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The Stories Of Ernest Favenc, Volume VI:
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The Stories Of Ernest Favenc,
Volume VII

by

Ernest Favenc

Cover Image

COLLECTED AND EDITED BY TERRY WALKER

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2023


Cover Image

Ernest Favenc (1845-1908)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

Tales of the Austral Tropics, 1894

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899


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

—Terry Walker, January 2023



TABLE OF CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

IN this, the seventh and probably last, compilation of prolific author Ernest Favenc's hitherto uncollected short stories, I have included a number of stories that were, in fact, previously collected in the now extremely rare book My Only Murder and Other Tales (George Robertson and Co., Melbourne, 1899).

I had hoped to track down all the stories in that volume to recreate it digitally, but some of them are, so far at least, unobtainable. Those that I have recovered are scattered through this series, with several in this volume.

There are still other stories not yet collected due to shortcomings in the OCR texts of newspapers at TROVE, the digital archive of the Australian National Library, and the sometimes poor condition of the original 120-140-year-old newspapers themselves. There are, almost certainly, a number of other stories as yet unknown to me. Sometimes story headings in these old newspapers were in graphics, rather than typeset; the OCR software at TROVE cannot read them, so they don't find their way into the index.

T. Walker, February 2023


01. — A VERY DRUNKEN GHOST

Evening News, Sydney, 23 Jan 1897

I HAD not heard of or from my old friend Jim for more than a year when to my great surprise, I got a letter from him to say that he was married to the little girl he had met when he was coach-driving. Her husband had drunk himself into his grave, and Jim, following his fate, had espoused the widow. He wrote and asked me to visit him, if ever I was up in that district, and in course of time I did.

I found Jim much more comfortable than the generality of Australian small farmers. As a rule, they are a class whose principal virtue is a capacity for hard, continuous work, but in other respects they have not the faintest notions of decency with regard to everyday life. The better off they are the more they delight in living roughly and coarsely. A shilling spent on comforts is regarded as wicked waste by the generality of them.

Jim, however, had knocked about a good deal, and thought differently, and little Mrs. Parks agreed with him. He had a comfortable house, and he lived in it; didn't pig in the kitchen, as most of his neighbors did. Jim was unfeignedly glad to see me; said he hadn't enjoyed an edifying conversation for months, and implored me to stop a week, at least.

'I'm in trouble, old man,' he said, the second day of my visit.

'Why, you and the wife are as jolly as sandboys; you don't look it anyhow.'

'Ah, that's on the surface; I'm wasting away with worry.'

'Well, out with it, I know that it will do you good to tell it.'

'Yes, I want your advice. Fact is, I am haunted, and I don't know how to act; I, of all men in the world. Haunted by the ghost of that drunken galoot who first married my Tilly.'

'That's very awkward,' I remarked.

'It is so particularly when he is such a lowdown, sneaking kind of ghost. You know I told you, how I pitched him into a creek once? Well, he makes out that that was primarily the cause of his death, which it wasn't; he drank himself to death. However, he holds that I am his murderer, and that he has a right to haunt me, and intends doing so. Now it's worrying Tilly. She put up with enough from him during his life, without having to be tormented now he's dead. I'm going to stop it somehow.'

'How does he appear?' I asked.

'In all sorts of ways. Sometimes by knocking where you don't expect it; sometimes you'll feel something very cold and wet touch you—that's to remind me of the creek business; and sometimes he'll begin cursing and swearing like he used to when he was drunk.'

'Why don't you try your old game of ridiculing him, if he won't listen to reason. I suppose he's got a down on you for marrying his widow?'

'That's just it. Now while you're here I intend to proceed to extreme measures. You will give Tilly more confidence, for it's made her nervous. He hasn't shown up since you've been here. I suppose he's taking your measure before he plays up.'

Jim and I then constructed a plot which was to be carried out immediately the ghost put in an appearance.

We had not long to wait. That evening at tea there came a thundering rap in the middle of the table, that jarred everything standing on it. Mrs. Parks turned pale, and Jim looked at me significantly.

'I thought table-rapping had gone out,' I remarked. 'I understood that the respectable ghosts boycotted all the low brutes who went in for that sort of thing.'

'There are some ghosts too mean for anything,' returned Jim.

Here there were three or four angry raps on the table.

'Go it, old man,' said Jim, 'break the crockery, it's what you used to do when you were alive, and very drunk.'

'Don't irritate him, Jim,' said Mrs. Parks, as several sounding thumps came on the table.

'Is it a Chinaman's ghost?' I asked.

'Yes; it must be, for he's not game to show himself.'

'I am,' said a voice.

'No, don't on any account,' said Mrs. Parks.

'Jim,' I said, 'surely he will not have the bad taste to show himself when Mrs. Parks is present; let him fix a time with us to argue the question, end show him the error of his ways.'

'Yes, but he's such a sneaking brute, he won't.'

I gave a start and a jump at that moment, for something cold and wet touched my hand, but it was only the nose of Jim's dog who seemed interested in the conversation.

'Will you materialise, and meet me to-night? I think I can show you reason in the matter.'

'Very well, I'll see you at 12.'

Jim and I had agreed that he should not appear personally in the matter, for his temper was naturally ruffled at his wife's late husband insisting on making things so disagreeable.

Twelve o'clock found me awaiting the ghost armed with a bottle of whisky. He was a long shambling, unhealthy looking fellow, not at all up to the mark as a ghost, but perhaps his death and burial had not improved his appearance. I inquired if it would incommode him to take a seat. He replied 'no,' and sitting down, cast a greedy eye at the whisky.

'Perhaps in your materialised form you can partake of some refreshment?' I said.

'You bet,' he replied, and helped himself to about half a tumbler, which he tossed off without more than an apology for water.

'Now, what's your little game?' I asked.

'Simply to annoy Jim Parks. 'I'll make his life burden to him.'

'And you won't do yourself any good.'

'Won't I?' he said, reaching out for the whisky bottle again. 'I'll have the pleasure of tormenting him.'

'Well, you are a contemptible kind of ghost,' I said: 'I always thought ghosts were of a better disposition.'

'Disposition! I'll disposition Mr. Jim Parks; he'll chuck me into a waterhole, will he? And marry my wife? Here, what yer hugging that whisky bottle for? Pass it over here.'

It was evidently taking effect upon him, and in a short time he began to talk incoherently, addressing some invisible person in the room, who was seemingly striving to get him to come away. After a few more nips he became unconscious, and went to sleep, breathing stertorously.

Jim came in, and we both regarded the sottish ghost.

'He'll be precious bad when he wakes; let's brand him.' He took the cork of the whisky bottle, burnt it in the candle, and blackened the ghost's face with it.

'I reckon I'll get rid of him for the price of a case of whisky,' he said.

It was a shattered ghost that appeared the next Bight. 'Give me a drink,' he prayed.

'I don't see why I should,' I replied. 'Jim's scarcely likely to keep you in free drinks when you're doing all you can to make his life miserable. However, here's a glass of water for you.'

'Water!' he exclaimed, with scorn; I want whisky. I nearly overslept myself; only just woke up in time to dematerialise before daylight, and haven't been getting slops ever since. They say I have utterly disgraced the profession coming back with my face blackened. That was a shabby trick to play on a poor ghost—an orphan, in a strange land.'

'Good enough for you. 'What do you mean by coming here at all?'

'Don't talk; give me a nip. A recovery is bad enough when you are alive, but it's ten times worse when you are dead.'

'If I give you a good stiff nip will you consent to discuss this question, from both points of view.'

'O glory! yes.' I gave him a stiffener, and sighed deeply, and remained quiet until it worked a little. 'What do you want me to do?'

'Stop coming here.'

'I won't.' As he said it he gave a howl, and jumped in his chair.

'What did you do that for?' he cried.

'What's the matter,' I asked, 'somebody from your side of the world trying to teach you good manners?'

He grabbed the whisky bottle, and tossed off half a tumbler.

'There,' he said, defiantly, addressing the unseen person. 'I defy you. Just you hit me again.'

The next instant he received a blow in the face that knocked him back into his chair, where he sat gaping with his mouth open.

'I say, that's not fair,' he gasped. 'Well, come down to conditions,' I said, 'your friend evidently does not approve of your conduct.'

'What'll you do?' he muttered.

'You can have a right royal spree to last all the rest of the time you are in eternity if you promise to leave off this foolery.'

He spoke in some unknown tongue, and apparently got an answer, for he said, 'I've got to or else I'll be degraded to the seventeenth circle, whence I can't come back to earth.'

'Jolly good job,' I said, 'but how do I know that you will keep your word?'

'I will answer for him,' said a clear voice, full of authority and dignity. I had now got so accustomed to mixing with spirits that I did not even start at hearing this. I bowed towards the direction the voice came from, and expressed my sense of the honor done by his using the influence.

'He will have a week's leave, and I trust to your honor not to let him expose himself to strangers, nor play practical jokes on him when he is unconscious.

You hear,' he went on in a voice of great severity, 'mind you obey, or the seventeenth circle for 600 years.'

The voice ceased, and the wretched spectre remarked, 'He's gone,' and stretched out his hand to the bottle.

I told Jim of my success, and the next morning Mrs. Parks went off on a visit to a friend. What a time that ghost gave us; he used to stop all day, for he was so drunk that he could not dematerialise himself, and used to make frantic efforts, and fail. He'd vanish as far as his waist, and then his power would fail, and we'd look in to see the upper half of a man's body, holding on to his glass, and singing, or trying to sing uproarious songs. He got Jim an awful, bad name, for, as his presence was kept secret, people put down all the racket either to Jim or me.

Never was there such a drunken ghost since the beginning of time. He used to knock himself about fearfully, and was bruised all over. At last, delirium tremens got hold of him, and he used to talk about things that it was not nice to hear. He was so bad that his shaking hand could not hold the glass to his lips, and we were able to control his potations, so that by the end of the week he was shaky and comparatively sober. We were afraid that he would not be able to disappear, but the unseen presence came, and gave him a hand, I think, and he faded gradually upwards, his eyes disappearing last, and they were fixed on one nip left in the bottle. I think he regretted losing that nip more than anything. Jim harnessed up, and went over to fetch his wife back, and I left Jim in a few days, relieved and happy.


SOME time after that I saw an account of mysterious proceedings in Sydney. A tall, shambling man had made himself notorious by appearing in hotel bars, demanding a drink, and immediately he had swallowed it, disappearing, naturally without paying. His movements created the utmost alarm, but all efforts to secure him failed. At last he must have made too many calls, for he fell asleep in one place, and was secured by two trembling policemen, who, however, managed to convey him to the lockup. Needless to say, when they went for him he was gone.

He has not appeared since, so I suppose he has been banished to the seventeenth circle.


02. — THE OLDEST INHABITANT

Evening News, Sydney, 9 Jan 1897

I

LARRIMOOR was an important township in New South Wales. That is to say, important in the eyes of the inhabitants, who considered they were justified in regarding it so. It was a very conservative township. Most of the residents in and around it were of long standing, and had risen with the town.

It also possessed an oldest inhabitant, but the people were only partially proud of him. He knew too much. If he had confined his recollections to floods and droughts, etc, it would have been right enough; but he mixed social matters up with other matters in a way that was quite unnecessary. When a man distinctly remembers the arrival of wealthy townspeople with the proverbial half-crown, or nothing, it is inconvenient.

Watkins, for that was his name, was a standing trap for the verdant young reporter. When anything happened out of the usual, and the verdant ones came up to give it world-wide publicity, they invariably struck Watkins, and they all of them thought that they had discovered Watkins, when, in fact he had figured over and over again, as the oldest inhabitant, whose memory was something marvellous.

Watkins was a stubborn democrat, to neither man, woman, nor child would he give the slightest title; he called the local C.M.G. 'Moe,' and so with everybody else. He was feared, was the oldest inhabitant, and he knew it. You might set them up again till further orders; but that would not prevent him from reminding you of the time when you were slushy to the shearers' cook at Mindambin.

Mindambin had been the swell station of the place; far and wide at one time spread its ample acres, but time bad changed all this. Small grazing farms extended throughout its leaseholds, and the bank was about to take possession of the last little spot held by young Dalton, the sole survivor of those who had been on Mindambin for three generations. His grandfather had made the station, his father had lost it, and died, leaving him a hopeless legacy.

One of the wealthiest men about there was one Edkins. He had been a fencer, and got many good contracts on Mindambin. His knowledge of the country stood him in good stead, and he soon had the choicest spots selected. Dalton awoke to the fact, too late, that his best country was being eaten away from him. He borrowed money to select in his turn, and then the ruin commenced. Young Dalton returned to the station to find everything going to the devil, and his father drinking heavily.

Edkins, the ex-fencer, throve mightily. Watkins and he had been former workmen, and the oldest inhabitant hated him cordially. Yet, strange to say, Bell Edkins, the youngest daughter of the family—a pretty girl of 18—was one of the only two beings that the old man entertained any feelings of kindness for. The other was young Frank Dalton. To both he retained his surly, defiant manner; but he would have done anything in his power to serve them. The self-made Edkins and himself never met without snarling. It galled the former bitterly to be addressed as Jim, with an insolent familiarity that sharpened the sting; but he could not help or avoid it. Nothing short of death would have stopped old Watkins; and he seemed tougher the older he grew.

The old man had massed his chance of making much money, but he possessed some allotments which rendered him independent. Poor Frank Dalton had fallen deeply in love with Bell Edkins, and as he was likely to be a pauper in a few weeks, there was not much chance of his suit being successful. It was right enough as far as Bell herself was concerned; but Edkins would not think of such a thing. Although nothing open could be brought against him, he knew in his heart that he had deeply injured his old master, and hated his son accordingly.


WATKINS stood in the main street, looking out for some amusement. Mary Edkins, the eldest daughter, came riding down with a man in attendance. She was a most distinguished young lady, and had spent two seasons in Sydney, where, according to her own account, she had made many conquests. She was bound for the store, near where Watkins was standing, and had to pass him.

'Good morning, Mary,' said the old man, affably.

'Be kind enough to address your betters properly.'

'Oh! This comes of going down to Sydney and mixing with dooks. I suppose you didn't tell them that you used to go barefooted the first ten years of your life?'

Mary muttered something about telling her man to horsewhip him, and escaped into the store, accompanied by the old man's mocking laughter. Bell then put in an appearance, having been delayed behind her sister. Her too the old man greeted by her Christian name, but there was a note of affection in it.

'He's going to Coolgardie,' he said, approaching. 'He'll have just enough to pay his passage, and something in hand when he gets there.'

Bell nodded and blushed. She did not need to be told who 'he' was.

'Keep your heart up, little one. I'll manage that you see him before he goes.'

Bell followed her sister into the store, and the oldest inhabitant chuckled. Soon afterwards he saw Frank Dalton, and had a long conversation with him.

'It's the best thing you can do,' he said. 'New South Wales is played out for a poor man, and you'll have to keep your eyes open for a man named Davis who was land clerk here. I'm not in a position to say for certain, but I'm pretty sure that there was some hanky-panky work about those three valley selections. Davis was Edkin's tool in the matter, and I believe he played up with the books and then got money to resign. I heard that he was seen over in West Australia, but as likely as not he has taken another name. It's only a fluke whether you meet him, but remember, he's a man about your height and build, dark, with a white scar on his left temple, and a bracelet tattooed round his left wrist. Rogues are sure to fall out, and I expect he'll give you all the information you want, as he's safe enough over there.'

That the lovers met and vowed eternal fidelity need not be told, and Frank departed in search of a doubtful fortune, and Bell remained to wait.

II

FORTUNE did not come near Frank. All sorts of other things did. Fever and hardship and bad luck. Now haunting the very outskirts of the field; now in the centres, he made enough to keep himself from starvation, and through it all he kept his eyes open for ex-land clerk Davis, but he never saw him. Making a small rise, he went up to the northern fields, but only to be dogged by the same misfortune.

Meanwhile things had not gone very happily with Edkins. One daughter had married against his will, Mary had developed into a shrewish old maid, and the two sons were repeatedly bolting off the course. Financially, he was as prosperous as ever, but Bell, who had changed to a very staid and sober maiden, was his only help and consolation. Naturally, the oldest inhabitant had acted as post office, and the lovers had the melancholy satisfaction of exchanging bad news.

At last, after two years, the time came when Frank had to go east or die; repeated attacks of fever had brought him very low. Fortunately, he had made enough money to pay his passage, and he landed in Sydney a broken man, without hope of any sort. He went to a mean and shabby lodging, and wrote to old Watkins, telling of the hopeless state of the case, and bidding Bell farewell.

By return came a letter containing a cheery message from Bell, and an enclosure of £60 from the old man, who urged him to accept it, as he had no use far his savings, and no relations. This somewhat cheered Frank up, and he started on a search for work. He was lying reading one night, when he heard restless groans from the next room.

He got up and went to the door of the room, and receiving no answer entered. A man lay on the bed, evidently suffering from a course of heavy solitary drinking. The eyes were bloodshot, he shook the bed with his trembling, and he seemed unconscious of the stranger's presence. Frank spoke to him, but got no answer; so putting a wet towel round the sufferer's head, he went to the nearest chemist for a strong sleeping draught. Returning, he induced the man, after some trouble, to take it, and watched by him till it took effect.

As he looked at the unconscious man, a strange thought came over him. Was not this the very man whom he had looked for in the outskirts of the desert, in the most remote and outlandish places; here he was, next door to him in a cheap boarding-house. There was the scar on the temple and the tattooed bracelet round the wrist.

He told the people of the house that he was an old friend, and they, nothing loath, let him nurse the drunkard back to life and reason.

'What is your name?' said the sick man to-him, after he had been gazing curiously at him for some time.'

'Dalton.'

'Your father lost everything, then?'

'He did.'

'And I was the cause, or at least was bribed by that fellow Edkins to alter the dates in the book. He paid the first amount he promised me, but I have not been able to get anything from him since. He had me under the whip.'

'I have been looking for you all over West Australia. If you will make a declaration of what you have told me; I think I can assure your safety and bring Mr. Edkins to his knees.'

'Who told you there was anything fishy?'

'Old Watkins

'Ha! he's a sly old dog. Well, it can't do me much harm, for I'm nearly played out, and it will be revenge on Edkins.'


WATKINS undertook the task of settling with Edkins.

'You see here, Jim,' he said, while the man writhed, 'honesty is always the best policy in the long run. Now, we'll deal fairly with you. Bell's a charming little girl, and Frank's one of the right sort. Give the young people a start, and we'll cry quits. There'll be a lot of dirty water stirred up if you don't. Lord, what evidence could not I give.'

Edkins took the advice, and the oldest inhabitant saw his long-cherished project fulfilled.


03. — THE SHILLING REEF

Tasmanian, 22 and 29 Sep 1894

I

THE English language does not contain sufficient objectionable adjectives to adequately describe old Monson. He was simply a human blister who made life unbearable, not only for himself but for all those who had the ill fortune to be forced to put up with him. He lived seemingly for one object, to find fault with anything and everything, with anybody and everybody.

The family of this amiable old gentleman consisted of his wife, who took her daily bullying as an unfortunate dispensation of Providence which was not to be evaded, and without which, indeed, she would have felt uncomfortable; a daughter, who, fortunately for herself, was a chip of the old block and held her own valiantly, having, moreover, the advantage over her father of a woman's greater fluency of speech; there was also a son, adrift in the world somewhere, for, after putting up with his irascible parent for many stormy years, Tom Monson had shaken the dust of his childhood's home from off his feet, and that home knew him no more. He had faded away into that vague region known as 'up country,' but whenever a bank was stuck up, or a particularly notorious swindle perpetrated, old Monson always informed his wife that the culprit was their son Tom under a false name. This was a very ingenious mode of torture, for if there was anything in the world the poor woman had left to cling to, it was Tom, or his memory.

Cornelia Monson was by no means a bad-looking girl, although, as before stated, she inherited her father's temper in addition to the share Nature had bestowed on her by right of sex; consequently she did not want for admirers. Tom having been cast into outer darkness, it seemed fairly patent that Cornelia would eventually come in for the old man's money, which was reported to be considerable. So many bold men ignored the obvious fact that the young lady had the makings of a very pretty spitfire in her, and laid siege to the affections of Miss Monson. As the damsel was not in possession of what is popularly supposed to be a heart, it came about that the favoured suitor was an elderly widower of means, a man after her father's own views, a recommendation sufficient to condemn anybody. Her mother's opinion was not asked in the matter.

Everybody who knew Monson predicted that he would depart this life in a fit induced by an outbreak of temper, and for once what everybody said nearly came true. Cornelia had been married nearly six months, when a stranger called one morning at Monson's office and intimated a wish to see that gentleman. He was a sunburnt, keen-eyed man of sinewy' build, who gave his name as Hazel.

'I have the pleasure of knowing your son Tom,' he said, when seated opposite Monson.

'Then, sir, I cannot compliment you on the choice of your acquaintances, retorted the old man, fiercely. 'If he owes you any money you won't get it out of me, I can assure you.'

His visitor was quite unmoved.

'Tom does not owe me any money; on the contrary, I owe him my life, which he once saved at considerable risk to himself. I was led to understand that your opinion of him was a most unjust one, and that you were quite undeserving of such a son; but for all that I have come here to say what I intend to say.'

'Did that disgraceful scamp dare to insinuate that I did not deserve to have a son like him?' bellowed Monson.

'I say so,' returned Hazel, 'but keep quiet; an old man like you should know how to behave himself.'

Monson choked with ire, and stared at the cool intruder with eyes nearly starting from their sockets. The other leaned forward in his chair and shook an audacious forefinger at him.

'Tom is as fine a young fellow as there is in Australia, and I am here to-day without his knowledge, for he is far too proud to approach you himself.'

'Finish what you have to say, quick!' gasped Monson.

'Tom would be on my place now; but I have suffered the fate of many more, and my station has been foreclosed on.'

'I am delighted to hear it,' interrupted his listener.

Hazel went on unheeding. 'We are now off together to try our luck at the new gold-fields in Western Australia, and, as you may suppose, cash is not too plentiful. Considering that your son has never received anything from you but unmerited abuse, I think it is only just that you should open your heart, or your cheque book, which I presume to be the same thing, to the amount of a hundred or two, to give him a start. I undertake to say that if things turn up trumps, he will pay you with interest.'

'You undertake to say! A bankrupt squatter! Now, listen to me; if you have quite finished.'

Hazel intimated, with perfect calmness, that he had.

'Then all I have to answer to your insolent request is, that if Tom were waiting for the rope at the foot of the gallows, and a hundred or two would save him, I would not find it. He was a disobedient, rebellious fool from his boyhood. This is what I will do,' he went on, with somewhat unnatural calmness. He paused, took a shilling from his pocket and laid it on the table, Hazel looking on with a scornful smile. 'Give him this, all he shall ever have from me, unless'—and once more he paused and laughed, harshly and discordantly—'unless be can turn this shilling into a couple of thousand pounds with in twelve months. I will put a clause in my will that, if by the aid of this shilling he can make two thousand pounds within the next twelve months, I will leave him all I die possessed of.'

Hazel picked up the coin.

'I had not intended to tell Tom of my visit, nor what a low brute you have become. Now I will, and give him this'—and he put the shilling in his pocket. 'I have not yet told you that your son is married and has a child—your grandchild. It was to get some ready money to leave with his wife that I made this application.'

He stopped and looked hard at the other; but in the sullen, scowling face of the old man there was no sign of relenting.

'I dare say, went on Hazel, 'that I can fix things up financially without your assistance, although I am only a bankrupt squatter. It is lucky that I am not your son instead of easy-going Tom; for I would take you by the scruff of the neck and shake you until the money jumped out of your breeches' pocket.'

Speechless with fury, Monson lifted his fist, and brought it down with a crash on the little hand-gong.

'Turn this man out!' he roared to the clerk, who came hastily in. The clerk smiled sadly, and, glancing at the stranger, rubbed his hands apologetically, as if he did not quite understand the order in a literal sense.

Hazel laughed. 'Good morning, 'Mr Monson. You'll go off in a fit one of these days if you don't keep your temper under,' he said, as he walked out of the room.

Then Monson let loose the vials of his wrath upon all and sundry of his dependents, and when he had cursed them to a standstill he went but and ate a hearty luncheon.

Next he visited his lawyers, and finally, when he went home in the evening, he had the fit that everybody had long predicted. All through a weary night he fought with death, at intervals vainly trying to say something, to utter words his disobedient tongue refused to form. As nobody could understand the strange language that came bubbling inarticulately from his lips, nor read the unmeaning strokes; and dashes his useless fingers tried to write, his message remained undelivered until the morning, when Death let him off for a time.

A very different Monson got up out of the bed where he had had such a tussle for his life. True, his fits of rage were worse than ever, but that was because he found his memory failing. Sometimes he could not remember from the morning to the afternoon, and at other times he was quite his old self again. Gradually his son-in-law, the man after his own heart, and not very far off his own age, slipped into his place in the office, and by the time the next fit came, and Death was the victor, had pretty well got the reins of power into Iris hands.

Mrs Monson had positively kept a secret from her husband during the last months of his existence, for she had actually seen Tom when he was in Sydney with Hazel, and not alone that, but had made the acquaintance of Tom's wife and taken a great liking to the girl, and never mentioned it to her husband. The secret was also at first jealously guarded from Cornelia, as well as the fact of Mrs Tom's residence in Sydney. For Cornelia was rapidly developing into one of the shrewest of shrews—a feminine reproduction of her father, as her husband, the more than middle-aged Mr Witton, knew, to his cost.

When Monson's will was brought to light the curious clause last inserted relative to Tom caused some discussion. The old man had made a fair provision for his widow, the bulk of his fortune going to Cornelia, provided that absurd last clause was not fulfilled. Witton treated the matter scornfully, as something that could be easily set aside on the plea of unsound mind, but his lawyers were not very hopeful. Nay, they were so unkind as to point out that if Tom heard of the will and his father's death he might find an unscrupulous speculator to advance the necessary two thousand pounds; and this, with a plausible story, might necessitate a compromise at any rate.

This made Witton and his Cornelia very uneasy, and they prayed earnestly that Tom might be located beyond the reach of any news of any sort. Judge, then, of Cornelia's dismay when she found out, by accident, that not only was there a Mrs Tom and son in Sydney, but that the traitress—her own mother—was on terms of close friendship with the enemy. Needless to say their efforts at secrecy had all been thrown away, as Mrs Monson, senior, had told Mrs Monson, junior, everything; and, of course Mrs Monson, junior, had written to her husband all about his father's, death and last will and testament.

Having been told to hold her tongue for thirty years of her life, Mrs Monson, senior, had, on becoming independent, developed hitherto, undreamed of resources of garrulous loquacity. Her loose tongue revealed the existence of Mrs Tom to her daughter, and Cornelia's keen cross-examination did the rest. The Wittons had a very uneasy time of it, and nobody ever more ardently desired Time to hurry up his hour-glass than did this worthy couple.

II

ONE glorious star blazed in the east, killing with its brilliancy the lesser lights around—the star of Lucifer, the beautiful, radiant forerunner of the morn. Underneath it the horizon was brightening with the first cold, grey light of dawn, soon to change to warmer tints of pink and glowing scarlet.

In the growing light the silhouette of a low range was visible, a square topped range cleft here and there with jagged rifts. This vanished as the sun rose, and when daylight grew strong nothing was to be seen but the hazy line that marked the limit of sight on what appeared to be a boundless plain. An unhealthy-looking plain. A plain which seemed to have been afflicted with the mange, for spinifex grew on it in patches only, leaving naked, pebbly spots uncovered with any growth. Two men who had been riding during the late watches of the night looked weariedly at the desolate outlook before them.

'How far do you reckon that range is we saw just now?' said Tom Monson.

'Between twenty and thirty miles,' returned Hazel.

'It's a bare chance that we may get a rock-hole there, but it's ten chances to one that our horses give in first.'

He looked anxiously around as he spoke. Suddenly his gaze became! fixed on one point, and with, an exclamation he drew his companion's attention to a column of smoke rising, apparently, only a few miles away.

'White smoke by Jove! That means, grass; spinifex always burns black,' said Hazel after regarding it for a few minutes.

'May be only niggers travelling,' suggested Tom.

'Possibly, but there may be a dip in the country which prevents us seeing the timber, if there is any.'

He was right. A short five miles took them over an imperceptible rise, and before them lay some scattered patches of mulga with the filmy white smoke rising from their midst. Here they found a low mound of granite and at its base the remains of what had once been a fine supply of water in a rock hole. So scanty was it now that it barely sufficed to relieve their thirsty horses and fill their water bags. Some blacks had camped there the night before and one of their fires had ignited the short dry mulga grass; fortunately for the two men, who would otherwise not have found the place.

The horses watered and turned out and their meal finished, the two friends discussed the situation.

'If we go on,' said Hazel, 'and get no water at the range we are done for, as there is no more here to help us back.'

'I've brought you awful bad luck, old man,' returned Tom. 'Here we are on our beam ends. We have not made five pounds since we came here, and now this prospecting trip appears likely to put the finish on everything.'

'Don't whip the cat. I don't like turning back, but it is a great fluke to go on.'

'I wonder whether that range we saw is the one the fellows were talking about.'

'What about the fellow coming in with the specimens, and then going out again and never coming back?'

'Yes, he brought in some yarn of a range.'

'Well we must speedily settle the question of going or turning back. Which is it to be?'

'We're dead, broke, so it does not seem much use going back; but, then, our luck is so bad, that we shall probably come to grief if we go on.'

'Let's toss up for it.'

The two looked at each other and burst out laughing.

'We haven't got a coin between us,' said Hazel, as though it were a brilliant joke.

'Stay,' said Tom, gravely, 'I have a coin.'

'What! The shilling!'

'Yes; I have stuck to it.'

'We shan't get much luck out of that; but never mind, up with it. Heads, go on; tails, turn back.'

Tom spun the coin, and it fell jingling on the flat rock.

'Heads it is,' he cried stooping down.

It was a characteristic of the men that as soon as the oracle of chance had decided their movement not another word was said about going back. The horses were soon packed and saddled, the last drop of water scraped out of the hole, and a start made about noon. That night they camped in a scanty patch of scrub, with short commons of water and little feed for their horses; Next morning the low range rose black and forbidding in front of them. Tom seemed depressed by the desolation around, but Hazel was in high spirits.

'I dreamt of your governor last night, Tom. He looked as black as thunder, so I think there's some luck for us ahead,' he said.

By midday they were, at the foot of the range, which was of inconsiderable height, with low scrub growing over most part of it.

'Right or left?' asked Tom, as they sat on their tired-out horses and gazed at the gloomy, lifeless wilderness before them.

'Toss again,' returned Hazel with a reckless laugh.

Tom took out the fateful shilling and clapped it on his thigh.

'Heads, right; tails, left!' cried Hazel.

'Head again,' said Monson, uncovering the coin.

Hazel turned to the right and rode slowly on; skirting the scrub. Tom drove the pack horses after him. On one side a barren desert on the other a stony thicket. So they kept on until the sun sank low, and it was evident that unless they soon came to water their horses would give in.


THE sun was about an hour high when Hazel pulled up and waited for his companion.

'I am going to see if I can get up the range to look around,' he said; 'but I am afraid the scrub is too thick to see anything.'

He dismounted and went into the scrub. Tom sat down and lit his pipe. He had become pretty well acquainted with adversity, but this seemed about, the tightest fix he had yet been in; and the worst of it was that Hazel was in it too. The man who had, stood by him always.

Suddenly a melancholy, wailing note sounded above his head, and there was the beat of broad wings—wild geese and flying low.

He sprang up, and was just in time to seethe last two or three birds disappear over the scrub. He shouted and called loudly. In about ten minutes Hazel returned.

'Can't get a sight at all,' he said. 'What were you singing out for?'

'A flock of wild geese went overhead; they were flying quite low, in the direction we are going, only a little to the left. I don't believe they were going half-a-mile away; let's go on while it's light.'

'There must be a salt lake about,' returned Hazel, as he mounted and rode on.

Suddenly the scrub rounded away to the left following the range, which, also turned abruptly. Hazel was right, and so were the geese. Before them lay the salt lake, a broad belt of mud with a centre of clear water, which was covered with wild fowl. On one side some desert gums showed where a small creek found its way from the low range to the salt pan, for the lake was little more. In this watercourse they were lucky enough to find a small soakage spring of fresh water, quite sufficient for their wants.

Both men slept the sound sleep of fatigue and relief that night. In the morning Tom, when he returned with the horses, remarked that they were not the first party that had passed the salt pan, as there were old horse tracks about. The range being no distance away, they started for it on foot, so as to make a close examination of it and see if the country was worth 'trying.'

About half a mile from their camp they came to a larger water hole than the one they had struck the night before. Here was also an old, torn tent, still standing, though sadly rent and damaged by the wind. By the look of the tracks, no one had been there for some weeks. The hobbles for two horses were lying on the ground, but neither saddle nor pack horse could be seen. In the tent were a pair of blankets and a good supply of rations; but the surrounding desert held the secret of the mystery of the disappearance. Some unhappy wretch it must have been who, after a long search for fortune, had fallen with the prize within his grasp, for in the tent were several rich specimens of stone.

'Tom,' said Hazel, 'we have got to stop here until we find where these came from. I think it's a good way off, by the look of the country, but it is evident that this is the nearest water.'

'How about the owner of them?'

'It's too late, I'm afraid, to look for him: it must be weeks since he left this camp.'


THREE weeks after that Hazel and Tom were gazing admiringly at some specimens from what promised to turn out one of the richest reefs in the district. In another three weeks the place was alive with men and eager agents of Eastern syndicates were offering large sums for a share in the famous 'Shilling Reef' as it had been named, in honour of the coin with which Monson had cut off his only son.

'Tom,' remarked Hazel, about this time, 'if that stern parent of yours, whom we can afford to laugh at now, really inserted that clause he spoke of, I should imagine that your claim to his property at his death is indisputable.'

Tom, who was slow, looked in enquiry.

'Why, was it not by the aid of that shilling we got here, and dropped on, this reef; and isn't it worth, a good deal more than two thousand; and the twelve months is not nearly up yet?'

Two days afterwards one of the intermittent mails common to new goldfields arrived, and had received letters which put him in possession of the information that his father was dead, and had inserted the clause in his will.

III

IT is one of those perverse things so characteristic of this uncertain life that after devoting many busy days and sleepless nights to the accomplishment of one object, another man, by a mere fluke, steps in and snatches the coveted prize from within an inch of our grasp. Certainly, that was the feeling of Mr and Mrs Witton when the fame of the 'Shilling Reef'—considerably exaggerated, of course—was duly wired over to the eastern colonies, together with the names of the discoverers.

Neither of them doubted for an instant that Tom would avail himself of the windfall to claim his inheritance. Already a garbled and distorted story of the romantic finding of the reef and the mysterious fate of the first prospector had gone the rounds of the papers, and the public sympathy would probably be in favour of the disinherited son, should the case ever come into the courts. Even if the most favourable view were taken it would mean an interminable lawsuit, which would swallow up the best part of the estate. Under the circumstances, it was evident that a friendly compromise would be the best thing.

Here, however, they had to reckon with Mrs Tom, whom Cornelia, unfortunately, had treated with contempt and neglect. Naturally she resented the sudden attempt at friendship inaugurated on receipt of the astonishing news from the west, and was evidently determined to use her influence to make Tom insist on his rights. Matters were in this state of doubt when Hazel persuaded Tom to take a trip home, leaving him to stay and watch over the development of their property; and Tom, nothing loth to return a rich man, in prospect, to the spot where he had most undeservedly been exiled, consented. His presence was expected with much anxiety by the people interested.

Three months still had to pass 'ere twelve months from the signing of the clause elapsed when Tom stepped ashore at Sydney, and was received with rejoicing by all his relatives and friends, who quite ignored the previous, cold shoulders they had offered him.

Everything went on smoothly and on greased ways, until a thunderbolt suddenly burst in the shape of a telegram that the original prospector of the 'Shilling Reef' had turned up and laid claim to the ground held by Hazel and Monson. His story was that, in making his way to the nearest camp to report the find, he had lost his way, killed his horses, and nearly died, himself. He had been rescued by some natives, and had lived with them until the rain fell, and he was enabled to get back on foot.

The yarn had a new chum flavour about it that rendered it somewhat unworthy of credence. Under the strong circumstances, the deputy-warden referred the matter to headquarters for consideration, and the result was that, as the twelve, months was drawing to a close, the title to the mine was in dispute. Although there was little doubt as to how the affair would end Tom would not be in a position to say. He was in undisputed possession of two thousand pounds unless the case were speedily decided.

Urged on by the infatuation of greed, the Wittons now scorned the idea of a compromise of any sort, and gave Tom to understand that he was nothing more or less than a daylight robber.

Witton was seated in his office, lording it after the style of the deceased Monson, when Tom was announced. As it was now only a matter of days to the end of the year, he naturally jumped at the idea that Tom had come to beg for a settlement of some sort. But he was rather undeceived when young Monson, whose somewhat sluggish nature could be roused on occasions, strode in with his hat on, and, throwing a telegram on the table, said fiercely—

'There, you infernal scoundrel—look at that!'

Witton took it up with shaking hand, for he guessed, that he had been bowled out, and for good.

'It strikes me that there's something like a good sentence of penal servitude hanging to that,' went on Tom, sternly, regarding his trembling enemy.


OUT at the 'Shilling Reef' Camp Hazel was fuming, and inactively waiting for the expected decision which, of course, could have been given at once, when he was accosted one day by a new-comer on the field, one of his old station hands, who had lately arrived from the East. Jim Blackwell and his mate had been just as unlucky as his former employer at the start, and was what is popularly known as 'dead broke.' He had been years with Hazel in the old days, and naturally the latter at once helped him and advanced him enough to keep him going until times changed.

A few days afterwards he came hastily into Hazel's tent, and, collapsing on to his stretcher, began to laugh as though he had come across the finest joke out. Hazel concluded that he had made a lucky find, and, accordingly asked the question, at the same time becoming conscious that there was an unusual stir and bustle in the camp.

'They going to hang that fellow who claims the reef,' he admitted at last, for he could hardly speak for laughing.

'Hang him—what for?'

'Dick and I spotted him for the first time, this morning. God bless you, he came over in the Australian same time as we did!'

The noise now increased, and Hazel thought it was about time to go out and take a hand.

'It's all right,' said Jim, as they went towards the crowd. 'They only intend to give him a jolly good fright.'

The man had been fool enough to talk big and flourish a revolver, so he had been a little roughly used and his nose was bleeding, which did not improve his personal appearance, although even an innocent man does not always look innocent under the pressure of circumstances. Hazel, whose genial way and open handedness had naturally made him popular in the camp, was hailed with congratulations on his arrival. The culprit, who was without tact, continued to bluster, and accused Hazel of setting the men on to him.

'Divil a tree is there tall enough about here,' said a big Irishman, who might have 'stood' for Terence Mulvaney.

'Let's put him against a tree and practice at him,' suggested another.

'No, I'm bint on the hanging,' returned the Irishman. 'There's a mulga there will about take his toes off the ground.'

Immediately the crowd started for the tree indicated; a sailor struck up a shanty, and the rolling air was taken up by them all as they marched along, the culprit in their midst.

By the time they had reached the tree, the poor devil's tune had quite changed. The Irishman had fixed up a noose on the end of a rope as they went on, and he threw one end over a branch and put the loop round the neck of the man, who was now begging and praying for mercy, and entreating Hazel to save him. Some of the fellows tailed on to the end of the rope, and the Irishman said, 'Wait till I give the word, boys.'

'Suppose we hear what he has to say first?' suggested Hazel, solemnly.

'That would be more satisfactory,' returned the other. 'Sure there may be some more scoundrels mixed up in it. Now make a full confession,' he said to the trembling wretch.

'I was put up to it in Sydney by a man named Witton. He paid my passage, gave me all the details, and found me in money. I was to get a couple of thousand if I could keep the case stringing on for a certain time, on one excuse or the other, I was hard up, and the times are very bad in Sydney, so I did what a good many others would do, in my shoes.'

This was the gist of what he said.

'Is this a true yarn, think you?' said the Irishman to Hazel.

'Yes, it fits in right enough. If they could have kept this trumpery case going for a certain time my mate Monson would have been cheated out of his father's money. This man Witton is his brother-in-law.'

'Then it strikes me as he is the man as should be hanged. What do you say, boys? If he takes an almighty oath to clear straight back to Sydney and bate the life out of old Witton, shall we give him a run for it?'

There was a general assent, and the Irishman was about to let him go, when Hazel asked if the man had enough money to take him back. He had.

'Then be off, and the sooner you're out of this colony the better, for you'll be known from Dundas Hill to Kimberley before very long.'

Amidst a prolonged howl and much noise, the culprit was allowed to pack up his traps and go; and, as there had been a few showers lately, the road was in good travelling order.

This was the substance of the telegram Tom received the morning he confronted his brother-in-law. Needless to say, Witton, after a very brief show of resistance, collapsed and allowed Tom to dictate his own terms, which were far too generous in the eyes of Mrs Monson, junior.

The 'Shilling Reef,' according to latest accounts, is keeping its record and going down in a most satisfactory manner.


George Pichrel was brought up at the Water Police Court, Sydney, for a violent assault on Mr E.L. Witton. The accused pleaded guilty to a common assault, and paid the fine, although the arresting constable stated that the assault was of the most savage character, and that it was with difficulty that he dragged the accused off his victim. The prosecutor, however, expressed himself satisfied.


The newspaper containing the above account was duly forwarded to Hazel, and read with great glee to a select circle in a far-off mining camp in Western Australia.


04. — BENSON'S BRIDE

Evening News, 6 Feb 1897

BENSON was the undisputed magnate of Berringawatta—he had risen to that dignity by industry, and an eye to Number One. He commenced with the township as a humble saddler, and had grown with it to greatness. Some of his old friends of early days pursued the undignified avocations about the town that men who have come to grief fall back on, but this did not trouble Benson. They should have kept their money when they made it; consequently Benson gave them the cold shoulder, and did not see his way to any small loans for the sake of old times.

In this Benson was wise. He was the owner of many corner allotments, and many men called him master. He was Mayor, and at the coming change in the Electoral Act he intended to put up as member for Berringawatta. But as Benson stood at the door of his own prosperous store looking on the usual objects to be seen in the main street he was a man, sad at heart. The fact was that Benson's social manners had not kept pace with his rise in the world, and he knew it. He had endeavored to rectify it by employing an ex-college man, given to rum and romance, as a tutor, but he had lately begun to entertain, wild suspicions that this man, inspired by the devil, was taking a rise out of him.

Benson began to think of getting married as a better investment, but there, too, he was puzzled. He had his pick of the district certainly, but he doubted if the local beauties knew much more than himself, and if he went abroad in the world he might be taken in. Still, as he was determined to rise out of the little local world he lived in, something had to be done. His cheeks burned when he recalled the fearful blunders he made, in his confusion, at the Premier's visit. How he three times addressed that plebeian-looking individual as 'Your Majesty.'

He sacked the ex-college man that day, for that dazed individual in a pot-valiant state of mind, had told him that it was fashionable in the best society for men to wear diamond earrings. Benson, although ignorant in some matters, was not by any means a fool, and the tutor straightway found himself homeless and liquorless.

'I've suspected you for some time,' said Benson, 'and the first time I catch you tripping I'll log you like a shot.' So the M.A. subsided into nothingness once more, rather the worse off by some debts he had contracted during his short spell of tutorship.

Benson then looked with a worried eye upon the world, as represented by the main street of Berringawatta.

At last a bright and happy thought occurred to him—he would consult Mrs. Gonsalvo. The lady in question resided in Berringawatta, her husband having left her a good deal of property there. She was too old for his motives to be misconstrued, and she had always been a good friend to him, he thought. She was supposed to be very well connected, and spent a portion of each year, regularly, in Sydney. She also had the reputation of being clever.

Benson consulted the old lady, who seemed highly complimented at his applying to her for advice, which, after some delay, she gave him in plain terms.

'I quite agree with you, Mr. Benson, that a smart, capable wife, a lady who knew her way about, would be the very thing, would be the making of you, but though there are hundreds knocking about, the difficulty is in finding one. You scarcely would get what you want by going about with a placard on your breast stating that you were a man of property, wanting a wife; you would be the mark for every adventuress, and they would assuredly take you in, my poor Benson.'

'I believe they would. A man is really no match for some women.'

'My friends are all old fogies like myself, so I cannot help you by any introductions, but I will do something for you. I am going to Sydney as usual next month, and I may hear of somebody who would make you a good wife; if so I will let you know.'

'Yes, Mr. Benson, I'll find you a wife,' said the old woman to herself as he left, 'one that will comb your hair for you; the impudence of your coming to me, as if I cared what sort of thing.'

In point of fact, the old woman was a malevolent old witch who had a special down upon Benson on account of some fancied lack of politeness. Benson had delivered himself into the hands of the enemy without doubt. In course of time the message came, and Benson departed to Sydney, prepared for conquest. He went to call on Mrs Gonsalvo the first thing, and found that lady all smiles.

'The very woman for you, Mr. Benson. She's a widow—' Benson made a wry face, '—and comes of a distinguished Irish family.'

Benson's face grew still more elongated. He didn't quite like widows, but he didn't say so.

'She is stopping at present at a very refined boarding house in M—street, and I should advise you to take a room there, and then you have a fair field and no favor.'

Benson proceeded to the refined boarding house, kept by the usual scraggy lady widow, and secured a room there. At dinner, which was refined down to starvation point, Benson met the widow, Mrs Fitzgerald, and was introduced to her after the fashion of refined boarding houses. She was middle-aged but comely, well-dressed, and excessively reserved in manner. Benson was rather taken.


HE was sauntering about town next morning when he was hailed by a voice he knew, and young Matson, the owner of one of the stations about his district, advanced to meet him, accompanied by a friend.

'Hallo, Benson! You down on a spree; how are you? This is my friend Mr. Willow; Jack, Mr. Benson's too haughty now to do such things; but at one time he could make as good a rough saddle as anybody.'

From anybody else Benson might have resented this, but Matson was a privileged man.

'Where are you staying?' asked the latter.

'At Mount de St. Clair, M—street,' said Benson, proudly.

'God help you,' was the answer. 'I know those places—a box of sardines, cheese, and flowers for lunch, two grass widows and a young man who vamps the piano. Come and have a drink.'

They went, and it struck Benson what a fool he was not to have consulted Matson instead of Mrs. Gonsalvo. Matson knew everybody, good family, careless devil but perfectly honest and straightforward. Was it too late? He might still take him into his confidence. He obtained Matson's address, and promised to call and see him.'

That evening he made great progress with the widow, on the strength of their mutual friend Mrs. Gonsalvo, and began to think very highly of her. In a day or two their relations had become intimate enough for him to propose a visit to the theatre in company with the mistress of the refined boarding-house, which was graciously accepted, and that afternoon, he met Matson.

He felt in a confidential humor, and, in want of guidance, and after swearing Matson to secrecy, he confided to him that he was in search of a wife, and how far he had proceeded.

'Mrs. Gonsalvo? I know the old cat of course, hates me like poison. What on earth made you go to her?'

'She has behaved most kindly, I assure you.'

'Has she? Well, it's the first time I ever knew her do such a thing. My dear Benson, you would be much better standing on your own merits, just as you are, and waiting for the right woman to turn up. I don't believe in widows who live in refined boarding-houses. Better ask me to dinner tonight.'

'Will you come? I will be delighted.'

'All right, I will come.'

Matson came duly, and it was a good-natured act to leave his own good dinner for the refined boarding-house one, but he was good natured. Mrs Fitzgerald was nervous that evening, and once or twice dropped into what sounded like a brogue, but it was not very pronounced.

'I've seen that woman before, somewhere,' said Matson, when up in Benson's room, superintending that man getting into his dress clothes, and cutting him down in the matter of studs and rings. 'But if you want my disinterested opinion, Benson, she drinks.'

'Drinks?' echoed Benson, aghast.

'Yes, she had a drop too much to-night. You lay low, old man, and she'll come out in her true colors.'

Matron departed; and Benson passed an unpleasant evening, although Mrs. Fitzgerald behaved with the most perfect propriety.


'LOOK here, Sarah,' said Mrs. Gonsalvo, in tears in Mrs Fitzgerald's room the next day, 'It's too bad after buying you dresses and paying your board here, that you couldn't keep straight long enough to catch that silly, vulgar fool.'

Mrs. Fitzgerald, lightly and airily attired, arose from her bed.

'It's ould Benson, is it? And what was the good of keeping up the play-acting after that divil Matson had seen me. Shure he knew me when I was barmaid at the Shearers' Arms, but he couldn't place me. No, old Gonsalvo, me husband was an M.A., or he used to say so, and do you think I'd disgrace his memory? There's four bottles of lovely whisky in that cupboard, and I'm going to have a right, royal spree on it, and wreck this old caboose afterwards. Whoop!' and she gave vent to a yell that made Mrs Gonsalvo shudder.

'Besides, I don't know whether me husband is dead or alive, and I'll be surely had for trigometry or something if I be doing your dirty work.'

Mrs. Gonsalvo departed in tears, and Mrs. Fitzgerald arrayed herself in purple and fine linen and sailed out with a very red face.

The first persons she met were Matson and Benson, and she boisterously saluted them.

'You remember me at the Shearers' Arms, don't you?' she said to the former; 'sure its many a time you were there. I married that worthless wretch M'Ginty, M.A. Is he alive or dead?'

'Good God!' said Benson, for M'Ginty, M.A. had been his late instructor in deportment. 'He's alive,' he gasped.

'Well, I'm sorry to hear it; for that old Gonsalvo cat put me on to marry you, and the old thafe would have had me run in for trigometry. I'll tear the fringe off her bald head, I will.'

Benson was too horrified at his narrow escape to say much. He intimated to Mrs. Fitzgerald that if she gave him an address he would send her a cheque out of gratitude, and then they went where, as Matson said, they could have their laugh out.

'Hanged if I could place her,' he said, 'but her guilty conscience gave her away, and the whisky did the rest.'

Mrs. M'Ginty had a great spree, and brought shame and everlasting disgrace on the refined boarding house, and Mrs. Gonsalvo dared not show up again at the township. As for Benson, well, he took Matson's advice, depended on himself, was a much better man for it, and the right woman came round in time.


05. — NATURAL HISTORY OF A THOUSAND YEARS AGO

As by "Dramingo"

Queenslander, 3 Feb 1872

BEING a paper read by Professor Allinamess on the 1st of January, A.D. 2872, at the opening of the new Social Science Theatre on Central Mount Stuart. Our report is abridged from one of the newspapers of the period:—

ON Thursday, January 1, the new Social Science Theatre, on Central Mount Stuart, was opened with due ceremony. The learned professor, S. M. Allinamess, read a paper on "The Natural History of a Thousand Years Ago." The arrangements were perfect in every respect. A brilliant and fashionable audience, estimated at ten thousand, attended. The improved "sound diffusing machine," placed directly over the professor, worked admirably; though speaking in ordinary conversational tones, the learned savant was distinctly heard by every one present. Our "automaton reporter," though placed in the most remote portion of the building, recorded every word as it was spoken as clearly and rapidly as it would have done had the figure been placed in close proximity to the speaker. Every vibration of the air caused by the voice of the lecturer must have therefore been as distinctly felt by the artificial tympanum of the machine as if the paper had been read close to its ear. The following is the substance of the learned professor's lecture:—


NATURAL HISTORY is a science that the vast strides made in the use of machinery has rendered almost a forgotten and neglected lore. Amongst the many forms of creation once swarming on the earth few have survived, and, with two exceptions, they only survive in a degenerate and useless form. The only animals known to us as living in our day are horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and pigs, and what we term domestic animals, the kangaroo and alligator, and it is upon those lost to us, who but live in tradition, that I would speak.

I will here mention one fact in connection with the horse not generally known. It was formerly used for purposes of locomotion. It was ridden in the same manner as we now ride the kangaroo on land or the alligator in water; and attached to wheeled vehicles it drew heavy loads from place to place. How our ancestors could have preferred a clumsy four legged beast like the horse to the agile kangaroo seems astonishing to us. But when we reflect how little was then known of the laws of propulsion, our wonder ceases.

Those, too, were the days of carriages with four wheels, chairs and tables with four legs; everything depending for support on artificial aid; nothing known of the true principle of gravity.

To my subject:

The wild animals and birds of Australia were, it is well known, the most ferocious and savage of any country. The kangaroo and alligator alone showed any signs of a friendly disposition towards man, and they, by the ignorant settlers, were hunted down as pests.

The Jumbuck.—This, though an animal of most savage disposition, was kept in a partly domestic state by our forefathers. They kept them in large herds guarded by armed men, bribed to this perilous duty by means of high rewards; or by prisoners sentenced to death and allowed the choice of this employment. Its flesh was greatly esteemed. The origin of the name seems to be that the jumbuck was an animal partial to frisking on rocks. In the neighborhood of the Gulf of Carpentaria, where large flocks were depastured, there are few or no rocks. The alligators, knowing the jumbuck's weakness, would approach the shore and elevate its back only out of the mud. The jumbuck would approach, and seeing what it supposed was a rock, would spring on it. Quick as thought the alligator would turn, and receive the quadruped in his jaws. The guards, always on the look out for these imitation rocks, seeing the jumbuck about to spring, would cry, "Jump back, jump back!" and so the jumbucks soon learned to know the warning cry, and thence were called "jump backs," transmitted to us as "jumbucks."

The Emu, or Aymu.—This ferocious bird was of the same species as the "mower bird" of New Zealand, so called from its scythe; shaped beak, with which it could mow down several men at a time. The emu differed from the mower in having a short sharp beak and capacious throat. Even better than human flesh it liked eat, and from the mode in which it secured them derived its name. Knowing the fondness cats have for making love during the midnight hours, the emu approached the dwelling of the settler after dark, and would utter a mew of seductive sweetness. The cats, poor victims to misplaced confidence, would leave the shelter of the roof to join their lovers, as they thought, and be forthwith devoured by their relentless enemy. They were thus called "mews," and, to distinguish the sexes, "he-mews" and "she-mews." As they died out, the male's appellation got applied to both, and thus we have emu.

The Possum.—This was not an indigenous animal, as has long been supposed. It was imported from Ireland by some of the first immigrants, its original name being the O'Possum. It ran wild in course of time, and grew to a great size; in fact, so dire were the onslaughts it made on the more thinly settled districts that the inhabitants had to provide themselves with a kind of defensive armour, known as 'possum rugs' or 'possum cloaks'. They were at last got under by Act of Parliament.'

The Native Companion.—This is a mythical animal; it is now clearly proved never to have had any existence. The tradition originated thus: the black aboriginals had a superstition extant amongst them that on their decease they would arise again with white skins. On the advent of the whites amongst them, the blacks landed they could detect a resemblance to defunct relatives in various individuals, and to them would they attach themselves, and with the devotedness and truth which had rendered the name of the Australian black famous to this day, be their friend and servant throughout life. These were called by the whites their native companions.

The Laughing Jackass.—An animal which combined deep animosity against mankind with the most fiendish form of treachery. The traveller on the lonely roads of the interior would see the smoke of a fire rising out of some shady bushes. He would draw near and be rejoiced to hear the sound of merry laughter proceeding from the thicket, telling of the welcome companionship of his fellow men. Unsuspecting would he plunge into the scrub, only to form food for this monster. The peculiar formation of its legs prevented it proceeding fast along the ground; its only chance, therefore, was to lure its prey into some thickly-timbered spot. Professor Makeitworse holds the opinion that its real name was "the laughing jaguar," and as we find the jaguar mentioned elsewhere as a much-dreaded beast of prey, I consider this to have great weight.

The Morepork—A species of bird identical, it is supposed, with one mentioned in very ancient writings—the "harpey." Like the emu this bird had a favorite description of food—namely, pigs. But instead of using any art to entrap its victims, relying on its enormous size and strength, it used to enter the huts of the inhabitants and utter its awe-inspiring cry, consisting of the two words: "More pork!" A pig would be immediately sacrificed, in order to bribe it to depart. Instances even have been known in which inhuman parents have, in the absence of pork, presented the monster with a young child, in order to secure its departure.

The other domestic animals of the ancients, now extinct, were the lion and tiger, both harmless and inoffensive quadrupeds, noted for their love towards men. The lion was so domesticated that it was commonly used as a pillow, from whence it was called "lie on." The tiger also performed the part of a faithful servant. Its name is supposed to be a corruption of "tried guard," so called on account of the devoted attachment and gentleness of its character.


THE professor concluded his lecture amidst expressions of universal satisfaction, and, the revolving walls being put in motion, the immense audience departed without experiencing the slightest squeezing or annoyance. The central position of the theatre favored the presence of visitors from all parts of Australia. Several excursionists from the Great Barrier Reef were also present.

To-morrow, Professor Wrongend will lecture on "The Discovery of Australia," with some account of "Jackson the cook, the first discoverer," whose tragical end on board the Bounty, at the hands of the mutineer Adam Bligh, formed the subject of the most attractive picture exhibited in the Royal Brisbane Academy last year.

Editor's footnote: "Jumbuck" is obsolete Australian slang for a sheep; the common "possum" is a cat-sized tree-dwelling marsupial, a "native companion" is a brolga, a tall wetland wading bird of the tropics; a "laughing jackass" is a kookaburra; and a "morepork" is an owl.


06. — THE ASKINVILLE FEUD

Evening News, Sydney, 19 Aug 1899

I

THERE was great excitement in Askinville, a small but growing township in South Antarctica, when it was known that the Mayor and Council had actually invited the Governor-General of Antarctica to visit the town; and, moreover, that the Minister for the Department of Ice Creams and the Minister for Scrub and Sand, would accompany him, these two being the principal members of the Cabinet.

Askinville had several small grievances and more serious wants, but unfortunately there was a division of opinion on the importance of these wants. One party wanted a gaol, the other parry wanted a hospital. The first party urged that when the gaol was not required, and that would be but seldom, for crime was infrequent in South Antarctica, and offenders were generally let off with a caution, it could be used as a hospital. On the other hand, the hospital party said the same thing about the hospital. The convenience, or inconvenience, of the prisoners on one hand, and the patients on the other, did not enter into the question.

The Mayor remarked with great wisdom: 'Gentlemen, we must get this matter amicably settled before our distinguished visitors arrive, or we certainly shall get neither.'

Both parties agreed most cordially with the Mayor, and further, both agreed that the other side should give way. This left things very much as they were before, and had it not been for woman's wit, the town would hare been divided into anti-gaol and anti-hospital factions when the important visit came off. In fact, Askinville would have been in as bad a state as Dreyfus-torn France if it had not been for the brains of one shrewd little girl.

She was the daughter of the Mayor, the acknowledged belle of Askinville, and just at a sensible age, when the frivolity of girlhood merges into, the sagacity of the woman. What that age is must remain a secret. Anyhow, she had a graceful figure, plump and rounded, features more piquante than classical, and a very pretty wit. She had more admirers than she wanted, but she, no more than anybody else, could decide which was the most favored knight. Possibly she might have had a lurking suspicion, but at any rate nobody, else had.

'Mr. Conlon,' she said to one, 'I wish you'd be very ill; so I'll that the doctor (the doctor was another admirer) 'would say that you must be taken to a hospital.'

'Very kind of you to talk like that, Miss Morley, but what particular disease would you like me to contract?'

'Oh, something terribly deadly and contagious.'

'Very well. As the plague has not yet reached Antarctica, and there's no smallpox scare on at present, I'll choose typhoid; will that suit you?'

'As good as anything; don't come near me after you have got it.'

'Doctor,' said Conlon half an hour or so afterwards,' Miss Morley has instructed me to contract typhoid as soon as possible, so just oblige me by injecting some bacillus into my system, and also finding out what her little game is.'

Dr. Whetsone reached out for the whisky and a couple of glasses, and said: 'This will do for the present. I suppose she has got some idea about settling this foolish dispute going on just now as to which is most required in this town—a gaol or a hospital. Of course, the hospital is the thing, but the hospital will be a case of pound for pound—whereas, the gaol will have to be built by Government.'

'Never mind,' said Dick Conlon; 'it is evident that it is the hospital she wants, and the hospital she shall get if I have to pay most of the pounds.'

'Very well,' said the doctor; 'I'll try to find out what she intends. Meantime, drink your whisky, and consider yourself infected with the typhoid microbe.'

The doctor meditated much over this interview. As formerly stated, the doctor was an admirer of Miss Morley, and knew that Conlon was a rival in the field, and Conlon was a comparatively wealthy squatter. It's as well to say 'comparatively,' as at that time the banks of Antarctica were wonderfully liberal in the matter of overdrafts, and no question of foreclosure was ever mooted amongst them. Consequently the matter of overdraft meant a question of riches, more or less. Conlon was a squatter with assets; Whetsone was only a struggling doctor. The inequality of the combat was apparent.

The doctor consulted the damsel, and, as he expected, learned from her the scheme she had hatched in her active brain.

'I want the hospital,' she said, 'and you are going to be the resident doctor of it. Will you help me?'

Dr. Whetsone's reply need not be recorded, for of course it was in agreement.

'Mr Jackwins,' said Miss Morley to another admirer, also a man of wealth and substance, 'I want you to become a criminal.'

'A criminal?' asked Jackwins. 'What especial kind of crime would you like me to commit. Murder at the least, I suppose?'

'Exactly. Would you mind murdering Mr. Conlon for me?'

'With pleasure. He is a dear friend of mine; but, nevertheless, he is also, I now remember, a dear friend of yours, I will kill him with pleasure.'

Jackwins went away, and the first man he consulted was Dr. Whetsone.

'Miss Morley wants me to kill Conlon,' said Jackwins. 'Have you any objection to doing it for me?'

'I've done it already,' replied the doctor. 'I have just infected his system with typhoid fever, at the request of Miss Morley.'

'Then the matter is settled,' said Jackwins. 'Come and have a drink.'

When the doctor and Miss Morley met there ensued a secret conference, which cannot well be here repeated.


THE then Governor-General of Antarctica was a man who was supremely bored by everything. He had been for a long time the Imperial inspector of the Lost Whales of Victoria Land, and the fatigue of sitting on the edge of an ice floe and waiting for a lost whale to come up and show his brand, and ask him to whom he belonged, had caused him to wear a perpetual yawn. But he was a very good fellow nevertheless.

The Minister for the Department of Ice Creams was a sarcastic with a bad digestion, and the Minister for Scrub and Sand was a sunburned fellow who did not know he had such a thing as a liver.

These were the men who had to determine the burning question then agitating Askinville, and until their visit was paid Miss Morley and the doctor carried their plot on so nicely, that the contending factions were united, and howled, so to speak, in one voice for a Hospital.

II

THE eventful day arrived; the Mayor was there ready, and so was Miss Morley and with course, a most beautiful bouquet which was to be presented to the Governor-General of Antarctica in the approved and conventional manner current then when governors arrive.

Neither Mr. Conlon nor Mr. Jackson were present, a fact which is easily enough accounted for when one was supposed to be down with raging typhoid and the other was supposed to be a criminal, who had taken his friend's life, by poison. Beyond these two, everybody in Askinville was there, and when the train arrived, the cheer which rent the air was enough to astonish all the town, if all the town had not been assembled at the railway station.

All the town, however, was there to join In the cheers, so that nobody was astonished, except the Governor-General, who, as he stepped out on the platform, said in a stage aside to the Minister for Scrub and Sand:

'Gracious! Am I supposed to shake hands with everybody?'

'No; only the pretty girls. Please yourself, your Excellency.'

The G.G. smothered a yawn; it was the first time that he had been G.G., and the first G.G. that Antarctica had yet had, so that he was rather uncertain about the correct mode of procedure. However, as the first person, after the Mayor and other functionaries, was Miss Morley and the bouquet, which the Minister for Scrub and Sand kindly took charge of, and as no man could feel anything but warm when she was smiling on him, the yawn vanished, and the G.G. forgot all about Victoria Land and the chilly whales.

It was, of course, not until the banquet was over, the usual toasts honored, and all things requisite to a Governor's reception finished, that the G.G. found himself in the Mayer's verandah taking a cup of tea from the fair hands of Miss Morley.

'You won't be frightened, Sir Agnew,' said she in the course of conversation, 'but we have a sad case of typhoid fever in town, and, as there is no hospital in Askinville, I have volunteered to go and nurse him, so perhaps I may not see you again during your visit.'

'No hospital in a large town like this!' said the G.G.

'So prosperous and progressive,' interrupted the Mayor, softly.

'Why that should be seen to at once. At any rate, Miss Morley, you must not dream of endangering your life by such a course.'

'This place, I understand,' broke in the Minister for Ice Creams, 'wants a gaol badly.'

'On the contrary,' said the Mayor, 'our criminal-record is very low indeed.'

'That's not what I've heard since coming here,' said the Minister,' who was in the most cantankerous humor. 'I will go farther, and mention that I have been informed that there is at present a desperate criminal loose who has lately attempted to commit an atrocious murder. A gaol should, I think, then be the first necessity of this thriving and rising township.'

'Good heavens! Mr. Sangston,' interjected Miss Morley, 'whatever can you mean by such an assertion. There has been no desperate criminal known in Askinville ever since its settlement. If there was, I should never sleep a wink at nights,' which was the proper and regular thing to say under the circumstances.

'Well, Miss Morley, I have heard, on good authority, that there is such an individual at large. I was told so by your doctor—your local doctor—who should know all about the place.'

Miss Morley said merely, 'Dr. Whetsone told you?' and said no more.

'I have not heard of any murder,' said the Mayor. 'In point of fact no distinguished citizen is missing. Do you know of any, Lily?'

Lily was Miss Morley.

'No, pa; only Mr. Jackwins. I have not seen him for some time. He might have committed a murder and ran away.'

'I don't think so,' said the Mayor. 'On consideration I do not believe Mr. Jackwins would even kill the harmless but necessary cat when it yowled underneath his window.'

'This matter is easily settled,' said 'Scrub and Land;' 'if the criminal is at large, he will not be found easily, and made to prove his existence; but as to the typhoid patient, he should be producible at any moment. Where's the doctor?'

'He's just coming up the street fortunately,' said Miss Morley.

The doctor duly arrived, and joined the party.

Said the Minister for Ice Creams, 'Dr. Whetsone, I mast ask you a very important question. There is, I believe, a disputed question in this town as to which is most necessary at the present juncture—a gaol or a hospital? The question, your Excellency,' is of some importance, as the finances of South Antarctica are much affected by the matter—I might say the finances of my especial department; for, if a hospital were established, our especial department would have to find all the ice creams required by the patients during this torrid weather.'

'I know a lot about ice,' said the G.G.; 'but I know nothing about cream. Still, I am all attention.'

'Very well, your Excellency. Speaking officially, I understand that the gaol is an imperative necessity; and, supposing that the criminal is not caught, it would serve to isolate the typhoid patient in, and, perhaps, when they caught the criminal, and incarcerated, him there, he might catch it, and save law expenses.'

'The idea is ingenious,' said the G.G.; 'but I must leave it to you, my constitutional advisers. Only, Miss Morley should on no account go into a gaol to nurse a patient, which was the charitable intention she expressed just now.'

'Looking at it from my point of view, Sir Agnew,' said 'Land and Scrub,' 'I think that the idea of a hospital is most to be entertained. If you, Sir Agnew, were taken ill just now, would you like to be taken off to a gaol?'

'Goodness forbid!' replied Sir Agnew. 'But you will forget that I have nothing to say in the matter,' Said Mr. Sangston tersely and with curtness, 'The supply vote for ice creams does not come out of 'the Department of Scrub and Land.'

'All this time Dr. Whetsone has not been consulted,' interjected Miss Morley.

'Very true, and to the point, as the sayings of your admirable sex generally are,' said the G.G.

'Dr. Whetsone, you ought to know a great deal of this matter.'

'I do, Sir Agnew, and I think the best way to decide the question will be to produce both the criminal and the typhoid patient. I can fortunately lay my hands on both.'

There was silence on the verandah. 'Out of regard for the health of Sir Agnew,' said 'Scrub and Land,' at last, 'may I ask if the complaint is especially infectious and dangerous?'

'Most 'emphatically so.'

'Then I think, and I believe, I have the consent of my worthy colleague to say that we will excuse the presence of the typhoid patient, and consent to the presence of the Criminal.'

'Very good,' said the doctor; 'he is just coming up the street.'

Immediately afterwards Jackwins came up smiling on the verandah.

'How are you, old man?' said 'Scrub and Land,' as they shook hands; 'haven't seen you since we swam across the Lockerbar together.'

'I'm first-rate,' returned Jackwins, after paying his respects to Miss Morley and the G.G., and accepting a cup of tea.

'This is the criminal,' said the doctor, quietly.

'Ah! ah!' laughed' 'Scrub and Land;' 'why, Jackwins and I were neighbors for years. Is this the desperate ruffian you want a gaol for?'

'It is.'

'I quite agree with you,' returned Miss Morley.

'The idea of putting Mr. Jackwins in gaol!' said the Minister for Ice Creams, 'This is a serious charge. Might I ask what particular offence has been committed by this gentleman?'

'Not much,' retorted Jackwins, coolly, thinking he saw Miss Morley's lead. 'Only trying to poison a friend, who is now unfortunately recovering.'

'Then I see the greatest necessity for a gaol at once,' said 'Ice Cream.'

'Land and Scrub,' whose name was Wilton, leaned back in his chair and laughed.

'Produce the typhoid patient,' he said. There came a dismal groan from round the corner of the verandah and the doctor, hastening forward, extended his arm to help along a tottering figure, who stumbled round with his assistance. He looked the picture of speedy dissolution, and the Minister for Ice Cream jumped up at once.

'I give in,' he said. 'The hospital is the one thing needful for this afflicted town. Let the blood-stained culprit go ungaoled.'

'What do you say, Miss Morley?' asked the G.G. 'Is it really worth while discussing the question? If they could run up a hospital in a few weeks, do you think that the poor fellow would live without your undergoing the danger of nursing him?'

'He would, I think. He would try to, I am sure,' said Miss Morley.

THE Governor-General had departed, promising that he would revisit Askinville, and lay the foundation-stone of the new hospital. Conlon, Jackwins, the Mayor, and his daughter were having tea once more in the Mayor's verandah.

'We did that very well,' said Jackwins. 'I think the way we procured the Government grant to the hospital is past all admiration.'

'I agree with you,' said Conlon. 'We worked it most wonderfully.'

Miss Morley smiled. 'Dr. Whetsone has just got his official appointment as resident doctor,' she said. 'And I am happy to be able to tell you two old friends that we are to be married on the day after the building is completed.'

'Don't say any more, old man,' said Conlon, as the two walked home. 'The Askinville feud is no more, and she worked it wonderfully, didn't she?'


07. — A TALE OF THE SIXTIES

Evening News, Sydney, 24 Apr 1897

ABOUT ten miles to the south of Fellworth Station was a jumble of rugged basalt rocks which extended fifty miles in length, and was ten miles broad in some places, in some only five. A running creek rose in this maze of huge boulders of lava, and intersected it, from one side to the other, at times taking a bend into the open country on either hand. At the end of the maze it ran into a small lake surrounded by reed beds.

Naturally this place was a great fastness for the blacks, who, when the country was settled, did not fail to find out its strategic advantages and avail themselves of them for the purposes of cattle-killing. No one could track or follow them across those blocks of naked scoria; and as the good grazing country joined the black maze, they had no distance to go for their beef.

One day a stockman belonging to the station saw smoke arising at the edge of the maze, and a number of ovens cooking the joints of a young heifer, whose head and lower limbs lay scattered about. No blacks were visible, but as the little nook that had been converted into a kitchen was surrounded on three sides by the basalt rocks, they were probably not far off.

'I'll spoil their feed at any rate,' he said to himself, getting off, and with a stick he demolished the earth ovens, and scattered their contents abroad. It was a poor retaliation, for the blacks are by no means particular as to a greater or less amount of dirt with their food. However, it was very natural under the circumstances, and the only punishment possible just then.

Balkan, the stockman, rode round the semicircular wall that hemmed in the little plot of level land, for it was a feature of the maze, as it was called, that it met the good country sharply and abruptly. He rode round with his revolver in his hand looking to see if, any track led away from this spot, which seemed to be a favorite haunt of the natives. He was rewarded; he saw what no man had ever found before in the maze, a trail that seemed to enter and wind out of sight among the boulders. Of course it was only possible to follow it on foot, and he turned away determined at some future time to come and trace it up with some companions, for it was too hazardous a feat to encounter alone.

About six weeks afterwards the weekly mailman brought word to Fellworth that the blacks were killing cattle on Rockfall, a station on the opposite side of the maze to where Balkan had been. As this seemed to intimate that the natives had, for a time, vacated their side, Balkan suggested to the super that now would be a good opportunity to examine the track and see where it led to. Accordingly, with a good black boy and a man to look after their horses while they were away, they started.

The remains of the ovens and the bones of the heifer were still lying about, but there were no traces of the blacks having revisited the place since. The track was soon found, and, leaving their horses with the guard, the two men and the black boy disappeared amongst the gloomy rocks.

The man with the horses went a little distance away, hobbled the horses out on good grass near a waterhole, and set himself down to wait. The adventurers did not come back that day, nor the next.

In the evening the man rode in to the station and reported. At the outside, the two men had expected to return at dusk the day they started, as the maze at this point was only about seven miles broad. Word was sent in to the neighboring native police barracks, and the officer in charge came down with three of his best trackers; but their efforts were unavailing. They were able to follow the tortuous course of the pad the men had started on, for about a mile and a half, then it was utterly lost, and on the rasp-like rocks and boulders they could obtain no sign or trace of the missing men.

They pushed on and came to the running creek that flowed through the wall, and then came, back; the task of finding anybody dead or alive in such a mad jumble of lava was hopeless. A good lookout was kept along the edge of the wall, and the result was that in a day or two the superintendent was found on the running creek where it emerged from the wall for a short space. He was worn to a skeleton, and his wits had deserted him. He could tell them nothing of his companions, only stare before him in a sort of crazy terror, and mutter in frightened tones of awful things.

Painfully and slowly they followed the creek back through the maze in hopes of finding Balkan and the blackfellow, but could come across no trace of them. Slowly Banks, the super, recovered his health and reason; and the story he told was as follows:


CAUTIOUSLY and slowly the three had followed the track to the place where the native police had lost it. They had lost it there too, and halted to search, but could come across no indication of its continuation in any direction. Ascending one of the highest boulders they could find in the neighborhood, they saw from that outlook a low flat-topped hill to the north-west. In default of any other landmark, for all else was a sea of black basalt, they made for this hill, seemingly about a mile distant. With the obstacles they had to surmount and avoid it took them some time to reach it.

They found it surrounded by a ring of disintegrated matter, from which sprang a row of bottle trees completely encircling the base of the hill, which they could see was an elevation of smooth naked rock. Balkan stepped into the ring of bottle trees first, and immediately raised the shot-gun he was carrying and fired at a snake who, seemingly roused by his tread, raised its venomous head directly afterwards he blew the head off another with the second barrel.

'Come on, quick,' he said, slipping two more cartridges in; 'this infernal place is alive with snakes.'

It seemed so; from both sides there came a universal rustle and movement, and two more shots were fired before they emerged on the bare rock. The cone was soon surmounted, and then the men found that they were standing, as might have been expected, on the edge of the crater of a long extinct volcano. They looked around, and could see the serpentine creek in places, but beyond that all was black and repellant; the elevation was not high enough even for them to see the open country they had left.

The interior of the crater was cumbered with detached boulders of basalt, and there seemed to be nothing of interest therein. They agreed to go on to the creek, and descended the hill.

'By heavens! we've roused every snake in Queensland,' said Balkan, recoiling from the edge of the bottle-tree scrub.

The thin belt of scrub seemed alive with the reptiles; look whichever way they would they were encircled by a loathsome ring of writhing bodies and cruel eyes. Most people have an instinctive antipathy to a snake; some exceptional persons seem to be able to handle them without fear or repulsion, but this want of feeling is very rare; almost everyone hates the sight and touch of a snake. This dread was intensified in Banks, who had an abnormal horror of a snake, and he shuddered at the idea of finding himself hemmed in by these detested reptiles. Balkan and the boy made a circuit, with no avail—the snakes were aroused and active everywhere. They discussed the matter. The scrub belt was no distance through; twenty vigorous steps would carry a man out on the far side. It was ridiculous to suppose they could be kept prisoners like that.

Balkan counted his cartridges; he was the only one carrying a shot-gun, the others had Snider carbines.

'Let's try and clear a way with a cannonade,' he said. They commenced, but soon saw they were uselessly wasting their cartridges. For every snake killed and wounded two took its place; so they had to cease firing.

'Perhaps they'll go away at night,' suggested Banks.

'I hope so,' said Balkan. 'Meanwhile let's have a feed.'

They had brought food and water-bags with them, so sat down on the hot rock and ate their meal. There seemed no way of getting through the belt of snakes unless they could fly; if they had been able to obtain wood they could have scared them with fire, but wood was unobtainable. Suddenly the black boy raised his hand.

'My word, cattle come up!' he said.

All listened. There was a dull rattling sound approaching, exactly resembling the noise of a rush of cattle. It came close, seemed to pass by them like a wind, accompanied by a slight trembling of the rock, and then it died away in the distance.

'An earth tremor,' said Banks.

The black boy got up; he was nearly shaking with fear.

'By-and-bye, night come up, we all bury,' he said. 'Me go quick along a scrub, you plenty shoot.'

He commenced to tuck his trousers in side his Blucher boots, evidently intending to make a desperate rush through the scrub. The earth tremor had frightened him to desperation. It was no good trying to stop him, and if he got through he would be able to bring them help.

Balkan and Banks poured in a deadly fire, and he made his rush. But the vengeful snakes were on him before he reached the outer edge. They saw him stagger out with them twisting and twining round arms, legs, and body, while he fought and tore at them with screams and cries. Banks covered his face with shuddering horror at the sight. Balkan watched the boy stagger, fall, and lie still.

'It's no good—we're doomed,' said Banks, when he removed his hands.

'It looks devilish like it,' returned his companion.

All the afternoon the men passed parading the heated rock and pondering on a means of escape from their situation. Their only hope appeared to lie in someone coming to seek them, but there seemed scarcely the shadow of a chance that anyone would be able to track them up.

At night they laid themselves down on the bare lava and watched the full moon rise, cold and cruel, in the heavens.

'That's how they live!' exclaimed Balkan, sitting up and looking around. Amazed at the irrelevant remark, Banks sat up too. The surface of the rock was swarming with little moving objects—bush rats, the little rodents of Northern Queensland, who shift about in countless swarms. They appeared to be issuing from the crater and running up the bottle trees to feed on the young foliage; and the snakes were preying on them. Luckily they did not come far outside the scrub, but what with the hardness of their couch and the chance of a snake more daring than the others paying them a visit, the tired-out men were kept awake all night, cheered up by the fallacious hope that the snakes would be gorged and quiet in the morning.

Towards daylight Banks dozed off, and when awakened by the sun he missed his companion. Alarmed, he arose and searched around for him. He called and coo-eed, but without success, and mystified at the strange disappearance, he walked round the scrub, thinking he might have made a desperate attempt to get through. The snakes were as lively as ever, but he could only see the body of the black boy on the other side; he began to hope that Balkan had surprised the snakes in a gorged condition, and got through in safety.

Turning away with a mixed feeling of desolate loneliness and feeble hope, he saw, to his astonishment, the missing man descending the hill.

'I have been having a look down the crater,' explained Balkan. 'I have found an opening or tunnel in there; I went inside! some distance, but it got pitch dark in no time; the passage seemed to keep on, however. What do you say if we tackle it; it's a poor chance that it might come out somewhere, but it's our only one.'

'Let's follow it wherever it goes; anything to get out of sight of these devils,' replied Banks, whose nerves were completely unhinged.

'Very well; we've got enough tucker left for a feed, so we'll have it and start.'

'Don't strike a match without need,' said Balkan, who took the lead in the matter; 'and feel every step with your gun when we get in the dark.'

They entered the low tunnel-looking entrance, which was, however, high enough for them to stand upright in. Darkness, dense and overwhelming, soon encompassed them as they proceeded slowly tapping their way. The rock beneath them seemed to slope a little, but not much. After what appeared a long time, Balkan, who was ahead, uttered an exclamation.

'Can you still feel the wall?' he asked.

'Yes,' replied Banks.

'Stop then, and keep your hand on it; the passage has opened out suddenly. I will feel my way on a bit.'

Banks stood motionless in the black darkness, his hand on the wall. He heard his companion call to him now and again and answered; then he heard Balkan say, 'Can you come to where I am!'

He replied, and started to go cautiously in the direction of his companion's voice. He heard him speak once or twice to indicate his position; then, in reply to a call, he received no answer. He shouted once or twice. Silence, and awful darkness, which now seemed more impenetrable than ever.

To all his cries there was no answer; his companion, whose nerve and courage had borne him up, had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. He felt his way in the direction he had last heard the voice, but found nothing. He tried to make back to the place he had left to return along the passage to light; but he had hopelessly lost his way.

Of what passed he remembered little; his senses must have mercifully left him. He had confused ideas of stumbling at last into light on the bank of the rippling stream after what seemed days of darkness, but that was all.

The mysterious disappearance of Balkan was never accounted for, and Banks went south with a shattered nervous system that brought him to the grave in twelve months.


08. — A TALE OF CARPENTARIA

Evening News, Sydney, 11 Aug 1900

IT was in the earliest days of Carpentaria that the following incident occurred. I say 'earliest' with intention, for Carpentaria, which, by the way, now possesses a bishop of its own, went through two stages of 'early days.'

First, it was settled in the early sixties, when the pastoral rush took place to Northern Queensland. Then pastoral property went down, and the expenses of keeping stations going in such a far country were found to be too costly for anything, and gradually the stock was withdrawn, and the country abandoned for years.

Gradually it was re-occupied, and has remained so ever since. Some of the old-time inhabitants came back again, and fondly alluded to themselves ever after as 'old Gulf hands,' meaning thereby members of the first settlement in contradistinction to the second settlers. Beyond being, as a rule, foul-mouthed old loafers, one was unable to see what especial claim this was to merit.

In relating this incident it must, therefore, be borne in mind that I refer to the first settlement, when Blanktown was the capital of Carpentaria, and Normanton was unknown.

One reads much of the lawlessness of western towns in the United States in the pages of Bret Harte; but let no one suppose that the lawlessness of Blanktown resembled that of Red Dog and Poker Flat. There were no Hamlynns or Oakhursts, there was no humor except of the coarsest kind, there was no money except paper orders, (mostly on Sydney), and there was very little decency of any sort whatever. But there was plenty of heat, there were more flies and mosquitoes, and sand-flies to the square inch than in any other part of the world; there was Gulf fever, there was a universal thirst, there, was plenty of square gin and rum to quench it—at times, and at times there was nothing but tepid water; to wind up, there was blasphemy enough to supply a wilderness of bullock-drivers.

It will be seen, therefore, that Blanktown was not a choice place of residence suitable for genteel families and young ladies' seminaries. Some men stayed long enough to make a decent cheque, came inside, and were lucky enough to get it cashed. Other stayed too long, came inside, and were unlucky enough to find the cheque worthless. Others, again—and how many who can say?—stayed there altogether, not of their own accord, but because they got put underground, and were left there when the exodus took place.

There was a rude jingle composed in those days, which was sung to the air of To the West, to the West.

It ran somehow:—


To the Gulf! To the Gulf! To the land of the flies!
Where each insect tormentor for mastery tries;
Where a cheque is a cheque if you live till it's got,
But the chances are twenty to one you will not.
To the Gulf! To the Gulf! To the land of the flea!
Where the mighty old Flinders rolls down to the sea.


I forget the rest, but that does not matter. The above is quite sufficient to show the merit of the production.


A MAN lay dying of fever in the sweltering heat of a 'tin' shed, as it is the fashion to call it now. In those days it was galvanised iron. However, the name is indifferent. The heat was just as unbearable and sweltering. Flies everywhere, in loathsome masses on the man's eyes lips, nostrils, and ears; beside him for sola comfort a pannikin of tepid water. Nobody knew much about him, 'except the unmistakable fact that he was dying.

Suddenly there was a name spoken amidst the noisy conversation going, on in the next room, which stirred the dying man's dim faculties, and brought him back from the borderland be was so near crossing. He mustered up strength to brush away the flies, which rose in a buzzing swarm, and called in a weak voice.

Fortunately there was a lull in the talk, and he was heard. A. man came in the little room, or den rather, and asked in a rough but not unkindly way what he wanted. The dying man looked up with imploring eyes, and the' other stooped over him to catch what he said.

'Did I hear Mordaunt's name?'

'Yes; Jacky Mordaunt. Just come in from the Gregory.'

'For God's sake, ask him to come here.'

The man nodded and left.

Immediately after a tall middle-aged man came into the room. Like all others in that region, he was burnt a mahogany color, but his blue eyes shone out clear and kindly. He went up to the sick man, and bent down to see him more plainly.

'Mordaunt!' said the sick man feebly.

'Can it be possibly you? Dick Grey?'

'It is, old man, and you are just in time, as you can see.'

'Stop; don't talk any more. Let me make you more easy. Here, I'll wash your face and hands and keep the files away as well as I can. I can get you nothing but a little weak gin; but I suppose that will help to revive you.'

Mordaunt performed his various offices with a gentleness that was astonishing, considering, and somewhat refreshed, the dying man lay back and spoke to his friend.

'Jacky, where did I see you last—on Flamingo Downs, wasn't it?'

'Yes, old man.'

'Well, when you leave this God-forgotten country, which I shall never do, I want you to go back there. Will you?

'Certainly I will. What to do?'

'That's what I want to tell you. When I was there I came across a beautiful piece of opal in a black's camp—a really fine specimen. But where it came from is the question. I searched and searched; gave up my billet to search. Hunted for the blacks who had it, and couldn't find them. My money, ran out, and as they were giving high wages droving to the Gulf at that time, I came out here to make a cheque to go back and search. I shall never go back, but you might have better luck, and if you find the place I will tell you what to do with my share of it. Go down to an address in Sydney I will give you, and you will find there a girl who ought to be my wife, but isn't—you understand. She must be in poverty—might be starving. Oh, how I have writhed in agony lying here helpless, and thinking about it. This is what I want you to do, and God has sent you, the only man I can trust.'

Grey did not, of course, make this speech in the connected way it is given above, but in a weak and fragmentary manner, which Mordaunt found it hard to understand.

'Have you the specimen with you?' he asked.

'In my pack. There are two horses of mine knocking about somewhere, and you will find the receipts there too. Sell them, and use the money for the same purpose.'

The few other directions he had to give were given, and then Grey leaned back with a relieved look on his face. His old friend stopped with him all the afternoon, tending him with what care he could give, keeping the swarming flies off and bathing his forehead; alas, wet with the dews of death. Towards evening Grey opened his eyes again, and spoke feebly:

'I never thought I should die as happy as this, Mordaunt. I know, I feel, that you will not be too late. Good-bye, dear boy, good-bye.'

And so, 'midst all the dirt and discomfort and torture of the old Carpentarian times, he passed away, and, it being naturally a necessity that in that climate a dead man should be buried at once, before the red, hot sun had quite vanished he was laid to rest in a shallow grave, for deep ones were too much trouble to dig. After Mordaunt had disposed of the dead man's poor belongings, and sold the horses, for no one questioned his right, as he was well known and popular, he reflected that the best thing he could do was to go straight down to Sydney, as he had intended doing and then go on the opal search.

It was a long, weary ride in those days from the Gulf to Bowen, the then port of the district; so it was some months before Mordaunt saw Sydney Heads, but at last he was at liberty to find out the person his dead friend had consigned to his care.

Application at the address given at first proved fruitless.

'I know nothing of the Miss Jones you speak of. She did stay with me once, I admit,' the woman said in a severe voice.

'But,' Mordaunt pleaded, 'my business is really important; it concerns a dead friend.'

Mordaunt had the manly sort of personality that no woman, old of young, can refuse a small favor to.

'Well, if it's about a dead friend; and if he was a friend of hers, all I can say it's the best thing for him he is dead, not speaking uncharitably, you mind. Miss Jones is now Mrs. Brown—at least I'm given to understand that's what she calls herself. Mind you, I don't wish you to understand that I say she is not really married to the man.'

Mordaunt stood aghast for a moment under this torrent of explanation.

'Can you tell me her address?'

'Try the directory.'

'But there are so many of that same in the directory, and I have not much time to spare.'

'Well,' said the woman, 'I have heard—mind you, I know nothing myself—that Mrs. Brown lives at Matson Villa, Jatson-street.'

'Thank you very much,' said Mordaunt, raising his hat and turning away, 'you have saved me a lot of trouble.'

The woman gazed curiously after him, then shook her head and shut the door as though she gave it up.

'I suppose that woman was not lying,' thought Mordaunt. 'Anyhow, I'll get it over at once.'

Matson Villa, Jatson-street, was unpretentious and pretty. In reply to his request to, if possible, see Mrs. Brown, as he had a message from an old friend to deliver, Mordaunt was asked in, and told that Mrs. Brown would see him in a few minutes.

Mrs. Brown, young, pretty, and all smiles, came in, but somehow, whether Mordaunt's look checked the smiles or not, they faded away, and she gave him a polite bow, and asked him to be seated.

'I have taken the liberty of calling, Mrs. Brown, to deliver a packet which a friend of mine up north asked me to deliver. It is a fine specimen of opal.'

Mrs. Brown was all smiles again as she received the packet, and very enthusiastic over the stone, which was really a beautiful specimen.

'And who is the friend I have to thank for this?'

'Mr. Grey.'

Mrs. Brown considered. 'O, yes. Joe Grey, I remember. He promised to send me something pretty from the north, and really this is too exquisite. And how is the dear fellow?'

Before Mordaunt's eyes rose a vision of a man dying in the heated atmosphere of the Gulf, amidst swarming flies and all the abominations of the pit. Telling him (Mordaunt) with his last words how he had writhed in agony lying there helpless, thinking that she might be in poverty, or even starving.

'His name was Dick, Mrs. Brown.'

'Of course; how forgetful I am.'

'He is very well. He is dead.'

'Oh, how sad. But thank, you so much for bringing me this piece of opal.'


'HANG the opal mine,' thought Mordaunt when he got outside. 'Anyone can have it for me; I always heard that opals were unlucky. I'll go back to the cattle; they're honest at any rate. I'll give the little money of Dick's that I have to charity.'

'What's your opinion of horses, cabby?' he said as he lit a cigar, before getting into the cab he had kept waiting.

'My opinion of horses, sir, is that they're dear at present.'

'But, as far as regards character, which would you sooner trust—a horse or a human being?'

'I understand, sir. I think that the horse is the superior hanimal.'

'So do I,' said Mordaunt, as he stepped into the cab.


09. — A SUBURBAN MYSTERY

Evening News, Sydney, 17 March 1900

IT was not a fashionable part of Sydney by any means. The houses were built in terraces, the gardens in front of them were small; the street was narrow, and the wail of the smitten time-payment piano resounded throughout the morning, sometimes accompanied by a high-pitched shriek. But that was only where the daughter of the house was supposed to be a budding genius, and was allowed to shirk the house work in order to practise, against the time when she was coming out to paralyse the musical world and carry all before her.

Up this street one day came an elderly man, who inspected the various cards hanging in the windows announcing 'vacancies' and 'apartments to let,' until, one house seemingly taking his fancy, he knocked at the door, and asked, to see the room which the card stated was vacant. On inspection, he approved of the 'apartment,' and, stating that he would return that evening with his luggage, paid a week's rent and left.

All the neighbors within hail of the place immediately went over and discussed him, rather favorably on the whole. Mrs Pennington, the landlady who had just let her room, sent out for some beer to accompany her lunch, in order to fittingly mark the occasion.

In due time the new lodger arrived, bringing a good supply of luggage, and took possession at his room. It may be mentioned that in securing his new abode the new lodger had found out that Mrs. Pennington had neither a piano nor a musical daughter; in fact, no greater or less encumbrance than a husband.

'But if it's music you want, there's plenty of it all round,' said Mrs Pennington, mistaking the bent of her lodger's query.

He assured her earnestly that music was the very thing he did not want. He said this so vehemently that Mrs. Pennington felt it rather a slight on the musical talent of the neighborhood, and assured him that they had some real good musicians in the street, and that Miss Tinkler, at 27, could be heard right at the end of the street when she fairly got started.

The new lodger said that Miss Tinkler was an invaluable person to have in the street in case of a fire or a murder, and the conversation ended.

On the whole, Mrs. Pennington liked her new lodger; he paid her well for his breakfast, which was the only meal he partook of in the house, because he insisted on his eggs being fresh and his steak of the best cut, and Mrs. Pennington was able to charge him famine prices, under the plea that such articles were hard to get; in fact, only obtainable by dint of great stress of labor and business acumen. Still, he never grumbled, never gave any trouble, departed every morning at 10 o'clock, and returned punctually at 11, just when Miss Tinkler had finished asserting that 'He will return, I know he will.'

There was only one thing that distressed Mrs. Pennington, and that was that she did not know her lodger's business. Private investigations were of no use whatever. Not a letter or a scrap of paper was left about, and all his luggage was secured by locks which defied spare keys of all descriptions. This was aggravating, maddeningly aggravating, and there seemed no remedy for it Mrs. Pennington felt that if the mystery lasted much longer she would become ill.

Time went on, however, and Mrs. Pennington did not become ill; she thought better of it. Mr. Blackstone, that was the lodger's name, came home early one night, and brought a friend with him. This was a thing unknown hitherto, and what it portended Mrs. Pennington could not imagine, particularly as the friend was of a swarthy color, evidently a gentleman whom Mrs. Pennington included under the generic name of Indians. Mrs. Pennington did not disdain to listen at the door.

'You have brought them over then in glycerine?' she thought she heard Mr. Blackstone say.

'Just as they were delivered to me,' she heard the 'Indian' answer.

Then followed the unpacking of something and silence for a good while, until Mrs. Pennington nearly grew frantic. Then there was the sound of unlocking, and locking a box or portmanteau, and Mr. Blackstone said:

'You see, I had to come here to be quiet. No one would ever have thought of looking for me here, and as I did not know when to expect you, and the Health officers were on the look out, I could not let you bring them to my house.'

'No, I understand,' replied the Indian, who, in point of fact, was a Parsee doctor. 'However, they are all safe now, and nobody knows anything about it but ourselves.'

At this moment, as Mrs. Pennington remarked to a neighbor, 'I got the biggest fright I ever had in my life. Mr. Blackstone had come to the door without my knowing it, and suddenly threw it open. I nearly fainted.

'Mrs. Pennington,' says he, 'you have saved me the trouble of calling you. I want some boiling water, if you have some, or as near boiling as possible. Can you get me some?'

I found my voice, and said that the kettle was just boiling, and went down to get it, but I daren't listen any more. Presently the two went out together, and would you believe it, Mr. Blackstone never came home at all that night.'


(The remainder of the mystery can be best told in Mrs. Pennington's own words.)


NEXT day he came home, and said, 'Mrs. Pennington, I am going away for a week; here's the rent ahead. I am leaving that big box behind; take great care of it, and don't shake it.'

'What's in it, Mr. Blackstone?' I asked.

'Something brittle,' he says, then shuts himself up in his room for a while, and presently comes out with his portmanteaux packed, and goes out and tells a boy to fetch a cab, and away he goes.

Well, I can't tell you how that box preyed on my mind. I tried every key I had, and borrowed from the neighbors, but not a one would fit. I got desperate, and one day me and Mrs Simmonds heaved it up and shook it. There was a strange gurgling sound come from the inside.

'There's something alive,' screamed Mrs. Simmonds, and dropped her end of the box with a crash.

'Now, you've done it,' I said, and as I spoke there came out of the box the most awful smell you ever smelt. Five corpses who had been kept a week in hot weather couldn't smell worse.

'It's something inside who's been murdered!' said that fool Mrs. Simmonds, and without more ado she starts downstairs for the street shouting murder at the top of her voice. And that other fool Miss Tinkler joined in with her, and between them we soon had a fine crowd and the police. Well, the police could make nothing of it beyond the awful corpse-like smell, and so they decided to break the box open, and had just sent for a carpenter when Mr. Blackstone himself turned up.

'What's the matter?' he said.

'Well, we think there's a dead body in this box. It smells uncommon like one,' said one of the police.

'So you've been shaking the box, have you, Mrs. Pennington?' said he. He took out the key and unlocked the box, and the smell that came out was something horrid, but there was nothing in the box but a few old clothes and a half-empty bottle lying on its side.

'I thought you could not resist it, Mrs Pennington,' he says, 'so I just left that bottle of potash with a loose stopper, so that the least shake would let it out. Smells good, doesn't it? That's the corpse.'

One of the policemen says, 'Why, you're Dr. Johns.'

'Yes. I expected a friend over from India with some plague germs, but I was not sure when he would come, so I took this room, where he could bring them to me quietly, without being seen at my house. You see, the health people might kick up a row about it. However, I've found out what I wanted to, and have destroyed the germs, so now it does not matter. I'll make you a present of the box and it's contents, the dead body, Mrs. Pennington,' and the wretch went out laughing.

The crowd trampled down the front garden, and it was days and days before I got the smell of that box out of the room. Neither Mrs. Simmonds nor Miss Tinkler and I speak now.


10. — THE FRECKLETON FOUNTAIN

Evening News, Sydney, 8 Jan 1898

FRECKLETON, generally supposed to be so called after the sun-kissed faces of the residents, was in a state of subdued excitement. At 12 noon the Member for the district was going to unveil, or declare open for public use, a drinking fountain presented to the town by its generous and public-spirited Mayor. Everybody was in good spirits—the Member at the chance of displaying his eloquence; the Mayor at the public parade of his generosity; and the general populace at the chance of a holiday, and possibly free drinks.

The important hour was approaching; the band was mustering up in its uniform, and the townsfolk beginning to assemble; when a somewhat seedy-looking swagman came up the main street. He looked around at the festive signs on either hand, and addressed a passer-by with the remark: 'Seems to be some kind of a shivoo going on here.'

The one addressed, glad to have a fresh listener, informed the swagman of the importance of the approaching ceremony.

'And what's the name of your worthy Mayor?' he asked.

'Doolittle; we have hopes of seeing him a C.M.G. after this display of his patriotism and benevolence. Why, fifty dogs have been kept tied up all night without water, to be released immediately after the ceremony, so that they will rush to the fountain and revel in its sparkling waters.'

'Benevolent, to the dogs,' said the swagman, 'and the people who tried to sleep.'

'They certainly disturbed our slumbers' somewhat, but one must put up with a little inconvenience during a great time like this.'

'I'm travelling agent for a G.M.C. myself,' said the swagman.

'I don't quite understand?'

'Oh! G.M.C. stands for Great Magical Company.'

'Indeed!'

'Yes. I look a little down on it, I know; but wait till the show comes along in its turnout; they're up to Dick, I can tell you. I'm on ahead just to put up a few bills and notices and secure a loan. Hope to see you at our show.'

'Possibly,' returned the other, and the two parted.

The stranger proceeded on his way to one of the humbler pubs, where he deposited his swag on the verandah floor and went into the bar. After a conference with the landlord and a display of the necessary coin, he obtained the use of a bedroom, and took himself and his swag there. When he emerged he had changed his dress and much smartened himself up in every way. He carried some posters, which he took round the town, and by permission affixed to the walls of the various inns; and then went to the local newspaper office and made arrangements for the insertion of a notice in the inevitable 'special' that would come out after the function. All this being done in a businesslike manner, he gave himself up to leisure and curiosity, of which he displayed a good deal.

The posters set forth the advent of the G.M.C., or Great Magical Company, and their appearance ing their celebrated divining performance, wherein the wonderful witch Desracoolas would divine the past, and foretell the future of anyone amongst the audience who liked to step on the stage.

The opening of the Fountain came off with, great ťclat, as the paper said afterwards. The dogs, however, were a failure. Not knowing anything about the Fountain, they never thought of going there when released, and instead of tumbling joyously over each other and lapping the sparkling fluid, they capsized buckets, invaded kitchens, bedrooms, and other places, and had a small rampage all to themselves.

The Member, however, did his duty. He held a glass up between his eye and the sun, spoke of its sparkle and purity, then—to the intense astonishment of those who knew his habits—drank it off. The advance agent for the G.M.C. noted everything, and conversed with anybody and everybody who would converse with him.

At about 3 o'clock the G.M.C. arrived, but truth to tell the turnout was not so imposing as the agent had vouched for. An overloaded trap, containing a veiled female and two men, was the whole of the show. They drove to the room secured for their performance by their agent at the local School of Arts, and then pulled up. The veiled female, popularly supposed to be the witch Desracoolas, disappeared within the doors, and the men busied themselves with unloading the trap, and the advance agent then took it and the two sorry steeds round to the small pub where he had put up. Public curiosity was quenched and disappointed. The younger people had expected a cheap show, such as the entrance of a circus company with all its tawdry finery on; and an ordinary dust-covered buggy did not fill the bill.

The Mayor entertained the Member for the district and several leading citizens at dinner at one of the principal hotels. The meal had to be held at 3 p.m., in consequence of the member having to depart that evening to the distant railway station to catch the Sydney train; it being understood, in Freckleton that the work of Parliament was stagnated until his return. Under the influence of something more potent than fountain water, the Member waxed eloquent, and before leaving assured them that with the influence he possessed they would have a railway brought to their doors six months was over. He then complimented them, on the beauty of their women, which considering that all were freckled alike, was a wide stretch of imagination, and the gallantry of their men; and departed in a buggy amidst what the Freckleton Advertiser described as tumultuous cheering; five dogs who had not been tied up all night pursuing the buggy for nearly a quarter of a mile.

The Mayor returned to his domicile smiling complacently. He was an abstemious man, and a hard one. But like most men of that stamp, was vain and self-sufficient. The empty compliments that had been paid him that day pleased him as much as a peerage would have some men.

Mayor Doolittle of Freckleton was a great and important man in his own estimation. He reached home and found his wife lying down, in tears.

'Crying again,' he said.

'I can't help it; you know how I feel when I see other people with their grown-up daughters with them, and I think of our's, roaming about the world, perhaps, without a home or a meal. Our only child, too.'

'Hold your silly tongue, woman. On a day like this to remind me of that ungrateful slut. If she is hungry, and homeless it's her own fault. I won't be upset by any reference to the matter. To-day especially.'

He flounced out of the room, indignant at his wife reminding him of his hard-hearted conduct towards their only daughter, whom he had discarded on account of a poor marriage, made in defiance of his consent. True, as he had to confess, there was nothing against the young fellow but his poverty, and a helping, hand would have put him on the road to competence; but that was no palliation in his mind. It was against his autocratic will.

The show, such, as it was, at the School of Arts attracted a good audience. The people of Freckleton thought that an entertainment was a fitting wind-up to such, a day, and parted with their shilling and two shillings cheerfully. The advance agent stood at the receipt of customs, one man in shabby evening dress played the much-punished School of Arts piano, and another, also in shabby evening dress, was arranging some conjuring properties on the table standing on the little stage. Of the wonderful witch Desracoolas nothing could be seen; probably she was preparing incantations somewhere.

The Mayor, but not the Mayoress, and other notables arrived, and were given front seats, and the man on, the platform announced the commencement of the performance, which would be some wonderful feats of legerdemain. Afterwards would come the divination and marvellous reading of the witch Desracoolas, in the mirror of the future.

The feats of legerdemain were sufficiently good to please the unsophisticated Freckletonians. Then came the divination of the witch. The stage was prepared by removing the conjuring properties and substituting mirror at a peculiar angle, but visible to all the spectators.

Then the wonderful Desracoolas came forward shrouded in a fancy dress, but with her face still veiled. Anyone of the audience was then invited to step on the stage arid nave their past revealed and their future told. At this there was much giggling, but no one would bell the cat. At last Boosey Bill, pot-valiant, advanced. The witch withdrew out of sight behind a curtain, and Bill took a seat, feeling very uncomfortable at being in such a conspicuous position. The conjuror stepped forward and asked Bill his name, which was given in a husky voice as William Hawkins.

'Desracoolas!' said the conjuror, 'do you know anything, about this gentleman?'

'I do,' came a woman's voice from behind the curtain. Would he like to hear 'something about his past?'

'Yes; if you like,' said Bill.

'Shall I say it out loud!'

'Oh; say it out,' said Bill.

'You were for some time a hard-worked Government servant.'

For a minute or two the slow-going wits of the Freckletonians did not take in the small joke; then, as they remembered the well-known fact that Boosey Bill had once served twelve months' hard labor, they began to laugh.

'One moment,' said the voice. 'You are now in love, deeply in love; would you like to see the object of your young affections?'

'Yes; bring her along,' said Bill, savagely, and defiantly. 'Look in that mirror.'

Everybody looked on the mirror, on the surface of which immediately appeared the reflection of a bottle of whisky. A howl of delight greeted this palpable hit, and Bill got up growling.

'Blimey! I've had enough of this,' he said, and get down off the platform, muttering lurid imprecations, for which he was reproved by the Mayor.

For some time there was much hesitation to make the second one; but at length one young fellow, who felt conscious of a harmless record, made the attempt, and came out of the ordeal with honor.

Then the girls began to troop up, and were all mightily astonished at being told perfectly true incidents of their pasts, and, of course, received favorable predictions for the future. Presently the elders tried their fate, and the oracle behind the curtain seemed equally well acquainted with their antecedents. At last the Mayor himself—the great man of the day—stepped on to the dais amidst applause. He nodded benignly when some one of his past deeds were reported to him. Then said the voice—

'Would you like to see the face of the one you have most injured during your life?'

'I am not aware that I ever injured anyone; but I may have had occasion to act justly,' returned his Worship, pompously.

'Look on the mirror,' said the voice. All looked, and on the surface appeared the face of a young woman, careworn and distressed, looking with sad, pleading eyes at the Mayor of Freckleton.

The Mayor started from the chair, and his face paled; whilst throughout the audience ran a sort of universal whisper—

'Maggie Doolittle!'

The face vanished; and the Mayor became himself again.

'What is this trickery?' he demanded of the conjuror. 'Who is behind that curtain? I will see!'

And before the man could stop him he had lifted the curtain. But there was no one there. Unnerved, in spite of himself, the Mayor returned to his seat, muttering something about warrants and police. But the performance was over. The man at the ill-used piano struck up 'God Save the Queen,' and the audience filed out, talking mostly about the last item in the show.

Mr. Doolittle went home upset and ill at ease; it seemed very hard that, first his wife's reproachful tears, and then this incident should have occurred to overcast the most important day of his life. He answered his wife, when asked about the show, that he was sorry he had attended, which was absolutely true; but would give her no clue as to what had upset him. He thought, and wisely, that she would hear of it soon enough in the morning from other, sources. Nothing remains hidden in a country town.

He was an early riser, and strolled off to the fountain before anyone was up to notice him, to refresh his eyes with the inscription setting forth how it was the gift of Robert Doolittle, Mayor of Freckleton, etc. He had had a bad night, and was reflecting on the possibility of his actually having made a mistake. He knew that his wife fretted and grieved continually. In his own way he had been fond of his daughter, and—but there he came to a full stop, he could see nothing beyond.

The G.M.C. were putting their belongings on their shabby buggy as he passed the School of Arts, but he could not find it in his heart, as yet, to return their morning greeting civilly. He walked on home. His wife, not an early riser as a rule, was absent. He did not ask after her, but sat down and ruminated on. that strange and life-like face he had seen last night. How was it done? Then he went into his breakfast-room. The meal was neatly laid, but he missed many of the little touches his daughter used to bestow—touches only noticed by their absence. Then he began to wonder where his wife was. He arose and glanced in the glass over the mantelpiece.

Good God! There was the face of last night.

He turned quickly to find his wife and daughter standing behind him. There was an instant struggle in his heart, and then his better self conquered. He lifted them both from their knees, where they had fallen before him, and gave his daughter the kiss of forgiveness.

'So you were the witch?' he said, after a short time had passed. 'That accounts for your intimate acquaintance with everybody's past life. Was your husband there?'

'Yes. He played the piano, so you did not notice him.'

'Where is he?'

'Not far,' said Maggie. 'Shall I bring him in?'

'Of course; we'll all have breakfast together. I must find you something better to do than strolling about the country.'

'There's nothing to be done in town, and Will is not strong enough for bush work.'

'Well bring him in.'


'FATHER,' said Maggie, after the breakfast of reconciliation was eaten, 'it was hearing of the fountain about to be opened brought us here. I thought if you gave a fountain to the town you surely couldn't refuse a little love to your daughter.'


11. — THE REVENGE OF BANKSON'S GHOST

Evening News, Sydney, 30 May 1896

I

'THERE is no fool like an old fool' was generally remarked about old Bankson when he married a girl about a third of his age—a pretty, and somewhat fast, society-girl of Melbourne, and brought her up to live at his station. Most people said that she would run away in a month, but she did nothing of the sort. Sordid as the surroundings were for such a wealthy man as Bankson, Mrs. Bankson had known, worse, for she had known genteel poverty.

She was one of the daughters of a family desperately striving, like many others, to keep up appearances on very limited means. Butcher and baker might be sacrificed, but the Government House and charity balls must be attended. This is the class of people who write to the editor and ask him to mention the fact that 'in our report of the fancy fair in aid of stray cats, the name of one of the stallholders—Mrs. Dodson Smythe—was inadvertently spelt Mrs. Dobson Smith.' Mrs. Bankson, then, was quite clever enough to know when she was well off; and though the life was monotonous enough, the weather trying, and the food somewhat coarse, it was a relief to know that there were no duns eternally rapping at the door, and no daily budget of bills by post.

Cleverly, and by degrees, she worked a thorough change in the establishment, until Bankson, much to his own surprise, found himself growing quite a stickler for the proprieties. Needless to say, she soon became popular everywhere, and all the fellows on the other stations swore by her, and begged her, jokingly, if she had a twin sister to send for her to come up on a visit.


SO two years passed and Bankson found his married life a very happy one, save for one thing—he recognised the disparity in their ages, and felt inordinately jealous of her—not that she ever gave him the least occasion for it; nor did he outwardly show the feeling. One time he had to go down on some business to Port Fairlight, the port of the district. When he came back he seemed more enamored of his wife than ever, and finally, falling sick, she nursed him with the most tender devotion.

Bankson recovered; but Death had left the bruises of his clutch upon him. He knocked about the run as usual, saw everything in order, and then died suddenly one night—suddenly and quietly, without a groan or sign to tell that the departing spirit had any tale to tell before silence smote the tongue for ever.

The widow's grief was calm and resigned. There were no children, no fatherless orphans to grieve over; and he was an old man. So there was no extravagant demonstration of grief for her friends to sneer at and designate 'affectation.'

The will proved a surprise. Everything was left to his widow on condition that she did not marry again.

II

MOST people, of course, said that it was an unjust and foolish will, especially those who longed to make eyes at the pretty widow; and so the matter dropped. Had they seen a wild-eyed woman pacing up and down her room, at times throwing herself on her bed in a passionate convulsion of sorrow, they would have probably concluded there was something more in it, especially had they heard her scarce articulate cry of 'Will! Will! I did it all for you, and now—now—it is useless!'

Mrs. Bankson, however, soon became herself again. She had made her mind up to a certain course of conduct, and with her evident firmness of character was carrying it steadily out. Two years passed, during which Mrs. Bankson led a quiet and retired life, and the station work, by the aid of a good manager, was carried on as usual.

One night about this time Mrs. Bankson had a strange dream. She dreamed that she was awakened by somebody moving about the room, and sitting up and listening, felt sure of the fact. She had plenty of pluck, and taking a revolver that, in her lonely condition, she kept beneath her pillow, she was about to challenge the intruder, when, whoever it was in the room, began to talk and mutter.

It was her husband's voice!

For a moment the sudden beating of her heart almost choked her. Then she regained command of herself, and remained quite still.

'Oh, where is it?' moaned the voice. 'Where is it? I cannot remember where I put it.'

Thus the mutterings went on, and the woman lay and listened, so she thought, until she awoke to a sudden, outcry from the dogs. Still full of her dream, she got out of bed, went to the window, drew the blind aside, and looked out. The grey of dawn was just mingling with the coming red of day; but the dogs were now quiet, and there seemed no one stirring. Returning to her bed she felt under the pillow, and found the revolver apparently undisturbed during the night.

Several times was this dream repeated, until at last, in spite of all, Mrs. Bankson found herself worked up into a state of intense nervousness, and made up her mind to go away for a change the next day. That night the dream recurred, when suddenly the fretful, repining voice changed to one of exultation.

'Oh! Now I can rest at last—at last! How could I have forgotten it. The old saddle-pouch.'

The presence, so the woman dreamt, came close to the bed, and repeated once more, 'The old saddle-pouch!' Then all seemed silent, and she awoke with a fast-beating heart and the last words ringing in her ears. What could it all mean? What old saddlepouch?

She lit her candle, and looked all round the room, but there was nobody visible. Putting on her dressing-gown, and taking her revolver, she went coolly and quietly to a small room occupied as a kind of office. Here she looked about amongst some old saddlery, and finally found two old saddle pouches. She opened one—empty, save for a cockroach or two, at which she did not even shudder. The second—a paper. She put her candle on the rude desk, opened and read the paper. It was a will, in her husband's handwriting. It revoked the former one, and left everything to her unconditionally. The witnesses were two men, still employed on the station, who probably did not understand the purport of what they were signing. It seemed perfectly valid.

She remained there dreaming, a happy smile on her face. Once she murmured, 'Not in vain after all.'

The candle burned down, flickered, and went out; but she still remained there until daylight came, and with it the sun. Then she rose and returned to her room.

III

THE next morning she left for the seaport, and handed the will over to the lawyer her husband usually employed. After examination, he assured her that the will was perfectly good. She had taken the precaution to bring down one of the men who had witnessed the signature of her deceased husband, so there would be no suspicion of forgery. Haying been satisfied that the will was good, she returned to the station, happy and light-hearted, seeing nothing but a rosy future ahead, with her old lover for her husband.

She made all her preparations for a trip to Melbourne, and was on the point of starting—the horses were being harnessed even, when the mailman arrived.

Mrs. Bankson opened the bag. Three or four station letters, some papers, and one for herself, in her sister's handwriting. Some time afterwards, as she did not make her appearance, the manager went in to warn her that it was getting late.

She was sitting by the table, gazing straight before her. In her hand, tightly clenched, was a letter; on the table the contents of the mailbag. He went up and spoke to her, but she never answered, so he ventured to put his hand on her shoulder. She started at the touch, and asked angrily what he wanted. He replied that it was getting late.

'I will be there, directly,' she replied. 'I am not sure yet whether I shall go down or not.'

He took the letters from the table and left the room. Mrs. Bankson got up and paced the floor. Then she stopped and read the letter once more. The passage she dwelt on ran:


Your old sweetheart was married the other day. He married a little girl called Mabertey. I don't think you know her. She was supposed to have had £20,000; but it turned out to be only £2,000, so Master Will Halstead has been mightly sold.


She went down to the port as she intended, got the lawyer to draw up a will, by which she left everything to her sisters, then she returned to the station; and the next morning the woman found her dead in her bed.


DOWN in Melbourne a man is gloomily looking at an open letter. A girl comes in to the room.

'What's the news, Will?' she says.

'Curse you; you've ruined me; that's the news,' he says, with a savage look and tone that brings the tears to her eyes. 'My old sweetheart, now a rich widow, is coming down, and but for you we would be married.'

Bankson's ghost had the best of it after all.


12. — THE EIGHT-MILE TRAGEDY

The Bulletin, 14 May 1892

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

"THE EIGHT-MILE" was one of the finest sheets of water on the run on the river for that matter, for it was one of the dry, inland rivers in Western Queensland wherein the water-holes are few and far between. It was a warm part of the world, and in summer the broad plains through which the many-channelled stream wound its way were full of gaping holes and cracks, and the hot winds came across them like blasts from a stoke-hole.

The Eight-Mile was a favourite camping-place, and, induced by this consideration, an individual proceeded to erect a rough accommodation house there. He was a pallid, unhealthy-looking man, whose pasty face contrasted strangely with the sun-blackened complexions of the station men, and he had an unhealthy-looking wife and was accompanied by an equally unhealthy-looking rouseabout, who assisted in the erection of the accommodation house.

The prejudice of the district was decidedly against new-comers; as one of the men said: 'They looked too much like so many kopsuses,' but as they all proved quiet, kept a decent table, and were not much suspected of either sly grog-selling or horse-stealing, they rose in public estimation, and when Butler (for that was the man's name) enlarged his habitation and applied for a publican's license, it was granted without much trouble.

Naturally things altered Somewhat. Timothy J. Butler was rather more self-assertive when lording it behind the bar, and the rouseabout, promoted to be barman suddenly developed a sporting, horsey vein hitherto unsuspected. Still Timothy B. retained his credit. No outrageous cases of hocussing or lambing-down were ever reported, and as he now kept a Chinese cook and gardener and spared no pains to provide good meals, his place was well patronised and prosperity appeared to loom ahead.

Mrs. Butler, however, was still a woman of mystery. Timothy and the promoted barman grew browner in face and more genial in their manner, but she still remained pale, silent and reserved. If addressed she answered in the fewest possible words, and took the first opportunity of leaving the room.


ONE afternoon there was a goodly number of people assembled at Tim's, as the place was now known. Three teams were camped at the waterhole, some of the men from the neighbouring station were down, and a traveller or two were staying there. A few of the boys were playing quoits with horse-shoes, some were pitching competition yarns, and the balance talking horse with the barman. At this juncture a stranger rode up to the place. He was a big-boned, black-bearded man with enormous feet and hands. He was riding a miserably poor, knocked-up horse which fairly staggered when his rider dismounted, with some difficulty extricating his large feet from the stirrups.

Mrs. Butler was just coming into the verandah when the new-comer alighted, but at sight of him she beat a hasty retreat.

"Good day to yez all," said the stranger in a rich brogue, as he glanced around, and then, as Butler appeared, he gave a shout, and exclaimed: "And 'tis yerself, Tim, ould man, after all, then!"

Tim, however, did not appear to reciprocate the effusive greeting of his friend, but he treated him civilly, sent the black boy to hobble the wretched horse out on the nearest bit of feed, and asked his guest in. The stranger drew one of his huge hands across his mouth and followed with alacrity. Public opinion in the verandah decided that he was an ex-policeman and a new-chum in the bush.

In the course of the afternoon Tim mentioned the stranger as his brother-in-law, John Dwyer, It was noticeable that he spoke of him as John, not the more familiar Jack, although Dwyer affectionately dubbed him Tim at every opportunity. Mrs. Butler did not appear as usual to dispense the tea from the big tin teapot at the evening meal, and the only person who seemed elated at the visit was Dwyer himself. He was in high good-humour, "shouted" for everybody who would drink with him, as though the place belonged to him; and, after an uproarious carouse, fell asleep with his head under the table and his legs dangling over a form.

From that time forth Tim's was an altered place. Dwyer, who appeared to be in his proper element, lolled behind the bar from morning till night, and his broad fingers were continually clutching a whisky-bottle. Trade fell off, for his assertive ways disgusted everybody, high and low, master and man, and much wonder was expressed that Butler stood it.

There came an end, however, to his patience. It was soon rumoured that Butler wanted to sell out, and as the district had increased in importance during his sojourn in it, he was not long without a suitable offer. He accepted it, and it was soon known that Mr. Dwyer had departed without beat of drum. Shortly afterwards the Butlers and their faithful henchman left, and the new people entered into possession.


THREE months had elapsed since Tim's—by which name it was, and probably is still, known—had changed hands, and three or four teams had turned out at the Eight-Mile to camp. It was only about 2 o'clock, and the black boy, bucket and billy in hand, went down to the water-hole to bring up water. The men who were unyoking were suddenly startled by flying footsteps, and a scared nigger rushed into their midst with the astounding assertion that an alligator was in the water-hole.

Big Bob elevated his tall, sinewy frame, six foot four in his bare feet, and accompanied by his mates strode down the track. On the surface of the water floated a remarkable-looking object.

The men gazed in silence for some time,

"If it was possible," said Big Bob at last, "I should say those were Dwyer's feet." He flicked his bullock whip at it, but it fell short. "Lend us a lash," he said.

One of the men unbent his whip from the keeper and handed it to him. He fastened it on to his own, made a noose at the end, and with one skilful east sent it over the strange object and towed it ashore.

It was Dwyer's feet, and there was a body attached to it. A horrible body, so bloated in places, so shrunken in others, so mutilated by fish, so unlike anything human, and yet still bearing a horrid likeness of humanity about it, that some of the men retired.

With the aid of another whip, Big Bob and two or three others got the thing on to the bank. A bag full of stones had been tied to it, but the fastenings had parted and the corpse had come to the surface.

"We camped here a fortnight ago," said Big Bob, looking at the others.

"Yes," was the reply. They were on the up-trip then, now they were returning empty.

"And," said Bob, solemnly, "we made our tea and our bread of this water, and boiled our beef in it. By——, if ever I catch Butler, I'll—I'll—"

Words failed him here.

Everybody put it down to Butler, but no trace of him could be discovered. No marks of violence were found on the body; Dwyer's hands and feet had been tied together, probably when he was in a drunken stupor, and so he had been chucked into the waterhole.

"I'll never forgive him," said Big Bob.

"Why the devil didn't he bury him?"

"Too many niggers about," replied his mate. "Bound to have tracked him up out of sheer curiosity." Which was true, as a camp of blacks had established themselves near the place. There were some startling telegrams in the metropolitan papers, and a verdict of wilful murder against Timothy Butler; but that was all.


I WAS jackerooing on the next station, at the time, and ten years afterwards accidentally heard the "rights" of Dwyer's fate.

It came about in this way. I was in Sydney walking down George-street; at that time the totalisators were in full and open swing, and one fellow who was standing in the street taking a customer's name, was knocked down by a cab. I recognised his white face as they lifted him up; it was Butler's barman. I called at the hospital next morning and found that he had been badly injured and could not possibly live. He recognised me, and presently told me about Dwyer.

Butler and he, it seems, had been mixed up in a swindling racing transaction, which, connected as it was with the suspicious death of a man, made a great stir at the time.

Butler and the ex-barman got eight years over it. Mrs. Butler had secreted most of the money, and, by bribing Dwyer, then a warder, the two escaped. They made out back to the most uncivilised part they could find, and were doing well by honest means when Dwyer, who had lost his billet, tracked them down and established himself at free quarters. He was ruining the business and Butler, despairing of ever getting free from his incubus, got rid of him in the way mentioned. The Butlers, it seems, had since gone to America, and their accomplice died a few days after he told me the story.


13. — WHAT PUZZLED BALLADUNE

The Bulletin, 12 May 1894

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

I

STRANGERS were uncommon in Balladune, a small township in Western Queensland, though once upon a time the residents had indulged in hopeful visions of a railway, and locomotives dragging thither long trains of carriages full of opulent passengers with much money to spend. Of course this prospective railway was not to go past Balladune, which was to remain for ever the terminus, and wax fat in consequence. But these fond hopes were born but to die young. Trade, somehow, drifted further away, and the coming railway never came. Those who had speculatively invested in town lots were unable to realise, and Balladune settled down, discontentedly enough, to stagnation and a weekly coach.

Balladune, therefore, presented no attractions for strangers to visit it. Attempts had indeed been made, on more than one occasion, to institute half-yearly races and a pastoral show, but they came to nothing. The coach-fares, even kept away any poor players who might otherwise have sought to rake in a scanty hay-crop in the back-blocks, and the arrival of the said coach was the one local distraction.

It was therefore with mingled surprise and admiration that the inhabitants, who systematically turned out in force on these occasions, saw a stout, pleasant-faced, well-dressed gentleman alight from the box-seat.

The coachman, upon being at once interviewed, stated that he believed the passenger had come up by train to Mount Bastion, the hated rival town which had cut them out with the railway; and that, so far as he was concerned, he found him a thundering good sort, and he wished he always had one of the same brand on the box with him. Of the stranger's business—he knew absolutely nothing.

It was generally felt that the coachman had failed disgracefully in his duty, but as he was too important a personage to offend, nobody told him to. It was also considered that the senior constable, who had charge of the peace of the township, should keep a strict eye upon the stranger, as in these days of levanting financial, there was no knowing where one might turn up.

When, however, the pound-keeper suggested that in that case a man of noticeable presence would seek a crowded place where he would not be an object of popular interest, public opinion veered somewhat, and it was agreed that (a general election being then pending) the stranger was going to run for a seat.

Meanwhile the gentleman under discussion, who gave the hotel-keeper the somewhat well-known name of John Smith, did nothing to indicate a desire to represent the district or otherwise throw light upon the burning question of the day. What had brought him to Balladune? He chatted affably on the weather, the diet and the fall in silver, but not one word escaped by which he could be "placed." In appearance he was equally non-committal. He could have been anybody, from a retired publican to an ex-Governor.

Mr. Smith made but little use of the telegraph during his stay. Possibly he laboured under the absurd, though common delusion that telegrams in a small township soon become public property; anyhow, he did not utilise the wire, but on the return mail after his arrival despatched a bulky, sealed epistle, duly registered, which, on being eagerly scrutinised by the postmistress, was found to bear the simply maddening address, "John Smith, Esq., Box 009, G.P.O., Sydney."

"I could have smacked his face," said the disappointed lady to an equally curious and disappointed friend who agreed that it was a shame and should not be allowed; for her part she did not believe that there were two John Smiths in Australia.

Meantime, as Mr. Smith paid his bill and simply smoked, read and chatted about the season in a most exemplary manner, the landlord of the Royal Hotel resented any impertinent prying, fearing it might annoy his guest and lose him that rare bird of passage, a profitable customer. Mr. Smith, therefore, was, or pretended to be, in ignorance of the burning curiosity he had aroused in the minds of the Balladune gossips.

II

FIFTEEN miles from Balladune was one of the few stations which assisted to prevent the utter abandonment of that struggling township. It was not a large and flourishing station with artesian water, shearing-machines, a big overdraft, and all the proper equipments of high-class grazing. The owner had worked hard on it himself ever since the district was first settled. He had experienced bad and good times, had suffered from drought and flood, had hung on through all with the grim pertinacity of his nature, and now, in spite of the fallen value of stock and stations, was still clear of debt.

He was a gaunt and grizzled man, by name Hemmings. A man who neither spared himself nor his men. The wandering swagman met with but a snarling reception, and his dole of begrudged rations was thrown to him with contempt. As Hemmings' neighbours were treated with little more hospitality, the owner of Red Dyke was by no means popular.

Still, in a certain way, he was much respected. He dealt for his stores locally, and spent what little he did spend in the district. He was scrupulously honest, and, above all, his word, for good or evil, was inviolable. So far as was known, he had neither friends nor relations. Imagine, then, the surprise of the inhabitants of Balladune when he drove into the township, pulled up at the Royal, and demanded to see the mysterious Mr. Smith.

When the two met it was noticed that, although Mr. Smith was beamingly genial in his greeting, Hemmings did not reciprocate. But this was according to his well-known disposition.

"We cannot say all we have to say here, without having some long-eared gaby on his knees at the keyhole; you had better come out to my place and stop the night," said the visitor.

Mr. Smith nodded a cheery assent, then slowly drew his finger and thumb round his throat, and, with a waggish smile, remarked, "It is safe, I presume?"

The other scowled silently and strode out to his buggy. Smith went up to his room and in less than a minute descended, joined him, and they drove off.

Everyone who had the price of a drink on him went into the bar to discuss the event, still mere strange than even the coming of Mr. Smith himself.

"Mark my words," said the pound keeper, who professed to have made a study of human nature, "there's no love lost on the side of that Hemmings, and it licks me what a simple, affable chap like Smith can have to do with him."

"I've got it," said the storekeeper, smiting the counter. "That's a deep cove, that Smith, for all he's a good-natured one. He's a detective, that's what he is, and he's just gone out to Red Dyke to take Hemmings quietly without any scandal. When he went upstairs," he added, in impressive tones, "it was to slip the handcuffs in his pocket."

Everyone finished his drink in solemn silence, the idea was so novel and entrancing.

"Wonder what he's done?" said one open-mouthed lounger at last.

"You may be bound," went on the storekeeper, encouraged by his success, "that it was done years and years ago, most likely in some other country."

This was delightful. Why, it might be another Deeming tracked down.

"He sent a note out to Red Dyke yesterday, said the landlord.

"And you never told us!" cried a reproachful chorus.

"Come," said the pound keeper, who had been silenced for a while. "If he is a detective which I don't say he ain't, would he have sent out a note to tell Hemmings he was here?"

This was beyond the reasoning powers of the conclave, and even the storekeeper left the question unanswered.

III

THE two men in the buggy were silent for some time. After leaving the township the road passed for some miles through a dark and barren scrub.

Smith uttered the first remark:

"I was unexpected, I presume?"

"I have never left off expecting you."

"I suppose if a body were deposited a mile or two back in this scrub—"

"Before it was found it would be unrecognisable, and put down to some foot-traveller who had lost himself and died of thirst."

"Ah! So much better than burying."

"Quite true," replied the other, who seemed to force himself by strong effort to answer coolly the gibing remarks of his companion.

"Burying is clumsy, but you have not come here to discuss such questions?"

"I have not. I have come to claim the fulfilment of your word."

"After twenty years?" asked Hemmings, in a firm tone.

"After twenty years," repeated Smith, in a tone as firm.

There was silence once more, and, in a short while, the buggy emerged on a track of open country, grateful to the eye after the close scrub.

"Supposing we defer further conversation until we reach home—at least, what I now call home? I will fulfil my word."

The other nodded, and not a word more was uttered until the station was reached.

There was little to recommend the place to any one with an eye to comfort or beauty, for the buildings were rude, and Hemmings, in his love of loneliness, had built his own house at some distance from the others; but an expert would at once have recognised the value of the grazing country. Hemmings drove up to an outhouse and they dismounted and walked up. When they stood on the verandah, Smith, all whose geniality had departed, turned and looked round.

"You have been alone here for—?"

"I have been here fifteen years. Alone—for thirteen."

"Mrs.—ah—Hemmings then?"

"Lies buried there. The rough life and climate killed her."

"The property is unencumbered, I understand?"

"The property, such as it is, is unencumbered. Listen! I have gone through such hardships on this place, have fought against famine and the elements so fiercely, knowing all the while that at any time the summons from you might come; that I tell you I love it, by the very memory of my sufferings." His voice, which had not faltered when he spoke of the death of the woman who should have been, but was not, his wife, trembled at the remembrance of his years of toil.

"I give you your choice. You demand the fulfilment of my vow. I will mortgage this place to the hilt, and work it free once more with this"—and he held forth his brown and sinewy hand—"or take a change of clothes and a blanket and leave you here, to wander forth in the world. I ask you but one favour, Farrars, give me your answer quickly."

The other kept silence for a few moments; then, as if to change the subject, said:

"My name is Smith, just now, as yours is now Hemmings. I will give you my answer early to-morrow morning. Meanwhile—not that I mistrust you, in spite of all—I may mention that yesterday I posted to a safe hand a notification of my presence here, and my motive in coming. It will be read if a fortnight elapses without hearing from me, so that, even if you deposit my body in that convenient scrub, I shall soon be missed."

The other waved his hand as though the idea was too contemptuous for serious discussion; then he motioned his unwelcome guest inside and showed him to a rudely-furnished bedroom. "My accommodation is but limited," he remarked, "but as you come of your own accord you must be content with it."

"I shall be satisfied," returned Smith. "I have fared worse since the smash."

"You are then ruined?"

"Or I should not be here."

"I had thought better of you. If your coming had been only inspired by the desire for just vengeance I could have understood it; as it is I must despise the feeling to which you confess."

"I intend to combine business and—pleasure," was the calm reply.


IT was midnight before Smith, who had retired early, fell into a troubled sleep on his hard bed almost immediately to awake again. Someone moving in the house had aroused him. In spite of his protestations of confidence his hand stole under his pillow. He listened, and the sound he heard made him arise noiselessly and steal on to the verandah.

In the brilliant moonlight stood Hemmings gazing out on the familiar scene, the rugged outlines of which not even the silver rays could soften or beautify. But it was his. He had come there when the land was a wilderness, had seen the country alter and become fruitful under his care. He had defied sickness, the brazen sky and the devastating storm to dispossess him. It had been to him a refuge from the past and his fellow men. Smith watched the tall, lean figure shaken with emotion, then he spoke sternly:

"Walters—for I will call you by your own name—I came here only on an errand of vengeance, to turn you forth naked. I am not a ruined man. Let me speak," for the other would have interrupted. "Nearly 20 years ago you stole my wife from me. You made a fatal mistake. You allowed her, or she did it without your knowledge to take both money and jewels in her flight. I could have cast you into prison branded as a thief. But you know, and I admit, that in the encounter between us you spared my life. Then you swore that at any future time when I demanded it you would strip yourself of all your possessions and give them up to me in tenfold payment of that of which I had been robbed. I knew your character knew you would keep the vow, although a poor man when you made it, and I thought that it would be sweet vengeance to come unexpectedly upon you and demand fulfilment. I have come and what have I found? One sleeps beneath that mound under a name she has no right to—dead, I doubt not, of the remorse which would be stimulated by your solitary life in this waste. You, the other one, a younger man than I, look ten years older. You have not a friend in the world; here you will live and die without a companion but those whose services you hire. I am amply revenged. Keep your lonely acres out here. I give you back your promise."

He paused. The dark figure against the moonlit sky said nothing, but put its hands up to it's face.

"To-morrow morning," went on the other quietly relapsing into his natural tone, "send a man to drive me into the township, for you and I must never look on each other again." He turned and re-entered his room.

The Balladune people have never yet accounted for the visit of Mr. Smith.


14. — TOMMY'S GHOST

The Bulletin, 22 Feb 1890

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

TOMMY came back from the township full to the chin, and, in addition, brought two bottles of rum with him. He began to talk long before he got in sight of the hut, where he lived with George, another stockman, and old Ben, who cooked for them. So reprehensibly careless was he in getting off his horse when he did arrive that only for the presence of mind of old Ben the two bottles would assuredly have been smashed. Ben, however, thoughtfully saved the bottles and let Tommy fall, instead of doing as a new-chum would have done—saving Tommy and letting the bottles fall. George took the saddle off his horse, and Tommy subsided on to his bunk and went off smiling peacefully.

"Doesn't seem to have touched them," said Ben, examining the two bottles carefully, whilst George got a couple of pannikins.

"I expect he had another one with him," suggested George, after they had taken a swill at the water-bag and each had sighed deeply.

"What! and drank the whole blessed lot of it!" cried Ben, with an air of the deepest and most awful disgust.

George nodded. "Think he'd have come all the way without a nip?" he retorted, with conviction in his voice.

Ben looked more than convinced. "The mean little dog! Hang it all, we'll run his track back in the morning to make sure. Perhaps he dropped the other bottle," he added, hopefully.

George shook his head as he refilled his pannikin and passed the bottle to Ben. "Might be some left in it, perhaps," he hazarded.

Then they both sat down for a while, filled their pipes and looked with disdain on the snoring culprit.

Presently Ben got the tea ready, and after an appetiser the two sat down to their meal. In the middle of it Tommy woke up and demanded a drink, and George promptly supplied him with water. But this was not all to Tommy's taste,—rum was what he wanted.

The two looked doubtfully at each other: such a pity to waste good liquor on a man incapable of appreciating it. Then Ben rose to the occasion. He took the rum-bottle and poured a mere trifle in a pannikin, then he put in a fair allowance of cold tea from a billy that had been standing since dinner-time. Tommy drank it and was content, there was the colour and smell of rum about it, and that was enough; he subsided again.

After the decks had been cleared George and the cook sat down to a game of euchre, and were just enjoying the first nip out of the second bottle when Tommy commenced to make himself a nuisance again, and this time no amount of cold tea would satisfy him.

"Hang the little beggar!" said George at last, after putting him back in his bunk fur the third time; "I'll tie him down."

"That's it," said Ben, "then we can have our game in peace."

George got the greenhide leg-rope and between them they took two good turns right round Tommy, bunk and all, pinioning his arms to his side. Having made all fast with two half-hitches they returned to their unfinished game, leaving Tommy to howl and swear horribly, of which permission he took the fullest advantage.

"What do you say?" said Ben when they were about to turn in, and he meditatively regarded the last half of the second bottle which they had agreed to keep until the morning; "shall we give him one and then untie him?" Tommy had been quiet for some time and George looked at him critically.

"He might be foxing, you know, and get up when we were asleep and' polish all this off, no matter where we plant it."

"And if he didn't find it he might get the horrors and knock one of us on the head when we were asleep," said Ben.

"Just so. I'll stop awake and untie him in about an hour's time," suggested George.


THIS they both agreed was the very best plan, but, unfortunately, the rum was potent, and, although George meant to stop awake to watch Ben in order to see he didn't tap the morning's supply, and Ben meant to do the same with Bob, they had no sooner laid down than both were fast asleep at once and the sun up an hour before they awoke.

"Tommy's very quiet," said Ben, "look how he's twisted his head over the bunk?"

George went over to him, lifted his head back, and untied the leg-rope; then, his eyes having got some of the sleep out of them, he looked a little closer.

"Yow!" he yelled, "He's dead!"

"Be hanged!" roared George, rushing over. There was no doubt about it, and the unfortunate little fellow must have died of apoplexy.

One looked piteously at the other, and then, with shaking hands, they sought out the half bottle, and after a couple of stiff drinks felt a little more courage. The next question was, what was to be done?

Go into the head station and report, and say nothing about the rope business. Agreed nem. con..

George went down the paddock for a couple of horses, and Ben carefully waited outside the hut until he returned. Then they saddled up and started to ride in the ten miles leaving poor Tommy dead on the bunk.

Naturally there was consternation at the head station, and the super, who was a J.P., started back with the two survivors, accompanied by a jackeroo who owned a prayer-book, to inspect and inter poor Tommy. Still greater was the consternation when they arrived at the out-station for there was no Tommy to inter. The corpse had disappeared. In vain Ben and George pointed to the bunk as if that was sufficient proof of Tommy's decease. The super was not to be convinced; the whole thing was a drunken spree, and in high wrath he gave the culprits a week to clear out or find Tommy, and departed home.

Ben and George sat and looked at each other, and the situation was beyond them; they smoked sullenly till darkness came before they thought of turning to get some tea. Then Ben went to work to light a fire and George picked up the bucket and went down to the creek for water.

Ben was busy fanning the smoky embers with his hat, when he heard a yell of terror that nearly took the roof off the hut, then came the sounds of flying feet towards the place. Ben's heart stood still, but his presence of mind did not desert him. With great pluck and promptitude he slammed the door in the face of George and his pursuer, and left them to fight it out outside.

In vain George beat frantically at the slabs and appealed for help. Ben was adamant. "If the devil takes it out of George he'll let me off," he thought. But despair made George desperate, and he burst the door in at length and appeared with his face full of terror and his hands full of splinters.

"Tommy's ghost!" was all he could exclaim, "tackled me at the creek and beat me up here with a leg-rope."

Ben trembled with horror, and they both looked helplessly at each other. "Listen," whispered George, "he's coming!"


STEPS were certainly approaching, and, trembling with fright, the two crouched under the furthest bunk, which certainly was not the one where Tommy died. The fire had now burnt up bright and clear and, to their horror, the hidden pair saw the corpse of poor Tommy walk into the hut. The apparition stalked over to the fire and, to their added horror, they noticed that it carried a bottle of rum under its arm. The ghost looked sternly round, and the guilty ones wondered that it did not hear the drops of sweat pattering off their foreheads to the ground. At last it seemed to find what it wanted—a pannikin—but a further search revealed no water, and, with a sigh of heartfelt relief, they watched it depart towards the creek. They stole out, moist with fear and spoke in whispers.

"Shall we hook it before it comes back?"

"It might catch us in the dark—"

"Ooh! here it is again," and there in the doorway stood the ghost, sternly contemplating them. It raised the pannikin to its lips, drained it, and then, shaking the rum-bottle at the trembling couple, said, tauntingly, in sepulchral tones: "Not one blooming drop shall you coves have, if you've got your tongues out a yard for it." Then Ben rose to the occasion. He always did. He smelt the rum, and he knew a ghost ought to smell of brimstone.

"It's Tommy alive, after all!" he cried.

And so it appeared. He had come to himself after they left, and, inspired and upheld by a diabolical thirst of forty alligator power, he had followed his tracks back and found the lost bottle full. Returning to the hut and finding no water in it he had gone to the creek, and, after a good swig, had fallen asleep again until aroused by George coming down with the bucket.

They squared it with the super, somehow, but they never trust Tommy in the township alone now.


15. — MRS. STAPLETON NO. 2

The Bulletin, 20 Apr 1893

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

THE deceased Mrs. Stapleton had been always noted as slightly the better horse of the team, and I am afraid matters were not improved by some of Stapleton's wild and unthinking friends, who, because he became pot-valiant in his cups, would seduce him into that condition and then send him home to defy the late Mrs. Stapleton.

Unfortunately, these outbreaks of bravado always resulted in Stapleton's protracted seclusion from the public gaze. Cuts and bruises don't easily heal on the man who "nips."

To everyone's astonishment, however, Stapleton took the loss greatly to heart. He shunned company, went about in deep mourning, and vowed that his heart was buried in his wife's grave.

It was at this period that he met that interesting little widow, Mrs. Beausant, who had buried her husband and her heart just about the time when Mrs. Stapleton died. There was a good deal of sympathy between them, and they entertained one another with long eulogiums on the respective dears-departed. They even went in company to the respective cemeteries, and each complimented the other on the taste displayed in the matter of tombstones. Death is a weird thing. Love is weirder still.

"Had my darling but survived me," said Stapleton, "this is exactly the stone I should have dreamt of her selecting"—indicating the ponderous block of marble which held down the remains of the defunct Beausant.

"And," said the little widow, as they gazed at the tomb of the gone-before Mrs. Stapleton, "if my angel had lived to bury me, this is just the tribute he would have paid to his."

Such a mingling of tears could lead but to one result. They agreed to comfort each other, and proceeded to do so.

The marriage promised to turn out happily, and Stapleton soon resumed his former habits and became a jolly dog once more. One midnight he reached home in a state of obfuscation; so confused was he that next morning he remembered nothing about his arrival. However, there he was in his own bed "with a head on him."

He crept out, went over to the glass, and examined his face. Not a mark on it! Mrs. Stapleton, No. 2, had not served him as had been the wont of Mrs. Stapleton, No. 1. He slipped into bed again, just as his wife appeared.

"Well, ducky," she said. "How's its little head this morning?"

"Good gracious!" thought Stapleton, "What a lucky dog I am! I must take advantage of this. No weakness, now," he groaned, dismally.

"Could you get me some brandy and soda, cold, old girl? Selina (No. 1) always had some ready for me."

Now, the fact was, that Selina used not only to give him no cold soda and brandy—but she used to bang him soundly and take away his clothes, so that he could not go out to get any.

"Yes, lovey," said the model No. 2; "he shall have it iced," and she left the room.

Stapleton almost capered about in anticipation of the glorious times he would have with such an obedient spouse.

Little No. 2 came back with some brandy and iced soda; then she brought him in an appetising breakfast of devilled kidney, hot toast and strong tea, and after he had consumed it and taken a tub, he felt a new man. How much better this was than being locked up with yesterday's paper and a black-eye!

"No weakness," he murmured to himself. "I must keep this up;" and I regret to say that he did. Instead of showing his gratitude for such a jewel of a wife by trying to reform, he seemed to consider that he had taken out a license for bad behaviour.

Mrs. Stapleton No. 2 was a plump, pleasing little woman of about six-or-seven and twenty, who never showed that she possessed any temper at all, despite the airs Stapleton now began to assume—for there is no worse tyrant than your emancipated slave. One evening he got home early, and, on entering the drawing-room, found his wife just bidding farewell to a good-looking middle-aged man, who, without taking the slightest notice of him, put his arm round Mrs. Stapleton's waist and gave her several hearty kisses, to which she made no objection. The utter coolness of the proceeding so paralysed the husband that he did not find voice for anything but a half-choked yell of rage ere the stranger had left the house. Then his wife turned to him and smilingly remarked; "What a nice man Captain Johnson is, I do love him so!"

The yell now broke forth in dead earnest.

"You wretched woman!" he shouted, dancing about the room, "How dare you! Leave my house!"

"Why, Charley, what's the matter?" she cried, in mock surprise.

"What's the matter? A man kisses her before my face and she asks me what's the matter?"

"Why, Charley, surely you don't mind that. Beausant didn't mind it."

"Beausant didn't mind men kissing you before his face!"

"No, not if they liked it," she returned, blushing coyly.

"Not if they liked it!" he sneered. "And I suppose they often liked it?"

"Yes, I am afraid they did."

"And how often has Captain Johnson been to see you, madam?"

"Oh! only sometimes when you've left me alone."

"And" (sarcastically) "anybody else?"

"Just a few nice fellows."

Stapleton shook his fist wildly and plunged for his hat.

"Charley," she cried "what is the matter? Poor Beausant never found fault with me. Oh you are cruel!" and she shed a few bitter tears.

"Madam, I am going to consult my lawyer."

"But, Charley dear, dinner will be ready directly, and—he's left his office by this time."


THE door banged behind Stapleton, and the next moment he was nerving himself for the ordeal by draining a bumper of Dutch courage. It did him good, and he tried another. Then a friend came in and they took a drink together; other potations followed, and Stapleton began to bemoan his fate and vow he would never go home again. But he did; he got home somehow and awoke with at least three heads on him. Nobody came near him now; there was no brandy and cold soda. He called the servant and asked after his wife. She had gone out. Where? To the races. This was a staggerer. It was nearly 11 o'clock; he would get up and see about it. He dressed and descended. The girl brought him some breakfast—cold mutton and weak tea! Ugh! he put on his hat and went out. This time he did go to the lawyer's—but the lawyer, he found, had likewise gone to the races.

Stapleton passed a sad day, and when Mrs. S. came home at nearly seven o'clock, radiant and smiling, he was fairly boiling with wrath.

"Well, Charley." she said. "I had a splendid day. I hope Mary looked after you properly!"

"Mary did not look after me properly. I have had a most miserable headache all day. Your heartless conduct—"

"Not at all, Charley—yesterday's whisky, and no little wifey to doctor him up as Selina used to do."

"Selina, madam, knew how to behave herself. She did not allow men to kiss her."

The trouble was that no man would have cared to kiss Selina.

Mrs. Stapleton laughed. "Charley, a fair thing is a fair thing. I've tried to act up to the memory of the departed Selina. Why can't you imitate the lamented Beausant?"

"Because! Because! Because I won't—there!"

"Then I won't nurse you up any more when you take too much overnight."

The worm had turned.

"You'd better make a bargain, and if you promise to be a good boy in future, I won't let any fresh men kiss me," she continued.

"I'll take care of that, madam, or at least my lawyer will."

Mrs. Stapleton laughed gaily. "Now, Charlie, behave yourself for the future, and I'll do the same. Not that I've done anything very dreadful yet, for Captain Johnson—as I called him—is my brother Dick from up-country, who's been here to meet you several times, but you were always out with your friends, getting—well, drunk. He was in the house once when you came home, but you had taken too much whisky to see him."

Stapleton is now as reformed a character as Tommy Walker.


16. — A TRADITION OF THE MACARTHUR RIVER

Evening News, Sydney, 6 Jun 1896

THAT was a wild goose chase, and I tried hard to dissuade Parker from going; but the blacks had brought in such detailed particulars that he was determined on testing the truth of their tale. It was on a newly formed cattle station on the Upper Macarthur, and Packer was in charge. We had not very much to do; the cattle had settled down, and the season was a good, one; so we were principally occupied in exploring the run.

Now the niggers had brought in a yarn—and stuck to it—that, among a tribe who lived in the mass of broken ranges between us and the overland telegraph line, there was an old, old white man living with the blacks. According to their statement, he had been amongst the tribe as long as they could remember; and was now so aged and feeble that he could only crawl about by the aid of two short sticks. They indicated the way his back was bent, and how he looked like an animal on four legs, when walking.

All these circumstantial particulars impressed Parker with the idea that there was some admixture of truth in the report, and he determined to investigate it. I was not by any means so cock-sure on the matter. I had heard of the supposed existence of Klassen, the second in charge of Leichhardt's party, in many parts of Australia, and I had also heard the blacks minutely describe events which toad never happened. However, I consented in go, and accompanied by a native belonging to the country, we started, intending to be away only a week or ten days. It was more than a month before one of us saw the station again.

After leaving the good country which extended some miles back from the river, we came to a formidable range about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It was nothing but barren, naked sandstone, and as we did not care about tackling it at that time in the day, we turned back and followed down a small creek heading from the range, wherein we were lucky enough to find a little water and sufficient grass for camping purposes. Next morning early we scrambled up the range.

From the top we got a wide view to the westward, but it was by no means a prepossessing one. Far as we could see was a jumble of broken country. In the distance, almost due west, one fantastic, square-topped hill rose high against the horizon. Mutually, Parker and I came to the conclusion to make for that hill. I may mention here that the native we had with us was taken simply as a possible interpreter. As a guide he was useless, for the tribe of blacks we were in search of were avowedly at enmity with their neighbors, and allowed no trespassing on their hunting grounds.

It was a terribly rough journey that day, and early in the afternoon we were glad to turn out beside a big water hole in a river which cut its way through a spinifex tableland. We were still some distance from the square-topped mountain; but evidently the country was thickly populated, for the tracks of the natives and their old camps were to be seen everywhere. About the middle of the nest day we arrived at the hill we had been making for. It stood on the bank of a well-watered creek, and around the foot of it was a patch of good grazing country. The hill itself sloped until within about a hundred feet of the summit; then its cap or peak rose abruptly and precipitously, the top being square and flat. On the bank of the creek was a very permanent-looking native camp, with the fires in it still burning, as though but lately abandoned.

A shrill yell soon attracted our attention. Halfway up the hill, on a bare boulder, stood a blackfellow. He shouted, gesticulated, danced, and went through all the performances and antics natives do to show contempt. We made our nigger call out to him, but it only seemed to increase his rage, until we both of us felt very much inclined to send a bullet after him. Pity we didn't. However, this would not do, as we were anxious to come on friendly terms with them; so we fell to examining the camp, to see if we could discover any trace of a white man's presence there. We found nothing.

The hill being apparently isolated, we determined to ride around it before doing anything else. This took some time, but we saw no more blacks, and found it equally rugged on all sides. We had come to a standstill. We could not, with safety, leave our horses and climb the hill on foot, for the natives might easily spear the nags while we were away; so we were as far off as ever from achieving anything. We had something to eat, and gazed longingly at the unattainable hill before us.

Suddenly Parker drew my attention to a thin smoke rising from the black top. Evidently the blacks were camped up there, and quite beyond our reach. We therefore determined to select the most open place we could find a short distance away, and watch events. Perhaps we might catch some of the natives on the level country and run them down.

It was full-moon, that meat, and we thought it best to keep watch. Barker took the first watch, and woke me shortly after midnight, having seen nothing disturbing during the time he had been on the lookout. He had brought the horses up close to the camp just before he called me, and they were well in sight when I took his place and the turned in. The first hour passed wearily enough. Then, as I looked around, noting the position of the constellations, I became aware of a lurid red light visible through the tree-tops. Looking at it steadily, I came to the conclusion that it was a fire on top of the hill. Leaving the camp and manoeuvring about a little, I managed to get sight of the hill, and satisfied myself that this was the case. No flames were visible, but a flickering red glow, sometimes intensely bright, sometimes duller, but always unmistakably the reflection of a fire.

I aroused Parker, and together we watched this strange appearance. He was as positive as I was that It was not visible when I went on watch. We shook up toe boy, but he could make nothing of it, and, in fact, seemed very much frightened. Parker turned in again, and I continued my vigil until daylight. Naturally, the fire-glow of the night before was discussed from every point of view, and after breakfast we walked over to the mysterious mount, leaving the horses and blackfellow in camp. We never saw either of them again—in a sound condition.


ARRIVED at the mountain foot, we commenced to go slowly round it. All was silent and still. Suddenly Parker drew my attention to a trail of naked feet leading away to the westward, evidently freshly made. The same thought struck us both—the blacks had cleared off at daybreak that morning. Now was the time to examine the mountain top. We picked out the easiest-looking place, and commenced the ascent. When we came to the precipitous sides of the cone we had some difficulty, but at last found a jugged path, evidently used by the blacks.

We reached the top, and found we were on the edge of a cup-like hollow which occupied the whole of the apparently flat summit. Into this seeming crater we peered curiously. A strange smell arose, a compound of sulphur and burnt meat. The bottom was a curious jumble of boulders, from between which rose light wreaths of white smoke.

'This must be the long-talked-of burning mountain,' said Parker at last.

'Yes,' I returned; 'I have often heard yarns about it, but never expected to find it.'

'Feel inclined to go down?'

'Not if I know It,' I was just replying, when suddenly from the pit arose a long wail of anguish and pain. 'Look! look there' cried Parker. I strained my eyes, and saw a hideous human figure, hairless and scorched, holding up long, lean arms in supplication. It was impossible to tell whether it was a man or woman, for as we gazed an earth tremor shook the mountain, a split or crack seemed to open in the bottom of the hollow, and before Parker pulled me back and we threw ourselves down as far away as the ledge would let us, I caught a glimpse that I shall never forget.

Down, down an inconceivable depth I saw a sea of living flames. Over the edges of the crack fell the great boulders of scoria, and the black, writhing figure went down with them. There was a blast from hell in my face, and then, as we lay expectant, came another shock, which shook the mountain. The chasm had re-closed.

When we mustered our courage to get up and look over the edge, the air was stifling, and the smoke wreaths were rising once more.

'My curiosity is satisfied,' said Parker. 'Let's go back to camp.'


WE commenced the descent, but when half-way down were startled by the outcries of blacks at the foot of the mountain. We were nicely caught. There was a mob of them below watching for us. We kept out of spear-throw, and made as many signs of peace and amity as our experience suggested; but without avail, and they presently commenced climbing up towards us. There was no longer any time for ceremony. We of course took our rifles and revolvers with us, and from our post of vantage were able to use the former with effect. But it did not seem to deter these niggers, who acted in an entirely different manner to any blacks I have ever seen before. They were evidently mad with rage at our presence there, and the one who had danced on the rock the day before seemed leading them on. Parker shot him twice, and he was covered with blood; but still he kept on, and he was close to us when he finally fell. The others then drew back, and we had a spell, although it had been a very near shave. As soon as the natives were far enough away we went out and examined the body of the leader. In spite of being covered with grease, charcoal, paint, and blood, there was no doubt about it that, he was a half-caste, and, moreover, had tattoo marks on him, after the manner of a sailor.

We were very thirsty, and determined to endeavor to make our way back to camp, as it was evident the blacks had been, disheartened by the fate of this man. We got to where our camp had been without molestation, but it had been sacked, and both the blackfellow and the horses were gone. These last we tracked up and soon found, speared and hacked to death. Whilst looking at them and cursing our imprudence in leaving them, we heard men yelling and shouting from the hill. Collecting some cartridges lying about, we hastened towards it, and saw the niggers carrying the dead and wounded up the hill to throw into the crater. One, however, kicked and struggled furiously, and we both thought that it was the unhappy blackboy we had brought with us, to meet such a fate. Suddenly Parker seemed struck with a new idea.

'Come on!' he cried, and hurried off to where we had seen the big fresh trail. 'Their camp can't be far away,' he said, 'and there will be only the gins there now. Let's find out about that white man, at any rate.'

Parker was right—the camp, a very large one, was empty of all save some gins, and they ran yelling in front of one large humpy. We knocked them on one side with little ceremony, and sure enough, there, at the entrance, appeared an ancient, white-bearded, swarthy-faced man, bent double with age, and supporting himself on two short sticks. In fact, he looked, as the blacks described him, like some strange four-legged animal. His filmy eyes did not recognise us. It was the loud cries of the gins which had roused him. It had aroused others, too; for before we had time to try and speak to the white man the natives came back, furious.

Fortunately, we were both good shots, or we should never have kept them at bay. They hurled every weapon they had at us, and killed their own gins and the unfortunate old white, whom I saw fall down with his head split open. I got two or three nasty cuts, but Parker was badly hit, and it was with the greatest difficulty I got him back, when there was a lull, to the site of our old camp. The blacks had got a sickener, however, and gave us another spell. I managed to gather up some of the rations which had not been destroyed, only scattered, and then nursed Parker until he died, about a fortnight afterwards.

The natives never came near me, although I used to hear them crying out at times, and I at last got back to the station on foot, in a very miserable and forlorn condition. The hill where we came to such utter grief I take to be somewhere on the head of the Limmen River, and anybody who feels any curiosity in the matter can go there and satisfy it.

For myself, I am not going back—I am perfectly satisfied.


17. — THE EXTRA HAND

Evening News, Sydney, 11 and 18 Nov 1899

I

'DID you ever hear about that island?' said the engineer as he pointed to a low, sandy islet, one of the few visible portions of the Great Barrier Reef.

'No,' I replied. 'It does not look very interesting.'

No more it did, being all sand, save a melancholy growth of stunted bushes on the highest point, and the skeleton frame-work of what had been once a drying shed for bÍche de mer.

'Thought you might have heard about it, as you've been up and down the coast pretty often. Why, the yarn is that whenever a boat passes there, about midnight—any sort of boat, from a first-class steamer to a dinghy—an extra man is found on board. He comes aboard just before reaching the island, and after passing it a mile or two he jumps overboard and disappears.'

'Good old legend,' I said.

'I've never seen him myself,' went on the chief, 'but I know that several steamers have stopped here, and lowered a boat, under the impression that someone has jumped overboard. But the tally has been always found right, and although people have sworn to seeing the man jump, none of them could find out anything, and they just had to log it and go ahead.'

'What's the story connected with this appearance?'

'Ah, only one man knows, and he's a leper on Friday Island.'

'That's queer. How is that known?'

'It's not exactly known, only guessed. This man was taken from that island to the leper station when that old trepang station was abandoned. Ever since he was taken away that extra hand—that's his name among we—has taken to coming aboard. There were two men there at the station, but only one came away. He signalled a steamer, and got them to leave word at Cooktown that he had contracted leprosy, and wanted to be taken off the island, so the Government launch came out with the doctor, and he's now at Friday Island.'

'Didn't he say what had become of his companion?' I asked.

'He absolutely refused to give any information, and as the natives that the men had employed had gone over to the mainland, and dispersed amongst their own tribes, there was nothing to be done but to cart him off.'

'I'm stopping at Thursday Island for a week or two. I'll try and find out some more.'

'I don't think you will, for they say he never speaks—just gets his rations and camps by himself.'


I COULD find out no more about this mysterious extra hand, save that most of the men who went up and down the coast implicitly believed in the apparition.

While at Thursday Island I made the acquaintance of the doctor who had charge of the leper station, and asked him about the patient who came there from the Barrier.

'Vantroop, you mean,' he answered. 'I can tell you nothing at all about him, for the very good reason that the man never utters a word if he can help it. A short and curt reply to an absolutely necessary question is the utmost you can get from him.'

'Vantroop!' I echoed. 'I knew a Vantroop once, but surely it cannot be he. He was fairly well off, and had no need to go bÍche-de-mer fishing on the Barrier. His wife and family are still in Sydney, for I saw Mrs. Vantroop when I passed through Sydney the other day.'

'Did you ask after her husband?' said the doctor.

'To tell you the truth, I did not; nor did she say anything about him.'

'I shouldn't be surprised if this is your Mend, for this man, when he was first taken there, and had to make the necessary statements, denied that his name was Vantroop, but said that that was the name of the man who had been his partner. But people at Cooktown, who knew them both, say that this man was always known as Vantroop. If he has a wife and family, I can quite imagine that the poor devil wishes himself to be thought dead, and would hide his name.'

'What is he like?'

'A tall, fair man, very fair, in fact; about 45 years old or so.'

'That fairly' answers the description. I wonder whether I could 'see him?'

'What would be the good?' said the doctor. 'You may be sure that he, a leper, does not want to see anyone he has known when he was a clean man.'

'That's true. But perhaps if I keep his secret I may be able to do something for him. We used to be good friends once, many years ago, if this is the game man.'

'Well, I could get you an order, if you think you can do the man any good.'

'Is he very bad?'

'Not yet; he is not repulsive to look at, if that is what you mean. He will be soon, though; I can see the disease getting worse during the last few months.'


THE doctor got me an order or permit to go with him on his periodical visit to the leper station. All of the patients, save Vantroop, were Chinamen or islanders, and it was not until after the stores had been landed and distributed, and the wretched creatures had drawn back, that Vantroop advanced.

The doctor had some special things for him, and he told him about my coming. I was standing by the boat, where she had been run up on the beach, and from where I was I could see him gaze earnestly at me, but he made no sign. I had recognised him as soon as he had appeared, for he was one of those men whose appearance is unmistakable. Presently the doctor returned.

'He will see you, Whitcombe,' he said; 'but I can't give you long.'

'Can't I stop here, and you send for me presently?'

'It would be against the rules altogether, and some busybody on the island would be writing to the Government, saying that men were allowed to go backwards and forwards to the leper station, just as they liked, spreading the germs of leprosy everywhere. Personally, I don't care a cent, but you know how many meddling fools there are in the world.'

I went up to Vantroop.

'Well, Whitcombe,' he said, 'I suppose you never dreamt of finding me here? I won't shake hands, thank you; my right hand is going bandy.'

What could I answer? What could I say? To express sympathy with a man slowly undergoing a living death, would seem a mockery. I tried to say something, but he interrupted me.

'Never mind, old man, I guess all you would like to say, so take it as said. Don't you think I have broken myself in to the inevitable by this time? Now, is there anything you can tell me about the other world?'

'I met your wife in Sydney a few weeks ago; she was well, and I understood that the children were the same.' f course, she Imagines I am dead?' he said calmly.

'I was not aware of it. I only met her in the street, and just when I was about to speak of you somebody interrupted us. I was then going aboard the steamer, and did not see her again. She was not to mourning?'

'No. I have been here more than two years. When you go back make a point of seeing her, and giving her some details of my death. I will furnish you with them.'

I thought a few minutes, and then said I would.

'How did the ghost story come about?' I asked. 'I hear that you occupied the island where the "extra hand" is supposed to board the boats.'

'What extra hand? What ghost story? Remember, I am buried alive, and never hear anything.'

His tone was more excited than it had been yet, and I told him the story as the chief had told it to me. A look of keen satisfaction stole over his face.

'It works, it works! Thank God!' he muttered.

I gazed at him wonderingly, and as I did so a warning whistle came from the boat. I had only a quarter of an hour more, and told Vantroop so.

'Never mind,' he said. 'The doctor must stick to red tape, but I will write down what I want you to do, and you write me all you know about my people. Do you think you can get me photographs of the youngsters?'

'Rather a difficult task without a decent lie to back me up, but I'll try.'

'Would you go to No. 14 Island for me? There are some pearls there worth, getting. Take some for your expenses, and give the rest to my wife.'

'More lies!' I said, my sense of humor overcoming me at the thought of the net of deceit I should soon be entangled in.

'Never mind. You have done me a world of good—that is, if anything can do a rotting leper any good. The extra hand!' and he turned abruptly away, and went off, laughing strangely.

'I suppose he's your man?' queried the doctor, when I took my seat in the stern, and we backed out.

'He's the man. But, doctor, he is dead—let him die. His name is probably not Vantroop.'

'I understand,' said the doctor. 'Vantroop is dead, as far as I am concerned.'


I STAYED a fortnight longer at Thursday Island, and during that time I exchanged communications with Vantroop. I did not see him again; he asked me not to, and I well understood his reason. The time came when I had to leave on my return, but, in accordance with my promise to Vantroop, I meant to go first to Cooktown; there procure a lugger, visit No. 14 Island, and get the pearls he spoke of, then return to Sydney.

He had sent me the story of his adventures, which had finally landed him in the leper station at Friday Island, and this is how it ran:

VANTROOP'S STORY

I WAS tired of easy living; the restlessness of the born wanderer had come upon me, and I felt that I must be off once more to the freedom of semi-civilised society. Wife and children were dear to me, but the smell of the salt sea breeze, the love of savagedom, the wild unrestraint of an outside life, were hot in my veins, and the force, the unknown force that has always dragged men of our race away, dragged me away from the position of a respectable citizen of Sydney to the fate of a leper on Friday Island.

I had not quite made up my mind when I came across an old friend—you met him, Whitcombe, you remember Charley Bancroft? He had been pearling up in the northern seas, and was doing well. I did not want for money, but I wanted adventure, for the remembrance of old times, and old frays still coursed hotly in my brain, so I consented to join him on a trip. I made every arrangement for my wife and family, in case of my death; fortunately, as I am dead, as you know. Then I started on a pearling voyage with Bancroft, I finding some of the needful capital. So far as a pearling voyage was concerned, our trip was not much of a success. Bancroft had wild ideas about banks of shell amongst the islands to the east of Java, and we got a permit from the Dutch Government, which claims sovereignty over those seas, and sailed amongst the many islands, and led a lazy, roving life, but found neither shell nor pearls.

At last we came to an island, seldom visited by whites—one of the group east of Ceram. At one of these islands we made the acquaintance of an old Rajah, who was paid by the Dutch, and held great state in consequence. He had two daughters, and both Bancroft and myself fell under the spell of their dark eyes. In this lotus-eating kind of life we were leading a dusky love seemed a necessity, and, in consequence of yielding to the spell, I am now what I am, a leper on Friday Island.

Let me tell the story as I know it now, and, though I do not seek to find any excused for myself, still there are excuses which another may find. I have said there were two daughters, Nuhu Raka and Nuhu Rota, Raka being the eldest and the most beautiful. Both Bancroft and myself fell in love with her, but Raka favored me, and Bancroft transferred his devotion to Nuhu Rota, the younger. We stayed on at the island, and gave the old Rajah rifles and cartridges, and other European things that his soul hankered after, and forgot the world. But I had aroused a feeling of hatred in Bancroft's heart, which did not cause him to forget anything, and especially that I had won the love of Raka. Then came the catastrophe.

A Dutch gunboat came to the island. The old Rajah made much of his visitors, but they, with the boorishness of their nature—the Dutch naval officer is far beneath those of other nations—looked askance at us. Trouble followed. The first lieutenant made violent love to the youngest daughter, Rota, and aroused Bancroft's wrath, and they quarrelled. Quarrelled to blows, and Bancroft gave the Dutchman a neat pair of black eyes, A challenge followed—a secret one, by the way, for the Dutch officer feared arrest if his Commander came to hear of it. Bancroft shot his opponent through the heart and then there was no help for it—we had to fly, but how? The gunboat could overhaul our schooner if we; attempted flight by sea; and, in fact, as soon as the party got on board with the officer's boat, an armed boat's crew went off and seized her. Fortunately, we were not on board.

The Rajah concealed us, and promised to see us conveyed over to the other side of the island, and shipped away. The duel had been fair enough, but we knew we would get no justice from the Dutch. A lifelong prison would be our doom, a death amongst colored men of the lowest, of the most criminal class, and our fate kept secret. This is the sort of justice the Dutch of the East Indies deal out.

Well, the old Rajah wanted his price for assisting us away, and that price was my marriage with Raka. Bancroft plied me with reasons, for it was our only hope, and I consented in a fit of partial intoxication, Bancroft assuring me that a marriage by island rites meant nothing, knowing all the time the horrible secret that made the Rajah wish to get rid of Raka.

I will not say any more of my mad sin, which has brought on me much dire punishment, save that we were safely escorted across the island, and at parting the Rajah bestowed upon me as a wedding gift a magnificent lot of pearls, the value of which even the old fellow himself did not know.

Our destination was a station on the southern coast, occupied by a Jesuit missionary, at which an occasional schooner called at times. There we stayed until the schooner should arrive—myself, Raka, and Bancroft. That priest! He was a relic of The Middle Ages. Devoted to his faith, good, self-sacrificing, and rejoicing in a possible martyrdom from fever. It was after we had been there some week or two that the father spoke to me—we had become friends.

'Son,' he said, 'you are a sinful man. That I know, for you have wedded this woman, who Is not of your race, but a heathen, and I believe yon have a wife in your own country. So says your friend.'

'My friend!'

'God's hand is heavy upon you. You will never see them more; the punishment falls on you in this world, and by God's mercy you may gain peace after death. But you must suffer,' and the good priest hid his face in his hands.

'Father, what do you mean?' I shouted.

'I mean the worst. Son, misguided and sinful, know the worst. The heathen wife you have married is a leper, and you, too, will become one.'

II

When manned by more than signed with us,
We passed the Isle o' Ghosts.

IT did not take long for the whole truth to become apparent to me. The marriage of Raka had been insisted on because the secret of her leprosy evidently could not be kept much longer, and it being made public would, perhaps, cause the deposition of the old Rajah; her marriage would at once relieve him from this fear. Bancroft knew of it, probably from Rahu, and, anxious only to escape from the vengeance of the Dutch, had connived at my ruin.

Naturally, my first and only consuming thought was one of revenge, and if it had not been for the restraining influence of that wonderful priest I would at once have choked the life out of Bancroft. But I feigned to listen to his exhortations not to stain my hands with his blood, and I know now that it has given me a surer and more lingering vengeance. The unhappy Raka found a friend in the priest, who promised to see that she would be cared for at his station; but before we left that accursed spot where first I learnt that I was an outcast leper, she came to me and told me something ere she bade me good-bye, something that you will not believe; but you will; before you return from No. 14 Island. She told me of a charm, a spell, one practised amongst her people, by which one could bring the soul of another under his sway before and after death. Without believing at the time, I grasped eagerly at what promised, in however wild a way, to satisfy the desire for some abnormal form of vengeance which madly possessed me. From her I learnt the heathenish rites which gave me a power over Bancroft, during life as I know, and now, from what you have told me, during death also. When we finally got to Queensland, I told him that he must hide himself from the vengeance of the Dutch Government, though he stood in no real danger from its power. Therefore, I advised that we took an island on the Barrier, and started fishing. Goodness knows, I, too, had cause enough to hide myself from my fellow men.

So we came to No. 14 Island, and got some Binghis from the mainland and started fishing for bÍche-de-mer, and I led him a life of torture from that out. I was in hopes that he would catch the leprosy from me, but he did not, and as my disease got worse, I had to make up my mind to bring things to a climax. I sent the blacks away; then one night I told Bancroft that I was going to board a steamer going up to Thursday Island, and we would put off and get in her track. Now, Bancroft always had a horror of drowning, and when we got well away from the island I forced him overboard, and told him to swim behind till he was tired, and then I would pick him up again. He swam behind, calling out to me in terror now and again, until at last, when I heard him getting faint, I hailed him and told him that when he died he should pass his time in vainly swimming off to passing boats and being taken on board, but it would avail him nothing, for my curse would compel him to jump overboard again and swim back to the island. And he is doing it, and I shall die happy, as happy as I was when I heard his last choking cry.


THIS was practically the end of Vantroop's letter, beyond directions for finding the pearls and what to do with them when realised on. This was a nice sort of legacy to leave a man, to search over a ghost-haunted islet for some pearls which might, after all, be only the mad creation of a leper.

However, it suited me to go, and, after returning to Cooktown, I leased a lugger, got an old friend to accompany me, and, with a couple of kanakas and an old Malay, started for No. 14. We reached there, and rigged up a camp, and that night the old Malay came and asked who the white man was walking about the island.

I told him I knew nothing about any white man, and he retired, vowing something in his native tongue which did not sound like a blessing. However, he could not do much harm to a ghost, and by to-morrow I hoped to be away. Before dark I had noted down the spot where we had to look for the pearls, which were enclosed in a box much too big for them; and after tea my friend and I took a spade and lantern, and went to dig them up.

'There's the old serang sitting on the very place,' said Rental, as we approached. But it was not the old serang, and as we approached the figure glided away in a very uncanny fashion. While we were digging up the box, which was there right enough, although I scarcely expected to find it, it flitted around us; but as it did not approach us, it did not disturb our labors, and we got safely back to camp with the box, but I swear that I heard a sound of wailing and sobbing as we left the spot.


NEXT morning it was a dead calm, and one of the hottest days I think I ever experienced, even in the torrid north. The sea had not a ripple on it, and the sky was without a cloud. We could not start, and had to spend the day on that oven of a place. Towards dusk a wind came up, and we made a start. Just as the sails were drawing, and the boat was getting way on, we all heard a cry, and in the dim light saw a figure dashing along the reef, through the shallow water, to overtake us.

'Don't let him on board! He no man!' screamed the old Malay, but the next minute the thing was alongside, and had scrambled on board. It was dark, but a lantern had been lit, and we could see that the thing that had boarded us had the semblance of a man, and I knew it must be the 'extra hand.'

Then a horrible thing happened. The old Malay, with the 'amok' fire in his eyes, threw himself on the stranger, and they fought together until they both went over the low side of the lugger. And they never came up again.

I delivered the pearls all right, but I heard from the doctor at Thursday Island that Vantroop, the leper, had committed suicide, and, as near as I could make out, it was about the very time we were leaving No. 14. I suppose Vantroop's death took the spell off the other fellow, and he was able to drown in peace.


18. — FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH

Evening News, Sydney, 13 May 1899

'I WOULDN'T sell that dog for any money,' said Tom Miles, as he filled his pipe in a meditative manner befitting an act of such importance. 'He saved my life many a time.'

The dog in question was the veriest mongrel and canine scamp to be found anywhere. The animal was a kind of liver and white color, and had only one sound eye and one good ear. To say it was white was wrong, for it was so abominably dirty that one could only suppose that it had been white once. Everybody hated it, including Tom Miles himself, for it was a regular Artful Dodger of a thief, would bite horses' heels on the sly, and make them buck; it would, in fact, do everything that a dog ought not to do, and leave undone all that a dog ought to do. The other dogs hated the creature. It would never fight, at least fight fair, but it had the quick snap of a native dog, and would come upon them suddenly when they were asleep, or not thinking of anything. Still, Tom was a good man, and popular on the station, so nobody shot or poisoned his dog, and put up with it. Tom often mentioned the fact that the dog had saved his life many times, but no one had ever heard the details, nor did anyone believe that such a wretched object ever did any good in his life.

One evening Tom enlightened us over one of these providential circumstances.


'I'LL tell you how Johnson Jones' (which was the name of the monster) 'came to get his name. Out west beyond the Wakero there lived a squatter called Johnson Jones, who was considered the meanest and most disagreeable old hunks about that part at that time. There might be worse than him since. Well, I was short of money and rations, so I concluded that I would tackle Mr. Johnson-Jones, although I had been warned that he never gave travellers a feed. However, at the worst, he could only say "No."'

'Mr. Jones was that mean that he had built his homestead on the worst and scrubbiest bit of land he could find, his reasons being that he wanted all the good country for his stock, and that if there was never any grass about the homestead, why, the "loafing travellers" would not be always camping there. The blacks were precious bad just at that time, and Jones had his place right in the heart of a brigalow scrub, as dull, dark, and horrible a place as ever a man chose to live in. The smell of the gidyea trees, distributed through the brigalow, was enough to poison a crocodile in wet weather. It was dusk when I got there, and I went up to the verandah to ask if I could stop the night, just as old Jones had finished telling his cook that if he ever opened more than two tins of jam in six months, he'd sack him on the spot. To my request he snarled out, "No," stating that he was being eaten out of house and home by wandering vagabonds like me. As I saw I could not get a feed, I up and answered him back, and we got to high words. In the end he said, "I'll set the dogs on you it you don't leave," and suddenly that brute there rushed at me, and commenced snapping at my legs. I kicked at the wretch, and somehow he got between my legs, and I tumbled over him. Just at that very moment-came a shower of spears from' a mob of blacks, who had crept up to attack the place. They went over me, but fetched Jones, and down he went. I jumped up and dragged him inside, where, fortunately, the cook was laying tea. He showed me where the firearms were, and with the assistance of the stockman we beat the niggers off; but poor Jones was past praying for, and so would I have been but for falling over that confounded tyke. That's the first time he saved my life.'

'But how did you come by him, Tom?' asked somebody.

'Oh! just before old Jones died I had done all I could for him, and he was a bit grateful. He sent for me and said: "You're not a bad fellow after all, and I'd like to show that I was thankful, just that somebody might say a good word for me when I'm dead. Now, I'll give you that dog;" then he turned his face to the wall, and that was the end of Hungry Jones. The dog took to me for some reason, and I christened him Johnson Jones after his old boss. That's how he got his name.'

'And how about the next time he saved your life?' asked the same inquisitive individual.

'Well, that was swimming across a flooded river. I was travelling down the Bundegar River, and had to cross it or starve, for the rations had given out, and all the stations were on the other side of the river; so I determined to swim over. I had a little tucker left that Johnson Jones had not succeeded in stealing, and in case I did not hit the bank near a station, I took the precaution of fastening it round my neck, so that It should be kept dry. My horse was a good swimmer, and Johnson Jones swims like a duck; but when I was halfway over my horse came against a snag, and I got a kick that nearly finished me. But I managed to struggle on a bit. Then I was about going under; but suddenly I heard a bark, and that faithful dog was hauling and tearing at the swag round my neck, and brought my head above water again. How we struggled ashore I don't know; but I remember lying on the sand, with Johnson Jones tearing at my neck, and devouring all the grub there was left. Then I realised that Johnson Jones had been anxious to rescue the rations and not me.'

'And the next time he saved you?' said the same voice.

'Ah! that was a near shave! It was on the boundary of New South Wales and Queensland, and we had all gone in for a spree. When I say 'in' I mean into a small township that marked the line between the two colonies. Johnson Jones distinguished himself. He bit the landlord, the barmaid, the landlords wife and children, and finally bit the half-caste groom, and that made him sick. Well, the landlord bucked around, and said that either I must kill that dog or he would. This ended in my leaving, and going out to a water-hole, about a mile away, to camp and await my mates.

'They came after three days—four of them in a dray, a common tip dray, nothing on them but their trousers, for they had all been fighting before they were carted away, and when the man reached my camp he tipped the whole lot out to sort themselves out as best they could. I asked the driver, who was one part sober, If he had any liquor to pick them up with, and he grinned and brought out some bottles of black-strap, which would do for foot-rotting sheep.

'I wrestled with those, four men in mad D.T.s. for two days, giving them small doses of hell-fire occasionally; but they all died. You might have seen it in the papers under the title of "Shocking Outbreak of Cholera." Now, if Johnson Jones had not bitten those people, I should have been stiff too. That's the third time the dog saved my life.'


TOM ended, and nobody, spoke for a while. Then the seeker after information said:

'Was there a fourth time?'

'Certainly there was,' said Miles. 'The fourth time was me queerest shave of me lot. I was on the Mukki, and Jones, the dog, was, of course, with me. Well, we travelled down the blessed river looking for work until we came to a small township. It was about the smallest township I ever came across. There was one pub, a blacksmith's shop, and a store. Beyond that only a few houses, mostly carriers' wives. I was told I could get a cheap bed at one of these, as they mainly let out lodgings for travellers. As soon as I went into the one I was directed to, Johnson Jones distinguished himself my attacking the decent woman of the house and tearing her child's frock off. She told me she would take me in if I got rid of my dog, so I got an old bullock yoke and half killed him, and after biting me twice on the ankle he departed.

'That night there was a murder committed at a small pub about four miles outside the township. I went out early in the morning for a stroll, and found Johnson Jones outside. He expressed his readiness to forgive me, and accompanied me on my walk, during which I met two mounted troopers, who immediately dismounted and arrested me, charging me with the murder that had been committed the former night. I had nothing to do but accompany them, and was put in the lockup in company with that artful dog.

'It seems that I was identified as the assassin by means of the dog, who, after I had hammered him with the yoke, had gone away, and witnessed all the murder, and made but that he belonged to the murderer. Only, for the evidence of the woman who had been my landlady, who testified, in consequence of the dog, that I and he came there together, and that I remained like a respectable lodger, after hunting the dog away—this, and the real man being found soon, afterwards, got me off, but I believe if it had not been for Jones biting the children, I should have been hanged.'


A YEAR or two afterwards I met one of the chaps who had sat there that night, and I asked after Tom Miles.

'He's dead, poor fellow,' he answered.

'Dead?'

'Yes; got a spill, and his horse fell on him. He was not found for some days. You remember his dog?'

'Yes, the faithful Jones.'

'Well, he stayed beside poor Tom all the time, and when they found him he had pretty well eaten half of him.'


19. — THE NEW SUPER OF OAKLEY DOWNS

The Bulletin, 29 Mar 1890

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

OAKLEY DOWNS, as it was called by courtesy, was noted throughout the district as a station warranted to ruin the proprietor quicker than any other two in the neighbourhood. The number of times it had changed hands was not on record, but the many men who had lost small piles on it were to be found all over the-colonies. Why in bitter irony it was called Downs nobody could understand, as from start to finish it was nothing but one mass of brigalow and gidya scrub. As for the cattle—well, the constant change of ownership and resulting neglect had rendered them notorious as the wildest scrubbers in Australia.

But in Sydney or Melbourne Oakley Downs was quite a different place. There, in the hands of the plausible stock and station agent, it became a gem of the first water. "Scrub, sir, of course there are small belts of scrub on it, and they form one of the most attractive features. All the best kinds of saltbush grow in the scrubs, and on Oakley Downs want of feed is never felt; fat cattle when you couldn't get a beast elsewhere, and, as for water, why, on some of the holes you could float the Orlando. Certainly there was plenty of water. The Bignargo river ran through the centre, a river of billabongs, wherein were long, serpentine holes of milky, clayey water, bordered on either side by the grey monotony of the brigalow. A more depressing, melancholy spot never existed than Oakley Downs."

It was with a feeling of commiseration, then, that the news was heard in the district that one more unfortunate had invested in the ill-starred place. Various rumours were afloat concerning the new proprietor. Some said he was an innocent new-chum, who had been shamefully taken in. Others would have it that it was a confident old hand, who had vowed to make the place pay when everybody else had failed, and altogether speculation was rife to an alarming extent. The old hutkeeper only grinned to himself. He was a fixture on the place and was passed on from one to another as the successive owners retired stone broke; as a rule, he gave each man eighteen months to get sick of his bargain, and then he calculated on six months of inglorious ease.

This misanthropic guardian sat outside the hut smoking his evening pipe and wondering when the new owner would make his appearance, when his eye was caught by a thin trail of dust rising over the scrub giving notice of the approach of a traveller. It was a feature of Oakley Downs that it was either bog up to the girths or dust. Presently the rider came in sight leading a pack-horse, and the nearer he came the more old Bill the hutkeeper stared. Such a peculiar figure had never been seen on Oakley Downs before. A sallow youth of about two-and-twenty, riding all over his moke as though he had never had much practice in horsemanship, and painfully pulling along a reluctant packhorse. He was dressed in black clothes, wore low shoes, had on a white shirt-collar, etc., and, to complete the "flabbergastion" of old Bill, a tall silk hat!

Bill was bereft of all powers of speech, but managed to come forward and take the packhorse, while the new-comer awkwardly and stiffly dismounted.

"This is Oakley Downs station?" he asked.

Bill intimated that it was.

"I've come up to take charge of it for my uncle," was the astounding answer. Bill could only gasp in silence. Oakley Downs, that had scared the best scrub-riders of the continent, in charge of this strange object!

"Are you a stockman?" was the next query. Bill replied that he was everything just then, and, overcome with pity, he led the two horses up to the verandah of the house, followed by the new Super, who walked very uncomfortably.

Bill unpacked and unsaddled the horses, and then told his new boss that he would bring him in some tea directly. The stranger thanked him effusively.

"You know," he said, "I get so confused with all those straps and things on the saddle; I had such a job to get that tail strap on this morning."

"That what?" asked Bill. The Super indicated the article which Bill recognised as the crupper, yet he said nothing, he was too far gone for surprise; but straightway went on to the kitchen and lay down on his bunk to enjoy the situation for five minutes.

When Bill took the tea in he found Mr. Melrose, for that, he informed Bill, was his name, seated reading a book. He had brushed his clothes and hair, and, as Bill said, "reminded him of church more than ever."

"I will get you to come over and talk to me a little after tea," he said to his astounded assistant, "I want to learn something about the run, and I suppose you know all about it."

In obedience to this summons Bill proceeded to the house and found Mr. Melrose with a number of books on the table, evidently produced from his voluminous pack-bags.

"I hear the oxen are considered very intractable," he said, after Bill had sat down.

Bill pondered a minute. "Do you mean," he said, "that the cattle are as wild as hell?"

The young man flushed painfully. "Do not use such strong expressions," he remarked. "Now I have been thinking over several devices whereby we might manage to bring them to subordination, and I should like your opinion of them. Here is an account of a man meeting a lion unexpectedly, and how, retaining his presence of mind, he stared fixedly at the animal, when the king of beasts slunk back into the jungle. How do you think that would work?"

"Is that a true bill, mister?" said Bill.

"Certainly; it's in a book published by the Religious Tract Society."

"Well," returned the puzzled cook, "if you're going to walk through these blooming scrubs until you meet a bullock, and then stare at him till he gets into the yard, you'll be a thundering old man before you get the first one in."

"Here is another plan which with the aid of some of our black brethren may be effectual. You see this engraving—it is in a book of African travel. The natives dig a great pit and put sharp stakes in it. Then they form a half-circle and drive all the game to this point and the game fall into the pit. Do you think we could do this with the cattle?"

"And how do you get 'em out of the pit?" asked Bill.

"They would have to be left there, I suppose," replied the young man, "I only thought of this as a last resource. Then there are pitfalls we might dig in the forest; traps we might set so that the ox would be caught by the leg when his bellowing would attract attention."

Bill began to feel uncomfortable. What did all this point to? Was he alone on the station with a howling lunatic?

"And now, before we separate for the night, I will read prayers, and then we will supplicate that the hearts of these savage beasts may be tamed and rendered gentle as they will be during the millennium."

Bill said afterwards he was afraid to cross him, so he sat out meekly half-an-hour of reading and praying and then departed.


ABOUT twelve o'clock, when all was silent, the noise of a horse leaving the station might have been heard. It was Bill, making tracks to the next station as hard as he could to report the arrival of a hopeless monomaniac. Cameron Vale, the next station, was only eight miles away, and when the owner, who was a good-natured fellow, heard Bill's strange story, he determined to ride over and investigate matters the first thing the next morning. Bill accompanied him, and the two of them arrived about seven o clock. Bill went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, and Dermott (the owner of Cameron Vale) introduced himself to Melrose as his neighbour. Melrose, in spite of his strange attire, was evidently a gentleman and as they sat at breakfast he returned to the subject of the cattle.

"I think," he said, in his feebly solemn voice, "that you trust too much to skill in horsemanship to gather the herds in. I was thinking of stretching fencing-wire from tree to tree throughout the forest at about two feet from the ground. It would thus form a perfect maze in which the animals would be completely bewildered, and over which they would constantly stumble. Do you not think they would speedily become frightened and tame?"

Dermott thought not, and, without betraying surprise, turned the conversation into the subject of the purchase of the station. Melrose informed him that the purchaser was his uncle, Dean Melrose, of Culquone, and that the place was bought cheaply for himself and his brother.

"Do you expect your brother up?" asked Dermott.

"I hope not," was the reply; "he will interfere a good deal with my plans. You see he has been used to station-life and got all the old-fashioned notions."

"Have you ever been on a station before?" asked Dermott.

"No," replied the other, with the first symptoms of irritability he had shown. "I have had a great disappointment. I was dedicated to quite a different work, but it matters not—I have my talent. I understand there is a large supply of water," here he continued after a pause.

"Yes, you've plenty of water," said Dermott

"So I understood; now I think that we could utilise it this way. Pump it into reservoirs high up in the trees in different places, then, by means of hose, use it to drive the cattle to where you wanted them to go. They would not face a strong stream of water. Do you understand?"

"Well, not quite," returned his companion.

"Ah! perhaps so, I know I am a good deal ahead of the time."

Dermott soon after took his leave, reassuring old Bill that there was no harm in the supposed lunatic, and he would probably have easy times of it. He himself determined to wire down to the agents and find out the truth of the matter, but in this design he was frustrated. Just as he was preparing to leave a horseman came riding rapidly up to the station. Whenever Melrose caught sight of him he uttered an exclamation of disgust.

"Now, here's Ned come to upset everything!"

The new-comer dismounted and saluted his brother laughingly. "You stole a march on me, old man, but I've managed to come up to tune after all." Melrose turned into the house with a dejected air, and Dermott introduced himself to the stranger, who was evidently the brother.

"Has Jim been saying anything funny?" asked the new-comer. "Fancy his riding up to the station in such a rig! I expected to pick up his pieces on the road."

Dermott said that some of his remarks showed a decidedly strong imagination.

"Ah, yes," said the younger man, "he was going to be a clergyman, but he overdid it. Broke down and had brain-fever from overwork. Since then he's got an idea that he can invent anything. He was coming up here with me, as we thought the change would do him good, but at Port Royal he gave me the slip and started off by himself, to commence some of his experiments, I suppose."

Oakley Downs was quite true to its name. Eighteen months quite satisfied the younger Melrose; but the next occupant found all manner of strange fixtures about the place, which Bill told him were due to the misdirected genius of the would-be cattle-tamer.


20. — BILL SOMERS

The Bulletin, 16 Feb 1895

My Only Murder and Other Tales, 1899

BILL SOMERS cheated me out of a nice little fortune of some fifty or sixty thousand pounds. Now, I never saw Bill Somers in my life; and he never saw or heard of me, and did not gain a single cent by the transaction. Nevertheless, Bill Somers is the man I have to thank for the present unsatisfactory condition of my finances.

I was managing my uncle's station—it ought to be mine, now. He lived in Sydney, paying only an annual visit to the place. He was a bachelor, and as he was a crusty and most argumentative old dog, I used to think it was just as well we only met occasionally.

Now, I myself am not argumentative except when people don't agree with me; still, one cannot live with a Sir Oracle for long without feeling obliged to differ from him occasionally. Naturally, my uncle supposed himself an authority on nearly every question under the sun, and I have no doubt he persuaded himself that he had really gone through the many experiences he used to relate. He was never at a loss for information to bolster his inventions; for he could always quote a man he used to know who knew all about it. That's how I came to hear about Bill Somers.

I was in Sydney for a few days on station business, and was dining with my uncle. Charming cottage and grounds (ought also to be mine).

Having finished all the "shop" we had to talk about, the old gentleman was holding forth on some sharp practices lately brought to light amongst the provision-shipping merchants.

"Why," he said, "in my time we would as soon—" There he hesitated, and I chipped in, jocularly, as I filled my glass: "Come, governor! you know you were never in the provision-shipping line."

My uncle was speechless for some time, whether from rage or because he was making something up I don't know; the latter, I suspect.

"No, sir," he said slowly at last; "I was never in the provision line, as you justly remark. But, was not my friend, Bill Somers, one of the leading provision-merchants in Sydney, and—" here he almost shouted—"don't I know all the ins and outs of the business from him?"

My uncle glowered at me for the rest of the meal, and I was glad to get back to town.

I was engaged at that time to one of the nicest girls in Sydney (who also ought to be mine). She was a great favorite of my uncle's; and as I was then fully justified in considering myself his heir, I had not much thought for the future. I told Kate all about my taking a rise out of the old man, and, to my surprise, she told me that I was very foolish. What was the good of contradicting my uncle about such a trivial thing? This annoyed me; and although, as I said before, I am not at all of an argumentative disposition, still I feel it my duty to assert myself and not allow statements to pass unchallenged when I know them untrue. I told Kate something like this; but she did not agree with me, and we parted rather coldly.


I WENT out to lunch at Nardoo Cottage next day; but, as ill-luck would have it, we had not got half-way through the meal when my uncle a subject on which I hold strong views—strong, simply because they are right. I like meat well-done, and contend that is the proper and healthy way to cook it. My uncle likes meat underdone—raw, I call it; and most absurdly insists that it is more nutritious when taken so. Over this apparently insignificant subject we fell out; and, my uncle being somewhat bitter and personal in his remarks, I retorted rather smartly (I can be very sarcastic when it pleases me):

"I suppose Bill Somers liked his meat raw?"

I thought he was going to throw something at me.

"Bill Somers was not a jackanapes like you, so he liked his food properly cooked," he growled.

"Let me see," I returned, reflectively, as I opened a bottle of soda water. "You say he traded down to the Cannibal Islands. I suppose that is where he acquired the taste."

"Leave my house!" shouted my uncle at the top of his voice. I laughed, and remarked that I would look rather queer appearing in the street bareheaded, with a glass in one hand and a bottle of soda in the other. This maddened him still more, but I did not let it disturb me, for we had rows like this whenever we met. Really, I must admit that the old fellow had been very kind to me.


WHEN I met Kate that evening she said, "How can you be so silly as to keep irritating your uncle? He called here this afternoon, and I could see that you have offended him very deeply. You will go too far some day."

This annoyed me very much. Kate evidently meant that my conduct might make a difference in my prospects; and this, I consider, hardly showed a proper appreciation of me. I knew that my uncle had in reality far too much admiration for my talents and ability to quarrel seriously. In fact, I was quite sure that he respected me all the more for my sturdy independence. Kate did not agree with me, and made a most uncalled-for remark to the effect that my conceit would be the ruin of me. We parted still more coldly than before, but I felt that Kate needed a lesson as well as my uncle.

I had to return to the station in a day or two, but was invited to dinner at Nardoo Cottage, to meet a few friends of my uncle. He was a forgiving old boy, I must say.

"Now, Harry," said Kate, "do not go out of your way to contradict your uncle this evening. Remember the difference in your ages and positions, and what you owe him."

I gave Kate a bit of my mind in return, and reduced her to tears before I left.


THERE were a bank-manager and two squatters at dinner that evening, and the talk was mostly "shop." I rather flatter myself on having stated my opinions upon stock-breeding and station-management confidently and in a way that left an impression. We were smoking with our wine, and the subject of cigars came up. Now, I am as good a judge of a cigar as any man, so, when my uncle praised those we were smoking, I lost my patience, for they were really nothing to brag about.

"They aren't bad," I commenced, "but—"

Here the old gentleman snapped in: "Confound your impudence! Not bad, indeed! You conceited young blockhead! do you know the difference between a cigar and a cabbage?"

All the other old fogies chuckled; and, very naturally, I felt nettled. However, I knew how to rub it in, so I exhaled a long puff of smoke and drawled out: "I presume Bill Somers selected them."

My uncle went purple. If apoplexy had only carried him off just then, I should have been right. He gasped, and then restraining his passion by a great effort, said quite quietly, "I have a word to say to you later on."

I was very facetious the rest of the evening. Emboldened by the way I had put the old man down, I had two or three more sly little hits about Bill Somers, until I felt that I must not wear the joke threadbare. That's the best of my wit—I always know when to stop; I don't run a thing to death like most men. At a sign from my uncle, I stayed behind when the others left.

"Henry Jamison," he said, "you appear to have deliberately gone out of your way to insult me every time you have accepted my hospitality. To-morrow you will return to Grimgums (the station), and remain there until you hear from me. Good night."

He certainly had the last word, and as I strolled townward I felt very wroth at the mean and unjust accusation he had brought against me. Just because he was too dense to understand my perhaps rather subtle humor and certainly harmless chaff, he said that I "insulted" him. I returned to Grimgums feeling very sure that my uncle would be extremely sorry for his conduct.

Scarcely had I been a week on the station when I received the following astounding epistle:


Dear Mr. Jamison,

If you look back, as I have done, you will, I am sure, agree with me that our tempers are not sufficiently sympathetic to hold out any prospect of happiness in the future. I have no wish to enter into details, as I know a little reflection will convince you that I am acting for the best. Your uncle, who was always in favor of our engagement, reluctantly admits that lam right. We will, therefore, consider the engagement at an end, but I shall always remain your sincere friend,

Kate Denby.


Was there ever such a shameful thing? Just because a girl cannot have everything her own way, she deliberately throws a man over. This letter was enough to give me food for thought, but I was fairly puzzled by one I received from my uncle a few days later. In it there was the following passage:


So through your infernal conceit and foolish want of tact you have lost one of the best girls in the world; but there is one thing I can tell you: you will be the only loser in the matter—she certainly shall not.


Fancy! I, conceited! A more modest man does not live. I may have sufficient self-respect to estimate myself at my right value, but that is all.

Explanation of my uncle's remark came to me in the form of a newspaper with a marked paragraph some six weeks later. My uncle and Kate Denby were married!!!

I was so justly incensed that I resigned my billet at once.

This happened three years ago, and the other day my uncle died—leaving a widow and a son and heir.

I suppose the brat's godfather was Bill Somers.


21. — A BUSH IDYLL

Evening News, Sydney, 9 Jun 1900

(Sis, Ciss and Cissie are common 19th century pet names for "Elizabeth".)


THE girl sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, apparently in maiden meditation, fancy free, but, in reality, deep in a brown study of quite a different nature. She was fair to look upon; she had not 'a wealth of golden hair,' but she had a sufficiently substantial pig-tail of her own, tied up at the end with a piece of soiled blue ribbon. Also, she had on a short serviceable riding skirt, and a pair of boy's boots. She was in tears, and in trouble, and although she did not quite fill out all the details of a heroine of romance, she approached that fair young creature sufficiently near to be able to appropriate the character.

She sat on the fallen tree, and flicked her boot with her riding whip, and sobbed. Something had evidently gone wrong with her, for she murmured at intervals that 'he' was a beast; and she would never forgive him. Birds flitted about her, and gurgled melodious music in her ears; but she heeded them not, and when a playful kangaroo-rat, encouraged by the stillness, came and fed right in front of her and even wiped the nose of its timid son, who had a cold in his head; beyond throwing her whip at it she stirred not. The kangaroo-rat fled in terror, the birds whispered together, and the girl, finally got up, and, wiping her eyes, proceeded to first pick up her whip, and then continue her way.

The track was but a bridle track, leading, now amongst forest gums, and at times amongst the close scrub lining the banks of a creek, from Which trilled the blithe notes of the bell-bird. Still the girl kept steadily on. At times, she would look at the track, and mutter to herself, 'The beast, he has gone straight home;' then she plodded wearily on her way once more.

Presently the trampling of approaching hoofs was heard, and a long, lean, freckled youth appeared on the scene, riding an ancient-looking horse of the generally-useful breed.

'Ullo, Sis,' he said, when he met the girl.

'Ullo, yourself,' returned the maiden. 'See my pony as yer come along?'

'Yes. I saw him about two miles back. Get away from yer?'

'Yes. Yer must be a great fool; yer couldn't catch him, and bring him back. Must 'ave known that he'd got away from me.'

'Never thought of it,' returned the youth, hanging negligently on the neck of his steed. 'He'd broken his bridle in two places. I supposed he'd chucked you, and got away.'

'So he did. Anyhow, he fell down. Much you seem to care whether I was hurt or not.'

'Well, you know, it was this way. I was thinking about that grey mare of yourn that yer father is thinking about swapping for one of ours, and there now, I quite forgot to tell you, but father was a bit muzzy to-day, and there was a mob of travelling stores came through the township, and he, being a bit on you know, came out on the street, and says he to one of the men, "Young fellow, you don't know how to drive cattle more'n a crow; just let me show yer," and before that fellow could get away he snatched the whip out 'r his hand, and commenced cracking the whip right in front of the mob. Lor', Sis, there was a hullabaloo. Away they went, and all the fellows after them, and some of 'em got pulled off by clothes lines, and some went over the wire fences, and father and the man in charge fought it out in front of MacJoyce's and father got a black eye, and what with laughing over that and thinking of them cattle clearing out, and seeing your pony, and thinking how you must have got a spill, I was very near choking myself with laughing.'

'Well, look here, Tom Livingstone, I don't think it was kind of you to laugh at the idea of my getting chucked off.'

'Well, Sis I know you never got hurt, but I was that tickled at the cattle rushing, and father getting a black eye, that I couldn't help laughing at anything.'

'I'm tired, Tom; lend me your horse to go home—'

'I hate walking, and I've got to look for that working bullock as was lost four weeks ago.'

'Go away. You've got to do nothing of the sort. You're going down to see Lizzie Trueboy, the cat. That's were you're going. Well, like takes to like; she's got red hair, and your's is close up the same.'

'She hasn't got red hair.'

'As red as red can be. Why, you could light yer pipe at it.'

'Now, don't be nasty, Sis. I didn't say as I wouldn't lend you the horse.'

The youth slowly and languidly got off. Then he threw the off-side stirrup-iron over the seat of the saddle, which, according to bush tradition, transforms a man's saddle into a side-saddle with ease and celerity. He put the girl up in a slow, methodical manner, which seemed to please her, for she remarked that she couldn't bear fellows who nearly chucked you over the horse, and then he said, 'Give us a cheeker, Sis.'

'Go awn, get Lizzie to give you a cheeker. You know your going down there.'

'I'm not. Honour bright, I'm going for one of Jack Smalley's pups.'

'Get me one, Tom; I want a pup badly.'

'Well, all right; if you give me a cheeker.'

The girl stooped down, and under the rays of the setting sun bestowed a chaste salute on the freckled cheek of the youth. Then she straightened herself up, and gave him a cut with her whip.

'Now, don't let me hear any more of your going to see Lizzie,' she said.

'You won't; is it fair play, Sis?'

The girl laughed, and rode off, and the youth with a contented smile on his face, proceeded on his way.


SIX months had passed, and the same girl was riding her pony along the same bush track, when the freckled youth who had shot up with remarkable diligence into something approaching a man, met her once more.

'Sis, do you remember that time as you lost your pony, and I lent you my horse?'

'Yes, Tom. I hope you kept your promise.'

'Didn't know as I made any promise. Anyhow, you remember father getting a black eye from a drover chap?'

'Yes, Tom.'

'Well, blessed if he hasn't got muzzy again, and challenged all the township to wrastle him. Tom M'Shure took him up, and threw him, and broke his leg. Now, Sis, he's laid up there in splints. Wot d'ye say if we get spliced; we mightn't have such a chance for a long time?'

There was a pause.

'Yes, Tom,' she said, coyly.


22. — THE PITURI CURSE

Evening News, Sydney, 25 Mar 1899

PROLOGUE

TWO men are camped at a small waterhole in a creek running a serpentine course through level, treeless country.

The course of the creek is marked by warped and crooked coolabah trees and occasional bushes of lignum. The horses are feeding on the dry Mitchell grass, one man was sauntering around the waterhole, the other was standing by the fire with the tea bag in his hand watching for the quart pots to boil. Presently his companion came up to him, holding something in his hand.

'Those niggers must have left in a hurry, Dick, All the fires are still alight over there.'

'They would see us coming a long way off in this sort of country,' replied Dick.

'And one of them left this behind.'

And Butler held up a sort of pouch made of the skin of a bandicoot. Dick took it and inspected the contents, which looked like chopped dry grass.

'Pituri,' he said.

'Yes, they were in a hurry to leave that behind, for there's none to be got anywhere near here.'

'All the blacks here pituri-eaters?'

'Pretty well all, I think; but it comes from right away west, and they swop from tribe to tribe.'

'I'll take this back with me. I know a doctor in Sydney who is always going in for experiments. He'd give anything for this.'

'Ullo! Here's a nigger coming,' said Dick. A blackfellow was visible, wandering about the deserted blacks' camp.

'Blessed if he isn't looking for the pituri,' whispered Dick to Butler. 'I've heard that when they become confirmed pituri-eaters they will risk anything to get a fresh supply.'

The native presently approached the camp, and as he came up he held both hands up to show he was unarmed. The men beckoned to him to come on, and he advanced. When within a few paces he saw the skin pouch in Dick's hand, and held out his hand entreatingly for it.

'All right, old man,' said Butler. 'You shall have it back, but I want a pinch first.'

His words were of course unintelligible to the native, but he seemed to construe it into a refusal. His face became that of a madman's. He jerked his leg up, and they saw he had been dragging a spear held between his toes. But quick as he was the whites were quicker. Before he could pick up and hurl his spear, two revolver bullets brought him to the ground.

Dick had let the pituri pouch fall when he drew his revolver, and the dying native dragged himself over to it. He spat out at the men, blood and froth, and spat at the pituri; men, turning slowly over, with a shudder, died.

'He was a nice vicious old party,' said Dick. 'If we hadn't been smart it would have been all up with one of us.'

I

'DOCTOR, lend me five or ten bob, will you? I'm clean stumped, and had to sleep in the park last night.'

The speaker was a man not yet in rags, but in the last degree of shabbiness, and pervading him was the air of the gentleman who had come down with a quick run. The man he addressed was clean-shaved, severe-looking, with M.D. written all over him.

'Look here, Graham, this sort of thing cannot go on for ever. You had a chance to go away where you were not known, but you got drunk and missed it. Now, you are trying to live on borrowing from old friends, and you know that cannot last.'

Graham looked down at his shabby, broken boots, and said, 'I'd go away now if I could, but I can't go without money, and you know I'm ostracised in Sydney.'

The doctor took half a crown from his pocket.

'That's quite enough for you to get drunk on. Don't bother me any more.'

Graham took the coin greedily, and was turning to shuffle away, when a strange look came suddenly over the doctor's face, and he called him back.

'I could put you in the way of making some money,' he said. 'Come home with me now, and I'll tell you how.'

'I'll come in an hour's time,' returned Graham. 'No, you will not. If you want this chance you must come now. In an hour's time you will be drunk with that half-crown, and have for gotten everything. Will you come or not—this is a last chance?'

'I will come,' said Graham.

Dr. Sparker hailed a hansom, and the two got in, and were driven to the doctor's residence.

'I suppose I must give you a nip to straighten you up,' said the doctor, as he took his shabby guest into the dining-room. He poured out a stiff nip of brandy, then locked the doors of the sideboard, and put the key in his pocket.

'Wait here until I come back. I have some things to attend to. Then we can talk.'

Left to himself Graham sat quiet, enjoying the feeling of the strong stimulant causing a glow through his system, and wondering what was expected of him. Sparker was by no means a charitable man, nor one who would have any thing to do with an ex-solicitor struck off the rolls for embezzlement, and now sunk to the status of a street loafer. He looked round the room, with its somewhat solid furniture, and recalled the time when he, too, had a comfortable, well-furnished house, before speculation made him a thief. He was still pondering over things when the doctor came back.

'I am at leisure now,' he said, 'come with me and I will tell you what you can do for a living—for enough to take you to another country and give you a start there, at any rate.'

He led the way to a room fitted up partly as a library and partly as a laboratory. Sparker motioned him to a chair, and sat down himself.

'I am engaged on a very interesting experiment just now. A friend of mine brought me some of the leaves of a plant which grows in the interior, and which possesses peculiar properties. Some of these properties are known, some—and I believe the most valuable—are not known. I am convinced that I know what they are, but I am anxious to see their effect exemplified. In fact, I want somebody to experiment on.'

'No, thank you,' said Graham, rising shakily. 'I'm not on for the job.'

'Sit down, you d——d fool, and listen. Here, I suppose I must give you another nip to strengthen those bits of thread you call nerves.'

He took down a bottle, and gave Graham another dose.

'Now, do you think I'm such an idiot as to give you anything likely to prove fatal? Do you imagine I want to be hanged for poisoning a dead beat? You can set your mind at rest about that. The stuff may give you a headache or make you a bit sick, but that is not much to stand. What I want to find but is the effect on the brain. Yours is pretty well gone, I suppose, but there's enough left for my purpose.'

'I don't like the idea,' said Graham, hesitatingly.

'Stuff and nonsense! Look here, I'll pay your passage to the Cape if you like, and give you a decent rig-out and a few pounds against you land. Nobody knows you there, and you can make a fresh start.'

Graham still seemed doubtful. Sparker had strolled over to the window.

'Come here,' he said.

Graham went over to him. The window looked on the street, outside on the pavement stood the most tattered wreck of an old loafer that could well be found, even in Sydney, the city of loafers and beggars. Blear-eyed, sodden, and abject, he was applying for alms to each well dressed passer-by with some cringing tale.

'Refuse my offer, and in less than two years that's what you'll be. You're little better now.'

'There's absolutely no danger?'

'None whatever.'

'Very well; I consent.'

'That's right. Now, I think I've got a suit of clothes that will fit you. We're much of a size. You can go to the bath room, and have a good bath, and change, then you will have lunch here with me, and spend a quiet afternoon afterwards with a book. That will steady your nerves.'

Graham ate a good lunch, and went up to the doctor's sitting-room, promising to stop quietly there and amuse himself with a book while the doctor went on his afternoon rounds. He read for an hour or so, then the craving for something to drink came back again. He thought he would just stroll out and get a nip, and come straight back. He had the half crown in his pocket.

No, he hadn't. He had left it in his old clothes. He went up to the bathroom to get it; but every thing had been tidied up, and put away. The doctor kept a well-ordered household. Now that he saw no chance of getting anything the craving grew worse and worse. He tried the library door, but that was locked. He went back to the sitting-room, and rang the electric bell. The man who had waited on them at lunch appeared.

'I have to wait until Dr. Sparker returns. I am not very well. Could you get me a glass of spirits?'

'Certainly, sir. The doctor left word to bring you what you wanted.'

The man left the room, and presently returned with a glass of brandy and a bottle of soda water. He opened the soda, and Graham swallowed it contentedly. The man left the room, and Graham sat down to his book once more. Gradually a feeling of annoyance crept over him. He would ring for the man, and ask him to get the half-crown out of the pocket of his old clothes; then he could go out and get what he wanted. He had not the slightest feeling of shame in the matter—he was past all such things. He sat there thinking about ringing the bell, and gradually dropped off fast asleep.

The doctor had not trusted to his promise to remain quietly in the house.

II

WHEN Graham awoke the gas was alight, and the doctor sitting in the room reading the evening paper.

'Just in time for dinner,' he said. 'You have had a good sleep; it will do you a world of good. How do you feel?'

Graham replied truthfully that he felt very well, and greatly refreshed.

'Your room is ready,' went on his host; 'I'll take you there, and you had better have a good wash to get the sleep out of your eyes.'

Graham followed this advice, and when he descended to the dining-room, and had a glass of sherry and bitters, life began to look pleasant again, and he sat down to dinner with a good appetite.

About 10 o'clock Sparker approached his guest, and said, 'Now, if you're ready, we'll try our little experiment.'

Graham had almost forgotten his part of the contract, and he rose rather reluctantly.

'Go to your room, and turn in,' continued the doctor, 'and I will bring you the dose.'

Graham had no option but to comply, and he went to his room, undressed, and got into bed. Sparker soon appeared, holding in his hand a medicine glass containing a colorless liquid.

'Don't look so scared, man; it will only make you sleep—I don't anticipate anything more.'

Graham swallowed the potion, which he told the doctor was almost tasteless, and then composed himself for the sleep, which came almost immediately. The doctor sat by the bedside, note book in hand, watching the sleeper carefully, and occasionally feeling his pulse. Time crept on, the traffic in the street died down to stillness, an occasional step only was heard along the pavement; but still the doctor kept his untiring watch until the clock boomed the hour after midnight. Then the man in the bed suddenly sat up, and began to talk—to talk in a strange tongue totally incomprehensible to the watcher. Graham's eyes were open, but perfectly vacant, and he gabbled on in this unknown language in a way that made the doctor shiver. Sometimes he would seem to be angry, sometimes he broke into a chant like a blackfellows' corroboree; but always was it perfectly unintelligible. At last he fell back, and was silent, and the doctor sat and pondered over the strange proceeding. What language had he been talking in, and what strange effect had the pituri drug had on his brain to induce such a performance?

He sat there wondering and pondering; this was certainly an unheard of property in the pituri plant, and it had been developed by his method of preparing the drug. It was interesting but not satisfactory, and Sparker foresaw that a long course of experiments would be necessary. At the end of them Graham would only be fit for a lunatic asylum; but that did not matter to the doctor.

While thinking and making notes a movement on the bed disturbed him. Before he could rise Graham, now apparently under the influence of a fit of raging lunacy, threw himself on him, and the next moment the doctor found himself fighting for his life. It would have fared badly with the doctor had not his opponent suddenly been smitten by what appeared to be an epileptic fit, and fallen on the floor, showing all the symptoms of that dire affliction.

The doctor, when he got his breath, put pillows under him, and let him lie there till morning; then, finding him still unconscious, he went and refreshed him self with a bath and a change of clothes.

Graham slept on till 8 o'clock, when the doctor aroused him. There was a queer look in his eyes that the doctor could not understand, but he got up and dressed himself carefully with out speaking, and came down to the breakfast table. He looked at the doctor something like the dog looks at his master, then commenced to eat the food off his plate with his fingers.

'What on earth are you doing, Graham?' said the doctor, in utter astonishment.

Graham grinned vacantly, said something that was quite unintelligible, and, picking up his knife and fork, began to eat properly.

'He must have bitten his tongue badly,' thought the doctor, 'when he had that fit.'


FOR three days Sparker had to nurse his patient, and gradually he came back to his ordinary state and the use of his voice. He was very quiet, evinced a strange docility with regard to anything that the doctor required of him, and seemed to have lost his craze for drink.

Callous as Sparker was where scientific research was concerned, he yet hesitated at giving his patient a fresh dose of pituri—for the present, at any rate. One evening a messenger came to him requesting him to visit a man named Butler, whom he knew well—the same who had given him the pituri plant. On arriving at the house indicated in the message, he found his friend in bed suffering great pain, both mentally and physically. After prescribing for him, Butler said he had something to say.

'Doctor, you remember the pituri I gave you. What have you done with it?'

'I have analysed it, and am making some important discoveries with the preparation I have made from it.'

'Throw it away,' cried the sick man, excitedly; 'don't make any experiments with it It's cursed, I tell you. Cursed!'

'Here, Butler, you are making yourself worse by going on like this. What's the matter with the pituri?'

Butler, a little calmer, told him the story of the finding of the pituri.

'Now, listen. In a letter I got yesterday from a friend I heard that Dick Cummings, as good a fellow as ever breathed, was killed through his horse falling on him. Now I'm booked.'

'Nonsense,' said Sparker. 'I'll pull you through.'

'That you never will. But, doctor, promise to throw that stuff away. Go and throw it over the South Head.'

'All right, old man I'll see about it. Now, go to sleep.'

Sparker went home and meditated on what he had heard, which he naturally pooh-poohed. Graham was still up, reading quietly. Sparker went up to his laboratory. He lit the gas, and took up the bottle containing the pituri decoction. He looked at it, and was half inclined to throw it out of the window, but he could. not bring him self to do it.

'I will try once more with a smaller dose,' he said to himself. 'I must find out the effect on the brain that made Graham talk in that strange language. I believe for a time it turned him into a savage.'

Graham had put down his book, and was about to go to his room when Sparker returned.

'Will you try another dose to-night?' he said.

'Certainly,' answered Graham, in the quiet, even tone he now spoke in. 'The last one did you good; seemed to take all the liquor thirst out of you.'

Graham smiled feebly in reply. He appeared to have fallen entirely under the dominion of the doctor, and was ready to obey his slightest hint. He left the room, and went upstairs. Sparker soon appeared with the medicine in a glass. Graham drank it off without a word, and then lay back on the pillows, and apparently went to sleep. Sparker sat down, and commenced to read, and so the night wore on.


JONSON, the doctor's factotum, got up in the morning, and was informed by the housemaid that she had found the front door unlocked and ajar when she came down. Jonson went up to his master's room, but he was not there. Then he bethought him of the patient's room, for Graham passed as a patient the doctor was treating for dipsomania. He opened the door, and on the floor lay the doctor. His eyes had been struck dead and blind when they were staring with horror at impending death. Round his throat was the clutch of the mad hands which had strangled the life out of him.


BUTLER felt better the next day, but when the attendant came up to him in the afternoon he found him dead, and in his hands the evening paper, with the account of the tragic death of Dr. Sparker.


23. — A SNAKE STORY

Murrurundi Times and Liverpool Plains Gazette, 27 Oct 1900

'SOME bush publicans,' said Jim Parks, 'try all manner of tricks to attract custom. You mightn't think it, but they do. You would imagine that if a man kept a good table and sold decent liquor it would be sufficient attraction, but it is not so. They are always trying some little dodge or other.

'Some try barmaids; that's a mistake, for you can't get a decent girl to go up the bush. Others go in for a bit of horseflesh; but they generally lose over that in the long run. Others keep pets about the place—pet emus and kangaroos; but they generally make horses break their bridles, and chaps don't like that.

'The man I know who did best out of that kind of game was a man who had some pet snakes. Mind you, he never let anybody know about these snakes as a rule, but kept it dark. When a man was getting a bit jumpy from drink, he would bring out his snakes, and the man would make sure he had 'got 'em again,' and drink more to steady his nerves. Well, this got about, that you could get D.T.s. cheaper at Balmer's than any other place in the district, and people began to flock there.

'Well this tort of thing went on swimmingly. Balmer got a regular circle of clients, who need to go as often as three times a year to get cheap horrors at Balmer's. They found that the recovery was not nearly so bad. At other places, it took a couple or three days of steady drinking before a man got a sign of the jumps; but at Balmers you could see snakes after a dozen good rums. The people got quite fascinated with the idea; and when Balmer hit upon the notion of coloring them red, green, and purple, his custom rose 50 per cent. I tell you, it was a real treat to watch those old jossers swallowing the rum till Balmer would produce a snake. Then one would cry, "I see him, it's a green snake with a red head." Then Balmer would juggle with the snakes, and another would cry, "No, he's a red 'un with a blue head," and then they would argue and drink more rum.

'Well Balmer was doing very well out of the snakes, and if he had only left well alone, he might have carried on the game for a year of two longer; but, like every other man, he must try and improve things. He imported a monkey; he thought it would give zest to the snakes. Unfortunately, the monkey had a bad temper, and the sight of the snake made it worse, so that when he tried the experiment the first time on one of the regular snake men, the old fellow gave a yell, and struck out wildly at the monkey, and knocked it over. Then the monkey leaped on the man's back and had hold of his ear. The man started bucking and yelling and tearing his clothes off, he made straight for the river, and plunged in. It was lucky for Balmer that they fished him out before he was quite drowned. Anyhow, Balmer had to own up that the monkey was a real monkey, for it had bitten the man's ear through. Then they demanded the snakes. It was no use Balmer denying that he had any; they would have them, and when it was proved that they were real snakes, and not alcoholic ones, their indignation knew no bounds. They would have forgiven anything but such vile deceit. Balmer got twenty-hours to quit, or have the place burnt down, and he decided to go.'


24. — CLARISSA

Evening News, Sydney, 29 Jul 1899

THE editor of the Platinum Beacon sat in his small office meditating on his weary lot. The day was hot, the main street, as usual at that time of day, deserted, save for a couple of horses with jangling bells on, and a working bullock. The editor had just had some extremely tough mutton for his lunch, and he was picking his teeth and cursing his fate.

Through the thin deal partition came the murmur of voices, from his staff—one man and a boy—discussing the merits of the last international cricket match. Neither of them knew anything about cricket, any more than they did about counterpoint but still they discussed the players and their play, with an easy familiarity that seemed to have been born of long acquaintance with first-class cricket.

A footstep came along the quiet street, turned into his door, and the editor of the reptile contemporary, the Platinum Star, entered the office. Even such a small place as West Platinum possessed rival papers. The two editor-proprietors were privately the best of friends, although they abused one another roundly in their small journals.

'This can't go on, Dick,' said the new-comer, sitting down gingerly on a rickety chair. 'One of us must clear out, and let the other earn an honest penny. You stuck me for that theatrical show the other day.'

The Beacon man laughed. 'How was that?

'Why, the man who is trotting them round came to me and said that you had refused his advertisements unless the money was paid strictly beforehand. He appealed to me as to whether this was worthy of a high-minded and pure-toned press. He was quite sure I was above all such unworthy scruples, degrading alike both to himself and the press of this country?'

'And you were above it?'

'It seems to me that I was, for his ad got in. Then he apologised for not having a shilling in his pocket, as he would have asked me to have a glass of wine, in which to wish me a long and prosperous career in the fourth estate.'

'And you went over and shouted for him, and he borrowed five bob?'

'He tried to; but for once I was adamant. However, if you buy me out you must take over the debts, so it's all the same.'

The Beacon man, whose name was Richard Fowndes, pulled out a drawer in his table and took out a pack of cards.

'Draw up, Bob,' he said. 'We'll play three games of euchre for it, and the winner has the chance of clearing out if he likes, which assuredly he will. Nobody will be about for hours.'

Bob Masters drew the chair up to the ink-stained table, and Fowndes spread an 'exchange' out to play on. Both soon became so immersed in the game that they did not notice the trampling of a horse outside, thinking it merely one of the usual quadrupeds who rambled about the streets at midday. A sharp rap on the open door aroused them, and I they both sprang up in surprise.

Standing at the door was a young and pretty girl, of about eighteen. She had an evidently home-made riding-habit on her; but even then it fitted her rounded figure very fairly. She was a stranger to both of them.

'Is this the Beacon office?' she asked.

'Yes,' replied Fowndes.

The girl had two envelopes in her hand. She selected one, and gave it to him.

'It is an advertisement,' she said. 'Can you tell me where the Star office is? I am a stranger here.'

'The Star office is a little lower down, but this gentleman is the editor, if you want to see him,' and he indicated Masters.

'It is only a duplicate of the advertisement. If you will kindly read it over, and say what it comes to, I will pay you,' and she gave the Star man the other envelope.

The two opened their respective missives and a look of bewilderment stole over both their faces.

'I should not have thought that you needed to put such an ad in?' said Fowndes, gently.

'What do you mean?' said the girl, blushing a bright red. 'It's for my uncle; he has lost a horse.'

'There's some mistake then; this is a matrimonial advertisement.'

The girl almost, snatched it from his hand, glanced over it, and with a horrified cry threw it down, and rushed out. Masters sprang after her to help her mount, but she waved him off with her whip, led her horse to a stump, and next minute was in the saddle galloping down the main street as though she was riding for the doctor. Masters did not attempt to speak when she waved him away, for he saw the tears glistening in her eves.

'Whew!' said he, sitting down again, 'that's a queer go!'

This was the advertisement:


MATRIMONIAL

The advertiser wishes to meet with a middle-aged gentleman, of good means, with a view to matrimony. She is young, considered to possess considerable personal charms, thoroughly domestic, and of a fond and loving disposition. Photos exchanged. Address 'Clarissa,' care of this paper.


'Dick,' said Masters, 'we were game and game; we'll play the rubber out some other time. I want to see this through. Any idea who she is?'

'Evidently a niece of one of the farmers about here on a visit. I am afraid somebody has been playing a coarse joke on her, and she'll never forgive us for having seen her discomfiture.'

'Well, good-bye for the present. Have a game of billiards after dinner, as usual?' and Masters strolled out to his temple of literature.


CLARISSA NEWBERRY pulled in her horse when she got well outside the town, took out her pocket-handkerchief, and dried her bright eyes.

'It's that cat of a cousin of mine,' she murmured. 'She changed the advertisements, and thought it would be a fine joke.'

Suddenly a thought flashed across her mind that made her pull her horse up short and sharp. Supposing they put the advertisement in after all? She had never told them not to; only that the advertisement should have been about a lost horse. No, they did not look as if they would do that; but the suspense was too much of a strain, even at the ordeal of having to face the pair again she must go back and make things clear.

Fowndes had fallen into a doze, and was blissfully unconscious of there being such a place as West Platinum in the universe, when he was startled by a knock on the door, which he had closed in order to put his feet on the table with comfort and without observation.

'Come in!' he shouted; and the young lady of the advertisement appeared.

'I trust, sir,' she said in a distant tone of voice, evidently assumed for the occasion, 'that you do not imagine I wanted that ridiculous advertisement inserted. My name is Clarissa Newberry, and it was some absurd joke of my cousin's, I suppose.'

For a moment it flashed across Fowndes's mind to tell her that it was too late, and that it would have to appear, but he saw that it would be carrying a joke too far, and hastened to assure her that neither of them ever dreamt of taking the ad. seriously.

'By the way,' he said, 'could you not remember the proper advertisement?' and he offered her his own chair, and sat down gingerly on the crazy one Masters had been sitting on. He was afraid to offer it to her, for she was a well developed young woman, and not being used to the chair there might have been an accident.

'Do you know the color and brands of the horse?' he asked.

'I think so, for I heard my uncle dictating it to my cousin.'

'That's all right; then we'll soon fix it up,' and he wrote out the usual 'strayed' ad, gravely mentioned the price, and took the money.

'Would you mind writing one out for the other paper?' Clarissa asked. 'Uncle said it was to be in both.'

'What!' said Fowndes, 'Write out an ad for our reptile contemporary! I am afraid, Miss Newberry, you do not understand the etiquette of journalism!'

'Good gracious! What's the matter?' said the girl in surprise, taking him quite seriously. 'You seemed very friendly. You were playing cards with him.'

'That was a matter of business only. We were I deciding which of us should clear out of this gay and giddy town.'

'It seems a very dull place certainly,' said Miss Newberry, who, now that her fears were allayed, seemed inclined to be friendly and conversational; 'but you surely must have a lot to do. I thought newspaper people were writing all day, and dared not stop a moment.'

At this instant there came a deep snore, an unmistakable snore, from the interior of the building. The man and the boy were enjoying the regular siesta of West Platinum.

'Yes, the intellectual strain is occasionally very great,' said Fowndes, rising. 'Sit still, Miss Newberry, I am just going to put your advertisement in hand,' and he left the room.

Clarissa sat still in the editorial chair, and noticed that the snoring stopped suddenly and abruptly; when there came a voice at the door.

'I say, Dick, what a lark it would be—' here the speaker stopped in amazement, not unmixed with horror, at seeing whom he was addressing in mistake for his friend.

'Miss Newberry,' said Fowndes, who fortunately appeared at that moment, 'this is Mr. Masters, the reptile whose nefarious attempts to worm himself into the confidence of Platinum society I am successfully checking. I will soon unmask him, and chase him from the field.'

'I sincerely hope so,' returned Masters, sitting down on the broken chair with great deliberation.

'Miss Newberry,' went on Fowndes, 'if you will wait and give this poor struggling reptile your advertisement—the creature must live, you understand—I will send a myrmidon over the road for some tea.'

Miss Newberry assented; she understood their talk by this, and by the time the tea arrived the three were on a good footing. When the young lady departed she did not refuse to be assisted to her saddle.

'Heavens!' said Masters, 'I had a narrow squeak. I was just proposing to you to put the ad in over another name, but I stopped in time. Very mean of you to set such a trap.'

'Nothing of the sort; very mean of you to come in and make three.'

'Never mind, old man, you'll get another chance soon. I vote we go out together, and pay a visit to her uncle; he's a subscriber of mine, I believe.'

'Then I repudiate his acquaintance, and I cannot understand how any man who subscribes to the Platinum Star could have such a pretty niece.'

'No more can I; come over and have a drink. The Platinumists are waking up, and coming out into the road to stretch themselves and yawn.'


MISS NEWBERRY reflected as she rode home.

'I am very glad that I went back. I really believe there was some joke on. However, I've put it all straight now. Better not let that cat of a cousin know that her joke missed fire, but I'll pay her for it,' and quite contented with her day's work, Clarissa Newberry rode on to her temporary home.

Needless to say that the two editors went out and visited the uncle; that, on account of this unexpected and welcome break in their lives, the two plunged into all the revelry going in the hope of meeting Miss Newberry. Also that she never failed to visit the offices of these two great organs of the press, and take tea alternately with them, whenever she came into town.


ONE day Clarissa rode in, looking, as they both thought, nice enough to eat.

'I have come to say goodbye,' she said. 'I am going away tomorrow—going home.'

'But you will come back some time?' they both asked together.

Clarissa looked down and smiled.

'I cannot say exactly. I want you both to do something for me.'

They both assured her of their willingness to do anything in their power.

Clarissa handed them each an envelope. 'That is an advertisement—a real matrimonial advertisement this time; but it is not to go in for a fortnight, and you are both to promise, on your honor, that you will not open the envelope until that time has elapsed.'

Scenting a joke at the expense of her cousin, in payment of her debt, both men assured her solemnly that the envelopes should be held sacred.

'Goodbye,' she said, 'try and amuse yourselves in this dull place,' and she rode away, and they watched her out of sight.

'What I like about her is her complete innocence; she has no idea of flirting at all,' said Masters, as they strolled across the road.

'Flirt!' returned Fowndes, 'there's not a bit of a flirt in her disposition.'


THE fortnight passed, and the two met to open the envelopes in company. The contents of both was the same. 'Marriages' then followed the usual announcement of a marriage in the neighboring town, and the name of the bride was Clarissa Newberry.

Underneath was written:

I forgot to tell you that I was engaged, and going home to get married. I will not forget to send you some cake, and send me the paper.


'Look here, Dick,' said Masters, 'we'll just sit down and finish the rubber of euchre that the hussy interrupted.'


25. — THE COOK'S LOVE STORY

Evening News, Sydney, 18 Jun 1898

IT is now more than 20 years ago that the little love affair I am going to tell of came under my notice. It affected me greatly at the time, and now that I am old it still moves me almost to tears to think of it. It was not my love story, but one that was enacted before me, as it were, and that's where the sad-like kind of memory comes in, for if the young fellow had taken my advice, he would now be a happy man instead of a desolate and melancholy wanderer.

I had a job of cooking up in the north of Queensland. There were two stockmen in the hut and two fencers. The fencers don't come into this story. They were outer barbarians, never touched by the tender passion. One of the stockmen, Bill Binders, was a tall, silent man, who when he had nothing to do was either plaiting greenhide or playing cut-throat euchre with the fencers. Jerry Jackson, the other one, was a young man of twenty-two summers. He had the soul of a poet in him, and a spirit that would have adorned any station in life. To see him after killing day, rendering down marrow to make pomade for his hair, was truly a melting sight.

He confided his aspirations to me tor, as he said I was the only one who could comprehend him. He loathed the Right Bower, and greenhide made him feel ill. I liked that lad, and when he used to put on a pair of riding breeches, Bedford cords made to order, and a pair of long riding boots nicely oiled, on a Sunday, I tell you he looked like an outlawed noble of high descent. He could read poetry, too. He had a collection of song-books, that had some of the sweetest verses in them that I ever heard; the rhymes were just lovely, and he could read without having to stop to spell the words.

About twenty miles away was where the main road crossed the river, and, as usual, there was a little township growing up there—pub, store, blacksmith's and saddler's shop, as usual. The man who kept the store was married, and his wife's sister came up on a visit, and Jerry and all the other young fellows got spoons on her at once. She lived in Sydney, and brought up all manner of dressy things that nobody up there had ever seen before.

'Sammy!' Jerry said to me the first time he had seen her, 'she's an angel, and I mean to win her.'

Then he went away, and pored over his song-books, putting her name in where the nice girls' names were. I had made quite a friend of Jerry, so I felt rather jealous of this girl, and said something about her that hurt his soul, so he begged me to go down with him one Sunday and see her. So I went.

She was a nice enough girl, as girls go, for I don't care about them very much, but I didn't think she was good enough for Jerry. Anyhow, the people were very nice and polite, and Jerry took me up to see them in the evening, and I put on a coat the publican lent me, which was a little too tight to be comfortable, and said 'yes' whenever the storekeeper asked me if I didn't think it was a wicked shame that the Government didn't make Bunthorn's Crossing a Municipality, so that he could be elected mayor and work for the advancement of the country, which he said was all he wanted to see. He didn't care a bit about himself, he only wanted to see the country go ahead.

Meantime Jerry sat still and watched the girl. I confess that he did not come out in the conversational line like I expected a man of his attainments to do, but he looked a lot, and the girl seemed to like it, so I suppose it was the right and proper thing to do.


AS we went home the next morning Jerry kept asking me if I thought there could be a more perfectly lovely creature in the world than Lucy Crowder, which was her name. I felt a bit chippy, for after we left the storekeeper's house there had been a bit of shouting at the pub, and as Jerry had brought a bottle with him, whenever we came to some water I drank her health. Jerry would not touch anything. He said that the remembrance of her beauty was intoxicating enough without liquor.

Jerry was always down at the Crossing as long as the girl was there. Fortunately it was dry weather, and there was nothing to do, or he would have got the sack. The girl stopped three months, and then she went back to Sydney, and that broke Jerry up, for she told him that she held, him in great respect, but she could not consent to live in the bush, but if he would settle down in a town she would consider his offer.

Jerry was very gloomy, and used to talk about his life being blighted and his young hopes withered, until the fencers used bad language, and even Binders told Jerry to shut his head. At last Jerry, who had saved up a bit of a cheque, made up his mind to go to Sydney and try to get work there. I tried to persuade him not to, and told him to stick to the bush and forget her, but he wouldn't take my advice but chucked up his billet and started. I heard from him in a few months. I had to get Binders to read the letter, and what with Jerry's writing and Binders' reading I could make very little of it until I got the Jackeroo at the head station to make it out.

Jerry had got a billet at a livery stable. He was a smart little fellow with horses, and liked It. He told me that amidst all the giddy whirl and dazzle of the circle in which he now moved, and the smiles of the beautiful sirens by whom he was surrounded, he was true to the one love of his life. He had not seen her. He found Sydney a bigger place than he had reckoned on. He had thought to meet her in the main street, or mayhap they would know her at the post office, but no-one seemed to know her, although, as he said, her beauty should have drawn all eyes on her. He asked me to obtain her address from the storekeeper's wife, but I did not succeed.


THE first time I went to the Crossing I met two old chums, and we got a bit on the burst, and the second time, the store keeper had just gone bankrupt, and his wife was that stuck up and haughty in consequence, that I couldn't get an answer from her. So I got the Jackeroo to write Jerry a letter telling him that I might come down to Sydney myself at the end of the year, and I went.

Jerry scarcely knew me when I turned up at the yard, and no wonder, for I had my hair and beard cut, and wore store clothes, a paper collar, and had socks on. But he was very glad to see me, and as he was just knocking off, he took me up into a little room he had and we sat down for a yarn.

'I have found her, Sam,' he said, 'and now I almost wish I hadn't.'

'What's up Jerry?' I said. 'Some bloke cut you out?'

'No, it is not that quite; but fancy, she is a waitress in a restaurant. That peerless creature has to carry round plates of stewed tripe and grilled chops for hungry people who pay sixpence, I went to a sixpenny show to get my dinner once, and sat down, never thinking such a moment was near. A girl came behind me, and I heard a voice that is woven in my heart-strings, saying "Stewed steak, grill'd steak, grill'd chops, lambs' fry, Irish stew—O Lord! It's Jerry!" I turned and saw Lucy Crowder. She looked lovely, even in the cap and apron, that a despotic keeper of a restaurant made her wear, but oh, to see her thus.

'"So you've come down to Sydney, Mr. Jackson," she said, much cooler than I was. I scarcely knew what I said, for how could I utter what I felt amidst the clatter of knives, forks and plates and the murmur of conversation. But I made an appointment to meet her after hours. Fancy, Sam, how I sat through that meal listening to that adorable woman being told to hurry up with the stew and look sharp with the sauce, but, Sammy, it cut me to the heart. We have met since, but Sam, I have a rival.

'"Why, of course," I said. "A fine girl like that is bound to have more nor one bloke after her. Who is he, can you plug him?"

'I tell you, Sam, how I found it out. I noticed that Lucy kept regarding me curiously, and one day she said in that artless manner, which is her greatest charm, "Jerry, why don't you cultivate a fringe?" "A fringe?" I said. "Yes," she replied, "I know, several gentlemen who wear them. You'd look so elegant in one. Mr. Topkins has got a splendid one. He looks a real toff." "Who's Mr. Topkins?" I demanded. "O, he'd a gentleman friend of mine." She would not tell me more, but I soon traced out the miserable Topkins. He is a barber. I own, for I will not slander even a rival, that he has a magnificent wavy fringe, but I will have one too before long.'

Jerry took up a comb, and standing before a little looking-glass, he combed his hair down over his forehead.

'How do I look, Sammy?' he asked.

'Not so well, Jerry; your hair's too straight, lad; it won't curl.'

'It shall curl,' he replied gloomily; 'Listen to me, Sam; I have a scheme in view. I have seen my hated rival, but he does not know that he is my rival. He has advantages, he has a beautiful fringe, and unlimited command of pomalum and hair oil, and he belongs to a push. But I will grow a fringe if I spends a fortune on it, and I will join a push.

'Go on, Jerry.' I said, 'you look better without a fringe, and if you join a push they'll lead you into trouble, and you'll lose your billet. Go and stoush the barber if you like, then the girl won't think about him.'

'But listen to my plan, Sam. I intend to make my hated rival grow the fringe. That will be sweet revenge, and to-morrow I commence.'

'Come on, Jerry, and have some beer,' I said.

I went to the eating house with Jerry, and saw Lucy, who pretended not to remember me in my town togs, but she did, I'm sure. Then, to carry on the game, I went and got trimmed up at the Topkins shop.

Jerry soon grew desperate. No matter what pains he went to, the barber could not make his hair stop in curl; plaster it down ever so, it would be straight in his eyes before half an hour was over. And the torments he suffered. After Topkins had finished with Jerry he picked up a comb, and, smirking in the glass, gave his own fringe one dexterous twist, and looked at it as much as to say, that's something like a fringe, my boy.

Poor Jerry, I used to pity him, but I told him what a fool he was—that the barber would take his money and sell him hair oil and bear's grease to further orders, and promise him that the fringe was coming on; but it would never come.

'Your hair's not built that way, Jerry. It's just like cattle and horses, and you ought to know it. It's all breeding. That barber's folks always had fringes, and your people didn't.'

It was drawing near the end of my holiday, when Jerry said to me one day, 'Come to me after six o'clock.'

I went.

'Sammy,' said he, 'you must swear that you will never reveal to mortal man what I am going to show you. I have done it; no more shall the arrogant Topkins flourish his fringe in front of me, and, pocket my money. Miss Crowder shall be mine.'

I looked at Jerry. His hair was just as straight and lank as ever, but he seemed confident.

'You see what I have tried, Sammy,' he went on, waving his hand round the little room, where there were rows of empty bottles of patent hair restorers, waffles, etc.

'Now, I know better. I agree with you it is useless, It's breeding, as you say. Now, shut your eyes, and don't open them till I tell you.'

I did so, wondering what was up. Perhaps Jerry had suddenly gone mad and meant to stab me unawares. I heard him moving about the room, and then he suddenly said: 'Behold!'

I opened my eyes, and there stood Jerry. His hat was wall back on his head, after the style of the push he had joined, and above his eyes was a magnificent fringe of curly hair. The effect was imposing, and it was some minutes before I dropped to it.

'Why, Jerry,' I said, you've been and bought a wig.'

'Not a wig, Sam; a fringe, a bang. Isn't it fine?'

'But, Lord! Miss Crowder wouldn't believe that that fringe growed in a day.'

'Hush. Topkins has a rival in trade, Professor Stropper. He sells a magic wash that grows hair on an egg. I keep quiet for a week. Stropper's magic wash does the business. Topkins will lose both his trade and his bride. Do you see?'

I entreated Jerry to give up his mad scheme, but no, he set to work, and wrote a testimonial for Stropper, which that worthy would have printed. A week passed, and Jerry, who had kept out of sight, under the plea of illness, went out with the fringe on to meet his sweetheart. He came back an accepted man.


FOR a week there was great joy in the heart of Jerry, and Topkins was nowhere. Stropper left printed bills in his shop, and otherwise annoyed him. Then Topkins and Jerry met at a picnic down the harbor. The eye of the barber detected the fraud at once. Backed up by his push, he got close to Jerry, and, by a sudden dash, plucked the false fringe from his forehead in the presence of his betrothed. They had it out, and I am glad to say Jerry thrashed the barber, but he lost his wife. Poor lad, he showed me her letter.


'No, Mr. Jackson,' it read, 'I lost my heart to you in that fringe, but without it you are as any other man to me. I could not bear to see my husband putting on his bang of a morning, and taking it off at night. Henceforth we are friends, if you like, but not lovers. Now the fringe of Mr. Topkins is natural, and his own. He bears no malice, and bids me say that after we are married, and time has soothed the feeling you once entertained, he will always be glad to cut your hair for nothing. Farewell, I forgive you the deception, but it was too cruel.'


JERRY took to running mails; he says that the constant exercise keeps him from thinking. Stropper had to shut up shop, as Topkins threatened him with fraud, false pretences, and I don't know what all.


26. — A YARN OF A PUB

Evening News, Sydney, 3 Apr 1897

JIM wrote to me the other day as follows:

I have got a yarn for you, and though you know I much prefer telling tales to writing one, in this case I have to write it.

An old friend mine, called Jerry Downes, you will remember his name was Jerry, because there was a Sam Downes, who got into trouble. He came to see me the other night—Jerry, not Sam—and he told me this yarn of what happened to him a short time back away up in Queensland.

Jerry was travelling at the time, and he came to a small roadside pub about 3 o'clock. It was dry weather at the time, and Jerry thought it one of the prettiest places he'd seen. There was a good spring and a patch of black soil, and everything was green just about; while there was a good garden. The house was well built, with a broad, shady verandah, an altogether very inviting look to a tired man on a hot day. Says Jerry, 'I'll make a short day of it, and turn out.' There was another horse tied up outside the verandah; so Jerry rode up, tied his prad up, too, and went inside.

What he saw nearly struck him silly. It was a neat, tidy bar, and inside stood a decent old man and a pretty girl, seemingly his daughter, for just as Jerry got inside she screamed out, 'Owch, father! there's one gone down my back; stop him for me.'

Her father did so, and then commenced chasing some invisible object over the counter with the bottom of a thick 'free-fight' tumbler.

The other occupants of the room were an old bummer, sitting on a bench with a glass of rum, and a young fellow standing just in front of Jerry. Presently the old bummer jumped up with a yell, and hopped round swearing that something or other had gone up the leg of his trousers. Then the girl hopped put of the bar, holding her skirts tightly round her ankles; while the landlord still kept pursuing nothing across the counter with the tumbler.

The other man turned to look at Jerry, and said, 'What the blazes is this? Is it loonies or jumps?'

'It's triantalopes!' yelled the old bummer. (As you know, some people call those big spiders triantalopes.)

'Triantalopes be absquatulated,' said Jerry; 'there's no triantalopes here!'

'Oh! ain't there,' said the landlord. 'What's this? and this?' and he banged and thumped.

'If that's the styles of brands you keep,' said the man, 'I'll get my drink elsewhere.'

Jerry looked all round, but not a trace of a spider could he see.

'Look here!' he said. There's two men says that the place is full of blooming triantalopes, or whatever you call them, and there's two men as says there's not one on the place. Now, we'll have drinks on that, and chance the jim-jams.'

The girl I may mention, had retired to investigate matters in private.

Jerry and the man went up to the bar, and the landlord left off his pursuit, and put the bottles down.

'Now produce your triantalopes!' said Jerry.

'There's one, and there's one,' said the landlord.

Then a strange thing happened. The man who had entered just before Jerry suddenly exclaimed; 'By——! he's right!' and lifting his whip struck at something on the counter. Jerry looked down, and suddenly caught sight of a great hairy spider on his shirt sleeve.

Then they saw them everywhere—great brutes with red eyes and long hairy legs, running about all ever the place.

'Here!' said the man; 'I'm off. I don't like this kind of stock on a run.' And he went out, get on his horse, and rode away.

Jerry was nearly following, but he thought he would like to find out how it was that they did not see these wretches, when they first came in. Now they were plain enough. Above all, they did not seem to bite, and it was impossible to hit one, no matter how you tried.

'What's the meaning of this?' he asked.

'Don't I wish I could tell you,' says the landlord.

'But where do they come from; and why didn't we two see them when we first came in?'

'Ask me something easy. I bought them with the place that's all I know.'

'What did you buy them for? Hanged if I'd have done it.'

'Bought them because I didn't see them, like you. I'll tell you all about it. These triantalopes have made up their minds nobody shall live in this place, and when there's buying and selling going on they keep quiet and don't show. This place has changed hands scores of times. It's a nice little spot, barring these scarecrows. They're as cunning as camels, and almost as big. I'm afraid the place is too well known for me to sell.

'Do you get used to them?'

'No; just look at 'em. Now, could you? A spider's not a racehorse, as a rule, but you might as well try to catch one as the other. They don't bite, only stare at you and run over you, and drive all the custom away.'

'They're not natural spiders, seemingly.'

'They are not; they're demons, that's just what they are. If you like to stop and see more of 'em you' can—for they go away at eight.


JERRY felt interested, and thought he would, and in fact stopped two or three days. He had a good lock through the place, and saw that it would pay well. There was a good paddock and stables and it stood on freehold ground. For a man like myself, thought Jerry, a bit of a racing man, it would be a little paradise; but those spiders would have to clear out first.

Jerry didn't let on, but just watched and observed the habits of those spiders, and he was convinced that they were spooks of some sort—you could never get used to their blamed ugly ways.

Now, he knew my taste on the matter, and as soon as he'd finished his yarn he says: 'Jim, this is right into your hand. You go up with me and have a look at the house, and if you think you can do anything towards curing the place, why, it's a bargain. We'd get it for a song between us.'

I've been thinking over Jerry's proposal, and have concluded it's a deal. I can get away for a few months without much, trouble, and there's evidently money in it. Now, what I want of you is to get me all the books you know about spooks and send them to me to study. I must go up prepared. If you'd look through them and mark any part you think applies to the case, I should feel greatly obliged.


I GOT the books, and I had a look through, but found nothing to apply to the case of a house haunted by demon tarantulas, so I sent them on and asked him to write me how he got on. It was nearly three months before I heard as follows:

I beat them all right, but it was a hard job—the hardest I ever tackled. They were demons. Jerry and I went up there, and I found it just all he said—the completest and snuggest little crib going—and I felt bound to have it, spiders or no spiders. The landlord was more worried than when Jerry had seen him, and when he asked him about business he just laughed a hideous, joyless laugh, and says:

'Business! The business I do would astonish you. It's no use pretending, because your mate here knows all about it; but business is just this way. Men ride along here and pull up and sing out underneath, the verandah, "How's spiders today?" or "What price triantalopes?" That's the brisk and lively trade that I'm doing.'


WE were very cautious about it, and at last got the place for a trifle. Then, when Jerry and I were alone, I started to work studying the books, and meanwhile tried a few experiments of my own. I'd lecture them on their evil ways, point out to them that their proper place was in the wood-yard, ask them why they didn't take their drinks and go, and all that. But I it didn't do a bit of good; and, in fact, I never expected it would, but I was just keeping my hand in. I went into their habits, and found that they must be spooks, from their complete way of disappearing at night. If they'd been genuine spiders they'd have been, knocking about just the same. But no! they went clean away. I may as well tell you that while the negotiations for the sale were going on they had evacuated the premises.

I wondered very much what sort of spooks they were? Had they any right to the place before the whites came? Were they the souls of niggers who had been murdered? I could make nothing of them at all. I stuck to those books, and I must say that they were the heaviest reading I ever tackled. I soon saw the modern ones were no good, so I turned to the ancient ones. I tried the different methods of expelling devils, but I might as well have tried castor oil. I saw plenty of charms for warts, and how to make love potions; but it was useless trying those. I began to think that I was going to be licked this time, and Jerry began to get down-hearted, for scarcely a soul came near us only out of curiosity, and to ask what the market value of spiders was, and whether there was a boom in them. I began to think we would have to find some mug to sell it to, and all Jerry's visions of a neat racing stable and a horse or two for country meetings began to disappear.

I'd been reading one day about witches in an old book amongst them—a tattered old one you bought second-hand—and I didn't take much stock of it. Turning over a page, I went on, and began to get interested. Jerry had gone to bed, and the spiders had all vanished, as usual, and, of course, there were no customers.

I found out that witches put on all kinds of appearances, daytime as well as night; but it said nothing about their turning themselves into spiders—only cats and hares. The only thing I had found about spiders was in the matter of charms, in which they were very useful. Suddenly I came on these words in faint black letters:


ARUZEEANNACOMZABAL
ZABAL. ZABAL. ZABAL!


A very potent charm against Finland and Lapland witches, making them show themselves in their true shapes, and straightaway vanish, sometimes with loud cries.

Somehow that word fascinated me. There was a taking sort of sound, that was fetching about it. I tried it over several times until I had got the hang of it, and read the directions. It was to be said slowly, in a distinct and commanding voice, particularly the last three repetitions. It also pleased me to find that there was no danger connected with using it. I got quite excited, and went and woke Jerry up, to try how at felt on him; but the only thing he said was, 'Jim, you've been, at the whisky.'

I explained matters, and went to bed with my precious book under my pillow. In the morning we were up nearly; in fact, you had to be, because the spiders took to running over you.

I had gone out in the paddock and made myself perfect, and then we went in the bar, and I started. 'At the first syllable there was a commotion amongst the spiders. When I got to the end of the long word every tarantula bad gathered round and was gazing at me with fiery eyes of hate. It was an awful feeling to foe so surrounded by these repulsive things, knowing they were not natural. I stuck to it, though, and at the second Zabal they commenced to swell in size.

'Oh Lord! Jim, you've done it now!' cried Jerry, and ducked behind the bar.

'Zabal!' I cried the third time, in as commanding a voice as I knew how; and instantly they changed into native cats—wild cats. O, the row! Spitting, screaming, growling, they rushed out of the door, across the verandah, and vanished in the bush. The string looked half a mile long.

The house was cleaned, and Jerry and I sat down and finished a bottle of whisky. The next smarty that came along and inquired about spiders, we called him in, told him to see that there wasn't one in the place; then we gave him a drink and told him to tell the people in town.

Lord, what a rush we had! We were drunk out. But we would not tell how we did it; but an old nigger who had seen the mob of cats bolting, and nearly turned white with fear, gave us away. But they never heard the whole truth.

Jerry wrote to his wife and children, and made some improvements at once, and I left him up there to it, and I think we'll both make a good thing of it.

Now, can you tell me what those Finland and Lapland witches wanted there? how they came there? when they came there? why they came there? and where they've gone to?


I WROTE back:

Dear Jim,

I can only answer your last question. They've probably gone where you will go when you die if you dabble with any more magic, or have any more dreams, or see any more sights from drinking whisky at bush pubs.



27. — THE STORY OF A ROCK HOLE

Australian Town and Country Journal, 21 Dec 1895

I

THE granite mounds of West Australia are a distinctive feature of that colony. Nothing like them are to be found in the east. Aloft, from an apparently limitless expense of black scrub of stunted, crooked trees, with a red and barren soil underneath, rises a cone of bare granite to the height of about one hundred feet. At the bases of these naked mounds are often deep holes in the solid rock, almost like artificial tanks blasted out by the hands of man. The mounds are not always conical; sometimes they are round-backed. Always the sides are bare and steep, and down them rushes the rainfall to fill the rock holes, or, if none are there, the catchment forms a surface spring or soak. The origin of these holes must be attributed to a submergence of ancient times, as in many respects they resemble the holes found in the rocks of the sea shore, only on a much larger scale.

One good purpose they undoubtedly fulfil is the economy of nature. The rain water remains fresh and drinkable to the end, if it is not polluted by the carelessness of man; whereas if it is caught in a depression of one of the rare creeks of that region the saline nature of the soil soon renders it undrinkable. Round the bases of these rock mounds there is often a small space of open country, fairly well grassed; and these naturally form excellent camping grounds. Others rise abruptly from the scrub.

A couple of men had just halted at one of these rocks, and, leaving their riding and pack horses to nibble the short grass, went a little distance up the incline of the rock to see if there was water In any of the holes.

"Here's a good deep one, Jim!" called one to the other. His mate came over to him. "Looks pretty black and scummy," he said.

"Yes. Looks as if it had got a dead nigger or two in it."

"Perhaps there's another one about?"

A short search revealed a shallower hole, wherein the water was clear-and inviting in appearance. They paused at the first hole as they returned to their horses; Howson said:

"I should have to be perishing before I'd take a drink of that water."

"Or I either," returned Jim; and they both strolled back to bring up their horses, and then, after watering them, commenced the work of unsaddling, hobbling, etc.

Silence was unbroken for hours, when both men wore roused by what sounded like a cry of mortal agony, that seemed to ring in their ears long after they were sitting up listening.

"What was it, not a night bird?" said Howson. "No bird ever yelled like that," replied Jim. "Keep quiet and listen."


FOR five minutes nothing was heard save one of the horses shaking his bell. When, as if this familiar sound had roused it, the cry was repeated, accompanied by a distinct splashing, and a last exclamation that seemed suddenly cut short.

"By God, it's somebody in that hole there!" exclaimed Howson, as they simultaneously started to their feet.

"How can anybody be there?" asked Jim, turning to accompany his mate, for in that part of the world men cannot afford the luxury of nerves, and neither man hesitated a moment to start in the direction of the sound. They reached the gloomy hole, but the dark waters reflected the stars directly overhead without a ripple on its surface.

"Impossible that that splashing we heard could have subsided in this time," said Howson.

"Couldn't have been anyone in here after all. It wasn't fancy at any rate." Jim drew his revolver, which he had hastily belted on when leaving camp, and fired a shot in the air. There was no response. He fired again, unavailingly.

"No good fooling round in the dark," said Howson after they had waited. "Let's go back and make the fire up. There's no niggers about."

They turned, when between them, seemingly, passed a waft of icy cold air, and they thought they heard a sigh. The night was calm and sultry.

"Did you feel that?" asked Jim.

"I did. Can't understand it." And they returned to camp and made up the fire.


IN the morning they examined the waterhole, even sounded it with a sapling; but it afforded no explanation of the mystery. Howson returned to camp to put the quarts on; Jim went round the mound after the horses, who had fed round there during the night.

"There's an old camp there," he said when he returned.

"How old?" asked Howson.

"Quite two years."

"Any more holes on that side?"

"No. Seems funny that, whoever it was, did not camp here close to the water."

"Yes; can't make it out. Hope we shall have a more cheerful camp to-morrow night," Howson said, as they rose from their breakfast.

They packed up and mounted. Jim rode ahead to pick a good road through the scrub, the packhorses trailed after him, Howson followed, and the granite mound stood up once more solitary and lifeless.

II

ON top of the rock was a depression, not sufficiently deep to hold water long, but deep enough to conceal a man sitting or lying down. Out of this now uprose a man, who, after making sure that the late visitors had, actually departed for good, picked up a billy and descended to the hole whereat the two men had watered their horses. Filling it, he went on to the lately deserted camp and made up the smouldering fire. He put tho billy on the fire, and then ascended the rock again. Here, in his lair, were some ration bags and an old blanket. With the bags, he descended again, carrying also some damper and mutton. Sitting down at the fire, he made a ravenous meal, and, that finished, he commenced to smoke, muttering and talking to himself as a solitary man does. He was a gaunt, half-starved figure, and his clothes were ragged, and his boots but mere apologies. His hair, however, was not long, and his beard was a grizzly stubble.

"I was a fool not to show myself. They were only prospectors, and might have helped me. But I have no nerves; and those police get themselves up in all manner of rigs in the bush," he soliloquised. Then he smoked on in silence for a time. "Well, I must make a start again. I've rested well, and Lave enough rations left. Ha!"

Absorbed in his meditations, he had not heard the silent approach of a horseman from behind. Howson was sitting on his horse quietly regarding him.

"So you were playing ghost last night, I suppose. Why didn't you come to our camp? There's something wrong here."

The ex-ghost looked at him. Howson had a kindly face.

"I will tell you. I don't think you look the man to go back on a poor devil. You may have heard some time ago of a prisoner escaping from Fremantle Gaol?" Howson shook his head. "Well, I'm the man; and I've led the life of a hunted dog ever since."

"How did you get right up here?"

"You see, I was known pretty well on the Murchison Field itself and on Cue, as I know something of the lay of the country. I thought, that I could work round by degrees and make my way to the big crowds on the rushes north of Coolgardie, and so right down."

"How did you get the rations and clothes?"

The man hesitated. "You're a good sort," he said, coming up fawningly beside Howson's horse; "and I'll tell you open. I stole them from a fencer's camp on Magardoo Run, twenty miles from here. A man must do these things when he's in my plight."

"What did you want to play that foolery for last night?"

"I was frightened you might spell here all day, and also that you might be police. I was planted on top of the rock."

"How did you manage that sigh and cold air business?"

"I sighed, but the cold air must have been fancy. I splashed in the other Hole, not in the deep one."

"Stop that!" cried Howson suddenly. "What the devil are you fumbling with my revolver pouch for?"

"Accident, nervousness. I'm that nervous that, I assure you, I can't keep my hands still."

Howson regarded him sternly. "You're an awful liar," he said. "But it's lucky for you I came back for my knife. I can't hound down such a miserable wretch as you, and if you wait here I'll fetch my mate back and we'll camp here to-day and see what we can do for you. Hand me up that knife, and no tricks."

He pointed to a sheath-knife lying on the ground, which had escaped the vagrant's eye. The man took it up submissively and handed it to Howson, holding it by the blade. Howson turned and rode back on his tracks, and the escaped prisoner was left alone.


THE two prospectors were soon back, Jim having waited for his friend's return with the missing knife. They were speedily unpacked and camped in the old camp. But the convict noticed that a sharp eye was kept on him by one or other of the men at all times. Evidently that attempt on the revolver had been a false move. Howson and Jim undid their swags and selected such clothes as they could spare and an old pair of boots, still in good order, this last being the most precious gift of all for a man out there to dispose of.

"Now," said Howson, "we can't spare you a horse, but we'll rig you up, give you a few good feeds to-day, and some more rations and a water-bag. With this you can easily reach Wandimp Station, fifteen miles south of here. Jim's got a razor he'll lend you, and if you shave your cheeks and chin you'll look a good deal better, and can go up boldly to the station, instead of stealing."

The outcast professed the greatest gratitude, and taking the tin dish they lent him and other things, went off to the waterhole to effect the transformation which was to restore him to an equal level with, his fellows; that is to say, outwardly.

He returned in half an hour's time greatly improved; so much so that he now looked rather the swell of the party.

"Let's go and have a look at your camp up there," said Jim.

The other made no objection, and they ascended the rock. In the hollow was little left but some stale damper and salt mutton and the old blanket. The convict-looked at these things now with great disgust, although but a short time before they had been very precious to him.

"You had better collect all these rags," remarked Howson. "They might be found some day and afford a clue."

The convict obeyed, and tying them into a rude bundle in the old blanket, he and Howson commenced the descent. Jim stayed behind having a look round.

"What shall I do with these things?" asked the convict.

"Tie a stone to them and sink them in tho ghost's waterhole," returned Howson, in jest.

The convict turned a ghastly white. "Don't say that," he said.

"Why not?" asked Howson, in surprise.

At this moment Jim overtook them. In his hand he held a tattered sheet of newspaper.

"Were there not two of you who escaped?" he suddenly asked.

"Yes, of course," returned the other. "I see you picked up that piece of newspaper with an account of it."

"How long have you camped on this rock?"

"Just a week."

"Liar! You have been here longer; three weeks. Look where somebody has marked here with a pencil, 'Came to top of rock,——13, '95.'"

The convict looked helplessly around, and muttered something about, "He must have written that," in tremulous tones.

"Where is your fellow-prisoner?" demanded Howson.

"We parted some time ago."

"Then how did he come to the top of the rock and write on this paper?"

"The rations were short, and we quarrelled."

"You murdered him, you mean."

"And the body is in that hole!" exclaimed Howson, with a flash of conviction.

"No, no," cried the wretch. "Did you not try yourselves? I saw you myself. There is nothing there! nothing!"

"There's the body of a man, and you have covered it with stones. That's why we felt nothing."

"We'll make you clean it out," said Jim.

But the horror of this proposal was too much for the wretched man. With a quick bound he was away and racing for the scrub. He reached it, in spite of one or two revolver shots fired after him, and the two men could neither overtake nor track him. A body, found some months after, was supposed to be his.

The rock hole still keeps its secret. The two prospectors simply scratched indelibly on the rock:


DRINK NOTHING HERE.
SOMETHING DEAD IN THE HOLE.


This was the epitaph of the other man. Jim said; "It would be too sweet a contract to start cleaning it out."


28. — DARKIE

Evening News, Sydney, 14 Aug 1897

Contains a couple of obsolete slang terms:
"spieler" = con-man; "dead marines" = empty beer bottles.


THE races were on at Bungleton, and the town, was full of undesirable and desirable strangers.

The desirable ones came to spend money, the undesirable ones came to try to make some, and, as they were not particular in their methods, they were not enthusiastically welcomed by the residents. Amongst them was Mr. Conway Delawbon, who by his name should have been included amongst the desirable ones, but of whom the landlord of the inn he patronised felt doubtful.

In the first place if Mr. Conway Delawbon was the swell he represented himself to be, why did he not stay at the swell hotel, and if he was a spieler why did he not stop amongst that fraternity? His own house was only frequented by bushies, amongst whom a detected spieler would have stood little chance, and they consequently gave it a wide berth. Mr. Delawbon, however, did not attempt any little tricks, but made himself rather popular with the stockmen, boundary riders, and drovers who patronised the Golden Harp. The second day of the races saw everybody out on the course, and the township was a town of dead marines. The sport, was exciting, and when the' ladies' race was won by the barmaid of the Golden Harp, the public-house mentioned above, the joy of the patrons of that hostelry was loud and deep.

Mr. Delawbon, who had made himself very agreeable to pretty Maggie, was as excited as anybody, and shouted as enthusiastically as anybody. Then he slipped quietly and quickly away, and cut across the bush to the township. Another man was before him, and they met in the yard of the hotel.

'It's our horse right enough,' said Conway; 'but when the devil he got up here I can't make put.'

'Who owns him, or claims to own him now?'

'Deeling, who has the station just across the river. I've sounded all the fellows at the hotel, but they know nothing beyond the fact that Deeling has him in charge for some young fellow or other.'

'And they only entered him for that ladies' race; they are either a lot of chumps or they know all about him.'

'Looks like it, but there must be some amongst them who know all about him. That girl could scarcely hold him. If she hadn't been a first-class rider, they would have noticed how she pulled him.'

'Bet you two to one she knows. She's our mark. You'll to have to make the running there.'

'I'll try, but Miss Maggie knows a thing or two, and just now she can pick and choose.'

'Here are the jolterheads coming back again; well we must settle something. Pity we can't bluff Deeling with a warrant.'

'No chance; what have we got to show in the matter? It's all that confounded brother of mine. I should like to get hold of him for five minutes, the young wretch to go back on us like that.'

'Well, we have not come this far to go back empty-handed, if we have to steal him again.'


THE two men parted without more words, and Delawbon, as he called himself, went back to the house. That evening when Maggie was off for an hour or two she slipped out and went to the small hospital standing on the outskirts of the town. She went up to the ward wherein were but two inmates, an old man and a young one. The youngster had evidently broken his leg by the way the bedclothes were arranged over it on a cradle. Maggie went up and greeted him.

'Did you win?' he asked.

'Of course, but he nearly bolted with me.'

'It was risky of Deeling to run him, but I couldn't tell him the real reason I didn't want him run.'

'It's my fault, said the girl; 'I persuaded him. I wanted to win the race. But I think there's someone after the house. There's a fellow stopping at our place whom we can't make out at all. He calls himself Delawbon, but that's not his same. He's not a 'tec, and I can't put a name to him.'

'What makes you think he's after the horse?'

'The way he looked at him when I came in, and he took the opportunity of coming up and speaking to me when I was going to start, and I'm certain he knew the horse.'

'Good heaven! It's not my brother?'

'Is your brother like you?'

'No, not a bit. He'd kill me if he found me.'

'Well, Jimmy, there's only one thing to do. I must find out all about this man, and if he is your brother, after you and the horse, I must clear out and meet you somewhere else.'

'But you'd be followed and known anywhere.'

'Not I. It won't be the first time I've ridden in boy's clothes, and, as for Darkie, I'd take him us a pack-horse, looking like a regular old moke.'

'Confound this broken, leg. If it wasn't for that I'd have been out of this long ago.'

'Well, good-bye. I must be back at once,' said Maggie, as she departed.


SIX months before the young fellow had come there, looking for work, and obtained it on Deeling's station. A month afterwards, hearing that the Golden Harp wanted a barmaid, he had told the landlord that his sister wanted a billet, had written to her, and she had come up and taken the place. The young fellow, who called himself O'Reilly, had two horses with him when he arrived, one of them the horse that had that had won the little race. While laid up with his broken leg, his ostensible sister had persuaded Deeling to lend her Darkie for the race, and, seeing that ha thought it was her brother's home, be did not like to refuse.

That evening Maggie was in the bar, when she overheard a conversation between, the man she suspected and one of the men working on Deeling's station. They were talking of the horse.

'So, he belongs to this young O'Reilly. Where is he?'

'In the hospital, with a broken leg.'

'What's he like; perhaps I know him?'

The man described him tolerably well, and Maggie saw the scowl on the other's face, which he could not repress. It was the brother evidently, and Jimmy had often told her of his dread of this brother ever finding him. She knew some of the rights of the case, but not all; she knew, however, that the horse in question was a valuable stolen racer, but that was enough. Maggie's morality was nowhere, but her loyalty was great, she must act at once, to-morrow would be too late. She knew the matron at the hospital, and could manage to get to see her alleged brother that night, and get him to give her an order to Deeling to take his horses and clothes. For the rest, she could manage herself.


WHEN Maggie did not turn up the next morning there was consternation, and, when it was found that she' had gone, the usual expression of opinion was, whom has she gone with? She had gone over to, Deeling's late at night, had obtained her brother's horses and things, and vanished. Opinion veered to the conclusion that Maggie had played very low down on her brother, and cleared off with somebody, and his horses, while he was down on his back. But, although the girl would not have felt at all shocked at these aspersions on her character, they were not true, and she had carried out the programme she had hastily sketched out alone.

The effect on Delawbon was crushing, and he could do nothing, except by moving in the matter he would probably set five years' penal servitude. He could not follow Maggie, for, born and bred in the bush, she had kept off the road. She knew as well as any man how to strap down a wire fence and get a horse over it, and she left no sign as to which way she had departed. His only course was to keep an eye on his brother, who, as he guessed, had a place appointed to meet Maggie. He could not, unfortunately, as he thought, go into the hospital and half kill him.

Two years before a valuable racing colt had been stolen from a station in New South Wales, and its body was found afterwards with the brands cut out of the hide, and otherwise disfigured. That is to say, some people swore it was the colt, some swore it was not. It was not, the colt being then in the possession of the three men who had stolen the horse. Then the younger brother stole it from his brother and mate, and they had vainly looked for him since, until, at the race meeting at Bungleton, they had come on the horse, only to lose it again.


IT was some two months afterwards, and Maggie, who had managed her escape with the cleverness of an old hand, had taken service at a rather thriving roadside pub and the horses were safely in a neighboring paddock, when she received a letter from Jim, informing her that he would join her the next week. On the day appointed two men arrived, and rode up to the house, and Maggie's heart leaped as she recognised in one the brother whom Jim so dreaded, riding amicably with him. She felt somehow that her recreant lover had betrayed her to save his own skin.

And so it had proved. Jim had thrown all the blame on her, and, under threats, had confessed the place where she was in hiding with the horses. Maggie took it quietly enough, the horses were run up from the paddock, and put in the yard. She did not utter a word of reproach to the young cur for whom she had worked so loyally, but simply said:

'I want to go down by myself and say good-bye to Darkie. I have got very fond of him since we have been so long together.'

She went into the bar, and took something out of the drawer, then went out to the yard. The two men did not follow her, but sat down to the meal they had ordered. They were in the middle of it, when they were startled by a shot outside. Hastening out to see what was the matter, they met Maggie walking back to the house, a revolver in her hand. In the yard lay poor Darkie, the capital of the two thieves, now worth nothing. Maggie had shot him fair and square through the brain.

'You daren't do anything,' she said, coolly, 'or you will get into quod. Besides, so far as I know, he was my horse. I have kept that order you gave me for Deeling; I gave him a receipt for it.'

Maggie is now the mistress of the thriving roadside pub, the owner, a widower, having lately married her.


29. — A FUSION OF INTELLECTS

Evening News, Sydney, 1 and 8 Oct 1898

HE was about the shabbiest kind of dead- and stone-broke traveller one could have dropped across, and somehow he did not at all seem to suit, or fit in, to the surroundings.

One naturally expects that when a swagman loafs up to your camp at night he will begin to discourse on the usual subjects, namely, the iniquity and meanness of the neighboring squatters, the state of the roads, and the prevailing dullness of everything.

This man did nothing of the sort. He asked for a feed, and having got it he commenced to scorch his brains by the fire, endeavoring, as far as I could make out, to figure up abstruse calculations on the pages of a dirty notebook by means of a stump of a pencil. The thing got worrying at last, and I felt constrained to ask him what the devil he was doing. He knocked off his occupation, and looked into the fire with a grim sort of smile.

'Making my fortune,' he said.

'Backing the favorite, and reckoning up the odds?' I asked.

'No. Mathematically speaking, racing cannot be reduced to a science. The element of uncertainty is too prominent. I might say the universal element of uncertainty, namely, human life and intelligence, and also animal life. How can you provide against any man making a mistake of judgment? How can you provide a jockey without nerves or a liver? How can you provide a horse without unreliable muscles, or sinews guaranteed against breaking down? No, figures can't lie, but you must not bring the accidents of nature into the calculation.'

I sat up and looked at the man. He was regarding the fire in a pensive, smiling sort of manner, and continued rambling on.

'No. The uncertainty of natural things—I mean things according to the ordinary course of nature—is one of the most upsetting questions in the world. Take figures, say 2 and 2 make 4. No one can upset that; but say that you will not break your neck to-morrow, or will break your neck, and who is to answer if?'

'Hang it, man,' I said, 'are you an insurance agent?'

'No, I'm a fusion.'

'What on earth do you mean?'

'Just what I say. I'm a fusion of intellects. I am two men in one.'

'You don't seem to have much sense between you.'

'That is your ignorant notion. Now I combine two intellects, the practical and the romantic. But it's a mistake altogether. They don't combine properly. Now I am going to make my fortune I know, and have proved it properly on paper; but I have never yet succeeded in pulling it off, although the thing is as correct, as figures can make it. Now this prospective fortune is based on the uncertain element of you lending me ten bob.'

'Very uncertain,' I interrupted.

'Just so. But supposing I show you how easily I figure the thing out. You lend me ten shillings, I go into Blatherville to-morrow, and expend it in the purchase of popular journals. I retail them through the stations at about 200 per cent, and continue to retail them until my profits admit of my purchasing a horse and cart. When I have purchased this, I make far more than I did before, you must admit. I amass capital, and see several other avenues of investment. My capacity for figures leads me into the safest ones, where there is no risk and great profit. You follow me, I hope? A matter of a few years makes me a millionaire. Then the outlook is unlimited.'

'How is it you are so hard up now?'

'That is due to the element of uncertainty introduced by nature. If nature would confine herself to faithfully making 2 and 2 into 4 all would be well. But she doesn't. She introduces ail manner of risks, and I have been the victim of them.'

'Evidently,' was my natural rejoinder. 'Well, do you feel inclined to help me to make a fresh start. Say, ten shillings; and I will hand you over the full and more than remarkable details of my life. I wrote them out in case of any accident happening to me. Fate is so unkind. I will let you have them as security for the ten shillings.'

He undid his swag, and took out a number of sheets of closely-written paper. They did not appear very valuable, but as I happened to have what is popularly known as 'a cheque' in my pocket I finally agreed to advance the necessary capital to make him a millionaire. In return I received the papers, which contained the account of a marvellous fusion of characters, which seemed to have been borne out by the experience of one of the experiments.

Of the man who sold me the history of this wonderful, but rather disappointing, venture I know nothing, beyond the fact that he camped with me that night, and that afterwards I saw a paragraph in a country newspaper referring to the finding of the body of a man whose description somewhat answered the appearance of the hero of the following statement:

ROGER MOULTON'S STORY

BANKER and I had always been friends, although quite dissimilar in character and pursuits. He was intensely methodical, and I was equally imaginative. Still Banker and I remained fast friends for many years, until the decree of fate, and the outcome of our joint experiment separated us for ever. I have said that Banker was practical to a high degree, but he was more so. He had reduced all things to a level of mathematical accuracy that was simply astounding. He could prove anything when put to it. On the other hand, I, as an imaginative man, did not care for proof of any sort. It was sufficient for a thing to be beautiful and probable; then it at once became possible, as far as I was concerned, and I accepted it as a fact.

For instance, Banker would give me statistics to show how many criminals there were in different countries, and that, therefore, the decrease or cessation of crime was an impossibility. Whereas I had rapturous thoughts of a millennium, when all evil should be overcome by the influence of good, and crime, and wickedness cease in the world. When I thought of such a consummation, it seemed to me almost a fact that would brook no denial. But when Barker brought his irresistible array of figures to bear on the matter, I was at once convinced that the world was steeped in wickedness too deeply for any hope of salvation.

In the course of many conversations it had become a common subject of comment between us, as to the desirability of welding my romantic and emotionally trustful nature with his prosaic and hard matter-of-fact common sense. The subject became fascinating in the extreme, and as we were both men of comparatively easy, fortunes, we had ample leisure to discuss it. Finally we became acquainted with a scientist much versed in abstruse questions, who became imbued with the idea, and devoted himself to experiments with regard to its realisation. I will not mention his name, the number of murders he was guilty of in the cause of science would alone condemn him to death and universal execration, but he succeeded. He finally decided that a transfer of nature was possible, but that It would involve entire loss of mind to one of the two parties. That is to say, that it would enrich one man at the expense of the other becoming a hopeless maniac.

The idea had got such a firm hold of both Banker and myself that even this thought did not deter us, and we agreed to draw lots in the matter. One to lose his senses, and the winner to imbibe two men's. We drew lots; the experiment was a grand success, speaking from a psychological point of view, and Banker is at present the inhabitant of an asylum for incurable imbeciles; while I am the proud possessor of two men's intellects.

To pass over the details of the experiment, it may suffice that we both came out of it uninjured in our bodily health, and actually the same in person as we were before. Only that in abolition to the highly strung imagination already possessed I became proprietor of Banker's practical and mathematical mind. And Banker had no mind left. Perhaps he was to be envied.

How did I feel with this sudden accession of another man's character?

Rather bothered, I must confess. My dreams, which formerly were but dreams, suddenly, developed into possible facts. I had only to sit down and work it out in figures, and I find it possible to do anything. Figures cannot lie, I kept assuring myself; my newly-acquired power of manipulating figures made me capable of proving my wildest dreams possible and practicable.

I admit that I did not feel sufficient compassion for the fate which my sudden accession of double power entailed upon Banker. But really, the sudden and unexpected chain of circumstances that all at once befell me, must excuse this. I may state that, under a the deed of gift, the winner became entitled to the loser's fortune, barring the payment of his keep in a lunatic asylum. This, I at once provided for. Fortunately, as it happened. Then I was free to conquer the world, and I proceeded to do so.


MY thoughts were rather crowded by the number of channels that seemed open to me and which at once suggested themselves to the imaginative side or my character. They all seemed so easy of accomplishment, so long as the romantic side dominated my practical one, that I proceeded to regard them one by one.

Stockbroking opened up limitless visions; but when I came to regard it from the other view my mental faculties took of it I saw that It was all open to the same fatal objection, namely, the uncertain element of chance that Nature allowed to creep into human affairs. I could see the most magnificent vistas of gorgeous avenues to wealth open before me; but, unfortunately, human weakness was the doubtful point, in all of them. The elements of success in such roads to wealth and fortune as share speculations, horse-racing, or gambling, were all mixed up with chance, and my practical nature would not permit of my engaging in them. This element of chance I found entered into so many of the paths of human commerce that my practical nature arose in alarm at all of them. Turn where I would I could not see one safe avenue open to me. It was very pleasant to dream of these things, and my success in them, until my vivid imagination led me to believe that the thing was accomplished.

Then suddenly my practical side awoke, and I started to find that I had done nothing. This went on for nearly a year, Until I found that I really must do something, or else I had consented to an experiment which reduced my friend to a mindless imbecile, and wherein I gained greatly, and, now, was doing nothing for it. I was practically worse than a murderer. At this my sensitive nature revolted greatly; but my callous and blunter business side saw nothing very heinous in it.

And now commenced an inward strife that almost tore me asunder. My two natures struggled for mastery, and neither would give in to the other. The consequence was disastrous, for at certain periods I was domineered by my imaginative side, and for another period by my practical side. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were not in it with me, for my disposition changed without my physical appearance changing. My romantic and sanguine temperament made me, one day, take to speculations, which sometimes would have succeeded, but that the cautious and mathematical turn of my mind made me sell out the next day at a loss.

Just the same was the reverse side. Safe investments that my business self had put money into were recklessly sacrificed by my romantic self as being unworthy of consideration. Between the two I was rapidly being reduced to beggary. Just at this time I fell in love—that is, my romantic nature fell in love; my business mature did not approve of it. Consequently, when I met my lady love in my business mood she found me irritably different to what I was in my passionate moods, and scant wonder that she felt aggrieved.

However, the absorption of my romantic side in love affairs, and the healing of the wounds my other side had made, occupied that particular side so much that it had no time to look after business matters, and of that my practical mind took advantage, and worked so well that I recouped the money I had lost. Then my practical side took advantage of the situation. It seemed to say to me: See what I can do. Go into a good retail trade, I will work it. Let your romantic mind do all the domestic bliss, and that sort of thing, I'll run the business. I should suggest a drapery establishment. Grand profits in a drapery establishment.

Now, when I was under the influence of my practical mentor, he, of course, had his own way, consequently I invested part of my capital in a drapery business, and Roger Moulton figured over the resplendent plate glass windows. My disgusted romantic side refused to say anything of this to my fiance, who was nothing if not poetical, and consequently we were married without her knowing anything about it. But my romantic nature had also taken advantage of the situation by compelling me to make large settlements upon her—that is, large compared to my fortune. When we came back from the honeymoon my business side, in the joy of its heart, took my bride round to see the drapery establishment, and there was a scene, I can assure you.

Well, she made the best of it, and managed to reconcile herself to business by running up an enormous private account, and when my business side protested we quarrelled, and she finally eloped with the shopwalker. Then my romantic side sold off the business in disgust, much against the advice of my other mind, and I took a passage out here.

I was considerably straitened in circumstances again, and I landed here with very little capital, and my two minds were now so antagonistic that I believe they hated one another land took pleasure in spiting one another whenever the chance came. I was always up and flown like a shuttlecock, and finally was reduced to my present condition of a penniless wanderer. But now the most fatal thing occurred. The fusion of the two intellects had not evidently been successful, they had never properly amalgamated, as they were meant to. Hence there was constant friction.

Now they began to assimilate. My romantic side began to lose its sensitiveness and high sense of honor, and my business side consequently lost its scrupulous sense of business, and began, in plain words, to cheat when it saw a chance, a safe chance. But my deteriorated romantic side did not wait for a safe opportunity, and consequently I often found the seclusion that a prison grants.

This is the bad experience of our fusion of intellects. It's no good. They may fuse in time, but by that time you will find yourself utterly ruined in soul and body, like I am.


30. — DIARY OF A SYDNEY OFFICE BOY

Evening News, Sydney, 23 Jul 1898

July 1.— Got a billet at last. About time. Jess Perkins told me last night she'd chuck me, said she didn't like a boy without coppers.

July 2.— Don't think I like this fellow; he's too mighty particular. Sent me out with a letter yesterday, and told me to bring an answer sharp. Well, I stopped to see a horse get on his legs that had tumbled down. I had a look at a man posting bills, new ones, about the Theatre Royal. I just watched him to see that he got the big letters straight, then I went on and delivered the letter. Had a yarn with a boy in the building that I knew—why shouldn't a fellow speak to old friends?—and the man I brought the letter to roars out to me to come and take the answer; said it had been ready ten minutes. I only stopped once going back, to watch some men laying gas pipes, and blowed it the boss didn't ask me where the devil I'd been loitering. Seems to me that there's not much of a free country about this place after all. Why can't a boy indulge his natural curiosity?

July 3.— Went to the post office to get the letters. Two cops were taking a man to the lockup. Followed 'em round to see the fun. To save time, got on the tail of a trolley for a ride. After a bit, found it was going in the wrong direction, so got down again, and saw a man selling eighteen oranges for sixpence. Had a yarn with him, but he wouldn't give me an orange. Went back to the post office, and couldn't find the key of the box. Remembered that I'd forgot to bring it; so I went back for it. Found the boss in a tearing rage. He'd sent someone else and got his letters, so I don't see why he wanted to swear so. His language is very bad. I don't think he'll suit me long.

July 4.— Going up to Macquarie-street to deliver a letter I met Scrammy Joe on a bike. He's a telegraph boy. We took the bike into Phillip-street, where it was quiet, and he gave me a few lessons. I fell off and barked my nose. Went on to Macquarie-street, and couldn't find the letter; must have fallen out of my pocket when I got the spill. Went back to look for it, but it wasn't there. Volunteers with a band came by; marches with 'em for a bit. Told the boss I'd delivered the letter when I got back. He used bad language again, said that I'd been away long enough to deliver the whole English mail. If he makes such a fuss about a trifle what would, he say if he knew that I'd lost the letter? He was so cross all the afternoon that I chummed up with the lift boy and rode up and down for an hour. Old gentleman called in the evening; nice-looking old bloke. Should like to get a decent boss like him. Heard him ask my man why he had not sent something up early in the morning as he promised. My cove said he had sent his boy with it; that was me. Old gentleman said strange man delivered it in the afternoon, who'd picked it up in Phillip-street, and wanted a shilling for his trouble, and got it. Lord, how my cove did perform. I'd be ashamed of myself to use such language to a boy before a respectable white-haired old gent. But the old gent should have taken my part. He got his letter in the end, and a shilling was nothing to him. The more I see of the world the more I despise it. There's no gratitude in it. Scrammy Joe met me in the evening, and gave me licking, 'cause he said I broke something in his blooming bike, and he'd been charged with it. I wouldn't act like that, but Scrammy never was much account.

July 5.— Boss said he'd give me one more chance, but if I got up to any more monkey tricks he'd leather my inside out, and turn me out. Sent me to get some flowers ordered at a flower shop. My, they were beauties! Met Jess Perkins, and she said she'd never speak to me again if I didn't give her one. Then a friend of hers came along, and she must have one, and between them they made a show of the flowers; but what's a fellow to do when the girls get hold of him, especially when he's a bit of a masher? Took them home, and the boss asked me if that was the condition I got them in. Of course I said it was, and he wrote a note and told me to take 'em back with the note. There was a fine old row at that shop, and the man sent me back with another note. I went with a boy who said he knew where there was a shark in a fishmonger's shop. He was a liar. It wasn't a shark; it was a schnapper. I didn't care about going back at once, as I thought the cove would be showing his nasty temper, and I wouldn't give him a chance, so I just knocked about with some fellows who were out on messages like myself. When it struck 1 o'clock I went back. I thought he might come back from his lunch in a decent temper. I had eaten my lunch, and I and a boy from the next floor were doing some Tivoli business, when in walks my noble as black me sin. He hunted the other boy in a very rude fashion, considering that he was my guest; then he got me by the ear, and as for calling names, why a Turk wouldn't have gone on like he did. And the worse names he called me the harder he milled my ear. Seems the flower shop people had written back to him, and said that I was everything that was bad, and sent their own boy with more flowers 'cause they couldn't trust me. What he wanted to go for for I couldn't make out. He got his flowers all right in the end. There's no pleasing everybody in this world; blowed if I ever seen such a place. There's been no harm done, and all this racket is just because a boy takes a little innocent diversion. Are we slaves?

July 6, 9 a.m.— Me and the boy from upstairs were making it up to go fishing this afternoon, when my nibbs came half an hour before his proper time. Low sort of thing that. He told the upstairs boy that if he ever caught him loafing to his office again he'd see that he got the run. Meaning that he'd tell his employer about him. Mean sort of thing that. Would a gentleman do it? Then he froze on to me, and ratted me like a good 'un, just because I'd been busy over my private business, and hadn't swept and tidied the office; and would anyone believe it? When I started in big licks and began to rattle round, he told me to go to blazes and keep quiet. What can you do with such a man? Presently he sent me out on an errand to Erskine-street, and told me if I wasn't back in half an hour he'd have my blood. Seems to think a boy can fly. Went through Wynyard Square, and just stopped to watch some boys playing with a football. Then the band was playing, and I had to wait till they'd gone through all their selection. There was a man painting a sign, and he did it very well too. Some boys were going down to swim a dog, and wanted me to go, but I wouldn't. I told them I was in a hurry. How the time flies! I found that I'd been gone an hour already. Seems as though a fellow hadn't time to turn round, the days are so short. I delivered my message, and just had a look at the men laying the drain pipes, and started back, for I remembered that the office shut at 12 o'clock. Got back in nice time, ten minutes before; and before I could say a single word the cove told me that he couldn't afford to keep a boy of my tastes any longer.

12 Noon.— Sacked! I despise a man who won't give a boy a character after working him like a nigger all the week.



31. — THE FIRST DISCOVERERS OF THE WEST AUSTRALIAN GOLDFIELDS

Evening News, Sydney, 29 Jan and 12 Feb 1898

THE view from the crest of the rise whereon the two men were standing was not particularly inviting—mostly scrub, with here and there a bare mound of rock rising out of the dark foliage. These rocky hills, however, were what the two men were gazing on most curiously. For at the base of these hills was often a good supply of water in the curious rock holes peculiar to West Australia.

'Which one do you pick on, Joe?' said one man.

'That camel-backed one there, nearly due west.'

'Yes, I like the look of that one the best. I'll just get the bearing, and we'll start; it only wants a couple of hours to sundown.'

The speaker took out his pocket compass and got their course; then he and his companion rode slowly down the rough descent, and the blackboy they had with them drove the spare and pack horses after them. In about an hour's time they reached the foot of the rock mound, and found there was a cavity at the base of it, well filled with water. Around the hill, as is usually the case, there was a ring of open country, fairly well grassed, so that they had, much to their satisfaction, a comfortable camp for themselves and horses.

The men were prospectors, returning from a long trip in the interior, and an unsuccessful one to boot.

Joe Jackson had been sauntering round the base of the rock where, as usual, the blacks had scratched many signs, including the favorite one of the devil's tracks—a footprint with six toes—when something peculiar attracted his attention, and he called his companion, Harmston, to come to him. Harmston came over to him.

'That's a queer looking inscription for a nigger to make,' he said, pointing to what appeared to be the rude representation of a tricolored flag on the rock.

'A French flag,' said Harmston, in surprise.

'I thought so at first, and now I think it is meant for the German.'

He took Harmston over to another place, and showed him a rough scrawl of a double-headed eagle.

'Who could have made this?' said Harmston.

'Goodness knows,' answered Jackson. Suddenly he put his hands to his forehead, and, with an effort, said, 'I did! I remember now. I was sailor on the Freistadt, wrecked on the west coast of New Holland. Taken by the blacks, and brought out here. I! I! I! put those marks on that rock, for I was dying, and my grave is close here.'

Harmston gazed at his mate in astonishment and awe. Jackson's eyes were dilated, and his face was distorted in a way that made him look another man.

'How long ago was that?' asked Harmston, recovering himself sufficiently to put the question.

'How long ago? How can I tell? One, two hundred years! Search out the records when the good ship Freistadt was lost, then you will know. I was one of two survivors, and saw and found strange things. Here! Quick! quick!' and with the last exclamation Harmston sprang forward in time to catch his mate, who was falling down in an epileptic fit.

He loosened his collar, and called loudly to the blackboy to bring some water. After a time Jackson revived, and, after mumbling for some few minutes, looked around and spat a mouthful of blood out of his mouth.

'Have I had a fit?' he asked.

'Yes, or I never saw a man in a fit before,' replied Harmston.

'I thought they had left me for ever,' returned Jackson, in a tone of genuine grief. 'What could have brought such a curse on me again? That I was subject to them as a boy I know, but I thought I had long since grown out of any fear of a relapse. Otherwise, old man, I would have told you before we started. Ugh! I've bitten my tongue nearly through.'

Harmston helped Jackson back to camp, for he was weak after the violent fit that had overcome him.


WHEN Jackson was recovered Harmston told him of the strange words he had spoken while the epilepsy held him in its grip, but Jackson could make nothing of them. The thought that after having outgrown, as he thought, the terrible infliction, he should again suffer from it seemed to weigh heavily on his spirits.

The next morning Harmston ascended the granite mound to take a look round. To the south was a jumble of hills, with red, bluff faces, and somehow he felt attracted towards going to examine them. Coming back to breakfast he proposed the trip to Jackson, intending to return to their present camp at night. Jackson agreed to this, and the two started, leaving the blackboy in camp to look after it.

The red hills were not more than about seven miles away, and they soon reached them. As they approached, Harmston noticed that there were several caves in the face of one of the bluffs—a not uncommon feature in that region. They fastened their horses up, and ascended the hill of the caves. Entering the first one, a large and deep one, Harmston saw in the marks of fire and other signs that it had been much used by the natives as an encampment place.

Suddenly Harmston heard Jackson speaking in the same peculiar tone he had used the night before.

'It was here! here, that Fritz died, and I wrote his name over there, where I left his body. It was after we had found the gold down south—the gold that was of no use to us! Look! look over there!'

His face suddenly became convulsed again, and Harmston, catching him in his arms, let him down on the floor of the cavern. Hastily drawing his sheath-knife, he inserted the handle between Jackson's teeth, to save the laceration of his tongue. He recovered slowly, and looked somewhat wildly about him, but the mood soon passed.

'Have I had one of those fits again?' he asked.

'Yes,' returned Harmston. 'Now, if you are well, I want to go over and look at that corner.'

'I will sit here for a while,' said Jackson, and Harmston went over to the place pointed out by Jackson. The cave was quite light enough to see plainly, and Harmston looked along the walls seeking to find some inscription. He was successful in discovering some sort of lettering, rudely and imperfectly scratched, but evidently not aboriginal work. He could make nothing of it without more light, so struck a match. This attracted Jackson, who came over.

'What are you looking at?' he asked.

'Something like letters on the wall,' returned Harmston.

Together they examined the inscription, which read in German characters 'Fritz Greben.'

This was all, and it was not without much difficulty they made out that much. There appeared to be a date, but they could not decipher it. Looking about on the floor, Harmston found a tarnished buckle, but nothing else. He walked back to the entrance of the cavern, and with his companion descended to where their horses were tied up.

They had brought a meal and their water bags with them, and while sitting over it Harmston broached the subject of Jackson's strange sayings.

'I can make nothing of it,' returned the other. 'Try as I may, I have no remembrance of being here before in a former state of existence, as you would seem to suggest. Besides, what German ships ever came here? In fact, there were no German ships until of late years, at least out here.'

'Granted,' returned his mate; 'but might there not have been German sailors on Dutch ships, or even Portuguese or Spanish vessels?'

'Of course there might, and that name and the buckle form a very strange coincidence. When we have finished we will make another attempt to find out that date.'

Their meal finished, they reascended to the cave and pored over the date. They made out clearly that the concluding letters were 87, but what the century was had become obliterated by time. Baffled, they returned to their camp.

'Shall we go south?' asked Harmston of his mate when smoking their last pipe that night.

'I would, but I am frightened at the return of these epileptic fits. They might come on me when alone. No, I should much like to solve the mystery, but I think we'll go on to civilisation. Get another mate, old man, and follow the thing up.'

'Not much good that. That there is something in it the buckle and inscription prove; but you, I believe, possess the clue; and without you it would only be searching for the needle we have all heard so much about.'

'I'm sorry, but these fits have upset me; I want to get back. Some day, perhaps, we will try it. Not now, old fellow, not now.'

Harmston saw that his companion and old friend was completely, unnerved, and pressed him no further.


NEXT morning they continued on their way, and soon reached the outskirts of settlement. Harmston and Jackson parted finally at the seaport of Geraldton—one to go east, the other to the new gold field, just broken out, in the south, now known as Coolgardie.

IT WAS two years afterwards that Harmston, then making fairly good wages on a western gold field, received a letter from Jackson, his former mate. The whole tone was despairing. He said that the recurrence of the epileptic fits had completely ruined him; that he was now engaged in the most degrading occupation in the world to keep himself from starvation. It was hiring himself out as a subject to a professional mesmeriser, to whom his epileptic affliction made him a ready subject. He entreated his old mate to rescue him from this abject position, if he was in a position to do so.

Harmston, a steady-going fellow, had some money laid by, and lost no time it sending over enough to enable Jackson to join him. He came in a few months—the wreck of the man he once knew. Harmston got him work, and gradually the man came out again, and, under healthy influences and surroundings, became his old self. As his nervous system was restored to its balance so did his hatred of his whilom master, who had exhibited his infirmity to the public for money, grow in intensity, and it promised to be a bad time for Professor Stukes, as he called himself, if ever he showed up on Katinnup, West Australia.


IT came about that the man did appear. The announcements of the 'famous mesmeric king,' Professor Stukes, who was about to pay a visit to the gold fields of West Australia, were in time displayed in the mining township, and, after a tour amongst the other gold fields, the man came to Katinnup. By the time he had given two or three performances Harmston noticed that Jackson grew restless and uneasy. He had tried to persuade him to go on a prospecting trip, but without avail, and the fourth night Jackson was missing.

Harmston went to the mesmeriser's show without thinking over the matter. To his plain sense it seemed obvious that his weak-minded and afflicted comrade had succumbed once more to the charlatan's influence. He entered the rough hall where entertainments were held, and watched the performance. True enough, amongst the poor degraded wretches paraded on the stage was his mate, Jackson.

Without a word, Harmston arose and walked forward; he was too well known and popular to be detained by anybody in that place, and he mounted the platform without any opposition, and put his hand upon Jackson's shoulder, and called him by name. The professor, a man with bright eyes and a scrubby moustache, of no evident nationality, stepped forward, and said:

'Sir! how dare you interfere with one of my subjects in this way?'

'Go to the devil,' returned Harmston, 'Take your infernal control off this man, or I'll wreck you and your show in two minutes.'

The so-called professor stood aghast. He gazed at the cold, blue eyes of Harmston, and found nothing to say. Harmston looked round at the audience, many of whom had arisen, and were crowding towards the stage, and the professor recognised that at a word from him the threat would be accomplished. He made some passes, and Jackson, dazed and silly, passed out with his old friend.

The remainder of the show was not desired, and Professor Stukes got immediate notice to quit, before there was trouble.

'I can't make it out,' said Jackson, as, half recovered, he sat with Harmston in his old home, 'but that man dragged me away in spite of myself. What an unhappy being I am to be cursed like this. No will to fight against that miserable creature.'

The door opened as he spoke, and the 'miserable creature' in question stood before them. Jackson started to his feet, his face blazing with rage end fury. Harmston put a restraining hand upon him, and held him back.

'Mr. Harmston,' said the professor, 'I want a private word with you. Would you mind stepping outside with me?'


HARMSTON went out and closed the door behind him.

'That man has a secret, a forgotten one, of a former life which I have not the right kind of influence to obtain from him,' said the mesmerist.

'How do you know?' asked Harmston.

'Because he has told me of what happened when you and he were out prospecting together, naturally I tried my utmost to find out all about it, but I have always failed.'

'Well, what can I do in the matter?'

'Take us to the place where it happened; perhaps on the original spot I may succeed.'

'You propose then to mesmerise him on the locality?'

'Yes; or you might do it if you possess the mesmeric power, and more people have it than they think.'

Harmston thought for some time; then he replied.

'I don't believe in your jugglery, and I don't believe in subduing any man's will and robbing him of independent action. But I will ask Joe himself, and if he consents I will take you to the spot; but, mind you, I don't undertake to hold your life safe from him. You have brought him to that state that he is dangerous. Remember, he is an epileptic.'

The mesmerist quailed a little.

'That is so, but I must take my chance. However, I will think of some scheme by which my going could be obviated. If you will try an experiment or two on him, it might answer as well.'

'I won't give you any answer until I have talked with Jackson. I know I have great influence over him, but whether I can hypnotise I don't know. Now, you had better keep out of his sight and meet me in town to-morrow. Where are you stopping?'

'At the Better Luck.'

'Very well. I'll be there some time tomorrow.'

Harmston returned to the hut and told Jackson of the conversation; but as he saw that his friend was still very excited he proposed postponing his discussion of it till the morning.


IN the morning Jackson was much calmer, and agreed that Harmston should try the experiment on him, as he could not trust, himself alone for such a long time with the mesmeriser.

Harmston therefore went out to keep his appointment. He met the man he sought, and from him received certain instructions. On his return he put them in force and obtained a partial success. Repeated efforts for some days, however, produced a successful result and then he desisted, thinking they could practise on the road to the spot. Of course, the mesmerist had stipulated for a certain share of the result.

Fortunately the season was good, and as settlement had much increased the two friends safely reached the spot where the buckle had formerly been picked up.

'We will camp here to-night,' said Harmston, 'and start fair in the morning.'

The morning of the eventful day broke fair, and moderately cool. Then the crucial experiment commended. Stukes having advised it should take place before breakfast.

In the cavern the morning sun was just entering when Jackson commenced talking, and in response to Harmston's questions he told the following tale:


IN 1784 the ship Freistadt, bound for Batavia, was wrecked on a reef of rocks called the Abrolhos on the west coast of Australia, (whereon many Dutch ships had already been wrecked), and only two Prussian sailors escaped. This was strange, for there were only two men of this nationality amongst the crew, and Prussian sailors were not common in those days. Although fellow countrymen, these two men had never been friends: but thrown together on a lonely uninhabited continent they naturally buried the hatchet, and put their heads together and discussed their best plan of action. The best plan was rather a problem, for there seemed no best plan. It was a choice of sitting still to wait for death or walking out to meet him.

Jackson, or Gandoon, the name belonging to his former existence, was for walking on somewhere and seeing what the country was like, and if the inhabitants were peaceful and friendly. Greben preferred to stop where they were and die in despair, proclaiming that the natives of that country were monsters and giants, horrible cannibals. So Gandoon left him, and fell in with some natives, who proved peaceful, but miserable, and as hungry as himself, Matters were not improved by this, excepting that they showed him where to obtain water, and also gave him some wretched vermin to eat.

He went back to where he had left Greben, and coming unexpectedly upon him found out the reason of his disinclination to accompany him. He had found some provisions which had been washed ashore, but had said nothing of his find to his shipwrecked mate; and was now enjoying a meal, slightly damaged it is true, and washed down with a bottle of wine which had come safely ashore.

Naturally there was a quarrel, and Gandoon insisted on his share and got it. They then made a closer investigation of the shore, and found many more, useful and edible objects. But the seeds of mistrust had been sown between them, and even in their misery and loneliness they looked on each other with suspicion. In the end they had to join the natives and lead the wretched wandering life that they did. Gradually they worked back, finding that more game was to be obtained in the more inland parts of the great unknown land they were in. They, of course, went nude like the blacks, but carried with them some of their metal accoutrements. Time went on, and they found themselves in the country to be afterwards known as the Murchison, and south of that region also. Here the catastrophe occurred that brought on the end.

Sitting in the cave in which they then were they had one of their oft-recurring disputes, and Greben tauntingly said, 'If I could only reach civilisation I should be one of the richest men in Europe.'

'What do you mean?' asked the other.

'I mean that I know where there is gold piled in heaps—heaps, I tell you.'

'And why have you not told me before?'

'Why? Why should I? It is useless to us here, but it was grand to watch it, and think and dream of all it would bring me away from here.'

'You kept your pleasure to yourself seemingly.'

'It would have been worth nothing shared with you. No, I must imagine that I was the sole owner, the sole possessor of such wonderful wealth. That thought brought me nearer to my fellow-men.'

'You selfish brute; we have no pleasures in this wilderness where we are doomed to die, and you kept one to yourself.'

'I did, and it was grand to think of you not knowing all the time.'

'I will not! it is far from here!'

'You lie, you cur; it is close at hand.'

Greben only sneered, which so infuriated the other man that he sprang on him and hurled him to the ground. A savage combat then ensued in the desert cave; the two men fighting, and cursing each other as they did so; two brutes whom the gold was of no earthly value, tearing each other like wild beasts because one had not told the other of its existence.

At last Gandoon conquered, and Greben, a naked, battered piece of humanity, lay gasping and dying in the cave.

'Mark me!' he growled; 'There are other lives but this; and in the next will come my turn. I shall be master then! Remember!' He died, almost, with the words on his lips. Gandoon was alone. But reason had deserted him for a time.


GOLD! the useless gold! ran riot in his brain, and he spurned his dead foe. But his own wounds were stiff and painful, and he dragged himself to a rock-hole to bathe and wash them. There he lay in little better condition than his enemy. Three days passed, and he was tended and nursed by the tribe they were then amongst, and he was strong again. Meantime they had raised their death wail over the other dead white man after the way of their people.

Still impressed with the gold craze, he started out to look for it, feeling sure that he could identify the place near an old camp where he remembered he had often wondered at Greben's long absences—hunting as he went, for he was now expert at it. He found the old camp, and then he found the reef of gold—as he thought—for shining lumps were visible on a long line of reef.

All the fascination that had possessed the dead Greben entered into him. He found where Greben had broken off pieces and played with them; built cairns of them; laughed, doubtless, at the idea. that they were no more to him than pebbles. And then suddenly his reason returned. He saw all the folly of it—the madness! He had slain his only white companion for what were really but common pebbles, as, far as they were concerned. Henceforth he must live out his life amongst savages—alone.

This thought oppressed him almost to suicide; but he held his hand, and, a solitary Cain, went forth to return to the cave. The blacks had left when he reached there; but that did not trouble him. He was thenceforth as solitary with them as by himself, and he knew how to sustain life in that region. He went and looked at the body of his late companion, but the dogs had been in and torn it. Then, in pity, he scrawled the dead man's name and the date on the wall of the cave, and left the place. His wayward footsteps took him to the granite mound, where he scrawled the double-headed eagle and the Prussian flag. There, too, he found his former companions, the natives, camped, and amongst them, after a week or two, died, and was buried after their fashion.


IT was not to be supposed that this story was obtained at once, or in such detail; but Harmston pieced it together as he got it, and the substance was as above. Nor did he tell Jackson all he had learned, but enough for his purpose. He thought from the scanty directions that he was quite bushman enough to find the place.

When Jackson was sufficiently recovered from the somewhat severe ordeal he had passed through, he and Harmston started to look for the mysterious reef that had cost the lives of the two forlorn outcasts in the last century. It took some time and trouble. Nature, had changed somewhat, even in that slow-changing land. But they found it at last, and their work was done. But to Harmston's eyes it appeared a better reef to sell than to work. A reef peculiar to that part of Australia, where a rich blow on the surface deceives the inexperienced. However, they tested it, and found that it went down sufficiently far to render it quite valuable enough to take up. So it was taken up under the name of the 'Dream Reef,' and in due course a small mining nucleus formed about the place.

Stukes was duly informed of the find and its prospects, but Harmston advised him not to come up, as Jackson was, not to he trusted in his presence; but in spite of all Stukes came—his avarice made him risk the danger.


IT was a dull night, and the little township round the "Dream Reef" had retired, for the place had not yet become large enough for much gorgeous dissipation. Jackson, in his bunk awoke with a strange feeling in him that there was something, wrong going on down at the reef, and he must go and see what it was. He arose quietly without disturbing Harmston, and went down there. In the dim half light he could both see and hear that somebody was moving about. Somebody! His instinct at once told him who. He felt that Stukes, the man he most hated in the world was there; and he was.

The two men met.

'Oh, Jackson, how are you?' he said. 'Good thing we met, wasn't it, after all?'

'Met!' said Jackson, in a low mutter. 'But we have met hereabouts many times before. Met here more than a hundred years ago! You are Greben come back. You have had your revenge, and now I'll have mine!'

And he sprang on his ancient foe. A dim memory of something came back to Stukes as he spoke; then somehow he remembered all, and the re-incarnated enemies joined once more in fierce and savage combat. They made little noise, but fought as before, like human beasts. A sleepy miner awoke, and remarked that two dogs were fighting somewhere, that was all.

When Harmston awoke at daylight and missed Jackson he suspected something was wrong. Naturally he went to the reef first. There he found the story, he alone knew of, ended for the second time in a grim and ghastly fashion. Both men were dead.

He got assistance, but would give no explanation. How could he?

'Is the story ended only till the end of the next century?' he thought with a shudder. 'A feud to the death to be fought out through eternity!'


32. — THE GREAT CATACLYSM OF 1897

Evening News, Sydney, 22 May 1897

WHEN the news came of the earthquake shocks in eastern South Australia, nobody guessed that it was the first ominous message of a change in our continent to one phase of its former condition. We might receive slight tremors but we were not over the active earthquake belt, that had ceased in Australia thousands and thousands or years ago.

The catastrophe cause suddenly. Suddenly it was flashed through that the earthquake shocks were travelling east, and that the dead old volcanoes in south-west Victoria were showing signs of strange commotion. The panic in that colony was great, but as nothing serious occurred it calmed down. In Sydney nothing happened, and the people, believing themselves secure in the mountain barrier between them and the scene of disturbance, did not deem it possible that anything could happen.

It was on the night of June 20 that a strange phenomenon was observable in the heavens to the south-west. Clouds of beautiful but fiery red obscured the sky long after darkness set in. People remained in the streets watching and discussing the strange sight. Gradually these clouds took on a more beautiful change; the tints became the hues of the rainbow; changing rapidly, now steady, as the bow. So glorious was the sight that all the population must have been watching it. None regarded it as a portent, nothing of such radiant loveliness could be a dire messenger of an awful cataclysm?

Gradually it got whispered about that this was so. None could tell how the disquieting rumor stole through the air and gathered, but it soon became prevalent, and men looked at each other beneath that ominous light with awe and fear.

Suddenly it became known that all communication between the southern colonies had been destroyed, and that messages were coming rapidly from Brisbane and the north asking the meaning of this wondrous glow to the south. This aroused wild terror in many, for what great convulsion could it be that was rending the continent, when the dwellers in the distant north of Queensland were gazing at it like themselves?

And then arose a wail throughout the crowded thousands that Melbourne, Adelaide, and all the prosperous cities of the former colony had perished under a fiery outbreak such as belonged to the past ages of the world's birth. Many shrieked out that it was the long-predicted last day, and others lost their wits, for now the clouds changed their form, and darted upward in streamers, fiery red once more. Some called out in frantic terror that it was the flames of hell made visible, and wild appeals arose from religious enthusiasts that all should hasten to implore God's mercy.

And in the midst of this mad frenzy of distraction and appeal, a great and awful darkness fell like a pall. At once the silence of death seemed to hush the terrified cries. So dense and impenetrable was that darkness that the electric lights could not pierce it, and men stopped, trembling, where they were, afraid to move. None hoped for dawn; truly it was the end at last, and they could only wait for death in silence. Many died and many lost their reason during the awful hours passed waiting for the last trump.

But dawn broke, gloomy and sullen, with fog and vapor, and the braver spirits cheered up the weaker, and life resumed its interrupted round. Vigorous efforts were at ones instituted to communicate with the outlying portions, and find out what had happened, but it was found impossible to do this as the wires would not act; they had suddenly become dumb. The electric currents refused to work; so all must wait until news crept slowly in.

In the city was universal mourning, for so many weak and ailing had died from the shock. No business was done, for the day had a strange depressing effect that affected everybody; and the sun shone redly through a bank of vapor. Vessels went out, but made no progress, for the fog hung over the sea and refused to lift. And all waited through that day in terror for the night, for none could surmise the extent of the catastrophe that had befallen the continent; only it must have been something to which Krakatoa had been a rushlight.


THAT night the sky again loomed red, as though the clouds were incandescent, but had the more sullen appearance of the red coals of a fire without the flame. Men sought the open places, and few remained within their houses, for a slight tremor had been felt, very slight, but enough to show that danger lurked beneath the earth.

It was in the early part of the night that a strange sensation was felt that the earth had become unsteady. Many sickened and fainted, but those that analysed the feeling knew that it was no fancy; the earth was rising. At what awful depth the propulsion originated could only be guessed by the fact that the centre of gravity was not disturbed in any of the buildings. It was a certain, steady upheaval of the whole country. Suddenly arose a great cry of dismay from the foreshores of Port Jackson; and with it merged a rushing sound that gathered force and volume. The waters of the harbor were retreating into the sea.

The confusion and dismay was appalling as the ships turned on their flashlights to see where they were settling down, and louder and louder, mingling and finally domineering the more human sounds, came the mighty roar of the waters rushing out through the narrow entrance of the Heads. This night seemed to surpass the former one in Nature's terrors. All they were thankful for was that the darkness of the former night was not repeated. The lurid sky still glowed with ominous light. But perhaps this was even more appalling, for the waters of the harbor reflected the red light and a sea of blood swirled and rushed to the parent ocean. Nothing could be done by the ships; the wild tumult at the Heads, always increasing, forbade any attempt to get to sea.

And so another morning of horror dawned upon the people of Sydney. More horrible was it to those who looked upon the bottom of the harbor now laid bare to the eyes of man. For awful creatures, such as the surface never sees, had been caught in pools and left behind, and these fought with the sharks which had met the same fate. The slimy seaweed waved and dosed over their struggles; and there, too, lay the ribs of lost vessels and the white bones of drowned men.

The upheaval seemed to have ended and men walked the Streets again, but still in fear stood trembling, for who knew what was yet to come? Despair was in their hearts, for was not the commerce of the city destroyed for ever by this relentless act of nature's wrath?

But there were no more manifestations of unrest, and gradually they took heart, and set about to try find out what changes had taken place. It was no good sitting down and looking about upon what once had been their harbor, now only stranded vessels and rotting sea monsters. That was a danger that must be disposed of, else a pestilence would come and devastate the land. The nebulous red clouds only appeared at sundown the following night, and did not remain long after dusk. And the next day the telegraph lines worked once more. Then they got news.


ALL along the eastern coast the upheaval had been the same. No damage had been done to buildings, but every seaport had been rendered worthless. The Great Barrier Reef stood high above the water, and the whole face of the coast was changed.

But from south came news that confirmed their worst apprehensions. Melbourne, the Marvellous, had disappeared, vanished in a fiery outbreak that still smoked ominously. The whole of the Victorian towns of the centre and east were more or less destroyed, and repetitions of the outbreaks, on a smaller scale, still continued. Soon the leading spirits rose to the occasion. If they had lost their ports they would find and found others, and gradually they would rise once more. But more misfortune was in store for them.

As news came in it was found that the upheaval of the land had diverted the courses of the rivers. The Murray, Murrumbidgee, and Darling were no longer navigable—the steamers lay wrecked and grounded. That this even could be remedied they thought, for the snows of Townsend and Kosciusko must melt as formerly, and run their course to the sea in new channels. Man reasserts himself always after a time, and as they thought of all the help that would pour in from other lands if they, too, had not suffered under the same calamity, they walked erect again.


THEN came the end. One night the same slight but steady tremor was experienced, and again the trembling crowds waited in the streets. But this time the land was subsiding. Men began to congratulate themselves, the harbor would be refilled, the land restored to its former aspect and, only for the loss of a fair province and a million of people, it would be the Australia of before.

The sea re-entered the harbor and with the brightening they saw its familiar waters once more. They crept into the old bays and nooks and came on and on. Then came loud cries of alarm, for Australia was returning to its very old condition. The subsidence went on and on; and now the panic of fear took everybody; for this enemy was one that none could hope to meet or stem. On came the waters, more riotous as they proceeded, as if in joy over their reconquered territory. On and on went the steady and grim subsidence of the land, the submergence of life, of towns, of all the works of man. This was no petty rain-flood; thousands of years ago the ocean had gambolled there, and now she was coming back to her old playground.

When the subsidence ceased Australia was a continent no longer. The highlands of the east and the mountain ranges remained alone intact as a continuous narrow island, but the waters of Spencer's Gulf had shaken hands with Carpentaria, and only an archipelago of islands here and there remained to show what was once the lost Atlantis of Australia. The fertile and populous littoral of the east and south, the hearts of the continent, were beneath the Indian, Southern, and Pacific Oceans.


33. — HALF A POEM

Evening News, Sydney, 10 March 1900

IT is in a shabby office, in a small, up-country town, that the scene of this sketch is laid.

Under other and better circumstances the editor might not have been considered a very old man, although he was sixty years of age. But as he sat in his hot little oven of an office, broken down with the weight of disappointed hopes, misused opportunities, and all the cares that come upon a man as life grows long and weary, he looked his three score and ten. He sat there doing nothing, not even caring to read the exchanges which lay upon the table, thinking, as he had lately taken to doing very often, of all the blasted hopes of his early youth, and his declension in his old age into being the editor of the smallest of small journals in a poor little country township. What was there in front of him? Nothing, but a grave in the cemetery, where the cattle strolled through the gaps in the fence, and browsed amongst the 'cold hic jacets' of the dead.

He was roused from his gloomy reverie by a halting footstep, and a man as old-looking as himself; but crippled, broken, and bent, looked in at the door.

'Ullo! old fellow! In the dumps?'

'Not more than usual. Come in and have a yarn about old times.'

The man came in and sat down.

'Everett,' he said, 'we are getting old, no doubt of it, but I never expected to settle down to die as a sixth-class overseer on a very seventh-class station, any more than you did to end like this. Strange how we should have drifted together in this manner, after the old days on Saltop, when I hadn't a bone broken, and you, my jackeroo, had a bright career before you whenever you chose to chuck up station work, and take to better things.'

'I was just thinking about it all. Why come in and make it worse?'

'I don't know, only for companionship.'

There was the rattle of wheels and the sound of hoofs on, the road, and both men glanced up, with a surprised look, for the vehicle had stopped in front of the newspaper office—a most unusual thing at this time of the day, in the hot little township.

Everett got up, and went to the door. A buggy drawn by a neat little horse had stopped. The girl who was driving might have been any age between 12 and 16. She wore a big, shady hat, and looked up at Everett with bright and winning eyes. Beside her sat an old man; he wore goggles, and seemed rather helpless. The girl beckoned to Everett, who stepped out to see what she wanted, for she was a stranger to him.

'You're Mr. Everett?' she asked.

'I am.'

'Would you please help my grandfather out; he has came to see you. His name is Logan; but his eyesight has failed,' she ran on in a delightful prattle.

Everett helped the old man out, and led him into the office, while the girl, in a workman-like manner, took a halter out of the buggy, and made the pony secure to one of the posts of the small verandah. That done, she followed into the place, where her grandfather had been deposited in a chair, of which there were only two in the place.

'You are Miss Logan, then?' Queried Everett.

'No,' said the girl, who was unceremoniously unbuttoning and taking off her gloves. 'I am Jessie Marks; grandfather is my mother's father. Now, I'll tell you all about it,' she continued, taking the only other chair, which Everett offered her, while he perched himself on the table, and the lame man did the same, which was a rash proceeding, for the table was not by any means strong.

'You see,' the girl rambled on confidentially, 'I've always looked after grandfather—read to him and all that. Now, the other day I got hold of one of your papers, and grandfather asked me where it came from; and I read out that it was published and printed and so on by G. R. Everett. Then grandfather suddenly said, "Everett! why, Jessie, that's the young fellow I've so often told you about, and our trip together for five days, when we took the cattle up along the back of the Wall, and he told me all about the way to look at the bush." So, as I had heard so much about your son, I said, "Grandfather, we'll go and see him;" we live forty miles away, but my sister's place is only fifteen miles, so we stopped there last night, and came on this morning. Now, Mr. Everett, where is your son?'

All this had been rushed put without pause for breath, and Everett stood aghast.

'My dear young lady, I never had a son.'

The lame man leaned forward.

'Did you say that your grandfather's name was Logan?' he asked. 'Is he deaf?'

'Yes,' replied the girl, with a surprised look on her face. The lame man, whose name was Brown, put his hand on Everett's shoulder.

'It's Jack Logan—Deaf Jack! My stockman at Saltop. You and he did come up together at the back of the Wall, bringing back the store cattle that had got away. A good trip it was, too. Don't you remember it?'

'Do I remember it? Of course I do; it was a lovely trip, and the track had never been taken before. Forty years ago, and this is Jack Logan—Deaf Jack?'

They had almost forgotten the girl, but she had been listening intently. 'And you have no son, Mr. Everett? Who was the man who went that trip with my grandfather? The young man with the bright eyes, who told him the wonderful stories of the bush, and showed him what it really was? Are you the man?'

In her excitement the girl had arisen, and laid her hand on the editor's arm.

'I was the man,' replied Everett sadly, but looking kindly in the girl's face. 'Time has no more stood still with me than it has with your grandfather.'

The girl rested her pretty-shaped chin on her hand, and thought. The old man, deaf and nearly blind, dozed easily in the chair. Brown leant forward and listened.

'You see,' she said, taking Everett's hand, and tapping on it with her other forefinger, as a sort of accompaniment, 'it was all this way. I've always been grandfather's girl, and the favorite story he always told me was about the time that he lived on a station called Saltop. The owner was a Mr. Brown, a young man, who could do anything, or ride anything—'

'I am the man,' said Brown, as sadly as Everett had said the words.

'But most of all,' went on the young, fresh voice, 'he loved to tell me of a trip he had once, with a young fellow named Everett. They went after some stray cattle, and brought them back by a way that only one or two had been before. This was my favorite story. How they camped one night at a small waterhole, and the young man talked nearly half the night, for the cattle were still and quiet. Drew his attention to the wonderful voices of the bush night. The whirr of the widgeon bursting into the still water, as if from the skies. The chatter of the wood ducks to each other. The cry of the curlews, and the baby squeak-like voices of the dab-chicks.'

The girl went on reciting, like a poem she had learned in childhood.

'Then my grandfather—he was not so deaf in those days, but was always a little deaf—found a new voice and expression in these things that had yet always been familiar to him, and a new joy.

'Next morning, too, this young man, as they rode behind the cattle, drew my grandfather's attention to the sweet smell of the crushed bush herbs as the cattle trod them down, in the early morning air. The next night they camped at a swamp, and in the morning when they were eating their breakfasts this young man drew my grandfather's attention to the native-companions dancing on the short green grass at the water's edge, in the first glad gleams of the sun. My grandfather had never seen any beauty in it before; he would have taken his gun and shot one of them. But when it was pointed out to him he saw how beautiful the bush was, and ever since then has loved it in a different wa.'

The men were silent, and Everett was looking down. Presently the girl went on:

'Then this young man went down to live near the great basalt wall seventy miles long, to keep back the store cattle which were being broken in on the station, and twice a week my grandfather used to come down to see him, and they would sit out under the stars and talk—talk about the great basalt range, where there was a stream of constantly flowing water that rose from no one knew where, flowed on for many miles, then, sank, and was known no more. And what a wonderful thing it was, this water, coming up like this and disappearing again, whether the weather was wet or dry, and going on thus for ever and ever!

'I thought in my foolish way—I see now how foolish—that surely this young man who opened my grandfather's eyes to the wonderful beauty of the bush was surely still young, and, and'—the girl caught her breath with a sob—'and so I brought grandfather to see you, the man he knew forty years ago.'

'And you are disappointed?' said Everett.

'No,' said the girl, 'I see now how foolish I was; but it was a great thing for grandfather to awake to beautiful things that, he had never noticed before, and so I wanted to see what the man was like. You are kind not to laugh at me.'

Neither Brown nor Everett felt much inclined to laugh. They felt the other way. The bright, joyous description of the girl; the wonders she had expected to find, all brought home to them their own shattered lives.

'Tell me,' said the girl, appealing to Everett. 'You have often told the same sort of beautiful things to other people that you did to my grandfather?'

Everett looked down. 'Perhaps, I forgot. Perhaps, they would not listen. I forget.'

'O, I am sorry, more sorry than when I found that you were not a young man with bright eyes.'

'Listen, child!' said Everett, and his faded eyes looked bright for a moment. He took the girl's face between both his hands, and turned it up to his.

'Some day, I feel sure, some young man, with bright eyes will tell you more beautiful things than I told your grandfather. And listen, if he is what I hope he will be, then, when his hair is as grey as mine, and yours the same, you will still see him as a young man, with bright eyes.'

He stooped, and kissed the child on the forehead.


THEY had talked to the old man, through the medium of Jessie, and put him back in the buggy.

'You will come and see us,' said the little maiden, as she waved them good-bye, and they both said they would. Then, when the pair were gone, they looked at each other.

'There's too much sentiment in this world,' said Brown at last.

'Too much sentiment altogether,' returned Everett. 'Come over the road and have a drink. There's no sentiment about that.'


34. — A HYPNOTISED DOG

Evening News, 5 Jun 1897

WHEN Fitzbrassie started trying hypnotic experiments on his fox terrier. I told him that it was an extremely foolish thing to do; but be was so taken up with the idea that he refused to listen to reason. He persisted in it, and I must confess obtained a partial success, but only partial. The dog tried his best to follow the train of thought suggested, but his canine ideas did not run on the same lines as his master's, so the result was often disastrous.

Fitzbrassie and I shared a couple of rooms together, and at times, like most young men of uncertain income, were pushed, to put it mildly, for ready money. This necessitated occasional visits to 'our uncle,'* and on several occasions Dan, the terrier, had accompanied Fitzbrassie there; in fact, it was a wonder that Dan had not been 'popped' sometimes. However, we were flush at this period, and Fitzbrassie was engaged to an exceedingly nice girl. He came home one evening with an expensive little fancy workbox, one of those things that look well as a present, but no one thinks of using afterwards, and they gradually wear out through the ravages of time. This was a present for his lady love, and he told me that before he left in the morning he was going to hypnotise Dan and suggest to him to carry it round there.

* The pawn shop.

Dan was naturally a clever dog, and could fetch and carry things against any dog. In the morning Fitz hypnotised Dan, and informed him of his wishes. I was engaged at home that day, and agreed to watch the progress of the experiment. After awhile I noticed that Dan got very uneasy, and evidently troubled in his mind. He knew Miss Romilly very well, and approved of her, for She was kind to him, and generous in the matter of sweet biscuits, etc. I could see that Dan was impressed with the importance of his mission, but had not got the hang of the thing properly.

Suddenly he started up with a look of relief on his face, and trotted downstairs and into the back yard. My window commanded a view of the yard, and I watched him go into a secret corner (as he considered it) and unearth a savory bone that he had hidden some weeks before; then, after his usual custom, he overed the back gate and vanished. In about an hour he came back, dejected and forlorn. He did not come near me; he was evidently ashamed of himself.

I read the workings of his mind; he had evidently mixed up Fitz's suggestion with his own ideas of Miss Romilly, end understanding that he was to take her something, had selected the most precious thing that he knew of, and carried it there. That his gift had been received with horror and disgust, and he himself cast forth with kicks and abuse was evident, and just as evident was it that he was trying to sort things out and find out what it meant. After about an hour he suddenly startled me by leaping on the table, seizing the packet in which was the work-box done up neatly with straps for him to hold it by, and trotting rapidly off with it. Naturally I thought he was going to retrieve his error, and in about another hour he returned and came up to me wagging his tail, well pleased.

He had a paper in his mouth, and I took it. It was a blank pawn ticket; on the back of it was written in pencil a message to the owner of the dog, stating that the dog had brought a parcel to the shop containing a lady's new work-box. The dog had taken Miss Romilly's present to the pawn shop.

I took Dan and recovered the box before Fitz came home, went round to Miss Romilly, and, without entering in full details, explained matters. Being a very kind-hearted girl she forgave Dan, and we agreed to keep the matter secret and leave Fitz under the impression that everything had gone smoothly.

Fitzbrassie was immensely proud at the success of his hypnotising, and put on the most unbearable frills, so much so that I often felt inclined to tell him of the disgraceful mess Dan had made of this suggestions. Things went on smoothly enough until Fitz got to work again with his confounded suggestions, and then he preserved a suspicious mystery about the affair that foretold trouble.

'Wait and you'll see,' was all he would condescend to say.

We did see.


THAT evening Dan was quietly sleeping in his accustomed place, when without any warning, he suddenly sprang up, flew wildly round the room, and bit Fitzbrassie savagely in the calf of the leg. Then he suddenly seemed to remember himself, and wisely slunk out of the room. Poor Fitz raved and swore frightfully, and pulled up his trousers to look at the wound, which was a very deep bite.

'What the devil have you been doing to the dog?' I asked, for Dan was the best tempered dog in existence.

'I only suggested to him that when he woke up he would be a mad dog, and rush round and bite people.'

'By Jove, old man,' I said, smothering my laughter, 'this is serious; you must go to a doctor and get the wound cauterised at once, if you don't want to die of hydrophobia.'

'Great Scott! do you think so?'

'I do indeed. If the dog was hypnotised into believing he was mad, he was actually mad while the illusion lasted, and his bite would be just as dangerous as the bite of a real mad dog. I'm sorry for you, old man, for its the most agonising form of death to die.'

Fitz limped off to a doctor, as white as a sheet; in fact, I had to go with him. The doctor, who knew us, looked very grave, and backed up my view of the case, but he said he would not proceed to extreme measures, such as cutting the leg off at once. He told me privately that the wound was a clean one, and that there was no danger, but it was as well to give Fitz a fright.


FOR days afterwards Fitzbrassie used to go to his bath in fear and trembling, for he had heard that one of the symptoms of hydrophobia was an insane dread of water. He also was continually finding that his jaw did not work properly, and was certain that lockjaw was setting in.

He made me a present of Dan when he recovered from his fright, and you may he sure that I never try hypnotic experiments on the dog.


35. — IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE

Evening News, Sydney, 25 Feb and 18 Mar 1899

I

THE filmy vapor that had enveloped us so long gradually cleared away. Lifting slowly, it developed a pageant of scenery which none of us expected to see—if, in point of fact we had ever expected to see anything again—for from the time we were precipitated out of the car of the balloon from the unfortunate and unforeseen collision with the top of an iceberg, we had been enveloped in what seemed a freezing, blinding fog. True, some part of the time we had been semi-unconscious, and not able to exactly realise our position, but mostly, when we came partly to our senses, we saw nothing around us but stifling fog or mist.

Now it cleared off, and before us we saw a country, beautifully green, mellow-tinted, and lovely, lying on the verge of a frozen sea. The frozen sea that we ourselves were lying on bereft of our means of locomotion and without food or anything. The lifting of the mist seemed to create a different climate, and my two companions, like myself, sat up and gazed around.

'It is a civilised country,' said Gotthelm. 'Look at the houses and gardens. But God in heaven! how can there be gardens' here in the Arctic circle?'

'It is only a dream before death,' said Heimrich, the Swede, and he laid himself down on the ice again to die.

'It is a reality and a fact!' I exclaimed, having risen to my feet, and assured myself that the prospect was actual. As I spoke the mist—the cold, moist mist—swooped down again and blotted out all that we had been gazing at.

'Ach! It is but death and dream!' repeated Heimrich.

But now, through the blinding, suffocating folds of the enwrapping fog came the sound of bells. Bells so welcome in their sounds that they seemed to have been welded out of silver and gold. Bells that came nearer and nearer, as though hastening to our deliverance. And they were, too, for out of the misty surroundings came a voice—a human voice—evidently calling on us to show our whereabouts. I could not understand what was said; but I shouted in reply, and soon I heard the ringing sound of skates and sleighs coming towards us.

Again the mist lifted, and close to us was a party consisting of men and women clad in furs. Tall, handsome, and comely; no squat-shaped Esquimaux. They came quickly up, and Gotthelm and Heimrich got on their feet, and stared wonderingly at our rescuers. Rescuers without doubt they were, for we were bereft outcasts, on a frozen ice floe; and now suddenly we were surrounded by a crowd of human beings, evidently friendly disposed, and evidently anxious to succor and comfort us. And in all appearance these people were of our own kind, and permeated with the same sympathetic thrills that worked in our own organisations. And, above all, they were tall and fair. From such a people we could expect nothing but kindness, and we found it.


OUR balloon had long ago gone out of sight and direction. The collision against the crest of the iceberg, and the fall from that height, had so stunned and confused us that what had become of the machine was a hopeless puzzle. I, Dr. Germain, know that the most beautiful woman I ever saw or dreamt of pushed forward through the crowd and put to my lips a cordial that penetrated all my senses, and restored health and vigor to each. In a short space my companions were likewise invigorated, and then suddenly the mist closed down again, and all was blank, only that through the obscurity I felt the touch, of that hand resting on my shoulder, and felt that I was safe until the coming lights dawned once more.

It was some time before the mist rose once again and things were clear. One, who seemed to be the leader, gave some orders, and then we were helped into sleighs, and went quickly spinning across the ice towards the beautiful country we had seen on the margin of the frozen sea. Now commences the first, series of our adventures amongst the people who inhabit the innermost confines of the frozen Arctic circle—the circle wherein the heat necessary for human life is maintained by the strange precipitation of the mist accumulated in the tropics, and carried to the arctic circle during nine months in the year by the constant current of the south-east trades, which blow throughout the southern hemisphere for that period.

When we started on our balloon voyage we never calculated upon any southern wind-currents affecting us, yet, strange to say, these very currents, acting upon an upper strata of air, had borne us to a destination that we had despaired of reaching. Now it had landed us, thanks to an unhappy contact with the iceberg, amongst the most wonderful and curious race of people in the world, as yet unknown to the rest of humanity.

II

AS soon as we reached the land, and were helped out of the sledges and conveyed to a large house, we were fed with strange food, amongst which, however, I easily recognised bear's flesh, and given a warm, sweet drink of some sort which made us all drowsy. We were shown skins to lie on, and left to ourselves.

Gottheim muttered, 'It's a dream, it's a dream!' Then he was asleep, and directly afterwards Heimrich was the same. I stayed awake a little longer pondering on our position, and, while thankful for our marvellous rescue, half regretful that I could see no chance now of our ever returning with the tale of our wonderful discovery wherewith to astonish the world, and so thinking I, too, lost consciousness.

We were awakened by a gentle voice asking us something in a soft, strange tongue, and opened our eyes easily, showing that we must have slept a long time, and were now thoroughly rested. The room must have been lit by artificial light, though I could not then detect its source, but it was a beautiful soft, mellow light, that did not hurt the eyes, and yet made everything almost as clear and distinct as by day. Over us stood the same splendid woman who had appeared to us through the fog like an angel of succor. She was tall, like all her race, and fair-haired, as the others were also.

But her face was the face of one of the fairest of our own women of northern Europe. By her gestures she indicated to us to rise and go into another room, where we found suits of skin ready for us to change our stiff and dirty clothes, and means to wash our dirt encrusted skins. Everywhere was that soft glow of warmth, and everywhere that beautiful light.

Washed, refreshed, and experiencing a strange feeling of rest and safety, we ventured to endeavor to find our way out, and by good luck came e to the very room in which our hosts were. There we found the woman who had come to our rescue with the party, the man who had been the leader, and an old man we had not seen before. All rose and welcomed us in dumb show, and never did I see such a stately trio; and it seemed to me that the venerable white-bearded old man was not the least distinguished of the party.

Heimrich, who was a celebrated linguist, tried several of the northern dialects in which to address our hosts, but for a long time without avail. At last, however, he struck upon a phrase or word at which they all started. Eagerly the man spoke a word in reply, to which Heimrich responded, and then a strange thing happened.

A glow and fire suddenly shone in Heimrich's face, and, as one inspired, he stepped forward and began a kind of chant in a strange tongue that I never heard before. But for all that, the language sounded bold and stirring. The three people of the Arctic Circle listened, entranced, the old man especially. He stood forward, staring at Heimrich as if he saw a spirit from the dead. At last the chant stopped, and then in his turn the old man commenced what seemed to be a reply. It was certainly in the same mysterious language, and had the same swing or rhythm. In turn he ceased, and we all stood amazed.

'Where on earth did you get that performance?' growled Gottheim, as the Arctic people stood eagerly talking together.

'It suddenly came to me. It is an ancient rune, a saga; I learnt it from an old nurse, and have scarcely thought of it since.'

The old man advanced, and endeavored to communicate with. Heimrich, but it was a disappointment.

'Never mind,' said Heimrich, 'before a week is out I shall be able to talk with them.'


I NEED not go into further detail about our life for the next few days. While Heimrich studied with the old man, Gottheim and I wandered about the town, or rather scattered settlement, and saw what we could of it. Everywhere we found the people courteous, kind, and attentive. They, were curious, but not obtrusive in any way. I wondered they showed as little curiosity as they did, until I found out the reason. Our two younger hosts, brother and sister, whose names I may as well say at once were Signy, the man's name, and Sinjof, the woman's, insisted on accompanying us everywhere, lest we went astray in one of the mists that kept descending during these summer months.

One day they led us away from the abodes of the people, and took-Tis to a place where there was an immense ice floe. As yet we could not speak to each other, but they silently pointed to some object in the ice. Gotthelm looked first, and started back with an exclamation of astonishment. I looked, and what did I see?

In the ice lay entombed and preserved the bodies of two men. Europeans, and European sailors, in the dress of at least three centuries ago. Probably they had died two thousand leagues or more away, and had been carried in their icy shroud into the region we now were in by the set of some current, which has done the same with wreckage. Every detail was plain and perceptible, and their faces were calm, placid, and peaceful. It was wonderful to look at these survivals of a bygone century, of the days when men went out to dare the elements in their tiny cockleshells as confidently as we now start in a modern steam whaler.

Who could they have been? Two of the mutineers who put Hudson adrift to find an unknown grave, or members of the crew of some vessel of discovery, whose name has been lost?

Afterwards I learned that this strange sepulchre had gradually come into view about fifty years before our coming, and that was the reason, that and their traditions, why so little surprise had been expressed at our appearance.

The fertility of this region during the summer months is wonderful. The mists, which keep being precipitated through the coming of the warm southern winds into the Arctic Circle, encourage the rapid growths peculiar to the country. These mostly consist of lichens and mosses and a few low bushes, nearly all tasty and edible. Trees there are none.

For building material, the people use clay, and with it make substantial bricks of a larger size than ours. Iron abounds, and they understand the working of the ore, and the higher parts of the country are covered with quantities of mica, of a size not equalled in any other part of the world. Gold may probably be also present, but this I did not look for, and the inhabitants, of Giukings, to give them their proper name, seemed to know nothing of it. The mica is used by them as we use glass, and affords an admirable material for the illuminating apparatus that they use.

In the open sea that surrounds the North Pole, seals, whales, etc., abound, for it is never frozen over, the fringe of ice upon which we fell, only extends from the land about one-hundred miles; it was lucky for us that we did not fall into the open sea, instead of striking against the frozen berg, imbedded in the ice tract. There are also hot lakes on the land, the presence of which helps to raise the temperature of the country. Bears frequent the district, and are caught in traps and pits.

When I spoke of summer and winter, I should have said night and day, for the climate is always the same. The sun appears in summer, but it affords no heat, and the Giukings only know the difference in the year by the six months day, and six months night. This knowledge, of course, obtained during my stay there. All fuel and light are easily supplied by the immense supply of oil they can so easily obtain.


IN about a week, Heimrich had mastered the language sufficiently to be able to glean the history of this Arctic race as known to them by their own traditions. Originally they must have come from Sweden; driven north in the earlier days by constant warfare; they had been harassed from island to island, until, to escape the desolation into which they had been hunted, they took to the open sea in what galleys they had left. What followed is not known. They must have got into a warm current, which carried them—alive, but nearly starving and unconscious—away north through some passage in the eternal ice into the warmer region and open sea of the North Pole.

There is a legend that one man of heroic build and mind, named Lyngi, kept them all in heart, and never quailed, but predicted that they would yet come to a land whereon they could live and thrive. And his words proved true, for at last they came to the land we were then in, and this Lyngi made laws for them, and made them vow to keep them. This was the tradition of the origin of the Giukings.

Naturally Heimrich, from being able to talk with them, held the highest place in the estimation of these people; and gradually a desire to return settled down heavily upon our hearts. The stagnant color of the country afflicted us There was never anything happened to disturb the peaceful quiet of the place. Even atmospherical disturbances were rare; and above all, the regular rising and falling of the mist which was the life of the place made us feel like the men who sailed with Maeldune:


And round it we went, and thro' it,
but never a murmur, a breath—
It was all of it fair as life,
it was all of it quiet as death,
And we hated the beautiful Isle,
for whenever we strove to speak
Our voices were thinner and fainter
than any flitter-mouse shriek.


SIGNY saw our dissatisfaction, and strove to entertain us by inviting us to make long excursions to different points of interest, for now the last months of day were setting in, and Gotthelm and I dreaded the thought of six months' darkness amongst these people, who, though kind and hospitable, had, from the very circumstances surrounding them, and in which they lived, a certain nerveless apathy that was inexpressibly wearying to our quicker and more active blood, fresh from the living world.

All the people were the same—tall, handsome, kind, and awfully monotonous. Even the trapping and fishing were done in a calm, methodical, and unsportsmanlike manner. The only touch of real excitement I had seen amongst any of them was in the old man, Signy's father, when Heimrich recited the ancient Rune or Edda. As for Heimrich, he was content. The beautiful Sinjof had won his heart, and he, I thought, had won hers.

Signy proposed to us one day, through Heimrich, that we should go and see one of the hot lakes some distance away, and we agreed. There were many rises to cross, some covered with iron ore outcrops, and the glistening sheets of mica sticking up from the ground. At last we approached our destination, and reached the crest of the low ridge that overlooked the depression where lay the hot lake. What was the sight that at once made us stop and exclaim with surprise and joy? There was our balloon—captive, anchored by the trailing grapnel that had become detached when we were thrown from the car.

Next moment we were bounding down the slope, visions of the world before us. We could only make the balloon more secure, and await assistance which Signy went for. Then we managed to haul it down, so that Gotthelm was able to get into the car and examine the contents. So well had our arrangements been made, and so admirably had everything been stowed, that nothing had been injured nor displaced.

We managed to tow the balloon back to the main cluster of buildings, and there made it secure and fast. Next day we examined the machine thoroughly, and decided that it was as safe as ever; and our hopes of home rose high, as we commenced to make our preparations.

Our trouble now was Heimrich. Would he accompany us, or would he remain and cast in his lot with this strange Arctic race for the love of Sinjof? He looked troubled and distressed; but neither Gotthelm nor myself strove to influence him by a single word. It was a case where a man has to decide for himself. Sinjof herself seemed more troubled than I should have expected from one of her placid race.

But there was more fire than I dreamt of in the nature of the Giukings, only circumstances never arose to bring it to the surface. Time drew on, and the last day of light had come, and we were ready to go. From the old man we learned that at that period there was generally a good wind, and as from our position on the globe it scarcely mattered in what direction it blew, we chose that day for our departure. What had passed between Heimrich and Sinjof I know not, but now I believe that he promised her that he would stay.

I looked around before we took our places, and saw that dusk was rapidly shutting everything out of view. Gottheim and I had taken our places, and Heimrich was to follow—that is, if he was coming or not. Signy had been instructed how to release the last rope if Heimrich intended to stay. Heimrich stood, uncertain, and Sinjof stood by his side. I pitied the man, on one side the chance of returning to the world; on the other a beautiful woman of another race and stagnation for life.

'Are you coming?' said Gottheim, for the gloom was fast gathering. Heimrich stooped, and released the last rope. At the same moment Sinjof sprang forward with a knife in her hand, and seized the rope with the other strong hand. The balloon shot up suddenly carrying them both off the ground, and at the same moment the blackness of utter darkness shut down on us. Then the balloon made another jump, and we heard a thud—the thud of two bodies striking the ground. Next the wind caught us, and all was blackness and deep silence. Gottheim clasped my hand, and I returned the pressure—that was all we could do at the moment. What had happened?

Thinking it over, I believe that Heimrich was going to stay; but that Sinjof mistook his action in going to release the rope, and rushed forward with a knife to cut it, and both clutching it, they were jerked off their feet Heimrich must have lost his presence of mind, and held on, and Sinjof must have cut the rope. But how high did the balloon carry them before that happened? That we shall never know.


THE cold increased, and we crawled into the lower compartment of the car and closed the trap. At times one of us would strike a match to read the barometer, otherwise we were silent. From the gauge and compass we seemed to be travelling south at a high rate of speed before a high but steady wind, which, of course, we could not feel in any way. It was an awful time to have to lie quiet knowing we were being carried swiftly through a pitch-dark void, we knew not where.

Once Gottheim aroused me. At the bottom of the lower compartment a port hole of thick glass was let in. Looking through this, we saw what seemed like a lake of seething fire far below us. We were passing over the crater of an active volcano. It was gone like a flash. Without referring to my journal, I cannot say what number of days we thus remained in darkness awaiting our fate; but at last Gottheim, putting his head out of the trap in his turn, pulled it back, and said in a tone of joy, 'It is growing light.'

When light came we were looking down on a sea of clouds; but dropping below them we saw—beneath us the pine forests and green, fields of Norway.

We were saved.


36. — TOMMY'S FALL

Evening News, Sydney, 26 May 1900

TOMMY was excessively fond of argument and whisky: therefore for the super of the station to dispatch him to the township with a packhorse to bring up some whisky with which to celebrate the Relief of Ladysmith was a stance of rash and hasty confidence.

Unfortunately, from the conjunction of certain untoward circumstances, there was no one else to send, and Tommy departed with many fervent protestations of good behavior if he was only trusted this once. Tommy fell, of course. He got to the township right enough; he withstood the temptations it held forth; he started away full of self-satisfied virtue and pride at his rectitude, and, of course, this feeling preceded a fall.

The fall was bad, and owed its origin to a friend, a common cause of falls. The friend was a Scotchman, and lived in a small abode on the outskirts of the scattered township. The friend was also a shoemaker, and as argumentative as Tommy was, Tommy had to call at his place for a pair of boots, and he got off his horse and tied him up in company with the pack-horse to a convenient sapling, then went inside.

He sat down and entered into conversation with his friend—into argument rather, for argument was the one joy of Tommy's monotonous life. Then the Devil entered into Tommy, and suggested that argument was dry work, and outside on the pack-horse were six bottles of whisky neatly and safely packed in their straw envelopes. Surely one could be broken accidentally. Tommy listened to the Devil's suggestion, and one was broached. This inspired the Scotch shoemaker, who launched himself out on his favorite theme of Shakespeare being in reality a Scotchman. This Tommy controverted with all the eloquence at his command, and as their eloquence increased in proportion to the decrease in the whisky bottle, it became absolutely necessary to broach another bottle. This was done, and thenceforth oblivion.

Tommy awoke to darkness, and a loss of identity. He got up and moved about, and immediately fell over somebody, who was asleep on the floor, and muttered strange Scotch oaths at being disturbed. Tommy got a match from his pouch, and managed to strike it? On the floor lay his host; and his pack bags and saddles were placed neatly enough against the slab-wall; but from their appearance they were evidently not so bulky as they should be. Tommy sat down in the dark and meditated with a troubled mind.

Could he and the Scotchman have possibly polished off the whole of the consignment of whisky? And where were his horses? And who had unpacked and unsaddled his horses? He had no idea of having done it.

'Duncan!' he cried, in desperation; 'wake up, man!'

After much calling Duncan woke up, growling at people who could not sleep their liquor off like gentlemen. He informed Tommy that when he (Tommy) became vanquished in argument, and prostrate with liquor, Duncan had unsaddled his horses, and hobbled them out on the bank of the neighboring creek, where there was very fair feed. That afterwards a friend or two had dropped in, and had just a drappie in both eyes.

Duncan lit a kerosene lamp, and Tommy, who was very shaky, asked If there wasn't any whisky left. Duncan opined that there might be a couple of bottles still left, but it was useless to think of going back to the station with such a small cargo. Tommy took a nip out of one of the bottles to steady his nerves, and Duncan took one to keep him company. Duncan, it may be added, was whisky-proof, and unfortunately thought that everybody else was the same, hence the deadliness of his friendship. Deliberation led to nothing. Neither had sufficient credit, nor anything else, to get a fresh supply, and no sufficiently valid excuse could be found to account for the disappearance of six bottles of whisky.

'I've got it!' suddenly exclaimed Duncan. 'The packhorse bucked everything off! There; I give you the idea for nothing.'

'Pretty idea, too!' said Tommy, scornfully, 'Why, old Dozey, the packhorse, wouldn't buck if you put a crate of fireworks on top of him and set them going.'

'Well, think of something else,' said Duncan, in a lordly manner, helping himself to another nip.

'All very well for you to say "Think of something else,"' sneered Tommy; 'but you don't have to suffer, and I have, and you had more than your share of the whisky.'

Duncan rose in his wrath, a gaunt, red-headed phantom.

'A gentleman who says that another gentleman has had more than his share of the whisky is no gentleman, Leave my house!'

'Wish I had never come in it!' said Tommy. 'Where are the boots?'

'The boots are not mended yet, and I will not deliver them to a drunken blackguard who cannot take six bottles of whisky home safely.'

Tommy stared aghast at this heartless retort, but Duncan was twice his size, so he opened the door and stepped out into the dim light of a just risen moon in its last quarter. He took his saddle and packsaddle outside, sternly watched by Duncan, who sat with one hand round the broached whisky-bottle. Then Tommy took the one still intact, and reached for the other.

'The face of him!' said Duncan, somewhat vaguely; 'would take a man's bottle of whisky out of his house before his very face, after partaking of his hospitality all the night, and me putting up with his profligate goings on. Leave my house!'

Tommy left. After all, it made no difference; he was bound to get in for it. Duncan slammed the door after him, and Tommy, picking up his bridle and halter, strolled down to the creek to see if he could find his horses, first planting the bottle of whisky.


A WAGGON was standing at the creek—a loaded waggon. Tommy looked about and underneath; but there was no one sleeping there. Evidently the teamster and his mate had gone up to the township, after turning their horses out, and seemingly had gone to sleep there.

Again the devil entered into Tommy, and he examined the loading with the practised eye of a station hand, who had loaded many drays and waggons, Some people had a detestable habit of sending up cases of whisky concealed in drapery and other goods; but here there was no deception—a case of spirits stood in a most handy and convenient manner, and Tommy—still listening to the voice of the tempter—took it down and carried it off. Guessing his horses would have joined the carriers', he went down to them, guided by the bells, and found them feeding there.

After saddling them, he got Duncan's wood-axe and opened the case. Rapidly he put the bottles in the pack-bags in their straw envelopes, and filled with a feeling of making righteous restitution for his slip from rectitude, he took the whole dozen instead of six. Then a desire for revenge on his false friend took possession of him, and he carried the empty case up to Duncan's and deposited it, together with the incriminating wood-axe, outside the door, Then he opened the door and looked in.

Duncan had fallen asleep, with his hand still grasping the whisky bottle, and Tommy, with a slight feeling of remorse, extinguished the lamp and left. He had thirteen full bottles with him Instead of six, and upon Duncan would the blame fall.


IT was about 10 o'clock in the morning when Tommy reached the station, Grey's (the Super.) guests had arrived, and he was looking anxiously out for Tommy's arrival. Tommy had helped himself liberally along the road to the one bottle of whisky saved put of the first consignment, and was in a condition which prevented him from inventing an excuse to account for the presence of twelve bottles of whisky instead of six. He had the sense to plant the extra bottle at the slip-rails, and then, pulling himself together, rode up to the store.

'How is it you were not home last night?'

'Horse get away, and I didn't get him again till after dark. Everything's all right, sir.'

Grey went forward, and carefully unhooked the bags, for Tommy seemed incapable, of doing anything but smile. There was a pause, then said Grey:

'I sent you in for half a dozen of whisky, and you bring me back a dozen of three star pale brandy. How's that?'

A brilliant idea shot through Tommy's bemuzzed brain.

'Mr. Kirkbutt' (the publican) 'said as how he was so delighted at the Relief of Ladysmith that he hoped you'd accept the extra half-dozen as a present from him, just in honor of the occasion.'

Grey stared at him, speechless.

'Fact, sir,' said Tommy.

'Well, I'm blessed,' said Grey. 'Brown!' he called out to the owner of the next station, who was one of his guests. 'Just come here, and listen to this.'

Brown came over, and Tommy had to repeat his message.

'Meet extraordinary. However, we'd better swamp it before he repents of his generosity. By the way, Tommy, did you see anything of my team; it ought to be at the township by this time? I have a case of three-star on board. I hope that old Kirkbutt has not been shaking it.'

Tommy laughed feebly, and effaced himself.


OVER the extraordinary complications that followed Tommy's exploit a veil must be drawn. Duncan got locked up, and has ever since been seeking to get Tommy in a quiet place alone. Kirkbutt repudiated the very idea of such generosity, and wanted Grey to pay him for the case of brandy. But the maddest man of all was Brown when he found he had been invited to make merry with his own purloined liquor.


37. — THE LOST TRIBE

Evening News, Sydney, 12 and 19 May 1900

I

JACK WILLS crouched shivering over a small fire of sticks, thanking whatever gods that he acknowledged that it was about the time of breaking day. He had spent a miserably cold night, mostly occupied in collecting sticks to keep his fire alight, and crouching over it with his sodden saddlecloth over his shoulders, for it was an open, almost treeless, country on which he was camped, and the southeast wind which sprang up a little before daylight was bleak and penetrating. 'Enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey,' as he shiveringly remarked to himself. The stars overhead were bright, but, over those lying low above the east a horizon was already stealing the paling light of coming dawn.

Jack rose from his crouching position, and looked around and listened for any sound of his horse, but the light was not yet strong enough, and all was silence.

'Nice go if old Dingo has cleared out, and left me. Pretty walk home I shall have,' he went on, talking to himself after the manner of solitary men.

It was on an inland station in the Northern Territory, on the boundless downs country of the northern tableland, and although in the tropics; the winter nights and winter night winds are bitterly keen there, Jack had not intended to camp out when he left the station; but he came on the fresh tracks of two horses, which he took to be two that had been missing for some time, and he followed them up, expecting every hour to catch sight of them, until, darkness falling, he camped on the track without food, water, or blankets. This, however, is a common enough experience to men living in outside country, and Jack was used to it. The only thing that troubled him was that he was in a portion of the run which was generally considered dry, and consequently unused, and he was puzzling his brains where these two horses, whose tracks he was following, got water.

'Can't be far ahead, at any rate. Now where the deuce is Dingo?'

The light broke suddenly, as it does in low latitudes, and revealed the wide, sloping downs, with here and there a group of bauhinia trees, or cork trees. Jack heaved a sigh of relief as he distinguished his horse in the shelter of one of the bauhinias.

'Old Dingo's had sense to get a breakwind; trust him for that,' he said, as he shouldered his saddle, and walked towards where the horse was standing.

'Cold, old fellow!' he went on, as he stooped and undid the stirrup leather with which he had hobbled his steed the night before. Dingo looked decidedly cold; his coat was rough, and he had a tucked up appearance, and horse and rider were both glad to get away on the tracks.


THE sun was just rising as they reached the crest of a swell on the rolling downs they were riding over; and beyond there was a wide prospect. Jack pulled up and looked eagerly about in hopes of seeing some indication of water or the missing horses, otherwise it would mean going back through a long day empty-handed and hungry on a tired and thirsty horse.

What he saw did not encourage him, for at the bottom of the slope, though there was certainly timber, it had more the appearance of the desert timber than the timber bordering a creek. Jack knew well how in that country rich rolling downs suddenly meet the desert forest without any warning, and he shook his head doubtfully.

Suddenly the sun sprang above the horizon with the peculiar jump so strangely distinctive of tropical latitudes. It made a globe of red fire before him.

If it was a creek ahead of him, well and good; if not, why, that it was only a belt, and beyond was open country. A belt meant a watercourse, a creek. A creek of whose existence they as yet, on the station, knew nothing. If there was water in this creek ahead of him, well and good, if not, why, as it was two or three miles ahead, it might mean knocking up his horse and himself. But Jack Wills was not the man to hesitate when there was an unknown creek before him, and horses' tracks leading towards it. He drew his belt a hole tighter, for his stomach was beginning to feel very empty, then jogged slowly down the slope, still following the tracks.

The sunlight was now strong, and he saw that the timber was alive with corellas and other birds, and the morning wind caused his horse to sniff eagerly, for he scented water. The creek, when the pair reached it, turned out to be large and well-defined, with some good waterholes in it, but where it came from or where it went to. Jack, a good bushman, could not conjecture. He knew of no creek about this part into which the strange watercourse could possibly run.

While looking around him after giving his horse a drink and having on himself, a bustard walked past a short distance away, with that sublime indifference to danger which characterises birds unaccustomed to hunters. Jack drew his revolver and, by a lucky shot, brought him down. There was a good meal to hand, and letting his horse go and feed, he set to work making a fire, and when that was started fell to and plucked the bird. In about an hour's time Jack and his horse felt warm, and well fed, and fit to investigate any number of mysterious, creeks.

Wills cooked the remainder of the turkey and put it into his saddle pouch against future contingencies, then started down the creek. As he turned the first bend Dingo gave a whinny of greeting, and there were the two missing horses looking by no means glad to see their old mate with a rider on his back. Jack meditated whether to turn back or not. He had tracked up the two horses that had been missing for so long, and found a well-watered creek not known before, which would greatly enhance the value of the run.. Was that not enough honor and glory for one trip?

Jack thought that somehow he had a vested right to the creek which he had found, and no one else must find out the mystery of its being but himself. He had the remains of the turkey, two fresh horses, and water. He determined to stay and investigate. The horses were quiet, and Jack caught one and removed the saddle from Dingo's back, much to the animal's selfish relief and put it on the fresh horse, much to that quadruped's disgust It is not pleasant when you are grazing in undisturbed freedom, in an equine paradise to suddenly come under the thraldom of girths and saddle once more.

However, habit is everything, and the fresh horse submitted quietly, and Jack mounted and changed his course, having determined to follow the creek up instead of down. He would see where it came from first, and then where it went to.


THE process of finding out where it came from did not occupy more than an hour or so. The creek was formed by a sudden breakaway, at the junction of several dry channels, down which in wet weather a good deal of water would run, and uniting their forces they had cut out a creek and made several., permanent waterholes, which had induced the growth of timber. The dry channels terminated in blue bush flats, which in their turn probably died out.

Jack did not follow them up to see; he knew that sort of country by heart. He turned back and rode to where he had left the horses, wondering much at seeing no signs of natives, particularly in such a good game country. Arrived at the horses, he ate a portion of his broiled turkey and continued his course down the creek. It still retained its denned character for some miles, and then unexpectedly broadened out into a flat, on which its course was untraceable.

On a bare part of this flat Jack saw a collection of white objects, and rode over to see what they were. On the flat lay thirty or forty bleached skeletons of all sizes. Not perfect, but as though the wild dogs had been busy with them, for the skulls and the bones of the feet and of the hands had been dragged from the body bones and lay about in grinning confusion.

At first Jack thought he had stumbled on a native burying ground, but a short examination soon convinced him that this was not the case. The blacks had died, or been killed there, for the remains were of all sizes, and must have been of men, women, and children. It must have been long, long years since the tragedy happened, for the bones were clean, and there were no signs of a camp left, nor tools, nor weapons. On the bare ground they lay, why bare of grass Jack couldn't tell. But it was bare, as though banned and cursed, while outside the damned circle there was luxuriant and beautiful grass.

Jack dismounted, and walked amongst the bones. Instinctively he looked at the skulls for bullet holes, but naturally found none.

This massacre must have been a tribal affair, long before the whites came to the country, which had not been settled many years. It was a little tribe inhabiting this oasis of a creek, and they had all been killed by some revengeful foe. And since they had been slaughtered the creek had been unvisited by human beings, black or white, until his coming. He went back pondering on these things, and as it was now late, and he still had some turkey left, he determined to camp there that night and start home with the recovered horses early in the morning. He managed to replenish his larder by shooting a black duck before sundown; and pulling himself an ample bed of grass, and making up a comfortable fire, he fell asleep soon after dark.


HE awoke suddenly, and when he had got his eyes properly open, he saw, to his amazement, that it was a bright full moon, which, considering that it should have been only in its first quarter, was rather a surprising circumstance. There were no signs of a fire, no signs of his horses, no signs of anything, save that down the creek, in the direction of the bones, came the monotonous chant of a blackfellows' corroboree.

II

JACK WILLS almost mechanically went down the creek in the direction of the corroboree chant. When in sight of the fires he naturally approached with caution, and managed to obtain a position whence he could survey the whole scene. He had a dim idea that the whole proceeding was irregular, and that he must be dreaming, but the notion was not strong enough to arouse him; he simply, gave himself up to a vague sense of wonder, and watched the proceedings.

These differed in no way from the many corroborees that Jack had seen before. Some dozen young bucks were engaged in the stamping-about business, and a few gins were seated around keeping up the chorus and tending the fires; further round the circle were the old men and boys, and the remainder of the little tribe. Jack watched them for some time, and all the dim notion of it being a dream vanished before the regular thud of the dancers' feet and the chants of the gins, accompanied by their rhythmic. beating of two sticks together.

Presently Jack became conscious that other forms were about. Stealthily they glided past him, so close that he could have touched them; but, for all that, these creeping, gliding phantoms took no notice whatever of him. Jack knew what was about to happen, and strove to alarm the guileless party who were unaware of the sudden death creeping closely and surely around them; but his tongue refused to second his will, and in spite of all his efforts he could not utter a sound.

Then a signal cry was heard, and the air was thick with whizzing spears and hurtling boomerangs and clubs. All the dancers fell at once, and the attacking party rushed in and commenced to slaughter the old women and children. Jack's horror at the scene was agonising, but his limbs seemed rooted to the ground, and he was unable to move. Gradually the moaning and groaning of the victims died down, and the work of murder was complete, all being apparently dead save some young gins, who had been left alive as captives. The attacking party made up the fires, dragged aside the dead bodies which were in their way, and, surrounded by the victims of the raid, commenced a hideous corroboree of triumph, the captured gins having to furnish the accompaniment.

While this horrible revel was going on, Jack, the unseen witness, saw a movement amongst the bodies, and an attenuated old gin arose and staggered forth amongst the dancers. Covered with blood and wounds, she stood swaying about, and, in a shrieking voice, addressed her enemies in what, to the affrighted listener, was an unknown tongue. She stretched her thin arm out at them in denunciation, and, even in the act, fell dead at their feet. The blacks seemed scarcely to heed the frenzied outcries of the dying old woman, but tossed her body aside, and went on with their corroboree. The moon was sinking, and daylight evidently drawing hear, when they stopped, and making up the fires lay down beside and around them, and soon fell asleep.

Jack still felt bound by the strange feeling of inaction that he could not overcome, and could only wait and watch. As the moon sank low, and the air grew chill with the breath of the coming morning, he saw one of the captured gins arise. She looked round the sleeping camp, and aroused the others—five in all. Jack expected to see them steal away, but that was not their intention. Securing the weapons of their captors, they began to use them with deadly effect on the sleepers.

Just before dawn blacks sleep like the dead, and when the dawn finally broke only the five gins stood alive in that slaughter-place. Then they broke into wild crying and wailing, and Jack, relieved from the strange feeling of restraint, stole back to his camp, where, overcome with fatigue, he fell into a deep sleep.

How long his sleep lasted he knew not, but when he awoke it was again night, and, as before, there was no sign or trace of his horses, and the camp seemed unfamiliar. He could see a fire down the creek, and he went towards it. Crouched over it were five old, withered figures, wailing and crooning to themselves as they fed the fire with sticks.

Jack Wills approached, and spoke to these ancient witches; but his voice seemingly had no sound, and when he touched them they did not feel his touch. They had some roots and rats, which they were roasting and eating, and without feeling any surprise Jack felt certain that they were the same five gins who had avenged their tribe, and whom he had seen the night before, young and vigorous.

Once more the deep sleep overcame him, and he awoke in the middle or a dark night and an approaching thunderstorm. A carrion-like smell was in his nostrils, and when he sat up he put his hand on what seemed like the withered skin of a dead horse or bullock. A brilliant flash of lightning showed him the grim remains of some blacks, dried and shrivelled to the shape of mummies. He waited for the next flash, and rapidly took in the situation. Yes; there were five bodies rotting away—the same, he felt certain, he had lately seen eating their wretched meal over a fire. Here, then, those five survivors had lived and died. The horror of the thing overcame him, and he lost consciousness once more.


GRADUALLY his senses came back to him. It was broad daylight, and he tried to rise, but felt too weak. Then he slowly gathered that he was lying under a bough shade, and that he had blankets thrown over him. Outside somebody was moving about, and when he called feebly, his mate, who ought to have been at the station, appeared.

'Ullo, right again, Jack?' he said.

'Yes; where am I?'

'Well, the creek's got no name as yet; but when you did not come back we tracked you up and found you here, as looney as possible. You'd got fever to rights. As we could not take you in to the station we built a bough shade over you, and I stopped here with you.'

'How long ago was that?'

'It's a week since we found you, and you'd been away four days then. So you see you've been pretty bad.'

'The horses here?'

'Dingo and two that have been lost for some time were here right enough.'

'Find any bones about?'

'Look here, Jack. Now you've got your wits back, stop all that talk about bones. You've done nothing else but let on about dead niggers all the time. Lucky I've got no nerves.'

'No; but aren't there a lot of bones down the creek? I saw them before I got bad.'

'Well, there are a few; but the boss said I was not to encourage you to talk about them.'

'But I know all about it, and must find the other five.'

'Presently, old man; you'll have to get well first.'

Jack did get well; and before leaving the creek insisted upon searching for the remains of the five gins, and, strangely enough, five dead bodies, which might have answered for them, were found apart by themselves.

Editor's footnote: The "bauhinia" or "cork tree" referred to is the eastern Australian corkwood, which flowers in clusters faintly resembling the Asian Bauhinia. The bark and berries are poisonous, containing alkaloids such as scopolamine and hyoscine. From ancient times until today, the trees have been exploited for their medical properties.


38. — THE MEMBER FOR TURRAWILLIGAR

A ROMANCE OF A GENERAL ELECTION

Evening News, Sydney, 16 Jul 1898

THE inhabitants of Turrawilligar were excited.

Groups of people stood in the street in the middle of the day, a time when usually one could perform pistol practice without hitting anything else but a dog or a hobbled horse. A stranger would have thought, knowing the inhabitants and their habits, that a Russian force was approaching, and that they were discussing means of defence; but it was something far more important than that. It was the eve of a general election, and the candidates for the district, through an unhappy conjunction of train and coach, were doomed to meet in Turrawilligar.

There were three of them. The free trade candidate was driving across country in a buggy, the protectionist man was expected by the up-coach, and the labor candidate in the down one. These coaches met in Turrawilligar and stopped the night, and they were timed to arrive early. It was not known if the three opposing candidates even knew that Fate had ordained their meeting there that night; probably they did not, and the more fun might be expected.

Active canvassers, the strange, wild-eyed, brassy-voiced men with unquenchable thirsts, who emerge from dim obscurity into life at all general elections, already pervaded the place, and barracked for their various candidates. Men with looks of strange importance perused printed lists with a gloomy, pre-occupied air; and an army of loafers glared around with bloodshot eyes, and wondered when the shouting was going to begin. All things pointed to a busy time and an excited political meeting.

Turrawilligar, though a town which was usually in a state of chronic rest, where the inhabitants mostly died of feeling tired, was the centre of the district, and the votes of the town and surrounding country would probably control the election; therefore, it was now an important place, and put on airs. Men who acted as 'our occasional correspondent' for different metropolitan papers were button-holed as to their opinion and gave it with an air of great mystery and caution.

Time hung heavily until the first coach should arrive, and the war commence. At last the anxiously-looked-for cloudlet of dust appeared in the distance, and at the same time the coach from the other direction put in an appearance. Urged on by bounteous promises and stimulants, the drivers had made extra efforts to arrive first, and it turned out a dead heat. Both coaches drew up in the main street at the same time, and a double-barrelled cheer rent the air. The labor candidate proved to be of the usual kind, young, self-important, and effusive to a degree; the other, an old hand in Parliament, black-coated, bland, and smiling. Each was pounced upon by their friends and committee, and taken to their different quarters, and the other passengers had a chance. There was nothing particular about these, beyond the fact that in the up-coach was a young lady, whose face was screened from sun, wind, and dust by a gauze veil, but whose figure, in a dress fitted for travelling, was very satisfactory. She stood for a minute, and pointed out her portmanteau to the groom, then went into the hotel and inquired about accommodation.

'Who's she, Dick?' inquired one or two who had the proud privilege of being on conversational terms with the driver.

Dick replied that he knew nothing about her, beyond that he believed she had come up by the express from Sydney to the town whence the coach started from, and was going right through.

The hotel where the coaches changed—the Royal—had been secured for the still absent free trade candidate. The protectionist put up at the Commercial, and the labor man was to orate at the Union.

Excitement settled down for a time, and people began to find the sun hot, and some went round the corner to see a man, some went home, and some got in the shade where they could spit comfortably. The labor man was making himself common and popular in the bar of the Union. The protectionist shrewdly kept himself from the public gaze, and enjoyed some refreshment in private with his personal friends. He knew too much to cheapen his presence. Both his opponents were young aspirants for their first seat, and he calculated on an easy victory.

In the Royal a voluble chambermaid was chattering to the lady passenger on the enthralling topic of the election, and bewailing the absence of the free trade man, who would have made things still livelier. The Royal felt hurt and indignant; the other hotels had each a candidate, and their man had not turned up.

'What is his name?' asked the lady.

'Macdonald. I suppose you don't read the papers much, m'am,' replied the confidential chambermaid, who thought that all the continent was breathlessly watching Turrawilligar.

'Do you know his Christian name?' asked the visitor, ignoring, the remark upon her literary studies.

'No; but I'll get you our paper, if you like; there's his address to the electors in it.'

'I should be much obliged,' said the lady.

The girl returned with the local organ, and the lady glanced at the foot of the column where the name of C.Z. Macdonald was written.

'Don't you feel well, m'am?' asked the curious maiden. 'Can I bring you anything?'

'No, thanks. I'm tired from the coach travelling. I'll sit here quietly, thank you. You may bring me up a cup of tea.'

The girl departed, and informed a friend that that passenger in No. 9 had gone all white when she read the candidate's name, then turned red.

'She knows him well, or I'm much mistaken,' added the damsel.

Left alone, the lady, who, without her veil, proved to be both young and pretty, sat down and commenced to read the conventional cut and dried address.

'Poor Chris,' she thought, 'he's no hand at this sort of thing; what a mess he'll make of his speech; I feel quite sorry I left him.'

The young woman leant back musingly, and her thoughts ran on the silly quarrel that had caused her to insist upon her returning to the shelter of her father's roof in a fit of childish temper. We were both donkeys.

'I do hope he'll turn up tonight; I won't see him, but I'll listen to him, humming and hawing till he breaks down. I hope they won't pelt with flour and eggs; I never could make it up with him again if I saw him looking like an omelette before it was cooked.'


THE committees were holding a solemn and momentous meeting. They agreed that under the circumstances it would be rank folly for the candidates to speak at one and the same time, and split up the small population into three scattered audiences. The weather was fine; there would be a glorious full moon, and one could speak after the other.

The protectionist committeemen stated that their man would generously leave it to the labor candidate to open the ball. The labor candidate, on hearing, it, said it was a handsome offer, and he would show his sense of his opponent's generous treatment by accepting it. The protectionist laughed. He who speaks last has the pull of his opponent always. So it was arranged, and the free trader would have to take his chance when he arrived.

He did arrive.

The buggy came unawares into the town, and almost unseen the candidate in the free trade interest descended and entered the Royal. He had travelled far and fast, and was anxious for a wash and change before interviewing anybody.

As the young man followed the maid along the corridor, he met a lady who seemed anxious to avoid him, but it was too late, escape was cut off, and he stood face to face with his wife.

'My dear Dora,' he stammered.

'Excuse me, Christopher; I am not nor ever will be your dear Dora again.'

'But where are you going? Do let us speak at any rate.'

'I am going to my father, to Ranksmead. I have been staying with Aunt Rachel.'

'Is there a private sitting-room up here?' said Macdonald to the delighted and attentive maid.

'Yes sir.'

'Dora, will you come and sit down and talk?'

'Well, I see no harm in it, and I have something important to say to you.'

The girl ushered the couple into a prim and conventional sitting-room with six stiff chairs, a round table, and two hundred and fifty antimacassars in it, then flew down stairs, three at a time to communicate the stupendous news of the gay being the candidate's wife or sweetheart, she didn't know which, to the assembled household. They've had a quarrel, and they're in No. 12 now, making it up.'

'Shall we go and peep through the keyhole?' suggested one daring spirit, but the landlady appearing blocked that proposal.

In No. 12, when the door closed, the dusty candidate was about to embrace his wife, but was haughtily repulsed.

'I wish to speak on business,' she said, motioning him to a chair on the far side of the round table, which had twelve wool mats, a glass case of wax fruit, and three books on it.

'Who composed this?' she said, vindictively pointing to the paper she still held in her hand.

'I did, or, at least, Tom helped me.'

She read but several sentences, smooth, bald, conventional, and flat.

'They're nice, convincing, and original. A woman couldn't write like that, could she?'

'It's the way you read them,' said the candidate, feeling nettled. He himself had polished those sentences, and had thought them neat and just the right thing, which from, one point of view they were.

'Read them yourself, then,' She passed the paper to him. He commenced, then threw the paper down, while she laughed mockingly. He got up and went over to the window.

'Have you your speech for to-night written out?' she asked.

'Yes; notes of it.'

'May I see them?'

He took them out of his coat pocket, and gloomily gave them to her. She commenced to read, while he moodily stuck his hands in his pockets. The atmosphere was electric. She read half-way through, then put the notes down.

'Oh, Chris! I did think you could do better than that.'

'It doesn't matter; I won't speak to-night.'

'Don't speak that. Why it's a hash-up of all the dead and gone speeches for years. Why didn't you commence, "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking" at once?'

'Oh, never mind, tear it all up. I'll tell my committee I withdraw. You've made a fool of me, and now we'll quarrel again.'

Dora Macdonald laughed. She went, over to her husband and took his arm, and, of course, he turned his head away.

'Chris, what did we quarrel about?'

'I'm sure I don't know. Woman's franchise or some rubbish.'

'It was not rubbish,' she said, drawing away. 'Oh, I don't mean exactly that that particular thing is rubbish, but it was not worth quarrelling about,' he replied, relentingly.

'Then why don't you own up you were wrong?'

'Well, I will if you like. I'm sick of politics already. Anyone can have the franchise for me. Babies in arms admitted.'

'I want a convert, Chris,' she said, stealing her hand into his. 'It's been very miserable since we made fools of ourselves, hasn't it.'

'I've not been particularly jolly.'

'No more have I. I quarrelled with Aunt Rachel because she agreed with me that you were a brute. Will you go on with the election, and advocate the franchise for women, just to oblige me?'

The political traitor bent down and kissed her.

'Now I'll help you; go down and talk to your friends, while I write and plan. I'll pull you through. But I wish you could speak better. Shall I stand by you and hold your hand?'

The interested maid who had been listening on the stairs new down to inform all hands that they must have made it up, as the gentleman had gone in to the lady's room to wash his hands. The candidate came downstairs and met his friends, while his wife worked hard upstairs.


EIGHT o'clock came; there was stir and bustle in the streets, and a full moon, looked down upon a crowd of Turrawilligar citizens assembled outside the Union Hotel to hear Mr. Marmaduke Price address the free and independent electors on the subject of his merits and fitness to represent them. Like the enthusiastic parson in the Bab Ballads, 'He argued here, he argued there, he also argued round about him.'

At last some unruly spirits got bored, and began to pelt the candidate with questions and flour bags. Mr. Price lost his temper when the first egg spoilt the new coat he had invested in for the occasion. Then the fun grew fast; Turrawilligar was having a great time.

At last, when he ceased, a loud voice asked him if he was in favor of womanhood suffrage? This was an interesting question, and there was silence while Mr. Pries explained that he had given the question, deep consideration, and that he thought women were more suited for the domestic hearth than the political arena. Then a tempest arose, amid which the chairman put the motion that Mr. Price was a fit and proper person to represent the electorate. To himself he declared it carried by a unanimous show of hands, and gladly and hastily retired.

Then the crowd had drinks, said they were having a rare old time, and adjourned to hear Mr. Bagshaw, at the Commercial. Mr. Bagshaw, though not exactly a local man, was well known in the district, and always passed politically for being Local. It was good capital. He would have preferred being last man, but Macdonald pleaded fatigue. Bagshaw had a good stock of repartee. It was Did, and had seep much service, but it always went down with, a country crowd. He got them in a good humor, and kept them in one, end they gave three cheers for good old Bagshaw; and didn't pelt him worth speaking of. Then came the questions, and the same loud voice demanded whether he was in favor of women's suffrage. Bagshaw war not to be caught so easily.

'Am I in favor of giving women the franchise? Yes, certainly, under conditions. I would not undertake to bring forward a bill myself, for I feel that it as a change, a revolution, that might entail...'

Here he went off into a string of platitudes that quite satisfied his hearers, and left him where he was, pledged to nothing. Bagshaw's meeting was a success, but the restless ones felt that the fun had not been fast enough for them. Never mind, there was the free trade candidate at the Royal, and they would take it out of him.

The balcony of the Royal was brilliantly lit up, whereas the others had not been. The crowd assembled, expectant. The chairman, a well-known and popular squatter, was there to introduce Mr. Macdonald, but first he had a few words to say. Mr. Macdonald had seen fit to add an additional plank to his political, platform; he had pledged himself to uphold women's suffrage through thick and thin. There was a lady present, who wished to address a few words to them. He led forward a stranger—the lady passenger of the coach.

The crowd looked on silently and admiringly. She was charmingly and befittingly dressed in a costume with but a slight touch of mannishness about it in the collar, necktie, and nattily-cut coat. She was very pretty, and had a clear, musical laugh. The flour-bags dropped out of their hands, and the eggs were discarded, as she addressed them on the subject of the franchise for women. It was very old stuff, of course, but to her hearers it was quite fresh and novel. The silence was painful.

'People say,' she concluded, 'that a woman's nerves would not stand the rough work and riot of the hustings; but I have had nothing to complain of. I certainly heard you making a good deal of noise down there,' indicating the Union, 'but I have proved that you can give a woman a quiet and respectful hearing.'

She went on to ask for the same favor for her husband, and as this was the first intimation the crowd had of the relationship, a frantic cheer went up.

Macdonald advanced, but there were shouts of 'No! no!'

'What's the matter?' asked his wife.

'We'll vote for you!' called out one.

'Yes!' came an universal shout. 'You stand for the district! We'll put you in! We'll make you member!'

The chairman fell into step with them.

'Am I to put the question to the meeting whether you consider Mrs. Christopher Macdonald a fit and proper person to represent you in Parliament?'

'Yes! yes!' yelled the delighted crowd. As gravely and formally as he could the chair-man put the question; and a forest of hands was held up, everyone holding up two.

'Carried unanimously without any dissent,' he said; and Mrs. Macdonald gravely thanked them.

After that Macdonald was scarcely listened to, the crowd dwindling away until about three men who were stupid with beer listened to the end of his speech and promised to put him at the head of the poll.


'FANCY! I'm the member for Turrawilligar,' said Mrs. Macdonald, as they offered her laughing congratulations.

'We'll consider you so for the present,' said the Chairman. 'You are member till polling day.'

'It's all a joke, then,' she said, in a tone of real disappointment. 'Do you think Chris will get in?' she asked.

'Well, no; I don't honestly think so.'

'And I don't want to now,' her husband said. He finished the speech afterwards in private.

Bagshaw, of course, waltzed in hands down; but Mrs. Macdonald didn't care. She has given up advocating woman suffrage, but still thinks there's something in it—for single women. She herself has too much to do.


39. — OUTLAW-TRACKING

Evening News, Sydney, 6 May 1899

THE storm had ceased, and, with one of those rapid changes peculiar to the tropics, the star studded sky was now serene and cloudless. But we were miserably wet and cold. The fire had been put out in spite of our best endeavors, and we crouched down with our sodden blankets over our shoulders, making strenuous efforts to relight it.

Brient went down the bank of the creek to try and get a dry underlayer of tea-tree bark. I heard a fall and a splash, followed by bad language, and guessed that he had gone over a steep piece of bank in the dark. However, as the creek was not deep, and he could not get much wetter than he was already, I did not trouble to go to his assistance.

Presently he came, still mildly blasphemous, but he had got some dry bark and twigs from under a heap of drift wood, and with these we soon had the fire alight and going. We put some water on to make tea and started our pipes.

'Funny thing we can't hear we bells,' said Brient. 'The horses ought to be feeding now.'

'I'm afraid they have started walking before the wind and rain, like they are very fend of doing,' I replied.

'They'll be a jolly long way off in the morning then,' returned my mate. It's scarcely worth while turning in again in these wet blankets.'

'No. Let's get a couple of saplings and hang them up, they'll dry a bit, and keep the cold air from our backs.'

We did as I had suggested, and sat smoking and yarning until the glorious morning star was over the tree tops.

'Things will be safe enough,' said Brient, 'I think we had better both go after the horses, as they have very likely split up in the storm.'

First putting our traps a bit together, we started for where we had last heard the horse bells, and soon picked up the tracks. As I had suspected, they had been shuffling along before the fury of the wind and driving rain and were probably I now several miles away. We walked on through I the wet grass rather sulkily, until about an hour after sunrise. Brient, who was ahead, uttered an exclamation of surprise.

'Niggers!' he said. 'Look at that.'

A big trail came across in a slanting direction, and followed the horse tracks we were following.

'They're only just ahead; the tracks are red hot,' said Brient. 'All bucks, too; not a gin's nor piccaninny's track amongst them.'

'They'll spear the horses if they pull them up first,' I said. 'And we have only got our revolvers with us.'

'No time to go back for the carbines,' said Brient, 'we must push on, and trust to providence.'


AND we did push on. If we overtook the blacks before they reached the horses, who must be pretty close now, we might be able to give them a sudden fright, and scare them. We had scarcely gone half a mile, however, when a quick jangling of the bells ahead told us that we were a few minutes too late. Running through a belt of scrub which separated us from the scene, we came right on top of the blacks unseen by them, and had used our revolvers to some effect before they were aware of our presence, and took to their heels.

One, a tall fellow stopped when he got to the timber, for the horses had been feeding on a small plain when attacked, and made an insulting gesture, crying out as he did so in English:

'Whitefellow next time.'

Brient had a long shot at him, but he was too far off for a revolver, and, with a laugh, he disappeared.

'It's that Corny who ran away from Holt's Station, and joined the blacks. Holt ought to have gone after him at once; but he's such a lazy pig,' said Brient, disgustedly.

We went over to the horses, and Brient broke out in imprecations on the heads of the niggers. His favorite horse was just dying. There were three spears in his body, and as his master knelt down by him, he stretched out his quivering limbs, and gave up the ghost. Poor Brient had tears in his eyes, and I left him, and went to look at the others.

Out of the six remaining two were wounded, but not badly, but the others were unhurt, or comparatively so. We went back to camp, leaving the body of poor Rattler on the plain, covered with mulga boughs, for, said Brient, those cursed crows shan't come mauling him about if I can help it. They can have the dead niggers.'

'Look here, Ned,' said Brient suddenly, after we had got to camp, and doctored the wounded horses up a bit, 'I'll never rest till I get that internal Corny. Let's go after him and his lot before we go to the range.' (We were bound on a prospecting trip at the time.)

'These horses must have a spell, and we'll leave them here until we come back.'

'And the niggers will come along and finish I them,' I remarked.

'Oh well, we must chance all that. I don't think that any of Corny's mob will turn back when we are on their tracks. There are three out there at any rate who won't.'

Brient was more excited than ever I had seen ten before, but then his horse Battler had been the apple of his eye. He had broken him in as a colt, and scarcely anybody but Brient had ever crossed his back. This runaway blackboy Corny, too, was suspected of more than one murder, and, by unwritten law, was a prescribed outlaw. So we planted such of our belongings as we did not wish to take with us, and started at once to pick up the tracks, which, thanks to the storm, were remarkably plain.

Although they had some hours' start of us, we were able to travel pretty quickly, and we came to the camp where it was evident that they had picked up their women and children, and this camp showed signs of hasty departure, for a good deal of their impedimenta had been left behind. Worthless most of it, but still, as a rule, a blackfellow leaves nothing behind if he can help it.

From the deserted camp the track turned direct to the range, almost to the very spot where we had—on account of a wild tale told by a man whom we once picked up dying of thirst, and whom we could not keep alive—intended to go prospecting. On we went, and the tracks, as Brient said, were getting red hot.

'Remember,' said Brient, 'we have taken it out of the others already for killing the horses, and Corny is the man we want. We can easily pick him out by his height.'

I nodded, to intimate that I understood, and we pressed on.


IT was about 4 o'clock that we came on the rear of the blacks, who were straggling along, evidently making for the range, in order to gain it before the native police were on their heels, some old gin caught sight of us in spite of all our care, for we turned off, hoping to get round to the lead unobserved, for we guessed that Corny would be there.

The old hag set up a scream or warning that could be heard. for a mile, and there was nothing for it but to dash straight ahead. Some of the blacks took to trees, after the very foolish custom that they have, and others crawled in the undergrowth, for we had overtaken them just in the middle of a scrub. Not taking any notice of these, we kept on ahead, and presently caught sight of a bunch of niggers trotting along, with Corny's tall form well in the lead.

Brient took after him in such desperate haste that he never looked where he was riding, and his horse came down with him, and gave him a nasty spill. I pulled up to see if he was hurt, and by the time he had got over his shaking there was not a native to be seen, and the silence of the grave reigned over the scrub lately ringing with yellings and howlings. Not a black was in sight, Corny had made good use of the time afforded him, and vanished.

The first thing Brient did was, of course, to use bad language towards me for stopping to took after him instead of following Corny.

'If we could get hold of one of those gins, they could find him,' he said. 'They can't be far away. Goodness knows there were enough of them in the scrub just now.'

'Just as well look for the proverbial needle,' I answered.

Brient remounted and started on a fount through the scrub, and, as I thought I might as well see the thing through, I accompanied him. Just as we were on the point of giving it up, my horse nearly trod on a young, gin, cowering under a bush of what is known locally as 'wait-a-bit.' She frightened the soul out of both of us by suddenly jumping up with a scream of fright. So clever was she hiding that neither of us suspected her close presence.

After soothing her fears, Brient sounded her as well as he was able on the subject of Corny, whose name was perfectly familiar with the blacks. She intimated her willingness to go on his tracks but, as by this time it was growing dusk, we had to defer the start until the morning. We camped at a email creek, and secured the gin, who did not understand a buckle, by a rein to a sapling. We gave her a good feed, and Brient remarked as we lay smoking on our blankets, 'I hope she won't do what I knew two blackfellows do once in West Australia.'

A constable was taking them down to Fremantle, and when he camped one night he chained them to a sapling. Next morning there were no prisoners and no sapling. They had managed to uproot it and carried it away. Finally the sapling was found with the chain fastened to it.

Brient's yarn sent me off into a sound sleep, and in the morning the gin was there, apparently very comfortable after her feed. She proved a splendid tracker, and seemed to stick to Corny's track in a wonderful way, until it separated from the others, and made off for the nearest point of the range.


AT about 12 o'clock we were amongst the rocks of the higher portions of the range.

'By Jove!' said Brient, 'this is the very spot the poor old beggar described to us.'

Before us lay a small plateau from the centre of which rose an outcrop of quartz; rather a big reef in fact.

The gin was ahead picking out Corny's tracks with the accuracy of a trained hound, and we were riding leisurely behind, when the black woman suddenly gave a frightened shriek, and, before we could draw our revolvers, or rightly comprehend what was happening, she was stretched dying on the ground.

Corny had been concealed behind the rocky wall of reef; he had glided out and speared the unfortunate gin at our horses' feet. Brient took after him like a madman; but I stopped to see after the gin. One look showed that I could do nothing, so I galloped after Brient, who was now nearly out of sight.

Corny was doubling in amongst the rocks and boulders, so that I easily overtook Brient, and the hunt became very keen. With the two of us he had no chance, and he soon recognised it, for, taking advantage of Brient being on the lower side of the mountain slope, he managed to start the boulder behind which he had been sheltering, and send it down on top of Brient. The latter tried to pull his horse aside, but failed, and the boulder knocked the pair of them headlong. Corny gave a shout of exultation, but he had exposed himself and my carbine was ready. That was the last shout he ever uttered. To my surprise Brient was almost unhurt. The horse had its shoulder broken, and had to be shot.

We went up to the body of the outlaw.

'He nearly had me, old man,' said my companion, 'but what's this?'

The stone dislodged by Corny was part of another outcrop, and there was gold unmistakably showing in the face of the unearthed portion.

The reef on the plateau described to us by the dying traveller was worthless. The real reef was where the outlaw died, as we afterwards found to our mutual benefit.


40. — TOMLINSON'S TRANSFORMATION

Evening News, Sydney, 21 Jul 1900

HE was such a perfectly hopeless and unlucky person that everybody on the station took pity on him. If he was sent to milk, the cow always kicked the bucket over. If he went out to look for horses, he came back late at night without them, or else got lost. He was an amiable young fellow, learning the colonial experience, and said to be of good family, if not heir to a title; but station work was beyond him, although he was painfully anxious to learn, Naturally be was at first made the subject of many practical jokes, which he took with, the greatest good humor, so good-humouredly, in fact, that the jokers left off playing them.

There was one thing, however, he thought he could do, and that was play the concertina; and play it he did in such an excruciating fashion that as soon as he commenced every dog on the station raised its voice in one long howl of remonstrance. After that he was banished into the lonely bush when he wanted to practice—which he resented very much, but went nevertheless—and his distant wailings could be heard far into the night, awakening an occasional howl of lamentation from a susceptible dog suddenly aroused to the fact that another dog, or some unknown animal, was bowling in the dim distance.

Taken in conjunction with his supposed aristocratic descent, this love for concertina music was somewhat strange. He never spoke of his home or people. He came up to the station under a mysterious mandate from the owners; and the manager simply cursed his luck, and tried to do his best, but without much avail; so he let the youth slide, and although he did not actually earn his tucker that was the business of the owners, not the manager.

So Tomlinson (or that was the jackeroo's name) mooned about, got in everybody's way, and played melancholy airs on the concertina on moonlight nights. The boys on the station had decided that he was a shingle short, in spite of his handsome, intelligent face and nice, cultured manner; and, having come to that conclusion, they left Tomlinson alone, like the manager did.

There was one thing about Tomlinson, that, although in appearance a man who would enjoy field sports to the utmost, still he had the greatest horror of firearms, and could never be persuaded to take a gun in his hands.

Tomlinson had been on the station nearly two years when the blacks, who had hitherto been very quiet, made a raid on the cattle, and all hands turned out to punish them, The station was nearly deserted, save for the manager's wife with her two children, a maid-servant, an old man, and Tomlinson.

Not the slightest suspicion was entertained that the blacks would come near the station, and consequently no precautions had been taken. The blacks after a cattle-killing raid generally decamp as fast as they can, but on this occasion they did not do so, and appeared at sundown to the affrighted gaze of the two women, the old man, and—Tomlinson.

The manager's wife had plenty of pluck, and could shoot well, the maid servant was helpless, the old man was willing, but, seeing that his eyesight was bad, not of much use, and, Tomlinson absolutely refused to discharge a firearm. The jeers, taunts, and pleadings of the women were of no avail; he evinced no fear of the situation, but simply would not fire a shot in defence of the place.

The blacks came on, and the manager's wife, who found that she had the command thrust on her, rose to the situation and took charge. She hailed the approaching blacks, and told them that they must come no nearer. Still they came on, and taking good aim she fired, and shot the leader.

There was a cry from the black, and a cry from Tomlinson. The woman looked round to see him standing with a ghastly look on his face watching the fallen blackfellow; then he, too, fell in a fit on the floor. Fortunately the blacks drew back for a while, frightened at the deadly aim of the woman's gun. During that abort spell Tomlinson came to himself, and rose from the floor.

But it was not the same man who got up in place of the man who had fallen. A different light was in his eyes and in his face. For a moment he seemed bewildered, and looked around as though he scarcely knew where he was. Then, as the yell of the blacks rang out again and they advanced once more, a change came over him, and he went up to the manager's wife and took the rifle from her. He picked up a packet of cartridges from the table, and without hesitation stepped out on the verandah, and stood exposed to every spear and missile. But not one touched him, and with deadly precision he fired upon the savages till they broke and fled, this time for good.

Tomlinson followed them some distance; then came back to the house.

'I am sorry I said what I did,' said the manager's wife; 'but why at such a moment did you play the fool?'

'I really don't know that I played the fool in any way, my dear Madam, but really I should like to know where I am, or whether this is all a nightmare or not.'

'Well, Mr. Tomlinson, considering you have been here for two years, you ought to know where you are.'

'And is my name Tomlinson?'

'So you say and the owner, of the station who sent you up here with a letter of introduction.'

'How long ago?'

'I told you two years.'

'What is the date now?'

The woman told him.

'Three years,' he muttered. 'Three years since that night; have I committed any more murders since then?'

The woman got frightened at his strange manner.

'Don't worry yourself thinking now,' she said, 'wait until my husband and the others come home.'

'Call me if I am wanted,' said Tomlinson; and, staggering slightly, he walked into the bedroom, and lying down fell into a heavy sleep, or rather stupor. The others came home quickly; they had crossed the tracks of the blacks making towards the station, and turned back at once.


WHEN Tomlinson woke up the next morning his mind was clear, and he was in possession of his right senses. In an interview with the manager, the latter told him that he had a letter for him entrusted to his care by the owners of the station who had been the means of his coming on to the place. But he was warned that he must not give it to him unless he saw an alteration for the better in his mental state. 'For,' said the manager, 'you must excuse me for saying so, but we have always considered you mentally weak.'

Tomlinson took the letter, and opened it. He read it, gave a cry of relief, and dropped his head on his hands.

'I owe you an explanation,' he said, raising it again; 'although there are some things I cannot explain myself. My name is Rodney really. I am the eldest son of Sir George Rodney, a baronet. One day, when out shooting, through, carelessness on my part, I shot my favorite brother; and from that day to when I tackled the blacks last night my existence is a blank. How I came out here; how I came to Wilkins and Watt; the owners of this station, I cannot explain; perhaps, they can. The only explanation I can give is that a dear old friend of mine, seeing my condition, had me shipped off here; he was for many years a squatter himself. This letter is to tell me that my brother did not die of the wound; but is now alive and well. Last night; I suppose, the sight of the blackfellow being shot, recalled the shock of the former tragedy, and restored my reason. Was I a very bad sort of lunatic?'

'Quite harmless, save for liking to play the concertina at unseasonable hours.'

'The concertina! It's an instrument I detest.'

'Well, you used to play it; and you never would touch a gun; and were the biggest duffer at station work I ever was cursed with, as a new chum, to break in.'

'A nice character: I hope I'll show you another side to it before I go.'

This is the transformation of Tomlinson into Gilbert Rodney, which so surprised everyone on Roxana Station, which be subsequently purchased.


41. — THE TRUE STORY OF
THE MARVELLOUS FOSSIL DISCOVERY

Evening News 11 Dec 1897

WHAT with the roaring and raving of the wind, the incessant downpour, of the rain, and the Egyptian darkness that surrounded us, it was impossible to say from which direction the sound came. But both Dave and I were assured we had heard a human cry. We were close to the bank of one of the principal Northern Queensland rivers, one with a belt of scrub on either bank, and there we hoped to get sufficient shelter from the wind to put up our tent and make a little cover for the night against the pitiless tropical rain.

We listened, but without avail, then proceeded along the cleared track through the scrub, and wheeled round on to a little open patch on the crest of the river's bank, where we intended to make our camp. Here the storm was not so bad, and the swirling expanse of water and wet sand reflected a certain amount of light.

As we unsaddled our horses we were startled by the same cry we had heard before, now much closer.

'It is someone in the river,' said Dave. Then he gave a ringing cry in answer. There was a lull in the storm just then, and he shouted, 'Where are you?'

'On a sandbank,' came the answer, 'and the water is rising, and I can't swim.'

'Keep your pecker up!' shouted Dave. 'We'll come for you.'

We quickly hobbled and belled the horses, threw what we could over our packs, then undressed and went down the bank to the water's edge. Both Dave and I could swim like fishes, and, barring the chance of crocodiles, did not much trouble about a swim in the night.

At the bottom of the bank we hailed the castaway again to get his position, and found we were exactly opposite to him; his voice, now that we were at the surface of the water, coming much clearer. Bidding him wait, we went up stream and waded; into the water. We found that the channel dividing us from the sandbank was not over our heads; so that if the man had had confidence he could have got off easily himself.

When we got to the sandbank we found a drenched figure in shirt and trousers only eagerly awaiting us. He had attempted to across the main channel—the one between us and the opposite bank—got into deep water and parted company with his horse, which sagacious animal had swum back to the point of departure, while his rider got to the sandbank. The man was a gaunt, big-framed fellow, and Daye and I congratulated ourselves that we had not to swim and help him over.

We landed him safely where we had left our traps, and turned to to make a camp of some sort, and get a fire alight. After some trouble we succeeded, and after hot tea and a meal felt a little better, and stretched ourselves on some twigs under our hastily constructed shelter for a smoke.

'Good job you sang out,' said Dave; 'but an awful fluke that anyone was here to hear you'.

'Yes it was, but I can tell you I was more scared of crocodiles than drowning. I'm doomed, to die by means of a crocodile.'

'Then I'd go and live south, where there are none, if I were you,' said Dave.

'I would only for one thing; I know where there's a pile of money to be made, and crocodiles or no crocodiles I intend to have a plunge for it. I was going down to try and find a good mate when I got adrift in this river. Now, I owe you fellows a good turn, and you'd suit me altogether as mates. What do you say? If you are doing nothing will you turn back with me and tackle the adventure?'

'We're doing nothing at present,' I said, 'and if the spec looks promising we don't mind going in for it.'

Dave grunted acquiescence.

'What does this pile consist of—gold?'

The stranger shook his head.

'Opals or diamonds?' suggested Dave.

'It's no good,' said the stranger, grinning. 'If you guessed for a month you'd never find out. What you think of bones?'

'Bones!' we exclaimed.

'Yes, bones; but not common bones. Fossilised bones of all sorts of creatures that lived in the Silurian, Devonian, and the Carboniferous periods, not to mention the Eocene and Miocene, and all the rest of them. What do you think of that?'

We were so aghast at the stranger's volubility that we did not know what to think of it.

'The worst of it is that the place is guarded by crocodiles, and, especially by one huge brute about 250 years old—king of all crocodiles.'

'Better tell us the whole yarn straight off,' said Dave, adding, 'How much are these bones worth by the pound?'

The stranger laughed. 'These things are not sold by the pound like cheese. Their value greatly depends on them being perfect or not. Now, these are perfect specimens. Some of them the British Museum, or any of the large Continental or American museums would give a couple or three thousand pounds for. I reckon there's at least £150,000 knocking about in that place.'

'They weigh a devil of a lot I suppose?' I asked.

'Tons, and hundreds, of tons; that's the worst of it. We will have to conceive some plan to get them away; but it's a bit of a poser to me.'

'Tell us the yarn,' I said.

'My name's. Newman—Tom Newman—and I have spent many years in Australia collecting as a naturalist and a geologist. I was up towards the head of the Nicholson River, where there is a great field for a geologist, and fell in with some blacks, and managed to make friends with them. Blacks are of great assistance to a collector. Everybody said I would be killed wandering about there by myself, but I wasn't, and I got very friendly with one old fellow whom I cut the flint head of a spear out of, so that he got back the use of a stiff shoulder again. When he and I came to understand one another, and he found out what I wanted, he told me of this place and the giant bones there; but said we could never get there on account of the crocodiles. However, I determined to go and look at it; so one day he and I started. It was lower down the river, where it flowed through gorges amidst almost inaccessible ranges, and took us some days to reach it, so rough was the country.

'The place, I found, was a hollow, surrounded by precipitous cliffs. Through the centre of the depression ran the river, which here took the form of a deep, serpentine waterhole, which the black-fellow assured me was alive with crocodiles; and there was one in particular—this big one that I spoke of—that he seemed to be in great dread of; and no wonder. Some of the fossils were in the wall-like side of the cliff, and some lying on the ground. With my glasses I could make them out distinctly, and the sight drove me wild to go down there.

'The nigger assured me there was only one way, and that was by the gorge, where the river flowed out. It was very dangerous, as it was only a narrow track on the steep face of the cliff, and a slip would precipitate anyone into the crocodile hole; but I determined to chance everything.


'NEXT morning we started for the lower gorge, and reached it about noon. The path looked certainly dangerous, enough, but I was, resolute, and we started, the nigger leading, and I by exercising great care and caution reached the inner entrance. I tell you it was a very nasty feeling walking; along that narrow ledge with a lot of hungry crocodiles waiting for you to fall in. However, we, reached the hollow in safety, and I commenced, my glorious investigations. What a wonderful sight it was; the skeletons of those antediluvians, all perfect in every fossilised bone. I could not imagine what had brought them all there to die, but have thought since that they must have been frozen up there when the Antarctic circle extended to Australia, and the change of climate then released them. This would account for their wonderfully complete state of preservation.

'Well, we thoroughly examined the place and found a safe spot, inaccessible to the crocodiles, to camp that night. Next morning after taking all the notes I intended to we started to leave. The old fellow had told me on no account to have a row with the king of the crocodiles if we met him, but if did not matter about the others so much. As I had only my revolver with me, I did not feel able to do much damage to any of the crocodiles. However, we started back for the gorge, and there, just at the point where we had to enter, on the ledge was the great crocodile himself.

'A frightful monster he was, about 40 ft long, with, all manner of strange growths upon him, like a wreck covered with weed and barnacles. The old nigger, shook with fear, and I did not feel at all comfortable, I assure you, particularly as the creature did not seemingly intend to move, and until he did so we could not get out of the valley. At last, after we had looked at each other long enough, I felt desperate, and determined to try my revolver on him. I did not expect to make much impression, but at the first shot I hit him in the eye. He reared up, giving a sort of bellow at the same time, and scores of heads of crocodiles came to the surface at once. He lashed about a bit in pain, and then plunged into the water. Calling to the old blackfellow to follow me, I sprang for the ledge while the way was clear, and commenced to follow it. The monster came to the surface, and during the whole of the perilous passage swam parallel with me showing the bleeding socket of his eye. How I got through I know not; a dozen times I nearly slipped and fell into his jaws, but I reached the end in safety and looked round for my black companion, but he was nowhere to be seen, and all my coo-eeing and calling brought no response.

'I am afraid in his terror ice slipped and fell in. And somehow I feel that I shall follow his example. I made my way back to where I left my horses and hastened to civilisation. Now, will you join me? there are three fortunes in it!'

'But can't we manage to go down by a rope from the top of the cliffs, and gave nothing to do with the beastly gorge?' I asked.

'I have thought of that,' said Newman, 'and I believe it to be feasible; but we shall have plenty of time to discuss our plans if you agree to go.'

'We'll go,' said Dave; 'and as the rain has stopped I think we'll try and get some sleep.'


THE morning broke fine and clear, every trace of the storm having disappeared. Newman's horse was visible, feeding on the other side of the river, and the river had not risen at all. We crossed and made a short stage; then halted to dry our traps and discuss our future proceedings. Both Dave and I ridiculed the presence of the crocodiles as any hindrance, but the serious part of the business was the excessive weight of the specimens. How were we to transport them?

Dave had an idea, not a bad one. The country was evidently not likely to be held under lease by anybody. Why not ascertain its exact whereabouts and take it up. We could then work at our leisure, and sell specimens on the ground, the purchasers having to remove them, at their own risk. The idea seemed plausible; but Newman at once said:

'Certainty, take the country up, but float it into a limited liability company. That's our dart.'

Evidently that was the correct thing to do, but we must secure one or two specimens at any rate as samples; so we made our plans for taking a dray out to bring them back, and the dray would also serve to carry out the ropes, and tackle for descending the cliff. Newman said that he thought with a little trouble we could find an easy spur up which to take the dray round to the edge of the valley. We purchased what we wanted at Normanton; fortunately we all three had a little money of our own; then started for the valley of the antediluvians with high hopes.

I need not recount our journey there. Dave was an expert horse driver, and as we had taken plenty of good rations; we travelled very comfortably to the Nicholson, where we left the road and turned into the untraversed country. Newman, who knew something of surveying, kept an accurate dead reckoning, as it was necessary to make sure whether the valley was in Queensland or South Australia—it would make all the difference in the terms on which we could secure it. In due time we arrived at the lower gorge which led into the pocket, or valley, and had a look at the narrow ledge which was the road to the place.

'I'm not taking any at present,' said Dave; and then we found a convenient place to camp, and amused ourselves for the rest of the afternoon, shooting at every crocodile that showed his nose above water. I think we made a good many of them feel very sick, but of course they all sank. Next day we soon discovered a spur that led us upward and onward, and early in the afternoon found ourselves on the edge of the cliffs looking down into the valley of the fossils. We were fortunate in finding water And grass, and turned out with much satisfaction.

Newman pointed out to us the different objects down below, and particularly impressed upon us the skeleton of a gigantic lizard, which was lying immediately beneath us. This he called by some inhuman name, a Megalosaurus I think, and said that it had only been found in Europe, and its discovery in Australia was a fortune in itself.

Thus we passed the evening, and next morning went searching for a place to descend. The cliffs were not much more than 100 feet high, but they were sheer, and descent without assistance was impossible. At last, near the upper gorge, we found a place which suggested some hope; a sort of crevice ran down, and there was a stout tree near the brink; that would support our tackle.

We soon brought the rope up, and made it fast to the tree, and Dave, who was an old sailor, went down first. I followed without much trouble, for the crevice afforded foothold here and there, and then came Newman. We next proceeded to go round and examine the specimens, and Newman, nearly went mad with excitement. There was one he called a Megatherium, which he said had only been found in South America; there were all manner of sauruses. Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, and a thing like a tremendous elephant, which he said was a Mastodon. Dave opined that it was an old world zoological garden we had got amongst.

Newman could not make up his mind which of the specimens he should select as samples, they were all so beautiful, according to him, but at last he chose two and said he would take the bones apart and number them, whilst Dave and I rigged up something to hoist them up, and keep them clear of the cliff. We soon managed this, and for the next few days were pretty busy, and finally had the satisfaction of having the two specimens neatly packed and put into the dray.

We had found out that we were not in Queensland, but in the Northern Territory of South Australia, so our next proceeding was to lay out the four square miles we intended to apply for, and put down a detailed description of it. All the time we kept a lookout for the big crocodile, shot in the eye by Newman, but he did not put in an appearance. No doubt he was watching us on the quiet. We started away with our load; although Newman sadly wanted to take another specimen; but Dave and I decided we had enough on board.

To shorten matters, we arrived safely in Normanton, caught a steamer, and came south. The excitement amongst scientific circles all over the world was immense when our discovery was made known by cable. I went down to Adelaide to secure the country, and Newman went to work to superintend the reconstruction of the specimens. We were both, successful. I obtained the country, with a right to all found on it, for a comparatively small sum; and offers began to pour in from all places for the two specimens. Finally we disposed of them for £1500 the two, and then commenced the company promoting. The thing was so novel, and the value of the samples we had brought down so great, that the affair caught on like wild fire. A company was formed with a capital of £200,000, to purchase our right to the land and fossils for £150,000; we to give all needful assistance in putting the company on the valley. Accordingly, with a strong party, including many scientists, and all needful appliances we returned north. In due course we arrived at our destination, and formally handed the valley of fossils over to the two directors who had accompanied us, and transferred the title deeds.

The scientists were a peppery lot; some of them actually came to blows over an argument about the fossil skeletons, and, only for Dave, one would nave been put into the river amongst the crocodiles; However, all agreed upon the extreme value of the find, and acknowledged that it was worth twice the purchase money.

Then work commenced in earnest, and one by one the specimens were taken apart, numbered, and sent down the river to the end of the waterhole, below the gorge, in a strong punt, which we had recommended should be brought up. This flummoxed the crocodiles altogether, and Newman, Dave, and I often went with our rifles simply to watch for the king of the crocodiles, but we only saw him twice, and on those two occasions there occurred a tragedy.


ON the first meeting we were accompanied by one of the most cantankerous of the geologists, Professor Curley. Of course before we had been in the punt two minutes he and Newman were in the midst of a heated argument. In his excitement Newman rose to his feet to enforce his views. The men were pulling the punt pretty smartly, and nobody was looking ahead but Dave and I. What we saw was this:

Immediately in front of the punt suddenly arose a horrid-looking scaly back, with weeds and slime on it; the punt struck it, and the shock overbalanced Newman, and into the water he went. With a cry of horror Dave and I rushed to his assistance, but it was too late: his doom had fallen. The hideous head of a monstrous crocodile appeared, and his enormous jaws closed on the struggling man, but before they vanished beneath the surface Dave and I saw the eyeless socket, and knew that it was the king of the crocodiles.

Newman's loss was a bitter grief to us, for we had grown to like the man, and Dave swore that he would not leave the place while the old saurian lived. Amongst other things a quantity of dynamite cartridges had been brought up to blast a road down the cliff, in case of the punt not answering expectations. Dave got one of these and some fuse, and proceeded to wait for the king of the crocodiles, I naturally thought that he intended to explode the cartridge under water in the neighborhood of the disappearance of Newman, but that was not his intention.

We watched diligently, and I waited with him at the entrance to the gorge, where the ledge commenced. At last we were rewarded for our pains. There, one morning, was the monster crocodile, like a huge dragon of ancient story. He glared at us with his one eye, and Dave whispered to me, 'Bolt sharp to one side if he makes a rush at us!'

Then he quietly put a cap on the fuse and shoved it into the cartridge. He lit it and boldly advanced, telling me to keep the brute covered, and fire on the least move.

'Inside or out, old man,' he said, and I found out afterwards what he meant The king of the crocodiles opened his enormous jaws as if to terrify the oncomer, but he did not move, and quiet as thought Dave skilfully threw the cartridge and hissing fuse down his throat, and bolted off at right angles, and I followed his example.

The crocodile closed his jaws with a snap in surprise and that made him swallow the morsel that Dave had given him.

Then ensued a most extraordinary scene. The huge creature, feeling the fuse inside him, commenced to skip and dance about, not knowing what was up with him. Dave and I kept retiring, for we knew the end was not far off. It came suddenly. There was a loud report, and the King of the crocodiles was distributed all over the country in thousands of fragments.

'Newman is avenged,' said Dave.


42. — THE TWO MAYORS

Evening News, Sydney, 2 May 1896

I

THE Mayor of Bingleton was a troubled man, and to soothe his spirit was taking a walk in the early morning outside the township that he ruled with the assistance of some very troublesome and cantankerous aldermen.

His re-election was worrying the Mayor. He actually wanted to enjoy his dignity for another term of office, and a very determined alderman, the wealthy butcher of the town, was opposing him; and the butcher had nearly as much influence as the Mayor.

There was also to be a little civic display that day. The Mayor of a neighboring town was expected on a visit, and it was intended to give him a public reception, and as the Mayor was not a very fluent orator, he was taking the opportunity of the quiet, early morning to con over the few sentences of welcome he was expected to utter.

He had reached a pretty creek, spanned by a light bridge, which he proudly and fondly remembered was his work when he noticed a stranger in the centre of it, meditatively leaning against the railing. He was respectably dressed, and the Mayor, being inclined for conversation after his solitary walk, went up and saluted him.

'I presume you are a resident?' returned the stranger (who had a melancholy cast of countenance), after the state of the country and weather had been fully discussed.

'I am the Mayor of Bingleton,' was the reply, given with proper pride.

'And do you like being Mayor?'

'Yes, sir, I do. And I think may venture to hope that I have fulfilled the duties of the office creditably.'

'Well, I don't.'

The Mayor started at the apparently rude remark; but before he could reply the sad-eyed stranger went on—'Does your wife like being Mayoress?'

'Yes, sir,' was the answer, In a stiff tone.

'So does mine, worse luck.'

'My good sir, I cannot imagine what the liking of my wife or myself have to do with you—'

'O! it's not you being Mayor; it's my being Mayor that I'm troubled about.'

The worthy Mayor started once more; this time in surprise. 'You are, then—'

'The Mayor of Burrabagan. Yes.'

'Our expected guest! Allow me to welcome you to this rising and prosperous town,' and he shook hands effusively with his fellow-Mayor.

'May I ask,' he went on, 'How you come to be here on foot at this early hour?'

'I stopped at a little place two miles back last night, and came out for a stroll, as I understand that I am not supposed to be here until 11 o'clock.'

'No. We have prepared a small official reception for you.'

'Very well, I will be on hand at that time. I am just about turning back. I suppose you have a band?'

'We have, and it is considered a very good one.'

'Ah! So have we, and it's considered a damned bad one. How do you like your aldermen?'

'Mostly intractably-made beasts,' which for his Worship was very strong language to use.

'And what is your opinion of butchers?'

'Don't mention them!' cried the ruler of Bingleton.

'I endorse every word you have said,' returned the Burrabagan man, waking up into cordiality for the first time. 'Well, we must be saying good-bye for the present, as you must be getting back.'

'By the way,' said the visiting Mayor, as they shook hands, 'are you a good hand at a speech?'

The Bingleton Mayor blushed. As has already hinted, it was his weak point. What he prided himself on was his administrative ability.

'I do not shine there,' he said.

'Now, there's where I come in. I'm just a dog at a speech. I'll guarantee to make everybody in the room as miserable as a bandicoot within a quarter of an hour.'

Without going into the truth of such a subject of accepted natural history as the proverbial melancholy of a bandicoot, the two saluted and parted.

The Mayor walked back ruminating on the strange meeting, and pondering on the singular fact that a man who held the proud position of Mayor should look on everything with a jaundiced eye.

'It's butchers troubling him,' he thought, and shook his head; 'they are mostly at the bottom of all worry.'

II

THE mayor had a pretty daughter, and the objectionable butcher had a son, who had started for himself on a farm, some five miles out of Bingleton. Far from sharing the sentiments of their parents (for Mrs. Mayor also snorted at Mrs. Butcher, who bravely reciprocated), these two young people had engaged themselves; but their respective fathers and mothers refused to acknowledge the fact. This naturally added to the animosity of the butcher, who was a full-blooded man, as a butcher should be, and he accused the Mayor's daughter of angling for his son, and called her hard names, to which his wife added the epithet, so dear to the heart of woman, that she was a 'designing minx.'

On the other hand, the Mayoress insinuated that the butcher's son, knowing that their daughter had a little money coming to her, had designs upon that.

This was the highly disagreeable complication at the time of the arrival of the melancholy Mayor of Burrabagan. He came in due course, was formally welcomed, and might generally have been considered as presented with the freedom of the town, if there had been any particular brand of freedom to present him with. He became the guest of his brother Mayor, and a banquet was to be held at the Royal (there is a Royal in every town to Australia), which was to be on a scale of unparalleled magnificence. All on account of a man who claimed to be able to make a more mournful, miserable speech than anybody else.

For all his misanthropy, the Mayor of Burrabagan had a common masculine weakness, and that was for a pretty girl, and Jenny Oldridge was a very pretty girl. Mind you, it was a purely paternal feeling. Jenny had a bright, taking way with her, which at once touched a tender spot in the heart of their visitor. Before long he was fully acquainted by her parents with the undesirable connection she desired to form, and their sorrow at the fact. In the course of the afternoon he met the young farmer, and formed a different conclusion.

In point of fact, the butcher's son was a manly, clever young fellow, and it was only family dissension blinded the eyes of the parents to the suitability of the match.

The banquet was a delirious success.

The local Chronicle next day stated that 'Host Thompson had surpassed himself,' and the band, before they got too drunk, did wonders. At last, in a somewhat baiting speech Mayor Oldridge proposed the health of their guest, F. Bonnor, Esq., Mayor of Burrabagan.

Then the guest, after a decent interval, got up to return thanks, He commenced by dilating on the beauty of the country he had passed through that morning. He told of his early walk, and how he saw evidences of peace, coming prosperity, and present comfort on every side, until the hearts of his hearers glowed with pride. Next he touched on the beauty of the town, its noble architecture and magnificent streets. Here he paused, and went on:

'But when I think of the quick and sudden destruction which cant come, even to a place seemingly so secure from misfortune as this is. I feel inclined to weep. The floods may devastate your farm lands. The raging hurricane uproot your now thriving town, and, in spite of the efforts of your gallant brigade, fire, in its consuming wrath, may sweep away whole blocks of buildings. Again, the ravages of some fell epidemic disease may bring death and mourning into your happy homes. This town, now so festive, resound with wailing and lamentation. That pretty creek that I passed this morning is deceptive in the shallowness of Its banks. I feel assured that only a long-continued run of moderate seasons has hitherto kept it within bounds. And even this again is a source of danger, for without the cleansing waters the seeds of such an epidemic might be sown which a hot summer would germinate, to the devastation of the town. I sincerely hope that none of these troubles may overtake you; but, at least, let me congratulate you on the possession of two active and energetic undertakers.'

After again thanking them for the cordial manner to which they had drunk his health, he sat down amidst a gloomy silence, which the Mayor failed to arouse into even the tardiest spark of applause. Several of those present felt inclined, to arise and denounce their prophet of woe in strong and vigorous terms.

He forestalled them, however, by once more rising to propose the health of the Mayor and aldermen. This he did by reminding them of the uncertainty, of life; of the many accidents always lying in wait for man. How they might be sitting there at the groaning board one day and the next be stricken down by apoplexy. In conclusion, he begged them to cultivate life and fire insurances, and contemplate the thought of a life beyond the grave. He wound up by wishing them long life and prosperity, but he was doubtful; life was such a lottery.

After this the gloom was only relieved by heavy drinking on the part of the aldermen, to drown the thought of their coming demise. The band woke up to play the 'Dead March in Saul,' as fitting and appropriate. The Mayor went away early, accompanied by his brother Mayor, to when he addressed the nearest approach to a joke he was ever known to have made.

'You are right, sir. You are a dog at a speech.'

III

DURING the days following the banquet people grew somewhat accustomed to the tone of melancholy pervading all he said. It was agreed that he must have a murder at least on his conscience, perhaps two. Those who knew him said there was no cause for his misery, as he had been eminently successful in his business, and was now a wealthy man.

During his stay in Bingleton he cultivated all classes, especially the obnoxious butcher, Burston, with whom be seemed to have found an endless number of mutual subjects of interest. This was much to the chagrin of the worthy Oldridge and his family; but Jenny seemed more than satisfied. Perhaps, she and Mayor Bonnor had a secret.

The popularity of the Burrabagan man, however, took an upward turn when it was known that, in acknowledgment of the hospitality he had received, he was going to give a very swell picnic, and a return dinner to the Mayor and aldermen before leaving. The young people declared the picnic to have been a marvellous success after that event came off, more especially as there had been no speechmaking. That, they concluded, was reserved for the dinner.

As before, it was held at the Royal, and once more 'our genial host' surpassed himself. Bonnor seemed for once to have roused himself out of his habitual depression, so that when he got up to speak, and commenced by saying, 'Gentlemen, I am going to tell you why I dislike butchers,' everybody was astounded. Burston gasped, and looked cutting-up knives at his quondam friend. This antipathy to butchers had never been betrayed before to anyone but Oldridge.

'I was once happy,' went on the speaker. Here Burston grunted out something about being glad to hear it.

'I was solvent and in middling circumstances. My wife and family were contented, and life was comparatively a dream of poetry. A friend in the shape of a relative—a butcher—died, and left me his wealth. Money obtained by the sale of meat—let me assure my friend Burston that I see no harm in that, it was the money itself was the source of trouble. From that day out I have had no peace. My wife has got high notions, and my children the same. My fellow-townsmen, who had formerly let me alone, made me first an alderman, then the Mayor. I had to preside at dinners and public meetings, and make speeches. I have always I hope made them as miserable as I could. Now, gentlemen, I have determined that my wealth shall return to the channel of commerce it was in before. I had thoughts of founding a large vegetarian society; but, instead, I am going to open a huge butchering business. My friend Burston, if he will allow me to call him so, has assured me that the profits are large—I think he said enormous.'

'No, I didn't,' yelled Burston, who was growing purple in the face to a dangerous extent.

'Large, then. As I have noticed how rapidly your township is growing in size and population, I have decided to invest my money here, and start an immense butchering establishment in this, the prosperous town of Bingleton.'

'It's all your infernal doing!' roared Burston to Oldridge, as the speaker ceased.

The latter was mildly disclaiming, when the infuriated butcher got up, and stamped out, stopping to shake his fist in the doorway. By the others, who saw a good deal to be gained in an opposition shop, the speech was well received, and the evening broke up in what the reporter termed, 'a most harmonious manner.'


MORNING brought calmer feeling to the aggrieved killer of beeves. He determined to temporise first, and fight afterwards, if necessary. Therefore, when he next met Bonnor his tone was more conciliatory. In fact, they entered into a long interview, which extended into several others during the time Bonnor remained. Finally, after his departure, it was made known that Burston withdrew his candidature for the mayoralty, and as he and Oldridge soon after publicly shook hands, it may be surmised that all opposition to the marriage of the young people was soon removed.

The last heard of Bonnor was that he intended to devote his surplus cash to the improvement of firearms and other weapons of destruction. They being connected with wholesale slaughtering.


43. — CHING HOW'S REVENGE

The Critic, Adelaide, 14 Dec 1904

THE injured man was carried into the hut and laid on his bunk. Andrews, the man temporarily in charge of the station through the absence of the owner, began to examine the hurt. Outside two lanky boys discussed the situation.

"Ever seen a dead man, Mick?"

"Can't say for certain," returned Mick, thus giving Tom the opportunity he wanted.

"Ah! I have—Lots of 'em. Seen one with his head busted open and his brains running about like a smashed egg."

Mick sighed, not at the fate of the man, which he knew to be a lie, but at his weakness in, giving Tom the opportunity to lie with safety, by admitting only a distant acquaintanceship with dead men. He ought to have affirmed that he had been to school with them.

"Hurry up," said the sharp voice of Andrews behind them. "Catch a horse, Mick, and go over to Ralingford and tell Mr. Allnutt that Billy Kemp's cracked his skull against a post. You can get back easy before sundown if he's at home."

Mick departed to the yard with his saddle on his head, while Tom went down the paddock to drive the horses up. Andrews turned into the hut again. Billy Kemp had been trying conclusions with an equine outlaw, and had got the worst of it. Unfortunately he had been thrown head-first against a corner-post, and now lay still and insensible.

Andrews was of the opinion that he was done for; but wanting some superior judgment in the matter had sent for Allnutt, the owner of the neighboring station, seven miles away. Allnutt was also a J.P., so if Billy Kemp pegged out it would save trouble.

The unconscious man lay on his bunk breathing heavily in a snoring kind of way that got on the cook's nerves. The eyes, half-opened, showed only the dull whites, and these unseeing eyes and the blood-smeared face fascinated the cook and gave him what he called "the creeps." Andrews, after hunting around, found a pair of scissors that he had been searching for and stooped over the recumbent figure.

"What are you going to do?" asked the cook, evidently thinking that he was going to perform some weird surgical operation.

"Only cut his hair off and wash the place. When Allnutt comes we'll see what the wound looks like. Give us some hot water."

Andrews worked steadily at his task, and, when he had finished, bathed the sufferer's head and cleaned the face of the dried blood. He put wet bandages on, and the patient seemed to breathe easier. Tom, who had come back from the yard, watched the performance with deep interest.

"Think he'll die?" he said to the cook.

"Can't say," answered the oracle—(all bush cooks are oracles). "Men mostly do die when they get a crack on the skull like that and there ain't no doctor nearer than the bounds of blazes."

"Quiet fellow was Billy," hazarded the boy.

"Yes, Billy was a good sort, but what did he want to tackle that brute for? I says to him, 'Billy, that horse is as old and wicked as sin. What's the good of him when you've conquered him? 'That's just it, Joe,' says he to me; 'it's the pleasure of conquering him.' This wouldn't have happened if the cove had been at home, 'cos he said he was going to shoot the old rip next time he was yarded; he was always leading some of the horses away back and making 'em as wild as hawks. But, there, Billy reckoned he could ride anything that had a tail to hitch a crupper on."


EARLY in the afternoon Allnutt, the neighbor, arrived.

"I met Mick half-way, and turned back with him," he said to Andrews as they entered the hut and went up to the bunk. Allnutt, a man over middle age, with a good resolute face, removed the bandages and inspected the battered skull. He pressed it lightly, and as he did so the sufferer gave a convulsive start, and from his lips came a hoarse cry that sounded like "The Chinaman."

Allnutt shook his head and replaced the wet bandages. "It's past my surgery," he said. "I'm afraid it's a bad fracture."

"What's to be done?" demanded Andrews.

"We can do nothing but try and keep him alive. A broken skull is not like a broken arm. I could manage to set that, or a leg, but the skull's a different thing. A proper surgeon, and a good one, too, is wanted. He'll have to be taken to the hospital."

"To Randimble. That's two hundred and fifty miles away. How's it to be done?"

"It will be a risk. When do you expect Mr. Carlton back?"

"Any time; might be to-night. He won't mind the trouble, though, for he always liked Billy."

"I'd drive him down for that matter; but I can t say whether he could stand it or not. There's no doctor I know of we could get to come here."

"Only that little fellow at Mackay's Crossing, and he's always on the booze."

"He's no good; he's no nerve left. I'll stop here to-night and see how he gets on. Perhaps he'll settle the question himself by dying. If he is alive, and seems strong enough in the morning, I'll take him down myself and chance it. See, if nothing's done the risk is that it will be left too long, and, even if he lives, he must be a lunatic for life."


SUDDENLY the two boys burst in with the announcement that the boss and another mail were coming. Then they issued out again, each anxious to be the first to greet Carlton with the newts that "Boko Bill had chucked Billy Kemp and busted his skull open."

Carlton and his companion rode up to the rude stable, and Allnutt and Andrew went over to meet them.

"'Ullo, Allnutt," said Carlton, "glad to see you over. This is an old friend of mine, coming up here for a month's change—Dr. Curtis, been overworking himself. Curtis, this is my nearest neighbor, Mr. Allnutt. Andrews, what is this yam the boys have got hold of?"

"Sorry to say it's true. Kemp's had a bad accident."

"Hang 'em, they came rushing up with it as though it was the best joke out. What did you let him go fooling about with Boko Bill for? You know I meant to shoot the beast for a nuisance. Is he in the yard now?"

"Yes; I kept him in."

"Well, catch him and lead him a bit away and shoot the brute. I'll have no more trouble with him. Will you come and look at the man now, Curtis?" he went on, turning to the doctor.

They went to the hut, Mick and Tom going down with the horses to the paddock, and eager to witness justice done to Boko Bill, the outlaw. This promised to be a day of delirious excitement for them.

Curtis examined the injured skull with, his thin, delicate fingers. He was a clever-looking man, but evidently suffering from the effects of a temporary breakdown.

"Has he spoken?" he asked.

"Once when I was feeling the wound. It was nothing intelligible; sounded as though he shouted out 'The Chinaman!'"

Again Curtis carefully examined the injury. As he dad so the man gave a convulsive start, as he did before, and cried out. It was unmistakable this time. "The Chinaman!"

Curtis looked satisfied. "I think I can locate it," he said; "but nothing more can be done just now. His blood will be pretty healthy, I suppose?"

"Yes; Kemp's not much of a man for spreeing, and he's not been off the station for nearly two years; I suppose that's what you mean?"

"Yes. I'll pull him through, I hope. I suppose you've got simple medicines on the place?"

"The usual things; now lets go and get something to eat. Joe, there are some things in my pack bags for you. Let's have tea soon."

Allnutt soon came to the conclusion that Curtis was a clever man, and having, like Carlton, rather a regard for Kemp, looked upon his coming as decidedly providential.

Curtis went to look at the patient again after their meal was finished, and came back and asked Carlton if he had a handy man about the place.

"Yes," he replied, "Andrews is a born mechanician; here's a bit of work of his." He produced a sheath knife, the blade mounted in a handle of carved brigalow. "It's made out of a rasp," he said. "I believe it would out iron."

Curtis examined it curiously, particularly the neat riveting and general finish.

"What's the matter?" he asked. Then raised his hand enquiringly. Carlton nodded.

"That's it. A perfect genius away in the bush. A blithering idiot when he gets into a town."

"He'll do," said the doctor, putting the knife down. "You've got a forge here?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll get him to make me something tomorrow."

They took it by turns to watch the insensible man, who lay snoring heavily all night. When daylight broke Andrews had the forge going, and, under the doctor's instructions, worked busily all the morning.

"By Jove!" said Curtis at lunch, "that man of yours is a genius. Look at this." He produced a pair of forceps. The handles were rough and unfinished, but the remainder of the work was delicately wrought.

"Made it out of some scraps of iron and the springs of an old revolver. Blessed if I know how he did it, just from drawings I made for him. What an awful pity that he's a hopeless case."

Both men looked enquiringly at him.

"Men have been cured before," said Allnutt.

"Ordinary men, but not extraordinary men, worse luck, especially when they are as old as he is. Let him overtire his brain and he's bound to take something to freshen himself up. No; this sort of thing seems a dispensation of Nature for some reason. Seen so many cases. Too many clever men in the world otherwise, I suppose."

"When will you operate?" asked Carlton.

"To-morrow morning. He's keeping splendidly; no fever showing."

"How about assistance?"

"Couldn't be better off," returned Curtis, who seemed better already. "There are you two and Andrews; men with nerves, and who'll do exactly what I tell them. Mind, that's what you've go to do, just exactly what I say. Nothing more nor less."

The tinkling and hammering went on in the forge all the afternoon, and Curtis was ready in the morning.


THE operation was over. Carlton had gone over to the house, very white, for a glass of whisky, and Allnutt looked rather sick. Delicate and complicated surgical operations are trying to amateur assistants.

Kemp, with his head bandaged, was lying, breathing easily.

"Will he be conscious when he wakes?" asked Allnutt.

"I think so, but we must shift him over to the house before then. Quiet's what he must have."

Curtis had a satisfied look on his face, and was regarding the home-made instruments he was cleaning with strong admiration. In due time Kemp came to a weak consciousness of his surroundings, but a cloud seemed to rest on his intellect, although he quickly recovered his bodily strength. He would start suddenly, and, after looking suspiciously round him, go to the door and peer out, as though expecting to see some dreadful object there. Then he would return, muttering. He spoke rationally, but his eyes were always on the alert, and the cook declared that his nervous system was worn in rags.

Curtis found the fresh, dry inland air so invigorating that he determined to prolong his visit. He was greatly disappointed at the mental state of his patient, and stated that another operation would be necessary. Something or some portion of the bone was evidently pressing on the brain. He sent down for some things that he wanted, including chloroform, and decided to wait until he thought the time was ripe. Any attempts to find out what was meant by the allusion to the Chinaman only excited Kemp, and the doctor strictly forbade such experiments.

Mick and Tom, disregarding this mandate in the thoughtlessness of youth, got into difficulties with a greenhide cutting whip wielded by Andrews. Allnutt was now often over for a visit. Curtis, with his improved health, was a rare companion to get on an outside cattle station.


ONE night when he was over there he felt sleepless, and, getting up, went out on the verandah for a smoke. It was full moon, and the white light made everything clear and distinct. The snort of a horse attracted his attention, and, looking down the paddock, he saw a little lot of horses approaching the yard, evidently being driven. He waited, and made sure that there was a man on foot behind them, and then awakened Carlton. Slipping on their trousers, they stole out with their boots in their hand, so as not to arouse Curtis, and were in the shadow of the yard as the man put one of the rails up.

"It's Kemp," whispered Carlton.

"Don't disturb him," replied Allnutt, "this may lead to something."

Kemp caught a horse and led it out of the yard. Allnutt stole forward and blocked the other horses from following. "We must get horses and follow him," he said, as he put up the rail again.

The two men rode quietly after the solitary figure ahead. They might have ridden close to him, and the clouded brain of Kemp, engrossed with the one dominating idea, would not have noticed him.

Unseen by them, they had another follower. Mick, too, had been awakened by Kemp leaving the hut. While the attention of the two men was concentrated on the man ahead, he had caught a quiet horse, and, jumping on bare backed, was following in the rear. He was not going to be out of the fun this time. Across the open downs, where the light was strong and bright, through the belts of scrub, where it was dark and chequered, and the unsavory acacia smell was very noticeable, they rode on, until at last they came on an old disused road, which the leading figure followed. Carlton gave vent to a low whistle, under his breath.

"Where is he going?" asked Allnutt.

"To the Gap Hut. This is the old Gap-road. It is nearly grown over. You can just see it here and there. Kemp lived at the hut for some time while I was breaking in the last mob of store cattle."


ON they kept through bands of light and shadow, always followed by the curious urchin, until at last the black range was visible ahead. A small patch of clear ground was reached, where stood a hut and a horseyard. The bark roof of the hut shone silvery white under the moon's rays. Kemp pulled up, dismounted, and hung his horse up to a forked sapling. His pursuers halted a little further back, where they could watch his proceedings. Mick kept further back still, and watched, too.

Kemp inspected the ground about the doorway; then pushed the door open and entered. Carlton and Allnutt stole up silently on foot, and peered in. Kemp was in one corner muttering to himself; then he came to the door, and, too absorbed to notice the slinking figures in the shadow, strode around the hut, and ascended! a little rocky pinnacle that formed one side of the Gap, from which the hut took its name. The two followed him until he stopped between two boulders and struck a match. When it burnt out he struck another, and another, and seemed to be inspecting the bottom of the narrow gap between the two boulders.

Apparently satisfied, he returned, and the two spies heard him mutter as he passed, "He's there; there still. All fancy."

He went back to the hut, unhitched his horse, and rode back the way he came.

"He's satisfied," said Carlton; "let's see what he was after."

A search about the hut revealed nothing but a snake in one corner and a frog sitting on the tie-beam. Then they went back to the place between the boulders, where they had seen Kemp searching. The narrow gap between the rocks had overgrown with rank grass and undergrowth. In the early hours of the morning it smelt dank and moist.

"We'll go home, and come back with Curtis, and have a good search by daylight," said Carlton.

"Right you are," returned his friend, and they went to their horses and rode home in their turn. They had hardly gone fifty yards when they were greeted with a joyous whinny. Ahead of them was a horse with a bridle on, which he was trailing between his feet. Carlton got off and caught the animal.

"It's old Combo," he said. "What's the meaning of this?"

Allnutt could not tell him. Carlton jumped at the truth.

"One of those infernal boys was awake, and came after us. I'll give him rats. Meantime, he shall have a walk for it."

He tied the reins round the horse's neck and started him on ahead. Mick heard their retreating hoof-strokes with despair. His faithless steed had got his bridle loose and left him. Left him alone at the Gap Hut, which, like all deserted huts, was supposed to be haunted. With all love of adventure quenched suddenly, Mick started off home, only hoping he could cover the distance before daylight, which was a pretty hard task to perform. Dawn was red in the east when the two friends met Joe, the cook, going down to the yard with the milk buckets.

"Have you had a look at Kemp this morning?" asked Carlton.

"Yes; he's sleeping like a top. Where have you been, Mr. Carlton?" returned Joe, with an astonished face.

"Never mind now. Are the boys after the cows?"

"Yes; at least there's Tom bringing them up now."

"Tell Tom to get the buggy horses up as soon as he's yarded the milkers, and when you see Mack give him the father of a hiding on your own account, and then give him one on mine."

"Blue me," muttered the astonished cook as they left him. "Who can make head or tail of such goings on? It's cattle duffing, that's my belief. Cattle duffing they've been after. Full moon, too, of course."

Curtis met them on the verandah, and naturally asked what was up. They told him, and he was at once eager to be off, and as soon as they had finished their breakfast they drove away, leaving Andrews to keep a watch on Kemp when he awoke from the deep slumber into which he had fallen.

Mick, the disconsolate, saw the buggy drive by, and limped home to receive, under strong protest, the two threatened hidings faithfully bestowed by the exasperated cook.

The secret hidden between the two boulders was soon unearthed. A skeleton with a covering of dried shrunken skin lay under a thin layer of earth.

"I could have sworn it by the look of the grass," said Allnutt when their task was finished.

"It's the body of a Chinaman, and his throat has been cut," said Curtis, who had been examining the remains.

"What next?"

"Search the hut," said Curtis. They went back there and commenced a minute scrutiny. They were rewarded. On the wall-plate was a pouch neatly made of pigskin, with two Chinese characters stamped on the flap; inside were thirty sovereigns.

"Shall I speak first?" asked Curtis. The two nodded assent.

"I think it's time to perform that other operation. Don't form any opinion till Kemp's brought back to his right senses. I ask you this in the interest of justice. The Chinaman can stop where he is till we know the truth. It won't hurt him. Are you agreeable?"

They agreed with him, and, taking the pouch with them, they drove home.

"Still asleep," reported Andrews when they called him up to the house. They told him what had happened, and showed him the pouch and money. He looked curiously at it, with a smile of recognition.

"I made this pouch," he said, "and I'll tell you how. I was on a 'bender' down at Yankamanna, and the publican rooked me of everything. Swore I shouted champagne for all hands, and all that sort of thing. He had a Chinese cook—decent fellow, too—but a bit off his chump at times. I'd had it out with the darned shanty-keeper, and was going off with nothing but a blanket and what I stood in. This fellow met me at the back of the kitchen and said, 'Anderth, you all sort of silly fool. First night you cashee check, lay down, there dlunk. I thinkee me, bimeby want money. Takee ten pound from pouchee. Keep 'em, savey,' and the heathen handed me ten notes he had saved from the Christian. There was a friend of mine, a saddler, and before I left the township I sat down in his shop and made that pouch. Stamped the Chow's name on it, too, and gave it to him—Ching How. That's what it reads."

"When Kemp comes to his wits we shall know the truth," said Curtis. "This heavy sleep is a good sign. When he wakes I'll operate."


THE operation required turned out to be but slight, and Billy Kemp awoke one morning restored to his proper mind.

"Lord, Bill," said Joe, the cook, "you are an obstinate beggar. Why didn't you get well before? You've ruined my nervous system, and the hidings Mick and Tom have got through you has made them feel like early Christian martyrs."

"Now, Kemp, we're all ready; tell us how the Chinaman with his throat cut came to be at the Gap Hut?" said Curtis when Billy was well enough to come up and stand questioning.

"I wish I had told you before, Mr. Carlton; it's all through that beggar I got chucked so bad. You know when I was living out there keeping those J.L. cattle back? Well, I came home one night dog-tired. They used to give me fits at first. There I found a Chow in my hut; he'd come along the old road, and gone into my hut, and was just making himself at home cooking a feed, calm as you please. You know how I hate Chows, and I commenced to perform. 'What the Salvation: Army are you doing here?' I asked. 'Alri, cookee tea,' he said smiling' sweetly. Then I let out at him, but he would only stare and say, 'Wha for.' He riled me so at last that I chucked him and the rations he was cooking outside the hut. He stopped there all night, and every hour he'd sing out to me to let him in and he'd pay me, and I had to come out and chase him.

"In the morning I put him on the road to here, and told him I'd give him 'wha for' if he came back again. Blessed if he didn't turn up again that night just as I was dropping off to sleep. He said he lost the road, and had been in the bush all day, and if I didn't let him in he'd cut his throat. Out I went and chivvied him round the hut; you see, I didn't know the poor devil was loony. I turned in again, and back he came. 'Good-by,' he shouted out; 'money, Ching Hong, gardener-man. You savey? Ching Hong.' I yelled out to him that I'd come out and cut his throat if he didn't do it himself; then I went fast asleep, for I was dead tired out.

"I thought I heard a queer kind of noise just as I was dropping off, but I never woke until morning, and when I opened the door the pouch of money was lying on the sill, and there sat the Chow, right opposite, with his back against a stump. Blessed if he hadn't cut his throat, and he was as dead as a poisoned dog. The cattle were giving me rats at the time, and I was kept going from daylight to dark. So I put him away between the two boulders, meaning to tell you about it, but I put it off until you'd have been asking why I hadn't spoken before, and there had been trouble. The money belongs to Ching Hong, whoever he is."

"What do you mean by the Chinaman causing you to get a spill?"

"Why, just as I was getting my seat on Boko, suddenly it all came back to me, and I seemed to see that Chow sitting on the cap of the fence grinning at me, with the blood on his white jumper. My knees got quite slack, and I lost my hold altogether, and I don't know any more."


CHING HONG, who was Ching How's brother, got the money through Andrews remembering the whereabouts of the pair.

He said it was "Welly good, alri'," but did not express any surprise, for, as he blandly remarked, his brother 'always foolee.'


THE END

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