girl. So far, however, as little Kitty Fadden was concerned, there was really nothing for him to worry about, for she was as pretty, blithe, and bright as a goodhearted girl could be: and, moreover, unless MacGregor blindly deceived himself, evinced for MacGregor a most distinguished preference.
Now, this was all highly satisfactory, and it was not Kitty who was worrying him. It was the very natural and commonplace fact that she had a father. He was neither drunken nor disreputable; far worse was there to fight against. He was a C.M.G. and an M.L.C., and in the arrogance of his pride considered MacGregor not by any means a fitting match for Kitty.
Now, could a MacGregor, especially one who had the right to spell his name Mac and not Mc, submit to be slighted by a C.M.G., mused MacGregor in his wrath, and then the image of sweet, lovable, little Kitty came up, and he groaned, and cursed his fate, and swore that the mighty M.L.C. should yet appreciate the honor done him by a MacGregor wooing his daughter.
Fadden, the pompous, was also troubled. He had built great hopes on, pretty Kitty mating a distinguished alliance, and now a man, little better than a common selector, aspired to her hand, and was—by her—the favored swain. Moreover, this plain and simple man did not appear to rightly estimate the worth of a C.M.G.cum M.L.C. He must be brought to his bearings, thought Fadden in his turn.
The two men were neighboring squatters. That is to say, as much so as men could be when one lived on and looked after his small run and the other resided in Sydney and only came to his big, mortgaged one occasionally. But Mrs. Fadden and family were often sent to live on the station from motives of economy. Hence the understanding between Kitty and Mad MacGregor.
The nickname of 'Mad' had been attained by MacGregor in consequence of a tendency to dabble in scientific experiments. During the big drought of 188—he frightened a year's growth and seven bells out of every blackfellow in the district by sending up fire balloons carrying explosives. He succeeded admirably in burning down some miles of his own fences, and getting into a lawsuit with Mudga Mudga Station for firing their grass. Certainly he claimed that the heavy rain which fell a few months afterwards was due to his public-spirited endeavors; but even his best friends declined to admit this.
Not a soul, however, called him Mad MacGregor from any ill-natured motive. All his eccentricity was of such a good-humored kind, and he was so much the typical open-handed, generous bushman that Mudga Mudga township was honestly proud of Mad MacGregor, of Sunnymere. On the other hand, Mudga Mudga tried its best to be proud of Fadden, C.M.G., who owned Mudga Mudga Station, from which the township took its same. There is a wonderful difference between liking a man spontaneously and only trying to like him.
Fadden did nothing for Mudga Mudga township. He did not spend a shilling in it if he could help it. He sent up cheap stores from Sydney, and managed with a cheap superintendent. The super's name was Winters, and, somehow it suited him. He was always abjectly writhing under the threat of losing his billet if he did not keep expenses down; and, therefore, was always engaged in the desperate and heartbreaking task of making both ends overlap a little. Consequently he was held in little esteem by the townfolk, and despised by the men.
There were weak-minded people who held the belief that if was all the fault of the wretched buffer, Winters, that the station was worked on such miserly lines; and that if the C.M.G. only knew of it things would be very different. These good gossips were, therefore, mightily disappointed when Fadden, under stress of financial circumstances, came up to live on the station, and so pestered, pried, and interfered that Winters for the first and only time in his life stood up straight and called his soul his own.
Then the C.M.G. sacked him on the spot, and Winters was very sorry for his one manly action: So was the C.M.G., for another drudge like Winters was not to be got in a hurry. Pride stood in the way of a reconciliation, and Fadden was in a fix. His only son was an inborn larrikin, and would have only hastened the disasters that Winters's parsimonious management had induced by going to the extreme of prodigality. Fadden, M.L.C., therefore, spread out his legs, and cursed his fate in his turn. Suddenly a brilliant idea struck him.
MacGregor was the best station manager in the district, The flourishing condition of his own little place proved this; whilst Mudga Mudga, with money begrudged and cheap labor in every department, was going down hill rapidly. Could MacGregor arrest the descent? But that would mean Kitty. Would it? Fadden flattered himself that he could get to windward of any man; so MacGregor was shortly greatly astonished by receiving a polite note inviting him over to dinner. After the meal the great man enlarged on his troubles, and the reputation of the unhappy Winters was offered up as a burnt sacrifice. Of course, MacGregor knew all about it before. Who does not know all about his neighbours' affairs? The worn-out ewes, the patched-up fences, the overstocked paddocks, and the shoddy attempts at conserving water were as well known to him as to the discharged Winters, and when Fadden asked him feelingly as a friend and neighbor if he could help him by looking after things a bit while the C.M.G. hunted up another super, MacGregor unsuspectingly consented. Of course, he thought it would mean nothing else than Kitty, and to gain her he would have undertaken the management of more than one station, no matter how handicapped.
Satisfied with the arrangement, and inwardly determining to outwit MacGregor in the end, Fadden departed, taking with him his wife and family, much to MacGregor's disgust, as he had confidently anticipated Kitty's presence on the station, and many a stolen meeting. He felt inclined to throw up the job on some pretence or other; but being a proud man of punctilious honor, he determined to keep his word. As some compensation, Fadden sent him up his scapegrace son to live on the station, and reform—if possible.
MacGregor soon made short work of the cub, and speedily reduced him to an outward semblance of order. When he eventually found out that Kitty was the cub's favorite sister, and that he was always ready to talk about her, he did not resent his presence so much; and the cub, who respected and liked MacGregor, in spite of his iron hand in ruling him, soon guessed what was up, and became his ally.
Over six months had elapsed, and the time of the Mudga Mudga annual show and races was approaching. MacGregor had been lucky. Of course, sufficient time had not yet elapsed for him to completely rectify the doings, or misdoings, of the past; but, at any rate, the place was presentable; and, moreover, it had been a good season, and wool had gone up in price. The financial outlook before Fadden, C.M.G., was brighter than it had been for some time. Things had turned out just as he wished, and he was in a position to pay MacGregor for what he had done, and at the same time to disillusion him as regarded Kitty, who had captivated the fancy of the son of a wealthy Sydney merchant with great interest and influence in matters political, and whose son as his son-in-law would be of assistance. Besides, he had been one of the commissioners in a Royal Commission to inquire into the reason why the postal pillars of Sydney were looked upon as unsightly and ugly, and anticipated a few more such appointments. Under these circumstances the idea of MacGregor as a son-in-law was preposterous.
The day for the show drew near, and needless to say that MacGregor and Kitty had met more than once. One day Fadden, C.M.G., was taking a ride round his boundary fence, which on one side marched with Sunnymere, when he spied two saddled horses tied to the wire fence some distance away—one on one side of the fence and one on the other. But the riders were on the same side, and one wore a riding skirt. There was a patch of scrub handy, and Fadden tied his horse up in it, and approached the unsuspecting couple, his daughter Kitty and MacGregor. He was close to them before they saw him.
'Well, Mr. MacGregor,' he said, 'what am I to think of this?'
'Nothing to be ashamed of,' returned MacGregor, haughtily. 'Miss Fadden and I are engaged to be married, and when we settled for my bringing your station into working order I intended to ask her for my wife in sole return.'
He took Kitty's hand, and drew her to his side.
'Very generous of you; supposing we go now, and have this settlement. There is a gate not far from here, I think, where you can get your horse through.'
'I ought to know that,' MacGregor was beginning, when a look and a hand-squeeze from Kitty stopped him. They rode together to the homestead in almost a complete silence. Arrived there, Fadden asked MacGregor to accompany him to his office, and they were on their way there, Kitty accompanying them, when Fadden said, 'Kitty, you can go to your room. What I have to say is private.'
Kitty halted rebelliously; she was not the yielding, hysterical kind of young woman.
'Father, please understand that I am engaged to Mr. MacGregor, and do not 'intend to break it off. As for marrying that young Bragazon, at whose head you have been throwing me lately, I would sooner marry our Chinese gardener.'
She turned to her sweetheart, and they exchanged an honest and defiant kiss. MacGregor followed the unmoved Fadden into the office, and Kitty marched off, majestically holding her riding skirt up. Fadden seated himself at his writing desk. MacGregor took a chair. The C.M.G. wrote out a cheque, and handed it to him.
'Mr. MacGregor,' he said, 'you have fulfilled my expectations to the utmost, and I thank you heartily for it. I regret that I cannot countenance the little bit of sentiment existing between my daughter and yourself; but it will soon pass, believe me. Meantime, Kitty's hand is being sought by Mr. Arthur Bragazon, and the marriage will, I trust, shortly take place.'
'I'm —— if it will!' said Mad MacGregor, slowly rearing up his lengthy form. Deliberately he tore Fadden's cheque into fragments, and threw them on the desk, not deigning to look at the amount.
'Mr. Madden,' he went on, 'I have already, told you that for rescuing your station from bankruptcy, and making it a paying concern, I desire nothing more than you daughter's hand. As for your marrying her to a low, dissipated cad like Bragazon, whose father was a decent, honest, working man who worked himself up from hawking tripe to being a wealthy butcher, no shame to him, but to the son who is now ashamed of him, I tell you that you will never do it, Kitty will never consent, and as soon as she is of age we shall get married.'
'I think we had better close this discussion,' said Fadden, who had turned both red and white during the speech.
'I agree with you,' returned MacGregor, and marched out of the room. Outside he saw nothing of Kitty, but met young Fred, the erstwhile cub.
'Fred,' he said, 'come with me. Now, you must confess that I've made a man of you. I've taught you to give up those beastly cigarettes and smoke a decent pipe, and to knock off habitual swearing, and wanting a nip every half hour.'
'You have,' said the reformed one, squeezing his arm.
'Well, the governor has distinctly refused me, and Kitty is going to be persuaded into marrying that young snob Bragazon. You must stick by us and help us.'
'I will, through thick and thin. Kitty shall never many that Bragazon. I know too much about him.'
They parted at that, and MacGregor went home feeling slightly comforted. The next day was the first day of the show, and MacGregor, who was, of course, one of the judges, had his work cut out all day; but he defiantly took Kitty into lunch, thanks to a clever manoeuvre of Fred's. The races were the third day, and poor Fred got a nasty spill in the hurdle race. He was taken to the local hospital, and gradually grew worse. MacGregor and Kitty often met at his bedside, and Fadden was deeply cut up at the prospective loss of his only son, who, under MacGregor's tuition, had become a different man.
One day, when he was alone with his father, the boy said, feebly, 'I don't think I shall last out tomorrow. It would make me so happy if you would agree to Kitty and MacGregor getting married. What will become of Mudga Mudga? If I had lived I could have kept it improving with MacGregor's help. Now it will go to the dogs again in a year or two, and I shouldn't be surprised if MacGregor bought it.'
Fadden felt greatly moved at his dying son's request, and was struck by the shrewdness displayed, by the remarks on the station. After all, Fred's petition would be an excuse for his pride to accept terms; and he gave his consent before leaving.
THERE was no sprightlier guest at the wedding than young Fred Fadden, who never had the least intention of dying when he swindled his father into consenting to Kitty marrying the man of her choice. Mudga Mudga prospered and flourished, and Fadden has, after all, no reason to regret his bargain, as young Bragazon is now peeling potatoes for a living.
'I HAD an awful time with my second sweetheart,' said Jim. 'She was a widow, and one of the Plugberrys on her mother's side, and very proud she was at it. The Plugberrys were a very old family in that part; the old man who first settled there was one of the most talented cattle-duffers of that period, and founded the family fortunes, although they never speak of him in the present-day. Elizabeth Plugberry married a man called Mottles, with a nice selection, and, also descended from good old stock. So when Elizabeth was left a young widow. I thought I couldn't do better than hang my hat up there and I did so.'
'Things went smoothly enough at first and Elizabeth was all that could be desired, and didn't put on any frills, at least, not a great number so to speak, until Tom Lucas appeared on the scene. She played one of us off against the other very nicely indeed; it takes a widow to do that sort of thing to perfection; until one day I called and found her steeped and soaking in tears. Regular five inches in twenty-four hours!'
'"Jim Parks," she said; "go, leave me! I never could have believed it of you. Never! never! never!" And off she went again, boo-hooing.
'"Elizabeth," I replied, "What is the meaning of this? Answer me at once."
'"To think that a Plugberry should come down to think seriously of marrying a man whose hands are red with gore."
'"Nonsense," I cried; "This calumny is the work of some jealous lover rival. I'll wash my hands in his gore, you bet."
'"Go away. Go away!" was all I could get out of her, so I tried another tack.
'"You did think seriously of marrying me, when I asked you, then?"
'She gave a wild shriek, threw herself back and drummed frantically with her heels. "To think of dragging my secret from me thus!" she screamed, and the red-headed girl came in from the kitchen and called me a "brute" and a "beast," and her, "a poor dear." So I had to leave.
'I could make, nothing out of it. I was in what we call a 'quandairy.' I suspected Lucas, but could not prove it; only at the risk of another fit of hysteria? There was something about Lucas I could not recollect. His face was familiar to me, and yet, I could not place it. Some two days passed, and I could think of nothing to make the situation clearer, when I bethought me of the red-headed girl. It was dangerous work, for the red-headed one might at any time affect to misunderstand me and believe I was making downright love. Moreover, I am a bit superstitious, and they always had a white horse in the home paddock. Now, of course, you know that when you meet a redheaded girl you are bound, to see a white horse directly afterwards; and if you meet a white horse you are bound to see the girl. Now this forebodes trouble to the man who sees it, and as it happened that the red-headed girl had a habit of passing most of her time at the back kitchen door, and the white horse was a conspicuous feature in the paddock, one always caught sight of them both. For my part, I believe that when the red-polled girl was not visible the white horse used to go and lie down and pretend that he was an ant-bed. However, that's nothing to do with it. I saw the red-headed girl, end, in the course of conversation, found out that her one ambition in life was a pair of six-buttoned gloves. If she could obtain those, and wear them two or three times in public places, she would be content to die with the early violets, with white lilies in her pallid hands and a choir of angels hovering over her. I promised her a pair, and in turn she told me that it was Tom Lucas who had told the widow that I had shot somebody called "Old Towzer."
'I puzzled my brains over this second "quandairy" until at last I began to recall things, and to remember who Tom Lucas was, and where I had seen him before. Then the red-headed girl told me that the new Methodist parson was making big running, and had fairly cut out both of us. Now, everything was clear to me, and I had determined on my course of action. Tom Lucas and myself appeared at the widow's almost at the same time, when she was just entertaining the parson at afternoon tea, which, as a Plugberry, she understood was the proper thing to do.
'"Mr. John Parks," she said, "I have already asked you once to leave my premises for good. Must I repeat the request?"
'"Of what do you accuse me?" I asked.
'"Let your conscience tell you. Do you know nothing of the death of the late Mr. Towzer?"
'Both Lucas and I laughed.
'"What about Towzer?" I asked.
'"Did you not deliberately, and in cold blood, shoot that unhappy man?"
'"Who told you?"
'"Well," I said, "he is worse than I am; for after I had shot him, Tom, here, cut his throat."
'"Go, men of blood, go!" cried the parson, jumping up. "Do not dare to pollute this good woman's innocent ears with a recital of your crimes."
'Now, the parson just put his foot in it. If there's one thing a member of the fair sex resents more than another it is to be called a "good woman," or "a female." If you want something straight at your head, address a woman as "my good woman," and you'll get it. My colonial! The widow turned on the parson, and gave him "what for" until she was tired. Tom and I resumed the conversation.
'"Yes," I said, "Tom was the worst of the two—for after we had killed Mr. Towzer, he suggested that we should skin him, cut him up, take his remains on to the next pub, salt him and dispose of, at least, two-thirds of his carcass. We did so. The pub was kept by your uncle, Dick Plugberry, and you can ask him if the old boy did not turn out very good eating."
'Elizabeth fell back in a faint, and the parson uprose. "Go, men of blood, go! Do not any longer pollute the ears of this lovely and afflicted lady, whose departed saint is scarce yet cold in his grave, with vile accounts of your cannabalistic orgies. Go, men of blood!"
'The men of blood went.
'Old Towzer was a working bullock of mine, and one day he slipped in a deep, hard hit and broke his leg. There was nothing to do but shoot the poor old fellow, and Tom, who was then one-siding for me, suggested that, as he was in prime condition, having been spelling for over six months before the trip, we should bleed and quarter him, pack him on the waggon, and salt him that night at old Plugberry's, who would probably take half or more. We did so, and realised nearly all his market value. What induced Tom to tell this yarn to the widow as though Towzer was a man I had shot I don't know, but he was always on for a joke, and, seeing that I had clean forgotten him, played it on me for revenge.'
'Did you get the girl her gloves, Jim?' I asked.
'Of course, I did. Do you suppose: I'm not a white man? But, owing to some mistake in the size, she so wrestled and fought with them, and scratched her arms with a hairpin trying to button them, that I am afraid they were quite in ribbons and completely unpresentable.'
'And the parson?'
'Married the widow, and was soon convinced that he had not a soul to call his own. I did hear, but I can't guarantee it, that he eloped with the red-haired girl.'
'THE greatest blockhead I ever knew,' said Jim, 'was a man called Smailes. I disremember his Christian name. It wasn't Jim Smailes, because Jim Smailes was doing the first of his ten years at he time; but let it pass at Smailes.'
'Yes, do, for Heaven's sake. I suppose Smailes is a blockhead because he got the better of you in some way. I always notice that when you come off second best the other man's a fool.'
'Well, I didn't come off second best this time, young man, you bet. Smailes was desperately spoony on a little girl, with a swell name, evidently taken, from a penny novel. What was it? O! Aurelia—Aurelia Murphy; and if ever you saw a calf on two legs, you saw Smailes when he was gazing at Aurelia, or Spuds, as she was nicknamed. He never spoke, only stood and simpered at her, and gave her all kinds of absurd presents—a whip lash, an old matchbox, some faded old vegetables, or flowers, as he thought them. Of course everyone was sniggering at this, and I took it on myself to reason with Smailes, calmly and mildly. I pointed out to him what a wretchedly imbecile son of a gun he must be, what an utterly insane ass to suppose that a girl cared about whip-lashes or old match-boxes, and such like trumpery. He took it all quietly, and asked my advice as to what he should give her. So I told him that all girls liked a bit of jewellery, and advised him to give her a ring. What do you think the galoot did? Bought her a great thick, silver ring, about as big as the ring of a hobble chain. The poor girl took it, and said she would wear it round her neck in remembrance of him, and he grinned and chuckled all over, and squeezed his hat up to a ball, and generally made an exhibition of himself. Now it struck me that Aurelia had taken a fancy to me—'
'They all do. Jim.'
'Quite right; they do. So just to have a lark with Smailes I encouraged her. It was pure generosity on my part, for I thought it would bring Smailes up to the scratch. But it didn't at all. The more I spooned Aurelia, the more Smailes seemed to think of me.
'"Ah, Jim," he'd say, "I wishes I had your way with the women; you can't believe how I envy your style." That's what he called it—style! About as much style around you as there is in a scrub Micky; but go ahead. Anyhow, style or no style, it fetched Aurelia, and Smailes seemed to think that my success and his were one and the same thing. At last he said, "Look here, Jim, would you mind sounding the gal about me, because if she won't have me, I'm blest if I don't stick up to the old woman." Aurelia's mother was a widow. Naturally, this tickled me all to pieces; but honor bright, I spoke to the girl, but she scorned the notion.
'"I cant abide him, Jim. Fancy—a man who gives a girl a present of an old matchbox. No, not me."
'"Well, Aurelia, he's going to speak to your mother."
'"Like his impudence. Do you suppose mother would make me marry a thing like that? No fear. I'll be there when he speaks to mother!"
I saw the mistake Aurelia had fallen into, but of course I wasn't going to explain matters; the joke was too good. So I told poor Smailes that there was no hope for him. He heaved a sigh and said he supposed it must be the old woman then. He was bound to get in the family somehow. He asked me to go and back him up when he demanded Mrs. Murphy's hand in marriage, and I consented. When we got there we found Mrs. Murphy at home, and scarcely had we said good-day than Aurelia came into the room with considerable fire in her eyes.
'"Mrs. Murphy," commenced Smailes in a hesitating and timid manner; then he looked at me as though he thought I ought to help him out, and I did my level best. I remarked, "Mr. Smailes has come on a rather delicate mission, Mrs. Murphy."
'"Yes," simpered Smailes, "very delicate mission."
Aurelia Spuds jumped up.
'"Now look here, mother, that gawk wants me to marry him and I'd sooner die first! Here are your presents, Mr. Smailes, and never speak to me again!"
She threw on the floor the whip-lash, the old matchbox, and the great silver ring. Poor Smailes turned red and white and white and red as she bounced out of the door.
'"It was you, Mrs. Spuds," he stammered, "that I came to ask to marry me."
'I jumped up and made for the door too, and watched proceedings from safety. Mrs. Murphy danced up to poor Smailes, and commenced to cuff and scratch him, her face like raw beef. That fool Smailes never had the sense to run for it, but stayed there protesting and apologising, whilst she banged him and shrieked for Aurelia to come and help her. I don't know how much of his skin and garments he lost before he found sense to run. But it did him good, for he had the savvy to get out of the district that night.'
'I CAME to the conclusion that widows knew too much,' remarked Jim.
'There was a certain well-known coachman who held the same opinion,' I replied.
'Was there? One of Cobb and Company's, I suppose. Well, there is no doubt they are men of experience, and it was during the only time I was coach-driving that the following love affair happened to me. The regular driver broke his leg, and I took his place while he was laid up. It was away in the New England district, and a terribly rough bit of road it was for the most part. They ran the line pretty, cheap, too, for the contractor had taken it at a low figure, and as for the horses, I believe they gave me all the outlaws they had while I was driving that spell. They had no regular changing places, either; the horses were left in the paddocks of the two or three stations we passed, and sometimes the fellows would forget to bring them up, and I'd have to go after them myself. I generally had a decent lot of passengers, however, who'd always lend a hand, and mostly bushmen, who knew their work, so I got along somehow.
'One trip I had four passengers—two ladies, a parson, and a commercial. One of the ladles was a school mistress going to take charge of a school, a tall girl, who wore spectacles; the other was a farmer's daughter, at least a cane-grower, who'd been over the range on a visit, and was on her way home—a smart, pretty little girl she was too.
'Now the commercial was not a bad sort—most of them are decent fellows; but, somehow, I didn't like the parson. He was one of these finicking kind of pussy cats. The first thing he did was to put his great-coat and a bag on the box seat, and stand there watching them. I got up, after stowing the malls and luggage, just to fix my way-bills, etc., before the horses were put in, and the first thing I did was to hand the coat and hat down again.
'"What are you doing coachman?" said the parson. "Let me inform you that I have secured the box seat."
'"We've got a rough road ahead of us," I replied; "and the ladies are coming up here. They'd be jolted to bits inside."
'"But I insist on my rights," he said, getting very red.
'"Know nothing about rights," I grunted; "I'm captain of this ship."
'"I shall go to the office, and enter a complaint," he said.
'"Better look sharp, or you'll lose your passage."
'Just then the girls came out. The commercial put them up on the box, the traces were booked on, and the parson, still grumbling, had to follow the commercial inside, or be left behind.
'It was a lovely morning, and the first few miles of the road was fairly good; and the girls seemed to enjoy it immensely. It was the first time the school mistress had ever been on the box seat of a coach, I think. As for the other one, she was as pert as you please, and it was "Jim" this, and "Jim" that before we were well out of sight of the township. This first team was the only decent one on the line, and going down the range I let them, out properly, and shook that parson up to rights. The commercial told me that he was as white as his necktie. There are some very awkward turns and sidings on that bit of the road, and I trotted round them as fast as I dared; and when the parson looked out of the window, and saw the off wheels just shaving the edge of a neck-or-nothing go-down, he must have thought his time for glory had arrived. The school mistress held on like grim death; but the little one started singing.
'At twelve o'clock we changed horses at a small roadside accommodation, house, and stopped to get something to eat.
'"I really must protest against such furious driving," said the parson when he got out.
'"Call that furious driving?" said the commercial. "Jim came down as steady as a hearse Why, Hell-fire Jack used to negotiate it at a gallop all the way."
'Then he and I went in for a drink, and made it up to pull the parson's leg, as they call it.
'While we had our meal the commercial kept talking about the road ahead, and inventing a lot of names.'
'"Let's see, this is the worst stage of the lot There's the Devil's Jump, and the Overthrow Siding, and Breakneck Slide on it; isn't there, Jim?"
'"Yes," I said, "and Smash-up Gully, and Graveyard Flat."
'"I do trust you will-be most careful coachman," said the parson; "and I will overlook that little affair of the box seat."
'"Oh," I said carelessly; "I'm not going to drive after I've steadied the horses down. This young lady wants to handle the reins for a bit."
'The parson's mouth opened like an oyster
'"Yes," said the little one, dropping down to it; "don't be frightened, I'm a first-rate whip!"
'Just then we heard the horses coming, so without waiting to hear what the parson had to say, we got up and went out. When he came out the commercial and I were standing together.
'"By Jove!" he said, loud enough for the parson to hear, "you've got that mare in the pole who has upset the coach three times."
'"That's the darling," I answered, as I climbed up, "and she looks in a sweet temper this morning."
'"I protest," cried the parson, standing on the step, "I will enter an action; I will—"
'"Get along up down there, my beauties," I sang out with a crack of my whip, and if the commercial hadn't pulled him in the parson would have been on the broad of his back in the road.'
'The next change was at a bit of an outside place, where a stockman lived by himself, and the horses were away down the paddock, and I had to go down and bring them up, as he was also away somewhere. The yard was all to pieces, and the commercial and the two girls kept them bailed up in a corner of the paddock while I put the winkers on. My! didn't the little one enjoy it. She'd got a good lump of a waddy, and she'd head 'em back when they tried to break, and rap out a bit of a swear word that made the parson, who stood looking on without giving a hand, turn up his eyes and hold up his hands.
'That night we stayed at a little one-horse place they called a township, and here the commercial stopped, and the next morning I had only the three. Well, the school mistress felt a bit sorry for the parson, and she said she would take a spell inside for a while, and let the parson take her place. So up he came, and you bet I raced down the ridges, and frightened seven bells out of him.
'We used to carry a horn in them days, and the little one had been practising on it all the way. We met the up coach about 10, and when it came in sight she thrust the horn into the parson's hand, saying, "Just hold that a minute," and he took it in his left hand, and with his right he was holding on like beeswax to the back of the seat, and, to the people on the other coach, it must have looked for all the world as though he had his arm around the girl's waist; and who should be on the box but the bishop. Lord! what must he have thought of his parson, with the horn in his hand, as though he had been blowing it, and his arm seemingly round a girl's waist. His soft hat was jolted all awry, and he looked a picture; I didn't stop long; only whispered something to Dick Frost who was driving, and just as we started he called out, "Look out for that corduroy bridge, Jim, there's a loose place in the middle."
'The bridge was at the bottom of a. long rise, and we went down It at a gallop. The parson yelled out something about stopping, but over we went like a flash, and up the other side, one of my leaders bucking all he knew; and ten years' growth had gone out of the parson when we got on the level.
'However, by the time we got to the end of our trip, I was fairly gone head over heels on that little girl, and was thinking what sport it would be when I asked the little parson to marry us. She was so smart and plucky that I vowed I'd never seen a girl like her before, and forced the running all I could during the short time I had to stop before turning back. Her name was Vincent, and her father's place was only a short distance from the town.
'We seemed to get on famously, and every time the coach came in she was in the township, so what with my personal advantages and the fact of being a coach-driver, I reckoned it was a mild walk over.
'One morning, when I was about starting on the down trip, a long, slab-sided, red-haired bushey climbs on to the box seat. He was about as green-hide as you make 'em, and I hoped to goodness he was not going through, but he was, and he was about the biggest hog I ever drove. He had a bottle with him, end he sucked at it all by himself, and got it filled up at every place where he could get liquor, until he was as tight as Pharaoh's prize pup after the show; and all the time he scarcely spoke a word.
'Next day it was the same, and about the middle of the day he blurted out, "I say, driver, how long before we gets to the end?"
'"To-morrow night. You seem in a hurry."
'"Ay! Got a sweetheart; a regular puffick plum. Going down to get married."
'"Gosh! I'm sorry for her," I said politely.
'"Dussay you've seen her; Tilly Vincent."
'"The —— you are!" I exclaimed, and stared at him.
'"It's so," he slobbered on. "She's my cousin; made it all up last time she was up with us."
'Now only for having four women inside, each with a baby, I'd have upset the coach there and then, and broken his jolly neck, but dussent do it. We were close to the corduroy bridge, and some softy had dropped a log of wood on it and left it there.
'"Hold fast inside!" I shouted through the window, and started at a gallop. He was just taking a suck at his bottle, when up went the off wheel over the log. There was a scream of four woman-power from inside, and the galoot shot over the railing into a pool of water, bottle and all.
'I drove on, gammoning I couldn't steady the horses, although all the women had their heads out of the window, singing out that there was a man overboard.
'Half way up the ridge I stopped, and saw him crawl on to the bank all dripping wet, and begin to howl after me, for as soon as I saw that he wasn't hurt, I drove on and left him.
'Next day I made record time, and got in two hours early.
'I saw the little one looking curiously at the coach; she was in her riding habit, and looked so pretty that when I thought of that pig marrying her, I felt like murder. After I had driven the coach to the post office and the yard, I went back to the hotel, and found her in a sitting-room by herself.
'"Jim," she said, sidling up to me, and I could see the tears in her bright eyes, "Did anyone come down with you besides those women?"
'"Yes," I answered; "a gowk of a fellow, who said he was going to marry you."
'"What's become of him?"
'"I tilted him over that corduroy bridge, and left him there."
'She threw her arms around my neck, and kissed and hugged me. "You dear, dear old Jim," she said, "I do hope he has broken his neck."
'"No such luck," I said, giving her the kisses back. "I saw him get out. But surely you're not going to marry that beast?"
'"I've got to," she sobbed. "He's just come in to his father's property, and father and mother will have it."
'"Look here, Tilly!" I said. "I saw that little sheep of a parson just now. I'll go and make it right with him, and he shall marry us at once."
'Tilly agreed to this, and went away to get the school mistress to come, while I hunted up the parson. He threw a lot of obstacles in the way said it was irregular, and ail sorts of things, but when I said I'd get the C.P.S., who was also registrar, to do it, he consented; but there was a spiteful look in his eye.
'I got the man whose place I had taken to come on his crutches, and Tilly came with the school mistress, and there we waited at the church for more than an hour until I was jumping mad. At last the parson turned up, very red and nervous. He put his surplice on, and we got ready, when there was tramping of feet behind us, and Tilly's mother and father appeared, and then there was a scene. The dirty little sneak of a parson had driven straight out and brought them in. Tilly was under age, and I could do nothing, so we were parted.'
Here Jim paused and sighed; I had never seen him so serious before.
'I started out with my coach when the time came, and about 12 o'clock met the galoot coming along on a horse he had borrowed from somewhere. He was foaming, and rode straight at the leaders and tried to stop them. I lashed him with the whip two or three times, and then pulled up. There were a couple of larky fellows with me on the box, and I whispered to them, and they jumped down, collared him, and pulled him off his horse.
'"Sticking up her Majesty's mail," says one. "Ten years' hard," says the other.
'"See if he's got any weppuns," I said. Lucky for him he had nothing but the usual bottle, or by gum I'd have sworn he tried to stick up the coach, and got him shopped.
'"What shall we do with him?" they asked.
'"Well," I said, "if my duty allowed me, I'd get down and put a head on him, but anyhow, we'll make him walk, for it. Jump up, boys." I gave the horse he had been riding a cut with the whip that sent it off hot foot the way it had come, and left him there cursing and swearing like a fiend.'
'Did she marry him?'
'Yes; they bullied her into it, poor little girl, but thank the Lord that ducking give him a cold that settled on his lungs, and he's soon bound for Kingdom Come.'
Jim struck a match and lit his pipe.
'Perhaps I may marry a widow after all,' he said, reflectively.
Project Gutenberg Australia