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Title: The Adventurous Seven - Their Hazardous Undertaking
Author: Marchant, Bessie, 1862-1941
Language: English
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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 "The Adventurous Seven - Their Hazardous Undertaking" ***

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THE ADVENTUROUS SEVEN


      *      *      *      *      *      *


By BESSIE MARCHANT

   THE YOUNGEST SISTER: A Tale of Manitoba. 5s.

   A PRINCESS OF SERVIA: A Story of To-day. 3s. 6d.

   A GIRL OF DISTINCTION: A Tale of the Karroo. 5s.

   A COUNTESS FROM CANADA: A Story of Life in the Backwoods. 5s.

   DAUGHTERS OF THE DOMINION: A Story of the Canadian Frontier. 5s.
   "Related with immense spirit."--_Globe_.

   SISTERS OF SILVER CREEK: A Story of Western Canada. 5s.
   "A very attractive and brightly written story."--_Daily Chronicle_.

   THE FERRY HOUSE GIRLS: An Australian Story. 3s. 6d.
   "The story is told with great realistic force and
   style."--_British Weekly_.

   GRETA'S DOMAIN: A Tale of Chiloé. 3s. 6d.
   "Few girls but will enjoy this exciting tale."--_Academy_.

   THREE GIRLS IN MEXICO: A Story of Life in the Interior. 3s. 6d.
   "The style is simple and direct, and the whole book
   pleasing."--_Saturday Review_.

   A COURAGEOUS GIRL: A Story of Uruguay. 3s. 6d.
   "It is a most fascinating story."--_Schoolmistress_.

   NO ORDINARY GIRL: A Story of Central America. 3s. 6d.
   "The conception of the story is fresh, and deserves
   praise."--_Athenæum_.

   A GIRL OF THE FORTUNATE ISLES: A Story of New Zealand. 3s. 6d.

   A DAUGHTER OF THE RANGES: A Story of Western Canada. 3s. 6d.

   A HEROINE OF THE SEA: A Story of Vancouver Island. 3s. 6d.

   THREE GIRLS ON A RANCH: A Story of New Mexico. 2s. 6d.

   THE GIRL CAPTIVES: A Story of the Indian Frontier. 2s. 6d.

   THE BONDED THREE: A Story of Northern India. 2s. 6d.

   HOPE'S TRYST. 2s.

   LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.


      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: "THE DOCTOR'S CANE CAME CUTTING THROUGH THE AIR"]


THE ADVENTUROUS SEVEN

Their Hazardous Undertaking

by

BESSIE MARCHANT

Author of "The Heroine of the Ranch" "The Loyalty of Hester Hope"
"A Princess of Servia" "The Youngest Sister" &c.

Illustrated by W. R. S. Stott



Blackie and Son Limited
London Glasgow and Bombay



Contents

      Chap.                                                 Page
         I. The Great Idea                                     9
        II. The Deputation                                    18
       III. The Emigrants                                     34
        IV. Rumple's Discovery                                49
         V. The End of the Voyage                             61
        VI. A Real Friend                                     73
       VII. The One-armed Man                                 88
      VIII. The Start                                        102
        IX. In a Strange Place                               114
         X. A Fright at Night                                124
        XI. Anxious Hours                                    136
       XII. Repairing the Damage                             148
      XIII. In Sight of Hammerville                          159
       XIV. The Arrival                                      173
        XV. A Great Shock                                    186
       XVI. The Next Thing To Be Done                        196
      XVII. In the Thick of It                               213
     XVIII. "Father, We Want You!"                           225
       XIX. The News                                         243
        XX. How It All Ended                                 252



THE ADVENTUROUS SEVEN

CHAPTER I

The Great Idea


The village schoolroom was packed as full as it would hold, and the air
was so thick that, as Sylvia said, it could almost be scooped up with a
spoon. The lecturer was stout and perspiring freely, but he meant to do
his duty at all costs, and he rose to the occasion with tremendous
vigour, declaiming in really fine style:

"It is a poor man's paradise, and there is no place on the face of this
earth to rival it. You reach it by a pleasure cruise across summer seas,
to find it has the finest scenery your eyes have ever beheld and a
climate that is not to be beaten."

"Hear, hear!" shouted Rumple, clapping vigorously. He had led the
applause from the very beginning of the lecture, only it was a little
awkward for the lecturer that he mostly broke into the middle of a
sentence instead of waiting for a pause, as a more judicious person
might have done.

"Encore!" yelled Billykins, forgetting for the moment that it was not a
concert, and, as the lecture had already lasted for upwards of an hour
and a half, it might have proved a little tedious to some of the
audience if it had been repeated from the very beginning.

The rows of people sitting in the seats behind broke into a wild uproar
of stamping, thumping, and clapping which lasted for nearly five
minutes, and, of course, raised more dust to thicken the atmosphere.

The pause gave the lecturer time to recover his breath and wipe some of
the perspiration from his face; it also made him rather cross, for he
had somehow got the idea that he was being laughed at, which was quite
wrong, because all seven of the Plumsteads, from Nealie down to Ducky,
thought that he was doing very well indeed.

"If you don't believe what I say," concluded the lecturer, "just come
out to New South Wales and see for yourselves if I have not told you the
plain, unvarnished truth; and I repeat what I have said before, that
although it is no place for the idle rich, for the man or the woman who
wants to work it is not to be beaten."

It was at this moment that Nealie leaned forward to whisper to Rupert,
who sat on the other side of Don and Billykins:

"Would it not be lovely for us all to go? Just think how we could help
dear Father, and he would not be lonely any more."

"Rather!" ejaculated Rupert, making a noise which was first cousin to a
whistle; then he passed the whisper on to Sylvia and Rumple, and that
was how the great idea started.

When the lecture was over they all crowded forward to speak to the
lecturer, explaining in a rather incoherent fashion the reason of their
keen interest in what he had been saying, and their hard and fast
intention to emigrate as soon as possible.

"Our father lives in New South Wales; but most likely you have met him,"
said Nealie, whose knowledge of Australian geography was rather vague,
and who supposed that, as the lecturer came from Sydney, he would most
probably know everyone who lived in the country known as New South
Wales.

"I can't remember him offhand, young lady, but perhaps if you tell me
his name I may recollect whether I have met him," said the lecturer,
smiling at her in a genial fashion.

"He is Dr. Plumstead, and he is very clever," said Nealie, giving her
head the proud little tilt which it always took on when she spoke of her
father. She was very much of a child, despite her nineteen years, and
she never seemed able to understand that her father was not at the top
of his profession.

"Father is very much like Rumple, only, of course, bigger," broke in
Billykins, who could never be reduced to silence for many minutes
together nor yet be thrust into the background.

But Rumple blushed furiously at being dragged into notice in such a way,
and, turning his head abruptly, gave the lecturer no chance of comparing
his face with those of possible acquaintances on the other side of the
world.

"Most likely I have met him. I see so many people, far too many to be
able to recall their names at will," said the lecturer; but then the
vicar came up to claim his attention and the seven could get no further
chance to talk to him.

They set off home then; and as it was so dark, and a drizzling rain was
falling, Nealie took Ducky on her back, while Sylvia and Rumple helped
Rupert, who was lame, leaving Don and Billykins to bring up the rear.

The nearest way was down through Boughlee Wood, but this route was not
to be thought of in the dark. It was not even wise to take the short cut
across Kennel Hill, so they tramped along the hard road, splashing
through the puddles and talking like a set of magpies about the
lecture, the lecturer, and their own determination to emigrate at once.

"No one wants us here, and there is nothing to do except get into
mischief," said Sylvia, with a sigh.

"Father will be glad to have us, of course, and we will make him so very
happy!" cried Nealie, and then Ducky leaned forward to kiss her on the
nose, hugging her so tightly that it was quite wonderful she was not
choked.

"But how are we to get to Australia?" panted Rupert, who was finding the
pace rather trying.

"We must ask Mr. Runciman to let us have the money," said Nealie. "I
should think that he would be glad to do it, for then he will get rid of
us, don't you see? And he is always grumbling about our being such a
dreadful expense."

"Mr. Runciman is horrid!" burst out Ducky, giving Nealie another hug. "I
just hate him when he says nasty things to you, Nealie."

"Of course we are an expense to him, especially when dear Father is not
able to send enough money to keep us, and we have all got such big
appetites," said Nealie, with a sigh.

"I am hungry now, dreadfully hungry," put in Billykins from the rear.

"Shall we go to see Mr. Runciman to-morrow?" asked Rumple.

"We can't manage to get back before dark, I am afraid, and Mrs. Puffin
makes such a fuss if we are out after dark; just as if anyone would want
to run away with the seven of us," returned Nealie in a scornful tone.

"We can go in the morning, for the vicar is going to a Diocesan
Conference, and he has given us a holiday. He told me about it
to-night," said Rupert.

"That will be lovely. Then we will have Aunt Judith's chair for you and
Ducky, it will be just a jolly jaunt for us; only we must be at The
Paddock early, to catch Mr. Runciman before he goes out," said Nealie.

"I would rather walk----" began Ducky, with a touch of petulance in her
voice, but Nealie stopped her quickly with a whisper:

"You must ride, darling, or Rupert won't have the chair, and a long walk
does take it out of him so badly you know."

"If we have the chair, Don and I will be the horses, and we will go down
Coombe Lane at a gallop," said Billykins, with a festive prance.

"That will be perfectly lovely, only Rupert will have to hold me tightly
or I shall be tossed out at the turn, and I might damage my nose again,"
replied Ducky, with a gleeful chuckle.

By this time they had reached Beechleigh, and turning short across the
green by the pond they tramped in at the gate of the funny little house
where their great-aunt, Miss Judith Webber, had lived and died, and
which was the only home they had known since Ducky was a tiny babe.

Mrs. Puffin, a lean little widow of mouldy aspect, opened the door to
let them in and exclaimed loudly to see how damp they were.

"Now you will all be catching colds, and I shall have to nurse you," she
said in a woebegone tone, as she felt them all round. "If you must go
out in the wet in this fashion, why can't you take umbrellas?"

"Because we haven't got them," answered Nealie, with a laugh. She mostly
laughed about their limitations, because it made them just a little
easier to bear. "The little boys had the last umbrella that we possess
to play at Bedouin tents with on Tuesday, and they had a sad accident
and broke three of its ribs, poor thing. But we shall not catch cold,
Mrs. Puffin, because we are all going straight to bed."

"But I am hungry," protested Billykins.

"I know, and so am I; but we will all have a big piece of seed cake when
we get into bed, and go to sleep to dream of big bowls of steaming
porridge with brown sugar on the top," said Nealie; and the vision
proved so alluring that all seven trooped up the dark stairs and crowded
into the small bedrooms, feeling quite cheerful in spite of tired
limbs, hunger, and the discomfort of damp clothes.

But their voices hushed, and a wistful look crept into their faces, as
they passed the door leading into Aunt Judith's empty bedroom. The old
lady had loved them so dearly, and they had given her love for love in
unstinted measure, so that now she was dead there was an awful blank in
their hearts and their lives.

Being very tired and very healthy, however, they went to sleep directly
they tumbled into bed; indeed Ducky could not keep awake long enough to
eat her cake, so Nealie laid it on the chair by the little girl's bed
for her to find when she opened her eyes in the morning.

Sleep was longer in coming to Nealie than to the others. She was older
than they were, and had been mother to them so long that she was apt to
be thinking out ways and means when she ought to have been asleep.

It would be too utterly delightful to go out to Australia and live with
her father. It was nearly seven years since she had seen him, and her
heart was always aching at the thought of his lonely exile.

If only Mr. Runciman would consent to their going! But would he?

"Well, it is of no use to worry and to wonder; we must just wait and
see. But I think when all seven of us go marching into that splendid
library of his at The Paddock, he will be so dismayed to see what a lot
of us there are, that he will be quite ready to take the very shortest
way of getting rid of the bother of looking after us," she said to
herself, with a soft little laugh which rippled through the dark room
and even made itself heard in the other room across the passage where
the four boys were sleeping; and Rupert, who had been having bad dreams
because his lame foot was hurting rather badly, smiled in his uneasy
slumber and straightway drifted off into a more profound repose, from
which he did not wake until the misty September dawning crept over the
wide plantations of beech and larch for which Beechleigh was famous.



CHAPTER II

The Deputation


It was well for Nealie Plumstead that she could mostly laugh in spite of
troubles, for her life had been shadowed by a great disaster which had
brought in its turn a battalion of cares, worries, and responsibilities.

Until she was almost twelve years old life had been one unbroken
happiness. She had been at the head of an ever-increasing nursery, and
she had governed her small kingdom to the very best of her ability. Then
had come a cloud of black trouble, the exact nature of which she did not
understand even now, only vaguely she had gathered that it was something
professional.

Then Ducky, whose name was Hilda Grace, had been born, and the dear
mother had sunk out of life, leaving a distracted husband and seven
children to mourn their loss.

Following this came the long journey from the busy manufacturing town,
where they had always lived, to Beechleigh and the home of Miss Judith
Webber. Dr. Plumstead had come with them to see them safely settled, but
on the day that Ducky was one month old, he had kissed them all round,
in a heartbreaking goodbye, and had set off on the voyage to Australia.

Sometimes he used to write to Aunt Judith and send her money for the
children's keep, when he had any to send; but he almost never wrote to
his children, although they simply pelted him with letters of the most
affectionate description.

Two years ago, however, a great weakness had fallen upon Aunt Judith;
she could write no letters nor do any business at all, and another
nephew of hers, a Mr. Runciman, undertook the administration of her
affairs.

The seven hated him in a hearty, downright fashion, for he always made
himself as disagreeable as possible to them, and certainly seemed to
resent their existence.

It was soon after Aunt Judith had been taken ill that a letter coming
from Australia, directed to Miss Webber, had been opened by Nealie in
all good faith, for she never supposed that her father would write
anything to her aunt that she might not read; but to her dismay she
learned that the numerous letters of the children, instead of bringing
pleasure to the heart of the exile, gave him so much pain that he
begged Miss Webber not to let them write to him, because it reminded him
too sadly of all that he had lost in the past, and was missing in the
present. It was such a sad, dreadful sort of letter that Nealie had
cried herself nearly blind over it, and then had gathered the others for
a solemn council. The elders had no secrets from the younger ones, so
Billykins and Ducky had as much to say on the subject as their seniors;
and in the end it was resolved that Nealie and Rupert should write a
letter to their father and tell him that they would worry him with no
more letters until he expressed a desire to have them.

A year and a half had passed since that time, but although the children
watched for the mails with pathetic eagerness, there had come no letter
from their father for them. He did not write to Aunt Judith either,
after he had been told how ill she was; but he wrote to Mr. Runciman
sometimes, they knew, because Mr. Runciman had spoken of having letters
from him.

This long silence would have made them very miserable, if it had not
been that they were so sorry for him that it never occurred to them to
be sorry for themselves. They had each other, but he was alone, and so,
of course, he was to be pitied.

Inspired by the great idea, the seven woke in riotous spirits next
morning, which not even the near prospect of an interview with Mr.
Runciman could daunt, although he was quite sufficiently formidable at
close quarters to make any ordinary person afraid.

Rupert and Rumple cleaned the boots, while Nealie and Sylvia got
breakfast ready, the three juniors having to make themselves useful in
any direction where help was most needed.

They had all learned to wait on themselves during the long illness of
Aunt Judith, for Mrs. Puffin had her hands full with nursing, while
since the death of the old lady she had been in such poor health that
Nealie and Sylvia had done all the cooking and most of the housework,
with a great deal of help from the others.

Breakfast consisted of big plates of porridge and slices of home-made
bread spread with damson jam. There were two trees in Aunt Judith's
small garden, and they had borne a record crop this year.

There was no lingering over their food this morning, but directly the
meal was dispatched the boys washed up the breakfast crockery, while the
girls made the beds and put the rooms tidy. Then Nealie asked Mrs.
Puffin to make them a suet pudding and bake them some potatoes for
dinner, after which they brushed themselves into a fine state of
neatness, and then, bringing the bath chair from the shed, Rupert and
Ducky were packed into it and the expedition set out on the five miles'
journey to The Paddock, Smethwick, where Mr. Runciman lived.

It was still quite early, and Mr. Runciman, having dealt with the
morning's letters, was sitting in his library looking through the daily
paper before going out to interview his steward and settling the other
business of the day, when the butler entered the room and announced:

"The seven Misses and Masters Plumstead to see you, sir."

"Goodness gracious, what next?" exclaimed Mr. Runciman in a tone of
positive alarm.

"Shall I show them in, if you please, sir?" asked the butler in a
sympathetic fashion, looking as if he really felt sorry for the
perturbed gentleman.

"All seven of them? Yes, I suppose you must, and see here, Roberts, just
ask the housekeeper to have some cakes and cocoa, or something of that
kind, ready for them to have before they go back to Beechleigh, for I
suppose that they are walking?"

"Yes, sir; that is to say, some of them are, but the lame young
gentleman and the little girl rode down in a bath chair," replied the
butler, and then permitted himself a grin of pure amusement as he
retired from the room to usher in the visitors, for the harassed master
of the house fairly groaned at the thought of having callers arrive in
such a fashion.

"The Misses and Masters Plumstead," announced the butler, throwing open
the door with the grand flourish which was worth at least ten pounds a
year to him in salary.

Nealie and Ducky entered first, followed by Rupert, walking alone, then
came Sylvia and Rumple, while Don and Billykins brought up the rear.

Mr. Runciman rose at once and came forward to greet them, trying very
hard to infuse as much cordiality as possible into his manner.

"My dear children, what an unexpected pleasure! Why, Cornelia, you are
positively blooming, and my little friend Hilda is as charming as
always. Ah, Rupert, my boy, how goes the Latin? Nothing like the dead
languages for training the mind. Sylvia, you grow so fast that there is
no keeping up with you. Dalrymple, you will have to use the dumb-bells
more or you will positively have Donald and William beat you in the
matter of height."

It was one of Mr. Runciman's vices in the eyes of the seven that he
would always give them the full benefit of their baptismal names,
although he knew, because they had told him so, that they simply hated
the formal mode of address, which no one used except himself. It always
had the effect of making them stiff and self-conscious; so now Rupert
limped more than usual, Sylvia dropped her gloves, which she was
carrying because they had too many holes to be wearable, and Rumple
lurched against a pile of books that lay at the edge of the table and
brought the whole lot to the floor with a crash.

"Sorry," murmured Rumple, diving hastily to recover the volumes, and
promptly knocking his head against that of Billykins, who was also
grovelling for the same purpose, while Nealie plunged into the business
of their visit, hoping to divert the attention of the master of the
house from the awkwardness of the boys, poor things; but Sylvia giggled
in quite a disgraceful fashion, then blinked hard at a bust of Apollo
which stood on a bookshelf opposite, and tried to look as if she were
appreciating the admirable way in which it was sculptured.

"We have come down to see you to-day to ask you if you will please send
us out to New South Wales to our father," said Nealie, holding her head
at an extremely haughty angle, just because she was so very nervous.

"Good gracious! I wonder what you will want next?" gasped Mr. Runciman,
who had probably not been so much astonished for a very long time.

"It would really be taking a great load of worry from you, sir," put in
Rupert eagerly, thrusting himself abreast of Nealie and leaning on his
stick while he talked. "A large family, as we are, would be a valuable
asset in a new country, while here we are only an encumbrance and a
nuisance. Besides, we should like to be with our father."

"Quite so, quite so; but think of the expense!" murmured Mr. Runciman,
as he rubbed his hands together in a nervous manner. He said the first
thing which came into his head for the sake of gaining time. The
proposition was sufficiently staggering, but on the other hand it might
be worth consideration.

"I am afraid that we must be a heavy expense to you now, sir, seeing
that we have to be fed and clothed," replied Rupert, with a deference
that was really soothing to Mr. Runciman, who smiled graciously and
waved his hand as much as to say that the matter was too trifling to be
considered.

"You will let us go, won't you, air, because we want to build the
Empire?" burst out Billykins, thrusting himself in between his elders
and looking so flushed and excited that Mr. Runciman, who had no son of
his own, could not be so repressive as he felt he ought to have been.

"Eh, what? And how do you expect you are going to set about it, young
man?" he demanded, while Billykins went suddenly red in the face,
because Sylvia had tweaked his jacket, which was the signal that he was
overstepping the mark.

"I don't know, but I expect we will find out when we get there. Don and
I mostly find out how to do things, and Nealie says we are going to be
the business men of the family. Rupert and Rumple have got the brains,
but there is practical perseverance in us----"

The small boy came to a sudden pause, for Sylvia, fearing what he might
say next, had dragged him into the background, leaving Nealie to speak.

"We should be very glad to go to Australia, if you please; for now that
Aunt Judith is dead no one wants us here, and we might be a very great
comfort to our father when he got used to having us." Her voice broke a
little on the last words; she was remembering the letter which she had
so innocently opened and read, and the wonder whether he would be quite
glad to see them at first crept in to spoil her joy at the thought that
perhaps Mr. Runciman was for once going to do the thing they wanted so
badly.

Her words brought a frown to his face, and when he spoke his voice had
an apologetic ring which sounded strangely in the ears of the seven.

"I am sorry that you should feel that no one wants you here. Of course
Mrs. Runciman and my daughters have so many engagements that it is not
easy for them to go as far as Beechleigh very often; but we have
certainly tried to take care of you since your great-aunt passed away."

"You have been most kind," said Nealie hastily, divining in a vague
fashion that she had somehow said something to hurt his feelings, which
was certainly outside her intentions. "But we hate to be a continual
burden upon our connections, and there seems no way in which we can earn
money here."

"Don and I could keep pigs on the stubble fields, only Nealie won't let
us. We could earn half a crown a week at it too," burst out Billykins,
thrusting himself to the front like a jack-in-the-box and disappearing
as suddenly, being again dragged back by Sylvia.

There was a troubled look on the face of Mr. Runciman as his gaze rested
upon Nealie, who was the living image of her dead mother. There was a
secret chamber in his heart that was tenanted by the mournful memory of
a dead love. He had loved the mother of the seven, but she had passed
him by to marry Dr. Plumstead, and so the secret chamber had held
nothing but a shrine ever since, only it made him a little kinder to the
motherless children than he otherwise might have been.

"It would be a tremendous expense to send you all such a long distance,"
he said, still speaking for the sake of gaining time, yet disposed to
regard the proposal as a really practical way in which to solve the
problem of their future.

"It could be done for about seventy pounds, I think, if we went
steerage; and it is quite comfortable for people who do not mind
roughing it, and as we have not been used to any sort of luxury, of
course we shall not miss it," said Sylvia.

"I could not allow you to go as steerage passengers," replied Mr.
Runciman.

"We would much rather go as steerage passengers than not go at all,"
murmured Nealie.

"I will think about it and let you know," he said, but with so much
giving way in his tone that they burst into a chorus of imploring.

"Please, please decide now and write to tell Father that we are coming.
We are quite ready to start by the next boat, and it is so lonely living
at Beechleigh now that Aunt Judith is dead," pleaded Nealie, silencing
the others with a wave of her hand.

If one of the others had spoken then, Mr. Runciman would certainly have
refused, but because of her likeness to the dead he had to give way. He
reflected, too, that if he wrote the letter now it would be impossible
for him to draw back from his word, however angry his wife might be when
she heard what he had done.

"Very well, I will write to your father to-night," he said.

"Do not leave it until this evening; you might forget; there are so many
other things for you to remember," said Nealie softly. "If you will
write the letter now we will post it as we go through Braybrook Lees;
then it will be just in time for the outgoing mail. Tell dear Father
that we are coming by the next boat. We will be ready somehow."

"Yes, please, please, dear Mr. Runciman, write now," said Sylvia,
leaning forward in her most engaging manner, while even Ducky smiled
upon him, clasping her hands entreatingly, just as Sylvia and Nealie
were doing.

"Very well; but it will have to be a short letter, for the cart is
coming round in twenty minutes to take me over to Aldington," he said,
giving way before their entreaties and pulling out his watch to see what
the time was; and then he touched the bell at his side, saying to
Nealie, as Roberts appeared in answer to the summons: "My dear, if you
and the others will go into the housekeeper's room for a little
refreshment I will get the letter written, and you shall have it to take
with you; then I will write to London about your passage to-night."

"Oh, you are a dear, a most kind dear!" burst out Sylvia, flinging her
arms round his neck and kissing him on the cheek--a liberty she had
never in her life ventured upon before, and which considerably shocked
Nealie, who was afraid it would make him angry, and was agreeably
surprised to find that he only seemed to be startled by it.

Then they all trooped off to the housekeeper's room, where they made a
tremendous onslaught upon a big and very plummy cake; and they were
still drinking cups of steaming cocoa when Roberts appeared again, this
time bringing a letter on a silver salver, which he handed to Nealie
with a grave bow, saying that Mr. Runciman wished her to read it and
then to post it, and he would ride over to Beechleigh on the day after
to-morrow to tell them what arrangements he had been able to make for
their journey.

"It is jolly decent of him!" muttered Rupert, who had looked over
Nealie's shoulder while she read the letter.

"Oh, he is not half bad at the bottom, I should say!" remarked Rumple,
who was wondering if Mr. Runciman would feel flattered if he were to
make a short poem about this most gracious concession to their wishes.
The worst of it was that Mr. Runciman did not exactly lend himself to
poetry, that is, he was by no means an inspiring subject.

The housekeeper looked on in smiling amusement at their frank criticism
of the master of the house; but she was a kindly soul, and it was only
human to feel sorry for these poor young people, whom no one seemed to
want, now that old Miss Webber was dead. There had been a good deal of
wondering comment in the servants' hall and the housekeeper's room at
The Paddock as to what would be done with the family. Everyone was
quite sure that Mrs. Runciman would never consent to receive them, even
temporarily, and it was because of her refusal to in any way recognize
their claim upon her kindness that they had been left for Mrs. Puffin to
look after since the death of their great-aunt.

When they could eat no more cake they bade a cordial goodbye to the
housekeeper, shook hands all round with the dignified Roberts, and then
trooped off in the highest spirits, talking eagerly of the voyage and
the wonderful things they would do when they reached the other side of
the world.

"It is almost too good to be true!" cried Sylvia, dancing along on the
tips of her toes. "Race me to the gate, Rumple, so that I may get some
of this excitement out of my brain, for I am sure that it can't be good
for me, and it will never do to fall ill at this juncture."

"I can't run; I'm thinking," replied Rumple, with a heavy frown. He was
finding difficulties at the very outset in his poem, because of the
seeming impossibility of finding any word which would rhyme with
Runciman.

"We will race you," shouted Don and Billykins together, and, dropping
the handle of the bath chair, they set off at full tear, while Sylvia
came helter-skelter after them, her long legs helping not a little in
overhauling the small boys, who had a distinct advantage by getting away
so smartly at the first.

Rupert and Ducky clapped, cheered, and shouted encouragements to all the
competitors, while Nealie and Rumple hurried the chair along so that
they might view the finish from a distance; and they all were too much
engrossed to notice a discontented lady who was approaching the drive
from a side alley, and who was not a little scandalized at the noise and
commotion caused by the seven in their departure.

The lady was Mrs. Runciman, and she walked on to the house, feeling very
much annoyed, her thin lips screwed into a disagreeable pucker and her
eyes flashing angrily.

"I thought that I told you I did not care to have those Plumstead
children hanging about the place," she remarked in an acid tone to her
husband, whom she met in the hall as she entered by the big front door.

"You will not see them here many more times. I am sending them out to
their father," he answered briefly, adding hastily: "I think that the
money Aunt Judith left behind her to be used for their benefit will
about cover the expense, and it will mean the solving of a good many
problems."

"I hope it will," she said as she turned away.

It had never occurred to her to look upon the seven in any other light
than that of a burden to be ignored, or got rid of as speedily as
possible. And because she did not like them, the children, as a matter
of course, did not like her.

They did not particularly care for Mr. Runciman, but he at least always
treated them properly, and they guessed that he would have been kinder
still if only Mrs. Runciman had permitted it.

But when he went back to his library, and with pencil and paper began to
estimate the probable cost of sending the seven to New South Wales, he
soon found that the little fund left by Aunt Judith would need a lot of
supplementing.

"Ah, well, something must be done for the poor things, and if that is
what they want, they shall have it," he muttered, as he shook his head
in a thoughtful fashion.



CHAPTER III

The Emigrants


"Oh, Nealie, it is a most beautiful ship, and bigger than Bodstead
Church!" cried Ducky, rushing up to her eldest sister and flinging
herself into the arms held out to her. She and Sylvia had rushed below
to find their berths, while Nealie was still standing on deck by the
side of Mr. Runciman, who had himself escorted them to London to see
them safely on board the big liner which was to take them to Sydney.

Events had marched so fast in the last fortnight that sometimes Nealie
had wondered if she were really dreaming. For the first time in her life
she was realizing what a lot of things money can do. Mr. Runciman had
told her that Aunt Judith had left a little money to be used for the
benefit of the seven. He had not told her how much it was, but had
merely said it would be enough to cover the cost of their journey, and
so they could start as soon as they pleased. And because of the fear
there was in her heart lest her father should send word they were not
to come, she had declared that she was ready to set off as soon as
berths could be secured for them.

Perhaps Mr. Runciman was also afraid that Dr. Plumstead would cable that
they were not to come, for he certainly spared neither time nor money to
facilitate their going, using so much energy in the preparations that
his servants were about equally divided in calling him hard names for
his eagerness to rid himself of a heavy burden and in praising his
generosity in making the way so easy for the seven to go to their
father.

Just at the last it had been quite hard to say goodbye to the old home
at Beechleigh and all the people they had known there. So standing on
the deck of the ocean-going liner Nealie was thankful that it was all
over, and that at last she was free from the necessity to say any more
goodbyes. Any more save one, that is, for there was still the farewell
to Mr. Runciman to be faced, and she was dreading this with a very real
shrinking as she stood so quietly by his side, while the others ran up
and down exploring their new quarters and exclaiming in delight at the
bustle and novelty all around them.

"Now mind, Cornelia, if when you land at Sydney you find that you have
not sufficient money, you must not hesitate to cable to me, and I shall
be most willing to cable you back what you may require," said Mr.
Runciman impressively, and because of the kindness in his tone Nealie
forgave him calling her Cornelia.

"Thank you very much, but I am sure that we ought not to need any more,
and I will be very, very careful not to waste our funds," she said,
smiling up at him, but her lips quivered a little in spite of her
determination to maintain a Spartan-like control of her emotions.

"Money melts when you are travelling, and you are all such babies in the
matter of finance. Let me see what I have in my pocket," he said,
thrusting his hand in and tugging out a bulky purse from some mysterious
inner depths. "Three, five, seven, ten. Yes, I can let you have ten
pounds. Put it in your pocket and say nothing about it. If you do not
need it for your journey you can keep it as a little gift from me and
spend it for your own pleasure."

"You are so very kind, I cannot think what we should have done without
you in getting away; you seem to have forgotten nothing, and I am sure
that Father will be most grateful to you," she said, looking at him with
so much trust and affection in her eyes that his conscience pricked him
dreadfully for what he knew to be his selfish eagerness to shift a heavy
burden on to the shoulders of someone else.

[Illustration: SAYING GOODBYE TO MR. RUNCIMAN]

"It is no great virtue to be kind to you, child; indeed it would be a
hard heart that would be anything else," he said in a deeply moved tone;
and because the bell began to ring then, in warning to people to leave
the ship, he took both her hands in his, and, leaning down, kissed her
on the forehead; then with a nod in the direction of the others, who at
the sound of the bell had gathered round to bid him a civil goodbye, he
disappeared down the gangway and was lost to view in the crowd.

"The old chappy cut up quite decent at the last. I expect it was that
little poem of mine which fetched him," said Rumple, who was strutting
round like a peacock in a new suit of clothes and feeling himself
someone of importance.

"Hush, dear, don't call him names, I do not like it," said Nealie with
gentle dignity, while she struggled with her tears.

"Are you crying over saying goodbye to Mr. Runciman?" asked Sylvia in a
wondering tone. "I thought we all made up our minds ages ago that he was
really an unmitigated nuisance?"

"We have had to suspend judgment a bit of late in his direction," put in
Rupert, coming to the rescue, for he guessed that Nealie did not want to
talk just then, not even in defence of Mr. Runciman.

"I think there is more in him than we know," said Rumple in a
patronizing tone. "At any rate he had the sense to like my verses, and
that shows that he is not altogether callous; he even said that it was
clever of me to find such a nice rhyme for Runciman."

"How does that first line go?" asked Rupert, still intent on shielding
Nealie, who had walked to the side, and, with tear-blinded eyes, was
watching the gangways being lifted.

Rumple instantly struck an attitude, screwed his face into what he
called an intense expression, and, waving one arm like a semaphore,
declaimed in loud, clear tones:

    "Oh, Runciman, dear Runciman,
    You've proved yourself a gentleman,
    Both in pocket and in sense,
    For your care to send us hence;
      And we join in three times three,
      May your shadow ne'er less be."

"Hip, hip, hooray!" yelled Billykins, waving his cap; then Don and Ducky
cheered lustily also, and the sound of the jubilant shouting reached the
ears of Mr. Runciman as he stood on the shore and watched the big ship
glide slowly from the land.

Nealie went down to the cabin then, meaning to have a hearty good cry by
way of relieving her feelings; but Ducky ran down with her to show her
how delightfully cosy their quarters were, and there was so much to be
seen and admired on every hand that, on second thoughts, Nealie decided
to let the crying stand over until she went to bed, by which time she
was so sleepy that she entirely forgot about it.

By the kindness of Mr. Runciman the three girls had a four-berth cabin
to themselves; for, realizing how trying it would be for them to have a
stranger thrust in among them, he had paid the extra so that they might
be undisturbed. The four boys had also a four-berth cabin, which opened
a little farther along the lower deck; so they were all quite near
together, and speedily made themselves at home.

Don and Billykins made up their minds to be sailors long before they
were out of the Thames, and although they changed their minds when they
got a terrific tossing in the Bay of Biscay, their bearing was strictly
nautical right through the voyage.

Rupert and Sylvia were the only two who did not suffer from seasickness,
but, as Sylvia remarked, it was not all fun being immune, because they
had such hard work in waiting upon the others. However, the end of the
week found them all upon their feet again, and very much disposed to
enjoy the novelty of life at sea.

Nealie and Don sang duets, to which Rupert played accompaniments on the
banjo, while Ducky and Billykins led the applause, and Sylvia posed as
audience, aping the languid, bored look of a fine lady at a concert with
such inimitable mimicry that she came in for nearly as much applause as
the proper performers from such of the other passengers as gathered
round to hear.

Then Rumple would do his share towards entertaining the company by
declaiming his own poetry, and he was so funny to look at when he stood
on one foot, with his face screwed into puckers, and his arms waving
wildly above his head, that his performance used to evoke shouts of
laughter.

"I can't think what makes the silly goats guffaw at such a rate when I
recite my 'Ode to a Dying Sparrow'," he said in a petulant tone to
Nealie, one day when his audience had been more than usually convulsed.
"It must be shocking bad form to double up in public as they did; a
photograph of them would have served as an up-to-date advertisement of
the latest thing in gramaphones, and when I came to that touching line,
about the poor bird sighing out its last feeble chirp ere it closed its
eyes and died, those two very fat women simply howled."

"Dear, they could not help it, you did look so funny, and--I don't think
that dying birds sigh, at least I never heard them, and I have seen
quite a lot of Mrs. Puffin's chickens die," replied Nealie, who was
struggling with her own laughter at the remembrance of the comic
attitude which Rumple had struck. He was a queer-looking boy at the
best, and then he always went in for the most extraordinary gestures,
so it was not wonderful that people found food for mirth in watching
him.

"I shall not go in for pathetic poetry with an audience who cannot
appreciate fine shades of feeling," he said in a disgusted fashion. "I
will just get away by myself and throw a few thoughts together which may
prove suitable to their intelligence."

"That would be a good idea," said Nealie in a rather choky voice, and
then, when he had gone, she put her head down on her hands, laughing and
laughing, until someone touched her shoulder, to ask her in kindly pity
what she was crying for.

That was really the last straw, and Nealie gurgled and choked as if she
were going to have a very bad fit of hysterics, which made the
sympathizer--a kind-looking elderly man--still more concerned on her
account.

"My dear, shall I call the stewardess, or one of your friends, to help
you?" he asked, with so much anxiety on her account that Nealie was
instantly sobered, and proceeded to explain the situation.

"You see, Rumple, that is my brother, always does take himself and his
poetry so seriously; but the worst of it is that everyone who hears him
recite his own things fancies it is the latest idea in comedy, and they
laugh accordingly."

"And I have been watching you for the last five minutes, until I could
no longer bear to see you, as I thought, in such trouble, and that was
why I spoke to you," the gentleman said, scarcely able to make up his
mind whether he was vexed with her for having so innocently deceived
him, or whether he was only relieved to find himself mistaken.

"You must think us all very foolish and childish, I am afraid," Nealie
murmured in apology. "But the children must have amusement, and we are
always interested in what we can each do. Some of Rumple's verses are
quite nice, although, of course, others are pure nonsense."

"Just so, just so; young folks must have something to amuse them, and it
is very much to the credit of you all that you are so thoroughly amused
by it, and I do not remember that I have ever heard you quarrel since
you came on board," the gentleman said in a musing tone.

"We do not quarrel," rejoined Nealie with quite crushing dignity, for
really the idea sounded almost insulting in her ears.

"Then you as a family must be the eighth wonder of the world, I should
think, for I never heard of a family yet who did not have an occasional
row," he said in an amused tone.

"Oh, but we are different; and besides we only have each other, and so
we cannot afford to disagree," she replied earnestly.

"Are you orphans, and going to Australia alone?" he asked in great
surprise.

"Oh no, we are not orphans; that is, our father is living in New South
Wales, and we are going out to him, but we have not seen him for seven
years. Indeed, Ducky, that is my youngest sister, may be said not to
have seen him at all, as she was only four weeks old when he went away;
the little boys do not remember him very well either. But Rupert,
Sylvia, and I can remember him perfectly," replied Nealie.

"It is certain that he will not know you if he has not seen you for
seven years," said the gentleman; and then he asked, with a great deal
of interest in his tone: "and are you travelling all that distance
without a chaperon of any sort?"

"I have my brothers, and I do not need anyone else," she answered,
looking up at him in surprise at his question. "I have always had to
take care of myself, for our great-aunt, with whom we lived, was very
old and feeble; for two years before she died she did not leave her
room, so it would not have done for me to require taking care of, seeing
that it was not possible for anyone to spare time to look after me."

"I think that you must be a very remarkable young lady, for I thought
that all girls required someone to take care of them, unless they were
colonials that is, and you are not that," he said, in the manner of one
who seeks information.

"No, we are only going to be," she said, with a happy little laugh, for
it was fine to have achieved one's heart's desire with so little delay
in the getting, and she was setting her face towards the new and untried
life with radiant happiness in her heart.

"I am going to Cape Town, so I shall have to say goodbye to you when
your voyage is only half done, although it would have been a great
pleasure to me to have seen you safely ashore and in the care of your
father. Does he meet you in Sydney?" asked the gentleman, when he had
told Nealie that his name was Melrose, and that he was at the bottom as
English as she was herself.

"I don't know; I suppose he will, for Mr. Runciman would have written to
tell him the name of the ship we were coming by," said Nealie; but now
there was a dubious note in her tone, for she was trying to remember
whether Mr. Runciman had said anything about having written to her
father. She had thought of writing herself, but had refrained from doing
it because of the feeling of hurt pride which was still strong upon her,
as it had been ever since she read the letter which was not meant for
her.

"What will you do if he does not?" asked Mr. Melrose.

"Oh, we shall find our way out to Hammerville! That is the name of the
place where he lives. There are seven of us, you see; it is not as if we
were just one or two," she answered brightly.

"Hammerville? I wonder whether that is the Hammerville in the
Murrumbidgee district, where Tom Fletcher went to live?" said Mr.
Melrose in a musing fashion. "They have a little way of repeating names
in these colonial places which is rather distracting. But Fletcher told
me that the Hammerville to which he went was nearly three hundred miles
from Sydney."

"I suppose there is a railway?" queried Nealie, knitting her brows, and
wondering how they were all to be transported for three hundred miles
across an unknown country, in the event of there being no railway by
which they could travel.

"I suppose the rail would go a point nearer than three hundred miles,
unless indeed the place is quite at the back of beyond, as some of those
Australian towns are," replied Mr. Melrose. "But Fletcher told me that
he hired a horse and wagon and drove the whole distance, sleeping in the
wagon at night to save hotel charges."

"Oh, what a perfectly charming thing to do!" cried Sylvia, who had come
up behind and was leaning over the back of Nealie's chair. "If Father is
not waiting to meet us when we reach Sydney, shall we hire a horse and a
wagon and drive out to Hammerville, Nealie?"

"It would be very jolly," said Nealie, with shining eyes. "I have always
longed to go caravanning, but I expect the difficulty would be to find
anyone willing to hire a horse and wagon to entire strangers like
ourselves; and if Hammerville is so far from Sydney, Father would hardly
be known so far away, even though he is a doctor."

"Did you say your father is a doctor?" asked Mr. Melrose, who was very
much interested in this adventurous family, who seemed so well able to
take care of themselves, and were roaming about the world without even
the pretence of a guardian to look after them.

"Yes; he is Dr. Plumstead. Have you heard of him?" asked Sylvia, with
the happy belief in her father's greatness which was characteristic of
them all.

"I used to know a Dr. Plumstead some years ago, but I do not expect it
was the same," said Mr. Melrose, looking as if he were going to say
something more, and then suddenly changing his mind.

It was some days later, and they were nearing Cape Town, which was the
halfway house of their journey, when Mr. Melrose, who had been keeping
his cabin from illness, appeared again on deck, and, seeking Nealie out,
laid an addressed envelope in her hand.

"It is the privilege of friends to help each other," he said quietly. "I
know a man in Sydney who lets horses and wagons on hire, and I have
ventured to give you a letter to him from myself, so that you may have
no difficulty in hiring a conveyance for the journey to Hammerville if
your father does not meet you."

"How very kind you are!" exclaimed Nealie.

He waved an impatient hand. "It is nothing, nothing. I may even be
coming to New South Wales next year, if only my health is better, and
then I shall do myself the pleasure of finding you out and renewing our
acquaintance," he said.

"That will be very pleasant," replied Nealie, her hand closing upon the
letter. "Then we can introduce you to Father, and tell him how kind you
have been to us."

"We shall see; but I fancy the indebtedness is on my side," he answered,
and then he turned abruptly away.

Nealie looked at him a little wistfully. He was so very friendly and
kind up to a certain point; but when that was reached he was in the
habit of retiring into himself, and she was left out in the cold.

"What is the matter, old girl?" asked Rupert, who came up at that
moment, and noticed the cloud on Nealie's face.

"I was only thinking how much nicer it would be if we could know what
was in the minds of people, and whether they were really friendly all
through, or only pretending," she answered, with a sigh.

"Rather a tall order that would be," said Rupert, laughing. "Why, all
the rogues would stand betrayed, and honest folk would get the credit of
their good intentions. The world would be turned upside down in short!"

"I suppose it would," replied Nealie, shaking her head, and then she
laughed too.



CHAPTER IV

Rumple's Discovery


Day after day of unbroken fine weather followed. There was the halt of
twelve hours at Cape Town, and the seven earnestly desired to be allowed
to go ashore. But the captain refused to allow them off the vessel, as
they had been placed in his charge by Mr. Runciman, and so they had to
content themselves with gazing at Table Mountain from the deck of the
ship, or rather at the tablecloth, as the brooding cloud was called,
which hid the mountain from their view.

The shipping in the bay, and the distant glimpses of the town, gave them
plenty to look at, however; and although the little boys and Rumple were
in a state of simmering rebellion against the dictates of the kindly but
rather autocratic commander, Rupert and Nealie were so well amused that
they had no room for grumbling, while Sylvia had taken to drawing as a
pastime, and spent the hours in making an ambitious sketch of the scene.
It was a little out in drawing, naturally as she had had no lessons, and
it was difficult to determine whether the ships were sailing up Table
Mountain, or the houses taking short voyages across the bay; but she was
so thoroughly happy and satisfied with her performance that it would
have been almost cruel to have found any fault with it; and, as Rupert
said, there was the fun of finding out whether any particular object
stood for a ship, a warehouse, or a clump of trees, the fun being
increased when the artist herself was not sure on the subject.

When they were a week out from Cape Town the weather changed and became
wet and stormy. The rolling was dreadful, and great was the groaning and
the lamentation when they were not allowed on deck for three whole days
in succession.

The fourth day broke without wind, although the sea was still very
rough. But, having gained permission to go on deck, the three younger
boys were out, steadying themselves by anything which came handy, and
vastly enjoying the fun of seeing other people lurching about in all
sorts of funny antics, all involuntary ones of course.

Then suddenly something happened which might easily have been a tragedy.
Rumple and Billykins were rounding the curve of one of the lower decks,
when a heavy sea struck the vessel as she pitched nose first down into a
deep valley of foam, and a stout old lady, who had been rashly trying
to ascend the stairs to the upper deck, was hit by the shower of spray
and knocked off the stairs. She must have fallen with great violence,
and would probably have been very badly hurt, had it not been for
Rumple, who ran in to her, as if she had been an extra big cricket ball
which he was trying to catch. Of course she descended upon him with an
awful smash, and nearly knocked the wind out of him, and equally of
course they both rolled over together, and were drenched by the showers
of spray. But he had broken her fall, and although she was badly shaken
there were no limbs broken, as there must have been had she fallen with
full force on to the slippery boards. A steward who was passing ran to
pick up the old lady, while a passenger sorted Rumple out from under the
old lady's skirts, and, draining some of the water out of him, held him
up so that the air might revive him.

Meanwhile Billykins, who had been a horrified spectator of his brother's
rash heroism, and had remained speechless until Rumple was picked up,
burst into the very noisiest crying of which he was capable, and,
standing with his legs very wide apart and his mouth as far open as it
would go, howled his very loudest, the sound of his woe speedily
bringing a crowd to see what was the matter.

"I don't think that he is very much the worse for his fall, only a
little bit dazed by having the old lady come flop down upon him; but if
he had not been there to break her fall, it is quite likely that she
would have broken her neck," said the gentleman who had picked Rumple
up, as he handed him over to the care of Nealie.

"Poor, poor boy, how frightened he must have been when she fell upon
him!" cried Nealie, who thought that the whole affair was an accident,
and had no idea of Rumple's bravery.

Then Billykins promptly stopped howling to explain, which he did in
jerks, being rather breathless from his vocal efforts.

"Rumple saw her fall, and rushed in to save her. It was just splendid
heroism--the sort that gets the Victoria Cross; but so dreadful hopeless
you see, because she was so big, and she came down flop on the top of
him, and he was just--just extinguished, you know, like the candle flame
when we used to put the tin extinguishers on them when we lived at
Beechleigh."

"I'll be all right in a minute, only my wind is gone," gasped Rumple,
who looked rather flattened, and was not at all pleased to find himself
momentarily famous.

The old lady's daughter, a thin, angular person with a long nose, rushed
up at this juncture, and, seizing upon Rumple, hugged and kissed him in
the presence of everyone, declaring that she would always love him for
having saved her dear mother's life in such a noble fashion.

"I am wet through, Nealie; help me to get into dry clothes," panted
Rumple, struggling to escape from this unexpected and wholly unwelcome
embrace.

Nealie rose to the occasion, and swept him off to their own quarters,
where Rupert met them and undertook the task of getting him rubbed down
and into dry clothes as quickly as possible, while Nealie went back to
the deck for news of the old lady.

Everyone was full of praises of Rumple's action in breaking the old
lady's fall; but Nealie was secretly uneasy as to whether he had
received more damage from the impact than had at first appeared. So,
when she had been assured that Mrs. Barrow, who apparently weighed about
fourteen stone, was only shaken, and not otherwise hurt, she hurried
back again to satisfy herself that Rumple was sound in wind and limb.

She found Rupert hanging the wet garments up to drain, and was talking
to him about Rumple, when the door of the boys' cabin was pushed open
and they heard Rumple calling to them in a tone of such dismay that a
sudden cold shiver went all over Nealie, making her turn white to the
lips.

"Something is wrong; come along, Nealie," said Rupert curtly, and he
turned to limp toward the door of the cabin, which stood ajar.

But Nealie passed him with a fleet tread, and, pushing open the door,
stood on the threshold transfixed with surprise. It was not clear to her
what she expected to see, her one thought being that Rumple must
certainly have been much more hurt than they had imagined.

What she did see was Rumple sitting on the lower berth partly dressed,
and holding a letter in his hand, a letter which had a stamp upon it
which had not been through a post office, but that even at the first
glance struck her as having a familiar look, a something she had seen
before.

"Rumple, what is it? What is the matter, laddie?" she asked in the very
tenderest tone of which she was capable; for there was that in his face
which warned her the trouble was one of magnitude.

"I don't expect that you will any of you ever be able to forgive me, and
I haven't a word to say in excuse, and however I came to be such a goat
I can't think," he replied in a shaken tone as he held the envelope out
for her to take.

But even now she did not understand, and only stared at it in a stupid
fashion, then read the address aloud in a bewildered tone:

  "Dr. Plumstead,
    "Hammerville,
      "Clayton,
        "New South Wales,
          "Australia."

"What letter is it?" asked Rupert in a shocked voice. He was standing
close to Nealie now, and looking to the full as amazed as she did
herself.

"It is the letter that Mr. Runciman wrote to tell Father that we were to
be sent out to him," replied Rumple in a hollow tone. "Don't you
remember that we asked to be allowed to post it ourselves, just because
we were so afraid that he would forget to write it unless we waited
until it was done? And now it is just the same as if it had never been
written at all."

Twice, three times, Nealie tried to speak, but no sound came, and she
plumped down upon the berth beside Rumple with a shocked bewilderment
upon her face which was dreadful to see.

"Don't look like that, Nealie; buck up, old lady, we'll find a way out
of the muddle somehow," said Rupert, slapping her on the back, with a
harsh laugh that had a weird sound; it was so far removed from
merriment.

But Nealie only shook her head, as much as to say that it was quite
beyond her power to do anything in the way of bucking up just then, and
they were all three staring at each other in dismayed silence, when
there came a rush of feet outside, and the door was flung open by Don,
who was followed by Sylvia and Ducky, while Billykins, still snorting
heavily, brought up the rear.

"Billykins told us how brave Rumple had been in saving the life of that
fat old woman----" began Sylvia, then stopped suddenly, scared by the
look on the faces of the three; then she asked in a hushed tone: "Oh,
whatever can be the matter! Is Rumple very badly hurt?"

"I am not hurt at all, except in my feelings," replied Rumple, who was
nursing his old jacket, as if it were a troublesome infant which he had
to put to sleep.

"Was she horrid to you? And after you had saved her life, fourteen stone
of it?" demanded Sylvia, with a stormy note in her tone.

"It is not the woman at all," here Rumple waved the old jacket with a
tragic air. "The fault lies with me, and you had all better know about
it at once, and if you decide to disown me for the future, I can't
complain, for I deserve to be sent to Coventry for evermore."

"Oh, drop your figures of speech, and tell us in plain English what the
trouble is all about!" exclaimed Sylvia impatiently. "Nealie looks as
if she had seen a ghost, and Rupert is glum, so out with it, Rumple, old
boy, and own up like a man."

"I have owned up," he answered gloomily, and again he waved the old
jacket to and fro, then hugged it closely in his arms again. "When I
changed my clothes I thought that I would put this jacket on, though it
is rather tight across the back, and I always hate wearing it for that
reason. I have not put it on since the day we all went down to the
Paddock to ask Mr. Runciman to send us to Australia. We stopped eating
cakes in the housekeeper's room, you remember, and then when he had
written the letter he sent it to us to put in the post as we came home.
It was given to me. I put it in my pocket, and here it is!"

Sylvia gasped as if a whole bucket of water had suddenly been shot over
her from some unexpected quarter, and then she burst into a ringing
laugh, and clapped her hands. "Oh, what a joke! Then I suppose that
Father has not a notion that his family are on the way to make him
happy?"

"That is about it, and whatever we can do to get out of the muddle is
more than I can imagine," said Rupert in a strained tone, while his face
looked pinched and worn from the burden of worry that had suddenly
descended upon him.

"Do?" cried Sylvia. "Why, of course we shall just do as we are doing,
and go straight forward, until we reach Hammerville, when we will walk
in upon dear Father some fine evening, and announce our own arrival.
Nothing could be simpler, and we shall give him the surprise of his
life, bless his heart! There is no need to look so tragic that I can
see."

"But we must tell the captain, and there will be a great fuss. He will
very likely keep us on board ship until Father can reach Sydney to claim
us," said Nealie in a voice of distress.

"We won't tell the captain; he is as meddlesome as an old woman!" cried
Sylvia, who very much resented the commander's kindly meant endeavours
to take care of them.

"He would not let us go ashore at Cape Town, and I did so want to go to
the top of Table Mountain, and see for myself what the tablecloth was
made of," said Don in an aggrieved tone. His ideas of distance were
rather vague, and he had an impression that half an hour's brisk walking
from the docks at Cape Town would have landed him on the top of the
mountain.

"No, we won't tell the captain, we certainly won't," put in Billykins,
with a mutinous look on his chubby face. He had had his own views on the
way in which he had meant to spend the time ashore, and having one
shilling and threepence in his pocket, to spend as he chose, had laid
out a pretty full programme for the occasion.

"We won't tell the captain; I don't like him, because he calls me Goosey
instead of Ducky," pouted the youngest of the family, who had had her
feelings very much hurt on more than one occasion, and was simply
thirsting for revenge upon the disturber of her peace.

"Do you hear? The majority have decided on silence," said Sylvia
triumphantly, as she sat down by the side of Nealie, and slipped her arm
round her sister's waist.

"Oh, I don't know what to do, and it was dreadful of Rumple to forget!"
cried Nealie, and at the reproach in her words Rumple fairly doubled up,
muttering, in a resigned fashion:

"Lay it on, and spare not. There is one comfort about the beastly
business, you cannot blame me more than I blame myself."

"It might have been worse," said Sylvia, who always championed Rumple
through thick and thin. "And of course no one expects quite so much from
a poet as from a more ordinary person. People with teeming ideas are
always rather absent-minded I find; it is one of the penalties of the
artistic temperament. I suffer from it myself, and Rumple is far
cleverer than I am."

"I don't know about that; you have got the colour sense, even though
you don't seem to get the hang of perspective," said Rumple, looking
visibly cheered. "When I begin to sell my poems you shall have the money
to have lessons in art, old girl, for I fancy you are worth developing."

"I hope I am," rejoined Sylvia, tossing her head with a saucy air. "But
I am afraid that the process will be rather delayed if it has to wait
until your poetry brings the money for doing it, for everyone says that
there is no money in poetry. Now, Nealie, darling, do cheer up and be
happy; poor Rumple will have no peace at all while you look like that."

"I will try; but you must give me time. But I am so disappointed, for I
had hoped that Father would be at Sydney to meet us," answered Nealie,
with a sigh.



CHAPTER V

The End of the Voyage


Rumple found himself immediately popular, because of his prompt and
spirited action in doing what he could to save the old lady. But, like a
good many other people upon whom greatness descends, he had to pay a
rather heavy price for his popularity, and when it came to being kissed
by the old lady and her daughter every time they appeared on deck, he
began to ask himself savagely if it were quite worth while to be
regarded as a hero of the first class.

Two or three days of kissing and hugging were enough for him, and then
he took to subterfuge, and whenever the old lady or her very angular but
kindly daughter hove in sight, Rumple bolted like a frightened rabbit,
taking to any sort of cover which came handy.

The stewards, entering into the joke of the thing, co-operated with
great heartiness, and for the remainder of the voyage there was no more
elusive person on board than Rumple Plumstead; so the old lady and her
daughter were forced to lavish on the rest of the family the tenderness
they felt solely for the boy, who loathed their indiscreet petting.

"Rupert, where is Rumple?" asked Nealie, coming on deck one afternoon a
day or two before they expected to reach Fremantle.

"I haven't an idea. Come to think of it, I have not seen him since
breakfast. Where can the young rascal have got to?" exclaimed Rupert,
starting up in dismay. He had been so engrossed in a book all the
morning that he had taken very little notice of what was going on around
him. He had certainly had to intervene once in a spirited encounter
between Don and Billykins, who had taken to what they called wrestling,
but which in reality amounted to a lively round of punching each other
black and blue. Both small boys were considerably upset at being stopped
in this entirely novel diversion, and declared that Rupert was neither
public-spirited nor sporting to put a veto upon it; but he was firm, and
threatened to send one of them to bed if they did not desist, and so
they had been forced to find some other occupation.

But where was Rumple?

Enquiry elicited the alarming fact that he had not been seen at lunch,
and for a healthy boy, especially one with a Plumstead appetite, to be
absent from a meal meant that something must be very wrong indeed.

An active search through the vessel was at once organized; but when,
after half an hour of brisk hunting, no trace of Rumple could be found,
Nealie grew seriously alarmed, a horrible dread coming into her heart
that he had in some way tumbled overboard.

She was running along the lower deck in search of one of the officers,
to whom she might tell her fear, when she almost tumbled into the arms
of the jolly fat purser, who had been so kind to all the children during
the weeks of voyaging.

"Oh, Mr. Bent, we have lost my brother Rumple; he has not been seen
since breakfast, and I am most dreadfully afraid that he must have
fallen overboard!" she cried, the sharp distress in her tone showing how
keen was her anxiety.

"Tut, tut, Missy, he could not have done that in broad daylight without
someone seeing him," replied the purser, who always treated Nealie as if
she were no older than Rumple or Sylvia.

"Are you quite sure?" she asked anxiously.

"Quite! A big ship like this is all eyes in the daytime, you know, and
to-day there have been men at work on the railings ever since breakfast,
so there is no danger at all that anything of that sort can have
happened. But I wonder where the young rascal can be? I seem to remember
having seen him nipping round somewhere this morning. Let me see; what
could I have been doing?" and the purser screwed up his face until there
was nothing of his eyes visible.

"Oh, please try to think where it was that you saw him, and then we may
be able to find him!" cried Nealie, clasping her hands in entreaty.

"Let me see." The purser opened his eyes and glared about him, as if he
expected to find the record of the morning's doings chalked in big
letters somewhere on the clean deck. "First thing after breakfast there
was that affair of the linen having been miscounted. It is funny how
some folks are born without any sense of number. Then there were the
cook's lists to be gone through. I remember seeing the boy then, for he
lent me a pencil when mine broke. Now, what was I doing after that?"

"Oh, make haste, Mr. Bent! Please make haste to remember!" pleaded
Nealie, feeling as if she would really have to take hold of this
slow-witted man, and shake the information out of him if he did not
hurry up a little.

"I've got it!" ejaculated Mr. Bent, slapping his sides with resounding
whacks. "The next thing I did was to go down to the cold storage with
the second officer. We must have been there for nearly an hour, for I
know I was chilled through and through by the time we came up again,
and I have not seen your brother since."

"Then I am quite sure that Rumple must be down in the cold-storage
place, and he will be frozen stiff by this time. Oh, fly, Mr. Bent, and
let him out, for think how awful his sufferings must be!" cried Nealie,
seizing the purser by the arm to drag him along. She had been down in
the cold storage herself, and shivered at the recollection of the Arctic
chill of the place, although she had been hugely interested at seeing
the stacks of frozen provisions which were there to be preserved for
daily use on the voyage.

There was no need to tell Mr. Bent to hurry, as he strode away to his
own particular den to get the keys, and then, with Nealie running close
behind him, made his way down, down, down, until the storeroom corridor
was reached.

The cold-storage rooms were at the far end, and when he thrust the key
into the lock, Nealie could have screamed with the anguish of her keen
apprehension.

Mr. Bent thrust open the door, and then both of them cried out in
amazement, for the place was brilliant with electric light, and Rumple,
covered from head to foot in hoar frost, as if he had just stepped out
of the Arctic regions, was lifting boxes of butter from the shelves,
and then lifting them back again, as hard as he could work.

"I'm about tired of this," he managed to drawl out in a would-be casual
tone, and then he suddenly collapsed in a limp heap in Nealie's arms.

Quickly they lifted him out into the warmth of the corridor, and then
Nealie started chafing his cold hands and face, while Mr. Bent replaced
the butter boxes on the shelves, then, turning off the electric light,
came out and locked the door behind him.

"Now I should like to know what monkey trick you were up to when you
went and got yourself locked in a place like that?" he said in an angry
tone as he bent over poor Rumple, unwinding a lot of sacking from the
boy's shoulders, and slapping him vigorously to quicken circulation.

"Oh, you will hurt him dreadfully if you beat him like that, and I am
quite sure that he did not mean to do wrong!" burst out Nealie in
red-hot indignation, as she pushed away those vigorously slapping hands,
and gathered Rumple's cold, limp figure into a warm embrace.

"Bless you, Missy, I was not doing it to hurt him, only to make his
blood flow quicker, and save him a bit of misery later on. If he has
been in mischief, he has had to pay quite dearly enough for it, without
any more punishment. It is lucky for him that the freezing plant is out
of order to-day, and we have only been able to keep the place just down
to freezing-point. If it had been as cold as it is sometimes, it might
have been too late to save him, poor fellow," said Mr. Bent, pushing
Nealie gently aside, and starting on his slapping with more vigour than
before.

"I wasn't in mischief; I only bolted in there because the door was open,
and I wanted to get clear of Miss Clarke, who was being shown round the
storerooms by one of the officers," said Rumple feebly. "She always will
kiss me, don't you know, and I just can't stand it. I was crouching
behind a case of things at the farther end, when to my horror the light
went out, and a minute later, before I could yell, the door slammed. I
did yell then for all that I was worth, but I could not make anyone
hear, and it was so long before I could grope my way to the door, for I
was at the farther end, you see, and I turned silly with funk at the
first."

"I don't wonder at that, poor darling!" murmured Nealie, lavishing
endearments on him, which he accepted all in good part, although he had
been so hotly resentful of Miss Clarke's openly expressed affection. She
was the daughter of the fat old lady, and he disliked the pair of them
so heartily that his one desire was to put as much distance as possible
between them and himself at all times and in all places.

"Well, laddie, it is a good thing for you that you were born with your
share of common sense, for you seem to have gone the right way to work
to keep from being frozen," said Mr. Bent, as he rolled the sacking into
a bundle and tossed it into a corner; then, slipping his arm round
Rumple, lifted the boy to a standing posture.

But he would have promptly fallen again if they had not supported him on
either side, for his feet were thoroughly chilled, and he was so tired
that he seemed to have no strength at all.

"I was a long time finding the electric light, but when I did come upon
it, and pressed the button, I felt ever so much better," said Rumple, as
his rescuers helped him to climb the stairs. "And I knew that I must not
stand still; but there was so little room to walk about that I had to
lift cases from the shelves and put them back again. I found that great
piece of sacking, and when I had wrapped it round my shoulders I felt a
little warmer; but it was more than a little nippy, I can tell you, and
it made me think of the January mornings at Beechleigh, when the old
pump used to freeze up and we undertook to thaw it out for Mrs. Puffin
before breakfast," said Rumple wearily.

At this moment the others, headed by Sylvia, came rushing down upon
them, and Rumple was at once overwhelmed with enquiries and
congratulations. But Nealie was so concerned at his desperate weariness
that she insisted on his going to bed at once.

"You must have some hot soup, too, and then you will get warm quickly
and go to sleep," she said in the careful, elder-sisterly manner which
always came uppermost when any of them were in any sort of difficulty.

"I don't want any soup or mucks of that kind, but I should be glad if I
could have a piece of dry bread or some hard biscuits, for I do not mind
admitting that I ate half a pound of butter to keep out the cold, and I
feel rather greasy inside," said Rumple, puckering his face into a
grimace as Rupert hustled him off to their cabin to put him to bed.

"What made you do that?" demanded Rupert sternly, for this partook of
the nature of thieving, and the juniors had to be reproved for any lapse
from strict morality.

"The Esquimaux eat blubber to keep out the cold, and as I had no
blubber, and did not like to break open one of the lard pails, I just
took the butter. Do you expect that Mr. Bent will mind?" asked Rumple
anxiously. "I have got enough money to pay for it if he gets waxy, but
of course I have had no lunch, and, seeing that the shipping company
have got to keep me, I do not see that it matters much whether I eat
half a pound of butter for my meal or whether I have two goes of meat
and three of pudding. Hullo, who is that?"

The exclamation was caused by someone pounding on the door for
admittance, and when Rumple found that the someone was the ship's
doctor, great was his wrath at the coddling which Nealie had supposed to
be necessary for him. But the doctor roared with laughter when he heard
about the butter, and Rumple was so far mollified by his mirth as to be
beguiled into laughing also, after which he was rolled in blankets and
promptly went to sleep, not rousing again until the following morning,
when he appeared to be none the worse for his adventure among the ice.

But someone must have dropped a hint to the indiscreet Miss Clarke and
her mother, because from that time onward they left Rumple in peace, so
far as kissing was concerned, although they seemed to be just as fond of
him as ever.

The seven were all getting just a little bit weary of voyaging when at
length the boat entered the fine harbour of Sydney, and berthed among
the other vessels at the Circular Quay.

Then, indeed, things became exciting, and although they knew that their
father had not had the first letter which had been sent to him, there
was still the probability that he had received a later letter from Mr.
Runciman, and that he might be among the crowd who were waiting to board
the liner when she came to her berth, beside the big vessel from
Hong-Kong.

They were gathered in a group forward, and were eagerly scanning all
that could be seen of the shore, when one of the stewards came hurrying
up to say that a gentleman had come on board for Miss Plumstead, and was
at that moment waiting to see her in the dining saloon.

"Oh, it must be dear Father; I am quite sure of it!" cried Nealie, and,
seizing Ducky by the hand, she hurried away down to the big dining
saloon, followed by the other five.

Very different the big room looked to-day from the time when they had
seen it first. Then the tables were spread for a meal, and decorated
with flowers and fruit; now everything was in confusion, the tables were
bare, or heaped with the hand baggage of departing passengers, and there
was an air of desolation over all, such as is seen in a house from which
a family are flitting.

But Nealie had no eyes for details of this sort at such a moment, as she
clattered down the steps, holding Ducky fast by the hand. When she
reached the bend, from whence she had a full view of the room, she saw a
tall, grey-haired man, very sprucely dressed, standing at the end of the
third table.

"Oh, it is Father!" she cried, half-turning her head to let the others
know; and then, taking the last three steps at a bound, and dropping her
hold of Ducky's hand, she rushed with tumultuous haste along the end of
the room, and flinging herself upon the man, who had turned at her
approach, she cried joyfully: "Oh, my dear, dear father, how glad we are
to see you!"

But even as her arms closed around his neck a chill doubt seized her,
and the next moment the astonished gentleman had drawn himself away from
her grasp, saying hurriedly:

"My dear young lady, I am not your father."



CHAPTER VI

A Real Friend


"Oh, oh, I am so sorry----" began Nealie in breathless apology, but got
no further, being at that moment swept aside by Sylvia, who fairly flung
herself into the gentleman's arms, crying shrilly:

"Daddy, my darling Daddy, I should have known you anywhere, although I
was such a tiny kiddy when you went away!"

Again the amazed stranger tried to protest; but although his lips moved,
no sound was audible, for at this instant Don and Billykins reached him
in company, and the impact of their embrace was sufficient to
momentarily deprive him of the power of speech, while Rupert seized his
left hand, sawing it up and down like a pump handle, and Rumple patted
him on the back, leaving Ducky no chance at all saving to dance round
and round, yelling at the top of her voice.

"It is Father, dear Father, and he does not know his little Ducky at
all!"

"Oh, hush, hush! We have made a mistake, and it is not dear Father at
all," cried Nealie. And there was such genuine distress in her tone that
the gentleman, who had been feeling decidedly ruffled at this boisterous
onslaught, was at once sorry for her.

"Are you Miss Plumstead, and did you expect to meet your father here?"
he asked kindly, while Sylvia slipped her arms from his neck and looked
very confused, for it is not pleasant to rush about the world hugging
the wrong people, and her blushes were a sight to see as she stammered
out an incoherent apology for her blunder.

The boys had dropped away from him and stood in a bewildered group,
while Ducky ceased her jubilant outcry, and it was left to Nealie to
explain the situation and ask why it was that he had asked to see her.

"My name is Wallis, of the firm of Peek & Wallis, transport agents,
Sydney," said the stranger as his hand stole up to settle his ruffled
tie, which Sylvia's greeting had half-pulled unfastened. "Mr. Melrose
sent me a cable from Cape Town, asking me to meet this boat and to be of
service to you in any way that I could. He said that he had given you a
letter of introduction to my firm. Is that so?"

"Oh yes, and I have it here in my bag!" said Nealie, pulling open the
little bag she wore slung from her shoulder and taking from it an
envelope addressed to Messrs. Peek & Wallis.

Mr. Wallis looked relieved at the sight of the letter, as it made the
position quite clear, despite its brevity, for it was really very short,
and ran as follows:--

    "Kindly supply Miss Plumstead with a horse and wagon for the
    journey to Hammerville, Clayton, and if she cannot pay you I will.

                                   "Sincerely yours,

                                                   "Thomas Melrose."

"But of course our father, who is a doctor at Hammerville, will send you
the money for the horse and wagon when we reach him," said Nealie, with
the proud little lift of her head which had its due effect on Mr.
Wallis, who had a great respect for most things which were straight from
England, and who had already decided that Nealie was, to use his own
expression, "no ordinary young lady".

"Of course," echoed Mr. Wallis politely, but without anxiety. In any
case his firm would not suffer, as Mr. Melrose had undertaken to see
them paid, and so he was prepared to be very kind indeed to this family
who had made the comical mistake of supposing him to be their father.
"And now I suppose that you would like to go ashore at once and have a
look at Sydney before you start on your journey?"

Nealie hesitated and looked at Rupert, who, however, did not seem
disposed to help her out; and so again it was she who had to do the
explaining, which was quite right and proper, seeing that she was the
eldest and had always mothered the others.

Then, because Mr. Wallis was elderly, and looked kind now that he had
had some of the starch taken out of him by Sylvia's rapturous hugging,
she decided that it would be better to take him into confidence
concerning their dilemma.

"You see, it is like this," she said, boldly taking the plunge. "Captain
Moore would not let us go ashore at Cape Town, because we were under his
care, and we are so afraid that he will not let us disembark until
Father comes to fetch us, and we are not at all sure that Father knows
we have come."

"You mean that he would not know the boat was in, or that he did not
know by which boat you were to travel?" asked Mr. Wallis in perplexity;
for to him the situation was certainly novel.

"We are not sure that he knows we are in New South Wales," said Nealie,
speaking very slowly and distinctly, under the impression that Mr.
Wallis must be either deaf or stupid, or perhaps a little of both. "Our
guardian, Mr. Runciman, wrote to tell Father that we were being sent out
here to him, and he gave us the letter to post; but by an accident it
got no farther than my second brother's pocket. He is very poetical, and
that of course makes him very absent-minded. We did not find the letter
until we were some days away from Cape Town, and then, after a
consultation, we decided that we would not cable from Perth and we would
not tell the captain, but we would give dear Father the surprise of his
life by walking in upon him one fine day."

"I should think that it would be a surprise, and it is possible that it
may be more than a little inconvenient to him; for you see houses here
are not so commodious and roomy as houses in England, and there are
six--no, seven of you," murmured Mr. Wallis, wondering what Dr.
Plumstead would feel like when this troop of jolly, hearty young people
walked in upon him. Still, confused as he had been by the onslaught of
their riotous greeting, Mr. Wallis could not help admitting to himself
that it had been very delightful to feel the clasp of Sylvia's arms
about his neck, and he could not help wishing that he had children of
his own to love him in that tempestuous but wholly delightful fashion.

"I expect that Father will be so charmed to see us that he will not
think anything about the inconvenience of our numbers," put in Sylvia
confidently; but a chill little wonder crept into the heart of Nealie as
to whether it might not have been better to have waited in England until
their father had said whether he really wished for them to come and join
him in this distant land. However, it was too late now for regrets of
this sort, and the only thing to be done was to go forward, and to be
happy while they could. It was this feeling which made her say to Mr.
Wallis:

"Do you think that Captain Moore will be willing to let us go off the
ship with you? We are so very tired of being on board."

"I should think you must be; that is how most people feel by the time
they reach Sydney. We are so far away from Europe, you see, and a long
voyage is bound to be tedious," he answered kindly; and then he told
them that he would go and interview the captain at once about the matter
of their going. Meanwhile they were to wait in the dining saloon for
him, as he would certainly not find it easy to hunt for them in the
confusion which at present reigned on board.

"What a dear he is, bless his heart!" cried Sylvia, dancing
lightheartedly up and down between the tables; then seizing upon
Billykins for a partner she whirled round and round, while Don and Ducky
joined forces to take their share of the fun, and Rumple bobbed, bowed,
then spun round and round without any partner at all, and dancing with
more energy than discretion was constantly falling foul of the chairs,
which were screwed to the floor and swung round upon pivots.

Only Nealie and Rupert stood apart, talking rather anxiously about the
future and wondering whether their scanty stock of money would suffice
for all the needs of the journey. Rupert had been rather lamer than
usual during the last few days, owing to an accidental slip on the
stairs. This lameness was one of the private worries of Nealie, for she
did not believe that he need be lame if only the weak foot and ankle
were properly treated. However, her father would doubtless see that the
dear eldest brother had all the care that was necessary, and so until
they reached Hammerville she would just have to leave the matter where
it was.

Mr. Wallis, coming back from his interview with the captain, thought
that he had never seen a family more radiantly happy than this company
of boys and girls who were skipping and prancing up and down the long
room, bumping against each other in sheer gleefulness of heart.

But at sight of him they instantly subsided into outward quiet, coming
crowding about him to know how his errand had sped.

"The captain says that he will be very pleased to let you go ashore with
me----" began Mr. Wallis, and then found he could get no further until
the noise of a rousing three times three, led by Rumple, had died away,
for he could not make himself heard above such a noise.

"No more cheering until Mr. Wallis has finished, please," said Nealie
firmly, as she laid her hand in a restraining fashion on the shoulder of
Rumple.

"I was going to say," continued Mr. Wallis, "that I should have been
very delighted to have taken you out to Mosman's Bay, where my home is,
but unfortunately the house is at present shut up, as my wife is away
visiting her mother at Auckland, in New Zealand, and I am staying at my
club in the city, where no ladies are admitted; but I can put you up at
a nice quiet hotel where you will be quite comfortable; indeed I told
Captain Moore that I would do so."

"You are most kind, and we are very grateful," said Nealie in a rather
hesitating tone. "But I am afraid that we cannot afford to stay much at
hotels, for Mr. Melrose told us they were very expensive, and if we are
not careful our money will not last us until we reach Hammerville. There
are so many of us, you see, and we all want so much to eat that our food
bills must of necessity be very expensive."

Mr. Wallis waved his hand with a deprecating air. "Of course, of course,
and it is really a very fine thing to be hungry; I often wish that I
could get up a vigorous appetite myself, but I can't. I hope that while
you are in Sydney you will consider yourselves my guests; it will be a
very great pleasure to show you some of the sights of the city. Suppose
you stay over to-morrow--we can get a large amount of sightseeing into
that time--and then the wagon shall be ready for you to make an early
start. The captain understands that you are to be my guests, and that is
why he is willing to let you come ashore with me. Please collect the
baggage that you want to take with you, then I will give orders for the
remainder of your luggage to be sent to the hotel. We ought to get away
as quickly as we can, so that no time may be lost."

There was no stopping the cheers this time, and Nealie put her fingers
in her ears because of the noise, but Mr. Wallis looked actually pleased
at the commotion he had evoked; and then there was a great rush for the
cabins, where each one had a bag or a bundle ready.

"What a delightful sensation it is to find firm ground under one's
feet!" cried Nealie, as she walked with a springy step by the side of
Mr. Wallis.

"I expect it is; but all the same you will be wise not to do too much
walking at first, for land is apt to prove very trying to the person who
has just arrived after a long voyage," replied Mr. Wallis, who had
noticed how lame Rupert was, and guessed that the boy would rather
suffer any torture than admit that walking was painful. He had his
reward in the look of dumb gratitude Rupert gave him when a roomy
carriage had been secured, and they were all packed in as tight as
sardines in a tin, with Don and Billykins sharing the driver's perch,
and making shrill comments as they went along.

First of all they were driven to the hotel, which was a very homely sort
of place, with a motherly manageress, who would insist on kissing the
girls, although happily she stopped short at that, leaving the boys with
a mere handshake. She was English herself, so she said, and just ached
for a sight of the old country, which made her welcome so warmly
everyone who came straight from England.

Mr. Wallis wanted them to have luncheon then, but as they all stoutly
declared that they could not touch a mouthful of food of any kind, and
as it was really early for lunch, he took them off, on a tram this time,
to see something of the city.

He took them along George Street, which, following as it does the lines
of an old bush trail, winds and wriggles in a way that was more
suggestive of Canterbury in England than of a great colonial city.
Sometimes they rode in electric trams, sometimes they had a carriage
chartered for their use, and then again it was an omnibus which had the
honour of their patronage, and Nealie privately wondered how much it
cost Mr. Wallis to take them round that day, for he would let them pay
for nothing themselves, declaring that he would not have his privilege
as their host infringed in any way.

They had lunch in a grand hotel in Wynyard Square, and afterwards went
to see the residence of the Governor-General; but imposing as were the
battlemented walls and magnificent staterooms, the greatness of the
place was not so impressive to the seven as was the General Post Office,
and they were made completely happy when Mr. Wallis took them right to
the top of the building, so that they might look out over the city from
the windows of the room under the clock chamber of the great tower.

It was small wonder that they were so tired, after such a round of
sightseeing, that they had to decline Mr. Wallis's kind proposal to take
them to a dramatic entertainment, which was being given that night in
the town hall.

Ducky, Don, and Billykins were all three so fast asleep, when they
arrived back at the hotel where they were staying, that one of the
waiters had to be called to help carry the sleepers in and up to their
bedrooms, and as they could not be roused for supper they were just left
to have their sleep out, and the four elders had cakes and coffee on the
balcony overlooking Pitt Street.

"I wonder what dear Father is thinking about to-night," said Sylvia
dreamily, as she sat in a wicker chair, with her feet upon another,
feeling at peace with all the world.

"Perhaps his ears are burning, and he is wondering who is talking about
him; although a man with seven children may always feel pretty certain
that one or more of the seven have got their thoughts upon him," replied
Rumple, who was nibbling the end of a stumpy pencil and lovingly
fingering a dirty little notebook. He was just then very undecided as to
whether he would write a sonnet to his father or start on a history of
Sydney. Mr. Wallis had told him so many stories of the old Botany Bay
days that he felt quite primed for a very ambitious book indeed.

"I am wondering who is going to drive the horse," said Rupert, whose
foot was aching badly, and consequently making him feel very depressed
and unfit to cope with difficulties which might be looming in the near
distance.

"I shall, unless you especially yearn for the business," said Nealie
quietly, and then her hand stole into his with such a complete
understanding of how he felt at that moment that he blessed her in his
heart, and said to himself that she was a brick of a girl, and that it
was worth while to be her brother.

Somehow Nealie always understood without words when Rupert felt as if
life were something too big to be lived, and then she would fling
herself into the breach, and let him feel that she was quite ready to
hold up the heavier end of every burden.

"The poor animal will not cherish any illusions about the charms of
running away after it has had the pleasure of dragging us and our
baggage for a few score miles. I think that we ought to have a pair,"
put in Sylvia in a dreamy tone; she was getting very sleepy, only it
seemed too much trouble to go to bed just yet.

"Oh, we cannot have two horses; think what a worry it would be!"
exclaimed Nealie. "Mr. Wallis said that one would be quite sufficient,
as we did not need to travel very fast. He said that one horse, if it
were well fed, could always draw a ton weight on a decent road, and we
should not weigh a ton, I should hope."

"Not far short of it, by the time baggage and wagon have been weighed
in, as well as the seven of us," said Rupert, and then he called out
that Rumple was asleep. The first paragraph of the projected History of
Sydney had been too much for the aspiring young author, who was snoring
with his nose on the grubby little notebook.

"We cannot carry him to bed, and I am afraid that the waiters will form
a very poor opinion of us if we ask them to do it, so we must wake him
if we can," said Sylvia, jumping up and starting on a vigorous shaking
of her younger brother.

"It is of no use, dear; he will not wake up, and you and I must just
drag him into his room as best we can," said Nealie, interposing to
prevent Rumple from being shaken and bumped any more.

"What a set of children ours are!" cried Sylvia impatiently. "If once
they drop asleep there never seems any possibility of waking them before
the next morning."

"It is not more than a year ago that Mrs. Puffin and I carried you up to
bed one night when you had fallen asleep downstairs," replied Nealie,
with a laugh. "I remember that we stuck fast in the narrow part just
outside Aunt Judith's door, and we could not get up or down; indeed it
looked not improbable that we might have to leave you there until
morning, climbing over your sleeping form every time we wanted to pass
up or down. Then Mrs. Puffin had a happy inspiration, and, acting upon
it, we slid a sheet under you, and, Rupert coming to our help, we
dragged you up the last four steps by sheer force of arm."

"I remember it," laughed Sylvia. "That was the time when I dreamed that
I was tobogganing down the Rocky Mountains, and when I woke up next
morning, and found how badly I was bruised, I thought that it really
must be true, and no dream at all. How shall we carry him, Nealie? Will
it be easier to join hands under him, or to haul him out feet first?"

"Feet first, I think," she answered. "It is not safe to join hands under
sleeping persons, because you have no hand free to catch them if they
sway. If you will carry his feet, I will take his shoulders, and we will
soon have him on his bed. Then I think we had better go to bed also, for
it would be tragic if we fell asleep; we should have to stay where we
are all night, because there is no one strong enough to carry us;" and
Nealie's laugh rang out, as if she had not a care in the world, and was
promptly echoed by Rupert and Sylvia.



CHAPTER VII

The One-armed Man


The seven had hardly finished breakfast next morning when Mr. Wallis
arrived. Surely never had an elderly gentleman taken to sightseeing with
the avidity displayed by this one, and every one of the seven Plumsteads
voted him to be "a jolly decent sort".

His first move this morning was to take them across the harbour in a
steam ferry to a small jetty opposite the Circular Quay, where they
transhipped to a tiny tug which took them to Farm Cove, round Clark
Island, and past the other sights of that most wonderful harbour; and
all the time he told them thrilling stories of the early days of the
Colony. He told them of the voyage of Captain Phillips, who set out from
Portsmouth in May, 1787, and arrived, with eleven ships, in Botany Bay
in January, 1788, only to find that Botany Bay was by no means what it
had been represented, and, instead of the land being a series of
beautiful green meadows sloping gently up from the shore, there was
nothing but swamp and sand.

"What an awful voyage! I don't think that we will complain about our few
weeks on board after that!" cried Sylvia, who was sitting close to Mr.
Wallis on the deck of the tug, while Rupert sat on the deck at his feet
and Rumple hovered in the background, all of them intent on getting all
the information they could about the new and wonderful country to which
they had come.

"The voyage now is nothing but a pleasure trip compared with what it
used to be in the days of the old sailing vessels," said Mr. Wallis, who
was immensely flattered at the attention given to his stories. He had
always been very fond of telling people things, only the trouble was
that so few seemed to care for what he had to tell; but these children
simply hung on his words, and so he was inspired to do his very best to
satisfy their thirst for information.

"Botany Bay is south of Sydney Harbour, isn't it?" asked Rumple,
producing the dirty notebook and preparing to take notes on a liberal
scale.

"Yes, and because it is so open to the east there is no protection from
the Pacific swell. Captain Phillips saw that it would be impossible to
found a colony there, and so he set out with one of his ships to find a
better harbour farther along the coast," went on Mr. Wallis. "And it is
said that a sailor named Jackson discovered the entrance to what is now
known as Sydney Harbour, and it was named Port Jackson in honour of
him."

"I wish that I could discover something that could be named after me,"
said Rumple with a sigh. "Port Plumstead, or even Mount Plumstead, would
have an uncommonly nice sound, and I do want to be famous."

"There is fame of a sort within the reach of everyone," answered Mr.
Wallis quietly.

"What sort of fame?" asked Rupert quickly. He had been very silent
before, leaving it to the others to do most of the talking.

Mr. Wallis smiled, and his middle-aged countenance took on a look of
lofty nobility as he said slowly: "We can each impress ourselves on our
fellows in such a way that so long as life lasts they must remember us
because of some act or acts for the good of suffering humanity, and
that, after all, is the fame that lasts longest and is at the same time
most worth having. We can't all be explorers, you know, for there would
not be enough bays, mountains, and that sort of thing to go round; but
there are always people in need of help, pity, and comfort."

"I wanted to be a doctor," said Rupert in a voice that was more bitter
than he guessed. "But who ever heard of a lame doctor? Everyone would be
howling for the physician to heal himself."

"There is no reason why you should not be a doctor that I can see: not
if you do not mind hard work that is," said Mr. Wallis. "I have known
lame doctors and hump-backed doctors too; indeed one's own disability
would serve to make one all the more keen on doing one's best for other
people. In the Colony, too, there is not the money bar that exists in
the old country, because anyone can rise from the gutter here to any
position almost that he may choose to occupy, and you are not in the
gutter by any means."

"Not quite," replied Rupert with a laugh, and a lift of his head like
Nealie.

The tour of the harbour took so long that they did not get back to the
city until the afternoon, and then their kind host carried them off to
tea at the Botanical Gardens, which were one of the finest sights that
any of them had seen. Ducky fairly screamed with delight at the lovely
flowers, while Don and Billykins could hardly be induced to leave the
ornamental waters where the water fowl congregated looking for food.

Nealie and Mr. Wallis came in search of them when tea was ready, and
found them absorbed in watching a toucan from America and a rhinoceros
hornbill from Africa, which appeared to have struck up a friendship from
the fact that they were both aliens.

"Come to tea, boys; you can inspect those creatures later if you want
to," said Mr. Wallis.

"I say, Nealie, what does the toucan want to have such a long bill
for?" asked Billykins, slipping his arm through Nealie's as they walked
back to the tearooms together.

"Perhaps he did not want to have a long bill, but having it must needs
make the best of it," she answered, with a laugh, then suddenly grew
grave with pity and concern as a man with his right coat sleeve pinned
across his breast passed them at the place where the path grew narrow.
They all knew that for some reason it always made her sad to see a
one-armed man, although she took no especial notice of people who had
been so unfortunate as to lose a leg. Mindful of this fact, Billykins
was trying to divert her attention by talking very fast about what he
had seen; but twisting his head round to see if the maimed stranger was
leaving the gardens or taking the other path which led by a picturesque
bridge round to the other entrance to the tearooms, he was surprised to
see him stop and speak to Mr. Wallis, who was walking behind with Don.

"Did you see that man with one arm, who passed us just now and spoke to
me?" said Mr. Wallis, joining Nealie and walking by her side.

"Yes, I saw him," she replied, her voice rather fainter than usual,
while some of the fine colour died out of her cheeks.

"His is a most interesting and unusual case," went on Mr. Wallis. "He
is one of our very rich men now, and the funny part of it is that he
declares he owes all his prosperity to the loss of his limb, which, but
for a mistake of the doctor's, he need not have lost at all."

"What do you mean?" she asked, stopping short in the path and staring at
him with parted lips, her face so ghastly white that he asked her
anxiously if she felt ill.

"No, no, it is nothing, thank you, but I want to hear about that man. It
sounds most awfully interesting; and won't you tell me what his name
is?" she said, turning such a wistful gaze upon him, that it seemed to
him there must have been some sorrow in her life, although she laughed
in such a cheery, lighthearted way as a rule.

"Reginald Baxter. He is English, and came out to this country about six
or seven years ago. His people are very aristocratic, but poor as church
mice, and they were so terribly upset at his disaster they practically
cast him off; but he seems to have no false pride himself and no
unnecessary notions of his own importance; but he is a veritable king of
finance----"

"What is that?" demanded Don; but Billykins was watching Nealie with a
close scrutiny, and he had his fists clenched tightly as if he were
meditating some sort of revenge upon the innocent Mr. Wallis for the
pain he was giving her in talking about the one-armed man.

"A king of finance is a man who has a natural gift for managing money
and making it increase. I should not wonder if you develop a cleverness
in that way yourself when you are a little older," said Mr. Wallis, who
was a keen student of human nature and had already amused himself by
mentally forecasting the future of the seven.

"Perhaps I shall," answered Don stolidly. "Anyhow I don't mean to be
poor when I grow up, for I shall just go without things until I get a
lot of money saved, and Mr. Runciman used to say that money made money,
and if a man could save one hundred pounds the next hundred would save
itself."

"Well done, Mr. Runciman, that is sound philosophy!" said Mr. Wallis,
and was going to expound the art of money making still further when
there came a sudden interruption from Billykins.

"Can't you talk about something else, please? You have made Nealie cry
by going on so about that one-armed man. She never can bear to talk
about them, and you didn't see that she did not like it," he said in a
shrill and very aggrieved tone.

"Miss Plumstead, I am truly sorry. I had no idea that I was saying
anything to pain you. Please forgive me!" said Mr. Wallis in a shocked
tone, for Nealie's face was covered with her handkerchief, and by the
heave of her shoulders it was easy to see that she was crying bitterly.

"Oh, it is nothing, quite nothing, and I am very silly!" she said
nervously. "But somehow I never can bear to see men who have lost their
limbs. It is so sad and hopeless, because, of course, they can never be
the same again, and life must be so very sad."

Mr. Wallis laughed in a cheerful manner. "I don't think that you would
consider Reginald Baxter a very sad man if you knew him. As I said
before, he looks upon the loss of his arm as his entrance into freedom,
and it would be hard to find a happier man, I should think. But let us
go in and find some tea, and think no more about such matters."

Tea was such a merry function that no one had much time to notice that
there was something wrong with Nealie, although she was so very quiet
that Rupert asked her once if she did not feel well.

"Oh yes, I am quite well, thank you; only perhaps a little tired," she
replied, smiling at him in a rather wistful fashion; and then, as Sylvia
claimed his attention, he forgot about it, and there was so much to see
and to hear, with so many details of to-morrow's journey to discuss,
that it is not wonderful he did not even remember Nealie had said she
was tired.

Later in the evening, when they were back at the hotel, the younger
ones had gone to bed, and Mr. Wallis had gone away after bidding them a
most affectionate good night, Nealie said abruptly: "There is something
you ought to know, Rupert, that I have always hated to tell you."

"Then don't tell it," put in Sylvia lazily. "I think that half the
misery of the world comes through having to do unpleasant things, such
as going to bed when you want to sit up, and in having to get up by
candlelight on a dark morning in winter when you would far rather take
your breakfast in bed."

"What is it? A trouble of some sort?" asked Rupert, with a start, for he
was remembering Nealie's low spirits at teatime and wondering where the
trouble came in.

"Yes," said Nealie shortly, and then hesitated as if not sure where to
begin.

"Well, you can enjoy it together, if it must be told, but I am going to
bed, for it seems to me almost like a sacrilege to spoil such a
beautiful day as this has been with even a hint of anything unpleasant,"
said Sylvia, getting out of her easy chair in a great hurry. Then she
said in quite a pathetic tone, as she kissed Rupert: "I wonder when we
shall have easy chairs to sit in again; don't you?"

"I don't see that it matters very much; I am not gone on that sort of
thing myself," he replied briefly; and then he turned to Nealie, asking
in a tone of grave concern, as Sylvia hurried away to bed: "Is it
anything about Father, Nealie?"

"Yes," she said faintly. "That is to say, it is about the trouble that
came before Ducky was born; you remember it?"

"I never knew more about it than that he made a mistake, some medical
blunder, for which he would have to live more or less under a cloud for
the remainder of his professional life. I thought it was all that any of
us knew, and Aunt Judith hated to have it mentioned." Rupert's tone was
fairly aggressive now, for he was quite abnormally sensitive on this
subject of his father's disgrace, which had indirectly cost his mother
her life and had plunged the family into poverty, and bereft them of
their father also.

"Mrs. Puffin told me all about it one day soon after Aunt Judith was
taken ill," said Nealie, her voice quivering now with emotion, for it
was terrible to her to have to talk of this thing which had thrown such
a shadow over their lives.

"How did she know?" demanded Rupert hotly, thinking how hateful it was
that a servant should know more about their private skeleton than they
knew themselves.

"Aunt Judith told her," replied Nealie; and then she burst out hotly:
"But indeed there is nothing to look so shocked about in the affair,
Rupert. If Father did make a mistake, it was not so serious as it might
have been; and I think that it was altogether wrong to hush it up as it
has been. There are some things which are all the better for being told,
and I am quite sure that this is one of them."

"What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely. "I should think that a mistake of
that kind should be buried as deep as possible, for who would be likely
to trust a doctor who might make blunders that might cost a man his
life?"

"It was not a life-or-death blunder in that sense, but only one of
maiming," said Nealie hastily. "Father wanted to take off a man's arm to
save his life; but the family, and I suppose the man himself, would not
hear of it, for the man was heir to someone's property, an awful pile it
was; and the someone--she was a woman--said that her money should never
go to a man who was maimed. So of course the man's family would not hear
of it, and they would not have another doctor called in either; and
things went on, the poor man getting worse and worse, until one day
Father declared that he would throw up the case, because he would not be
responsible for the man's life. Then the man said that it could be taken
off if Father liked, only it must be done without his people knowing
anything about it, which was easy enough, seeing that he was being
nursed at his lodgings. Father sent for another doctor to come and
administer the chloroform, and he performed the operation himself, as
the man was too bad to be moved eight miles to the nearest hospital.
There was a frightful week after that, when Father simply gave up
everything to pull the poor fellow through. He did it too, and the
relatives did not know until he was out of danger that the arm had been
amputated."

"Whew, what a story!" said Rupert, mopping his forehead, on which the
perspiration stood in great beads. "I think that Father was a hero,
because he acted up to his principle--the true doctor principle--of
saving life at no matter what cost to himself. But I don't mind
admitting, now that I know the truth, that I have always been afraid of
hearing that story, because I had got the impression that there was
something really disgraceful behind."

"Poor Father has had to suffer as bitterly as if he had made the most
ghastly blunder imaginable," said Nealie sadly. "The man's people had a
lot of influence, although they were not really wealthy, and when they
found out that the arm had been taken off they simply hounded Father
down as if he were a criminal. He was boycotted in every direction, and
in the end he had to get out of his practice in a hurry. Then Ducky was
born, and Mother died; and there would have been no home for us at all
if Aunt Judith had not opened her house to take us in."

"Poor Father!" murmured Rupert, and then he thrust his hands deep in his
pockets, and sat staring at the floor, frowning his blackest, until, a
sudden thought striking him, he sat up straight, and asked abruptly:
"What made you dig all that up to-day, after keeping it to yourself so
long?"

"Because I met the man whose arm Father cut off," replied Nealie
quietly.

"You did? Where?" demanded Rupert savagely, and looking as if he would
like to go and have it out with the man there and then.

"A one-armed man passed us in the Botanical Gardens, and Mr. Wallis told
me that a doctor had cut off his arm by mistake, and that the man's name
was Reginald Baxter; then I knew that it must be the man on whose
account Father had to suffer so badly."

"Did he--did he look very poor?" asked Rupert in a hesitating manner;
for if the man had to lose his inheritance as a penalty for losing his
arm, it did seem as if the poor fellow should be pitied.

"He looked as well off as other people, that is to say, he was dressed
in an ordinary way; but Mr. Wallis told me that he was one of the
richest men in the city--a king of finance, he said he was," replied
Nealie.

Rupert gave a long whistle, and then rose to his feet, yawning widely.
"So Father didn't balk the business so badly after all!" he said, and
then went to bed.



CHAPTER VIII

The Start


"I say that this is just ripping!" cried Rumple joyously.

He was sitting under the tilt of a light wagon with Rupert, the two
small boys, and Ducky, while Nealie and Sylvia occupied the post of
honour in front, and guided the steps of the big horse which was to draw
the wagon to Hammerville.

Nealie held reins and whip in quite a professional style, and if she was
nervous she took good care to say nothing about it. She had, before
starting from the yards of Messrs. Peek & Wallis, ably demonstrated her
ability to manage a horse by unharnessing this very animal and leading
it into the stable. Then leading it out again she had harnessed it with
her own hands, backed it carefully into the shafts, and finished the
processes of hitching to in a smart and workmanlike manner.

The others wanted to assist her; but as she had to take the
responsibility, and sign the books of the company, she preferred to do
the whole thing herself, although she promised that one or more of them
should always help her at the harnessing and unharnessing when they were
on the journey.

"Yes, it is ripping!" echoed Sylvia. "But do you know, I was simply
shaking with nervousness when Nealie was harnessing, for I was so afraid
that she would make some awful blunder, and that they would refuse to
let us have the horse and wagon, for I knew that I could not have stood
the test as she did; and then, too, these colonial horses seem to have
such a good opinion of themselves, and they carry their heads with a
swagger that is entirely different from the meek, downtrodden air of the
Turpins, and Smilers, and Sharpers of the old country; and their names
are as bumptious as themselves. Fancy a horse being named Rockefeller! I
vote that we call the dear creature Rocky for short. What do you say?"

"Not a bad idea!" cried Nealie, who was flushed and triumphant at having
passed the test imposed on her by Mr. Wallis before he would allow her
to take the responsibility of the horse and wagon. Rupert's lameness had
been the bar to his being in charge, and if Nealie, or, failing her,
Sylvia, had been unable to harness and unharness without danger to
themselves, then it would have been necessary to send a driver with
them, which would not merely have added to the expense, but would have
imposed a most uncomfortable restraint upon them.

Mr. Wallis had sent a reliable man to see them clear of the city and
beyond the area of the electric trams; then, once out in the country,
and provided with a map of the route to be traversed, the driver bade
them good morning, and they were absolutely on their own.

"I wonder how far we shall get to-night?" said Rupert, who was in charge
of the map, and had been promptly nicknamed the "route boss" by the
others.

"We ought to get to Kesterton--Mr. Wallis said so," answered Rumple, who
had charge of the provisions, and was at that moment sitting upon the
grub box, which had been thoughtfully filled for the start by Mr.
Wallis.

"I don't mind where we get to by night--no, I mean sundown, for that is
what Australians say--but I do hope it will soon be time to open the
grub box, for I am getting most fearfully hungry, and I expect the horse
is hungry too," said Ducky, who was in high feather this morning, and
full of the oddest little jokes, with quips and cranks of all sorts. She
had kept up a fire of small jokes with Don and Billykins ever since the
start, for she was wildly excited because she was going to see her
father, who of course could not possibly know her until he was told who
she was.

"You can have food now, and I know there are some lovely sandwiches on
the top of the box, for I saw the woman at the shop pack them into their
place above those tins of tongue," said Nealie; "but I have had strict
orders to feed Rocky only at sunrise, noon, and sundown, and the noon
meal is to be a slight one, and I am going to obey orders."

"How shall we get the horse and wagon back from Hammerville to Sydney?
Will it have to be put on the rail?" asked Rumple, who had not heard, or
else had forgotten, the final instructions which had been given to his
sister.

"We have to hand it over to the nearest agent of the company, and he
lives about twenty miles from Hammerville on the nearest point of the
railway," replied Nealie.

"Do you mean that the railway does not go nearer than twenty miles from
Hammerville?" cried Sylvia. "Why, the place must be quite at the back of
beyond!"

"That is just about where it is, my dear; and if you thought that it was
going to be a second Sydney, why, you are in for a pretty big
disappointment, I am afraid," said Rupert, who was still poring over the
map. "Hammerville is a mining place, although it is not quite clear to
me yet what kind of mining is done there, and it seems to have sprung
into existence within the last six or seven years. This Gazetteer affair
says that it is a very healthy place, and bound to develop into a city
of the first importance; only, so far as I can see, it is not very big
yet, though doubtless it will receive a mighty impetus of growth when it
has the honour of sheltering us. Only I don't mean to stay there very
long;" and as he spoke Rupert folded up the map, putting it in his
pocket with a satisfied slap, then sat looking out between the shoulders
of Nealie and Sylvia, a happy smile curving his lips.

Life had taken on a new aspect for him since the real truth of his
father's story had been made known to him, and already he had made up
his mind that he was going to be a doctor, if by hard work he could pass
the preliminary tests and win a scholarship that would let him climb the
ladder of learning without expense to his father. Mr. Wallis had told
him the way to set about obtaining his heart's desire, and it would not
be a little thing which would turn him back, now that he knew there had
been no real dishonour in his father's professional downfall. While the
others ate sandwiches, and chattered like magpies about what they would
do when the night camp was made, Rupert sat absorbed in day-dreams,
building castles in the air, and making up his mind as to how he would
go to work in good earnest directly Hammerville was reached.

The horse was good and fresh, the road was plain before them, and Nealie
forged ahead so intent on her business that she paid little heed to
Rupert's silence or the noisy chatter of the others.

The day was very hot, and they rested the horse for two hours in the
middle of the day, unharnessing the big creature, and washing his face
with as much care as if he had been a human being; then, after he had
had the regulation amount of water, he was tied to a tree and fed, after
which the seven had a merry meal from that well-filled grub box and some
tea from a real billy, which they boiled over a fire of sticks that had
been gathered by Don and Billykins.

The suburbs of Sydney extend so far that they could not be said to be
free of them yet; there were pleasant villas with ornamental grounds and
a riotous wealth of flowers dotted here and there along the road. Great
stretches of land were under vegetable cultivation, and the seven had
been vastly interested to see Chinamen with long pigtails hanging down
their backs walking up and down between rows of potatoes, peas, and
cauliflowers, letting in water from the irrigation channels, and turning
it this way or that with the twist of a naked foot.

The noonday halt was on a patch of ground just off the road, which
looked like private land with the fence broken down; but no one came to
complain of their resting there, while there was water and shade, and
the spot seemed to be made on purpose for their requirements.

"What a jolly place this would have been for the night camp! I doubt if
we shall find a spot so suitable when evening comes. What a pity we
cannot stay here!" said Sylvia regretfully; the heat had made her lazy,
and it did not seem worth while to go farther and to fare worse when
they had such a lovely spot to rest in.

"We ought to do twenty miles a day at the very least, and we have not
done more than ten as yet, so we must push on a little farther," replied
Nealie, standing up and stretching her arms above her head. Quite
privately she was saying to herself that she would love to camp just
then and there, for between sightseeing and excitement she was feeling
rather worn out. But it did not take much arithmetic to know that if
they only went ten miles in a day's journey they would be nearly a month
on the road, and at that rate their money would certainly not hold out,
for there were seven of them to feed, and even the horse would cost
money for food later on, as the animal would need corn or oatmeal to
keep it in good form for drawing the wagon.

So she resolutely put away the temptation to camp at that most
convenient spot, and, calling Rumple to help her harness, she set about
the preparations for a start.

The zest of travel had gone from all of them, however, and they went
forward in languid silence, while the heat and the dust seemed literally
to choke them. Then came a long hill, which appeared to stretch for
miles in front of them.

"I am going to walk for a time," said Nealie, as she sprang down and
went to the head of the horse, and the others tumbled out also, except
Rupert and Ducky, and they trailed along in the little shade cast by the
side of the wagon, and declared that it was less tiring to walk in the
dust than to be cooped up under the tilt of the wagon.

"We ought to be looking for a camping place soon, for of course we shall
be rather longer getting things into shape on the first night," said
Nealie, and then Rumple and Sylvia begged to be allowed to go forward
and find a place which seemed suitable for the purpose, and on their
promising not to leave the road, Nealie said they might go.

The way still led upward, and between the trees they could still get
glimpses of the waters of the wide harbour, although a few miles farther
on the road would turn inland, and then they would have to bid goodbye
to the sea.

Billykins trudged along by the side of Nealie, doing valiant things in
the matter of leading the horse, but Don trotted on just in front,
looking for a camping ground, which he found presently in a little
hollow by the side of the road, not far from a house, where water could
be begged for themselves, and also for the horse: a great convenience
this, because they seemed to have left the region of little roadside
streams, and they had seen no water since noon.

"I wonder why Sylvia and Rumple do not come back. Do you think that they
can have lost their way?" Nealie asked Rupert, when he came to help her
unharness the horse, after the wagon had been drawn into position at the
side of the road.

"If they have, they will soon find it again when they turn round to come
back," said Rupert in a casual tone; but secretly he was very much
worried because they had not come back, and would promptly have gone in
search of them if his foot had not ached so much as to make walking out
of the question.

Don, Billykins, and Ducky worked very hard at getting supper ready, but
everyone was more or less anxious, and no one really enjoyed things,
until, just as they were going to sit down to supper without them, the
wanderers appeared. They were very tired, and dreadfully shamefaced at
having stayed away so long that all the burden of supper preparations
was thrown on the others.

"We don't mind that; only we were so worried because you were away so
long," replied Nealie, who had been looking rather white and worn, but
who was smiling now that the worry was at an end.

The night was delightfully fine, and they grew very merry as they sat
round the supper fire. It really seemed a shame to turn in; but, mindful
of the early start which would have to be made next morning, Nealie said
they really must go to bed.

It was one thing to talk of turning in and quite another to do it,
however. The three girls were going to sleep on the floor of the wagon,
but when the mattress was unrolled there seemed no room at all, and so
much twisting and turning was necessary, before there was room for the
three of them to lie down, that a good part of the night was taken up in
getting comfortable; indeed they might not have been able to sleep at
all if it had not been for Sylvia's brilliant idea of lying in what she
called the head and toe position; that is to say, her head and Nealie's
feet shared the same end of the mattress, while Ducky, being so many
sizes smaller, was accommodated somewhere about the middle.

Down below, the boys had more room and less comfort. A tarpaulin spread
over the shafts of the wagon made a sort of tent in front, there was
more sailcloth draped round the wheels and the back part of the wagon,
while a waterproof sheet spread on the ground served as a sort of floor
on which to spread two mattresses. But, as Rumple said, it was very
hard, and it was a night or two before they were really comfortable.

The novelty of the thing kept them from complaining, however, and there
was not one of the seven who would have changed their quarters for the
most comfortable bed that was ever invented. It was great fun to lie
listening to Rocky munching alongside, and to fall asleep with the
out-of-door feeling, and the stars looking in from the rift in the
canvas covering.

But it was still greater fun to wake next morning, to wash in a bucket,
and then to hurry round, getting breakfast in the crisp, fresh air of
the early morning. It was going to be tremendously hot later on, so
breakfast was hurried over, and the start made before the cool breeze of
the sunrising had entirely died away.

It was the real start this morning, for the road turned inland from the
sea, and there was not one of the seven who did not feel as if they were
saying goodbye to an old friend when the last gleam of blue water was
hid from sight, and the hills, clothed with olive-green foliage, bounded
the horizon.

[Illustration: EARLY MORNING IN CAMP]

But it was not in their nature to be sad for very long, so ten minutes
later their laughter was ringing out once more, and they set their faces
towards the unknown with the cheerful determination to make the best of
things which always marked their doings.

Rumple had retired to the rack at the back of the wagon, because he
wished for quiet in which to write a poem to celebrate the occasion, and
the others forgot all about him until they drew under the shade of a
grove of trees for the noonday halt, when, to their extreme
consternation, it was found that Rumple was missing.



CHAPTER IX

In a Strange Place


Rumple opened his eyes and stared about him in amazement. He was lying
in a room which had big pink vases on the mantelpiece, a blue
firescreen, and a green paper on the walls. There was a centre table,
too, which was piled with books and strewn with photographs. There was
one--the portrait of a man--which had a silver-gilt frame, and stood in
the place of honour, and Rumple gazed at it in amazement, wondering
where he had seen it before.

"Why, I do believe it is Mr. Melrose!" he cried in a shrill voice.

"Better, are you, dear?" asked a voice at his side, and he twisted his
head, to see a woman, not yet middle-aged, with a kindly face which
matched her voice.

"Have I been bad?" he asked in a wondering tone, and then, suddenly
remembering, he called out anxiously: "Why, where are the others?"

"Who are the others, dear? You were lying alone on the road when we
found you; and when we first picked you up we thought that you were
dead," said the woman.

"Just my luck!" cried Rumple, with a groan. "I sat at the back of the
wagon--on the rack behind, you know--so that I might have some quiet,
because I was turning out a little poem. Then I remember that I got
sleepy, and I suppose that I fell off; only I wonder that it did not
wake me up."

"We think that you must have stunned yourself with the fall, and we
should have sent for a doctor, only he lives fifteen miles away, and we
had no horse that could do the journey just then, and we had to wait for
a few hours to see if you would be better," said the woman; and then she
asked again: "But who were you with, dear, and how was it they went on
and left you lying all alone in the road, you poor child?"

"Why, that was because they did not know that I had fallen off, of
course," said Rumple hastily, for there was so much reproach for the
rest of the family in her tone that he was instantly on the defensive on
their behalf.

"Then I expect that your mother will be in a fine state of mind about
you," said his hostess, who was fussing round him much after the fashion
in which a motherly hen would fuss round a brood of chickens.

Rumple hastily explained then that he had no mother, and detailed the
journeyings of his family, while the good woman stood with her hands
uplifted in horrified amazement to think that a lot of irresponsible
children should be left to wander about the world in such an unprotected
fashion.

"We are used to looking after ourselves, and Nealie is nearly grown up.
She does not have her hair hanging down her back now, because it makes
her look so much more responsible, now that she wears it in a bunch on
the top of her head," explained Rumple.

"And you say that you have one of Peek & Wallis's wagons? Why, they are
most dreadful particular sort of people, and they always want money down
and no end of security besides; no blame to them either, seeing how bad
some people are about paying their just debts," said the woman, with so
much surprise in her tone that Rumple felt it necessary to explain a
little further.

"Oh, Mr. Melrose cabled from Cape Town to Mr. Wallis, saying that he
would be security for the paying of the wagon hire. Mr. Melrose is a
gentleman whom we met on board ship, a very nice person indeed; but it
seemed so funny to see his photograph here," and Rumple waved a languid
hand towards the portrait in the silver frame. His head was aching
furiously, and he felt very weak and shaken from the fall; but he had
to make some sort of explanation about himself, and it seemed almost
like a certificate of respectability to be able to claim acquaintance
with a person whose portrait had the place of honour in the house.

"So you know Cousin Tom, do you? I know he has been to Europe lately,
although we have not heard from him since he got back. But now that I
know where you have come from I must send off to the road and have a
notice stuck up, so that your sister may know where to find you;" and
the good woman was bustling out of the room, when Rumple stretched out
an imploring hand to stop her.

"If you please, can't I go with the somebody, and then Nealie will not
have to worry about me, and it will save such a lot of bother?" he said,
with so much entreaty that the woman hesitated; but seeing how pale and
shaken he looked she decided that his family would have to take a little
trouble on his behalf, and said so.

"You will have to lie still for a few hours, for you are more shaken
than you realize; but we will stick a notice up on the side of the road,
to let your people know where to find you, and then they can camp here
for the night, so as to be ready to start on again first thing to-morrow
morning," she said, and then hurried away to post a messenger off to the
main road, which was two or three miles away, while Rumple lay staring
about at his new surroundings, The ceiling and walls of the room were of
canvas, and the furniture was good of its kind, but dreadfully crowded.
There was a piano, too, but the dust lay so thickly on it that he
decided that the family were not very musical, or else that they were
too busy with other things to have much time for relaxation. There was a
deep veranda in front of the window and a lot of flowers planted in pots
and tins. Beyond the veranda he had glimpses of a gorgeous garden, with
sweetpeas, marguerites, queer-looking cactus plants, blazing-red
geraniums, and a coral tree in full bloom.

"I wonder if Father will have a garden like this at Hammerville?" he
muttered to himself, with a keen pleasure in all the riot of blossom
that was to be seen from his sofa, and then he lay quite still trying to
make some verses about the garden, and at the same time wondering lazily
what the others were doing, until he fell asleep and did not wake until
milking time. He felt so much better then, and he was so furiously
hungry, that he decided to go on a voyage of discovery to see for
himself what the outside of his haven of refuge was like.

The yard outside was a scene of pretty lively activity. The cows were
just being fastened for milking, that is to say they were tied by the
head, each one to her stall, and then the hind leg was strapped so that
there could be no danger of the animal kicking the pail over.

There were several people moving about, and just at first Rumple did not
see his hostess; but presently he heard a shrill voice cry out: "Mother,
there is the little boy out and running about!"

Rumple felt considerably ruffled by this remark, which was not strictly
true, for he was not really a little boy now, at least not compared with
Don and Billykins, and he certainly could not be accused of running
about when he was merely leaning against the garden fence and looking
into the cowyard.

Then the elderly woman detached herself from a group of cows and came
bustling up to the fence, exclaiming at sight of him: "Well, well, you
look a sight better than before you went to sleep. How are you feeling
now, dear?"

"I am dreadfully hungry," admitted Rumple, looking up into her kindly
face with a smile, and thinking how much better she would look if she
did her hair like Nealie, instead of dragging it into a knot at the back
of her head; but really her face was so kind that her hair did not
matter very much either way.

"Hungry are you? That is right. Here, come into the kitchen with me and
have something to eat straight away, for we shan't have supper until the
milking is done and the creatures seen to for the night. It will take
another hour or more, and you have had no dinner."

Rumple followed his hostess into the kitchen, which was canvas-walled
like the best parlour, but many sizes larger and so much more
comfortable that Rumple decided it looked really beautiful, while the
smell of new-baked bread and cakes made a fragrance very delightful to a
hungry boy.

There was a wood fire smouldering on a great open fireplace, and raking
the embers open the good woman put a toasting fork into Rumple's hands
and bade him toast scones for himself. He was invited to put the butter
on for himself also, and there was milk to drink in a big mug close
beside him. So the next half-hour passed pleasantly enough.

But when his hunger was satisfied Rumple began to worry about the others
and started for the cowyard once more in order to see if any news of the
wagon had arrived. Truth to tell, he was feeling very guilty because of
all the trouble he was giving, for he knew that Rupert and Nealie would
be very worried and anxious concerning him, and the journey would be
delayed also.

He had discovered that the woman who had found him lying in the road and
had brought him home was a Mrs. Warner, that her husband was away from
home that day on business, and that all the people moving about the
cowyard were the sons and daughters of the house, with the exception of
an old black fellow who had only one eye.

The milking was over and the cows had all been turned into the home
paddock for the night, but now a strange humming noise made itself heard
on the quiet air.

"Why, what is that?" asked Rumple as one of the young Warners passed
him, bowed under the weight of two heavy pails of sour milk for the
poultry.

"That is the separator. Do you want to see it at work?" asked the boy,
with a friendly grin. He was a few years older than Rumple and scorched
to a berry-brown by the sun.

"What is a separator?" demanded Rumple, whose knowledge of farming was
of a rather antiquated description, Beechleigh being about twenty years
behind the times.

"It is the thing that parts the cream from the milk. Go into the dairy
and have a look at it," said the youth, nodding his head in the
direction of a long, low shed that had been built into the side of the
hill, and which was so covered with creepers that it looked almost like
a part of the bank.

Away went Rumple, nothing loath. Something fresh always appealed to him,
and in this new land fresh things were meeting him at every turn.

Fascinated, he stood watching the machine, the cream pouring from one
spout and the milk from the other, while a rosy-faced Miss Warner turned
the handle, and another Miss Warner, with pale cheeks and quite a
stylish air, bustled about the dairy putting things straight for the
night.

"If you please, have you seen or heard anything of our wagon?" asked
Rumple, when at length the separating was done for the night and both
girls were busy clearing up.

"No, we haven't; but Bella and a friend are going to walk out to the
road after work to see if they can find out anything for you," said the
stylish sister, and Bella, the red-cheeked one, gurgled and choked with
amazing enjoyment, and said:

"My friend indeed! La, Amy, how neatly you always put things!"

They all went in to supper after that, but Rumple, who had eaten so many
scones and so much butter that he would not be hungry for a long time to
come, sat on the step of the veranda and stared out at the darkening
night, feeling a little homesick for the others.

Then away in the distance he heard the slow rumble of wagon wheels, and
a moment later a clear voice rang out on the still air:

"Steady, Rocky, steady, old fellow, or you will upset the whole show
into the ditch!"

"It is Nealie!" yelled Rumple in an ecstasy of joy. "Mrs. Warner, our
wagon is coming, for I can hear my sister Nealie calling to the horse."

"Now that is downright good news. Come, bustle about, girls, and get
some more supper ready, for the poor things will be nearly starved by
this time, I should think!" cried the hospitable mistress of the farm.



CHAPTER X

A Fright at Night


"There he is, there he is!" squealed Ducky in the shrillest of trebles
as Rumple started to run along the dusty track up which the wagon was
advancing.

"Oh, you blessed boy, how could you have the heart to give us such a
fright?" cried Sylvia, who had been walking at the side of the wagon and
now rushed forward to fling her arms round Rumple and hug him until he
was nearly smothered.

"I'm awfully sorry, truly I am, but I didn't know anything about it; and
I tell you I just felt bad when I woke up in Mrs. Warner's parlour and
she told me that she had picked me up in the road and thought at first
that I was dead," explained Rumple, with an air of gloomy importance;
for in spite of the sorrow he felt at having given the others so much
anxiety there was a thrill of satisfaction at having figured in such a
fashion. To be picked up for dead had a good sound with it, and might
serve as quite a big incident when he wrote the story of his life.

"Oh, my dear, I will never let you sit upon the rack out of sight again
unless you are tied fast to the seat!" cried Nealie, who by this time
had jumped down from the wagon and was hugging him in place of Sylvia,
who had been pushed aside.

"Or we might tie the frying pan and the tin billy round his neck, and
then there would be such a rattle when he fell that we should be sure to
hear and could pick him up at our leisure," said Rupert. There was a
quiet drawl in his tone which meant that his foot was more painful than
usual; but Nealie had been so occupied with her anxiety on Rumple's
account that she had little time for watching her eldest brother, who
never said a word about himself, however bad he might feel.

"I shall not do such a stupid thing again of course, but it might have
been worse," said Rumple. "This is a jolly place: no end of cows, and a
real separator; you put them in at the top, the milk I mean, not the
cows, and they come out cream one side and milk the other. Mrs. Warner
is jolly too, and oh! what do you think, she is cousin to that Mr.
Melrose who left the ship at Cape Town, and sent the cable to Mr.
Wallis."

By the time Rumple had managed so much of explanation the horse and
wagon had halted outside the cowyard, and Mrs. Warner came rushing out
to greet the arrivals.

"I am really glad to see you; we don't get many visitors in these lonely
places, you know, and so company is always a treat. I am afraid that you
must have been rather scared when you found your brother was missing,
but when he was able to tell us how it all happened we sent off a notice
to be stuck up at the side of the road as soon as possible."

"It was most kind of you to be so thoughtful," said Nealie. "Only the
trouble was that we had found out Rumple was missing, and we had come
back on our tracks, right past the place where the notice was posted,
and we had nearly reached the cutting where they are going to make the
railway. We halted there, because we knew that when we passed that place
before Rumple was with us, and after we had been there about half an
hour a man came riding up from the way we had come, and he asked what
was the matter that we were so down on our luck; so we told him that one
of our brothers was missing, and then he said that he had seen a notice
up at the Four-Mile Corner, that stated a boy had been found lying in
the road, and had been taken to Warner's Farm, in the Holderness Valley,
but he was not hurt."

"I had that bit put to keep you from being scared," said Mrs. Warner,
nodding her head in a vigorous fashion. "I guessed that you would be
feeling pretty bad, and so I just told Tom to put it in big black
letters that the boy wasn't hurt."

"It was most kind of you!" said Nealie, flushing and paling. "I do not
know how I should have had the courage to find my way up here but for
those last words, and I am so very, very grateful to you for being so
kind to Rumple."

"Tcha!" cried Mrs. Warner, making a funny clicking noise with her
tongue. "Come in and have some supper, all of you; though where we can
put seven of you to sleep is more than I can say, for we are pretty full
with our own lot; but we will manage somehow, don't you fret."

"Oh, but, please, we have our own supper things, and we always sleep in
the wagon; that is, we girls sleep in the wagon, and the boys have two
mattresses underneath, so we never have to trouble anyone," said Nealie
hastily.

"What a fine idea!" cried Mrs. Warner, holding up her hands in
astonishment. "It makes you so independent of hotels and that sort of
thing; besides, these wayside houses are not many of them suitable
places for young people to stay at. But you are not going to eat your
own supper when you come to see me, not if I know it. Come along into
the kitchen, all of you, there is plenty to eat, only you have caught us
all in the rough."

"But, please, we must look after Rocky, that is our horse, before we
have our own supper; we always do," said Nealie, feeling as if the
stormy day was going to have a peaceful ending, seeing that they were to
find a supper all ready for them, instead of having to cook it for
themselves.

"Tom will see to your horse, and a fine creature it is too. But Peek &
Wallis always do supply good cattle; we often have their horses out
here. Tom is my eldest, and he is downright smart with horses. Tom, Tom,
come and lend a hand, will you?"

At the sound of his mother's shout Tom came hurrying out from the back
door; but he was so dreadfully shy, when he saw Nealie and Sylvia
standing by the horse, that he was just going to make a bolt for it, and
pretend that he had business in another direction, only just then Nealie
began to unharness the animal, setting about her task with such an air
of being accustomed to it that he suddenly forgot to be awkward and
nervous, walking up to the wagon and saying, in a matter-of-fact tone:
"Here, Miss, I'll look to your animal, and give him his supper and a rub
down, while you go in with Mother and get a feed for yourself."

"You are very kind," said Nealie, "but I will just get his supper corn
from the bottom of the wagon, because you will not know where to find
it, and Mr. Wallis said that a horse could not do heavy draught work on
grass feed."

"I should think not," replied Tom, with such an air of knowing all about
it as made his mother glow with pleasure, for Tom's shyness was a real
trouble to her, she never having been afflicted in that way herself.
"The horse shall have a corn feed, Miss, but it will be our corn and not
yours; that will do for to-morrow or the next day."

"Of course we don't let people feed themselves or their beasts when they
come here!" echoed Mrs. Warner, taking hold of Nealie and forcibly
leading her into the house, while the others trouped after them.

What a crowd they made in the canvas-walled kitchen. And what a supper
they ate, sitting round the table eating scones and butter, with
delicious raspberry jam. Amy, the stylish sister, made a fresh batch of
scones, and cooked them in the oven, while the rosy-cheeked Bella went
walking with her friend, who proved to be a good-looking young farmer,
living farther up the valley.

The girls slept in the wagon that night, but the boys carried their
mattresses into the big hay barn, because it threatened rain, and, as
Mrs. Warner said, it was much easier to keep dry than to dry up after
getting wet.

About midnight the rain came down at a pour; it rained until morning,
when it came down faster than ever, and Mrs. Warner would not hear of
their moving on. She said that Rockefeller certainly could not drag the
wagon through the loose mud of the track, and if they got out to walk
they would all catch bad colds, entailing no end of misery and
discomfort on them all, and the only sensible thing to do was to stay in
the Holderness Valley for another day, and the weather would be sure to
be better to-morrow.

This was such common-sense advice that Nealie was very glad to take it,
although she felt rather embarrassed, because it looked so much like
sponging on the generosity of their kind hostess.

The younger ones were all delighted to stay, and Sylvia entered herself
at once as an apprentice to the dairy business by taking a lesson in
milking, and Mrs. Warner declared that when Bella was married to her
friend who lived higher up the valley, Sylvia could come to the farm and
fill the vacant place, earning her keep, and a good deal more besides.

The boys turned the handle of the separator, and made themselves
generally useful. But Nealie went off in the rain with Mrs. Warner and
Tom for a ride to the butter factory with the cream from the night
before and that of the morning.

Mrs. Warner had guessed shrewdly enough that Nealie had so much
responsibility in an ordinary way as to make the little trip to the
factory quite a holiday jaunt.

Wrapped in a big mackintosh belonging to Amy, Nealie sat on the front
seat of the wagon, between Tom and his mother, and very much enjoying
the novelty of seeing someone else in charge of the horse and wagon.

The factory was a series of surprises, and she came away with her head
in a whirl between cream testers, butter machinery, freezing chambers,
and the final processes of packing for market. It seemed to her that the
world was such a wonderful place, and the things done in it were so much
more wonderful still, that she must belong to the very bottom class of
ignoramuses, because she did not know how to do anything save mother her
sisters and brothers, and she did not realize that this might be the
grandest and cleverest work of all.

All day it rained without a single stop, and far into the second night
as well. But the morning broke without a cloud, the sun shone out bright
and glorious, and all nature rejoiced because of the rain.

A start was made directly after breakfast, all the family of Warners
crowding to the cowyard gate, to see the travellers start.

Putting Rupert and Ducky up in the wagon to ride, the other five walked
the two miles and more to the Four-Mile Corner, because the Holderness
Valley track was so soft from the rain. Even with this lightening of the
load it was an anxious progress in places, and when they got stuck in a
hollow they had to put their shoulders to the wheel and assist strength
of collar by strength of arm.

But Rockefeller had been well fed at the farm, and he had had a good
rest also, and, being in prime condition, made short work of the heavy
track, landing them safe and sound on the main road.

Rumple's misadventure had let them in for quite a long delay, but it had
also secured them a shelter when they most needed it, and so, as Nealie
said, the balance was about even.

That day's journey was without incident, and so was the next. Then came
Sunday, when they did not travel at all, but remained in camp all day,
giving themselves and the horse a rest, and singing hymns as they sat
under the trees in the shade. So far there had mostly been trees dotted
here and there by the wayside, but on Monday morning the way grew wilder
and rougher, they were getting out in the back country, and all round
there was nothing to be seen save rolling downs and broad sheep
paddocks, while the road stretched shadeless and glaring for miles on
miles before them, and every step stirred blinding clouds of dust.

"This rather takes the gilt off the gingerbread," said Rupert, as he sat
under the wagon tilt fanning himself with his hat and choking with dust.

Vast herds of cattle, being driven down to the coast to be turned into
chilled beef for exportation, had been passing them all day, and these
droves materially added to their sufferings because of the amount of
dust that was raised. There was danger for Rocky, too, from the long,
sharp horns of the cattle, as they pressed closely round the wagon in
passing, and as a measure of precaution Nealie turned the wagon right
round every time she saw a great drove approaching, by which means the
back of the wagon had the chief impact.

Camping that night was not a very cheerful business. There was only a
scanty supply of water available, food supplies were also running short,
and there was a cold wind blowing, which one of the drovers had told
them was going to be a "southerly buster", only, luckily for their
present peace of mind, the seven did not as yet understand the true
significance of the term.

The shortness of food was owing to their having expected to reach a
certain point of the journey where fresh supplies could be procured. But
they had been held up so many times that afternoon by the passing of
cattle that they were five or six miles from the place where they had
intended to stop when sundown came.

"Never mind being short to-night; we will have a good feed when we reach
Ford to-morrow to make up for it," said Nealie cheerfully. Her money was
holding out so much better than she had expected, thanks to the kindness
of Mrs. Warner, that she was feeling quite easy in her mind about food
supplies just at present.

"We will turn in directly we have eaten all there is for supper, before
it has time to evaporate and leave us hungry again," said Rumple, who
could always forget his woes in sleep.

"That is a downright jolly idea!" cried Sylvia, stretching her arms
above her head in a sleepy fashion. The long days in the open air made
her most fearfully hungry and tired, while to-day had certainly been the
most fatiguing that they had had since leaving Sydney.

They were sitting round a fire made mainly of grass, to eat their
supper, for no wood was procurable in the district in which that night's
camp was made. There were, indeed, a few stunted sandalwood bushes and
some odd clumps of spinifex; but these were so difficult to cut that
they had preferred to manage with a bundle of wood which had been
gathered some days ago and slung on to the back of the wagon for use in
an emergency like this, and when the wood had dwindled to a bank of
red-hot embers they had piled grass upon it, and so kept the fire going
while supper was in progress, because the wind was so cold.

For the first time since they had started on their travels they were
glad to go to their rest wrapped up in rugs and coats. Even then the
boys under the wagon were so cold that Don suggested they should all lie
very close together on one mattress, while the other was used as a top
covering; and this arrangement made them so comfortable and warm that
they were all fast asleep until they were suddenly aroused by a terrific
screaming from the wagon. Then, when they started up, still drowsy with
their heavy slumber, they were promptly knocked down and trampled in the
dust.



CHAPTER XI

Anxious Hours


"Help! Help!" shrieked Nealie.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" squealed Sylvia, while Ducky's screaming rose above the
deafening roar that was all around them.

Rupert and Rumple fought and struggled to throw off the mattress and the
canvas and the oddments of clothing in which they were entangled. They
were choked and nearly suffocated, frightened almost out of their wits
by the crying of the girls, to which was now added the lusty howling of
Don and Billykins, who were being rolled and punched and pummelled like
their elders.

It was Rumple who got disentangled first, and when his head was free,
and he had managed to scramble to his feet, he gave a horrified shout of
amazement; for the wagon was lying on its side, there was the sound of
galloping in his ears, and everywhere he turned there was nothing to be
seen but rushing cattle and tossing horns.

[Illustration: "POURED PAST THE OVERTURNED WAGON"]

They had seen so much of the fierceness of the cattle on the previous
day that in a minute his hand was on Rupert's head, and he was pressing
his brother back into the comparative shelter given by the projecting
wagon wheel.

"Stay where you are! Don't attempt to move! It can't last much longer!"
he shouted, holding Rupert down by main force now, for those tossing
horns were such a frightful menace, and the mob of cattle pressed close
on either side as they poured past the overturned wagon in their mad
flight towards the hills.

"Oh, Rumple, what has happened? Is it an earthquake?" cried Nealie, who
was somewhat reassured by hearing Rumple shout to Rupert. At least the
boys were all alive, though, judging by the noise Don and Billykins were
making, some of them might be rather badly damaged.

"I don't think that it is anything except the cattle on the move, only
they are going as if they have been pretty badly scared," replied
Rumple, trying to stand up by hanging on to the wagon wheel. Then he
cried out sharply: "Look out, Nealie! Get in under the tilt quick, for
here come a fresh lot! Oh, I say, we shall all be smashed flat!"

It really looked as if they would be flattened out, for the next lot of
cattle, charging down the steep hillside, came straight for the camp,
and but for a lucky accident would most likely have gone straight over
the wagon, which lay on its side. But one big bullock caught its long
horns in the spokes of the wheel, the next blundered on to it and forced
it to its knees, another blundered on to that, until in about a minute
and a half there was piled up a most effectual rampart of struggling
beasts, which effectually checked the onrush from behind, diverting it
to either side.

It was to this accident that some, at least, of the seven owed their
lives, for Don and Billykins lay right in the path of the stampeding
herd, while Rupert, scrambling painfully to his feet, would most
certainly have been knocked down and trampled underfoot.

But the noise and the confusion, the snorting, bellowing, and blowing of
all those hundreds of terrified beasts, were quite beyond description.
After the first frightened outcry Ducky lay still and shivering in the
arms of Sylvia, who was sitting on the side of the wagon tilt, amid the
ruins of crockery and the contents of the grocery box, which had been
spilled all over her. Nealie had crawled to the front opening of the
tilt, and, regardless of her possible danger, had succeeded in fishing
Don and Billykins from the debris of canvas and torn mattress under
which they were being slowly smothered, and had dragged them into the
comparative safety of the overturned wagon. Then Rupert and Rumple
struggled into the same refuge, and the seven sat close together,
wondering what was going to happen next, while the wild uproar raged on
around them, and it seemed as if the rush of cattle would never cease.

"There must have been thousands and thousands of cattle that have gone
past," said Rupert, rubbing his lips with his hand before he ventured to
speak, because of the thick dust upon them.

"I should think that every one of those great mobs we have been passing
all day must have turned round and bolted back by the way they came,"
said Sylvia. "But what I don't understand is how it came about that the
wagon was bowled over."

"That is my fault," groaned Nealie. "I made Rocky back it on to the
slope, because I thought that we should be more sheltered from the
terrible wind, and I knew that the boys would not be in so much danger
of a wetting if it rained. Then the cattle, charging down the side of
the hill in the dark, must have blundered up against the wagon and just
bowled it over. They are so big and clumsy, you see, and when once they
start there is no stopping them. Now, if the wagon is badly damaged, we
shall be put to no end of expense because of my carelessness."

"But it was not carelessness if you did it for our comfort, and it is no
use thinking that the wagon is badly damaged, and getting worried about
it, until you know," said Rupert. "Of course we can't do anything
towards finding out, or putting it straight, until morning, for we might
only make matters worse, and invite more disaster still."

"Will it be long before it is morning?" asked Billykins in a voice of
misery. "I am quite dreadfully cold, and most horribly hungry."

"So am I, and I wish that we were back at Mrs. Warner's," said Don in a
dismal tone.

"I don't expect that it will be very long now, and if you curl up under
this rug, if it is a rug, you may go to sleep, and then you will forget
about being hungry," said Nealie, gripping something which felt like
drapery, and dragging it towards her.

"That is my frock!" cried Sylvia. "Creep in here, close to me,
Billykins, and then you will help to keep poor Ducky warm. There is room
for Don too. Don't sit on more of the lump sugar than you can help, as
it is very uncomfortable, I find; but if you were to eat some of the
lumps, perhaps they would warm you a little, for I have heard somewhere
that there is a great deal of warmth in sugar."

"I have found a lump. Will you have it, Nealie?" asked Ducky, groping in
the darkness for her elder sister, and feeling that, of them all, it
was Nealie who most needed comfort just then.

"I don't want it, thank you, dearie," answered Nealie, her anxieties
being too heavy for sugar to alleviate.

"Here is another; and--oh, I say, I have just put my fingers into
something horribly sticky! What can it be?" and Ducky stuffed her fist
in the face of Billykins, for it was so dark that she could not see
where she was thrusting it.

"Look out!" he exclaimed in an offended tone, then suddenly changed to a
shout of joy. "Oh, it is marmalade, and it is all over my mouth! Have
you got any more of it, Nealie?"

"Of course. There was a pot in the grocery box, and I had forgotten
about it, or we would have had it to help out with supper, and then it
would not have been wasted in this fashion," replied Nealie, feeling
that she would like to indulge in a good cry over the ruin which had
come upon them.

"It won't be wasted if only I can find where that pot is. Can you guide
my hand, Ducky, to find it?" asked Don eagerly.

"It seems to be all over me--the marmalade, I mean--but I don't know
where the pot is, and I am most horribly sticky!" cried Ducky, who was a
most fastidious little maiden.

"Where is your fist? I will suck it clean for you," volunteered Don,
with such an air of brotherly self-sacrifice that Nealie burst out
laughing, which was much better for her than the tears she longed to
shed, and which had been smarting under her eyelids only a minute
before.

For a few minutes there was great competition between Don and Billykins
for the privilege of sucking Ducky's fists clean of marmalade, and, the
comical side of the picture presenting itself to the little girl, she
laughed as much as Nealie; then Sylvia joined in, and at length they
were all making the best of things, groping in the dark for lumps of
sugar and dabs of marmalade, until they lighted on some that had
uncomfortably mixed itself up with the pepper, when a chorus of ohs! and
ahs! sounded from the group of explorers, and everyone immediately
decided that they had had enough marmalade for the present.

The cattle had all gone, and the night was entirely silent again, when
Rupert said anxiously: "I wonder where Rockefeller has gone? We shall be
in a pretty bad case if anything happens to the old horse."

"I will go in search of him when morning comes; the worst that could
happen would be that he would stampede with the cattle, and we shall
have the men in charge of the droves coming past presently," said
Rumple, who had made a sort of shelter for himself and Rupert from the
wreckage of the canvas which had been draped round the wagon.

"Perhaps the horse has not been upset at all by the panic of the cattle.
It is not as if it had been a lot of horses rushing across the
encampment in the middle of the night," said Sylvia, who had succeeded
in making Ducky so warm and comfortable that the little girl was falling
off to sleep again, although the rest of them were very wide-awake
indeed.

"I wish that I knew what the time is, but I don't know where to find the
matches, and it is too dark to see the face of my watch," said Rupert.
He was feeling the situation rather keenly, because he could do so very
little to help the others, when, by right of his position as eldest of
the family, he ought to have done so much.

"Don't worry about the time, dear; try to get a little sleep if you can.
You will need it so badly when the morning comes," said Nealie, moving a
little because she found that she was sitting in the frying pan, and she
remembered that it had only been rubbed with a bit of paper after being
used for frying bacon on the day before yesterday.

"I vote that we all go to sleep, seeing that we can do no good by
keeping awake. We can't even sort up this mess of marmalade and pepper,"
said Rumple, whose tongue was still on fire from the last lick of
marmalade which had been so liberally mixed with pepper.

"Someone is coming. I wonder if it is one of the cattle men?" said
Rupert, thrusting his head farther out from the canvas and getting the
full benefit of the cold wind which came howling and moaning out of the
south.

"There are two or three, judging by the noise. Shall we hail them, do
you think?" asked Nealie; but her voice had a nervous ring which gave
Rupert a sudden inspiration and made him say sharply:

"No, no. If they are the cattle men they will most likely hail us, and
if they are not it may be better that they should not take any notice of
us. Lie low, all of you, and don't make a sound while they go by."

"I am horribly afraid that I shall sneeze, for that pepper has got into
my nose!" gasped Don, then went off into a paroxysm of sneezing so
violent that Billykins gurgled with laughter, until Nealie found it
necessary to cover the pair of them with a cushion which she had found
by groping among fragments of broken cups, lumps of sugar, and debris of
all sorts.

The riders, of which there were two or three, checked their horses to
descend the hill past the overturned wagon; but as they did not trouble
to lower their voices, every word they said was perfectly audible
through the hush of the night.

"As neat a job of stampeding as ever I saw," said a hoarse voice.

"We got them away so quietly too. That was a bright idea of yours, Alf,
to make friends with the watchman last night," said another, whose tones
had a boyish ring, as if he were hardly grown up as yet.

"Alf always did understand making friends at the right time, and if I
know anything about it, there was something more than whisky in that
bottle from which you offered him a drink," said a third man, whose
voice had such a horrid ring that Nealie could not repress a shudder,
and she pressed the cushion down with a warning air upon the two boys as
the beginning of another gurgle sounded from them.

"What is that in the hollow there?" demanded the first speaker, whom the
others had called Alf.

"It looks like a wagon that has come to grief and been deserted," said
the third man in a casual tone, and then they put their horses to a
canter again and swept past the wagon without troubling more about it.

"Cattle thieves!" murmured Nealie, and there was a shaky sound in her
voice which made Rupert reach up to grip her hand, as if he would give
her more courage that way.

"What a mercy that the cattle charged down upon us and upset us in this
fashion, or we might have had something even more unpleasant to bear,"
whispered Sylvia, clasping Ducky closer in her arms and feeling grateful
for what at first had seemed such an awful disaster.

"Cattle thieves? But how will they manage to get clear away without the
proper drovers finding which way they have gone?" asked Rupert, who had
been straining his ears to discover the route taken by the men who had
just ridden past.

"Here comes Rockefeller. I say, Nealie, let me ride a little way after
those men and find out which way they have gone? It is a bit lighter
now. I expect that the moon is getting up; there is the end of a moon
that shows somewhere near morning, I know," said Rumple, then he thrust
out his head and called softly to a shape which he had seen faintly
outlined against the dark hillside, and he was immediately answered by a
cheerful whinny, and a moment later Rockefeller shuffled up, his hobbles
not permitting much in the way of pace, although he could get about
sufficiently to feed during the night.

"Oh no, indeed you must not! I should be so horribly frightened lest
they should shoot you or the horse!" cried poor Nealie, who had
privately made up her mind that she could never let Rumple out of her
sight again, because he was always getting into pickles.

"I would let him go, Nealie. He may be able to track those men and save
the drovers hours of vain searching; then in return, perhaps, they will
help us right our wagon. And we shall want some help there; I can see
that plainly enough," said Rupert quietly. Then Nealie gave way at once,
as she mostly did when Rupert undertook to advise her, for he certainly
made up in wisdom what he lacked in bodily strength.

She struggled out of the wreckage of the wagon, and, having caught
Rockefeller, no difficult task, since she never went empty handed to the
work, she hoisted Rumple on to his back, then, slipping the hobbles, saw
the two slink off in the darkness by the way the men had gone.



CHAPTER XII

Repairing the Damage


When Rumple, perched on the back of Rockefeller, had crept quietly away
into the darkness, the three elders sat straining their ears into the
night for some sound that should let them know help was coming. Once or
twice they spoke to each other in whispers, but for the most part they
were quite silent. The two younger boys had drowsed off to sleep, while
Ducky lay in a profound slumber, her warm little body seeming in some
strange way to bring comfort and courage to Sylvia, in whose arms she
lay. An hour dragged away, and then, to the unspeakable joy and relief
of the watchers, a grey light stole over the hills, then broadened and
spread until it was full dawn. There was no crimson flush of sunrise
this morning, the sky was too heavy with clouds that had been blown up
from the south-east; but at least it was daylight, and the comfort of
being able to see what was going on made them all feel better.

The children woke up then, clamorous for breakfast. Only, as provisions
were so scanty it was necessary to have a little council of ways and
means straight away.

"We could make some porridge, for here is some corn-meal in a tin!"
cried Nealie, who had been industriously stirring among their overturned
goods and chattels since daylight came to brighten the prospect.

"But we have no wood for a fire, and we can't make porridge without a
fire," objected Sylvia.

"Ducky and the boys can get us some twigs and little bits of wood from
those bushes just over the hill," said Nealie. "We shall all feel better
for having something warm to eat, as the weather is so uncomfortable
this morning, and while they are looking after the fire we three can
clear the things from the wagon in readiness for having it set right way
up once more. Never, never will I be so careless again as to leave it
standing on a slope at night!"

"I should not grieve overmuch about that if I were you, for I fancy the
wagon being on its side last night saved us from things more unpleasant
still," replied Rupert; and then Nealie shivered and said no more about
regretting her carelessness, which, after all, had not been so much
carelessness as overcarefulness, because she had been so anxious that
they should be stationed where the wind would not trouble them.

By the time Ducky and the boys had got a fire going, and the porridge--a
kind of mush--safely on in course of preparation, the three elders had
got the wagon cleared of all it contained and were ready to do their
best to get it on its feet, or rather on its wheels again. But without
Rockefeller to help this appeared to be a task quite beyond their power
to accomplish, although they tugged and tugged with all their might.

"Whatever shall we do?" cried Sylvia in despair. "If only Rumple would
come back with the horse we might manage it."

"I know," said Nealie, and, struck with a sudden bright idea, she rushed
off to the heap of properties lying at a little distance, and selecting
a stout iron bar which had been used as a stay for the rack at the back
of the wagon she came running back with it.

"What are you going to do now?" asked Rupert curiously, failing to see
what possible help the iron bar could be to them.

"I am going to use the bar as a lever and jack the wagon up. You see, we
can lift it a little piece and poke something under; there are plenty of
big stones and boulders lying about that will do, and if we lift it a
few feet we may then be able to drag it over; at least we can try that
plan, and if it does no other good it will keep us warm, and I am most
dreadfully chilly," said Nealie, who was secretly very anxious lest
Rupert should get a chill in the cold wind, and was also weatherwise
enough to know that it might rain at any minute now.

"The mush is ready; will you have breakfast first?" called Don, who was
cook-in-chief, while the others ran hither and thither doing his
bidding.

"We will get the wagon up first, and then the mush will be the reward
for our exertions," replied Nealie. She was bustling about with feverish
anxiety now, for she had felt a spot of rain, and it was too dreadful to
think what might happen if a downpour began before their belongings
could be got under shelter.

"Yes, we will get the wagon up first," echoed Rupert, for he too had
felt a spot of rain and was as anxious as Nealie to get the wagon right
way up once more. "Leave Ducky to look after the mush and do you two
come and help us here, for every ounce tells, you know."

Don and Billykins came at a run and collected stones, which Rupert
wedged under the wheel every time Nealie and Sylvia managed to jack it a
trifle higher. But what hard work it was! The perspiration poured from
the faces of the two girls, and Rupert panted with haste and exertion as
he struggled with the stones which Don and Billykins brought in lavish
abundance.

"Hurrah, she rises!" cried Sylvia in a jubilant tone.

"We can pull her up now, if we are careful!" yelled Rupert, who was to
the full as much excited; and then, calling to the small boys to come
and pull, the three of them hung on to the rope, putting all their
strength into the task, while Nealie and Sylvia, chanting a funny
refrain:

    "Heave ho, my boys, heave ho,
    With strength of arm, and might and main,
    Heave ho, my boys, heave ho!"

bent to the task of lifting with the iron bar. The wagon shivered and
trembled like a live thing, swayed, rocked, and finally with a jarring
crash settled on its four wheels once more, while ringing hurrahs broke
from the hard-working five, which were echoed in Ducky's shrillest
treble.

It was at this moment that Rumple hove in sight again, clinging in a
very undignified fashion to the neck of Rockefeller, while the old horse
came on at a lumbering trot, warranted to stir up the most sluggish
liver.

"What is all the row about?" he demanded, when Rockefeller, stopping
short with disconcerting suddenness, pitched him off anyhow on to a pile
of mattresses, tinware, and other miscellaneous properties.

"We are so delighted to see you back, for one thing, and for another we
are rejoicing to have our house on wheels standing erect on all-fours,"
said Nealie, just stopping to give him a big hug, and then, running up
to the horse, she dropped a resounding kiss on his nose, held a lump of
sugar out for the wise animal to eat, and then, slipping the hobbles
back on his legs, sent Rocky off to forage for himself.

"We must get these things put back before we have breakfast; for it is
going to rain, and it will never do to let the bedding get wet," she
said decidedly, and, hungry though they were, they came to the task
without a murmur, only Ducky remained stationary at the fire, carefully
stirring the mush, which was slowly cooking there.

But although everyone worked their hardest, the rain was coming down
steadily before they had done, and they were all rather damp when they
climbed into the wagon, carefully carrying the pot of mush, which was
all that could be mustered for breakfast, owing to their stock of
provisions having run out.

"Now, Rumple, let us hear your adventures?" said Nealie, who was
reclining at ease on a rolled-up mattress at the back of the wagon,
while Rupert acted as master of the ceremonies and served out the mush
in such fragments of basins as were not too smashed up in the disaster
of the night, and on tin plates, his own portion being eaten from the
inverted lid of the one saucepan contained in the wagon outfit.

They all made a great deal of fun of that saucepan lid, and the
favourite diversion of Sylvia and Rumple was continually to ask Rupert
to pass them something, because it was so funny to see him have to
balance his awkward plate carefully on the top of the saucepan before he
could do what was required of him.

Then Nealie came to the rescue with her question about Rumple's
adventures, and at once the hero rose to the occasion, puffing out his
chest with such an air of unconscious importance that Sylvia at once
called him a pouter pigeon, to his great disgust; for he said it always
made him feel sick to look at those conceited birds.

"Never mind the pigeons, they will keep; tell us what you did while you
were away," said Rupert, eating in a great hurry, so as to get done
before anyone required anything more at his hands.

"I was precious careful when I rose the hill to lie along Rocky's neck,
so that anyone who noticed us would only think that it was a horse out
on the feed," said Rumple. "But I put the old horse along when we went
down the next slope, only I kept on the grass, for I could hear the men
ahead of me, and I did not want them to know that I was following. Then
there came a long hill and I could see them ever so far ahead of me, as
it was beginning to get light. Luckily they disappeared over the crest
of the hill before it was full daylight, or I guess that they would have
spotted me, though I was lying along the horse like a sack of meal. When
I got to the top of that hill, and it is something like a hill too, the
sort of thing that will work the starch out of poor old Rocky if we take
the wagon that way, the men had disappeared and there was no one in
sight for miles and miles. Presently I saw someone coming towards me
mounted on a jolly fine horse, and I felt quaky from my hat right down
to my boots. Then I caught a gleam of buttons, and I was sure that it
was a mounted policeman; so I cooeyed for all I was worth and he rode
up at a smart gallop to ask me if I had run away from home or what was
the matter."

"What an impudent person!" cried Sylvia wrathfully.

"I don't think that he meant to be impudent," said Rumple, shutting his
eyes with a languid air. "But I suppose it is not a common thing to see
a kid like me doing extraordinary things!"

"Hear him!" cried Nealie, with derisive laughter, clicking her spoon
against her tin plate.

"Well, I suppose that it is a little out of the ordinary for a boy of my
size to do detective work on the track of a mob like those fellows who
rode past us in the night," said Rumple, with edifying modesty.
"Anyhow, he sat up and treated me with real respect when I told him
what I was doing, and at once offered to take the job on for me; to
which, as you may guess, I hadn't the ghost of an objection. So I told
him all that we knew about them, and then I turned round and came back
while he rode off after the men."

"But didn't you see anything of the cattle which bowled us over so
neatly last night?" asked Sylvia.

"No, I didn't, and I can tell you it puzzled me no end, for I went miles
and miles and I did not see so much as the swish of a tail," answered
Rumple, with a dramatic flourish of the broken basin from which he had
been eating his portion of mush.

"Mrs. Warner told me that stampeding cattle will run sometimes for many
miles without stopping, and sometimes they kill themselves by their
exertions," Nealie said as she wriggled into a more comfortable position
against the mattress.

"It struck me as just wonderful what a lot Mrs. Warner knew about
cattle," remarked Sylvia, with a yawn. "Her knowledge made me feel quite
tired; for beyond the fact that a cow had four legs, two horns, and a
tail, I had never realized that there was anything to know about
cattle."

"There is something to know about everything; just see what a lot Mr.
Wallis knew about horses," replied Rupert.

"Yes, and about other things too; but I do wonder what he will say when
he hears how nearly I wrecked his beautiful wagon," said Nealie, with a
sigh, for the thought of her shortcomings worried her a good deal.

"He won't trouble, or, if he does, he knows that Mr. Melrose will see
that everything is put straight," said Sylvia.

"I do not like being indebted to the promiscuous charity of strangers,
and Mr. Melrose was hardly more than a stranger to us," Nealie put in a
little primly. Being the eldest, it was natural she should be a little
more conventional than the others.

"Oh, Mr. Melrose likes being kind to people! Mrs. Warner told me so,"
remarked Rumple, with the air of knowing all that there was to be known.
"He is most awfully rich, too, and he came into his money quite by a
fluke."

"What is a fluke?" demanded Billykins, who was catching rainwater in the
tin dish in which he had been eating his breakfast, so that he could
have a wash-up after his feed.

"A fluke is what happens," explained Rumple vaguely. "It was a fluke
that toppled our wagon over last night."

"There was not any money in that," said Don decidedly.

"Very much the reverse, I should say," laughed Nealie. "Think of the
broken basins, the waste of marmalade and pepper, not to say anything of
the damage to our clothes, and all the rest of it. There are flukes and
flukes, and our kind, unfortunately, was not the sort that pays. But, do
you know, I don't believe that it rains as fast as it did, and so I am
going to harness Rocky, and then we will crawl ahead for a few miles;
for if we stop here we shall starve, and I want some dinner."



CHAPTER XIII

In Sight of Hammerville


It was the next day but one, and Rockefeller was toiling along the heavy
road outside Pomeroy, when a man in a cabbage-tree hat, red flannel
shirt, and long boots rode up to Hutton's store, which stood on the
outskirts of the town, and, seeing the van coming, dismounted, threw his
horse's bridle over the fence, and walked towards it.

"Are you the Plumstead lot?" he asked, with a jerk of his hat towards
Nealie, which was meant for politeness and accepted in the same spirit.

"We are," she answered, with a bow, wondering nervously if he were a
bushranger, of which she had read so much during the voyage and yet had
not set eyes on since landing.

"Which is Dalrymple Plumstead?" demanded the red-shirted individual,
fixing a ferocious gaze on Rupert, who flushed and turned a trifle pale,
wondering what could be the matter.

"I am Dalrymple," said Rumple, dodging round from the shady side of the
wagon, where he had been walking and trying to compose blank verse about
Australian roadside scenery, but not succeeding over-well.

"Why, you are only a kid!" exclaimed the man in ludicrous
disappointment, falling back a step and surveying Rumple with an
expression of bewildered surprise.

"It is a fault that will mend with time," replied Rumple, with such
crushing dignity that Sylvia, who was sitting behind Nealie in the
wagon, gurgled and choked.

The red-shirted person threw back his head with a great burst of
laughter, then, thrusting out a brown, hairy hand, cried eagerly: "Well,
you are plucky anyhow, every ounce of you! Shake, will you? I'm
downright proud to make your acquaintance, sir, and if you have come to
these parts to settle, all I've got to say is that we are proud to have
you among us."

This was quite too much for Sylvia, who choked so badly that Ducky
thought she had a bone in her throat, and patted her with great concern.

But Rumple flushed up in an offended fashion, for he thought that he was
being laughed at, and it made him angry, although, as a rule, he was
remarkably even-tempered.

"Perhaps I should understand better if you explained your business with
me," he said, puffing out his chest in what Nealie called his best
pigeon manner, and which caused her to turn her head abruptly to gaze at
the fence on the other side of the road, so that the stranger should not
see that she was laughing so much.

"Well, I take it that you are the young gentleman that stalked the
cattle thieves out by Russell Downs, and kept them from getting clear
away with five hundred head of my cattle; and if that is not cause for
thankfulness I don't know what is," said the man, gripping Rumple hard,
and sawing away at his hand much as if it were a pump handle and the
water was hard to fetch.

"Oh, they were your cattle that stampeded, and bowled our wagon over in
the dead of night!" exclaimed Nealie, while Rumple turned pink with
pleasure at the thought of being so much appreciated.

"No, Miss, I should say it was the other lot, which belong to Tom Jones
of Hobson's Bottom, and if you want to make any claim for damages you
had better send it in to him, seeing that he is much better off than I
am, and his cattle are the wildest lot in the New South Wales boundary,"
said the red-shirted person, with such an air of wriggling out of it
that the whole seven burst into a shout of laughter, and then promptly
apologized for their apparent rudeness.

But he waved his hand in an airy fashion, and begged them to have their
laugh out.

"And it does me good to see young things so lively," he exclaimed,
taking his hat right off and bowing to right and left, as if he had
received an ovation. "My name is Tim Callaghan, and I am Irish on my
father's side, though I never saw old Ireland, and am never likely to."

"We are very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Callaghan, and we
are quite sure that it must have been Mr. Jones's cattle that knocked
our wagon over, so we will give his address to Messrs. Peek & Wallis, if
there is any complaint of damage made to us about the wagon when it is
returned to the owners," said Nealie; and then she asked in an
interested tone; "But how did you hear anything about it? Were you
helping to drive the cattle?"

"No; if I had been I would have taken good care that there was a better
watch set," replied Tim Callaghan. "I couldn't leave because my wife was
ill, but I heard through the police, who sent me word that I should be
fined for letting my cattle stray to the danger of other people's
property, and that I should have doubtless lost the greater part of my
mob for good and all if it had not been for a Mr. Dalrymple Plumstead,
who rode after the thieves and gave warning to the police. There is one
comfort about it, and that is that Tom Jones will be fined too, and it
will do him a world of good to be taken down a peg or two. And now what
can I do for you, ladies and gentlemen?"

"You might tell us which is the best place in Pomeroy to buy food, for
our provision box is nearly empty, and things are so dear in these
country places," said Nealie rather wistfully, for her money was running
very low, and there was always present with her the dread that she would
not have enough to keep them going until they reached Hammerville.

"You had better come along with me to Gil Addington's; he is about as
reasonable as anyone in Pomeroy, and we are having a deal over some pigs
that may help me to pull his prices down a bit for you, and they will
stand a little paring off at most times," said Mr. Callaghan, who was
uncommonly glad to pay his debt of gratitude in this fashion, since the
cost would fall upon someone else.

"We ought to have some corn for Rockefeller too, if we can manage it,"
said Nealie rather anxiously. She knew that it was the poorest sort of
economy to let the good horse go underfed, and ungrateful as well,
seeing what a useful beast it had been. But corn for horses was a
tremendous price in most of the little towns through which they had
passed, and food for Rockefeller had become a very big item in the
expenses.

"Want some corn for the hoss, did you say?" demanded Mr. Callaghan in a
breezy tone. "Well, I don't know as I can't let you have half a bushel
free, gratis, and for nothing, as they say in the old country. My wagon
is in the town now, I believe, and the corn is in it safe enough, unless
someone has stolen it, which isn't likely."

A queer, choky feeling came into the throat of Nealie as she drove Rocky
along the main street of Pomeroy, with Mr. Callaghan riding on ahead.
How kind people were to them! Of course she did not know that in common
decency Tim Callaghan should have paid Rumple fifteen shillings or a
sovereign for the service rendered in caring for the cattle, and that he
also should have paid something towards the damage sustained in the
overturning of the wagon. Ignorance was certainly bliss in her case, and
she esteemed the Irishman a benefactor indeed, when as a matter-of-fact
he was doing his level best to shuffle out of his obligations.

However, he beat Gil Addington's prices down to a figure so low that
Nealie worried considerably as to whether she would not be a party to a
fraud if she took the goods at Mr. Callaghan's valuation, and was not
even consoled when he whispered to her in a loud aside that Gil was
quite sharp enough to make the next customer run up his profits for
him.

Still, it was an amazing comfort to find the provision box full once
more, to know that there was enough corn to last Rocky to the end of the
journey, and to feel that she had still a little money left in her
purse. On shipboard there had seemed to be no anxieties at all, but ever
since landing she had carried a very heavy load indeed.

There were a good many miles yet to travel, and the worst of it was
that, although they had a very good map of the route, which Mr. Wallis
had marked for them, they had several times made mistakes, and had gone
miles out of their way in consequence. And in a journey like theirs such
things tell seriously in the mileage.

The weather had grown very hot again, and everyone, including the horse,
was feeling the effects, while Rupert and Ducky, the most delicate of
the party, were almost in a state of collapse. Rupert, according to his
wont, made no complaint at all, but Ducky, who had less self-control,
enquired fifty times a day how soon it would be before they could live
in a nice cool house again, and have beds with sheets to them.

Sylvia did her utmost to keep these plaints from reaching the ears of
Nealie, for surely the elder sister had more than enough of worry and
care. Sylvia had never troubled herself about things of this sort in the
days at Beechleigh, when she had been as irresponsible in her way as
either Don or Billykins, but the long journey and the sense of
responsibility in being so peculiarly on their own had steadied her and
developed her character in quite a wonderful manner.

She rigged Ducky up a little shelter at the back of the wagon, because
it was cooler there, and the dust was less. Then she would walk behind
for miles, finding all sorts of things to interest the petulant little
maiden, and beguile her from fretting, while Rupert sat on the front
seat and drove.

By this time the boots of the most active members of the family began to
show signs of heavy wear and tear; but that really mattered very little,
as the weather was for the most part dry, and they had all a spare pair
to put on if those in active use became too aged to be worn.

One day which followed a succession of other hot days Sylvia paused at a
little wooden house by the roadside to interview a woman who had eggs
and milk to sell. Even after the purchasing was completed she lingered
talking to the woman, while the wagon lumbered on along a winding road
that gave peeps of exquisite beauty here and there, where a river valley
opened to view.

Presently she came running to overtake the wagon, crying, in an excited
fashion: "Nealie, Nealie, what do you think?"

"I think a good many things when I have time, but I have not had much
lately, and so the thinking has not been done," replied Nealie, who was
riding this morning because she had stockings to darn. They washed their
stockings most nights, and hung them on the tilt of the wagon to dry in
the morning, and then it was Nealie's business to darn them, while
Rupert drove; and as so much walking induced holes and thin places in
every direction, the task was one of magnitude.

"The woman at the house yonder told me that when we reached the top of
the next high ground we should see the smoke of the Hammerville
factories right away in the distance."

"Hurrah!" cried Nealie, forgetting her occupation, and clapping her
hands, with the result that she stuck her needle into her finger with
such violence that it brought the tears to her eyes and made her wince.

"And she says that last winter, when her little boy was ill, a Dr.
Plumstead came out from Hammerville to see him," chanted Sylvia,
whirling round on the tips of her toes in the dusty track, and flinging
up her hands like an Italian dancing-girl, which made Rocky snort and
plunge as if he wanted to join in the fun.

"Steady there, steady, old fellow, we don't want you bolting at this
time of day!" called Rupert in a warning tone. "Control your
transports, Sylvia, for the sake of Rocky's nerves, or we shall have the
old fellow developing a temperature, and then what shall we do?"

"You look as if you had a temperature yourself. Do you feel bad,
Rupert?" asked Sylvia, coming closer to the wagon, and speaking so
anxiously that Nealie glanced quickly up from her stocking-darning to
look at her brother's face.

"Oh, I'm right enough!" he answered quietly. "I feel a bit heavy, but
that is because of the weather. I think we shall have a storm before
night."

"Oh, I hope not!" cried Nealie in a tone of dismay.

"It would cool the air, and that would be a blessing. Don't you think it
is very close this morning?" he asked, wiping his face with the hand
that was not occupied with the reins.

"It is hot certainly, but so it is every day," she said, glancing up at
the sky, and feeling relieved to see that there were no storm clouds
hovering in sight. "Give me the reins, Rupert, and do you go astern and
lie down beside Ducky. You will be cooler there, and these stockings can
wait."

"I think that it is a great mistake to mend stockings at all in weather
like this, for holes are much cooler than little lumps of darning
cotton," remarked Sylvia.

"I don't see the use of wearing them at all. I am comfortable enough
with bare feet in my shoes, and so would you be if only you were used to
it," said Rumple, coming up with a sackful of grass for Rocky's midday
feed on his back. The younger boys took it in turns to provide Rocky's
luncheon, and to-day was Rumple's turn.

"Sylvia and I are not boys, you see, and so the same rules do not apply
to us, for girls always have to observe the conventions," said Nealie,
with the prim little air which she sometimes put on for the sake of her
juniors.

"What are they?" demanded Billykins, who at this moment ran up from the
other side. But Nealie was spared a lengthy explanation by the timely
arrival of Don upon the scene, calling shrilly upon the others to come
and see a snake which was swallowing a frog, and getting choked in the
process.

"I suppose we ought to kill the snake," said Rupert wearily. "But
personally I would rather not."

"That is how I feel; for after all we have no quarrel with the snake,
and it may be a very harmless creature after all," said Sylvia. "Don't
you remember that Mrs. Warner told us a great many people keep a snake
in their houses in preference to a cat, just to keep the mice down."

"Well, there is no accounting for tastes," said Nealie, and then she
deftly guided Rocky on to the side of the road, drawing rein under the
drooping branches of a lightwood tree, where they could rest for two or
three hours until the fiercest heat of the day was past.

They were not as merry as usual to-day. The heat was so great that they
all wore a more or less wilted appearance.

Presently a breeze sprang up and moaned its way through the trees, and
Nealie decided, with nervous haste, that it was time to be moving on.
She had a great horror of thunderstorms, although she mostly kept it to
herself, and to-day she was vaguely oppressed by a brooding sense of
coming disaster, which was doubtless the effect of the electricity in
the air.

The way at this part was very solitary. Once they passed a bark-roofed
hut standing close to the road; but when they knocked at the door they
found that no one was at home, and so went on their way, by no means
certain that they were taking the right direction, for although the
route lay clear enough before them on paper, in actual fact it was very
hard to find, especially here, where there were so many roads and
beginnings of roads that did not show upon the map.

After some consultation they took the road which seemed the best and the
most used, and, following it, arrived in time on very high ground, from
whence they had a fine view over a great stretch of country, dotted
here and there with little townships and solitary stations, a rich and
fertile land apparently, most of it being under close cultivation.

Thunder grumbled in the west, and the lightning played fitfully along
the distant horizon.

"There is Hammerville!" cried Sylvia, flinging out her hand in the
direction where tall chimneys stood outlined against a copper-hued sky.

"What a long way off!" cried Nealie, with a new note of dismay in her
voice. She had thought that it would be possible to reach the goal of
their journeying before the storm broke, but those chimneys were at
least eight or ten miles away, and Rocky was showing signs of being
nearly done up, for the hills had been heavier than usual, and the heat
had been enough to try the mettle of the strongest horse.

"We had better camp for the night in the first convenient place, and
then to-morrow we can arrive in style," said Sylvia, who was quite pink
with excitement at the thought that when those distant chimneys were
reached she would see her father again.

"I suppose that will be better; but, oh, I had so hoped that we should
have reached home to-night, so that Rupert would not have to sleep on
the ground any more! I am so worried about him," said Nealie, who had
jumped down from the wagon, and was standing in the road trying to make
up her mind which was the best pitch for a camp, always a time of
anxiety for her since that night when the stampeding cattle had bowled
the wagon over in their mad rush down the steep hillside.

"Let the boys have the wagon to-night, and we will sleep underneath. I
should love it!" cried Sylvia, clapping her hands and whirling round on
the tips of her toes, bowing to an imaginary audience, then giving a
sideway skip to show the lightness of her poise.

But at that moment there was a crackle of thunder right above their
heads, a blaze of lightning, and then a downpour of rain, as if the roll
of the thunder had opened the floodgates of the clouds. It was no longer
a question of where to camp or where to sleep. They just had to crowd
into the wagon and stay there until the tempest had spent itself.



CHAPTER XIV

The Arrival


Never had any of the seven seen a storm to equal the one that followed.
The thunder was almost incessant, while the lightning played in blue
forks and flashes round a couple of stringy barks growing by the side of
the road a little farther on, darting in and out like live things at
play, until Nealie forgot half of her fear in the fascination of
watching them.

Ducky had crept under the roll of mattresses at the back of the wagon,
and was hiding there in the dark from the terror of the storm, while
Rupert and Rumple were doing valiant service, one at either end of the
wagon, in holding the curtains together, as the fierce wind kept ripping
them open, letting in sheets of rain upon the group cowering within.

Rocky had been tied by his halter to the lee side of the wagon to
prevent him from wandering under the trees and courting speedy
destruction there. He stood with bent head and bunched hindquarters, as
if in stolid resignation, although Ducky cried because he was too big to
be taken into the shelter of the tilt--to be made comfortable, as she
said. It was quite in vain that Don and Billykins sought to console her
by saying that horses rather enjoyed being out in the rain. She was
quite positive that they knew nothing about it, and told them so with
brisk decision that left them without anything more to say on the
subject. But the interest of the argument had dried her tears and taken
away so much of her fear of the storm that everyone felt it was well
worth while to have roused her to such a pitch.

It was dark before the rain ceased, and by then Rupert and Rumple were
just about wet through from their efforts at keeping the rain from the
others. There was no question of who should sleep under the wagon
to-night, for by the time sundown came they were surrounded by about two
feet of water, and although this would doubtless run off before very
long, the mud which was left behind was every bit as bad as the water
when considered in the light of a foundation for one's mattress.

So they all sat in chilly discomfort in the wagon, making a frugal
supper from damper left over from breakfast, eked out with biscuits.
Then, leaning against each other's shoulders, they tried to forget their
discomfort in sleep.

Nealie had insisted that Rupert and Rumple should strip off their wet
jackets and wrap themselves in blankets; but the worst of it was that
Rupert was wet below his jacket, which was thin, to suit the heat of the
day, and so, as might be expected, he took a violent chill, and as he
had been very unwell on the day before, his condition, when morning
dawned, fairly frightened Nealie. For he was blazing with fever, and
talking all sorts of nonsense about his mother and Aunt Judith.

It was his constant harping on the people who had died which so worried
her; because, of course, she very naturally thought that he was going to
die too.

The driving on this day was left to Sylvia and Rumple, who put
Rockefeller along at his very best pace, for they were all frightened at
Rupert's sad plight, which was to rob their arrival of all the delight
they had pictured when they should drive up to their father's house and
personally announce to him the arrival of his family.

Don and Billykins trotted along the road by the side of Sylvia and
Rumple, all four walking to ease the load, so that the wagon might get
along faster. Ducky sat on the front seat, her small face pinched to a
wistful anxiety, while Nealie knelt at the back end of the wagon trying
to soothe Rupert, who lay on a mattress wildly declaring that he must
get up, because his mother and Aunt Judith were in trouble and calling
out to him for help.

"Will dear Father be able to cure Rupert quick?" asked the little girl,
leaning forward to let her voice reach Sylvia, who walked on one side of
the horse while Rumple walked on the other.

Sylvia held up her hand with a warning gesture. "Sit up, Ducky darling,
or you will be tumbling off your perch, and we do not want any more
disasters this trip if we can help it," she said, adding: "Of course
Father will be able to make Rupert well. The poor, dear boy is only
running a temperature, you know, and the shaking of the wagon aggravates
it."

"Then it will only walk when we get home?" asked Ducky wistfully, with a
scared backward glance over her shoulder as Rupert burst into a wild
peal of laughter, and told Nealie that he had taken an engagement as a
circus rider.

"What will only walk when we get home?" asked Rumple, who had noticed
the noise Rupert was making, and was anxious to distract the attention
of Ducky if he could.

"Why, the temperature, of course. Didn't Sylvia say that it was running
now?" enquired Ducky innocently, and then was highly indignant with
Sylvia and Rumple because they burst into a peal of laughter.

"What is the joke?" demanded Don, arriving alongside in a rather
breathless condition, for he had been investigating a cross track, and
then had to hurry to catch up the wagon.

But by this time they were grave again, and, truth to tell, a little
ashamed of having laughed so much when Rupert was so ill. Then Ducky had
to be pacified, for, frightened by the nonsense her eldest brother was
talking, she had begun to cry, until Sylvia hit on the grand idea of
making her the postilion, and, helping her to scramble on to the back of
Rockefeller, let her sit there in state, pretending to drive, while the
last weary miles of the long journey slid by.

They reached the outskirts of Hammerville in the late afternoon, and
stopped at the very first house to enquire where Dr. Plumstead lived.

The woman who opened the door to them declared that she did not know.

"I don't hold with doctors, and physic, and that sort of stuff, so I
don't know nothing about them," she said ungraciously, and then shut the
door in their faces.

"Disagreeable old thing; I hope that she will be ill and want the doctor
very soon," said Billykins, shaking an indignant fist in the direction
of the closed door.

"That is very uncharitable of you," said Sylvia, "and besides, she does
not look as if she would be at all a good paying patient, and so it
would only be a bit more drudgery for dear Father, for, of course, a
doctor must go to everyone who has need of him, whether the patient can
pay or not."

"Then I shall not be a doctor, for I don't want to do things for people
who can't pay me," said Don; and then he ran up to a pleasant-faced
girl, who was weeding the garden of the next house, and asked her if she
could tell him where Dr. Plumstead lived.

"Why, yes, he has got a house on the Icksted Road, that is on the Pig
Hill side of the town," she said, standing up to survey the wagon and as
many of its occupants as chanced to be visible.

"Is it far?" demanded Don anxiously.

"Oh, somewhere about a mile! You must turn to the left when you have
passed Dan Potter's saloon; that is right in the middle of the town, so
you can't miss it. What do you want the doctor for? Is anyone bad?"

"We have come to live with him; we are his children, you know,"
explained Don, with the engaging frankness which he could display
sometimes, although as a rule he was more reserved with strangers than
Rumple or Billykins.

"His children? I didn't know that he had got any!" exclaimed the girl,
staring harder than ever at the wagon, although at present there was not
much to see, except Ducky perched astride on the big horse that Rumple
was leading, for Sylvia had retired under shelter of the tilt to make
some sort of a toilet in honour of reaching the end of the journey, and
Nealie was still ministering to the wants of Rupert to the best of her
ability.

"That is not wonderful, because, you see, we have been living in
England. But I must hurry on, and I will come to see you another day.
There are seven of us, and we are just on the tiptoe of expectation
about what Father will say when he sees the lot of us," said Don, with a
friendly nod, and then trotted away in pursuit of the wagon, which had
passed on while the girl leaned against the fence and feebly gasped, as
if her astonishment were too much for her.

Dan Potter's saloon was quite an imposing place, and very tawdry with
gilt adornments and coloured glass. They turned into a road at the left,
according to the direction given by the girl, and then followed a road
which was scarcely more than a track, and that abounded in mud puddles
of a deep and dangerous sort, where the going was so bad that Nealie was
forced to leave Rupert in the care of Sylvia, and come herself to guide
Rocky from the pitfalls of that evil place.

There were newly finished buildings that looked as if they had been run
up in the night; there were buildings in course of erection that looked
as if they would tumble down before they were finished; and there were
other buildings in process of being planned, but of which not much was
to be seen saving a forest of scaffold poles.

"What a big place it looks," said Nealie, as with an abrupt jerk she
pulled Rocky's head round in time to save him from pitching into an
unexpected hole that yawned in the path. "I had somehow got the idea
that it was only a little town, not much bigger than a village."

"It is awfully ugly though," replied Rumple, wrinkling his nose with an
air of extreme dissatisfaction. "The man that built those houses at the
end of the street ought to be condemned to live opposite to them."

"That might not be a hard sort of punishment at all," laughed Nealie;
"because, you see, if he had no eye for beauty or artistic fitness the
ugliness would not trouble him, he might even take a great deal of
satisfaction in thinking how nicely he had done them."

"There is no accounting for tastes," grumbled Rumple, who was really
more an admirer of what was beautiful than even Sylvia, who had the
reputation of being artistic.

Then he dashed off to ask a man if they were going right for Dr.
Plumstead's house, and, being told that it was the next small house that
stood alone, he rushed back to the wagon with his information.

"I wonder if Father will be at home," cried Billykins, with an eager
look on his face. "May we run forward and knock at the door, Nealie?"

"No, no; we will all go together," answered Nealie hurriedly, while a
flush rose in her cheeks, and there was a nervous look in her eyes, for
suddenly she was dreading the reception they might receive.

How forlorn they really were, those seven whom no one seemed to really
want! And yet how kind people had been to them in all that long, long
journey from Beechleigh in England. Of course, but for that bit of
absent-mindedness on the part of Rumple, Dr. Plumstead would have known
that his children were coming, and then he could have had a welcome of a
sort ready for them. As it was, it would be the naked truth which they
would have to face, and it was the fear that perhaps he would wish they
had not come that made Nealie feel so nervous, as she led Rocky along
the few remaining yards of that very bad stretch of road leading to the
doctor's house.

Sylvia had left Rupert for a few minutes and was hanging out of the
front of the wagon. Ducky still perched astride Rockefeller's broad
back, while the three younger boys were grouped close to Nealie, who
led the horse.

There was a bit of rising ground before the house, and so of necessity
the pace was slow; but at last they halted, and then stood for a moment
as if uncertain what to do next.

"Rumple, you had better knock," said Nealie in a choked tone, and then
was instantly sorry for what she had said, remembering that but for
Rumple's forgetfulness there might have been no need to knock at all.

"Let me knock," pleaded Don, wondering why Nealie looked so pale, and
Rumple seemed so scared.

"Yes, dear, you can knock, and Billykins will go with you," she said,
with a little gasp of relief.

The two small boys dashed through the gate and up the path to the door.
There had once been a garden in front of the house, but it was
wilderness pure and simple now, a choked jumble of weeds, and flowers
struggling for existence in the garden beds, and a wattle bush filled
the air with a sweet perfume which always afterwards reminded Nealie of
that moment of waiting before the house.

"There is no one at home, and the door is locked," cried Don, and then
he tried to peep in the window, but was not high enough to reach the
lowest pane.

"I expect he has been called out to a case," said Sylvia from her perch
in front of the wagon. "Nealie, can't you send the boys to find out
where Father keeps the key? I am sure that we ought to get Rupert out of
the wagon as soon as possible, for he seems to get more ill every
minute, poor dear!"

Ah, there was Rupert to be considered! Of choice Nealie would have
remained standing out in front of the house until her father's return,
however long she might have to wait, but Rupert must be cared for, and
because she feared that his life might hang on his having prompt
attention just now, she gave way to Sylvia's suggestion, and told Don to
run to the next house to ask where Dr. Plumstead kept his key when he
had to go away.

Away sped Don, nothing loath, and, entering the gate of the next garden,
rushed up to the house door and knocked loudly.

The houses in this part of Hammerville were older than those of the more
crowded streets, indeed it looked as if the place had started as a
village at the first and then on second thoughts had grown out at one
side into a busy town, while the other side remained sleepy and
village-like, each abode having its own garden and orchard in the rear.

There was a minute of waiting, and then the door was opened to Don by a
sleepy-looking Irishwoman, garbed in a very dirty pinafore.

"I don't want any firewood to-day at all, at all, thank you," she said
pleasantly, her kindly face expanding into a genial smile.

"I have not brought you firewood, but I want to know where Dr. Plumstead
keeps his key when he is called away to a patient?" asked Don, lifting
his hat with so much courtesy that the good woman was tremendously
impressed.

"He has only got one key, sir, and he always takes that with him, except
when he leaves it at home," she said, with a sudden change of manner,
because she decided that this was one of the quality, and no errand boy,
as she at first imagined.

"Can you tell us how to get in?" asked Don rather desperately. "We are
Dr. Plumstead's children, all seven of us, and I am afraid that he was
not expecting us at this minute, so he is not at home, you see."

"Dr. Plumstead with sivin children! The saints preserve us! What next!"
cried the woman, flinging up her hands in such profound amazement that
Don could not help laughing, she looked so funny.

"The what next is that we want to get into the house as quickly as
possible, because Rupert, that is my eldest brother, is not well," he
explained, wondering why everyone should be so amazed because Dr.
Plumstead had children.

"I will let you in with my key. It fits the doctor's door, which is
very convenient, because you see I do for him, and real hard work it is,
for he is a dreadful particular gentleman. But sivin children, and you
not the eldest! My word, what is the world coming to?"

As Don could not answer this question it had to go unanswered, and
instead he waited in silence while the Irishwoman took her key from a
nail in the wall, and set off across her garden, which was only one
degree less untidy than the doctor's, to open the door for the children.

"Why, the others are bigger than you, most of them!" she exclaimed in
still growing amazement, as she surveyed the group standing by the head
of the horse. "The saints preserve us! What is the world coming to?"

Again Don had to let the question go unanswered, although it seemed to
him rather rude. The woman unlocked the door of the little wooden house,
which was plain and ugly, and did not even boast a veranda, then,
dropping a curtsy to Nealie, she stood back for them to enter.



CHAPTER XV

A Great Shock


There was a whirling confusion in the mind of Nealie as she crossed the
threshold and stood in the little room which was her father's home.

What a poor little place it was! There were only two rooms, the one upon
which the door opened, and which was evidently dining-room, kitchen, and
surgery rolled into one, and beyond this there was a bedroom, very bare
and poor, with an iron bedstead, on which was a mattress and some dark
rugs, but no sheets.

Coming straight as she did from the almost palatial comfort of the great
liner and the luxury of the Sydney hotel, this poor hut struck a real
note of dismay in the heart of Nealie, for the place was as poor as the
poorest cottage that she had ever seen at Beechleigh or Bodstead in
England.

But it was her father's home, and perhaps he had lived in such poverty
in order that he might have more money to send for the support of his
big family in England, and at the thought of this her heart grew
wondrously soft and pitiful, for she had no idea how very small was the
amount that her father had ever contributed to the support of his family
since disaster had fallen upon him.

While she stood looking round, her heart growing more and more pitiful
for the father whom she had come so far to see, Sylvia came bustling
into the house and took her by the arm, giving it a gentle shake.

"Dreaming, are you, dear? Come and help me lift Rupert out of the wagon,
and let us get him to bed as quickly as we can, for I am afraid that he
is dreadfully ill. Where are the bedrooms? Oh, what a dreadfully poky
little house it is!" and Miss Sylvia turned up the tip of her nose in
disdainful fashion.

"Sylvia, there is only one bedroom, with one small bed in it, without
sheets. Where can we put poor Rupert?"

"On that bed, of course; and if there are no sheets, we have some among
our luggage, for remember we brought the best of Aunt Judith's house
linen with us, and I know where it was packed. Come along, Nealie, and
let us hustle things a bit, and then we will have Rupert quite
comfortable by the time Father comes home. That dirty woman who unlocked
the door says she thinks he must have gone out Pig Hill way, wherever
that may be."

There was no withstanding Sylvia when her mood was like this, and Nealie
knew only too well that Rupert must be attended to without delay, so she
followed her sister back to the wagon, where Rumple, Don, and Billykins
were already hard at work unpacking the baggage which had been loaded on
to the rack at the back of the wagon; and when this was all cleared away
they let the backboard down. Then, while Nealie and Sylvia stood on the
ground, Rumple and Don managed to lift Rupert into their arms, and with
much difficulty they contrived to carry him through the garden patch
into the house.

He had left off shouting and talking now, and seemed almost in a state
of collapse, a condition that frightened Nealie far more than his
delirium had done. There was no time just at first to look in the
baggage for the sheets which had belonged to Aunt Judith, so they
straightened the rugs on the hard mattress, and laid their brother down.

"It is a beautifully clean bed anyhow, and on the whole I think that
clean rugs are better than fusty sheets; but of course a doctor would
have his things clean," remarked Sylvia, as she patted the pillow into a
more shapely lump and laid it under the head of poor Rupert.

"I am going to make a fire, and warm him a little milk; perhaps he will
like it better if it is warm, and he has only had cold things all day,"
said Nealie, and then resolutely turned her back on the four juniors,
who were so hard at work unpacking the wagon and bringing the boxes,
bundles, and cases into the house.

Rockefeller had been unharnessed and turned into the doctor's paddock,
which stretched away from the back of the house up to a line of hills
thickly wooded. The horse was rolling with all four legs in the air,
uttering equine squeals of delight, as if rejoicing in the fact of the
long journey being safely accomplished. Ducky, tired of helping to
unload, had perched herself on the top bar of the gate, clapping her
hands in delight at the performances of the horse, which she imagined
were being enacted solely for her benefit, and she grumbled quite
vigorously when Billykins ran out to tell her that supper was ready and
she must come in.

"We have supper every night, but it isn't every night that Rocky will
cut capers like that," she said, with a swing of her plump little arm in
the direction of the horse, but upset her balance in the process, and
tumbled into the arms of Billykins, who proved unequal to the strain of
her sudden descent, and so they rolled over in the dust together.

"I think that you are most astonishingly clumsy," said the small maiden,
scrambling up with an offended air, and not even saying "Thank you" to
Billykins for having been bottom dog for the moment.

"When you want to fall off gates on to people you should choose big, fat
people, and then perhaps they wouldn't give way as I did; but you really
are fearfully heavy," answered Billykins, who was shaking the dust from
himself as a dog shakes off the water when he comes out of a pond.

Then they took hold of each other's hands and ran back to the house,
where Rumple and Don had got supper ready in the outer room, while
Nealie and Sylvia were busy with Rupert in the bedroom.

The luggage had all been stowed away in as shipshape a style as
possible, the wagon had been drawn in at the paddock gate, and now the
place was crammed full with the big family, who were all, with the
exception of Rupert, strung up to the highest pitch of excitement,
waiting for their father's return.

But, having had no proper meal since breakfast, they simply could not
wait until he came before having their supper.

Yet, despite the fact that the long journey was safely over, and they
had reached their father's house, it was not a cheerful meal. Rupert's
condition forbade any laughter or joking; besides, Nealie and Rumple
looked so fearfully nervous that it was quite impossible to be even as
lively as usual.

Rumple's trouble was simply and solely because of that letter which he
had forgotten to post, and that had led to there being no welcome for
them when they arrived. Of course it was surprising that Mr. Runciman
had not written again; but then everyone knew that Mr. Runciman never
wrote a letter when he could possibly shirk the task, and that was why
they had been so urgent in their entreaties that he should write the
letter while they waited on that momentous occasion when they went to
see him to ask him to send them out to the land of the Southern Cross.

"If Father is cross because he did not know that we were coming I shall
just stand up and say that it was all my fault, and that the others were
not to blame at all," said Rumple to himself, and then he mentally
rehearsed the little scene and the speech he would make until he forgot
all about his supper, and just sat by the table staring out through the
door, which had been left wide open for the sake of coolness, and the
strained look on his face made Nealie's heart ache.

On her own part she was a prey to acute anxiety, and she was dreading
most of all the first look which would show on the face of her father
when he knew that his family had come to him. If the look were pleasure,
then everything would be possible, and nothing else would matter; but
if there were dismay or regret in his expression, she felt that she
would never be able to bear her life again. Sylvia had no such fears;
her nature was so different from Nealie's, and she rarely troubled about
things which were under the surface, and so was spared many worries and
much heartache; while Don, Billykins, and Ducky were only tired of the
long waiting until their father should come, and they were already
beginning to yawn widely because they were so sleepy.

"Where shall we all sleep to-night, Sylvia?" demanded Ducky presently,
breaking in upon quite a lengthy silence, and voicing the very question
which was so sorely troubling Nealie at that moment, although she rose
from the table and passed into the other room, where Rupert lay, and
pretended that she had not heard the query.

"Oh, we shall manage somehow, and there is always the wagon, you know,
if everything else fails!" said Sylvia vaguely; and then she sprang to
her feet with a sudden eager movement, for to her strained listening
there had come the sound of a horse's feet on the road, a smart trot
which slackened down by the gate outside, not as if the animal had been
pulled up, but had stopped of its own accord.

"It is Father!" she said in a whisper, just as if the power of audible
speech had left her, and then she started for the door, followed by
Ducky and the three boys; but Nealie, busy with Rupert, had heard no
sound of arrival as yet.

They had lighted a lamp when the sun went down, and now Sylvia stood on
the threshold, with the four younger ones crowding about her, and the
strong light showing the group up in outline, although it left the faces
indistinct.

The horseman had stopped and dismounted; then, leaving his horse
standing where it was, he came striding along the path towards the group
at the door.

Sylvia tried to speak, but the words would not come, as she stood with
one hand tightly pressed against her wildly beating heart. And then, as
the man halted in front of her, she saw that it was quite a young man,
and not her father at all.

"It is only someone come for the doctor. How disappointing!" was her
unspoken comment, and she was just going to tell him that the doctor had
not come home yet, when to her amazement he asked a question in a
surprised tone.

"May I ask why are you here?"

"We are waiting for Father, but he has not come yet. The woman in the
next house told us that she thought he had gone out Pig Hill way, and
that he would not be long before he was back. I hope that your business
with him is not urgent?" Her voice quavered slightly in spite of her
efforts to keep it steady, for surely it would be dreadful if her father
were called away to another case when Rupert was so badly in need of
care.

"Pardon me, but I do not seem to understand," said the man, with so much
bewilderment in his manner that Sylvia longed to laugh, but managed to
pull herself together and to maintain a decent gravity of expression.

"We are expecting Father, that is Dr. Plumstead, home every minute, and
when he comes he will find a very great surprise in store for him," she
said, flinging up her head with a happy gesture, and now her laugh would
have its way and rang out on the hot air, being promptly echoed by the
younger ones, who stood pressed close to her on both sides.

"But I am Dr. Plumstead, and I have just returned from a case at Pig
Hill," said the man.

It was at this moment that Nealie came hurrying to the door, and,
sweeping the others to the right and left to make way for her, stood in
front of the man, her face white as the handkerchief she held in her
hand, while her breath came in troubled gasps as if she had been running
until she was spent.

"Whom did you say that you were?" she demanded, her voice having a
sharp, dictatorial ring.

The stranger, who had merely lifted his hat when he spoke to Sylvia,
swept it off his head and held it in his hand when Nealie thrust herself
to the front.

"I am Dr. Plumstead, and this is my house," he answered. "But----"

Nealie, however, cut into the explanation he was trying to make, and now
her bewilderment was as great as his had been at the first.

"But Dr. Plumstead is our father, and we have come from England to live
with him," she cried, and then stood staring at the man with
ever-growing dismay.



CHAPTER XVI

The Next Thing to be Done


The man stepped forward then and laid a kindly hand upon her arm.

"Shall we go into the house and see if we can get to the bottom of the
mystery?" he asked in such a kind tone that poor, bewildered Nealie gave
way before it and suffered him to lead her into the house with which
they had made so free, believing it to be their father's home, while the
others trooped after them and gathered round the chair in which the man
who called himself Dr. Plumstead had seated her.

"Nealie, Nealie, come quick, my head is on fire!" called Rupert from the
next room, his voice rising to a shriek.

"Who is that?" exclaimed the doctor, looking, if possible, more
astonished than before.

"It is my eldest brother. He is very ill, and when we reached here he
was so bad that we carried him in from the wagon and put him to bed; but
we did not know that we had no right here," said Nealie, her voice
quavering a little, although she held her head at its proudest angle and
tried to look as defiant as possible.

"I will see him," said the doctor quietly, as she jumped up to go to
Rupert, and then he passed into the bedroom with her; but, finding it in
darkness, came back for the lamp, and, with a word of excuse to Sylvia
for leaving her without a light, picked it up and disappeared with it
into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

"Sylvia, if that is my father I don't like him at all. Why, he never
even looked at me; there might as well have been no Ducky!" cried the
poor little maiden, who keenly resented being ignored in such a fashion.

"That is not our father at all. Why, it is only a young man; but why he
is here posing as Dr. Plumstead is more than I can imagine, and, oh!
where can our dear father be?" said Sylvia, who was on the verge of
tears, for the day had been a trying one on account of Rupert's illness,
and, as they all agreed, the home-coming was just horrid.

"Buck up, old girl, it is never so bad that it might not be worse!"
exclaimed Rumple in a nervous tone, for well he knew that if Sylvia
broke down in miserable tears Ducky would at once join in, followed by
Billykins, who only rarely cried, but always did the thing thoroughly
when he did begin.

"Shall we have to go somewhere else for to-night, I wonder, or what
shall we do?" Sylvia went on, drawing herself up and setting her teeth
together until she could conquer that weak desire for tears, which would
be sure to lower her dreadfully in the eyes of the boys and would do no
good at all. "The house seemed embarrassingly small at first, but now
that it is a stranger who is master, and not Father at all, why, the
whole thing is impossible."

"We can sleep in and under the wagon, as we have done before; but Rupert
can't, so I guess that we had better wait and see what Nealie decides is
best," replied Rumple. But this was met with a whimper of protest from
Ducky, who demanded to be put to bed somewhere at once.

"Could we not put Ducky on a mattress in the wagon, with Don and
Billykins?" suggested Sylvia. "They would be quite safe and comfortable
there, because the wagon is in enclosed ground and so close to the house
also. Then you and I can wait round here to help if we are wanted."

"Brave old Syllie, I thought that you would find a way out of the
muddle!" cried Rumple, giving her an approving pat on the back, and then
he called to Don to come and help him carry a mattress out to the
wagon, a difficult feat in the dark, but one which was safely
accomplished after some struggles, a few bruises, and one fall that was
happily not a serious one.

Then Sylvia carried Ducky out to the wagon and handed her up to Rumple,
who stowed her inside on the mattress, bidding the two small boys lie
down one on each side of her, and the three were sound asleep before
Sylvia and Rumple had gone back to the house.

They were standing on the threshold of the dark little room, and
wondering what they had better do next, when the door of the sleeping
chamber opened and Nealie came out.

"Sylvia, where are you?" she cried, with such misery in her voice that
Sylvia gave a groan of real dismay.

"What is the matter?" asked Rumple sharply. Of course he was solely to
blame for all this wretched business, he told himself, as none of these
disasters could have happened if he had not forgotten to post that
letter.

"Rupert is very, very ill, Dr. Plumstead says, and we must make a fire
at once and boil water for some kind of fomentations. Could you and
Rumple do that while I help the doctor in the bedroom?"

"Of course we can. I know where the firewood is," said Rumple hastily,
heaving a sigh of satisfaction to think that there was something useful
for him to do.

"If Rumple is going to make the water hot, can't I come into the bedroom
to help you with Rupert?" asked Sylvia, for Nealie looked thoroughly
worn out.

"I will call you if we want more help, meanwhile you might make the poor
doctor some tea, for I do not believe he has had a real meal since
breakfast, and it is very hard for him to find his home invaded in such
a fashion. But where are the children?" asked Nealie, looking round in a
bewildered fashion.

"We have put them to bed in the wagon; they were so very tired,"
answered Sylvia. "Now I will get the doctor man such a nice supper that
he will feel he is to be congratulated on his household of visitors,
even though one of them is in possession of the only bed in the house.
Oh, Nealie, what an awful situation it is, and whatever shall we do if
we can't find dear Father?"

"Don't, dear, I dare not think about that or anything else until Rupert
is better, and then God will show us what to do," said Nealie, putting
her hand out with such an imploring gesture that Sylvia was instantly
ashamed of herself, and set about being as cheerful as possible in order
to keep up the courage of her sister.

"Oh, we shall get through all right of course, and after all it is just
a part of our adventures; anything is better than stagnating I think,
and we have not been in much danger of that lately!"

Nealie went back to the bedroom, while Sylvia and Rumple did their very
best in the outer chamber, where the confusion almost defied
description. But their days of living in the wagon had fitted them for
managing comfortably where anyone else would have been bothered by the
muddle all around.

As it was, Rumple's fire was burning in grand style, and the various
pots and kettles on the stove were beginning to show signs of being
nearly ready to boil, when the doctor came out of the inner room to get
something from the medicine cupboard in the corner.

"Will you please sit down and take your supper, now that you are here?"
asked Sylvia rather timidly, for to her way of thinking this doctor had
a very disagreeable face; but that was, perhaps, because she was
prejudiced against him through the dreadful disappointment which had met
them at the end of their journey.

"I do not think that I can stay for food just now; your brother needs
me," he began, in a tone which certainly was brusque, although perhaps
he did not mean it to be so.

"Oh, please, do!" she pleaded. "Because then I shall not feel so
worried, and I am sure that Rupert will not take much harm for half an
hour, while you will feel far more fit when you have had a meal."

"It is very kind of you to be so insistent, and I really am very
hungry," he replied, smiling broadly now, for the supper which Sylvia
had cooked for him from their own stores smelled exceedingly good, and
she was already pouring a cup of tea out for him and doing her very best
to make him feel how grateful they were to him for all his kindness to
Rupert.

"But won't you sit down and have something to eat also?" he asked, as
she hovered about ready to anticipate his wants.

"No, thank you, we had supper before you came, when we were waiting for
Father," she said, with a choke in her voice, which made her turn
hastily away and knock a tin pan over, so that in the sudden clatter he
might not notice how near she was to booing like a baby.

He frowned heavily, as he wondered what the guardians of this family
could have been thinking of not to write and make sure that the father
was in a position to receive them, before sending seven irresponsible
young people halfway round the world, on the off chance of finding their
father when they reached the end of the journey.

"It has really been very hard for you, and we must do our best to help
you out of the muddle," he said quite kindly, as he enjoyed the results
of Sylvia's handiwork and began to feel all the better for his supper.

"Do you know where Father has gone?" she asked, putting the question
which Nealie lacked the courage to ask.

"When Dr. Plumstead passed the practice over to me, eighteen months ago,
he said that he was going to Mostyn, and that letters from England were
to be forwarded to the Post Office there, but that nothing else was to
be sent on," the doctor answered.

"If your name is the same as Father's, how would you know which were
your letters and which were his?" Sylvia asked in a wondering tone, for
to her it seemed of all things most strange that there should be two
doctors of one name, and that not a common one, in a small town like
Hammerville.

"Oh, that was easy enough! I am an Australian, educated in Germany, and
I have not a single correspondent in England. But only one letter has
come for your father, and that arrived about two weeks ago, so I
forwarded it to Mostyn at once," said the doctor.

"Where is Mostyn?" asked Sylvia.

"It is away in the back country, about fifty miles from everywhere, I
imagine. It is a boom town; that is to say, they have found gold there
in paying quantities, and so it will grow like a mushroom until the gold
gives out, and then, unless they come across anything else of value, it
will fizzle out as rapidly as it sprang to life. It is a little way we
have of doing things in this part of the world," said the doctor as he
finished his supper, and then he asked, in a tone of grave concern:
"Pray, where can you go to sleep? There is certainly no sense in your
sitting up all night. Your sister will stay up to help me with the sick
boy, and then in the morning she will want to rest, and you must be
ready to take her place."

"Oh, I can sit round in a chair and doze a little when I am not wanted!"
replied Sylvia in that happy-go-lucky way she had of saying things, and
which as a rule no one heeded. But the doctor frowned heavily as he
said: "That will not do at all; young people cannot get on without
proper sleep, and you must be fresh and fit to take your sister's place
in the morning, for your brother is going to want a lot of nursing to
pull him through. What have you done with the younger children?"

"We put them to bed in the wagon. It is just outside, you know, and we
thought that they would be out of the way," answered Sylvia.

"An excellent idea. Now suppose that you go and put yourself to bed
with them, and they will be sure to wake you bright and early in the
morning," he said, smiling now, because there really seemed a way out of
the difficulty.

"But you will want someone to keep the fire in for you to-night,"
protested Sylvia, who did not like the idea of being sent off to bed
with the children, even though she was so sleepy that she could scarcely
keep her eyes open.

"That other brother of yours will do that for me. What is his name, by
the way?" asked the doctor, as Rumple disappeared from the room in
search of more firewood.

"He is Dalrymple, only we always call him Rumple, because it suits him
so well and is affectionate too. But you will certainly never keep him
awake. He will mean not to go to sleep, for he is really a very good
sort, and crammed full of the best intentions, but he simply can't keep
his eyes open when he is very tired; so presently, when you least expect
it, he will just double up and fall asleep, and you will not be able to
wake him up however much you try. We Plumsteads are all like that, and
sometimes it is very awkward," said Sylvia earnestly.

"I will risk it; only you must go to bed now," said the doctor, laughing
broadly at her description of the Plumstead weakness in the matter of
popping off to sleep at inconvenient times; and then he called to
Rumple and asked him to see his sister safely into the wagon, and to
keep an eye on it during the remainder of the night.

Poor Rumple! He honestly meant to do just what the doctor asked of him,
for he was just as grateful as a boy could be for what was being done
for Rupert and also for the way in which the doctor was treating the
girls, so he trotted backwards and forwards for another hour, bringing
in wood, stoking the stove, making kettles boil, fetching water from a
crazy old pump in the next garden, falling over the tangled vegetation
_en route_, and getting hopelessly muddled in the darkness. Then he
suddenly became so sleepy that it seemed to him he would snore as he
walked about; his feet became heavier and heavier, until the effort to
lift them grew beyond his power. He could not see out of his eyes, and,
collapsing on to the floor between the door and the stove, he lay there,
happily unconscious of everything.

The doctor found him on one of his journeys out to the stove for fresh
boiling water, and would certainly have thought him to be in a fit but
for Sylvia's explanation of the family peculiarity. So he only smiled to
himself, and, lifting Rumple, laid him more at ease in the farther
corner of the room, covering him over with a rug; and then he went back
to the bedroom, where Nealie was busy helping him with Rupert, and said,
in a laughing tone: "I have just picked that brother of yours up from
the floor, where he lay as fast asleep as if he were on the softest bed
that had ever been made."

"Poor Rumple! His intentions about keeping awake are always so good that
it is very hard on him to be bowled over in such a fashion," said
Nealie, with a wan little smile, and then for a few minutes she was very
busy helping the doctor put fresh fomentations on Rupert. But when this
was finished, and the sufferer lay quiet from the comfort of it all, and
there was leisure to think of other things, Nealie spoke again: "How
soon will it be safe for me to leave Rupert?"

The doctor looked at her in surprise; but thinking she was tired out,
and longing for sleep, he said kindly:

"You can go off to the wagon now for a sleep if you like. I should not
have suggested your staying all night, only that I thought it would be
good for your brother to have one of his own about him; but as he seems
inclined to sleep now, it will not really matter."

"Oh, I did not mean that I wanted to go to bed!" said Nealie quickly.
"This is not the first time I have stayed up all night. Whenever the
children have been ill I have stayed with them. Indeed I am quite used
to watching and being on guard. But I want to know how soon you think
that it will be fit for me to leave Rupert to the care of Sylvia, so
that I may go to find Father."

"You could not go to a place like Mostyn alone, and the best way will be
for you to send and ask your father to come here for you," replied the
doctor gravely.

But to this suggestion Nealie shook her head. "I heard what you said to
Sylvia about Father, and I have the feeling that he needs us very badly
indeed. Why did he give up the practice here?"

Dr. Plumstead hedged this question as best he could, for he simply could
not tell this girl with the pathetic eyes that an old rumour had risen,
which made it necessary for the doctor to go farther afield, and so the
practice had been disposed of to the first person who was willing to
give a little money for it.

But Nealie was shrewd enough to understand without telling, and, looking
the doctor straight in the face, she asked: "Was it that affair of
Father taking off the man's arm which was brought up against him?"

"Something of the kind, I think," said the doctor reluctantly. He was
saying to himself how hard it was that this young girl should have so
many hard things to bear when she seemed just made for joy and
happiness, when, to his amazement, she broke into a low ripple of happy
laughter, and softly clapped her hands.

"I thought it was that," she cried. "Strangely enough, since we landed
in New South Wales I have stumbled upon the very man whose arm it was
that Father took off, and someone told me that this man says it was the
greatest blessing of his life that he was thrust out into the world
maimed, to make his own way, and sink or swim as best he could. Now,
when I have found my father I am going to ask him to communicate with
this man, and to make the man set him right before the world; for why
should my dear father have to suffer so heavily for having merely done
his duty, and saved the man's life in spite of everything? It is a
doctor's duty to save life at all costs, and no consideration of any
other kind should make him do otherwise. Father was quite sure that the
man would die if his arm were not taken off, and that was why he
performed the operation in spite of the disapproval of the man's
friends."

"It was, as you say, his duty to do his best for his patient, and it is
hard lines that he should have to suffer for just having done his duty,"
said the doctor. "But why can you not put this in a letter, and let me
send it to Mostyn for you the first thing in the morning?"

"Because I am afraid that Father would not read it," admitted Nealie,
first flushing and then paling, as she looked up at the doctor with her
fearless gaze. "I think that Father is so beaten by everything that he
has had to bear that he just feels as if he will give up and not trouble
about anything more. So that to know all his big family have suddenly
been dumped upon him will be a sort of a shock; but if I am there to
assure him that we shall be more help than hindrance he may feel better
about it all. Of course there are a lot of us, and we have fearfully big
appetites too, except Rupert, but there are so many ways of earning
one's living here that I think we shall soon be able to support
ourselves, that is, Sylvia, Rupert, and I, for of course the others will
have to go to school."

"You are very courageous, and I think perhaps you are right in wanting
to go to your father, and if you will leave it to me I will see what
arrangements I can make for your journey," said the doctor, and Nealie
thanked him, feeling that bad as things were they might easily have been
worse if they had not found a friend like her father's successor, who by
such a strange coincidence bore the same name.

Rupert had experienced such relief from the fomentations that he lay in
a quiet sleep, and Nealie, with her head on the pillow at his side,
slumbered also; but the doctor had gone to the outer room, and was very
busy looking up his case book and trying to make up his mind whether he
dared leave his patients long enough to go with Nealie to find her
father.

His private fear was that when she reached Mostyn she would find that
her father had gone somewhere else. Doctors in mining camps were apt to
be nomadic creatures, that is, they had to go to their patients, and it
was no use to stay where the people were all well, when perhaps at some
place fifty or a hundred miles distant men and women might be dying like
flies from some contagious disease with never a doctor to help them. It
was life at its roughest and wildest in that back country, and he could
not let Nealie venture alone in her youth and ignorance where so many
perils might beset her path.

Day was beginning to dawn when he heard Rupert speaking, and then with a
tap at the door he entered to see how it fared with his patient.

"I am better, thank you, and I am very much obliged to you for all that
you have done for me," said Rupert weakly.

"Ah, I think that you will do now, by the look of you," said the doctor
in a cheerful tone. "And now, with your consent, I am going to take your
sister to hunt up your father, for I don't feel equal to all seven of
you singlehanded," and he burst into a hearty laugh at his own small
joke.



CHAPTER XVII

In the Thick of It


A hundred miles or more from Mostyn, right out on the sandy plains,
beyond the gap in the mountains which they called the Devil's Bridge,
there had been a gold find. A gold prospector had been found lying in
the mulga scrub with a big nugget in his hand, while his swag, when
unrolled, had shown a whole handful of lesser nuggets.

The poor wretch had found gold, but had died of thirst, and those who
found him came perilously near to sharing the same fate, so keenly
anxious were they to make the dead yield up the knowledge of his find,
by tracing his poor wandering footprints round and round and in and out
among the hillocks of sand, the clumps of spinifex, and the mulga scrub.

But one man, more human than the rest, elected to dig a grave where the
dead might rest secure from the ravages of the wandering dingo, and
although the others laughed at him, calling him names, and going away
leaving him to do his work of mercy alone, he stuck grimly at his task,
probing down between the roots of the mulga bushes to make a hollow deep
enough to form a decent resting place for the nameless dead.

He was quite alone now, save for the quiet figure on the ground and a
hoodie crow which was perched on a swaying branch at a little distance,
watching the living and the dead with anxious beady eyes.

Down under the top layer of sand the ground was stony, and the man who
dug was weak from long tramping in search of the gold he could not find.
Of choice he would have gone away and left the still figure where he had
found it, but it might be that some day he too would lie like this, with
staring eyes that could not see the sun, and then, surely, it would be
good if some kind hand would make a hole in the hot, dry ground, where
his body might lie at rest until the day of days, when the dead shall
rise and the earth and the ocean give back that which they have taken.

What was that?

The prospector's shovel struck something hard, something which was so
much heavier than ordinary stone, and that had a peculiar ring when
struck by the shovel.

He leaned forward then, and picked it up, casting a scared look round,
fearful lest any of his chums had repented and come back to help him.
But no, he was alone, save for the dead; even the hoodie crow had flown
away because it did not seem of any use waiting any longer, and instinct
had told the creature that a horse was dying by a dried-out water-hole
some two miles away.

The man dug another hole after that, at some little distance, and,
dragging the body there, gave it decent burial, even kneeling with
clasped hands and closed eyes for a few minutes when his task was done,
trying to remember "Our Father", which was the prayer he had learned at
his mother's knee many years before. It was the only prayer that
occurred to him then, and it was not so inappropriate as it seemed. Then
he went back to the first hole that he had dug, and, carefully filling
it in, made a little cross of plaited sticks, which he planted at the
head of the grave that held no dead.

"I guess that will about do," he muttered to himself, and then, with a
final look round, he picked up his swag, and, hoisting it to his back,
set his face towards the hills and civilization once more. Tucked away
in his belt he carried fragments of the stone he had taken from that
first grave he had started to dig, and he meant to raise money on his
expectations, then come back with horses and tools to dig up the
fortune upon which he had stumbled when performing that act of mercy to
the nameless dead.

He was worn out and half-starved; he had been so near to despair, too,
that this tremendous find proved too much for him, and when three days
later he staggered into the main street of Latimer, which was a township
some fifty miles from Mostyn, he was too ill to tell anyone of what he
had found, or even to get the help for himself that he so sorely needed.

Most likely he would have lain on a dirty bed at the one hotel until he
died, and so the secret of that empty grave on the sandy plain would
have never been revealed; but it so fell out that two other men in the
township were ill with a mysterious disease which looked so much like
smallpox that a doctor was sent for in all haste because of the danger
to other people.

The nearest medical man lived at Mostyn, and he had not been there long,
and was indeed on the point of going somewhere else, because the people
of Mostyn seemed to have no use for doctors, and only died of drinking
bad whisky.

With so little chance of work the doctor was in a fair way of being
starved out; so when the call came for him to go to Latimer, eager
though he was for work, he had to admit that he had no horse to ride and
no money with which to hire one.

But when men are desperate enough to ride fifty miles on the off chance
of finding a doctor it is not likely that a trifle of this kind will
turn them from their purpose. A horse for the doctor was quickly
forthcoming, and he rode out of Mostyn in the company of his escort,
just as the cart which was bringing the weekly mail entered the town.

"Would you like to wait and claim your mail, doctor?" asked the man who
rode on his right hand.

"No, thanks; I do not expect any letters," replied the man of medicine,
and a pang stole into his heart as he thought of the big family of seven
motherless children in far-away England, whom he had virtually cast off,
just because he was writing himself down a failure, and would not be an
object of pity to his friends and relations.

If only he had known it, there was a letter for him by that mail, a
letter which had come from England, written by Mr. Runciman, and posted
on the very day the children sailed for Sydney. The writer confessed
that he ought to have followed his first letter with a second long
before this; perhaps he ought to have waited until a letter came from
Dr. Plumstead before letting the children start, but there had been so
many difficulties in the way of taking care of them in England, and so
on, and so on, which in plain English meant that as Mrs. Runciman was
not willing to have them under her roof, the harassed guardian had not
known what to do with them.

But it was a long time before that letter really reached the hands for
which it was intended, and then it was Nealie who handed it to her
father, and at his request read it to him.

It was a horrible journey for the doctor and his escort. The demon
drought was stalking through the land, there were wicked little
whirlwinds to raise the sand and fling it in blinding showers on to the
unlucky travellers, water-holes had dried to mud puddles, and the broad
lagoons, beloved of waterfowl, were thickets of wilted reeds, with never
a trace of moisture to be found anywhere.

The travellers pressed on as fast as they could go, for who could tell
what grim tragedies were taking place in Latimer since the two had
ridden forth to find a doctor? There were stories of whole townships
having been wiped out in ten days or a fortnight by smallpox, when no
doctor had been forthcoming to tend the patients and insist on isolation
and sanitation, with all the other precautions that belong to law and
order.

"There are only eight hundred people all told in Latimer, and we may
easily find half of them dead," said one man, with a pant of hurry in
his voice, as the tired horses toiled up the last long hill into
Latimer.

"But how many sick did you say there were when you left the town on the
day before yesterday?" asked the doctor, who privately believed the men
to be panic-stricken.

"There were two that had spots, and then there was that prospector who
came in from the track across the sandy plain. He dropped like a felled
ox in front of Jowett's saloon, and so they took him in there, because
Jowett had a bed to spare and there was not another in the township,"
said the other man, who was tall and gaunt, and only about half as
frightened as his companion, who was a small fat man with a tendency to
profuse perspiration.

"Had he--this prospector, I mean--any spots on him also?" asked the
doctor, frowning heavily. He had had more than one fight with smallpox
in mining camps, and he knew by sad experience that the terror was worse
to combat than the disease.

"I don't know. Folks were too scared to look, I fancy; but old Mother
Twiney, who doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, said that she would
see that he had food and drink until we got back, and Jowett will let
the man have houseroom, for the simple reason that he is afraid to turn
him out," returned the tall man.

Fully half the population of Latimer gathered to welcome the doctor when
at last he rode up to the open space in front of Jowett's saloon, and
half of these demanded that their tongues should be looked at and their
pulses felt without delay.

But the doctor had always been impatient of shams; indeed more than one
candid friend had told him that in this matter he had done himself much
harm from a professional point of view, as a doctor who wants to get on
can do it most quickly by trading upon the fears of the foolish.

Pushing the candidates for examination to right and left as he went, he
sternly demanded to be taken at once to the sick--those who had the
dreaded spots most fully developed--and, as he was not a man to be
gainsaid or put aside, old Mother Twiney was at once pushed forward to
take him to the patients.

Snuffy and dirty though the old crone was, there was a gleam of true
kindliness in her eyes hidden away behind bushy grey eyelashes, and she
hobbled off in a great hurry to a wooden building standing remote from
the houses, and which had formerly been used as a store for mining
plant.

"Are all the patients here?" asked the doctor, as he followed her across
the parched and dusty grass.

"All but the man who was taken into Jowett's, your honour," she
answered; then, sidling a little closer to him, she said in an
undertone: "It is not smallpox at all; I am quite sure of it. Why, the
two men are not even ill, only nearly scared to death."

"Then why was I sent for such a long way, and for nothing too?" he asked
angrily, knowing well that his fee would be according to the need there
was for his services.

"Hush!" breathed the old woman, and now there was keen anxiety in her
manner. "Whatever you do, don't let anyone know for a few days that it
is not smallpox. These men are not ill, and the spots are only a sort of
heat rash, I think, but the poor fellow at Jowett's is real bad, and he
would have died if he could not have had a doctor. He may even die now,
in spite of all you can do. I knew that no one in the town would send
for a doctor to come so far on account of a man who was ill from a
complaint that was not infectious, so when I saw the other two with the
spots, I just made the most of it, and because all the well people were
afraid that they would catch the disease, there was no time lost in
sending for you. Now you must just put them into strict quarantine, and
make as much fuss as possible; then they will let you stay here long
enough to pull the poor fellow round who is lying at Jowett's, and they
will pay you according to the trouble you put them to," said the old
woman, with a sagacious nod of her head.

The doctor frowned, but there was sound reason in her arguments, and he
decided to see all the patients before committing himself to any course
of action concerning them.

The two men with spots were in a state of terror that was pitiable to
see, and from outward appearances might be said to be suffering from a
very bad form of the dreaded scourge. True to the lines he had laid down
for himself, however, he said nothing to allay their fears, only looked
very grave, issued a hundred commands for safeguarding the rest of the
community, and then demanded to be taken to the other sick man, who was
lodged at Jowett's.

The prospector's quarters were not sumptuous. He was merely laid in a
shed recently tenanted by calves, and which had been hastily cleared for
his use. The man was very ill, and Mother Twiney had not exaggerated
about the gravity of his condition.

Here indeed was scope for the doctor, and instead of wearing a face of
gloom, as when he examined the men with spots, his face was bright, and
his tone so brisk and cheerful that it looked as if he were going to
enjoy the tussle that was in front of him.

"Can you pull me through, Doctor?" asked the sufferer, looking at the
doctor with lack-lustre eyes.

"I am going to try, but I don't mind admitting that I shall have my
hands full," replied the doctor, who had never been in the habit of
hiding from his patients the gravity of their condition.

"Well, if you do get me on my feet, I promise you a 10-per-cent
commission on all I can make during the next year," said the sick man,
with a sudden burst of energy, and then he called on the old woman to
witness to what he had said, after which he sank into a condition of
apathy, looking as if he might die at any moment.

Never since he was a young man and just starting in his profession had
the doctor worked harder than for the next few days. He was happier,
too, than he had been for years, and in the hush of the quiet nights,
when he watched alone by the man who was really ill, he thought of his
children and resolved that no longer would he shut them out of his heart
and out of his life just because he had been a victim to circumstances.

He was thinking of them one night, as he strode across to the shed where
the two victims from spots were beginning to recover, when suddenly he
noticed another odour on the hot air; usually it was the pungent smell
of eucalyptus leaves, but now it was the reek of burning timber that
smote upon his senses, and turning sharply in the track he saw to his
horror that there was a red glow in the sky over Jowett's. The place was
on fire.

"It will blaze like matches," he groaned, and then turned to run,
thinking of his patient.

But, despite his haste, the flames were shooting out through the holes
in the roof of the shed where the sick man lay, by the time the doctor
turned the corner by the store.

He tried to shout a warning, and to call for help, but it was as if his
voice had dried up in his throat.

No one else appeared aware of the danger. The place seemed solitary and
silent, save for the hiss and crackle of the fire.

Then he heard a cry for help. It came from the inside of the shed, and
dashing forward, regardless of his own danger, he groped his way in
through smoke and flame, then, seizing the sick man, turned to carry him
out to safety, but even in that moment was stricken to the ground with
the burden he bore, and pinned there by a fall of roofing.



CHAPTER XVIII

"Father, We Want You!"


Rupert was so much better when he woke from his long sleep that the
doctor told Nealie she might be quite easy to leave him to the care of
Sylvia on the following day and go in search of her father if she
wished.

"You will be able to look after him too, will you not?" asked Nealie
wistfully, for in her heart she rather doubted Sylvia's nursing skill.

"No, I am coming with you," he answered, looking at her with a smile.

Nealie flushed hotly and burst into vigorous protest. "Please, please do
not take so much trouble for me; and besides, think of your patients,
and what you may lose by being away."

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "Doctors have very hard times in
the back blocks, Miss Plumstead. Those who are really ill cannot as a
rule afford to pay for medical skill, and everyone is too busy to have
time for imaginary complaints. I have no patients at the moment that I
cannot leave, except the man who lives out in the direction of Pig
Hill, and I thought that I would ride over there this afternoon, and
then we would start at dawn to-morrow morning. You don't ride, do you?"

"Not much, and I am sure that I could not sit on Rockefeller, because he
is so clumsy," said Nealie.

"Then I will borrow Jim Brown's two-wheeled cart; but I think that we
shall have to take your horse, because mine is rather worn. The track
out to Pig Hill is a heavy one, and I have been there every day of
late," said the doctor, and then he hurried away to see his patients in
the town, while Nealie did her best to arrange for leaving the others
for a few days.

There was one thing which Nealie had to do that she could not speak of
to the doctor, who had been so truly good to them. Her money was
exhausted save for a few shillings, and, being face to face with
destitution, and not sure of finding her father even when she reached
Mostyn, she must have money from somewhere.

In her extremity she thought of Mr. Runciman, and although it would take
most of her remaining shillings to cable to him, she had determined to
do it.

When Dr. Plumstead had started for Pig Hill she found her way to the
telegraph office and dispatched her pitiful request.

"Please send us some money, we have not found Father here.

                                     "Cornelia Plumstead."

But cables are expensive things, and when she came to send it she found
that she would not have enough money for the whole, and had to shorten
it, so that when it actually went it was more a demand than a plea:

"Send us money; Father not here."

"And if he does not send it, whatever shall we do?" cried Sylvia, who
had to be told, if only for the sake of sobering her and making her more
keenly alive to the responsibilities of the situation.

"He will send it, I am quite sure," replied Nealie, with a beautiful
faith in Mr. Runciman's real goodness of heart that was justified in due
course by the arrival of a cablegram authorizing her to draw fifty
pounds from the Hammerville bank as she needed it.

But she had to start off in the grey dawn of the next morning, in
company with the usurping Dr. Plumstead--as Sylvia would persist in
calling him--without knowing that her need was to be met in this
generous manner. It was perhaps the very darkest hour in her life, and
her face was drawn and pinched with the weight of her care as she lifted
it to the cold grey of the sky when she mounted into the high
two-wheeled cart which the doctor had borrowed for the journey. But even
as she looked, all the grey was flushed with rose colour from the rising
sun, and the sight brought back her courage with a rush, so that she was
able to turn and smile at the little group gathered at the door of the
doctor's house to see her drive away.

"Mind you take good care of Rupert, Sylvia," she called, feeling that
her next sister was really not old enough for such a heavy
responsibility; only, as there was no one else to take it, of course
Sylvia would have to do her best.

"I will see that she looks after him properly," said Rumple, with a wag
of his head, at which the doctor laughed; for when sleep seized upon
Rumple he was of little use in looking after other people.

Don and Billykins flung up their caps and shouted hurrah as Rockefeller
moved off, and Ducky joined in with her shrill treble, so that Nealie
felt they were doing their very best to keep her spirits up at the
moment of parting, and she could not let them think their efforts were
wasted in the least; therefore she waved her hand and tried to appear as
free from care as the rest of them.

After the heavy wagon, Rockefeller made short work of the light-weight
cart, and went along at such a tremendous pace that Nealie would
certainly have been afraid if anyone but Dr. Plumstead had been driving.
His treatment of Rupert, however, had inspired her with such confidence
in him that she sat smiling and untroubled while the big, clumsy,
vanhorse cut capers in the road, and then danced on all-fours because a
small boy rushed out of one of the little wooden houses on the other
side of the town and blew a blast on a bugle right under the horse's
nose.

"It really looks as if the creature had not had enough work for the last
three or four weeks," said the doctor, with a laugh, as he proceeded to
get pace out of Rocky in preference to pranks.

"It is a very good horse and has done us good service," said Nealie, in
a rather breathless fashion, as a sudden swerve on the part of Rocky
sent her flying against the doctor, and then, as she settled back into
her own corner and clutched at the side of the cart to keep from being
tossed out, she went on in an anxious tone: "I wonder what Mr. Wallis
will say to our keeping Rocky to go this journey instead of at once
handing him over to the nearest agent of the firm?"

"If he is the wise and just man that I take him to be he will say that
you have done quite right," replied the doctor. "You have not reached
your father yet, and you must have the horse for this extra journey,
don't you see?"

Nealie shook her head as if in doubt about this sort of reasoning, and
then she sat silent for so long that the doctor might have believed her
to be asleep, if he had not seen that her gaze was fixed on the
landscape.

The district outside Hammerville on the Mostyn track was at first mainly
composed of rich pasture, mostly settled by dairy farmers, although
farther away on the higher ground it was sheep farming that was most in
evidence.

Twenty miles out of Hammerville the road had dwindled to a grassy track,
and as they were now on the northern side of the Murrumbidgee River the
country grew very wild and mountainous, the track cut through forests
which the doctor told Nealie had only been half-explored, and the
hilltops were so solitary that it did not seem as if there were any
people in the world at all.

But it was a well-watered country, and on every side there were brawling
little streams rushing down precipitous heights or scurrying away
through woody valleys, as if anxious to find the very nearest way to the
sea.

By the time the hottest part of the day had arrived Rockefeller had done
half the journey to Mostyn, and driving up to a lone house the doctor
was so fortunate as to find a woman living there, to whose care he
confided Nealie for a few hours' rest and refreshment while he took a
siesta lying on the ground under the cart, which had been drawn close
under the shade of the willows fringing the river at this part.

It was sundown before they reached Mostyn, and then it was only to be
met with disappointment, for the doctor had been sent for to cope with
an outbreak of smallpox at Latimer.

"That settles it!" exclaimed the doctor. "I shall drive you back to
Hammerville to-morrow morning, for certainly I cannot take you to a
disease-stricken town, and equally I cannot leave you here."

"I shall not go back until I have found Father," said Nealie, smiling up
at him in a way that somehow robbed her words of their mutinous flavour.
"And there is no need to worry about the danger of taking me to a
smallpox place, because I had the complaint when I was a little girl,
before I was old enough to remember, so there is no danger for me."

The doctor was very hard to convince on this score, and was even
inclined to throw doubt on her statement, and to declare that she must
be mistaken, as it was so extremely unlikely that a child in her
position would contract the disease.

Nealie met all his arguments in silence until he came to his doubts
about her really having had the disease, and then she quietly rolled up
the left sleeve of her thin blouse and showed him two distinct marks on
the soft flesh above the elbow, which any doctor must know were pock
marks.

"I must go until I find my father, and if you will not take me I must go
alone," she said, when he left off arguing because he had no more to
say; but her gaze was very wistful, for Mostyn was so much rougher than
Hammerville that her heart sank very low as she thought of how rough
Latimer might be.

"If you must go I must certainly go too, for I cannot let you out of my
care in places like this," he said in a tone as decided as her own.

For that one night she was lodged with a good woman who cleaned the
church and school, and who kept her awake for half the night telling her
gruesome stories of happenings in disease-stricken towns, such as
Latimer was at that moment supposed to be. But if she thought to
frighten Nealie into consenting to go back to Hammerville without
finding her father she made a very great mistake indeed.

Bad as had been the journey of the doctor and his escort when he rode
from Mostyn to Latimer through the fierce heat, the experiences of young
Dr. Plumstead and Nealie were still worse. Rockefeller had lost the
fine vigour displayed on the first part of the journey, and went at a
slow trot, hanging his head and stumbling so often that Dr. Plumstead
was forced into a pretty liberal use of the whip to keep the creature on
his feet at all.

There was a strong wind blowing to-day, but luckily it came from behind,
and so Nealie opened a big umbrella, which kept off some of the dust and
also acted as a sail and helped them along. Sun, wind, and dust seemed
to bring on a sort of fever in Nealie; her hands burned like coals of
fire, she had a lightheaded sensation, and saw so many visions during
the last miles of that trying journey that she could never after
determine which was real and which was fancy of all the incidents and
happenings of that long, weary day.

"Hullo, look at that smoke yonder; is it a bush fire, I wonder, or is it
possible they have been having a big blaze at Latimer?" said the doctor,
pointing with his whip to the crest of a long hill up which the track
wound its dusty way.

"Are we near to Latimer?" asked Nealie in a languid tone.

"I think we ought to be by this time, unless we have come wrong. But
what a hill! I fancy Rockefeller expects me to walk up here," said the
doctor, who was secretly very anxious concerning that smoke which was
hanging in a cloud about the crest of the hill.

"Shall I walk too?" she asked, wondering whether the act of walking
would tend to steady her wavering fancies, and to stop that horrible
tendency to light-headedness which bothered her so badly.

"I think not; you must be quite tired enough without adding to your
fatigue by scrambling along this dusty track. Hullo!"

Nealie saw a sudden swerve on the part of Rocky, then the doctor's cane
came cutting through the air, and there was a great wriggling and
commotion on the dusty ground; but the doctor was so busy soothing the
horse that he did not even answer when she called out to know what was
the matter.

"Was it a snake?" she asked, as the cart was dragged forward at a jerk,
and Rocky, prancing along on two legs, snorting and plunging, took all
the doctor's skill to keep him from bolting in sheer fright.

"Yes; and I am very glad that you were not walking, for they are not
pleasant creatures to meet," replied the doctor, thinking how fortunate
it was that he happened to be on foot at the moment, and with a stick in
his hand, for the snake was of a very deadly kind, and the horse would
have stood no chance at all against the poison of its forked tongue.

Nealie shivered and sat suddenly straight up; it seemed as if the
little shock had restored her in some strange way. The fiercest heat of
the sun was past, and the raging of that terrible wind had dropped to a
gentle breeze which blew cool and refreshing from another quarter.
Indeed she would have felt quite cheerful had it not been for the menace
of that smoke haze lying in a cloud along the line of the hills.

Another half-hour and they were crossing the top of the ridge, while
Latimer, most snugly placed, lay on the slope of the other side. But at
first sight of the town both Nealie and the doctor had burst into
exclamations of horror, for it looked as if it had been burned out. A
cloud of smoke from the ruined houses hung thickly over the place, and
Rockefeller, with a horse's objection to facing fire, turned about on
the track and showed so much disposition to go back by the way he had
come that the doctor had to get down again and lead the scared creature.

Presently they saw a man just ahead of them, the first human being they
had glimpsed for hours, and calling to him the doctor asked what had
happened.

"It has been a fire," said the man, which, considering the smoke rising
in all directions from the ruins, was rather an unnecessary explanation.

"So I see; but what started it?" asked the doctor.

"No one will admit knowing much about that," replied the man grimly,
"but we have our thoughts all the same. We have got smallpox in the
town, you know, and one case was lodged in Jowett's hotel. The doctor
that we fetched from Mostyn said pretty decidedly that the one at
Jowett's was certainly not smallpox whatever the other two might be, but
some people won't be convinced, try how you will. So when the doctor's
back was turned it is supposed that someone, either by accident or
design, set the place on fire where the sick man was lying. In a drought
such as we are having now you may guess how the place burned. The doctor
happened to catch sight of it starting; but though he ran at the top of
his speed, all that he could do was to get there in time to see the
place one mass of fire, and he might easily have been forgiven if he had
turned his back on it then. He is made of brave stuff, though, and they
said he dashed straight into that blazing place, and, with the flames
and smoke all around him, he brought his patient out in the nick of
time, for the whole show collapsed just as he got to the doorway, the
sheets of red-hot corrugated roofing fell down upon him, and he was so
badly burned that someone will have to go and find a doctor to cure up
the one we've got, for I'm thinking that Latimer won't let a hero of
that sort die without making an attempt to save him."

"I am a doctor; I can look after him. Just lead on, and show me where he
is, will you, please?" said young Dr. Plumstead brusquely. He would
have spared Nealie the ugly story if he could, but on the whole it was
good for her to hear that her father had played the part of a hero. If
he had only known it, the hearing was good for him too, for he had been
very ready to despise the man who had given up his practice in
Hammerville and rushed away because he had not the moral courage to live
down a scandal. He had despised Nealie's father, too, because of his
treatment of his children, and altogether had decided that the poor man
was very much of a detrimental, so that this story of heroism had a
mighty effect on him as he walked by the side of the loquacious person
who had first given them the news; while Nealie sat perched up in the
cart behind, straining her ears to catch what they were saying, and
feeling so thankful that she had insisted on coming all the way that she
could have shouted with joyfulness in spite of her anxiety.

The man told Dr. Plumstead that the fire had spread from building to
building with such awful rapidity that it had been as much as anyone
could do to get the people out of their houses, so many of them having
gone to bed when the outbreak started.

"What about the smallpox patients?" asked the doctor.

"We have looked everywhere, but can't find a trace of them, and we
should have thought that they had lost their lives in the fire, only the
building where they lay was not touched, and they had not merely
disappeared, but they had taken their clothes with them, and as much
else as they could lay hands on," replied the man, and the doctor was so
tickled that he burst out laughing at the story.

"It does not look as if the outbreak of smallpox could have been very
serious," he remarked.

"Just what everyone is saying, and the boys are downright mad with old
Mother Twiney because the old woman could not tell whether it was really
smallpox or not; but, as I said, you could not expect an ignorant woman
to know a disease of that sort, and we had better have a scare that
ended in smoke than let the real thing gain ground without our taking
any steps to stamp it out," said the man, and then he turned off short
between two heaps of smoking ruins, and the doctor led Rocky, snuffing
and snorting, past the smouldering fire to the cool shadow of the forest
beyond.

"The doctor and his patient are in that hut yonder. It is where the
smallpox patients were lying; but there was no other place, and so we
had to put them there," said the man; and the doctor, turning round,
said to Nealie:

"You had better get down now and wait here by the horse while I go and
have a look at your father. Oh yes, I will come back for you in a few
minutes, and then I shall be able to arrange with this good man about
somewhere to shelter you for the night. I dare say the accommodation
will not be very grand, seeing the condition of things here."

"I don't mind about accommodation, but I do want to go to my father,"
said Nealie, her voice breaking in a sob as she scrambled down from the
cart, ignoring the hand her companion stretched out to help her, and
then she stood beside Rocky leaning her head against his side, while her
heart beat so furiously that it seemed to her the man who told them the
news, and was still lingering near, must hear it thumping away against
her side.

Would Dr. Plumstead never come? How could he be so cruel as to keep her
waiting so long?

"Ah, what news have you for me?" she asked, as the doctor emerged from
the hut with a quick step and a very grave face indeed.

"Nothing very good, I fear," he said quietly, and then turned to the man
and asked him to see that the horse was fed and cared for without delay.

"Tell me, please, is Father very bad? I can bear anything better than
suspense," she said, keeping her voice steady by a great effort.

"I think you can, and you have already proved yourself a girl of
mettle; but you will want all your courage now, for I fear that you have
found your father only to bid him goodbye," replied the doctor; and then
he caught her by the arm and held her fast while the first dizziness of
the shock was upon her.

"I am all right now," she said, moving forward in the direction of the
door, and he walked beside her, still holding her arm, as if he doubted
her strength to stand alone.

There was an old woman, very snuffy and dirty to look at, but with a
face of genuine kindness, who came forward to meet her, and, leading her
past the first bed, where a man was lying who had a much-bandaged head,
she took her to another bed in the far corner, whispering: "That is your
pa, Miss dear, and you had better speak to him quick, for we think that
he is going fast, poor brave gentleman!"

Going fast, and she had only just found him!

Nealie gave a frightened gasp, and crept closer, falling on her knees by
the bed, and trembling so that she could hardly clasp the fingers of the
uninjured hand which lay outside the thin coverlet.

"Father, dear Father, I am Nealie, your own daughter, and I have come
all the way from England to find you, and to help make home again! Oh,
you cannot go away and leave me now!" she wailed in passionate protest
against his dying.

"Hush, Missy dear, it may scare him if you speak so loud!" said the old
woman in a warning tone, for Nealie's voice had unconsciously risen
almost to a scream.

The heavy eyelids opened, and the eyes looked straight into Nealie's
face with blank amazement in their gaze.

"Who are you?" he asked, his voice so faint that it was hardly more than
a whisper.

"I am your child, dear Father; I am Nealie! We have come to Hammerville
to live with you. You should have had a letter weeks ago to warn you
that we were all coming, only it was forgotten to be posted," she said,
being determined to take half the blame of that omission on her own
shoulders, for surely it was as much her fault as Rumple's, seeing that
she had never thought to remind him of the letter or to ask if it had
been safely posted.

"All seven of you?" he asked, and now there was a shocked expression in
his face which cut Nealie to the heart; only, for once, she was quite
mistaken as to its cause, and the shocked look did not mean that he was
angry with them for coming, but was solely because of what their plight
would be if he slipped out of life just then.

"Yes, we are all here," she admitted, feeling more guilty than in all
her life before; and then, almost against her will, her voice rose
again in a passionate plea to him to get better. "Dear Father, do try
and get better, for we all want you so badly!"

"I will try. All seven of you! I can't go and leave you yet!" he
exclaimed, with so much more strength in his tone that Nealie was amazed
at the change.

At that moment young Dr. Plumstead, who had come close to the bed,
touched her on the shoulder, saying quietly: "Go and sit on that bench
just outside the door until I call you in again. You have done him good
already, and perhaps now we may pull him through, if God wills; but Mrs.
Twiney is going to help me dress his wounds properly now, and then
perhaps he will be more comfortable."

And Nealie went obediently to sit on the bench outside the door, where
the air was heavy with the tarry smell of burning pine and the strong
eucalyptus odours; then, clasping her hands, she prayed fervently that
her father might be restored to health, so that they might let him know
how much they loved him.



CHAPTER XIX

The News


"Four days since Dr. Plumstead and Nealie went away, and never a word to
say what has happened!" cried Sylvia as she came into Rupert's room to
see how he had slept.

"I expect they have eloped," remarked Don calmly, as he sat up on his
mattress and yawned widely, stretching first one leg and then another,
in order to get them properly awake, as he said; for, being at the
bottom, his legs always woke up last, according to his ideas.

"What do you mean?" demanded Sylvia, with a frown. She was feeling
tremendously grown-up in these days, and did not permit overmuch levity
on the part of her juniors.

"Isn't that what people do when they want to get married?" asked
Billykins, who was also just awake, and put his question while Don was
struggling to find a definition of the word.

"But Nealie does not want to marry that usurping doctor who has taken
dear Father's place!" cried Sylvia hotly, the colour flaming over face
and neck at the bare idea of such a thing.

"I expect they will want to marry each other. Mrs. Brown said so,"
returned Billykins; and then he and Don trotted off to wash in the horse
trough outside the stable door, where they had found they could get
quite a decent bath without much trouble; and Sylvia bent her energies
to waking Rumple, who, being a genius, was always so unwilling to get up
in the mornings.

"Perhaps we shall get some news to-day," said Rupert, who, because he
was feeling stronger, was very much more hopeful than he had been.

"I don't know what will happen to the doctor's patients if he doesn't
soon come back," Sylvia went on in a dissatisfied tone. "You see, they
are all getting better without medicine; and it is so very bad for the
practice, for if once people get the idea in their heads that they can
do without doctors it is so hard to get them back to thinking they must
call one in every time their little fingers ache."

"A fresh crop of patients will turn up when the doctor comes home, I
expect. Anyhow, I should not worry about it, for perhaps these people
would not have paid the bills, and so in reality it is money saved,"
Rupert said drowsily; and then he stretched his limbs in a luxurious
fashion, and dropped into another doze, while Sylvia went back to the
other room to start breakfast preparations. She and Ducky slept in the
sitting-room now, while the four boys had the bedroom. They had taken
complete possession of the doctor's house, and felt so much at home in
it that it was a little difficult to imagine how he would find room for
himself when he came back.

Rumple, indeed, had suggested that the doctor might occupy the wagon;
but as Rupert had pointed out that the wagon would have to be yielded up
to the agent when Rockefeller came back from Mostyn, the only thing was
to get the stable ready for use in an emergency.

On this morning, when breakfast was over, the three younger boys and
Ducky went off to finish their task of turning the stable inside out.
This, was the third day they had been at work on it, and the place was
looking quite clean and respectable, thanks to their very hard work.
They had even ejected the carpet snake that lived there and killed the
mice which levied toll on the doctor's cornbin; but the snake, like
other ejected persons, was continually harking back to its old quarters,
and so this morning, when Ducky rushed into the stable, the first thing
which met her gaze was Slippy, the snake, curled up in a heap just
inside the door, and of course there was promptly a fuss, for not all
the arguments of the others about the absolute harmlessness of Slippy
could convince Ducky that the creature was anything but a most dangerous
foe.

She had rushed into the house and demanded the united efforts of Rupert
and Sylvia to console her, and then was going back to the stable to
insist on Slippy being again ejected, when she saw a wagon drawn by a
fast pair of horses approaching at a rapid rate, and, having noticed
with her sharp little eyes that the man sitting by the driver had only
one arm, the empty coat sleeve being pinned across his chest in true
warrior style, she rushed back into the house, crying shrilly: "Sylvia,
Sylvia, the doctor has got a new patient coming! He has had his arm torn
off in a dreadful accident, and has come to have it put on again!"

"Oh, Rupert, whatever shall we do? The poor fellow may die before help
comes to him, and all through our fault in sending Dr. Plumstead to take
care of Nealie!" cried Sylvia, turning white to the lips at the thought
of the horrors which were about to be thrust upon her.

Rupert stood up and gripped her hand reassuringly.

"Don't worry, old girl; just cut off into the bedroom and hide there
until I am through with the business. I am not a doctor, but I know a
good deal, and I think I can bandage the arm so that the man won't die.
Anyhow, I will have a good try."

Sylvia made a bolt for the bedroom, and, casting herself on Rupert's
bed, rolled her head in a blanket, and, stuffing her fingers in her
ears, remained quaking and shivering until there was a determined clutch
on the blanket, and Ducky squealed in her ears: "Sylvia, Sylvia, Mr.
Wallis has come to take Rockefeller and the wagon home; only Rocky isn't
here to be took, and he--that is, Mr. Wallis--has brought the man with
him what made Father so poor; and now we are going to be well off again,
and Father won't be under a cloud any more. Isn't it splendiferous? Just
scrumptious, I call it! Oh my, but your hair is a sight! You will have
to do it with Rupert's comb, and that has lost half its teeth!" and
Ducky whirled round in an ecstasy of excitement, while Sylvia hastily
made her long mane presentable, and then went out to speak to Mr.
Wallis, quaking a little, truth to tell, from the wonder as to whether
he would be angry to find that they had sent Rocky off upon another long
journey which was certainly not in the contract.

But one look at Rupert's face assured her that she had nothing to be
afraid of on that score, for he was looking simply radiant as he stood
in earnest talk with a man who had only one arm.

"Why, I do believe that it is the very individual who upset poor Nealie
so badly that day when we went to the botanical gardens in Sydney!" she
exclaimed; and then she went forward, to be warmly greeted by Mr.
Wallis, who claimed to be an old friend, and who at once introduced her
to Mr. Reginald Baxter, the gentleman who had only one arm.

Sylvia, knowing so little of her father's professional disgrace, which,
indeed, should not have been disgrace at all, seeing that he had only
done his duty, was not so much interested in this meeting as Rupert, and
turned again to Mr. Wallis, anxious to get it made quite clear to that
gentleman that it was through no fault of theirs that Rocky had not been
handed over to the agent long before this.

"It was so terrible for us all to arrive here, as we did, with Rupert
ill, and to take possession of what we thought was our father's house,
only to find that it belonged to another man of the same name," she
said, pouring out her words in a breathless hurry. "It seems a pity to
me that doctors should be allowed to have the same name; only I suppose
it can't be helped. Anyhow, it was very bad for all of us, but it was
especially dreadful for poor Nealie, because, you see, she is grown up,
and so the conventions had to be considered. Then he--the usurping
doctor, that is--would go with her to take care of her when she went to
find Father; and that was awkward too, and a little unnecessary as
well, for Nealie is so well able to take care of herself. But they have
not come back, and we have not heard anything from them, and we are
afraid that the practice will go all to pieces if the doctor does not
soon come back to nurse it a little."

"The practice will not suffer very much, I hope," said Mr. Wallis
soothingly. "But I do not think you quite understand, Miss Sylvia, what
good things are happening, or are going to happen, to your father. Mr.
Baxter, who has come with me to-day, has had a long letter from your
friend Mr. Melrose, who, you may remember, left the ship at Cape Town.
It seems that when the rich relative of Mr. Baxter disinherited him,
because, owing to his arm having been amputated, he was maimed, she left
her money to Mr. Melrose, who really needed it much more. But Mr.
Melrose did not know that your father had had to suffer so badly in the
matter, and when he gathered some idea of it through meeting you on
board ship, he at once wrote to Mr. Baxter calling for his co-operation
in setting your father straight with the world again, and it is in order
to see how this can best be done that Mr. Baxter has travelled from
Sydney with me."

"What a wonderful story! Why, it sounds like a fairy tale. But does not
Mr. Baxter hate my father for having been the means of making him poor?"
asked Sylvia wistfully.

"No indeed! Mr. Baxter realizes that it was being thrust out upon the
world which really gave him his chance, and so he is in a way as
grateful to your father as Mr. Melrose; and between the two of them they
will clear the way to a greater prosperity, I hope," replied Mr. Wallis
kindly.

"Here comes Dr. Plumstead, but Nealie is not with him!" yelled
Billykins, rushing up from a short journey to the next house, where he
had been to see if the woman who did for the doctor would undertake to
provide luncheon for the two gentlemen.

Dr. Plumstead was riding a horse that was certainly not Rockefeller, for
it was a miserable wry-necked screw, with nothing but pace to recommend
it, and a temper so vicious that it just stood and kicked, from sheer
delight at being disagreeable, when the doctor hastily dismounted and
came forward to explain his solitary return.

"Your father is a hero; but, like other brave men, he has to pay the
price of his heroism in suffering," said the doctor to Rupert, and then
he told them all how the other Dr. Plumstead had risked his life to pull
the sick man from the burning shed, and that Nealie was staying to nurse
him back to health again, she, in her turn, being taken care of by
Mother Twiney, who was really a good soul at the bottom, although a
little lacking in matters of personal cleanliness.

"Your sister was in great trouble about you all; but I said that Rupert
and I could manage to take care of you for a few days or even weeks
until she is able to come back and look after you," said the doctor,
linking Rupert with himself in the matter of responsibility in a way
that made the boy flush with pleasure, although Sylvia wrinkled her nose
with a fine disdain.

"I am quite equal to taking care of myself, and of Ducky too," she said
loftily. "But of course it will be convenient to have someone to keep
the boys in order."



CHAPTER XX

How It All Ended


In reality it was the prospector whose life Dr. Plumstead had saved at
the risk of his own, who did most towards setting the father of the
seven on his feet again and righting him in the eyes of the world, which
is so quick to approve the successful man.

A word which the young doctor dropped in the ear of Mr. Reginald Baxter
sent that gentleman and Mr. Wallis posthaste to Latimer, where they held
private conferences with the now convalescent prospector, and the result
of it all was that a company was promptly formed for the developing of a
gold claim staked out round the grave which the prospector in mercy had
begun to dig for the unknown dead. So rich did this prove to be that
when the prospector kept his word, and paid over the proportion of his
earnings which he had promised to the doctor, there was no more worry
about ways and means for Nealie, who was now her father's right hand, as
she had been his devoted nurse when he was recovering from his burns.

[Illustration: "GAVE THEM BOTH HIS BLESSING"]

For a little while they all went to live at Latimer, in a brand-new
wooden house which was made of pine trees and was fragrant of the forest
in every room. But the first break in the family came when Rupert and
Rumple went to Sydney to be educated.

Thanks to the skill of his father and the other Dr. Plumstead, Rupert
had quite recovered from his lameness, and although he might never be
quite so nimble as his younger brothers, he was no longer lame, and that
was such a comfort to him that he seemed to expand into quite a
different creature.

But, as Sylvia remarked to Rupert on the day before he and Rumple were
to start for Sydney, they were going to have trouble with that other Dr.
Plumstead, who, not content with having the same name as the rest of
them, had shown a great desire to be still closer linked to them by
becoming a relation.

"It is so stupid of him to want to marry Nealie," she said plaintively.
"Because I know very well that if she says yes, then I shall have to
keep house for Father, and mother the rest of you, which will certainly
spell ruin to my chance of an artistic career, and I am beginning to
paint in quite an intelligent fashion."

"There is room for improvement," scoffed Rumple, who chanced to overhear
what she said. "Don't you remember your picture of Kaffir kraals that
Mr. Melrose took for mushrooms in a meadow? It will not do for you to
indulge in swelled head as yet."

"I think that on the whole the mistake was rather in the nature of a
compliment," said Sylvia, with a ripple of laughter. "For doubtless in
the first place the Kaffirs took the patterns of their huts from some
sort of fungi, and so there you are."

"Well, anyhow, Dr. Plumstead is a rattling good sort--for witness how
cheerfully he put up with all of us that time we took possession of his
house--and if he wants to marry Nealie I don't see what is to prevent it
myself," said Rumple; but Rupert only made a grimace, which was his way
of saying that he would just as soon have the question of marriage put
further off into the future.

"If the man wants a wife, why can't he wait until Ducky is old enough?"
went on Sylvia, in the tone of one who has a grievance.

"Why Ducky? You might aspire to the position yourself, for you are
awfully nice looking!" cried Rumple, putting an affectionate arm round
Sylvia and giving her a mighty hug.

"Oh, I am not going to waste my talents in such a fashion! I feel as if
I had been born to greatness, and I shall achieve it some day I am sure;
only it will put the clock back for a few years if I have to
concentrate on breakfasts, dinners, and household things generally,"
said Sylvia, with a sigh, and then the talk came to an abrupt end, for
Don rushed in to say that Billykins was all smashed up from a fall down
a ladder at the mines, and of course there was instant confusion.

But Billykins seemed to have a charmed life, for although he was brought
home in the ambulance, and groaned as loudly as a whole hospital full of
patients, when his father came to make an examination of his hurts they
turned out to be only a few surface scratches and a bruise or two.

"Why, I made sure that I had got a broken leg!" exclaimed Billykins,
standing straight up on both feet and looking the picture of
disappointment. "Are you sure there are no bones broken, Father?"

"Quite sure, my son," said Dr. Plumstead, with a laugh of relief, for he
had supposed there must have been some more serious injury considering
how far the boy had fallen. "But if you feel dissatisfied with my
examination, here comes the other doctor, and you can ask him to
overhaul you."

"Oh, he does not care for anything but Nealie!" said Billykins in a tone
of deep disgust. "I expect that you will have to let them get married,
Father, if it is only to stop him coming over here so often; for his
patients in Hammerville will be calling in another doctor very soon if
he neglects them so shamefully. Why, this is the second time in a month
that he has been here."

"Yes, I expect that will be the best way," said his father quietly, and
then he went out to greet the other doctor; and that same evening, when
the sun went down in splendour over beyond the sandy plain where the
gold reef lay, Nealie's father put her hand in that of the other Dr.
Plumstead and gave them both his blessing.

Then the crimson faded through gold to grey in the sky above the sandy
plain, and the shadows of night dropped down on the grave of the
nameless stranger under the mulga scrub; but in Latimer the streets and
shops were brightly lighted, and all the busy life of getting and having
went on, as it had done in the haunts of men since the world began.



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN At the Villafield Press, Glasgow, Scotland





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translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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