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´╗┐Title: Adventures in Australia
Author: Kingston, William Henry Giles, 1814-1880
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Adventures in Australia" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Adventures in Australia, by W.H.G. Kingston.

________________________________________________________________________

A couple of young men go to Australia to stay awhile with the uncle of
one of them.  While on the way up to the uncle's station they meet with
various adventures.

During the book we are introduced to various of the animals of
Australia, the kookaburra, the wombat, the kangaroo, the wallaby, and
many others.  We also meet with the aboriginal occupiers of the land.

Finding that they like the life in Australia, the two young men decide
to settle, and they buy, with the uncle's assistance, an area of land on
which to create a station.

This is not a long book, but it is amply illustrated. Some of the
drawings are very nice indeed.

You will enjoy this book, and it makes a good audiobook.

________________________________________________________________________

ADVENTURES IN AUSTRALIA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.



CHAPTER ONE.

Some years ago two travellers, mounted on wiry yet strong looking
steeds, were wending their way through a forest in Australia.  They were
both young and dressed much alike in broad-brimmed pith hats, loose red
shirts, corduroy trousers and high boots with spurs.

Each of them had stuck in his belt an axe, a brace of pistols, and a
long knife; while at his back was slung a serviceable-looking rifle,
showing that they were prepared to defend themselves, should they
encounter any treacherous blacks, a very possible contingency at that
period of the country's history.

They were followed by an active native also mounted, who led a horse
carrying their baggage.  The scenery was not especially attractive,
indeed so great was its sameness that alone they would have been utterly
unable to find their way.  On either side rose tall stringy-bark and
other gum-trees, their curious and narrow leaves affording scarcely any
shelter from the rays of the almost vertical sun, the huge white stems
from which the bark hung down in ragged masses giving them a weird and
dreary aspect.  Tracks there were, but they branched now in one
direction now in the other, and were more calculated to bewilder the
travellers than to guide them aright.  Their map--for being new arrivals
in the country they carried one--told them that they should soon reach a
broad stream.  They were now looking out eagerly for it, wondering
whether they should have to wade through it or should find a ferry-boat
ready to take them and their animals across.

I may as well say--having thus begun, after the fashion of a writer
whose pure and wholesome works I used heartily to enjoy in my boyhood
days--that one of the travellers was myself, Maurice Thurston, and the
other my brother Guy, a year only my senior.  We had lately lost our
father, with whose sanction we had settled some time before to come out
to Australia and seek our fortunes.  We, our mother, our two sisters,
and another brother, had been left with a very limited income; and Guy
and I, wishing to push our own fortunes and establish a home for the
rest of the family, agreed that no time should be lost in carrying our
plan into execution.  As soon therefore as our mother's affairs had been
settled, we set sail from England, and, about two weeks before the day I
am describing, arrived in Australia.  We had not come entirely on a
wild-goose chase.  A cousin of our father's, Mr Oliver Strong, had long
been settled in the country, and had replied to an application made to
him some time before by our father, saying that he should be happy to
receive us and put us in the way of doing well for ourselves, if we were
sober, steady, strong, active, willing fellows with heads on our
shoulders and without any "fine gentleman" notions.

We were now making our way toward his station, some hundred miles in the
interior.  Though we had not ridden far from our camping place, the
intense heat of the sun made us feel very thirsty, and sympathise with
our horses which must have been equally so; thus we were anxious as soon
as possible to reach the river, where we hoped to find an abundance of
water.

From our black guide we could not obtain much information; for, although
we were well assured that he spoke English when we engaged him, we found
that it was of a character which would take us some time to learn.
However he understood us better than we did him, though we had to put
questions in all sorts of ways and repeat them over and over again.  We
then had to puzzle out his replies, not always arriving at a
satisfactory conclusion.

Guy frequently stood up in his stirrups and looked ahead, hoping to
catch the sheen of water.  At last we began to have some uncomfortable
suspicions that, although our black attendant professed to know the way,
he had managed to lose it--a circumstance not at all unlikely to occur--
and that we were wandering far out of our proper course.  Though the sun
was of some assistance, yet we might be going too much to the north or
too much to the west, and might pass a long way off from the station
which we wished to reach.  All we could do therefore was to exert our
wits, and, should we have got out of the direct path, to try and find
it.  At length the foliage before us became somewhat thicker, but no
sign of water did we see.  We were riding on when a loud cry reached our
ears.

"There's some one in distress!"  I exclaimed.

"I fear that you are right, we must find out," answered Guy.

We were urging on our horses, when a peal of mocking laughter seemed to
come from the wood close to us.

"What can that be?"  I asked; "some natives who want to frighten us, or
an unfortunate maniac."

The shout of laughter was repeated.

"Him one jackass!" observed our guide, Toby.

"Jackass!  What can the fellow mean?" cried Guy.

Then looking up we discovered a large bird not far off who was evidently
uttering the extraordinary sound we heard.  It was, as Toby told us, a
laughing-jackass, or a gigantic kingfisher.  So ridiculous were the
sounds that we could not help laughing too.

Presently a number of cockatoos, rising with loud screams just before
us, flew over the trees to pitch again not far off.  As we were watching
them we found ourselves at the top of a bank, some thirty or forty feet
in height.  Below it, to the right and left, stretched a sandy bottom
scarcely less than half a mile in breadth, and on the opposite side rose
another bank.  Below the one on which we stood was a stream of water,
flowing sluggishly along, scarcely twelve feet wide, and so shallow that
we could see the bottom.

"Can this be the river we were to come to?"  I exclaimed, examining the
map.

"No doubt about it," answered my brother; "perhaps sometimes this broad
bed of sand is covered, and if we had found it so, we should have had
considerable difficulty in crossing; so it is as well as it is, here is
water enough for ourselves and our weary beasts."  We accordingly agreed
to stop and dine.  Having watered our horses, we hobbled them and turned
them at liberty under some trees where grass was growing; then
unslinging our guns, we went in search of the cockatoos we had seen.  I
killed one, and Guy a parrot; but the report of our guns frightened away
the birds, which were more wary than usual, and we had to return
satisfied with this scanty supply of food.  On reaching the spot we had
selected for our camp, close to the water where our black boy was
waiting for us, we found that he had during our absence made a fire, at
which we cooked the birds, Toby devouring the larger portion.

We would gladly have eaten some fruit, however sour it might have been,
but none was to be found.  We had just finished masticating the tough
parrot, when we caught sight of two natives scampering along as if they
were mad, so it seemed to us, for they had their eyes fixed in the air
and appeared regardless of all impediments in their way.  We shouted to
them, but not hearing us, on they went, now leaping over the fallen
trunk of a tree, now rushing through a bush, now tumbling into a hole,
still keeping their eyes fixed on the object which engaged their
attention.  We asked Toby what they were about.

"Dey huntee bee.  Soon catchee!" he answered.  The reply was
intelligible enough, but why they should hunt a bee puzzled us.  They
however stopped, while yet in sight, under a large tree, the stem of
which they began to climb.  Hoping, as was really the case, that they
were going to rob the hive of its honey, we followed them.  As we
approached we could see their dusky forms among the lower branches, with
vast numbers of bees flying about them, whose presence they seemed
almost to disregard.

The two natives were so busily employed that they did not at first
perceive us; but when they came down, they regarded us with much
astonishment, and we were afraid that they would turn tail and run off,
without giving us the honey which it was our object to obtain.  We
therefore made all the friendly signs we could think of, and I having
fortunately a gaily printed cotton handkerchief in my pocket, presented
it to them, signifying at the same time that we wished some of the honey
in return.

Our quiet manner quickly disarmed their suspicions, and returning with
us, they poured out as much honey as our two tin pots could contain.

I may as well describe the mode of finding the honey the bee-hunters
adopt.  On perceiving a bee sucking the juice from flowers, he hurries
to the nearest pool and selects a spot where the banks shelve gradually.
He then lying on his face fills his mouth with water, and patiently
awaits the arrival of the bee: as the insect requires moisture, he knows
that ere long it will come and drink.  The moment it approaches him he
blows the water from his mouth over it, thus slightly stunning it.
Before it has recovered, he seizes it and by means of some gum fastens
to its legs a tuft of white down, which he has obtained from the
neighbouring trees.  The insect flies in a straight line towards its
nest, while the white down serving to impede the progress, enables the
hunter to keep it in view, till it reaches its home.

We ate the honey with a small supply of biscuit, and found it far more
satisfactory food than the tough parrots had proved.

Having taken a last drink and filled up our waterbottles, we parted on
friendly terms with the natives; when, saddling our horses, we continued
our journey.

"There is little chance of our reaching another river with more water in
it than the last, to camp by," observed my brother; "I see none marked
down on the maps for leagues ahead."

We passed through the same sort of scenery as before, with the same
dreary views on either side, so that we might have fancied that we had
already crossed the country a dozen times.

We at length came to the bed of a stream, no longer however containing
water, though I doubt not that we should have obtained it by digging
beneath the surface.

The appearance of the bee-hunters had warned us that there were natives
about, and we had been cautioned against trusting them.  We heard that
they had at different times murdered a number of unfortunate hut-keepers
and shepherds up the country, so that we were inclined to form very
unfavourable opinions of the aborigines.  Toby, to be sure, was faithful
enough, but then he was semi-civilised.  We now asked him if he thought
that there were many natives in the neighbourhood to whom the
bee-hunters belonged.

He shook his head--"May be!" he said; "bad mans, keep out of him way."

This advice we were ready enough to adopt, and we had no fear, should we
meet them on the open ground, of keeping them at bay; but we wished
especially to avoid being caught asleep, either at night or resting
during the noon-day heat.

We had, at this time, literally no experience about Australia.  We had
read a few books, to be sure, but Mr Strong had not described the
country, and only advised our father to send us out without incumbrances
of any description--a small stock of serviceable clothes, a few books
and a box of pills apiece.  We followed out his injunctions almost to
the letter, adding only some well-made tools, a fowling-piece each, and
a supply of ammunition, to which we added on our arrival a few
necessaries for travelling in the bush.

Thus we found that one animal could carry all our worldly possessions, a
few odd articles for immediate use being packed in our saddle-bags.  We
were now, as the day was wearing on, looking out for a convenient place
to camp.  We tried to make Toby understand that we wished for one in
which we could not easily be surprised by natives, or if surprised,
where we could defend ourselves with some hope of success.

The nature of the ground had changed since the morning, and we now
entered a rocky and wild-looking district.

Here we should have no difficulty, we thought, in selecting a spot for
our camp.  We were looking about, when we spied in the distance what
appeared to be the figure of a man standing against a tree.  My brother
instantly rode forward and I following him saw a person who, to all
appearance, though in bush costume, was a gentleman, bound with his
hands behind his back, and secured firmly to a tree.  He was deadly pale
and seemed so much exhausted that he did not even speak to us as we
approached.

To leap from our horses and release him without asking questions, was
the work of a minute.  Having put him on his feet and waited until he
had somewhat recovered, we inquired how he had been placed in the
position in which we had found him.

"Some rascally bushrangers surprised, and `stuck me up,'" he answered.
"I had just dismounted, when three of them, who had been lying in
ambush, suddenly sprang on me, and before I could draw my revolver,
knocked me down.

"I fully believed that they intended to murder me, but they contented
themselves with carrying off my horse and arms and ammunition and
everything I had about me; having lashed me to this tree, and then
galloped away, leaving me to the chance of dying of thirst and
starvation, or being gnawed to death by the dingoes.  Had you not come
up, such might have been my fate; and, believe me, I am deeply grateful
to you for rescuing me from it."

We had been aware of the possibility that we might meet with natives,
but had not thought of the likelihood of encountering bushrangers,
indeed we fancied that the country was no longer infested by such
characters.

We, of course, having assured the stranger that we were very glad to
have been of use to him, invited him to accompany us until he could
obtain another horse, and offered to let him ride one of ours by turns.

"I should like however to try and catch the fellows who robbed you;"
exclaimed Guy.  "Is there any chance of overtaking them?  Surely they
will encamp not far from this, and if we follow their tracks we might
come upon them as suddenly as they surprised you."

"Very little chance of that," observed the stranger.  "They are
desperate fellows, and, knowing that every man's hand is against them,
keep a strict watch.  They are aware that it is possible that I might be
released, and will probably ere this have got a good many miles away, I
am, however, grateful to you for your offer, though I am sorry to delay
you.  I confess that, without a gun or flint and steel, I should be very
sorry to perform the rest of the journey on foot by myself.  I am going
to the north-west, and I judge, from the direction you were riding, that
our roads lie the same way."

Guy told him that we were bound for Mr Strong's station, which we
understood was nearly a hundred miles off; and at the rate we could
travel with our baggage-horse, we did not expect to reach it for three
or four days.

Observing how ill the stranger looked I suggested that we should at once
look out a good spot for camping.

"I can help you, as I know the country," said the stranger.  "A short
distance further on there is a water-hole in what during the rainy
season is sometimes a torrent; we can there obtain all the requisites
for a camp."

I now insisted that he should mount my horse, and we set out.

Pushing forward, we soon reached the spot he spoke of.  Our new
companion, after examining the ground, told us that the bushrangers had
been there, and after watering their horses had ridden on, as he
supposed they would, and that we need have no apprehensions of an attack
from them.

We soon hobbled the horses in the usual fashion, fastening their legs
together with leathern straps in such a way as to make it impossible for
them to move beyond a slow walk, so that if they were inclined to stray
they could not go far.

Toby quickly lighted a fire, while the stranger by our advice rested
near it.  Guy and I taking our guns went out in different directions in
search of game, which is usually to be found near a water-hole in
Australia.  We soon came back, Guy with a brace of pigeons and I with
three parrots, so that we had ample food for all hands.  As we had
damper and tea, we enjoyed a satisfactory meal which greatly revived our
new friend.  While we were seated round the fire--Toby watching the
horses--the stranger inquired if we were related to Mr Strong.  This
led us to give him a brief sketch of our history.

"May I ask your name?" he said.  "Mine is Norman Bracewell."

"And ours is Thurston," said my brother.  "What!  Guy Thurston?"
exclaimed Bracewell, leaning forward and grasping Guy's hand; "I thought
from the first that I knew your features.  We were at school together.
`Little Guy' we used to call you, and you haven't forgotten me?"

"No indeed!" said Guy warmly, "you always stood my friend when the big
fellows tried to bully me, and I have a perfect recollection of your
countenance.  I have often wished to know what had become of you, but
could only hear that you had gone abroad."

"I thought of writing to let you know, in case you should ever come out
to Australia; but I fancied that that was so unlikely and the chances of
meeting you so small that I did not carry out my intention.  You must
stop at my hut.  The longer you stay the better.  We will have many a
talk about old times and I think I can put you up to all sorts of
information which will be useful to you in the country.  To tell you the
truth, I doubt if you will find your cousin, Mr Strong, as I heard that
he had gone northwards to occupy a new station, some hundreds of miles
off, and if so you will probably find no one to give you a welcome at
his house except some old hut-keeper."

On hearing this, Guy and I gladly agreed to stop a few days with
Bracewell until we could obtain some definite information as to the
movements of our cousin.

We told him of our meeting with the two bee-hunters.

"This proves that there are some natives in the neighbourhood.  They may
be honest, but they may also be ill-disposed, as are many of the blacks
in this region.  I advise that we keep a strict watch at night, and I
offer to stand guard part of the time," observed Bracewell.

We agreed to keep a watch, but after the trying time he had gone through
we thought that he ought to have a quiet night's rest so as to be the
better able to continue his journey the next morning.

Toby had put up a rough hut of boughs, which would afford two of us at a
time sufficient shelter from the night air.  Of rain there was no fear.
Toby erected a hut for himself with a few boughs stuck upright in the
ground, which formed all the protection he required.

I undertook to keep the first watch, and I promised my brother that I
would call him when I could no longer remain with my eyes open.  From
past experience we knew that it would not do to trust Toby, who would be
very certain to be down as soon as he found that our eyes were off him.
Guy and Bracewell were quickly asleep and I commenced walking to and
fro, keeping a look-out on every side and sometimes stopping to throw a
few sticks on the fire.  I could see the horses safely feeding hear at
hand, and so perfect was the silence which reigned around that I could
not fancy that there was any real necessity for keeping awake.  Still,
as I had undertaken to do so, I should not have felt justified in lying
down.  I should probably have let the fire out, and the smoke from that
was at all events useful to keep mosquitoes and sandflies somewhat at
bay.  Should the fire go out it was no more than possible that a pack of
dingoes might creep up, and while we were in darkness drive the horses
away, or carry off our saddle-bags, or tear our saddles and
sleeping-rugs to pieces.  I persevered therefore, stopping every now and
then to amuse myself by looking up at the star-lighted sky and trying to
make out the various constellations, conspicuous among which was the
brilliant cross of the southern hemisphere.  Except the occasional croak
of a frog, the cry of a night bird, or the chirp of a cricket, not a
sound had reached my ears; when suddenly, as I was watching the moon
rising above the rocks on one side of the camp, the most unearthly
shrieks and yells rent the air.  Guy, awakening, started to his feet.

"What's the matter?" he exclaimed.  "I dreamed that savages were upon
us, and expected the next moment to have a spear through me."

"I haven't seen any savages, but those sounds seem scarcely human, I
wonder Bracewell hasn't been awakened by them.  We must rouse up Toby
and learn what he thinks they are."

The fearful noise still continued.  We stood with our arms ready
expecting every moment to see a herd of savages rush in upon us, for
that the sounds were produced by natives we could have no doubt.  We
quickly made Toby spring to his feet.

"What's all that noise about?" asked Guy.

"He-he-he, ho-ho-ho! dat corroborree," answered Toby who did not appear,
as we expected would be the case, at all astonished at the uproar.

Bracewell at length awoke and confirmed what Toby had said, that the
savages were indulging in one of their native dances.

"I should like to go and see it," I exclaimed; "can we do so without
risk of being discovered?"

Taking Toby to guide us, while Bracewell remained in camp, we set out.
We were scarcely prepared for the strange and weird sight which we saw
as we looked over some low bushes we had just reached.  Before us was an
open glade, beyond which the moon was rising brightly.  In the centre of
the glade burned a fire.  Seated on the ground were a number of figures
rattling sticks together.  Suddenly there burst forth out of the
darkness a score of skeleton-like figures who threw themselves into
every possible attitude, now stretching out their legs, now springing up
and clapping their hands, and all the time shrieking, laughing and
singing, and following a big black fellow who acted as fugleman and
stood on one side with stick in hand to direct the proceedings.

Not for a moment did they cease, though every now and then we might have
fancied that they had disappeared had we not distinguished their black
backs turned towards us.  We watched until we grew weary of the sight,
but the dancers appeared in no way tired; and as we saw no chance of
their giving in, we retreated to our own camp, pretty well tired out and
assured that they would not molest us during the night.



CHAPTER TWO.

The night passed as Bracewell had predicted, without a visit from the
natives; and as he assured us that they were not at all likely to attack
four armed men in the day-time, we, being anxious to become better
acquainted with them, agreed before setting off to pay a visit to their
camp.  They were sure indeed to find ours out; so that it would be as
well to show that we had no fear of them, and to gain their friendship.
On examining the birds we had cooked the previous evening we found they
had been nearly devoured by the white ants, a large nest of which we
discovered a short distance from the camp.  We had therefore to look out
for some fresh provisions.  Bracewell was a much better shot than either
of us; and, taking my gun, in a few minutes he killed a small kangaroo
which he found as it was about to spring out of the bush where it had
spent the night, scarcely a hundred yards from the camp.  Having skinned
it in the most scientific fashion, the joints were put on to roast.  We
had now an abundance for our noon-day meal; for, as the animal was about
four feet long, including the tail which was nearly half its length, it
afforded us a good supply of meat.  We should have preferred starting at
day-break, but without food we none of us felt inclined to commence our
journey.  Toby indeed gave us to understand that he could not think of
leaving while so much good meat remained to be eaten.  Having given him
as much as we all three consumed, we packed up the remainder in our
saddle-bags and then--I insisting that Bracewell should mount my horse
while I walked--we set off for the native village which we caught sight
of a short distance to the north of our camp.  The inhabitants were
lying about in front of it, evidently enjoying the _otium cum
dignitate_.  The men mostly stretched on the ground surrounded by their
dogs, while the women were squatting outside their leafy bowers.  The
huts, if so they can be called, were placed in a semi-circle, and were
formed by thick boughs stuck in the ground joining at the top on which
other boughs were lightly thrown.  They were scarcely more than four
feet in height and might be described rather as screens than huts, as
their only object appeared to be to keep off the wind from the
inhabitants and the small fires which burnt before them.  On the outside
were stuck their spears ready for instant use.  Except some pieces of
opossum skin round their loins, the men wore no garments, though several
of them had fillets bound round their brows.  Two or three were smoking
short clay pipes obtained from shepherds or hut-keepers with whom they
had come in contact.  Several of the men started up, and seizing their
spears advanced as they saw us approach, but the greater number lay
gorged with food on the ground, not apparently noticing us.  Bracewell,
who could speak Toby's lingo, told him to say to the black fellows, that
we wished to be their friends; that their corroborree had afforded us a
good deal of amusement; and that if we could kill a kangaroo we would
give it to them to make another feast the next night.

As soon as Toby had translated what had been said, the blacks began
chattering away in the most extraordinary fashion.

As they ceased Toby informed us that they were highly pleased with our
offer.  They wished to remain friends with the white men, and if we
chose to stop with them we should be welcome.  Of course, we had no
inclination to do this, but we asked if two or three of them would
accompany us to carry home any game we might kill.  They however
declined the invitation, saying that they were well filled already, of
which fact their distended condition was sufficient evidence.

"Well then, as we cannot turn back, you will have to go without a
kangaroo, even though we may shoot one," said Bracewell, and telling
Toby to wish them a friendly farewell we rode on.

As I was very active and had been accustomed to running at school, I
easily kept up with the horses.  At length however, as the sun grew
hotter, I should have been glad enough to remount.  Bracewell, observing
that I was becoming fatigued, insisted on getting off his horse, but of
this I would not hear.  He however dismounted, when Guy made him get on
again and put me on his own horse.  Before long, however, my brother was
nearly knocked up, and seeing this I proposed that he should remount,
and that I should ride Toby's horse.  Toby made a wry face, for,
although better able to run than any of us, he considered that it was
more dignified to ride.

As we rode along we kept a look-out for kangaroos, as we should have
been glad to kill one for ourselves, although our black friends were not
likely to benefit by it.

We had gone some way when we caught sight of a dark object appearing
just above a thick mass of leaves some two hundred yards away.  Standing
up in my stirrups I saw that it was the head of a kangaroo who was
engaged in pulling off the foliage.  I called to Bracewell and my
brother, hoping that if we could get nearer before the creature moved
away, we might shoot it.

Throwing the halter of the baggage-horse, which I had been leading, to
Toby, I rode towards the spot, unslinging my rifle and as I did so
ramming down a ball.  The creature was more wide-awake than I had
supposed.  I had just got near enough to fire, when it broke from its
cover in fine style and, after taking a few jumps to see in what
direction to go, it started forward over the open ground without
apparent effort.

"That's a large _boomer_, an old one!" shouted Bracewell, "he'll give us
a long run.  If we had dogs we should soon however catch him."

In the excitement of the chase, forgetting that we ran great risk of
knocking up our horses, away we started.  Although the animal had only
two legs to run on and had an enormous tail to carry, which does not, I
really believe, help it, though it serves to balance itself in its
upright position, so far did it get ahead of us that it was useless
firing.  I had scarcely noticed the direction it was taking, but on
looking round I found that it was leading us back to the spot from which
we had come.  How far it had got I cannot say, when four or five black
fellows started up with spears in their hands uttering loud shouts and
shrieks.  The _boomer_ saw that it had no chance of escape in that
direction, being perhaps better acquainted with its black enemies than
with the strange creatures on four legs which had been pursuing it.  It
therefore stopped and gave us time to approach before it bounded round
and made off to the right.  I had thrown myself from my horse, for I had
no notion at that time of firing from my saddle.  I took a steady aim
and pulled the trigger.  My bullet must have hit it on the hinder leg,
for it slackened its pace.  In the meantime Bracewell and Guy dashed
forward.  The creature, instead of continuing its flight, again stopped,
and facing the horsemen as they approached struck out with one of its
hinder claws, and had not Bracewell suddenly turned his steed, so
furiously did it strike that he would have been severely wounded.
Turning round however he dealt it so heavy a blow on the head with his
riding-whip that it staggered, and Guy firing brought it to the ground.
The natives, whom we recognised as our friends of the morning, now came
up and claimed the prize.  Bracewell gave them to understand that we
must first cut out as many steaks as we required.  When this was done we
handed the body over to them.  They appeared highly delighted and
especially struck by the moderate quantity we claimed.  We had now to
turn back to where we had left Toby in charge of the baggage animal.  I
had some secret apprehensions that, if not honest, he might bolt with
our traps and be received with open arms as a wealthy man among some of
his countrymen.  I was not aware at the time that he belonged to a tribe
regarded as hereditary enemies by the people inhabiting the country we
were travelling through, and that he was as likely to lose his life at
their hands as any white man would be.  We looked about in all
directions and at length, to our no small satisfaction, espied him still
standing by the horses and wondering what had become of us.  We had lost
considerable time by our hunting, though we had obtained a good dinner,
and of course had been delayed also by one of the party having to
proceed on foot.

While we were seated round our camp-fire Bracewell said--

"I scarcely like to make the proposal I am about to do, and yet perhaps
you will not object.  If you will consent to remain in camp here and
allow me to take one of your horses, I will ride forward and bring a
couple of fresh ones from my station.  Should you not do this I must
insist on walking, though I shall of necessity delay you.  I confess
also, that I am anxious to give notice that the bushrangers are abroad,
or they may be visiting my hut or some of my neighbours, and carry off
arms and ammunition, which is chiefly what they come after, for they
don't find much else than food in the shepherds' huts."

"Pray do as you think best," said Guy, "I am sure Maurice will agree
with me that we should not at all mind remaining stationary for a few
hours, nor will our other horses, which require rest."

I thought the plan a good one, and before the day had actually broken,
Bracewell mounted my horse and away he rode at a rate which assured us
that we should not be long alone.  As Toby had plenty of food, he did
not grumble at the delay, but sat himself down contentedly at the fire
which he promised to keep alight, while we took our guns and went to
shoot some birds or a kangaroo if we could see one.

The great drawback to a traveller in a hot country is the impossibility
of preserving fresh meat, which exposed to the sun quickly becomes
uneatable.  What we killed one day was therefore unfit for food the
next, and we had each morning to shoot some more game, or content
ourselves with damper and tea.

We had already become pretty skilful in baking damper, which consists
simply of flour and water, kneaded on a board, and baked in the form of
a large biscuit under the ashes.

We saw several kangaroos, but they bounded away before we could get near
enough to shoot them, and had to content ourselves as before with a
couple of parrots and as many pigeons, which was an ample supply, for
although the over-high kangaroo meat did not suit our palates, Toby had
no objection to it.

We had been shooting for some time, and were making our way back to
camp, when we caught sight in the distance of three horsemen, their
heads and those of their steeds, occasionally appearing above the
brushwood.  They appeared to be coming towards us.

At first we thought that they must be Bracewell and two companions; but
as we could make out no led horses, and they were not approaching from
the direction he would appear, we concluded that they must be strangers.

"What if they should be bushrangers?" said Guy.  "If they catch Toby
alone they are certain to carry off our baggage and horses, and will
probably shoot him to prevent him giving information."

"The sooner we get back to camp the better," I answered.

We hurried on, keeping ourselves concealed as much as possible.  "It
would be prudent to load our guns with ball," said Guy; "the fellows
won't know that we suspect them, and may think that they can stick us up
with perfect ease."

Fortunately our horses were close to the camp, and as soon as we reached
it we sent Toby to bring them in, not telling him that we suspected the
character of the strangers.  As they approached we anxiously examined
their appearance, which was certainly not in their favour.  They were
savage-looking fellows with long beards, their unkempt hair hanging over
their shoulders.  They pulled up suddenly when they saw us standing with
our backs to a couple of large trees, our baggage and saddles piled on
the ground, and Toby holding our horses.

"What is your pleasure, friends?" asked Guy.  The fellows examined us
without answering.

"You look as if you'd know us again should we come across you," said
Guy.  "Just take my advice.  Ride on and leave us to cook our dinner."

"Who are you, young chaps, and where are you going?" inquired one of the
horsemen, who from his appearance we concluded was the leader of the
party.

"We are going our own way and are not inclined to give that information
to those who have no authority to ask it," replied Guy in a firm voice.

"Did you fall in with a young fellow who had been stuck up by
bushrangers?" inquired the man.

The question convinced us that we were not mistaken as to the character
of our visitors.

"I have just told you that we are not going to answer any questions from
those who have no right to put them," said Guy.

"Oh, oh, oh!" cried the man, making a movement as if he was about to
unsling his gun.

"If you do that, I'll fire," shouted Guy.  "Our rifles are loaded with
ball; now ride on, we do not wish to take your lives, but we have no
intention of being stuck up."

During this conversation I was looking at the other two fellows, who had
not spoken but seemed to be waiting until their chief gave a sign to
them to act.  As my eye ranged over the countenance of one of them, it
struck me forcibly that I had seen the man before, but when or where, I
could not recollect.  He was evidently very young, for while the faces
of the others were covered with hair, he had but a small moustache on
his lips, but exposure to the hot sun had so tanned his complexion, that
had he been an intimate friend I might have failed to recognise him.  He
looked at me and then at my brother, whose attention was occupied by the
older bushranger and did not notice him as I was doing.

"Oh, oh, oh!" exclaimed the man, after the warning Guy had given him;
and, without saying another word, he and his companions turned their
horses' heads and rode away in the direction from whence they had come.
Probably they had been attracted by the smoke of our fire, and expected
to find some travellers unprepared for them; so we should have been had
we not fallen in with Bracewell, and should certainly have lost our
baggage and horses, and perhaps our lives.

"We have had a narrow escape, for there is no doubt about those fellows
being bushrangers," I observed to Guy.

"Not the slightest," replied my brother.  "I felt that there was only
one way to deal with them.  Had we shown the slightest hesitation or
nervousness, they would have attempted to frighten us into submission."

"Did you notice the countenance of one of the others?"  I asked.  "I
could not help fancying that I knew it well.  If it were not so very
improbable, I should say that it was that of a fellow I remember at
school when I first went there.  I wish that you had observed him, for
as you must have known him better than I did, you would have been more
sure about the matter."

"What, do you mean the youngest of the three?" asked Guy.  "The fact is
I did note him.  It struck me that he was wonderfully like a fellow I
always stood clear of, though he especially tried to make friends with
me.  If you remember the name of the person you think he was, tell me,
and I shall better be able to judge whether I am right."

"I am nearly certain then that it was Cyril Vinson."

"You are right," answered Guy.  "He was a clever fellow without a
particle of principle; and I remember hearing it reported some time
after he left school, that he had committed forgery, and that, although
he was not convicted, his friends had sent him out of the country."

We talked over the matter, and agreed that it was very strange we should
so soon after our arrival in the country have fallen in, under such
extraordinary circumstances, with two old school-fellows.

The day passed by without another visit, either from the bushrangers or
the blacks.  As may be supposed, we kept a remarkably bright look-out
during the night.  Either Guy or I remained awake, walking up and down
in the neighbourhood of our camp-fire.  Directly the bells on the necks
of our horses sounded faint, we sent out Toby to drive them in, that we
might run as little risk as possible of their being carried off.

Bracewell had told us that sometimes natives stole up and speared the
horses at night, or tried to drive them away from the camp, though they
might not venture to attack their owners.  We had chiefly therefore to
fear a trick of this sort being played us, but it was almost impossible
to guard against the horses being surprised during the darkness, should
they be at any distance from the camp.

As those we had fallen in with appeared to be friendly, we hoped that we
should escape so unpleasant a loss.

As the next day passed on we looked at our watches, anxiously expecting
Bracewell.  With the chance of another visit from the bushrangers, we
did not like to go far from the camp; but we shot as many birds as we
wanted, though Toby would have been happier had we brought him a
kangaroo, that he might gorge himself to his heart's content.

As I had been awake so much during the night, I felt very sleepy, and
had thrown myself on the ground to get some rest, when I heard Guy say--

"Here come a couple of horsemen, but whether they are Bracewell and a
companion, or the bushrangers returning, I cannot say.  At all events we
must be prepared for them."

I sprang to my feet, and Toby was sent to bring in the horses.  Our
apprehensions of another visit from the bushrangers were soon set at
rest when we recognised Bracewell, who was followed by another man
leading a spare horse.

"I am sorry to have kept you so long," he exclaimed, as he threw himself
from his steed.  "Our horses had strayed, frightened by the blacks, who
have killed one of them.  If we come across the fellows they must look
out for broken heads in consequence.  However, Bob and I succeeded in
catching three, and then lost no time in coming to you."

When we told him of the visit we had received from the bushrangers, he
exclaimed:--

"We must run those fellows down.  It is too bad that we should be unable
to ride in security through the country without the risk of being
robbed, perhaps murdered, by such villains."

We immediately saddled our horses, packed our traps on our baggage
animal, and prepared to go forward under Bracewell's guidance.  Old Bob,
his hut-keeper and factotum, dropped behind to drive on the
baggage-horse at a greater speed than Toby was inclined to move.  I
heard him talking to the black in a lingo which was utterly
incomprehensible to me.

Bracewell was much astonished when Guy told him that we had recognised
Cyril Vinson among the bushrangers.  We were once more, on account of
the slow pace of our baggage-horse, compelled to camp, but as Bracewell
wished to get back to his hut that night, he rode forward, leaving old
Bob to guide us in the morning.  Old Bob undertook to keep watch, and as
he did not look like a man who would go to sleep while so engaged, we
were able to rest securely.

It was nearly evening the next day when we caught sight of the huts
forming our friend's station.  He came forward to meet us.

"I expected you somewhat sooner," he said.  "As Bob was away, I was
engaged in performing one of his duties--feeding the inhabitants of my
farm-yard.  I have a curious lot, which I have caught and tamed at
different times.  Here they are, come and have a look at them."

And he led the way to an enclosure with a hut on one side of it.  As he
stooped down, ducks and fowls rushed forward to obtain the food he held
in his hand, the pigs came grunting up, and several long-legged birds--
storks I believe they were--stood by waiting for their share, numerous
parrots and parroquets were perched on the railings, as tame as the
barn-door fowls, while a laughing-jackass looked on complacently from an
overhanging bough, every now and then uttering its strange notes.

Bracewell directed Bob to finish feeding the birds, and ushered us into
the hut.  It was about thirty feet long and twelve wide, roughly built
with a verandah in front, and contained a centre room and one on either
side.  The interior was far neater than I had expected from the
appearance of the outside, and was furnished with tables and chairs, and
several cupboards and some book-shelves; the walls were ornamented with
a few pictures and native weapons, while two spare guns and some pistols
were against them.  A couple of large Scotch deer hounds of a
badger-like colour accompanied their master.  They were intelligent,
powerful-looking animals, and were used, he told us, for hunting the
kangaroo.  Before a fire in a smaller hut on one side of the main
building, two joints of mutton were roasting.

"I can give you but bush fare," said our host, "mutton, damper, and tea;
for of wine and spirits I have none, with the exception of a bottle of
brandy, which I keep safely locked up for reasons which I will explain
to you."

Besides the large hut I have described there were two smaller ones and a
shed, which served as a stable and cowhouse.  Near them was an enclosed
field and small kitchen-garden, such as is not often seen at an
Australian cattle or sheep station.  To the west was a thick wood, which
afforded shelter from the winds blowing at times hot and sand-laden from
the interior; while in front was a slight dip, at the bottom of which
was the bed of a river, but through it a trickling stream alone at
present found its way to the eastward.  Here and there appeared groves
of acacias, while as far as the eye could reach in every other direction
were grassy downs, scattered over which we caught sight of a
considerable herd of sheep wending their way homewards.  Altogether,
Bracewell's station presented a more civilised aspect than any we had
fallen in with on our journey.



CHAPTER THREE.

We spent a pleasant evening with Bracewell, talking over old times and
our future prospects.  He gave us a great deal of good advice, by which
we hoped to profit.

"I am very glad you have come out, old fellows, for I am sure you will
succeed if you stick to work," he observed.  "I have not done badly.  I
began with eight head of cattle, and now I have three hundred; and with
forty sheep, which have become upwards of two thousand.  I should have
had a larger number had I known more of the business when I commenced,
but I have lost many by disease and dingoes, and the natives.  You must
make up your mind to take the rough and smooth together, and not despair
though you happen to get what they call a run of ill-luck--which in nine
cases out of ten arises from a man's carelessness.  I confess that I
have sometimes felt my solitude; but yet, with my friends on the shelves
up there, and these faithful animals at my feet, I have had no great
reason to complain.  I also remember that I should have been much worse
off in many respects had I remained at home."

"But what about the blacks and the bushrangers?" asked Guy.

"The blacks have been troublesome at times, but I have hitherto been
able to keep them at bay," answered Bracewell; "and with regard to the
bushrangers, none have ever paid me a visit.  The fellows who stuck me
up the other day were the first I had the misfortune to fall in with.  I
wonder if Vinson recognised me; but I think not, or if he did he kept
out of sight.  I am grieved to think it was him, as he will certainly,
before long, come to an untimely end; for no bushranger ultimately
escapes, and most of them run but a very short career: they either get
shot or die of starvation and sickness in the bush."

When we talked of continuing our journey the next day, Bracewell would
not hear of it.

"Your relative does not expect you," he observed, "and you will pick up
more useful knowledge on my station than you will on a more extensive
run; besides which I want you to have some hunting with me, to show you
this part of the country."

Nothing loth, we agreed to Bracewell's proposal.  It was not until a
late hour, for the bush, that we turned into our bunks in one of the
side-rooms, which he told us he kept as his guest-chamber.  Bracewell
slept in a hammock in the sitting-room, while old Bob occupied the other
room.

The first day we spent riding over the run, visiting the cattle and
inspecting the sheep.  In the evening Bracewell proposed that we should
go into the neighbouring wood in search of opossum, whose skins he
wished to obtain to make some rugs, which he said he wanted to sleep on
when camping out or to serve as coverlets in cold weather.  His shepherd
possessed a couple of small dogs, famous opossum hunters.  The sheep
having been penned, their master was requested to accompany us.

The Australian opossum is a long-bodied short-legged little animal, with
a furry tail by which he can suspend himself on the branches of trees,
while it assists him to make rapid progress among them.  He is fond of
hiding himself in the holes of decayed trees, out of which it is no easy
matter to smoke him.  Being a nocturnal animal he is more generally
captured during the day-time, for the bright light of the sun puzzles
him and he knows not in what direction to make his escape.

We soon arrived at a large hole in a gum-tree round which the dogs began
barking, leaving us no doubt that several opossums were ensconced
within.  Our first care was to collect a quantity of sticks and green
leaves; when, a fire being kindled inside the hole, the smoke began to
ascend, filling the whole of the cavity, which extended to where the
boughs branched off.  The moon having risen, we could see almost as well
as in daylight.  Before long, three or four little creatures emerged
from the hole and began to make their way upwards.  One, however, almost
suffocated by the smoke, fell to the ground; when the dogs, instantly
pouncing upon it, would have torn it to pieces had not their master
pulled them off.  Guy shot another, and two more were brought to the
ground by the sticks which the rest of us hove at them before they had
recovered their senses, after having been so unexpectedly smoked out of
their nests.

We were equally successful with two other trees, round which the dogs
gave tongue, and after an hour's hunting we returned carrying our
prizes, which took Bracewell and his shepherd some time to clean.

"Of course opossum hunting is but tame work, I'll allow," exclaimed
Bracewell while washing his hands after having cleaned the last of the
beasts; "but as you are both good horsemen and have steady nerves we
will to-morrow go in chase of some wild cattle which have appeared in
the bush not far off.  I should not object to kill a couple of them, as
we are in want of fresh meat and I cannot afford to slaughter my sheep.
Perhaps on the way we may fall in with a kangaroo, which is sure to give
us good sport."

Next morning found us all three galloping along through the open forest.
We trusted entirely to Bracewell's guidance, for before we had gone a
mile, I confess I should have had a difficulty in finding my way back
again.

"We are in luck," cried Bracewell, as in less than half an hour we
caught sight of four head of the wild cattle we were in search of.  As
we approached they began pawing on the ground, sticking out their tails
and looking anything but amiable.

"They will charge if we don't take care," observed Bracewell.  "Shout
and crack your whips, that will make them show us their flanks."

We had, I should have said, our guns in readiness, and a brace of
pistols in our belts, so that we were well armed for the encounter with
a wild bull, who, looking upon human beings and every other animal as
enemies, was a dangerous character to engage.

Bracewell had before instructed us how to act under such ordinary
circumstances as were likely to occur.  The cracking of our whips, and
our loud shouts, at length frightened the three bulls, and instead of
running at us they turned tail and off they went.

"Tally-ho!" shouted Bracewell, and we made chase.

Our object was now to overtake them.  Bracewell having got up to a
powerful red bull, for a few seconds he and the animal kept time
together; then gaining a little and keeping it on his right side he
fired, and the superb beast, with a low bellow, crashed headlong to the
ground.  Pulling up for a moment he galloped after me, as I dashed on
close to another bull I had singled out; but in consequence of a fallen
tree which would have compelled me to slacken speed, I had ranged up on
the wrong side, so that I could not fire with due effect.  Fearing
however that the bull would escape, I took the best aim I could, fired,
and wounded it.  The bull, maddened with rage, charged wildly at my
horse.

"Spur for your life," shouted Bracewell.  I did so, for I expected every
moment to see the bull rip open my steed with his powerful horns, and I
knew that if it was gored I might be trampled to death.

The bull came thundering behind me and actually touched my horse, which
nearly sent me over its head as it kicked out viciously to defend
itself.  Happily Bracewell was close behind, and coming up presented the
muzzle of his pistol at the bull's head.  The next moment I was safe.
In the meantime Guy had been pursuing a third bull.  I had heard him
fire twice.  I now saw the animal rushing on, with head down, about to
run at him.  Fortunately a tree was near at hand, round which he managed
to guide his horse, when the bull for a moment losing sight of him he
was able to take a steady aim: he fired and the monster rolled over.

"Nervous work!" exclaimed Bracewell.  "You fellows have behaved
capitally, though I really forgot the danger to which you might be
exposed, but I am very thankful that no harm has been done.  We'll now
ride back as hard as we can go, and get the cart to bring in the meat
before the dingoes or black fellows or the ants have taken possession of
it."

We agreed that hunting wild cattle was more exciting sport than
galloping after kangaroos, although we fancied that the latter was the
finest amusement to be found in Australia.  Not a moment was lost on our
arrival at home in getting the cart under way, and Guy and I undertook
to accompany it, but Bracewell could not again leave the station during
the time that old Bob who drove it, and Toby who went to assist him,
were away.  As we approached the scene of action, we caught sight of a
number of what at a distance I should have fancied were ordinary dogs--
with sharp muzzles, short, erect ears, and bushy tails--hovering round
the spot.

"They're dingoes!" cried Guy.  "The rascals have already commenced
operations on one of the bulls.  We must drive them off or old Bob won't
have much meat to carry home."

We dashed at the brutes with our riding-whips, which we brought into
active play.  Some well-aimed lashes on their backs made the dingoes
turn tail and retreat to a safe distance, where they stood watching the
operation of cutting up one of the animals.

While we were assisting Bob and Toby to load the cart with the flesh of
the first bullock, the dingoes made a sudden dash at the carcase of the
animal on which they had before commenced.

This was more than we could stand.

"If I was you, sir, I'd give them a lesson they'll not forget," cried
Bob; and throwing ourselves on our horses, we rode at the savage pack,
using the butts of our whips with such good effect that we knocked over
upwards of half a dozen before the rest of the pack took to flight.  To
prevent their returning, we pursued them as they went off in the
direction of the station, when, firing our pistols, we brought down two
or three more; but we were soon thrown behind by having to pull up and
reload, and the pack, keeping wonderfully well together, again managed
to distance us.  Still, excited by the chase, we kept on, the dead
dingoes marking the course we had taken.  Our horses, having been
somewhat tired by the chase after the wild cattle and the rides to and
from the station, did not make as good play as they might otherwise have
done.  Neither Guy nor I thought of pulling up, however, while we had
the chance of killing more of the brutes.  At last my horse, stumbling,
threw me over his head, and I lost the rein; when finding himself at
liberty, away he galloped, showing no inclination to be caught.  I
shouted to my brother, who had got some distance on; he heard me, and
seeing what had occurred went in chase of my steed, which by
occasionally doubling and then galloping off again, well-nigh tired out
his horse.  I ran here and there hoping to catch the animal, but it took
good care to avoid me.  At length however Guy got hold of it, by which
time, of course, the pack had escaped.  We now had to consider what road
we should take, but when we looked round we found it was a question
difficult to decide.

"If we could but come across one of the dead dingoes, we could easily
make our way back to where we left old Bob," observed Guy.

We felt sure that the last dingo we had killed could not be far off.

"This is the spot where my horse threw me, and I had just before knocked
over a dingo," I said, "I know it by that peculiar-looking gum-tree."

We rode on, expecting to come upon the dead dingo, but though we
searched about we could nowhere discover it.  On and on we went, still
no dingoes could we see, nor could we distinguish the track made by our
horses' feet.  The sky had become overcast, but though we could not see
the sun, we knew that it must be near setting.  In a short time the
increasing darkness made us feel somewhat uncomfortable about the chance
of being benighted.

We cooeyed as loudly as we could in the hope that Bob and Toby would
hear our voices, but no answer reached us.  Had we been riding horses
belonging to the station, we might have let them select their course and
they would probably have taken us in; but we had mounted our own beasts,
which could not be depended on.  Still, as long as there was light
sufficient to enable us to avoid knocking our heads against the boughs
of trees, we rode on, hoping that we might at length reach the station.
At last, however, we agreed that we must make up our minds to spend the
night in the bush, hungry and thirsty as we felt.  Next morning we
thought we should, at all events, easily find our way.  We accordingly
dismounted, hobbled our horses, collected materials for a fire, and
choosing a spot free from grass we soon kindled a flame, though it
rather mocked us as we had nothing to cook at it.  We settled that one
should keep watch and look after the horses.  The poor animals were
suffering from thirst as much as we were, and were continually moving
away to look for water, for without it they showed little inclination to
crop the grass.  Had we thought it prudent for both of us to sleep, the
night would have appeared to pass by much more quickly than it did.  I
was very thankful when at length day broke, and we were saluted by the
merry call of the laughing-jackass.  We did not shoot him, but we killed
a couple of parrots, which we quickly roasted to satisfy the gnawings of
hunger, and then mounting our horses made, as we thought, in the
direction of the station.  We felt especially vexed with ourselves for
losing our way, and causing Bracewell the anxiety he would naturally
feel on our account, though he would guess pretty clearly what had
happened from the report old Bob would give him on his return.

We had gone some distance, when we caught sight of a fire and a column
of smoke rising, in the morning air.

"Perhaps that is the camp of some people Bracewell has sent out to look
for us," said I.

"It may be that of bushrangers," observed Guy.  "It will be prudent, at
all events, to approach it cautiously."

Riding on, we caught sight of a black figure with his back towards us,
seated before a small fire at which he was apparently engaged in cooking
something.  His attention absorbed in his occupation, he did not observe
us.  The delicate morsel he was preparing for his meal was, we
afterwards discovered, a large snake.  When his ear at length caught the
sound of horses' feet, he started up, and seizing the half-roasted
snake, scampered off.  Had we not made signs to him that we wished to be
friends, he would soon have been out of sight.  Seeing, however, that we
did not unsling our rifles, he gained courage and returned to the fire.

We beckoned to him to continue roasting his snake, and then endeavoured
to make him understand that we wanted a guide to conduct us to the
station.  He seemed determined not to understand our wishes.  However,
we waited patiently, hoping that when he had eaten his snake he might be
more inclined to act as our guide.  Finding that we had no intention of
molesting him, he took things leisurely.  The snake being roasted, he
began to stow it away.

"I wonder he doesn't offer us some, though I'm not inclined to eat it,"
I observed.

"He is a perfect savage, and has no wish to part with his dainty fare,"
replied Guy.

We thought that the fellow would soon come to an end of the meal, and
that then he would pack up the rest of the snake and carry it with him.
To our surprise he did not stop until he had swallowed the whole of it,
and when we again made signs to him that we wanted him to guide us, he
stroked his stomach and signified that he should prefer sleeping by the
side of his fire.

Guy at length, losing patience, gave a flourish with his stock whip,
when an idea seemed suddenly to strike the black, and getting up he made
signs to us to follow him.  We naturally supposed that he intended to
lead us to the station, and rode after him without hesitation.  We had
not gone far, however, when a cooee reached our ears.  We replied, and
presently, looking round in the direction from whence the sound came, we
saw Bracewell galloping towards us, followed by Toby.

"I am thankful that I found you sooner than I expected," he said.
"Where do you think you were going?"

"To the station," answered Guy.

"You were riding, however, in an opposite direction," said our friend.

"The black we fell in with, undertook to guide us," I remarked.

"The rascal had no intention of taking you to my station.  He would
probably have led you into the midst of a gang of his own people who, I
have had notice, are encamped in the neighbourhood, and had they found
you unprepared they might have speared you for the sake of your horses
and clothes.  The fellow you fell in with was probably one of their
scouts who had been sent forward to ascertain what we were about.
Should they have found us off our guard, they might have robbed the huts
and carried off some of our cattle and sheep."

While Bracewell was speaking, I looked round and found that the black
fellow had disappeared.  This strongly corroborated the account our
friend had given us.

As we were suffering greatly from thirst, we were anxious to get back as
soon as possible.  We had, we found, gone at least ten miles out of our
way.  Bracewell had, however, with the aid of Toby, traced us.  Though
our horses were tired, their eagerness to obtain water made them exert
themselves, and they did not take long to cover the ground.  Most
thankful we were when we reached the stream close to the station, where
we and they could take a good draught of the refreshing fluid.

We then, by our friend's advice--while old Bob was preparing dinner--
turned into our bunks and managed to get a sound snooze, awaking much
refreshed.

Next morning we had completely recovered from the fatigues we had gone
through, and we now felt that we ought to continue our journey to Mr
Strong's.

"But I don't like you two fellows, with only Toby, to travel through the
bush, with a chance of falling in with hostile blacks or those rascally
bushrangers, who would only be too glad to stick you up and revenge
themselves for your setting me free," said Bracewell.  "I have given
notice to the police that the latter gentlemen are abroad, and before
long, clever as they may think themselves, they will be run to earth;
but the blacks are far more difficult customers to deal with--they are
here, there, and everywhere.  One only knows where they have been when
the cattle are found speared, or the hut-keeper murdered, or the sheep
driven off.  I should like to accompany you myself, but I cannot at
present leave my station.  However, if you will wait for a couple of
days longer I will ride part of the way with you, and in the meantime we
will try to ascertain the whereabouts of the mob of blacks, and I shall
be able to judge whether the road will be safe for you to travel."

The two days passed by pleasantly enough, during which we rode round the
station with Bracewell, to assist him in examining his sheep and to help
in the various duties of a squatter's life.

Meantime, Toby and another native were sent out to ascertain what had
become of the mob of blacks reported to be in the neighbourhood.  They
came back saying that, although they had come upon their tracks, the
natives had moved away westward, and that we were not likely to fall in
with them.  We again, accordingly, told our host that we must go.

"Well, if you must, you must; and according to my promise I intend to
ride part of the way with you," he answered.  "I wish however that you
could do without your baggage, and we would see how fast we could get
over the ground; but as you have to take that, we must be content with a
steady pace, and I'll make play on my way back so as to be at home again
by night."

As there was a moon in the sky, and Bracewell knew every inch of the
ground, we were in our saddles long before day-break, carrying with us
our breakfast and kettle in which the tea could easily be made at the
camp-fire.

We had performed some ten or twelve miles before sunrise, enjoying the
cool fresh air of early morning, and fresh it is even in Australia
before the burning sun gains his power over the world.

We camped near a water-hole, from which we obtained all the fluid we
required for our morning's meal.  We had again mounted and were going
round on the opposite side, when Bracewell exclaimed--"The blacks have
been here.  See, here are the remains of their fire still smouldering.
They cannot have left it very long.  We must keep a look-out for them
when passing any spot from which they may hurl their lances should they
be badly disposed; not that that is likely to be the case, and they
certainly will not venture to attack us in the open."

Toby, who had examined the ground, gave it as his opinion that they had
gone away to the northwards and that, being probably on a hunting
expedition, they would be too intent on attacking their game to annoy
us.  Toby was right, and in about half an hour, just as we reached the
top of a slight ridge or elevation which had before hidden them from
view, we caught sight of several dusky figures, each holding in his hand
a throwing-stick with a long spear attached to it.  One of them had
fixed to his left arm a shield of boughs which concealed his body as he
crept towards a group of kangaroos feeding in the grassy bottom.  As the
hunters did not perceive us and we had time, we stood still watching
them.

The throwing or throw-stick, is to serve the purpose of a sling for
casting the spear.  A heavy flat piece of wood, between two and three
feet long, has at one end a slight hollow into which the end of the
spear is fitted while at the other is a heavy weight, thus assisting the
hunter in the act of throwing the spear.  Except a small fillet of grass
the natives wore not a particle of clothing, though there were several
scarifications on their bodies; and what sailors call a spritsail-yard
run through their nostrils which added to the ferocity of their
appearance.

As we wanted to see how they would proceed, we kept as much as possible
behind the ridge, and as the wind came from the kangaroos to us, we were
not discovered by the animals.  All this time the hunters were creeping
forward, concealing themselves among the shrubs and trees until they got
near enough to the game to hurl their spears with effect.

One fellow crept forward, holding his shield of boughs, until it seemed
to us that he was almost close up to the kangaroos.  Then his spear flew
from his throwing-stick with so tremendous a force that the animal was
almost pinned to the ground.  Not a spear missed, and almost at the same
moment three kangaroos were killed.  Three others hopped away, but were
pursued by the nimble-footed hunters, who using their throwing-sticks as
clubs, despatched the animals with reiterated blows on the head.

Not until the hunt was over did we show ourselves, when we astonished
the savages standing over their slain game.  Fixing their spears in
their sticks they threatened to launch them against us should we attempt
to deprive them of their prizes.  On seeing this we directed Toby to say
that we had no intention of interfering with them.  Whether or not they
understood him, however, we could not tell, for they stood without
altering their position, and not wishing to have an encounter with them
which must have ended in bloodshed, we made a wide circuit beyond the
reach of their weapons.  When we looked back we saw them joined by a
large number of their fellows who were employed in dragging off the
bodies of the kangaroos.

"I am afraid you will be in some danger from them on your return," I
observed to Bracewell.

"No fear of that," he answered.  "They will be too busy in gorging
themselves with the flesh of the kangaroos; besides they will not be on
the look-out for me, and a well-mounted man, provided he doesn't come
unexpectedly on a mob, need have no fear of them.  My rifle can carry
farther than their throwing-sticks, a fact of which they are well
aware."

We soon lost sight of the blacks, and after riding on several miles
further, our friend told us that he must bid us farewell, promising,
however, to ride over to Mr Strong's station, should he find he could
leave home, to see how we were getting on.  "And remember," he added, "I
shall be glad if one or both of you can join me, should you not find
yourselves comfortable at your relative's; and if he has moved on, as he
intended doing, to another station, come back if you think fit at once;
though probably, if he expects you, he will have left word that you may
be forwarded on to him.  He has, I understand, a large family, but as we
have never met I cannot give you a description of them.  I need not warn
you to keep as good a watch at night as you have hitherto done, and to
avoid either blacks or suspicious looking white men, though I do not
mean to say that you are to look upon every traveller you meet with as a
bushranger."

We having again thanked Bracewell for his advice and the hospitality he
had shown us, he turned his horse's head towards his home, and we
proceeded on our journey.



CHAPTER FOUR.

We had already, according to our calculation, performed the distance to
Mr Strong's station, but no signs of it could we discover.  The heat
was oppressive, and seeing a wood on our left, we were assured from the
nature of the trees, that either a water-hole or a stream would be
found.  We agreed to camp there for a couple of hours to let our horses
feed and to take our dinner, hoping then by pushing on that we should
before evening at all events arrive at the station.  I had ridden
forward to look out for the water, when just as I caught sight of the
glitter of a pool, I saw two persons emerge from the shade.  They were
white lads with a couple of dogs and had guns in their hands.  So intent
were they on some object before them that they did not perceive me.  One
of them fired at an opossum which they had, I concluded, driven out of
its hole.  The animal fell to the ground, when they dashed forward to
save it from being torn to pieces by the dogs.  As they did so, one of
them looked up and saw me watching them.

"Hallo!  Where do you come from?" he exclaimed advancing.

"From England," I answered.  "We want to reach Mr Strong's station, and
shall be obliged if you will help us to find it."

"That's where we live, so we can take you to it," replied the lad.  "You
have, however, come somewhat out of your way, and must have passed it on
your right."

I thanked him.  "And who are you?"  I asked.

"We are Mr Strong's sons," he replied.  "We came here to look for some
stray cattle which are hid in this scrub, so we shall first have to
drive them out, but that won't take us long.  We left our horses hobbled
close at hand while we stopped, intending to take our dinner, as we have
been out since the morning."

"We were going to do the same," I observed.  "Here comes my brother Guy;
if you haven't eaten your dinner you'll join us, won't you?"

"Of course!" he said laughing.  "And I conclude that you are Guy and
Maurice Thurston, our cousins we have been expecting out from the old
country for some months past.  My name is Hector.  That is my brother
Oliver.  I suppose you have heard of us?"

I had to confess that I had not before heard their names, though I did
not like to say how little I knew about them.

Guy, Toby, and I, having dismounted and allowed our horses to drink at
the pool, hobbled them and let them go away to feed, while we sat down
in a shady spot to discuss our provisions.  Our cousins produced damper,
cold beef and cheese from their pockets; while Toby placed before us a
piece of a kangaroo which we had shot the previous day and some
biscuits, while we all contented ourselves with a draught of water from
the pool.

The meal was quickly despatched, when our cousins jumped up saying that
they must look out for the cattle, and that as soon as we saw the herd
rounded up and clear of the scrub, we might follow in the rear.  They
advised us to take care should any of them charge us, as they were apt
to be vicious, and Toby might have a difficulty in escaping.  "You need
not hurry yourselves," they added, "but when you hear the sound of our
stock whips, you had better mount and be ready to start."

Guy and I agreed that it was very fortunate we had fallen in with our
cousins, who seemed to be wonderfully hardy fellows, and we hoped might
prove good companions.

We waited a short time, when we heard, coming from some distance,
apparently, the sharp report of the whips, like the sound of crackers.
Now the sounds, mingled with a chorus of lowing and bellowing, reached
us from one side, now from the other, every moment approaching nearer,
so that we agreed that it would be wise to catch our horses and mount.
We were quickly in our saddles, when several bulls burst out of the
scrub a short distance from us.  We rode forward to get out of their way
as they looked very much inclined to charge us.  Presently others
appeared in different directions, and then our two young cousins,
cracking their long whips, followed, rounding up the cattle in the most
scientific manner, and turning several cows which with their calves were
evidently intent on bolting back into the scrub.

We soon got excited with the scene, and although our horses were
somewhat tired and we had no stock whips, we managed so effectually to
turn the cattle with our ordinary riding-whips, that our cousins
declared we assisted them very much.  The mob once collected went on
steadily until we got them into the paddock, an enclosure half a mile in
extent, into which, some bars being removed, most of them eagerly
rushed.  A few however tried to bolt, but were sent back by the stock
whips, and all were fortunately turned in; some to be used for beef,
others for branding, while the cows were wanted for milking.

"Where is the station?"  I asked.  "I can see only this immense
paddock."

"There!" answered Hector, pointing to where I caught sight of the roofs
of several low buildings.  "We shall soon be there."

We put our horses into a canter, and in a short time arrived before a
collection of buildings like Indian bungalows, the centre of which was
the dwelling house, which had slab walls and shingled roof, with a
pretty verandah in front.

A stout gentleman, a few grey hairs sprinkling his head and large bushy
beard, came out to meet us, and on hearing from Hector who we were,
welcomed us cordially.

Our cousins took our horses, which they turned into a small paddock
containing a shed at one end to afford shelter to the animals.

We then entered the house, where we were introduced to the hostess, a
tall lady, somewhat sallow and careworn, but with considerable animation
in her manner.  We were next made known to three young ladies, two of
whom we understood were Misses Strong and a third Clara Mayne, a friend;
besides these there were three young children.  In a short time, two
tall lads, sunburnt, and sinewy, made their appearance with stock whips
in their hands and broad-brimmed hats on their heads.

"You have not seen them all yet," observed our hostess.

Two more young men came in, one somewhat older than Guy, the other about
my own age, and I found that they also were cousins.  Altogether a
goodly company sat down to the evening meal.  We all waited on
ourselves, there being no female helps in the household.

A rattling conversation was kept up, the young men describing to their
father the events of the day, while we had to give an account of our
adventures from the time of our landing.  They were all highly
interested in hearing of Bracewell being stuck up by bushrangers and how
we had rescued him.

"We must put a stop to the career of those gentlemen," observed Mr
Strong.  "We have heard before this of their doings, and I have even
considered it prudent not to leave the ladies alone in the house without
two or three men as guards; a most abominable inconvenience, and yet,
from knowing the atrocities of which they are capable, I consider it
absolutely necessary."

The blacks, he said, had also been troublesome.  A large mob who had
been wandering about in that part of the country, might, he thought it
possible, take it into their heads, to pay the station a visit; though
it was not likely that they would do harm should they find his people
prepared for them.

After a pleasant evening, we were shown to the room we were to occupy in
one of the other sheds where three of our cousins also slept.  One of
the elder ones was called in the night to mount guard, and we found that
a watch was regularly kept in case either bushrangers or blacks should
make their appearance.

Next morning our cousins invited us to accompany them to drive in
another mob of cattle for the purpose of mustering and branding the
calves.  We proposed riding our own horses, but they laughed at the
notion.

"You'd get run down to a certainty," said Hector.  "As we go along I'll
tell you what you'll have to do, for there's nothing like beginning at
once."

We were in the saddle before daylight, having first breakfasted, when we
found a mob of sixty or eighty tame cattle, a short distance from the
station.

"What are they for?"  I asked.

"They are coaches!" answered Hector.  "We use them to entice the wild
ones, who take shelter among them, and then the whole are more easily
driven into the stock yards."

The animals quietly pursued their way, going wherever their drivers
chose to direct them.  We mustered a dozen horsemen.  On arriving close
to the run where the wild cattle were known to be, three of the men
remained with the coaches, and the rest of us rode forward, dividing
into two parties, the one going to the right, the other to the left, so
as to encircle the whole camp,--the name given to the spot where the
wild cattle congregate.  The country had a very wild appearance, there
were rocks and hills and fallen trees in all directions, and I guessed
that we should have a pretty rough ride.  Our object was to drive the
cattle towards the coaches and to prevent any of them turning back and
breaking through the line we formed in their rear.  We were accompanied,
I should have said, by a pack of dogs, of a somewhat mongrel appearance,
of all sizes and shapes.  On arriving at the camp one of the best
mounted stockmen went ahead to lead the cattle, which curiously enough
always follow where they see another animal going, and now the work
began.

Cracking our whips and shouting at the top of our voices, off we started
over the rough ground, now dashing up a hill, now descending the steep
side of another, our animals springing and dodging about to avoid rocks
and other obstructions.  Now we leaped over trees, twisting and turning
in every direction to avoid the standing stumps and jumping over
scattered logs; now we had to force our way through a thick patch of
saplings which caught us as in a net.  Not occasionally but _every_
moment some of the cattle would turn and attempt to break through, some
of our party having immediately to wheel round, with loud cracks of
their whips, and make the beasts head the other way.  None of us seemed
to think of the danger we were running.  Though Guy and I were good
horsemen it was pretty hard work for us, and our whips were but of
little use as we could not make them crack like the rest of the party.
The cows gave us most trouble, but the dogs hung on to the animals, some
catching them by the nose, others by the heels or tails, not ceasing to
worry them until they took the required direction.

As we were riding along, after we had got free of the bush, a huge bull
made a dash out, attempting to escape.  I galloped after him,
belabouring him with my whip, and in spite of his continuing to try and
toss me, turned him back into the herd.

"Well done, Maurice," exclaimed Hector, "you'll make a first-rate
stockman, but you must practise with your whip before you can become as
expert as is necessary."

We visited, in the course of a day or two, other camps in which the wild
cattle were collected in the same fashion; when, led by the coaches, the
whole were driven into the yards, as they are called, situated at the
head station.  Here they were allowed to remain until next morning when
the operation of mustering and branding commenced.  The yard was so
divided that the cattle required for the various purposes were driven
into different compartments; the calves into one, the cattle to be
slaughtered into another, and those to be turned loose again, into a
third, while the stockmen from two or three neighbouring stations
attended to claim any of their masters' cattle which had got in among
Mr Strong's.

A calf having been lassoed, it was hauled up and its head held down by a
plank, when a hot brand was handed to a man standing ready to press it
against the creature's skin, where an indelible mark was left, when the
little bellower was allowed to rise and make its escape into another
pen.

Guy and I were not of much use, but we saw everything going forward, and
lent a hand whenever we could.

"Now, my lads," said Mr Strong to us the next day; "I see the stuff you
are made of.  You'll do, and if you like to remain with me to learn all
you ought to know, you are welcome; after that you can decide what
course you will follow."

We had been some days at the station when a person arrived who had
occasionally been spoken of as Mr Kimber.  He acted as tutor to our
host's younger sons as he did also to another family in the
neighbourhood.  He was a graduate of one of our leading universities,
and had been found by Mr Strong in the humble capacity of hut-keeper on
a neighbouring station, a situation he was compelled to take in
consequence of having expended the whole of his means.  His present
occupation was more in accordance with his tastes, although his salary
was, I suspect, not very considerable.  He was evidently not cut out for
an Australian settler, for though he could manage to stick on horseback,
as Hector observed, "he preferred a walk to a gallop;" while he
persisted in wearing a stove-pipe hat and a swallow-tail coat, which he
evidently considered a more dignified costume than the straw hat and red
shirt generally worn by all ranks in the bush.  He was amusing from the
simplicity of his remarks, and as he was honest and well-informed, Mr
Strong was really glad to retain him.

We had been expecting a visit from Bracewell, as Guy had written to him
to tell him that we were still remaining with our relative, who did not
appear to have any idea of leaving his station, but he had received no
answer.

Mr Kimber gave two days of the week to the family of a Captain Mason,
who owned the station next to Mr Strong's.  His plan was to ride over
early in the morning of one day and to return late in the evening of the
next.

After we had become tolerably intimate he invited me to accompany him,
and to assist in teaching two of the younger boys.  As I wished to
become acquainted with Captain Mason, and to see his station, I readily
accepted his invitation.  I found a family very similar to that of Mr
Strong, and quite as numerous; the girls and boys tall and lithe, but as
active as crickets.  The girls told me to tell my cousins that they
would ride over some day to see them, as soon as those abominable
bushrangers had been captured.

We started somewhat later than usual from Captain Mason's, but the
"Dominie," as the boys called him, had frequently traversed the road,
and assured me that he knew it perfectly.  We pushed on, however, as
fast as we could go, wishing to get in before dark, as my companion
confided to me the fact that he felt not a little nervous about the
bushrangers, of whose atrocious deeds the young Masons had been telling
him--the murders they had committed, the huts they had attacked, and the
number of people they had stuck up.  I could not disprove the
statements, though I believe the accounts greatly exaggerated, and I
described to him the way we had driven the fellows off by the exhibition
of firmness and courage.

"All very well in daylight," he observed; "but suppose the villains were
to pop up from behind the bushes on the other side of the road, and
order us to stand and deliver, and to threaten to shoot us if we
attempted to draw our pistols,--and by the bye I haven't any to draw,--
what should we do?"

"Put spurs to our horses and gallop out of their way," I answered.
"They wouldn't dare to fire, and if they did, the chances are they would
miss us.  We must run some danger in this country, and the risk is not
nearly so great as riding after wild cattle as we have still to do, so
pray do not make yourself unhappy on the subject."

Still, I saw that my companion looked anxiously about him, especially as
it began to grow dusk, immediately after which darkness came on, and we
were compelled to moderate our speed for fear of getting a knock on our
heads from overhanging branches, or riding against fallen logs.

Eager as the dominie was to get on, not being a first-rate horseman he
went even slower than was necessary.  We were passing through a thickish
part of the forest, when, reining in his steed, he whispered to me in a
tremulous voice--"Pull up, pray do, I hear the tramp of horses' feet.
Suppose they should be bushrangers, they might shoot us down before we
had time to escape."

I reined in my steed to listen for the sounds which his sensitive ear
had detected.  "They may be simply wild cattle, or riderless horses,
taking a scamper," I observed, laughing.

"Oh, no; they don't move about after dark," he said; "they must be
mounted horses, do let us remain quiet until we ascertain who the people
are."

"They are very likely some of the young Strongs coming out to meet us,"
I remarked.

Scarcely had I said this, however, than I caught sight of two horsemen
riding across an open glade some distance off.  There was sufficient
light for me to make out the figures distinctly.  One was a big fellow
in a rough garb, the other was slighter, and both were armed.  Presently
afterwards two others came into view, the moonbeams glancing on the
barrels of their rifles, showing that they also were armed.  I fully
expected that they would discover us, and I intended if they did so
boldly to ride up and enquire where they were going.  They galloped on,
however, without perceiving us.  As I alone had arms I felt that it
would be folly to interfere with them, as we might run the risk of being
shot, while we could gain no possible advantage.  I therefore remained
perfectly quiet, and in another minute they were out of sight.  They
were going in the direction of Captain Mason's station.  They would be,
however, mistaken, I hoped, if they expected to surprise our friends;
who had assured me that they kept a watch by night and day, and were
well prepared for such gentry.

As soon as they were out of hearing, we rode on; the dominie I saw
feeling far from happy, as every now and then he turned his head over
his shoulder to assure himself that we were not followed.

The moon, which had now risen high in the sky, afforded us ample light
to see our way.  As the country became more open, we were able to push
on as fast as we could go.

We were to have another adventure.  While still some distance from home,
the loud lowing of a cow reached our ears.  The animal was evidently
alarmed at something.  Galloping towards it, we found on getting up that
she was endeavouring to protect her calf from the attack of a dozen
dingoes.  Now she would run at one with her sharp horns, now at another,
but the moment she had gone in one direction the brutes would assail her
helpless young one.  They were not even deterred by our approach.

"We must put an end to these dingoes!"  I exclaimed.  Unstrapping one of
my stirrup irons and using it as a weapon, I singled out one of the wild
dogs, and succeeded, after several attempts, in giving it a blow on the
head which brought it to the ground.  I then attacked another, which I
treated in the same fashion.  The dominie tried to imitate me but very
nearly tumbled over on his nose, though he assisted in protecting the
calf by driving off the cowardly brutes.  The cow at last pinned one to
the ground with her horns, and then turning round attacked it with her
heels until she well-nigh pounded it into a jelly.  At length the
survivors took to flight.

"We have killed three at at all events," remarked the dominie.

"Not so sure of that," I answered as we rode away, and turning my head,
I observed that one of the dingoes was beginning to move.  I turned
round, when it lay perfectly still, but it had crept on half a dozen
yards at least.

I gave it a few more blows with my stirrup iron, and then getting out my
knife cut its throat.  I treated its companions in the same manner, as I
did not feel sure that the one the cow had tossed was really dead, so
tenacious of life are the brutes.

I do not know whether the cow was grateful, but we left her licking her
calf where the dingoes had bitten it.  When we drew in sight of the
station we saw Hector and his elder brother Ralph coming to meet us.

"We got somewhat anxious about your being so much later than usual,"
said the latter.  "We have had a visit from some suspicious characters
who said that they were in search of work and had lost their way, and
begged that they might have a night's lodging in one of the out-houses,
and some supper and breakfast, and that one or two of us would ride
along with them in the morning to show them the road to the next
station.  As, however, Hector had detected a brace of pistols under the
shirt of the man who spoke, and saw that the others had long knives in
their belts, while their countenances were of the most villainous cast,
we refused to comply with their wishes, and told them that they must
ride on and camp out as they had evidently previously been doing."

"I did not think all had villainous countenances," said Hector; "there
was one good-looking young fellow among them.  He kept in the background
and said nothing.  However, I had no doubt of what they were, and they
showed it by riding away when they found that we were not to be taken
in.  Oliver followed them, when they stopped at a piece of scrub, from
which they each drew forth a rifle and several other articles, still
further proving that they had some treacherous design in coming to the
station."



CHAPTER FIVE.

The account we brought of the direction the supposed bushrangers were
riding convinced Mr Strong that such was their character, and that
pressed for food and ammunition, probably for both, they were going to
some other station to supply their wants by force.  We, however, heard
nothing of them, nor had they, we found, visited Captain Mason's
station, and in what direction they had gone we could not ascertain.

Some days after the events I have described, a stockman who had been
engaged by Mr Strong's agent arrived.  He had stopped at Bracewell's,
and brought the sad intelligence that our friend was ill, and that he
had expressed a strong wish that either Guy or I should come and stay
with him.  He also greatly wanted medical advice.  No doctor was to be
found within sixty miles of the station.  Guy and I were eager to go to
the assistance of our friend, and Mr Strong gave both of us leave.
Hector having some business to transact for his father at the chief
town, and the dominie, who we found had a considerable amount of medical
knowledge, offered to go if he could be spared for a few days.  To this
Mr Strong did not object, and before daylight the next morning we set
off carrying huge saddle-bags in which the articles we required were
stowed.  Those of the dominie contained his medicine chest--not a very
large one, but well suited for the bush, where Morrison's pills are more
in request than drugs in general.  We were accompanied by two dogs, one
of which had from my first arrival especially attached himself to me,
and Hector, to whom he belonged, had made me a present of him.

Though anxious about our friend we were all in high spirits at the
prospect of a gallop across the country, which few people in good health
could fail to enjoy.  Even the dominie forgot his fears of bushrangers
and mials, or wild blacks.

Our road lay through a lightly timbered country, and here and there
patches of scrub consisting of a sweet-scented wattle.  We saw pigeons
in abundance, and at times a kangaroo hopped away before us.  The grass,
owing to the heat of the weather, was rather yellow than green, but we
knew that a few showers would soon change its hue.  After traversing
this country for several miles, we saw some trees evidently much larger
than those round us.  As we drew near, the vegetation below us looked
green, a sign that we were approaching a creek or water-hole.  Just then
we caught sight of three kangaroos leisurely cropping the grass.
Before, however, we could unsling our rifles, they winded us and bounded
away at a rate which would have made it hopeless to follow them unless
we had been accompanied by native dogs and were prepared for a long
chase.  We accordingly unsaddled at the hole, which was full of
unusually clear water, a luxury not often obtained in the bush.  The
grass, also, beneath the trees being shaded was closer and greener than
that elsewhere; they were mostly tea-trees and gum-trees, many of them
growing to a good size.  Among the boughs we saw numbers of white
cockatoos, parrots, laughing-jackasses, and many other birds, who
received us, as we prepared to camp for our noon-day meal, with a loud
chorus of varied cries.

Having allowed our horses some time to feed, we again mounted and rode
forward.  We camped again at night at another water-hole, and were at an
early hour the next morning once more in our saddles.

We had proceeded some little distance, when I observed that Guy's horse
had gone lame, and presently it made a fearful stumble from which he
could with difficulty recover it.

"I am afraid that I must get off and walk, and give the horse a chance
of recovering himself," said Guy.

We pulled up, and Hector examined the animal's hoofs.  A sharp thorn had
run into his right fore-foot, and though Hector extracted it, the animal
still remained as lame as before.  We should not, under ordinary
circumstances, have minded the delay, but knowing how ill Bracewell was
we were much annoyed.

At last Hector offered to remain with Guy, if the dominie and I would
ride on.  To this proposal I was very glad to accede.

The dominie at first looked a little uncomfortable at having to proceed
with a single companion.

"Suppose we were to fall in with bushrangers," he observed.  "What
should we do?"

"Shoot them through the head if they offer to interfere with you," said
Hector.  "You are always thinking of those fellows.  The chances are
they cleared out of our district long ago when they found that we were
prepared for them."

"You may do our friend Bracewell a great deal of good," I observed, "for
you at all events know more about doctoring than any of us.  You can
discover what is the matter with him."

"I certainly will not decline doing what you say," he answered, and
seeing to our saddle-girths we prepared for a gallop which would bring
us up to Bracewell's station before nightfall, Hector and Guy promising
to follow as fast as they could, although they would have to camp out
another night.  We started off.  The dominie had lately improved in his
horsemanship, and we made good play over the ground.  I felt sure that I
knew the way, as the track between the two stations was tolerably well
defined.  There were only two places, of no great extent, passing
through which we should have to pull rein.  At the first the ground was
unusually rough and rocky, with thick underwood.  We got over it,
however, and soon afterwards had to pass through a gorge in the only
range of hills we had to cross.  The path was narrow, so that we could
not conveniently ride side by side.  I therefore, as guide, took the
lead, and had unintentionally got some way ahead of the dominie, when I
heard him cry out, and turning round to see what was the matter I found
my right arm seized by a fellow who had sprung out from behind a rock
while another grasped my horse's rein, and the next instant I was
dragged to the ground.

"Stuck up at last, young master," cried a voice which I recognised as
that of the tall bushranger Guy and I had before encountered and driven
off.  "Do not be a fool and show fight, or I'll blow your brains out.
Here, hand out what you've got about you.  You may think yourself
fortunate if we leave you the clothes on your back, but we don't want
them.  Do as I tell you, down on your knees and stay there, while I feel
your pockets."

As may be supposed I did not carry much money in the bush, but on
leaving home I had put a couple of sovereigns in my pocket.  My rifle,
of course, I expected to lose.

While the bushranger was performing the operation of cleaning me out, a
savage bull-dog approached, and I thought was going to fly at me, but I
found his eyes were directed towards some object at my back, which
proved to be my faithful Carlo, who, however ready to do battle in my
cause, thought it prudent, in the presence of a superior force, to yield
to circumstances.

All this time I could not see what was happening to the dominie, but I
concluded that he would wisely not attempt to make any resistance, and
that he was being cleaned out as I was.  I did not again hear his voice,
and as the bushranger swore that he would shoot me through the head
should I move, I thought it as well not to look round lest he should put
his threat into execution.  The fellow who had taken my horse now picked
up my gun and carried it off to a short distance.  Two of them then
produced a rope, intending, I concluded, to treat the dominie and me as
they had Bracewell.

As the man who stood over me returned his pistol to his belt, I took a
glance round to try and ascertain what had become of my companion, but
he was nowhere to be seen, and I feared, therefore, that they intended
to bind him to a tree at such a distance that we could hold no
communication with each other.  My dog Carlo was also not to be seen; I
felt, however, nearly sure that the bushrangers had not carried him off.
I had often remarked his peculiar sagacity, and hoped that, finding he
could do me no good, he had kept out of the way to avoid the risk of
being either killed or captured.  I soon found that my anticipations
were correct.  The bushranger now holding a pistol to my head made me
get up and walk to a tree some distance from the track, so that should
any travellers pass by I should not be discovered.  I might have acted a
more heroic part had I struggled desperately, seized a pistol, and
attempted to blow out the brains of one of the ruffians; but as I felt
that it was more than likely I should lose my own life, I considered it
wiser to yield with calmness and dignity.

The villains were well up to their work, and having secured my hands
behind me, they fastened me in so effectual a way to a tree, that I
could not possibly set myself at liberty.

Without speaking another word to me, the big bushranger led off my
horse, carrying with him my gun and articles he had taken from me, and
disappeared among the trees.  I saw two other persons leading a horse,
going in the same direction, one of whom I felt sure, from his figure,
was Vinson, though I did not see his countenance.  Indeed, I suspect
that he had unintentionally avoided coming near me.

As soon as the bushrangers had gone, I looked round in search of the
dominie, but could nowhere discover him.  I could scarcely hope that he
had escaped, or, if he had, that he had got off on horseback.  I felt
nearly sure that the horse I had just seen led away by the robbers was
his.  I was thus left in doubt how they had treated him, whether they
had bound him as they had me, or used greater violence.  As soon as I
fancied that they had gone off to a sufficient distance not to hear me,
I shouted to the dominie, hoping to hear a reply.  Not a sound reached
my ears, and I began seriously to apprehend that they had knocked him on
the head or stabbed him.  I remembered the dread he had always expressed
of the bushrangers, and I thought it possible that he might have had
some especial reason for fearing them.  Perhaps he had known one of
them, or might have attempted at some time or other to betray them into
the hands of the police.

After shouting in vain for some minutes, I began to lose all hope of
receiving a reply.  What had become of Carlo, I could not tell; I feared
that the bushrangers must have killed him, as I felt nearly sure that he
would not have deserted me, either to make his escape from the scene of
danger, or to follow them.  I should have been glad to have him by my
side for the sake of companionship; it also struck me that should he
come, he might possibly be able to bite through the thongs if I could
show him what I wanted done.  I called to him several times, but he did
not appear.  At last I arrived at the conclusion that the bushrangers
had killed him.  I now began to think of my own dangerous position,
while thus utterly unable to defend myself.  If discovered by hostile
blacks, they would make me a target for their spears, or a pack of
dingoes might attack me.  I never had heard of their assaulting a living
man, but I saw no reason why they should not do so, should they discover
that I had no means of defending myself.  A snake or scorpion might bite
me, and mosquitoes or other stinging insects were sure to find me out
and annoy me; while I had the prospect of remaining without water or
food for hours, or perhaps days to come, when I might at last perish
from hunger and thirst.  Such and other gloomy thoughts passed through
my mind.  I had not from the first struggled, for I felt sure that I
should thus tighten the thongs which bound me.  Now, however, I set to
work calmly to try and release myself, by drawing up one of my hands,
hoping that if I could but get my head low enough to reach the thong
round my arm, I might in time gnaw it through; but after making a
variety of efforts I found that the attempt was vain, and giving it up,
I resigned myself to my fate, whatever that might be.

Still it must be understood that I did not altogether lose hope.  There
was the possible chance of the dominie having escaped, and that some
traveller might be coming by and release me, as Guy and I had released
Bracewell.  Still many hours might pass before then, and I was already
suffering from thirst, though I was not troubled by hunger.  Being out
of the path, I could only hope to attract attention from passers-by by
shouting as I heard the sound of their horses' footsteps.  This I could
do as long as I retained my senses, but I might, I feared, drop off into
a state of stupor, and those who might have released me might be close
at hand without my knowing it.

Suddenly I thought I would make one more attempt to ascertain if the
dominie was within hearing.  I shouted as loud as I could bawl, and then
gave a cooey, which would reach further than any other sound.  I
listened; a faint cry came from a distance.  It was the dominie's voice,
I thought, but could not make out what he said.  The tones were
melancholy in the extreme.  It might be some consolation to him, poor
fellow, to know that I was alive, and I no longer doubted that the
bushrangers had treated him in the same manner that they had me, though
I suspected that he had been either stunned or so frightened that he had
not before heard my shouts or been able to reply.  I intended every now
and then to give him a hail, when it occurred to me that our voices
might attract any blacks passing at a distance, and that we should thus
increase the risk of being killed by them.

I could scare sly tell how the hours went by.  At length darkness came
on, and I began to doze.  It was the best thing I could do, as it
prevented me from feeling either hunger or thirst.  I was, however,
quickly awakened by the thongs cutting my limbs as I bent forward.  I
then tried to lean against the tree with my feet out, and in that
position I escaped the pressure on my limbs, and was at last able to
drop off to sleep.  My slumbers, as may be supposed, were far from
pleasant, indeed I was conscious all the time that something
disagreeable had happened; but still, by thus snatching a few intervals
of sleep, I found that the night passed away faster than I should have
supposed possible.  Strange sounds occasionally reached my ears.  I
fancied that I heard in the distance the yelping and barking of a pack
of dingoes, and as the brutes often hunt together in considerable
numbers, I dreaded that they might find out the dominie and me, and tear
us to pieces.  With intense relief I saw the streaks of dawn appear in
the sky.  The laughing-jackass uttered his cheerful notes, and parrots
and other birds began to chirp and screech and chatter.  The sound
tended somewhat to raise my spirits, though the pangs of hunger and
thirst which now oppressed me soon became insupportable.  As in daylight
the blacks might be passing, I was afraid of attracting their attention
by crying out, so that I was unable to ascertain how it fared with the
poor dominie.  When the sun rose, the heat became oppressive, and the
insects began to buzz about my face, while I had no power to drive them
off.

This annoyance was trying in the extreme.  I spluttered and spat, and
winked my eyes, and shook my head, to very little effect; and although
the creatures did not often bite me, their buzzing and tickling almost
drove me mad.  At last a sound struck my ear.  It was the bay of a
hound, then came a bark, and the next instant the faithful Carlo bounded
up to me, and licking my face, soon drove off the flies.  Then, having
exhibited his delight, away he went barking cheerfully.  Presently the
sound of the tramping of horses' hoofs reached my ears, but on a sudden,
the sound ceased, and I feared that I had been deceived; but then it
occurred to me that the rider had discovered the dominie, and was
stopping to set him at liberty.  In a few seconds I caught sight of a
horseman.  It was my brother Guy, who came galloping up to me.  Throwing
himself from his saddle, without stopping to ask questions he cut the
thongs which bound me to the tree.

"You looked so pale that I thought that was the first thing to do," said
Guy, as he supported me in his arms, and gradually let me sink down on
the ground, for I could not stand.  "Hector is looking after the
dominie, he is even in a worse condition than you are."

"I am fearfully thirsty," I said.

"I knew you must be," he replied, applying a water-bottle to my mouth.

The draught, which was tolerably cool, had an almost instantaneous
effect, and I was at once able to get up on my feet.

"We thought something had happened when Carlo, rushing back, came
barking and pulling at our trousers; and as soon as we could catch our
horses, in spite of the lameness of mine, we started off.  We could not
travel fast at night, but immediately day broke we galloped on; and I am
thankful indeed, my dear Maurice, to find you uninjured--but how did you
get into this plight?"

I briefly told him of the way the bushrangers had stuck me up.

"The villains!  I wish that we could find them.  Now, get up on my
horse, and we will go to where I left Hector and the dominie.  We'll
breakfast as soon as we can reach a water-hole.  We passed one a little
way back, and we must then try and get on to Bracewell's as soon as
possible."

With his assistance, I mounted his horse, and we soon reached the spot
where Hector was attending to the dominie, who was slowly recovering.  I
really believe, from the condition he was in, that he would soon have
died.  One of the ruffians had struck him over the head with the butt of
his pistol, but he had suffered more from fear than from the blow, for
he fully believed that they were going to put him to death.  He was
lifted on Hector's horse, and we soon reached the water-hole.  The fire
was quickly lighted, and after a good breakfast on a paddy-melon--a
small species of kangaroo--which Hector had shot the previous evening,
we felt greatly revived, and fully able to continue the journey; indeed,
I felt myself as strong as ever.  Guy and Hector ran alongside the
horses, and we made good progress.  We had reached an open part of the
country, when we caught sight of a figure seated on a fallen log.  His
back was towards us, and he did not appear to notice our approach;
indeed, so motionless did he sit, that he might have been mistaken for a
bronze statue.  He had not a rag round his body, but on his shoulders
were a number of raised marks, produced by making slashes in the skin,
and filling them up with clay, so that when the wound healed, an
elevated scar was made.  His hair was fastened in a top-knot, and he had
a long pointed beard, with moustache on his lips, his prominent nose
having nothing of the negro character about it.  Fastened to a belt
round his waist was a snake and a little kangaroo rat, on which he
evidently intended to make his dinner.  A cord round his neck supported
a shell ornament in front, and a tassel behind completed his costume.  I
describe him, of course, not as we saw him when at a distance, but
according to the appearance he presented on a further acquaintance.
Suddenly, as we came upon him, he seemed in no way alarmed; but, jumping
up, he seized his spear and throwing-stick which lay on the ground at
his side.  Seeing, however, that he could not possibly escape us, he
made no attempt to run.

As we approached, Hector, who from a long intercourse with the blacks
was able to make him understand what he said, inquired whether he had
seen any white men passing that way, and should he have done so, whether
he could tell us who they were.

The black, without hesitation, replied, saying, that he had seen no less
than four, that they were armed with guns, and were leading a couple of
horses.

"That looks suspicious.  They must have been the bushrangers," observed
Hector; "and if--as I think possible--they are not far off, we must try
and capture the fellows, or at all events recover our horses."

Hector, who closely questioned the black, was satisfied that he wished
to be honest, and accordingly asked him if he thought that he could
track the bushrangers.  He replied, without hesitation, that if he once
came upon their trail he could do so.

"Lead on, then," said Hector.

Anxious as we were to get to Bracewell's, it was important to recover
our horses, and if possible to capture the robbers.  We were five
against four, for having promised the black a handsome reward, if we
should catch one or more of the villains, we could trust to his aid, and
his spear would be of as much use as our guns at close quarters; but we
could not reckon much on the assistance of the dominie, whose
nervousness we thought would prevent him from doing what was necessary.

We had not gone far, when the black declared positively, that he had
found the trail of the robbers, and that probably they would be encamped
at a water-hole not far off.

Our undertaking was one requiring the greatest caution, for they were
certain to be on the watch, and being well armed, would prove formidable
opponents.  We might, to be sure, steal upon them during the darkness of
night and shoot them down, but we had no wish to do that; our object was
to recover our property and bring them to justice.  The black showed
himself to be an admirable scout.  The evening was drawing on when he
told us that we were not far from where he expected to find them.  How
it happened that they had not ridden to a distance, it was impossible to
say; probably the spot they had chosen, being out of the high road, they
did not expect to be discovered.

Securing our horses in a thick scrub, where they were completely
concealed, we cautiously advanced, the black going ahead.  It was by
this time getting quite dark.  Our great fear was that the dog they had
with them would wind us, and if so it would be necessary to shoot the
creature as it approached.  This, of course, would give them the alarm,
though we hoped to spring upon them and knock over two or three before
they could escape.  The horses were probably feeding at a distance, and
the saddles and baggage would be at the camp.

We were noiselessly making our way, when the black signed to us to halt,
and then began to creep forward.  Anxious to have a look at the fellows
I followed his example, carrying my pistols in my belt, and I found that
Carlo was close at my heels, evidently aware that danger was at hand.
At last the black stopped, when I joined him; and looking over some low
shrubs, I saw the four bushrangers seated round a fire, their saddles
and baggage and their guns lying on the ground near them.  They
evidently did not suppose that there was any chance of their being
attacked.  The only one of their party who seemed to be on the watch was
their bull-dog, who, lifting up his head, turned his eyes towards us.
The wind was blowing from them to us, or the dog would have smelt us
out.  As it was I fully expected every moment to see him dash forward
with a loud bark to where we lay.  I did not dare to move, and scarcely,
indeed, to breathe.

After watching for some time, the black began slowly to retreat, and I
was truly thankful when we got out of hearing of their voices.



CHAPTER SIX.

When I got back to my friends we held a consultation as to our best mode
of proceeding.  It was agreed that we would wait until the bushrangers
separated, which they were sure to do in the morning, and then rush on
those in the camp while the others were away.  The dog would prove the
chief obstacle, and it was settled that I was to shoot him while Hector
and Guy should dash into their camp.  Two of the men would in all
probability remain, while the others went to look after the horses,
leaving their arms behind them.  The dominie was to remain with the
horses in case any of the fellows escaping might gallop off with them.

We waited until about a couple of hours to dawn, when we crept forward,
led by the black.  We dared not approach as close as we could have
wished, on account of their watch-dog, who would be certain to give the
alarm.  Our plans being arranged, the dominie and I lay down, and,
wearied with what we had lately gone through, slept for the greater part
of the night.

It was still dusk when, having crept up to the robbers' camp, we saw one
of them get up and throw some sticks on the fire.  He then aroused his
companions, and two of them, the big bushranger and one I took to be
Vinson, went off, as we concluded, to bring in the horses, happily
leaving their guns behind them.

Now was our opportunity.  At a signal from Hector, we rose to our feet,
and holding our guns ready to fire, rushed towards the two men, who were
engaged in cooking their breakfast.  The bull-dog, with a fierce bark,
sprang towards us.  As he did so, the black with his spear nearly fixed
the brute to the ground, which saved me from having to fire, and thus
alarming the other two.  One of the men attempted to take up his gun,
but it was beyond his reach; he, however, seized from the fire a thick
stick, with which he made a blow at my head; but at that instant my
brave Carlo sprang at his throat with a force which brought him to the
ground.  Hector and Guy were in the meantime struggling with the other
man, whom they succeeded in securing.  Having lashed his arms behind
him, they were at liberty to come to my assistance, and soon firmly
bound the fellow Carlo had overthrown, for I had not struck a blow.  On
examining the countenances of the men we discovered that they were both
strangers.  The big bushranger and Vinson, who were, we had little
doubt, the other two we had seen, had gone off probably to catch the
horses.  Having left their arms behind them they were in our power, but
it was a great question whether we could manage to capture them.  They
would probably be back in a few minutes, and we had at once to decide
how to act.

"I have a bright idea," exclaimed Guy; "I tell you what we will do.
We'll gag these two fellows to prevent them from crying out, and drag
them behind those bushes close to the camp.  You, Maurice, and the
black, being also concealed, must threaten to shoot them if they attempt
to make any noise.  Hector and I will then take their places at the
fire, and pretend to be cooking the breakfast.  As there will not be
much light for some time, the other men when they return will not at
first discover us, and we shall be able to point our rifles and order
them to give in before they are aware of the trap we have laid.  To make
things more certain, we'll put on our prisoners' cabbage straw hats and
red shirts, so that the chances are that they will get close up before
they find out their mistake."

Hector and I highly approving of Guy's suggestion, we immediately set
about putting it into execution.  The black, who, being a remarkably
intelligent fellow, fully understood our object, seemed highly
delighted, grinning from ear to ear, as he assisted us.

We quickly gagged our prisoners, and then, dragging them behind the
bushes, took off their shirts and hats, which, as they were far from
clean, I was secretly glad I had not got to wear.  Guy and Hector put
them on, and then examining the fire-arms to ascertain if they were
properly loaded, drew them close to the fire, before which they sat
down.  While one turned the spits on which they had put some meat to
roast, the other employed himself in chopping up sticks and placing them
on the fire.  So exactly did they act the parts in which we had found
our present prisoners engaged, that I felt sure the other men would not
suspect the trap laid for them until they were close up to the camp.  It
was to be hoped that both would come at the same time, for if not,
though we might seize one, the other would probably be warned, and make
his escape.  There was a risk, of course, that they would come across
the dominie and the horses, and if so, would guess that we had
discovered their camp, and would at all events be on their guard.  Guy
had, however, especially charged the dominie that should the bushrangers
by any accident discover him, he was to keep them at a distance by
threatening to fire if they approached.

While my brother and Hector were bending over the fire as I have
described, I kept peering through the bushes, keeping one eye on our two
prisoners, though I felt sure that the black would watch them carefully
as he squatted down by their side with a sharp knife in his hand.  It
was a nervous time, but we had not long to wait before we heard the dull
sound of galloping feet, and several horses came in sight, followed by
the big bushranger mounted on a powerful steed.  I could nowhere see
Vinson, so that he at all events would have a chance of escaping.  The
horses came rushing on, and as they got near the fire separated, some on
one side, some on the other.  With an oath the big man shouted out--

"Why don't you stop them, you fellows?"  The two figures bending over
the fire did not appear to hear him, until, throwing himself from his
horse, he approached them; when, snatching up their rifles, they
suddenly turned round and presented the barrels at his head.

"Hands up, or we fire!" cried Guy and Hector in the same breath.

Notwithstanding this warning the bushranger's right hand instantly moved
towards the butt of the pistol in his belt, his left still holding the
rein; he, however, quickly changed his mind, for he well knew, should he
attempt to draw his weapon, before he could present it a couple of balls
might be crashing through his brain.  Another oath escaped his lips.

"Caught at last," he cried out, as if he was going to yield, but the
next instant with a bound he was in his saddle, leaning forward at the
same time, so that the horse's neck might protect his head.  Guy fired.

The bullet only grazed the fellow's shoulder.  I was taking aim at the
fugitive, when another person appeared, driving before him the remainder
of the horses.  Forgetting for a moment that the bushranger's guns lay
beside my brother and Hector, but recollecting that the big fellow had a
brace of pistols in his belt, I was afraid of firing lest I should miss;
and that he, coming back, would turn the tables on us.  The next instant
Hector and Guy had each picked up a gun.  The big bushranger had,
however, already got to a considerable distance, and although both
fired, he continued his course, apparently uninjured.

While they were reloading, the fourth man, whom I took to be Vinson, had
disappeared.  We all three immediately rushed out to stop the horses,
and succeeded in catching our own and two others.  Our own saddles were
in the robber's camp, so all we had to do was to put them on ready for a
start.  We then placed our prisoners on the backs of the other two,
securing their legs under the horses' bellies, and fastening long
leathern thongs to the bridles.  We then, carrying off the ammunition,
and two of the guns as trophies, smashed up the others, and threw the
saddles and the few articles of baggage we found, on the fire,
retaining, however, one or two things which were likely to prove
acceptable to our black guide, who was highly delighted with his share
of the plunder.  Hoping to receive a further reward, he undertook to
accompany us to Bracewell's, and to lead our prisoners' horses.  We
thought it prudent, however, not to trust him too much, though we
accepted his offer, provided he could keep up to us.

We were anxious as soon as possible to hand our prisoners over to the
police, lest their two comrades, still at large, with others of the gang
they might fall in with, should attempt their rescue; but we felt pretty
secure, as they would know that, so long as we were on the watch, they
were not likely to succeed.  Should we, however, be kept out another
night, they would compel us to be very vigilant, while we should have to
guard both ourselves and the horses.

Although the two bushrangers had escaped, we had succeeded in breaking
up the gang, and without guns and ammunition they would have great
difficulty in supporting themselves; while the two we had made prisoners
would probably, on their trial, be ready to give such information as
might assist in the capture of others.

Leading on our prisoners, we now set out to return to where we had left
the dominie.

We had, I should have said, hurriedly eaten some of the provisions Guy
and Hector had cooked, and we took the remainder so that no time need be
lost in proceeding to Bracewell's.

On reaching the spot, what was our dismay to see neither the dominie nor
the horses.  We shouted to him, but no reply came.

"What can have become of him?" exclaimed Guy.  "Those fellows must have
fallen in with him, and compelled him to accompany them."

"I do not think that is possible," I remarked, "for they went off in a
different direction.  Still his disappearance is very mysterious.  We
must try to learn what the black thinks about the matter."

We inquired of our guide, by signs and such words as he understood.

He examined the ground on every side and then started off at a run in a
southerly direction, and on closer examination we discovered traces of
the horses.

After waiting some time, as the black did not return, Guy proposed that
Hector should stay by the prisoners and the two animals we had
recovered, while he and I went in search of our missing friend.

Hector undertook to do as proposed.

"I'll hobble all four of them," he observed, "and there'll be no risk of
their getting away."

Not wishing to lose more time we started.  After going on for some time
we got separated, and I found to my right a deep gully, with steep
cliff-like banks, mostly covered with trees of a character which showed
that there was generally an abundance of water; indeed, I observed
several small pools, joined by a trickling rivulet three or four feet
only in width.

As I went along, I shouted out our friend's name.  At last I heard the
tramp of horses, and looking about, I caught sight through the trees of
our two animals with their saddles on their backs, the black following,
driving them before him.

I was thankful to find that they had been recovered, though much grieved
not to see the dominie, for I naturally feared that some serious
accident had happened to him.  I now once more returned, intending to
rejoin Hector, when I heard a faint shout.  It came from the direction
of the gully.  My hopes revived of finding the dominie.  After going on
some way, I again heard the shout followed by a cooey which I was sure,
however, was not uttered by him.  It was the voice either of Guy or
Hector.

I cooeyed in return.  Soon afterwards another reached my ears, coming
from the same direction.  At last I gained the summit of a cliff, when,
looking down, I saw Guy bending over the prostrate form of a man.

I soon joined my brother, and found that the fallen person was the
dominie.  Guy was employed in chafing his hands, and trying to restore
him to consciousness.

"Can he have been attacked by bushrangers, and thrown here?"  I asked.

"I don't think that," answered Guy, pointing up to the cliff.  "See, he
must have fallen over, and striking his head on the ground, have become
insensible.  Go and get some water from yonder pool in your hat, and I
think that if we bathe his head, he will come to."

I did as Guy desired me, and in a short time we had the satisfaction of
seeing our companion revive.

"Have you got the horses?" were the first words he spoke.

"All right!"  I answered, "and we have captured two bushrangers into the
bargain."

The news seemed to have a good effect, and now that he had come to
himself, he quickly, with our assistance, was able to get up the cliff,
when we helped him along.

In a short time we joined Hector, who had caught the horses driven up to
him by the black.

We immediately mounted, and Hector taking charge of one prisoner, and
Guy of the other, I attended to the dominie.  We expected that our black
guide would have kept up with the horses, but when he found the rate at
which we went, he appeared to have had enough of our society, and,
suddenly bolting off into the bush, disappeared.

"It is the way of those black fellows," observed Hector.  "He has
obtained more than he expected, and has no fancy to be shot by the
bushrangers, should we encounter them; probably, also, he wants to join
his gins, who, I dare say, are not far off, though they have kept out of
our sight."

We rode on, when the ground was level breaking into a gallop.  The
dominie now and then groaned, but when I offered to pull up, he always
answered--

"Go on, go on; perhaps those villains will be watching for us; I don't
want to be stuck up again or shot."

When I observed that they had only pistols, he answered--

"Ah, well! pistols will kill as well as rifles, and we don't know at
what moment they may pounce out from this thick scrub."

As I thought it possible that they might make an attempt to surprise us,
I was not sorry to follow the dominie's wishes.

We made such good way that I hoped we should reach Bracewell's before
sundown.  Late in the day, I began to recognise spots we had passed
while staying with him, although so great is the sameness of the
country, that I could not feel very certain that such was the case,
until I heard Guy, who was ahead, sing out--

"Here we are!  I see the top of Bracewell's hut."

We gave a cooey to let those at the station know of our approach, and in
another moment old Bob came hurrying out to meet us.

"Thankful you've come, gentlemen," he exclaimed; "though Mr Bracewell's
round the corner, he'll be glad of your society.  He's in terribly low
spirits at having only me to look after him.  But, whom have you there?
Picked up a couple of pirates on the road?"

We soon explained who our captives were.  Old Bob shook his fist at
them.

"You rascals!  You're caught at last, are you?  You'll be having your
legs in chains before long I hope, and not be keeping honest folk in
fear of their lives."

"We must see where we can stow these fellows until we can send for the
police," said Guy.

"We'll stow them safe enough," said old Bob, "and, provided we keep
their arms lashed behind their backs, and their legs in limbo, they'll
not escape from where I'll put them."

The captive bushrangers cast angry glances at the speaker, but as their
mouths were still gagged, they could not express their feelings by
words.

Before we went in to see Bracewell, we had hauled them off their horses,
and under Bob's directions, dragged them into a hut, which had only one
door and one window.  He then brought a couple of stout ropes, with
which we secured them to the posts which supported the roof, one on
either side of the hut, so that they could not reach each other.  We
next drew the gags from their mouths, expecting that they would make the
first use of their tongues by abusing us, but they appeared to be too
dull and brutal even to do that.  After closing the door and window, we
left them to their own devices.

"I'll take care that they don't get out during the night.  If they try
that dodge, I'll send a bullet through their heads," muttered old Bob.

Bracewell, who had been asleep when we arrived, awoke as we entered,
delighted to see us, and insisted on getting up to do the honours of his
hut.  Old Bob in the meantime was cooking supper, and a very
satisfactory one he managed to produce.

Our coming, as we expected, did our friend a great deal of good, and we
hoped that the medicine which the dominie brought would still further
restore him.

Old Bob insisted that a guard should be kept on the prisoners, and he
offered to stand watch for four hours, provided we three took the
remainder of the night between us.  To this we could not object, though
when he aroused me, I confess that I got up very unwillingly.

I was thankful, however, that his advice was followed.  While standing
before the door, I heard one of the fellows announce to his comrade that
he had got one of his arms free, and that in another minute he would set
him at liberty.  Had they succeeded in doing this, they would have had
no difficulty in working their way out of the hut.

I at once opened the door, and walked up to the fellow with a pistol in
my hand.  I found that he had really managed to get an arm free, though
the moment he saw me he placed it behind him.

I shouted to old Bob, who quickly came to my assistance, and we soon had
the fellow more securely fastened than before.  We then examined the
other.  Though he had evidently been trying his best to get out his
arms, he had not succeeded.  As may be supposed, we did not allow them
an opportunity of attempting the same trick again, and when I called up
Guy, I charged him to keep a watch on the two fellows, a lantern being
placed in the middle of the hut to throw its light upon them.

At day-break Hector rode off to execute the commissions for his father,
and at the same time to summon the police.

As our prisoners required our constant attention, we were very thankful
when a dozen black troopers came clattering up to the station under the
command of an English officer, to whom we handed over the bushrangers,
and gave a full description of how they had been caught, and of their
two companions who had escaped.

We had, as we expected, to go and give evidence; but, fortunately, as
their trial came on at once, we were not long delayed.

By the time we were wanted, Bracewell, thanks to the dominie's medical
skill, had almost entirely recovered.  He was able to identify the two
men as among the party who had attacked him, we also having found in
their possession some of his property which they had taken.  The other
two were still at large, but the police entertained no doubt that they
should catch them before long.

We all returned to Bracewell's, and I was glad to find that he had
accepted an invitation from Mr Strong, to pay him a visit, which he was
able to do as he had engaged a trustworthy man to assist old Bob in
taking care of the station.  We therefore prepared to set out
immediately.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

We were actually in our saddles and about to set off, when Hector
received a letter from his father directing him to return to town to
make some further purchases, and to transact other business.

The dominie, who had been expressing a wish to visit the city and buy
some books, begged permission to accompany him.

"You go on leisurely, we'll soon catch you up," said Hector.  "It is a
pity that you should be delayed for us."

Bracewell agreed to this arrangement.  As his strength was not
completely restored, it was considered advisable that he should make
short stages.  While we therefore rode on as we intended to the
north-west, our friends, borrowing a couple of horses, that their own
might be fresh when they returned to the station, galloped off towards
the coast.

We were approaching a water-hole by the side of which we proposed
encamping the first evening, when we caught sight of a native walking
leisurely along with an axe in his hand.  He came forward with a
confidence which showed that he was accustomed to meet white men, and we
recognised, as he approached, our former guide.  He appeared to be
highly pleased at seeing us, and began jabbering away in a language
which neither Guy nor I could understand.  Bracewell, who seemed to
comprehend him, replied in the same lingo; and then told us that the
black had informed him that his tribe was in the neighbourhood and would
be happy if we would pay them a visit, that they might show their
gratitude for the wealth we had showered upon them.

While he was speaking, another black popped his head out from behind the
bushes, when the other called to him, and he came forward.  As he was
approaching he cast his eyes to the top of a tree, a little distance
off, when a few words were exchanged between the two.

They both ran to it and without more ado, began to ascend, cutting
slight notches with their axes, just of sufficient size to enable them
to put in their toes and fingers.

We watched their proceedings with wonder at the rapidity with which they
got up, almost indeed as fast as if they were mounting an ordinary
ladder.  Round and round the tree they climbed, giving a couple of
strokes with their little axes sufficient to make a notch of the
required size.  Until I saw the confidence with which they proceeded, I
expected every moment that they would drop down again to the ground.
Though the tree must have been sixty feet high without a branch, they
were at the top in less than a minute, when securing themselves they
plunged down their hands.  While the one drew out an opossum, the other,
before the animal could bite him, knocked it on the head and threw it to
the ground.

They descended with even greater celerity than they had mounted, and
then to our surprise brought the animal to us, apparently as an
offering.

Bracewell thanking them, told them to keep it for themselves, which they
were evidently well content to do.  They accompanied us to the
water-hole, where, without being told to do so, they assisted in
collecting sticks for a fire.

This being done, we having hobbled our horses, they squatted themselves
on the ground to skin their opossum which they then brought to be
roasted.  The confidence they exhibited in us showed that we might trust
them, and we allowed them to go about the camp as they liked, though
Bracewell advised that we should keep an eye on our saddle-bags and
valises lest the temptation to appropriate their contents might be too
great to be resisted.

While we were discussing our supper, they managed to devour the whole of
the opossum between them; and then, having stuck some boughs in the
ground to form a hut, they lay down side by side beneath them, and were
quickly asleep, evidently feeling perfectly secure in our neighbourhood.

Both Guy and I wanted to see more of the natives, and Bracewell
consented, should our guests again offer to guide us to their camp, to
ride round to it, as it would not take us much out of our way.  There
was, he said, a few miles off, a large shallow lagoon, near which they
were assembled for the purpose of fishing and catching the wild fowl
which frequented it; and that we should thus have an opportunity of
seeing the way in which they engaged in those pursuits.  As he knew the
country well, he could easily make his way back to the direct route, so
that we could run no risk of missing Hector and the dominie.  That
Bracewell might enjoy a full night's rest, Guy and I agreed to keep
watch and watch, but he laughed at our proposal, declaring that it was
useless.

"But should bushrangers stumble upon us, we might all three be stuck up,
and find ourselves minus our horses and rifles," said Guy.

"No chance of that," answered Bracewell, "the fellows were certain to
clear out of this part of the country, when they knew the police were on
their tracks.  There is a greater risk from the blacks, though I feel
sure those two fellows there can be trusted."

In spite of Bracewell's remarks, Guy and I determined to keep to our
resolution, and as soon as he was asleep, I rose, and having made up the
fire, walked about, endeavouring to keep my eyes open.  I tried this for
some time, when feeling tired, I sat down with my rifle by my side.

How it was I could not tell, but before long I found myself stretched on
the ground, and when I awoke the fire was almost out.  Giving a kick to
the embers to obtain a flame, I looked at my watch.  It was then almost
day-break and I thought it useless to rouse my brother.
 Directly afterwards a chorus of cachinnations from a couple of
laughing-jackasses, gave me notice that the morning would soon commence.

I called Guy and Bracewell, who shrewdly suspected what had happened,
although as no harm had come of it, they spared me any severe remarks.

While we were breakfasting, the blacks, who had got on their legs,
sauntered up to the camp, and begged for some of the tea and damper on
which we were regaling ourselves.

To catch our horses, saddle up and mount, did not take us long, and as
our new friends repeated their offer, we set off, the blacks running
ahead.  As they were making their way through scrub some distance ahead,
one of them stopped and called to the other, when they each cut a long
thin switch and ran towards an object which we just then saw moving in
the grass.  Presently the wicked-looking head of a large snake rose in
the air.  The blacks ran towards it, one on either side, and bestowing
some sharp blows with their wands, down it dropped.  On getting up to
the spot, we found that it was a snake between nine and ten feet long.

The blacks seemed to consider it a great prize, for, chopping off the
head, one of them slung the body over his shoulder, and they then again
went on shouting with glee.

In a short time we arrived at the blacks' camp.  It consisted of a
number of rude bowers, such as I have before described, tenanted by a
few women, children, and old men, all the active men being out hunting
in the lagoon which appeared just beyond.

Riding on we caught sight of a number of black figures, scattered in all
directions, engaged in knocking down with their boomerangs some large
birds perched on the withered branches of the trees overhanging the
water.

Our friends brought us one of the boomerangs to examine.  It was a
curved piece of wood about two feet two inches from tip to tip, rather
more than two inches wide in the middle, and diminishing towards the
tips.

We saw bird after bird knocked off the trees with this remarkable
weapon.  When it first left the hand of the thrower, we could not decide
in what direction it was going, but after making numberless circles in
the air, it never failed to hit the object intended.

Most of the birds we saw struck were cormorants, which, as they fell
into the water, the blacks seized and wrung their necks.  Some, however,
not being killed outright or stunned, showed fight, and attacked the
naked bodies of their assailants with their sharp beaks.  We witnessed
the sport for some time, till the birds nearest us becoming alarmed,
took to flight, but were followed by the persevering hunters, who marked
where they again alighted.

As we did not wish to delay, we thanked our friends, who with the
prospect of an ample feast before them, showed no inclination to
accompany us.  One of them, however, had a talk with Bracewell just
before we started.

"What was the black fellow saying?"  I asked as we rode along.

"He told me that a mob of bad black fellows, as he called them, are in
the neighbourhood, and that we must take care not to fall in with them,
as they will not scruple to spear our horses at night, or, should we be
off our guard, murder us."

"What had we better do then?"  I enquired.

"Be on our guard and not let them surprise us," he answered, laughing.
"I have no fear of the blacks, provided they know that we are prepared
to give them a warm reception.  We will, however, keep a look-out for
the fellows, and as soon as we get back to the regular track, I'll leave
a note fixed to a tree for Hector, telling him what we have heard, and
advising him and the dominie to keep a watch at night on their horses,
as I don't think it's worth while waiting for them.

"Still, notwithstanding what our black friend said, the chances are that
we shall not fall in with the mob of bad natives," he added; and as he
knew the country much better than Guy or I did, we were perfectly ready
to be guided by his opinion.

We soon again got into the main track.

On reaching it, Bracewell taking out his pocketbook, wrote a few lines,
warning Hector that a mob of blacks were said to be in the
neighbourhood, and telling him where we proposed camping.

Cutting some thorns, he pinned it to a tree in a conspicuous place.

"Hector will not fail to observe it," he said, as he did so.

"But if the blacks see it they'll tear it down surely," I remarked.

"They'll not do that," he answered, "they'll fancy it is some charm, and
will not venture to touch it."

This done, we pushed forward, rather faster than we had hitherto been
going, in order to arrive at a spot at which Bracewell advised that we
should camp early in the evening.

Although there were several stations scattered over the country in
various directions, the traffic between them was so limited, that no
inns or even liquor stores had been established; and travellers had
consequently to camp out in the bush night after night when proceeding
towards the interior.

We found doing this was no hardship, and infinitely preferred sleeping
by our camp-fire with the canopy of heaven above us, to taking up our
quarters in a shepherd's hut or grog shop.

We were approaching the end of our day's journey, when I caught sight of
a black figure flitting among the trees in the distance.  Presently
another, and another appeared.  They did not come near us, but were
apparently moving in the same direction that we were.

I pointed them out to Bracewell.

"I saw the rascals," he answered.  "They are up to mischief very likely,
and think it prudent to keep at a distance from us.  I'll soon make them
vanish."

Lifting his rifle, he uttered a loud whoop, when in an instant every
black disappeared, either having dropped to the ground, or got behind
the stems of trees.

"I don't suppose they'll come near us again, but it will be as well to
be on our guard when passing any thick scrub.  We must either give it a
wide berth so that their spears cannot reach us, or gallop quickly by."

During the day-time, however, there was not much probability that the
blacks would venture to attack us; but we agreed that we must be very
careful during the night, lest they should spear our horses,--a trick
they are apt frequently to play when they think that they can do so and
make their escape without the risk of a bullet through their bodies.

Though we looked out for them on every side, not another black did we
see; but Bracewell remarked, that we must not consequently fancy that
they had taken themselves off.

However, as the day wore on, and they did not again reappear, we began
to hope that we had distanced them, and that they would not trouble us
during the night.  At length we reached the water-hole, near which grew
several magnificent trees, where there was abundance of grass for the
horses, so that they would not be tempted to stray away.

Choosing a spot with a water-hole on one side, and three or four fine
trees of large girth on the other, we unsaddled our horses and made up
our fire.  We had provisions enough for the evening, but should have to
go on short commons the next day, unless we could shoot a paddy-melon or
some birds.

Bracewell offered, as there was still sufficient light, to try to do so;
but Guy and I advised him to remain in camp while we endeavoured to
shoot a few parrots or cockatoos, so many of which were flitting about
among the boughs that we felt confident of shooting as many as we
required.

No sooner, however, did we fire, than having each brought down a parrot,
the remainder of the noisy birds flew away.  We followed, expecting to
get some more shots, but the sound of our guns having alarmed them, as
soon as we approached they again took to flight.

By some means or other, I, having hurried on, lost sight of Guy, though
I concluded that he was following me.  At last I saw a large cockatoo
nodding his head as if not aware of my presence.  I fired, and brought
him down, when directly afterwards I heard the report of Guy's gun, much
further off than I had expected.

The thought just then occurred to me, that should the blacks be in the
neighbourhood, they might discover our whereabouts by the reports; so I
felt that it would be wise to be satisfied with the birds we had killed,
and return to camp.

I was therefore making my way back, when, turning my head, I caught
sight of a black figure stealthily approaching with a lance in his hand.
Suspecting that his intentions were hostile, I quickly reloaded,
ramming down a ball.  As he approached from behind the trunk of a tree,
I levelled my rifle.  He vanished in an instant, though when I moved on
again, I felt pretty sure that he was following me.  I therefore every
now and then turned suddenly round and pointed my rifle towards my
pursuer.  At last, having gone on for some distance, I began to fear
that I had lost my way, for I could not see either our camp-fire or the
smoke rising from it.  To ascertain if I was near it, I gave a loud
cooey, expecting that Guy and Bracewell would hear me and reply.

No answer came.  I began to feel rather uncomfortable, for although with
my rifle in my hand, I was a match for two or three blacks, I should be
in an awkward predicament should I be followed by a whole mob.  It would
not do to stop, so on I pushed.

Again I cooeyed, and this time I heard my friends cooey in return.
Still the distance was apparently considerable, and at any moment the
blacks might overtake me.  I ran on as fast as the nature of the ground
would allow, endeavouring to keep a straight course.

Once more I turned round when to my dismay I beheld a score or more of
blacks armed with spears and shields.  For a moment I faced them as
before, presenting my rifle.  I might bring down one of the fellows, I
knew; but then, unarmed, I should be at their mercy; I therefore
contented myself with threatening them.  The instant I raised my weapon,
they all vanished as before.  Directly afterwards I caught sight of the
glare of the fire: I dashed forward, when to my surprise I found my
brother and Bracewell coolly seated on the ground, engaged in preparing
a couple of parrots which the former had shot.

"Up, up!"  I exclaimed: "the blacks are upon us--there is not a moment
to lose if we intend to save our lives."

"Oh, nonsense!" cried Bracewell.  "You've seen a big `boomer,' or the
stump of a tree, which you have mistaken for a black fellow."

I loudly protested that I was not mistaken, and advised them to load
their rifles with ball.

While I was speaking, a spear quivered in the tree close to where they
were sitting.  They jumped to their feet in an instant.

"If we don't take care, we shall have the horses wounded," I exclaimed,
and I ran to where they were feeding, leaving Guy and Bracewell to keep
watch for the appearance of our enemies.

Just as I had brought the horses up, and was tethering them behind the
clump of trees, the mob of blacks came in sight, shrieking and dancing
and brandishing their spears.

Bracewell, on this, exclaimed, "We'll show them that we're not to be
trifled with; or they will become bolder, and make a rush upon us with
their waddies.  Guy, do you pick off that fellow on the right; I'll take
the fellow in the centre who is nourishing his weapon--he intends to
hurl it at us as soon as he gets near enough.  Maurice, you must keep
them in check while we are reloading, but don't fire unless they
advance."

As he spoke, he and Guy pulled their triggers.  As the smoke cleared off
I saw two blacks on the ground--my companions were rapidly reloading
while I kept my rifle pointed at the advancing mob.  I had my eye upon
one of them, who appeared to be leader.  We were tolerably well
sheltered by the roots of the trees, so that we could take aim without
exposing ourselves.

The determined front we exhibited did not however deter the blacks from
advancing, and as they did so, they sent a whole shower of spears, which
stuck quivering in the trunk of the tree forming our chief protection.
Several, however, passed and fell into the ground close to the horses,
fortunately none of which were injured.

I fired and brought down the man at whom I had aimed; I then sprang
behind shelter and reloaded, while my brother and Bracewell knocked over
two more.

It was dreadful work, having thus to kill our fellow-creatures; but at
that moment all we thought about was that they intended to kill us, and
that it was our business to defend our lives.  Whether or not we should
do so successfully seemed very doubtful; for as far as we could judge,
while they flitted in and out among the trees, there were a hundred or
more of them yelling and shrieking and hurling their sharp-pointed
spears towards us.  A hundred opposed to three were fearful odds.
Probably they were not aware of the smallness of our number, or they
might have made a rush at our camp, and knocked us all over with their
waddies.  Every moment we expected that they would do so.  Should one of
us be killed or wounded so as to be unable to fire, the other two must
inevitably become their victims.

As yet we had happily escaped injury, and the blacks did not appear
inclined to venture closer than at first.  We had been firing away as
rapidly as we could reload, but though we had killed several, we had
frequently missed, for as they kept springing in and out behind the
trees in the thickening gloom, it was very difficult to hit them.
Suddenly they vanished, and I was afraid were coming round to get on our
flank; the width of the water-hole, and the marshy ground on the further
side was, however, too great to allow them to hurl their spears across
it.  My gun was loaded, but when I put my hand into my bullet-pouch, to
my dismay, I found that I had not another shot left.  I told my
companions.  "Neither have I, and have just loaded with small shot,"
said Bracewell.

"So have I," said Guy; "but it will do to pepper them with if they come
nearer."

"But small shot will not go through their shields," I remarked.

"Then we must aim at their legs," answered Bracewell, calmly.

"Don't you think it would be prudent to mount the horses and gallop off
before they again attack us?" asked Guy.

"They will probably be on the look-out should we make the attempt, and
surround us before we get to any distance," said Bracewell.  "Better try
and hold our own here, where we have the shelter of the trees, only
don't throw a shot away."

This discussion was cut short by a loud yell uttered by our savage
enemies, who, the next instant, again came into view, and advanced with
their spears poised.  We had barely time to spring behind the trees,
when a shower of spears flew through the air, some passing close to us,
others sticking in the opposite side of the trunks.  We immediately
replied, but could not see whether our shots took effect.  The spears
now fell so thickly, that we could scarcely venture to show ourselves
even for a moment to fire in return.  By the sound of the savages'
voices we judged they were getting nearer, and now we all felt that we
should have to sell our lives dearly, unless we could manage to mount
our horses and gallop away; but it would take some time to saddle them,
and the natives were not likely to allow us many moments to do so.
Bracewell, however, desperate as was our condition, tried to keep up our
spirits.

As far as we could judge, the savages showed no intention of abandoning
their object.  Just as we expected that they would make their final
rush, a loud cooey was heard, and I caught the sound of the trampling of
horses' feet.  We cooeyed in return again and again.  The savages must
have heard us, as well as the cooeys in the distance; for after vainly
hurling another shower of spears, they turned and scampered off as fast
as their legs could carry them, their flight hastened by the peppering
we gave their backs with small shot.  Almost immediately afterwards
Hector and the dominie, accompanied by half a dozen troopers, came
galloping up along the path close to the water-hole.  As they appeared,
without waiting to exchange words, we threw our saddles on our horses'
backs and mounted ready to join them in the pursuit of our foes.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

The sergeant in command of the troopers told us that they had been sent
forward in search of some bushrangers who with unaccountable hardihood,
notwithstanding the capture of two of their companions, were still
committing their depredations in that part of the country; and that
having accompanied Hector, who had discovered our note, they had come on
to assist us in case we should be attacked by the blacks.

We all rode on together in the direction we supposed the savages to have
taken.  But darkness was coming on: the sergeant soon pulled up
declaring that we might as well look for a needle in a bundle of hay, as
expect to catch one of them.

Had we had any natives with us we might have tracked them during the
night.  We should now however only run the risk of losing our way
without the slightest chance of capturing a black man.

This was very evident, and we accordingly settled to return to the camp
and wait until the following morning.

Hector and the dominie had brought a good supply of provisions in their
saddle-bags, and our supper being cooked, we sat round the fire sipping
our mugs of scalding tea, and fighting our battle over again.

The sergeant told us that the mob which had attacked us was said to be
the most daring in that part of the country.  They had already, it was
supposed, murdered two hut-keepers and a shepherd, and had carried off
large numbers of sheep.  Without natives to track them it would be
impossible to come upon their camp so as to capture their leaders.  The
punishment they had received from us might perhaps, we thought, prevent
them from committing further depredations in the neighbourhood; and the
sergeant's business for the present was to hunt down the bushrangers,
which was more in his way.  He, as soon as he had seen us safely on our
road, must continue his course in the direction he had been informed
they had taken.

At length we began to get drowsy, and one after the other we lay down
with our horse-cloths for bedding and our saddles for pillows.

The sergeant undertook that one of his men should keep watch, though it
was very improbable that the blacks would venture to attack us during
the night.

I was awakened just before dawn by the "settler's clock," as the
laughing-jackass is frequently called; and lifting my head, by the light
of the still burning embers of our fire saw the dominie rubbing his
eyes, but no one else was moving.  I suspected from this that the last
man on guard had gone to sleep.  No sticks had been thrown on for a
considerable time, and on counting heads I discovered that the sergeant
and his troopers were all snoring loudly, and sound asleep.  I bethought
me that we would play them a trick; so quickly arousing Guy and
Bracewell, I proposed that we should unite our voices and give a
terrific shriek as if a whole mob of black fellows were about to break
into the camp.  They agreed.

We did shriek with a vengeance, the echo resounding through the forest.
The effect was electrical.  Up jumped the sergeant and his men and
seizing their arms prepared to receive their expected foes.

"Whereabouts are they?" exclaimed the sergeant.  "Reserve your fire,
until you see them," he added--a caution I should not have considered
necessary.  "Did any of you gentlemen catch sight of them?" he asked.
Our loud laugh told him the trick we had played.  "Which of you lads was
keeping guard?" he enquired.

"I was," answered one, who had been among the loudest of the snorers,
and we found that the speaker had in reality the middle watch, but
having dropped off, had not called his relief.

We thought it best to say as little as possible about the matter, for
according to strict military discipline, the man who goes to sleep on
guard in the face of an enemy, becomes liable to the punishment of
death.  The sergeant also, who was a good-natured fellow, was evidently
anxious not to take too much notice of the matter.

We soon got the fire made up, and having breakfasted, we mounted and
rode in the direction we supposed that the blacks had taken, but except
the dead bodies of the men we had shot, no trace of them could we
discover.  They probably could not tell whether or not we had any
natives with us, and therefore took care to leave no trail by which they
could be followed up.  They might possibly have been hiding all the time
in the neighbourhood, or might--contrary to their usual custom--have
travelled during the night.

After looking for an hour or more we agreed that it would be useless to
search further and pursued our course towards Mr Strong's.  The
sergeant's way for some distance lay in the same direction, and he and
his men therefore accompanied us.  We had got about half way, when we
saw a white man running towards us.  He appeared to be in a desperate
hurry, and as he approached made signs entreating us to stop.

"What's the matter, my man?" inquired Bracewell as he came up.

"I am a shepherd on Mr Robinson's out-station," he answered.  "I had
driven my flock to the run this morning, when who should I see coming
towards me but old Bill the hut-keeper who had a spear in his side and
another in his back.  He had just time to tell me that, soon after I had
gone, a whole mob of blacks surrounded the hut, and to the best of his
belief were still either in or about it, when, though I did my best to
help him by cutting out the spear, he sank back and died.  On this I was
afraid to stay where I was lest the blacks should find me out, and was
trying to reach Mr Strong's or some other station, when I saw you."

This account made us resolve at once to try and surprise the blacks.
The shepherd acknowledged that he and his mate had just before got in on
the sly some bottles of rum, which it was possible the blacks might have
found; and that if so, should we advance cautiously, we might very
likely catch them.  Not a moment however was to be lost, and one of the
troopers taking the shepherd up behind him on his horse to act as our
guide, we set off in the direction of the hut.  It was so situated at
the bottom of a hill, with a belt of trees on one side, that led by the
shepherd we were able to get close up to it without being discovered.

We there dismounted, leaving our horses under the charge of the dominie
who volunteered for the service.

We crept cautiously down towards the hut, the sounds proceeding from
which showed us to our great satisfaction, that it was still in
possession of the blacks.  We now advanced with greater caution,
Bracewell and Hector, who were the most experienced in bush life,
leading, I following, until we could look right down upon the hut.  A
few blacks were squatting on the ground outside, and the hut itself
appeared to be full of them.  The sergeant and his men, I should have
said, had brought some coils of rope with which to bind any prisoners
they might capture.  These they formed into lassoes for the purpose of
throwing over the heads of the blacks.  As we watched the hut, the
people collected round it had, as far as we could judge, no intention of
moving, probably fancying that they were safe, for the present, from
pursuit.

Bracewell now made a sign to us to rise to our feet, so that we might
rush down on the hut and capture all the blacks in it if not those
outside.  At the signal we were in motion, the troopers with their drawn
swords in one hand and their pistols in the other, and we with our
rifles.  We had got half way down the slope before the blacks discovered
us.  Most of those outside scampered off, but we saw, by the crowd at
the door, that the hut was full, and before many could escape, we were
at the entrance.  Some tried to get out of the window on one side of the
hut, but Guy, Hector, and I shot them down as they reached the ground,
thus putting a stop to any others escaping in that direction; while the
sergeant and his troopers, bursting into the hut, soon had several of
the rest secured by their necks.  Others were knocked down.  The greater
number either lay helpless on the ground or stared stupidly at their
assailants.  Had our object been slaughter we might have killed the
whole mob, but the sergeant had received orders to capture as many as
possible alive, and we were thankful not to have to destroy any more of
the poor wretches.

Altogether, thirty were made prisoners, but we could not calculate how
many had made their escape.  The greater number, however, had left their
spears and waddies behind them, so that they were not likely for the
present to attempt further mischief.  At the request of the sergeant we
brought down the horses and assisted him in securing the prisoners and
arranging them in the order in which they were to march.  It took some
time to bind the unfortunate wretches, whom we secured with their arms
behind them, and then fastened together by strong ropes six in a line.
Our next care was to collect all the arms, which, with the exception of
a few we desired to possess, were broken and thrown on the fire.

There was very little chance of rescue; indeed, had the blacks still at
liberty made the attempt, they would to a certainty have hastened the
death of their friends.  The shepherd entreated us to assist him in
bringing in the body of the hut-keeper--a task, from a sense of
humanity, we undertook, while he remained to look after his sheep.

We accordingly brought the body in on the dominie's horse and placed it
in the bunk in which the unfortunate man, a few hours before, had been
sleeping, little dreaming of the fate awaiting him.  The dominie, Guy,
and I remained at the hut, while Bracewell and Hector rode off to the
head station to give information of what had occurred and to obtain a
companion for the poor man.

Finding a couple of spades in the hut, Guy and I employed our time in
burying the blacks who had been shot on the first onslaught.  It was a
far from pleasant undertaking, but it was better to put them underground
before they were discovered by the dingoes or vultures, which would
before long find them out.

The day was waning and as our companions had not returned we began to
fear that we should have to spend the night in the hut.  I was glad at
length when I saw the shepherd returning with the flock.  He thanked us
heartily for what we had done.

When he entered the hut he seemed dreadfully upset at the sight of his
dead mate.  "It is a trying life, this shepherding, gentlemen," he
observed; "with the chance of being speared or clubbed by the
blackfellows, or stuck up by a bushranger, while one has to spend day
after day without a human being to speak to, from sunrise to sunset--and
then to have one's only chum killed so suddenly!  It is well-nigh more
than I can bear."

It was late at night before Bracewell and Hector came back, accompanied
by Mr Piatt, the overseer from the head station, and another man to
take the place of the murdered hut-keeper.  As it was now too late to
think of proceeding on our journey that night, we turned our horses into
a spare paddock, where they could find grass enough to satisfy their
hunger until the morning.

Having stowed our baggage inside the hut, after supper we lay down,
where we could find room on the ground; one of the party, however,
keeping watch in case the blacks should return, though it was not at all
likely they would do that.

Before sunrise the shepherd and his new mate got up to dig a grave for
the murdered man, in which we saw him placed before we started.  We
then, having breakfasted, continued our route, Mr Piatt accompanying
us, as, for a couple of miles or so, our roads lay in the same
direction.  He had come away without his rifle, or arms of any
description, excepting his heavy riding-whip, and he declared that they
were unnecessary; for the blacks, he said, would never venture to attack
a well-mounted man, and as for bushrangers, when there was no booty to
be obtained they were not likely to interfere with him.  He had ridden
about the country in all directions, and except when hunting a kangaroo
or emu, he had never had to fire a shot.

"But with a mob of savage blacks in the neighbourhood, it would be more
prudent to be armed," I observed.

"My horse-whip will soon send them to the rightabout, should any of them
venture to come near me," he answered laughing.  "However we have got
half a dozen rifles at the head station, and as soon as I get back I'll
arm each man and we'll quickly drive the remainder of the mob from the
neighbourhood.  Depend upon it if any are remaining they'll clear out
fast enough when they find we are after them."

We soon got over the two miles the overseer was to accompany us.  He
then, thanking us for the service we had rendered his people, turned off
to the right.  He was still in sight, when we heard him shout, and I saw
that he was galloping along with uplifted whip as if to strike some
object on the ground.  Supposing that he had called us, we rode towards
him.  Just then I saw a tall black man spring up from behind a bush and,
with axe in hand, attack the overseer, who, it appeared to me, was in
great danger of being killed; but as the savage was about to strike, the
lash of the whip caught his arm and wrenched the weapon out of his hand.

The black, uttering a cry of disappointed rage, bounded away and a
moment after was lost to sight among the scrub.  On getting near to
Piatt we saw two more natives on the ground, the one a youth badly
wounded, the other a _gin_, old and wrinkled, apparently the mother of
the lad.

"I would not have attempted to strike them, had I seen that one was a
woman and that the lad was wounded," said the overseer, as he pointed to
the wretched beings; "but I fancied they were black fellows hiding away,
and trying to escape my notice.  The man who attacked me is probably the
boy's father, and they have shown more than usual affection for their
son."

"Don't you think that we could do something for the poor lad?" observed
Bracewell.  "Mr Kimber will see what chance there is of his recovery."

"With all the pleasure in the world," said the dominie, dismounting, and
he and Bracewell examined the lad's hurt.

The _gin_ sat watching their proceedings.

"He is shot through the body.  It is a wonder that he has lived so long,
for I make no doubt he is one of the blacks who attacked the hut,"
observed the dominie.  "I don't believe that the best surgeon in the
land could do him any good.  If we were to attempt to move him, he would
die before we had carried him a hundred yards."

Bracewell expressed the same opinion.

We tried to make the old _gin_ understand that there was no hope of her
son's recovery; indeed, the next instant, while lifting him up, and
after he had given a few gasps, his arms fell helplessly by his side,
and we saw that he was dead.

"We had better leave him to his mother, and probably his father will
return as soon as we have gone," observed Bracewell.  "He has brought
his fate upon himself, and we can do no more."

This was very evident, and the overseer, who was in a hurry to get back,
galloped on, while we once more rode forward, leaving the poor woman
with her dead son.

We had had enough of fighting, and were truly glad to reach Mr Strong's
station without any other accident.  Bracewell was warmly welcomed.

Although he had not before been a visitor at the house, his high
character, his perseverance and industry were all known to Mr Strong,
who might possibly have had no objection to bestow upon him one of his
blooming daughters.

We spent our time in the usual way, working on the station, varied with
an occasional hunt after kangaroos, for as they eat up the grass
required for the sheep, it is considered necessary to destroy them when
they are numerous near a station.  The blacks, after the severe lesson
they had received from us, and from other settlers in the neighbourhood,
betook themselves to another part of the country, and we had no longer
any fear of being troubled by them.

We had been some days at Mr Strong's, and Bracewell was talking of
returning home, when a hut-keeper from the most distant station arrived
in great alarm, stating that he had been beset the previous evening by a
party of white men on horseback, who, taking his gun and ammunition, his
week's supply of provisions and everything else, they could lay hands on
in the hut, had lashed him hand and foot, threatening that if he gave
information of their visit, they would return and kill him.
Fortunately, soon after they had gone a shepherd arrived, but he had
been afraid at first to leave the hut lest they should put their threat
into execution.  Waiting till daylight, he had followed their tracks for
some distance, when he had hurried back to bring us information of the
robbery.  His idea was, that having supplied themselves with arms, they
intended to pillage some of the larger stations, but how he arrived at
this conclusion he did not say.  His account was sufficiently clear to
make us resolve to follow them up, and to try and put a stop to their
career.  Whether or not they were led by our former acquaintance, the
big bushranger, and that unhappy fellow Vinson, we could not tell; but
from the description the hut-keeper gave of two of the men who had
attacked him, we strongly suspected that such was the case.

As there was no time to be lost, we at once organised a party to set out
in search of the fellows.  The only black on whom we could rely to act
as a scout was our own attendant Toby, who volunteered, without
hesitation, to accompany us.  The party consisted of the three elder
Strongs, Bracewell, Guy, and I, and two men from the station, with Toby.
All of us were mounted, and we agreed to call on our way at Captain
Mason's to get further reinforcements, thinking it not unlikely that the
bushrangers had already paid him a visit, or if not that they were
lurking in the neighbourhood.

As we rode fast we arrived at the captain's before the evening.  He had
seen nothing of the bushrangers; but we found the family somewhat in a
state of alarm, as a shepherd had come in with the information that a
keeper on one of the captain's stations had been killed in his hut the
previous night, and that he himself had narrowly escaped with his life.

Captain Mason, therefore, gladly reinforced us with a couple of men; he,
however, thinking it prudent to remain to defend his house, lest, during
our absence, the daring ruffians might venture to attack it.

Riding towards the hut, we hoped that we might come upon the track of
the outlaws.  In this we were not mistaken; and Toby assured us that we
should be able to follow them up, as they had taken no pains to conceal
their movements.  As it grew dark he dismounted, and led the way in a
manner which showed that he was well accustomed to the work.

After going some distance, he begged us to halt, saying that we were not
far off from the camp of the bushrangers.

Having pulled up under the shelter of some tall bushes, we waited to
hear the report Toby might bring us.  He again crept forward.  We had
not remained long, when the crack of a rifle was heard.  As Toby had
gone unarmed, with the exception of a long knife which he usually
carried in his belt, we feared that coming suddenly on the bushrangers
he had been shot.  At all events, as concealment was no longer
necessary, we dashed forward, Bracewell and I, with Mr Strong's
overseer leading.  We had not gone far, when we caught sight of Toby
standing with his knife in his hand, and, some twenty paces from him, of
a man in the act of levelling his musket to fire.

That the latter was one of the bushrangers, there could be no doubt, and
the overseer, without waiting to inquire, raising his rifle, discharged
it.  The bullet took effect, but not until the man had fired; Toby at
the same moment fell to the ground, and I thought was killed; but the
bushranger, before the smoke had cleared away, had darted behind a tree.

I had not fired, and my attention was attracted for an instant by Toby,
who, to my great satisfaction, I saw spring to his feet and make chase
after the fugitive.  We called him back, thinking, probably, that the
man was not alone, and that our black follower would fall a victim to
his intrepidity; but, without heeding us, he dashed forward, and as soon
as Bracewell had reloaded, we followed him.  It was no easy matter,
however, to make our way between the trees, which here grew unusually
thick, while the ground was encumbered by fallen trunks and boughs.  The
spot had evidently been chosen by the bushrangers as a place likely to
afford concealment, and, at the same time, enable them to defend
themselves.

"That fellow was placed here on watch, to warn his comrades of the
approach of an enemy, and, depend upon it, they are not far off," said
Bracewell.  "We shall come upon them presently, and it will be our own
fault if we allow any of the gang to escape."

We now heard the sound of fire-arms, and as the bushrangers were warned
of our approach, we knew that their first impulse would be to mount
their horses and gallop off.

Our great object, therefore, was to prevent them from doing this, and
unless they had kept their animals saddled and bridled, we had still a
prospect of succeeding.



CHAPTER NINE.

Darkness was coming on, but we had still light sufficient to see our
way, and should we not come up with the bushrangers at once, they might
be off, and we should find it a hard matter to overtake them.  We had
gone on for some minutes, expecting every instant to discover them, when
Toby stopped.

"Dey dare," he said, pointing to a rocky knoll which rose just above the
wood through which we were making our way.  The reason they had not
mounted their horses was now apparent, for we caught sight of the
animals scampering away in the distance.  The outlaws had probably taken
up this position under the idea that they could effectually defend
themselves against us, evidently not knowing the numbers composing our
party.  The instant we emerged from among the trees, several bullets
came flying past our heads.  By a simultaneous impulse we fired in
return.

"On, on! before they have time to reload," cried Bracewell.

We dashed forward with our pistols in our hands.  When we reached the
knoll, not a man was to be seen on his feet, but three lay dead or dying
among the rocks.  At that instant a fourth sprang up with a rifle in his
hand with which he was taking aim at Bracewell, when, before he had time
to pull the trigger, the overseer fired and he fell.  I had recognised
Vinson, and as I rode up, I observed the look of agony and despair which
overspread the countenance of my former school-fellow.  I think he must
have known me, but he was unable to speak, and before I could dismount
he had ceased to breathe.

It was a sad end of a mis-spent life, and yet at one time Cyril Vinson
was one of the most admired and sought after in a fashionable circle.
Among the bodies we discovered that of the big bushranger, while we
found that of the man who first fired a short distance from the knoll,
where he had fallen and died before he had been able to reach his
companions.

One of the gang only escaped, but Toby declined to go in search of him
until the following morning, as he could not, he said, traverse the
forest at night.

At daylight we followed him up, but found that he had managed to catch
one of the horses, and for the time had made good his escape.

We got back to the station the next day.  The information we brought of
the destruction of the long dreaded gang, caused no small satisfaction
to our neighbours.  Some weeks afterwards the body of the bushranger who
had escaped was discovered in a state of emaciation, showing that he
must have been starved to death.

Although there is generally work enough on an Australian station to
occupy everybody, we made frequent excursions to hunt kangaroo, dingoes,
and emus.  Mr Strong, however, objected to the younger members of his
family expending the large amount of powder and shot they were apt to
fire away.  He would allow them, he said, only the use of bows and
arrows, promising, however, to give each a rifle when they could bring a
parrot down on the wing, an emu running, or a kangaroo bounding over the
ground.  We therefore employed ourselves during the longer evenings of
winter in manufacturing bows and feathering a large supply of arrows,
for both of which objects we found suitable material.

We were in the meantime daily gaining experience in all farming
operations which would prove of the greatest value when we should have
charge of a station on our own account.

I had long promised to make a hunting trip with Hector and his two young
brothers, Oliver and Ralph.  As soon as our weapons were finished we set
off, accompanied by Toby, who, since the courage he had displayed in
capturing the bushrangers, had become a person of no small importance.
I took the liberty, however, of carrying my rifle, as Hector also did
his.  We agreed to camp out for one or two nights, or as long as the
flour and biscuits in our wallets would last.

It is usual to hunt the emu on horseback with dogs, when the bird is
pursued until the dogs can get up to it, and seizing it by the throat
drag it down.  We, however, hoped with Toby's assistance to stalk it as
the natives are in the habit of doing, and for this purpose our bows and
arrows were likely to prove as efficient weapons as rifles, the report
of which would be certain to drive the birds away from the spot where
they were feeding; whereas the silent arrow might bring down one without
frightening the others.

We tramped over many weary miles till we reached the edge of a large
plain known to be frequented by emus, far beyond any of the sheep-runs.
On one side it was bounded by an extensive scrub, which being
fortunately to leeward, we hoped by creeping along under its cover to
get within reach of the birds.  We had proceeded some way when we caught
sight of several, but they were all feeding too far off to give us any
hope of shooting them without showing ourselves.  Had we been mounted we
might have been able to run down two or three, but being on foot, our
best chance was to wait in ambush until some unwary bird got within
range of our arrows.  My idea was that, if we could shoot one, the
others, from curiosity, would come to see what was the matter.

We accordingly agreed to wait patiently until we were certain of hitting
our "quarry."  Toby set us a good example by taking post behind a bush,
where he stood looking like a bronze statue well blackened by London
smoke.

Had two or three emus come near enough, I do not think that Hector and I
could have resisted the temptation to use our rifles.  Not a sound was
heard, except when an emu uttered its hollow, booming note, as if
carrying on a conversation with its mate.  At length one of the noble
birds came stalking up directly towards where we lay hid.  It was fully
seven feet in height, with powerful, stout legs, while its wings were so
small that they could not be distinguished from its lightish brown and
grey plumage.  It got up to within twenty yards, when Oliver and Ralph,
unable longer to restrain their eagerness, leapt to their feet, and sent
a couple of shafts into its body.  The emu, seeing them, turned tail,
and off it went at a rapid rate.  Influenced by a natural impulse, they
started off in chase, instead of getting under cover and watching for
the chance of another bird coming up to it.  Toby also sprang out from
behind a tree, and Hector and I followed, trusting that the arrows had
struck deep enough, if not mortally to wound the emu, at all events, to
prevent its keeping up the pace at which it was going.  Our plucky young
companions were fixing fresh arrows to their strings as they ran on,
while Toby, bounding over the ground, promised soon to come up with the
wounded bird.  What had become of the other emus, I could not see; and I
had to look where I was stepping, for fear of toppling down on my nose.
I do not think I ever ran faster in my life.  The emu kept on, but still
it did not gain upon us sufficiently fast to make us abandon the hope of
coming up with it.  At length its pace became slower, and Oliver, who
was leading, sent another arrow into its body.  It went off again on
feeling the pain, faster than ever; but before long, once more slackened
its speed, though it still managed to keep ahead.  A pretty long chase
it led us altogether, still the excitement and prospect of catching it
at last induced us to proceed, Oliver and Ralph shouting and hallooing
in high glee, as they dashed over the ground, while Toby held his axe
ready to give it a finishing blow as soon as he could get up to it.  I
was but a short distance behind the others, and supposed that Hector was
following me; but at last the hard-pressed emu showed evident signs of
giving in, and Oliver was springing towards it, when Toby shouted--

"Take care, him give kick one side!"

Fortunately Oliver followed this advice, when, in spite of its hurts,
the bird struck out so furiously behind and on one side, that it would
have broken his leg, or have inflicted a dangerous wound, had it struck
him.

The black now, getting in front of it, threw the axe with so sure an
aim, that the bird, its head almost cleft in two, fell dead to the
ground.

The two boys uttered a shout of triumph, in which I joined.  I expected
to hear Hector's voice, but on looking round he was nowhere to be seen.
What had become of him, neither his brothers nor the black could say.
We were afraid that he must have hurt his foot, or fallen and been
unable to follow.  We could scarcely calculate how far we had come.
Oliver declared that it must have been five miles at least; but I did
not think the distance was nearly so much.  The question was now, what
to do with our emu while we went back in search of Hector, as we were
unwilling to abandon so valuable a prize to the dingoes, who were very
likely to find it out.  Fortunately there were some bushes near which
would afford fuel for a fire, and Toby consented to camp on the spot,
while we returned to look for our companion.

I should have said that Guy and Bracewell had promised to ride after us
the next morning with a spare horse or two, to carry back the spoils of
the chase.  I knew that they would come, although they had expressed
great doubt whether we should have any game to carry home.  They had
settled to meet us at a spot with which Hector was acquainted; but if he
were lost we should be unable to find it.

After we had taken some rest and food we set off, leaving Toby to skin
and cut up the emu.

We had spent so much time in the chase, that it began to grow dark
before we had got a mile on our way; still, as we had a compass with us,
we were able to keep in the right direction.

"As the moon is about to rise, we shall soon be able to see our way,"
said Oliver; "but what can have happened to Hector?"

No one was able to answer that question.  As we went on we shouted out
his name, but no reply came, and I began to feel very uneasy.  I thought
that I had seen him certainly close to the point we had now reached.

I twice fired off my rifle, but listened in vain for the report of his.
I now began to regret that we had not brought Toby with us, for he would
have been far more likely to find him than we were.

His brothers were almost in despair.

"We had better go back and get Toby," exclaimed Oliver.

"Something dreadful must have happened.  Perhaps he has been bitten by a
poisonous snake, or kicked by an emu," said Ralph.

"Unless a mob of blacks have been hiding in the scrub and tracked us," I
remarked.

"But then I don't see how they could have overtaken him without our
seeing them," said Oliver.

At last it became so dark that we found it impossible to proceed, and it
was proposed to halt until the moon should rise, when we should better
be able to find our way.

We accordingly sat down on the ground to wait until the pale luminary of
night could give us her light.

She rose even sooner than we had expected.

"Hurrah!" cried Oliver, "it will soon be almost as light as day, and
unless Hector has fallen asleep, we shall find him."

We accordingly went on, shouting out as before.  Presently my foot
slipped into a hole, and I very nearly dislocated my ankle.

"What could have made that hole?"  I exclaimed.

"Wombats, I've a notion," answered Oliver.  "Look, there's one of the
creatures!"  As he spoke we saw an animal like a small bear waddling
along over the ground.  Presently we caught sight of another and
another.  We had evidently got into a colony of the creatures.

"I wonder we did not come across these when we were running after the
emu," I observed.  "I am afraid that we have got out of our way."

"We must have been close on one side or the other, for I'm certain that
we were at no great distance from this," answered Oliver.

"Hector, Hector!" he shouted.

"Listen!" cried Ralph: "I heard a voice.  It came from the right--it's
not far off there!"

Again we shouted, when listening attentively we all three heard a reply
and felt sure that we were not mistaken as to the direction from which
it came.

On making our way towards the spot we caught sight of a dozen or more
wombats, and presently of the head and arms of a person rising above the
ground.

"That must be Hector!  Hector, Hector, is it you?" shouted Oliver.

"Yes, yes! make haste or I shall tumble back again," was the answer.

We sprang forward and caught him by the arms; when, all three hauling
away, we quickly dragged him out of a large hole into which he had
fallen.

"Take care," he said.  "I cannot stand--I sprained my ankle when falling
into the hole, and the pain was so great that I believe I must have
fainted.  When I came to myself, I found that it was perfectly dark, and
no sooner had I managed to reach the top of the hole than a whole herd
of those wombats came sniffing round me, wondering what strange creature
had got among them.  I shouldn't have minded them, had they not tried to
bite my hands and compelled me to let go again."

The wombats, on our appearance, had waddled off, so that they did not
interfere with us while we were attending to Hector.

On his trying to use his foot he found that his ankle was not so much
injured as he had supposed, and that by supporting himself on our
shoulders he could manage to hobble along.  He therefore very willingly
agreed to try and get back to the camp.

"But what has become of your gun?"  I asked; "can you remember where you
left it?"

"I'm sure I don't know," answered Hector; "I had it in my hand when I
fell, but when I felt about for it I could nowhere find it."

We searched for the rifle round the hole and at last came to the
conclusion that it must have fallen in.

Ralph offered to descend.

He got down without difficulty and soon cried out that he had found the
rifle at the bottom.  "Stay, I have found something else," he added as
he handed up the rifle.  "While I was groping about, my hand came in
contact with two hairy creatures.  Here they are!" and stooping down
again he hauled out two young wombats.  We speedily knocked them on the
head, agreeing that they would make a very good roast for supper.

We should have been puzzled to know how the big wombat got out of the
hole, had not Ralph told us that he had found a passage sloping upwards
to a smaller entrance some distance off.

As the two small wombats might not prove sufficient for all hands I shot
a big fellow which measured nearly three feet in length, and was covered
with a thick hairy coat.

Ralph undertook to carry it on his shoulders, while Oliver and I
supported Hector.

We now lost no time in making our way back to the camp.  Our progress
was of necessity slow, but we reached it at last, having been guided
during the latter part of the distance by the bright flames of Toby's
fire.

We immediately set to work to cook the wombat.  Toby however had
satisfied his hunger on the flesh of the emu, though he managed after a
little rest to devour no small portion of the meat we had brought.

We then lay down to sleep, pretty well tired by the fatigue we had gone
through.  To our dismay Hector was utterly unable to walk the next
morning, but fortunately our friends discovered us on their way to the
rendezvous, and he mounting one of the horses we set off for home.  We
carried with us the emu, which it was calculated would yield between six
and seven quarts of fine oil.  It is for the sake of this valuable
product that the bird is generally hunted.

Hector very good-naturedly bore the bantering of the rest of the party
on the subject of his adventure among the wombats.

We had ridden some distance across the open country, when we observed
ahead what looked like a dense black mist in the far distance above the
scrub.

"What can that be?"  I asked of Bracewell.

"I don't like its appearance," he answered.  "I fear that the bush is on
fire, and if so it is impossible to say where it will stop.  It appears
to be at no great distance from the station.  What do you think,
Hector?"

"I'm sure it's very near," he answered hurriedly; "and during this dry
weather the rapidity with which it spreads is extraordinary.  Push on,
all of you; don't mind me, I can be of no use with this lame foot, but
you may still be in time to assist in saving our dear ones at home
should the fire reach the house.  Here, Maurice, do you mount my horse,
and I'll get on the animal carrying the emu; there's not a moment to
lose."

I willingly acted according to his suggestion; and, leaving him with his
two younger brothers and Toby, Bracewell, Guy, and I galloped forward.

Bracewell appeared more agitated than I had ever seen him before.  He
had been paying great attention to Mary Strong, and the thought now
occurred to him that she was in danger.  While we were dashing on as
hard as we could go, it appeared to us that the conflagration was
rapidly extending.  Already dense wreaths of smoke, rising towards the
sky, formed a thick canopy overhead; while we could see every now and
then the bright flames darting upwards above the intervening bush as
some tall tree was wrapped in their embrace.

It was very evident that the homestead was in the greatest danger, even
if it was not already encircled in flames; and although the inmates
might have made their escape, we could not tell in what direction they
had fled.  They would have endeavoured to save as much of their property
as possible from destruction, and Bracewell's fears conjured up the
dreadful idea that they might have been caught by the rapidly advancing
foe before they could reach a place of safety.

With whip and spur we urged on our animals.  We had as yet seen no one
to tell us in what direction our friends had gone.  There was a stream
to the left, used in the shearing season for washing the sheep, and
Bracewell hoped that they might have made their way to it.

The intervening ground was free of trees, and the grass had been cropped
so low that the fire was not likely to make much progress over it.  They
might, however, still be at the house, and towards it we directed our
course.

As we galloped up what was our dismay to find it on fire, while the
outbuildings were nearly burnt to the ground!  We dashed up shouting to
our friends, but no one replied.

"They must have gone across the stream," cried Bracewell; and turning
our horses' heads we rode furiously on through the flames which had
already caught the bushes on either side of us.  After shouting again
and again it was with unspeakable thankfulness that we heard our shouts
answered, and dashing across the stream, we found the family assembled
on a spot where the fire was not likely to reach.

Mary was on her palfrey, her father standing by her side endeavouring to
quiet her alarm, while Mrs Strong with the children and young people
were seated on the ground among such articles as they had been able to
save.

Our arrival greatly relieved their anxiety, for they had fancied that we
and the boys might have been passing through a part of the wood in which
the fire had been raging.

The flames spread to the east and the west, but having nothing to feed
on near the stream they fortunately did not cross to the side on which
we had taken refuge.

The fire continued to rage long after darkness had come on, and grand
and terrible was the spectacle it exhibited.  We watched it anxiously
not knowing how far it might extend.  I was much struck with the calm
way in which Mr Strong endured his hard fortune.  Not a murmur escaped
his lips, but over and over again he expressed his gratitude to Heaven
for having preserved all those dear to him from injury.

Under his directions we all turned to and put up some huts for the
ladies, in which they passed the night.  Mercifully towards morning a
heavy fall of rain came on and extinguished the fire almost as suddenly
as it had begun.

Next morning Mr Strong set about ascertaining his losses and with
wonderful energy took steps to repair them.

Bracewell invited the family to take up their abode at his hut until
their new house was ready to receive them, and they immediately set off
in one of the waggons which had escaped.

Guy and I, with the young Strongs, worked with the farm hands from
morning till night, in putting up fences and rebuilding the house; and
in a wonderfully short time the station, which had become little more
than a mass of ruins, began to assume a habitable aspect.

Though we worked without wages the knowledge we gained was of the
greatest value to us in our subsequent career.  In a year or two our
worthy cousin had completely recovered from the heavy losses he had
sustained.

Bracewell before long became the husband of Mary Strong.

The proprietor of the next station to his wishing to sell out, we,
assisted by him, were able to purchase it; and as soon as we had got up
a tolerable residence, we sent to the old country for our mother and
sisters; and I may honestly say we have had no cause to regret having
fixed our home in Australia.

THE END.





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