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Title: Nevermore
Author: Bolderwood, Rolf
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nevermore" ***

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                             NEVERMORE

                        BY ROLF BOLDREWOOD

AUTHOR OF 'ROBBERY UNDER ARMS,' 'THE SQUATTER'S DREAM,' 'THE MINER'S
RIGHT,' ETC.

    London
    MACMILLAN AND CO.
    AND NEW YORK
    1892

    _All rights reserved_

    _First Edition 1892
    Second Edition July and December 1892_



CHAPTER I


'Then, by Heaven! I'll leave the country. I won't stop here to be
bullied for doing what scores of other fellows have done and nothing
thought about it. It's unjust, it's intolerable--'

Thus spoke impetuous Youth.

'I should say something would depend upon the family tradition of the
"other fellows" to whom you refer. In ours gambling debts and shady
transactions with turf-robbers happen to be forbidden luxuries.'

Thus spoke philosophic Age, calm, cynical, unsparing.

No power of divination was needed to decide that the speakers were
father and son; no prophet to discover, on one side, sullen defiance
following a course of reckless folly; on the other, wounded family pride
and long-nursed consuming wrath.

As the rebellious son stood up and faced his sire, it was curious to
mark the similarity of the inherited lineaments brought out more clearly
in his moments of rage and defiance.

Both men were strong and sinewy, dark in complexion, and bearing the
ineffaceable impress of gentle nurture, leisure, and assured position.
The younger man was the taller, and of a frame which, when fully
developed, promised unusual strength and activity. More often than the
converse, does it obtain that the son, in outward appearance or mental
constitution, reproduces his mother's attributes or those of her male
relatives; the daughter, in complemental ratio, inheriting the paternal
traits. But in this case Nature had strongly adhered to the
old-established formula 'like father like son,' for whoso looked on
Mervyn Trevanion, of Wychwood--the head of one of the oldest families in
Cornwall--could not doubt for one moment that Launcelot Trevanion was
his son.

If all other features had been amissing or impaired, the eyes alone,
which contributed the most striking and peculiar features in both faces,
would have been sufficient to establish the relationship, not only
because they were, in both faces, identical in colour and form, but
because of the strange, almost unnatural lustre which glowed in them in
that moment of excitement; neither large nor especially bright, they
were scarcely remarkable under ordinary circumstances--of the darkest
gray in colour and deeply-set under thick and overhanging eyebrows. A
stranger might well overlook them, but, when turned suddenly in anger or
surprise, a steady searching light commenced to glow in them which was
discomposing, if not alarming. Even in a quick glance such as mere
badinage might provoke, they were strange and weird of regard. Lighted
up by the deeper passions, those who had been in the position to witness
their effect spoke of it as unearthly and, in a sense, appalling.

In the family portraits, which for centuries had adorned the walls of
the long gallery in Wychwood, the same feature could be distinctly
traced. There was a legend, indeed, of the 'wicked' squire--one of the
hard-drinking, duelling, dicing, dare-devils of the second Charles'
day--who had so terrified his young wife--a gentle girl whose wealth had
been the fatal attraction in the alliance--that she had fallen down
before him in a fit, and never afterwards recovered health or reason.

All through Cornwall and the neighbouring counties they were known as
the 'Trevanion eyes.' There was a hint of demoniacal possession in the
first ancestor, who had brought them into the family from abroad, and a
legendary compact with the Enemy of mankind, from whom the fiendish
glare had been derived. Since the birth of the first Mervyn, 'the wicked
squire,' the eldest son had inherited the same peculiar regard as
regularly as to him had come the estate and most enviable rent-roll.

A saying had long been current among the county people that when the
lands went to a younger son, this remarkable and, as they held, unlucky
feature would be removed from the family of Trevanion as suddenly as it
had entered it. But up to this time, no break in the succession, _de
male en male_, had ever occurred.

Launcelot Trevanion (mostly called Lance) was the eldest son
of this ancient house. There were two younger boys--Arthur and
Penrhyn--respectively fourteen and twelve years old; but a cousin,
early orphaned, was the only girl in that silent and gloomy hall. Her
beauty--she was the fairest flower of a race of which the women were
proverbially lovely--irradiated Wychwood Hall, while her enforced gaiety
charmed the saturnine Sir Mervyn out of many a fit of his habitual
gloom. With the neighbours, the villagers, the friends of the house, she
enjoyed a popularity as universal as unaffected, and not unfrequently
had the remark been made by individuals of all these sections of
provincial society, that Estelle Chaloner had, in a measure, thrown
herself away, as the phrase runs, by betrothing herself to her wild
cousin Lance; that she was too bright and bonnie a creature to become
the mate of any Trevanion of Wychwood--hard, unyielding, and, in some
sense, ill-fated as they had all been since the days of the first Sir
Launcelot, no one knew how many centuries ago.

Certainly they had not been a fortunate or a prosperous family.
Possessed originally of immense estates, and boasting an ancestry and
military suzerainté--long anterior to the Conquest--undeniably brave,
chivalrous, and daring to the point of desperation, they had uniformly
espoused the wrong side in every important conflict. They had suffered
from attainder, they had regained their lands only to lose them again.
Bit by bit they had lost one fair manor after another, until, at last,
Wychwood Hall and manor, a fine but heavily-mortgaged estate, were all
that remained out of the vast dominion which stretched, according to
time-worn charters still in the muniment room of the Hall, from Tintagel
to the Devonshire border.

Estelle Chaloner, in whose veins ran several strains of Trevanion blood,
had a character curiously compounded of the qualities of both families;
outwardly resembling the Chaloners, who were a fair, blue-eyed race,
more conspicuous for the grace and charm of social life than for the
sterner traits, she possessed, unsuspectedly, a large infusion of the
ancestral Trevanion nature.

In early youth those strongest tendencies and proclivities which come by
inheritance are chiefly latent. Like the seedlings of a tropical forest
they remain for years almost hidden by undergrowth. But when successive
summers have stirred sap and rind, the deeply-rooted scions commence to
assert themselves, towering over, and eventually, it may be, dwarfing
the plants of earlier maturity.

Estelle and her cousin Lance had been playmates and friends since
earliest infancy. There were but three years between them; like twins
they had grown up with a curious similarity of thought and feeling,
though of strongly contrasted temperaments. Then the divergent stage was
reached when the girl begins to tread the path which leads to the goal
of womanhood, when the boy essays the freedom of speech and act which
mould the future man.

She was so gentle, he so haughty, yet were they alike in fearlessness,
in love of dogs and horses, in passionate attachment to field-sports and
the teachings of animated nature. Wanderers in the summer woods, fishing
in the brook, climbing the old tower of the ruined church, what an
Eden-like season of unstinted freedom was that of their early youth! It
was a sorrowful day for both when Lance was sent to a public school and
Estelle was relegated to a prim, high-salaried governess who stigmatised
nearly all out-door exercise as unladylike, and forbade field-sports as
being destructive to the hope of mental progress.

But though separated for the greater part of the year, there were still
the precious vacation intervals when the cousins met and wandered in
untrammelled freedom. Thus they rode and rambled, drove the young horses
in the mail-phaeton to Truro--the market town--fished and hunted, shot
and ferreted, she walking with the guns, none caring to make them
afraid.

It had chanced in the year preceding Lance's unlucky quarrel with his
father that they told each other of the love which had grown up with
their lives, and which was to make a portion of them for evermore.

And now this rupture between the stern father and the stubborn son
threatened the wreck of her young life's happiness. She had repeatedly
warned Lance of the imprudence of his conduct, and laid before him the
danger which he was too headstrong and reckless to forecast for himself;
had long since reminded him that of all youthful follies and outbreaks,
for some unexplained reason, his father was especially intolerant of
those connected with the turf. The very mention of a racecourse seemed
sufficient to arouse a paroxysm of rage. Why he was thus affected by the
concomitants of a popular sport which country gentlemen, as a rule,
regard in the light of a pardonable relaxation, was not known to any of
his household. Sir Mervyn was not so strait-laced in other matters as to
make it incumbent upon him to frown down horse-racing for the sake of
consistency. Still the fact remained. Any hint of race-meetings by
Lance was viewed with the utmost disfavour. No animal suspected of a
turn of speed was ever permitted lodgings in the Wychwood stables,
spacious as they were. And now the sudden bringing to light of Lance's
serious loss of money by bets at a recent county meeting, with moreover
a proved part-ownership of the unsuccessful quadruped, had raised to
white heat his sire's slow gathering, yet slower subsiding anger. Thus
it came to pass that after one other stormy interview in which the elder
man had heaped reproaches without stint upon the younger, the son had
declared his resolution of 'quitting England, and taking his chance of a
livelihood in some country where he would at least be free from the
galling interference of an unreasonably severe father, who had never
loved him, and who refused him the ordinary indulgence of his youth and
station.'

'In the extremely improbable event of your quitting a comfortable home
for a life of labour and privation,' the elder man said slowly and
deliberately, 'I beg you distinctly to understand that I shall make you
no allowance, nor even suffer your cousin to do so, should she be weak
enough to wish it, and you sufficiently mean to accept it. Sink or swim
by your own efforts. _I_ shall never hold out a hand to save you.'

Then the son gazed at the sire, looking him full and steadfastly in the
face for some seconds before he answered. Had there been a painter to
witness the strange and unnatural scene, he might have noted that the
light which blazed in the old man's eyes shot forth at times an almost
lurid gleam, as from a hidden fire, while the youth's regard was
scarcely less fell in its intensity.

'It is possible, even probable,' he said, 'that we may never meet again
on earth. You have been hard and cruel to me, but I am not wholly
unmindful of our relationship. Careless and extravagant I may have
been--neither worse nor better than hundreds of men of my age and
breeding, and may well have angered you. I had resolved, partly
persuaded by Estelle, to humble myself and ask your pardon. That state
of mind has passed--passed for ever. I shall leave Wychwood to-morrow,
and if anything happens to me in Australia, where I am going, remember
this--if evil comes to me, on your head be it--with my last words, in my
dying hour, I shall curse and renounce you, as I do now.'

As the boy spoke the last dreadful words, the older man, transported
almost beyond himself, made as though he could have advanced and struck
him. But with a strong effort he restrained himself.

The younger never relaxed the intensity of his gaze, but with a slow and
measured movement approached the door, then halting for a moment
said--'Enjoy your triumph to the uttermost--think of me homeless and a
wanderer--if it pleases you. But as repentant or forgiving,
never--neither in this world nor the next.'

Before the last words were concluded, Sir Mervyn turned his face with
studied indifference to the window, and gazed upon the park, over which
the last rays of the autumnal sun cast a crimson radiance. For a few
moments only the solar beams glowed above the horizon; the landscape
with strange suddenness assumed a pale, even sombre tone. A faint chill
wind rustled the leaves of the great lime-tree, which stood on the edge
of the lawn, and caused a few of the leaves to fall. When the squire
looked around, Launcelot Trevanion was gone. He turned again to the
window; mechanically his eye ranged over the lovely landscape, the
far-stretching champaign of the park--one of the largest in the county,
the winding river, the blue hills, the distant sea.

'What a madman the boy is,' he groaned out, to leave all this for a few
hot words--and I too! Who is the wiser? I wonder. Will he be mad enough
to keep his word? He is a stubborn colt--a true descendant of old
Launcelot the wizard. If he fails to gather gold, as these fools expect,
a voyage and a year's experience of what poverty and a rough life mean
will be no bad teaching.'

'For what is anger but a wild beast?' quotes the humorist How many a man
has, to his cost, been assured of this fact by personal experience. A
wild beast truly, which tears and rends those whom nature itself
fashions to be cherished.

With most men, reason resumes her sway, after a temporary dethronement,
when regret, even remorse, appears on the scene. The consequences of the
violence of act or speech into which the choleric man may have been
hurried, stalk solemnly across the mental stage. Were but recantation,
atonement, possible, forgiveness would be gladly sued for. But in how
many instances is it too late? The sin is sinned. The penalty must be
paid. Pride, dumb and unbending, refuses to acknowledge wrong-doing,
and thus hearts are rent, friends divided, life-long misery and ruin
ensured, oftentimes by the act of those who, in a different position,
would have yielded up life itself in defence of the victim of an angry
mood.

It was not long before the inhabitants of Truro, and, indeed, the
country generally, were fully aware that there had been a violent
quarrel between Sir Mervyn and his eldest son.

'The family temper again,' said the village wiseacres, as they smoked
their pipes at night at the 'King Arthur,' 'the squire and the young
master are a dashed sight too near alike to get on peaceably together.
But they'll make it up again, the quality makes up everything nowadays.'

'Blamed if I know,' answered Mark Hardred, the gamekeeper of Wychwood,
who, though not a regular attendant at the 'King Arthur,' thought it
good policy to put in an appearance there now and then, 'there's a many
of 'em like our people, just as dogged and worse, I'm feared Mr. Lance
won't come back in a hurry, more's the pity.'

'He's a free-handed young chap as ever I see,' quoth the village
rough-rider, 'it's a pity the old squire don't take a bit slacker on the
curb rein, as to the matter of a bet now and then, all youngsters as has
any spirit in 'em tries their luck on the turf. But he'll come back
surely, surely.'

'He said straight out to the squire as he'd be off to Australia, where
the goldfields has broke out so 'nation rich, along o' the papers, and
it's my opinion to Australia he'll go,' replied the keeper. 'I never
knew him go back of his word. He's main obstinate.'

'I can't abear folks as is obstinate,' here interpolated the village
wheelwright, a red-faced solemn personage of unmistakable Saxon solidity
of face and figure. 'I feel most as if I could kill 'em. I'd a larruped
it out of him if I'd been the vather of un, same as I do my Mat and
Mark.'

This produced a general laugh, as the speaker was well known to be the
most obstinate man in the parish, and his twin boys, Matthew and Mark,
inheriting the paternal characteristic in perfection, in spite of their
father's corrections, which were unremitting, were a true pair of wolf
cubs, taking their unmerciful punishment mutely and showing scant signs
of improvement.

'I must be agoing,' said the keeper, putting on his fur cap. 'I feel
that sorry for Mr. Lance that I'd make bold to speak to the squire
myself if he was like other people. But it'd be as much as my place was
worth. It'll be poor Miss 'Stelle that the grief will fall on.
Good-night all.' And the sturdy, resolute keeper, whose office had
succeeded from father to son for generations at Wychwood, tramped out
into the night.



CHAPTER II


It looks at times, it must be confessed, as if, the individual once
embarked upon a course involving the happiness of a lifetime, an unseen
influence hurries on events as though the fabled Fates were weaving the
web of doom. Hardly had Lance thrown himself upon a horse and galloped
over to Truro, directing, in a hasty note left in his room, that his
personal effects should be forwarded to an address, than the first paper
he took up contained an announcement which fitted exactly with his
humour. It ran as follows--

'Steam to Australia.--For Melbourne and the Goldfields. The clipper
ship, _Red Jacket_, three thousand tons register, Forbes, Commander,
will have quick dispatch. Apply to Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co.'

The die was cast. He saw himself speeding over the ocean on his way to
the wild and wondrous land of gold, absolutely uncontrolled henceforth
and free as air to follow his inclinations. There was intoxication in
the very thought. For years to come he would not be subject to the
trammels of civilisation. The trackless wilds, the rude, even savage
society of a new, half-discovered country had no terrors for him. The
wilder elements in the blood of the Trevanions seemed to have
precipitated themselves in the person of this their descendant; to have
rendered imperative a departure in some direction, no matter what, from
the conventional region with its galling limitations and absurd edicts.
Such are the problems of heredity. Despite of some natural regret that
so serious a quarrel with his father, and the head of the family, should
have been the proximate cause of his exile, the mere anticipation of a
wholly free and unfettered life in a new land filled him with joy. Then
arose visions such as course through the brain of ardent, inexperienced
youth; of wondrous wealth acquired by lucky speculation or the discovery
of a cavern filled with gold, after the manner of the _Arabian Nights_.
With what feelings of triumph would he _then_ return to his native land,
having in all respects given the lie to the predictions of his foes and
calumniators, receiving with complacent pride the congratulations of his
father, in that hour softened and converted by the reputation of his
distinguished son. His name, once spoken with bated breath, now a
by-word for success, would be in all men's mouths.

'Then! yes! then, darling Estelle!' had he said to his cousin in their
last conversation, when she had vainly tried to shake his determination
to leave England--'then I shall pay off the mortgage on the old estate;
not that it matters much for one generation, I suppose, but I should
like to be able to give a cheque for it to old Centall. Then I would buy
the St. Austel lands, which will be pretty sure to be in the market by
that time. Every one knows the estate is eaten up with interest as it
is, and at the rate the Tredegars are living there must be an end in a
few years. After that it will be about time to look out for a wife. Now
whom would you like to recommend? Why, how grave you look!'

'Dreams and visions, Lance. Vain hopes, false and unreal,' said the
girl. 'I see no prospect of success, much less of fairytale treasures.
Think of all the adventurers who have left this very Duchy of Cornwall
in old days or later. How few have ever returned!--fewer still who were
not poorer than they left! It seems to me madness that you should go at
all.'

'You are no true Englishwoman, Estelle, if you have not a spice of
adventure in you,' he replied. 'Lovers and kinsfolk have always been
sped on the path of glory before now. How else would the Indies have
been gained or the new world discovered, if all hearts had been as faint
as yours?'

'It is not that,' said the girl sadly, and laying her head wearily upon
his broad breast, as she threw her arms around his neck. 'It is not
that! I could send you away, almost rejoicing, in a good cause, were it
to fight the Queen's battles, for the glory of our native land. But my
heart sinks within me when I think of your going away with a father's
curse upon your head, with a deep quarrel about a light matter on your
mind, and for object and pursuit, only to seek for gold among an ignoble
crowd of rude adventurers.'

'Gold!' said the young man, laughing lightly; 'and what else is every
one striving for in these latter days? Gold means perfect independence.
The realisation of dreams of fairyland--the respect of the herd--the
friendship of the powerful--the love of the lovely! Why decry gold,
cousin mine? But, except for the adventure--the wild freedom--the
strangeness and danger of a new world, few care so little for it as
Lance Trevanion. And that you well know.'

'I know, my darling; I know. If it be so, why not stay at home? My
uncle, I am sure, is sorry for having been so hasty. He will be glad of
any chance to tell you so. A few years and your position as heir and
eldest son must be acknowledged. Why leave these proved and settled
privileges, and tempt dangers of sea, and storm, and an unknown land?'

'Too late! it is too late!' he said gloomily. 'I am a changed man. I can
neither forget nor forgive his insults, my father though he be; and I
feel as if I was irresistibly driven to take the voyage--to see this new
country--to share in this great gold adventure. I could not draw back
now.'

'And I feel, day by day, more strongly and vividly,' said the girl,
'that it will be your doom to go forth from us and return no more. It
seems like a prophetic instinct in me. I feel it in every fibre of my
being. But I will come to you, if you do not come to us. Whatever may
happen, I will never rest satisfied till I have seen you in your new
home. So, if you do not return in five years, you know what you have to
expect But you will return, will you not?' And again she clasped her
arms around him, sobbing as if her heart would break.

Estelle Chaloner was a proud girl, one of those reserved yet passionate
natures which habitually conceal their deeper feelings, as if jealous of
exhibiting the sacred recesses of their hearts to the careless or
irreverent. Ice on the surface, they resemble those regions which in
springtime need but the touch of that great enchanter's wand to cause
the living streams to flow, to produce the magically sudden apparition
of verdure and fragrant flowerets.

'Darling Estelle! in five years I will come back,' he said, 'if I am
alive. The time will soon pass. Think how much I shall have to talk
about, and what wonders I shall have seen. You will hardly know me
again.'

The girl sighed deeply, then raised her head, and gazing steadfastly at
her lover, as the tears streamed unheededly adown her face, continued
her pleading appeal without noticing his jesting speech--

'You will promise me then, will you not, solemnly and faithfully, you
will swear by King Arthur's sword--our family vow--that on next
Christmas five years, whatever betide, you will return?'

'Well,' he answered, slowly and heedfully, 'if nothing less will do, I
suppose I shall have done something in that time or failed utterly and
hopelessly. So I will promise. It wants nearly three months to
Christmas, and if I do not turn up in December 1857, you may make sure
that I am either dead or a captive among the Indians. I suppose there
are Indians there. "By Arthur's sword!"' and here he crossed his hands,
after the old Cornish fashion.

'I don't believe there are Indians,' she said. 'If you would read a
little more, you naughty boy, you would know. Of course, there are
savages of some sort, the worst being white. But we must exchange
tokens, like lovers--and we are true lovers, are we not?' Here she
seemed as if her tears would flow afresh, but controlled herself with a
strong effort. Then she loosened a slender gold chain from her neck, to
which was attached a coin of foreign appearance, traced with strange
characters, and having upon it a wondrous woman's face, beauteous, but
of an antique cast.

'Here,' she said, 'is my precious Egyptian princess. The man who gave it
to me said it was possessed of talismanic virtues, that it secured
safety and success to the wearer as long as he never permitted it to be
taken from him by force or fraud. If he did, the charm was broken. You
are the only person in the whole world to whom I would give it.'

'I thought you were too wise,' he said, taking the chain in his hand
gently, nevertheless, 'to confess such superstition. But I will take it
if it cheers you, darling Estelle, and here I swear that it shall be my
companion night and day until we meet again. Here is a companion token,
you have often asked for it before.'

'You are not going to give me the Chaloner ring, are you, Lance? How
happy it would have made me one little month ago,' she cried. 'I must
have it altered to fit my finger, I suppose? It can be altered back when
you return.'

'It is yours from this moment, and for ever,' said he. 'May it bring you
the good fortune it has failed to give me, so far. On a woman's hand the
charm may be broken. It has my mother's name inside, and, see,' here he
touched a spring, disclosing a tiny recess under the principal stone,
which was a diamond of great value, 'take your scissors and cut off a
lock of my hair, and here is a place to put it. I may be gray when we
meet again. Isn't it a queer ring?'

It was indeed an uncommon jewel. It had been his mother's, and by her
had been inherited from the uncle who had first made his own and the
family's fortunes by a long residence in India. He had received it from
a Rajah in those old days when jewels and gifts passed freely between
the servants of the Great East India Company and the native princes. A
large ruby and an emerald of equal size flanked the centre jewel. The
setting was peculiar, massive, but artfully disguised by the exquisite
delicacy of the workmanship. The great beauty and value of the jewel
would have made it noticeable and prized in any society in which the
wearer might have moved.

'You have comforted me,' she said, smiling through her tears, and again
taking his head in her hands and pressing her lips again and again to
his brow and face. 'I feel now as if I had some guarantee that I should
look on your dear face again. And mind, if you do not return in five
years and three months I shall come to Australia to search for you.'

Thus they parted. He to face the new world of the strange and the
unfamiliar--light of heart and ready of hand, as is the wont of untried
youth; she to mourn his absence in secret, and to brood over her sorrow,
as is ever the part of the steadfast heart of loving woman. The
separation from his cousin Estelle was his sole cause of regret on
leaving England. Yet that transient grief soon passed away amidst the
turmoil and excitement of which he found himself a part in his capacity
of six-hundredth-and-odd passenger on board the crowded ocean-going
clipper. A strange enough experience to the home-bred youth, who, save
on yachting cruises, had never dared the deep. Heterogeneous and
strangely assorted was the crowd of the passengers--adventurers of every
grade, feverishly anxious to reach the land of gold, chiefly
inexperienced, but all sanguine of acquiring the facile fortunes which
they had persuaded themselves the new world of the South had in store
for them. Young men were there--mere boys, like himself--for whom the
trials of toil, danger, and privation were all to come. Hitherto
unrealised abstractions.

Others, again, whose grizzled beards showed them as men who had fronted
foes in the battle of life, and were ready for another campaign. Many
had never left England, and, in despite of occasional boasting, were
heavy-hearted at the thought of the homes which they had left and might
never see more. Nor was the emigration entirely masculine--

    'There was woman's fearless eye
    Lit by her deep love's truth,
    There was manhood's brow serenely high--
    And the fiery heart of youth.'

A half-expressed hope that the company in the second cabin would be less
conventional and more amusing than in the first, joined to the necessity
for economising his slender funds, had decided Lance Trevanion upon
shipping as a second-class passenger. Certain to be compelled to lead a
rough life upon his arrival in Australia, surely, he argued, the sooner
he commenced to learn the way to do so the better. Nor would his
association with refined women and well-bred men in the first cabin aid
him in his search for gold--necessarily with rough, half-brigand
comrades. Thus, partly as the outcome of the defiant spirit in which he
was leaving home and native land, he booked himself as a second-class
passenger.

Doubtless, in the curiously mingled crowd of passengers who thronged the
first saloon of the _Red Jacket_ in that fateful year of 1851, there
were many remarkable persons, whose lives had included a far greater
number of strange adventures than most modern novels. But for a wild and
fanciful commingling of all sorts and conditions of men--from every
clime, of every grade, degree, and shade of character, the second-class
passengers bore off the palm. Since the untimely collapse of the
architects of the Tower of Babel, there could seldom have been so
diverse and bizarre a collection of humanity.

The _Red Jacket_, under the stern rule of Malcolm Forbes, from whose
fiat there was no appeal, the most daring and successful maker of quick
passages that the records of the Company knew, had steamed off at the
hour appointed. Started when far from ready, however, if the masses of
deck lumber which needed storage were to be taken into account. The
weather, bad from the commencement, became worse in the Bay of Biscay,
where raged a perfect hurricane--a storm, or rather a succession of
storms, under the fierce breath of which the _Red Jacket_ lay-to for
forty-eight hours at a stretch, afflicting the inexperienced voyagers
with the strongly impressed notion that their voyage would not be quite
so long as they expected. But the good ship held her own gallantly;
finally ploughed her way through the mountainous billows of the Bay of
Storms into lower latitudes. Milder airs and smoother seas cheered the
depressed and pallid passengers. An increasing number walked the deck or
sat in seats provided for them day by day. Cheerful conversation,
merriment, and even such games as the conditions of 'board-ship' life
permit were indulged in from time to time. Then Lance Trevanion had
leisure to look around and examine his fellow-passengers. He would have
been difficult to satisfy who could not among his compulsory comrades
have selected one or more congenial acquaintance. In that year the _Red
Jacket_ was 'the great Club of the unsuccessful': authors and
dramatists, University graduates, lawyers, and physicians, clergymen and
artists, soldiers and sailors, tinkers and tailors, plough-boy,
apothecary, thief--to quote the nursery classic. All were there.

Men of good family, like himself, chiefly younger sons, however, who had
quitted Britain in order to enlarge the proverbial slenderness of a
cadet's purse--

    'One was a peer of ancient blood,
    In name and fame undone--
    And one could speak in ancient Greek,
    And one was a bishop's son.'

The _soigné_ ex-guardsman, for whom the last Derby had been the knell of
fate, _he_ was there, plainly dressed and unpretentious of manner, yet
bearing the unmistakable stamp of the class whom King Fashion delighted
to honour. The middle-aged club lounger, who thought the new game of
Golden Hazard, at which the stakes were reported to be so heavy and the
players so inexperienced, worth a voyage and a deal or two--he was
there. The farmer's son, who had hunted too much; the farm labourer, who
was a bit of a poacher; the gamekeeper, who had kept an eye on him; the
shopman, whose soft hands had never done a day's hard work; the groom,
the coachman, the gardener, each and every one of the members of the
staff of rural and city life--were there. With some exceptions, they
were chiefly young, and now, as the fear and discomfort of the early
part of the voyage wore off, the natural characters of the individuals
commenced to exhibit themselves.

It was pathetic to see the trustful confidence with which
delicately-nurtured women, following their improvident or heedless
mates, clung to the idea that, once safely landed in the wondrous land
of gold, all would be well. They had left in the old land all that had
made the solace of their lives, their tenderest memories and inherited
affection. After unutterable wretchedness and discomfort, they were now
voyaging towards a land the characteristics of which were practically an
unknown to them as those of the interior of Africa, and yet, 'O woman,
great in thy faith!' those victims of ironic fate were cheerful, even
gay. As they looked in the eyes of their husbands or the faces of their
children and saw them happy and sanguine, they dreaded no cloud in the
tropic sky, neither storm nor disaster, poverty nor danger, to come in
the far south land.

With many young men on board, and others who, though no longer young,
were not disinclined for games of chance, it was only to be expected
that a little card-playing should go on. Lance was naturally fond of all
games of hazard--bad, indeed, born and bred in him--derived from
whatever ancestor--the true gambler's passion. He had enjoyed no great
opportunity of developing it yet. All games of chance had been strictly
interdicted at Wychwood. Now that he had come into freer
atmosphere--into another world, socially considered--he felt a
newly-arisen desire for play, so strong and unconquerable that it
astonished himself. He had, of course, £200 or £300 with him, not
intending to land in Australia quite penniless. This was more than many
of his shipmates could boast of possessing, and he passed among them, in
consequence, as quite a capitalist; in his way. Though he played
regularly, almost daily in fact, he was more than moderately successful.
The evil genius of chance, who lures men to their destruction by
ensuring their success in their early hazards, was not absent on this
occasion. Lance won repeatedly, so much so that his good fortune began
to be as much a matter of general observation as his apparent easiness
as regarded money.

It may be imagined that Trevanion's circle of acquaintances became
enlarged. Inexperienced youngsters like himself mingled every day, when
the weather permitted, with men who had played for high stakes in good
London clubs. Success, of course, varied. Many of the callow gamblers
lost all they had, and had, perforce, to look forward to landing in
Melbourne without a penny in the world.

Among those who were proverbially unsuccessful was a young man, who,
from that and other reasons, commenced to attract an unusual share of
attention from the other passengers. He and Lance Trevanion were
decidedly unsympathetic. They were always pitted against one another in
play. They appeared to be rivals in all things. More than once they had
been on the verge of a quarrel, which the bystanders had prevented from
being fought out. What was perhaps really curious was the fact, which
all were quick to remark, that the two men resembled each other in
personal appearance to a most uncommon degree. Lawrence Trevenna, for
such was his name, was probably a year older, but otherwise had much the
same figure, features, and complexion. The eyes, too, strange to say,
were of the same shape and colour; and, as the two men faced each other
in the quarrel before mentioned, more than one looker-on remarked the
curious peculiarity--the strange unearthly glitter, the lurid light,
which shone forth in the hour of wrath and defiance. No one had noticed
it before in either face. 'They were as much alike,' said the second
mate, who was standing by, somewhat disappointed that the fight did not
come off, 'as if they were brothers. There couldn't have been a closer
match.'

As it turned out, they had never seen one another before,--in fact, came
from different parts of England. The other man, when looked at closely,
was decidedly coarser in feature and less refined in type. His
conversation, too, disclosed the fact that his early education had been
indifferent. Handsome and stalwart as he was, under no circumstances
could he be considered to rank as a gentleman. That his temper was
violent was put beyond a doubt by the savage outbreak which led to the
quarrel. It was not certain that he would have got the best of it in a
hand-to-hand encounter, but his expression on reluctantly retiring was
of unequivocal malevolence, as was indeed exhibited by his parting
speech.

'I'll meet with you another day,' he said. 'Australia is not such a big
place, after all. You may not have so many backers next time.'

'It's perfectly indifferent to me,' answered Trevanion, 'when or how we
meet. I dare say my hands will save my head there, as they can do here.
People shouldn't play for money who can't keep their tempers when they
lose.'

The passengers of the _Red Jacket_ had in a general way too much to
think about to bother their heads about the accidental likeness existing
between two young fellows in the second class, still the story leaked
out. It was said 'that one of them was an eldest son and heir to an old
historic name and a fine estate. The other was a very fine young man,
but evidently a nobody, inasmuch as he dropped his aitches and so on.
_But_ they were so wonderfully alike that you could hardly tell them
apart. It would be worth while to get up amateur theatricals and play
the _Corsican Brothers_. Effect tremendous, you know! Queerest thing of
all, too, they'd never met before and didn't like each other now they
had met.'

'Strange things, doubles,' said Captain Westerfield, late of H.M. 80th
Regiment. 'Not so very uncommon though. Most men in society have one. My
fellow turned up at Baden, most extraordinary resemblance, wasn't an
Englishman either. Raffish party too, spy and conspirator persuasion,
that sort of thing. Did me good service once, though. Story too long to
tell now.'

'Oh, Captain Westerfield, _do_ tell it to us,' said the fascinating Mrs.
Grey, as they walked back to the first-class region, after inspecting
the two Dromios.

'Some day, perhaps,' murmured the Captain.

The _Red Jacket_ held on her way with unslackened speed. Night and day,
fair weather and foul, with winds ahead or astern, it was all the same
to Captain Forbes. Never was an inch of canvas taken in before the
'sticks' began to give token of ill-usage. 'What she couldn't carry she
might drag,' was his usual reply to remonstrating passengers. And he had
his accustomed luck. In the murkiest midnight, or when fogs made the
best lights invisible a ship's length in advance, the _Red Jacket_ ran
into no homeward-speeding bark. Nor did any other reckless-driving
vessel, with a captain vowed to make the passage of the season,
encounter him. The long, low coast-line of Australia and the Otway light
were sighted at as nearly as possible the hour when they were expected
to be visible, and through the Rip and up the vast land-locked haven of
Port Phillip Bay went the Racer of the Ocean one afternoon, fully two
days in advance of the shortest passage which had ever been known in
those days between the old old world and that new one which so long lay
unknown and unpeopled beneath the Southern Cross.



CHAPTER III


So this was Melbourne! At least the nearest that the _Red Jacket_ could
get to it, on account of certain natural obstacles. But it lay only
seven miles off, that is by the river, of which they could trace the
windings through high walls of the thick-growing, but slender ti-tree
(melaleuca). Anchored now in a broad bay, a low sandy shore on the
eastern side, on the west a green level promontory, with a few huts and
cottages sprinkled over it, falling back to far-stretching plains, with
a volcanic peak in the foreground and a mountain range in the hazy
distance.

Without much delay comes a roomy lighter alongside the _Red Jacket_, in
which the passengers mostly elect to embark.

Their luggage, an avalanche of bags, bundles, trunks, and boxes, is shot
on deck. A puffing, vicious-looking tug, with the air of 'a guinea a
minute for my time,' drags them off, through the shoals of the Yarra,
and so bustles forward till that grand and wonderful structure, the
Melbourne wharf, a rudely planked platform fringing an illimitable ocean
of black mud into which the river flat, guiltless of macadam, has been
churned. Here their goods and chattels are unceremoniously transferred
to the unsheltered wharf. It had been raining. The passengers,
surrounded by draymen, hotel and lodging-house keepers, look blankly at
each other. A few of the women begin to cry. Thus for them, as for all
the _Red Jacket's_ passengers, save the favoured few of the saloon, the
hard schooling of colonial experience commences. If quarrels arise and
animosities are generated on board ship, so also do friendships, true
and permanent, spring up. Trevanion had made acquaintance with a young
couple from the border of his own county. The man was a sturdy fellow,
half miner, half farm-labourer, whom the hope of bettering his condition
had tempted to the desperate step, as it appeared to all his
neighbours, of emigration. His wife was a fresh-coloured, innocent,
country villager, their one child, an engaging little button of three
years old, one of the pets of the ship. The two men had arranged to go
up to the diggings together, and Trevanion decided that in some respects
he could not have a better mate. 'Gwenny here can cook and wash for us,
and if we get a share of the gold and Tottie doesn't fall into one of
their deep holes as they tell us about, we shall do main likely, Mr.
Trevanion.' So it was settled, Mrs. Polwarth was a little nervous about
travelling through the 'bush' and living at a 'digging,' but where her
man went, she, as an Englishwoman and wife, was bound to go too. '"For
better, for worse," pa'son he says, and I reckon, lad, I'll stick to
thee as long as we've bread to eat or a shed to cover us.' Such was her
simple creed.

'It strikes me,' said Trevanion, after the first few minutes of blank
astonishment, in which the country-bred couple, and even he himself
gazed around at the strange crowd and unfamiliar surroundings, 'that
we'd better hail one of these drays and get our luggage taken up to a
lodging-house, till we can look around. The weather is rather cold to my
fancy for camping out, though it is Australia. We mustn't get laid up
with chills, and fever, and ague, as that American warned us, to start
with. So Jack, you take care of the boxes and the family--I'll soon
manage a conveyance.'

After a short but spirited engagement with a drayman, who seemed an
educated person, to Lance's astonishment, he compounded for a payment of
two guineas, for which moderate sum the owner of this expensive
equipage--worth a hundred and fifty pounds at ruling prices--covenanted
to land them all in safety at a decent lodging-house.

'You are in luck,' said the drayman, as they were walking back to the
wharf, 'to find a place to put your head in to-night, I can tell you.
Lots of your fellow-passengers will have to camp out under any shelter
they can extemporise. But I happen to hear the people I am taking you to
say they had one bedroom and a small attic to let, the occupants having
started for Ballarat this morning.'

'And how is it you are not there with all the rest of the world, if it's
as rich as they say it is?'

'They can't exaggerate the richness of it. I know so much of my own
knowledge, but I happened to buy this old nag and the dray, which
brings me in about a thousand a year at present. I'm not an avaricious
man, so I'm waiting on here till I feel in the humour to tackle digging
in earnest.'

By this time the wharf was reached, and the dray being loaded with their
boxes and bundles, Mrs. Polwarth placed comfortably in the centre, the
men walked beside the driver. Two long and very broad streets were
traversed before they arrived at a neat weatherboard cottage with dormer
windows and an upper floor. The proprietor, a bronzed colonist, received
them cheerfully, and immediately set to work to take in their luggage.

'Mother,' he said to a cheery, brisk little woman who now came up to the
garden gate, 'you take in this young lady and little gal, and make 'em
comfortable. Mr. Waters says as they've just come out in the _Red
Jacket_. They'll be all the readier for their tea, I'll be bound. We'll
see to all the boxes and things.'

'Mr. Waters, you'll just have time to do up the old horse afore the
tea-bell rings. I wouldn't let them beef-steaks get cold, if I was you.'

As they sat smoking over a snug fire in the kitchen, after a well-cooked
and sufficing meal, Lance and his 'mate' came fully to the conclusion
that they _had_ been in luck in falling across their friend the drayman,
and being guided to such good quarters. Here they were comfortably
lodged at a reasonable charge, and, moreover, had the advice of two
experienced and well-disposed men as to their future plans and
prospects.

'Yes. After stopping a week in Melbourne, I should certainly make tracks
for Ballarat, if I were in your place,' said Mr. Waters the drayman.
'You've come all this way to dig. Jack has a wife and a child to work
for, and the sooner you set about it the better.'

'But what is the best way to get there?' asked Lance. 'The road is bad,
and it's a long way there. We can't carry our boxes. It's too expensive
to go by coach. I don't see my way.'

'What Mr. Waters says is God's truth,' chimed in their host. 'You can't
do nothing but spend money, and waste your time here, unless you was in
a way of business, which ain't likely. Your only dart is to buy a
staunch horse with a tip-cart, and put a tent atop of your luggage. Take
tea, and sugar, and flour with you, a little bacon and so on. Then you
camp every night. It costs you little or nothing, and you're as jolly as
sand boys.'

'And how about finding the road, Mister?' asked Jack, looking rather
anxious. 'It's many a long mile, and mostly through the woods, as I'm
warned. We might lose our way.'

'A blind man could find the road night or day,' said Waters, with a
laugh. 'It's a mile wide, and there's a string of carts and drays, men,
women, and children, going along it, like a travelling fair. Night and
day you can hear the bells on the horses and bullocks a couple of miles
off.'

'Won't the turn-out cost heaps of money?' asked Lance, thinking of the
price of Mr. Waters's horse and dray.

'Not above seventy or eighty pounds altogether, and you can sell them
for the same or more money when you get to the diggings. We'll try and
find you a decent turn-out with a canvas tilt to keep the rain off Mrs.
Polwarth and Tottie. My friend Burnett knows half the miners that come
here from Ballarat, and they often have a cheap lot, horse and cart, and
a good many useful things given in, which they are in a hurry to sell
before they leave for England.'

'That will suit us down to the ground, eh, Jack, and then--this day
week--hey for Ballarat and a golden hole.'

For the next week Trevanion devoted himself to exploring Melbourne, and
seeing as much as he could of the strange world to which he had voyaged
on the other side of the globe. It was--to his British and comparatively
untravelled idea--a state of society utterly foreign and at variance
with all his preconceived ideas.

In the first place there were no poor people, no beggars, no evidence
anywhere to be seen that anybody lacked money, food, clothes, or
amusement. It was distinctly Utopian in the evidences of material
prosperity, which everywhere abounded. The diggings both at Ballarat and
Bendigo (as Sandhurst was then called) had been sufficiently long
established to have furnished a class of lucky diggers who dominated the
urban population, and gave a tone of universal opulence to the
community.

With all this, though men were plentiful who had made their ten or
twenty thousand pounds each in a few weeks, there was but little
disorder, and no lawlessness observable. A good-natured extravagance, a
defiant recklessness of expenditure were the leading characteristics of
the mining aristocracy.

It was true that their wives sported expensive silk dresses, gold
chains, and diamond earrings; that they entertained one another as
agreeable chance acquaintances regale at the Criterion--a hostelry built
in the most expensive period of skilled labour, every brick used in
which was reported to have cost half-a-crown. The theatres and
concert-halls were crowded every night with a fairly appreciative and
orderly audience. The theatrical and musical talent was exceptionally
good at that time. For the news of the abounding gold of Ballarat
travelled far and fast, and, where the auriferous lure is waved, have
ever been wont to gather the mimes and the sweet singers of the world's
best quality.

It was literally, and in many respects a revival of the golden age, a
truly Arcadian time. A truce seemed to have been proclaimed to the
world's sad-faced task-workers, to the slavery of desk and plough and
loom. Save the exciting labour of the mine--when, perhaps, each stroke
of the pick brought down stone heavy with the precious metal, or
dislodged ingots and gold dust--work was there none. So, at last, a
strong, light box-cart, with a staunch and active draught horse, having
been purchased at a reasonable price,--their new-found friend arranged
that part of the business,--a start was made one fine morning for
Ballarat--the El Dorado of the South. All their worldly goods were
packed safely and snugly. There was a canvas tilt, under which Mrs.
Polwarth and Tottie would be sheltered from sun and storm, and could
sleep at night. There was a small tent in which the men could dispose
themselves. The bay horse, led by Jack, stepped off cheerfully and
briskly, and then, with the blessings, metaphorically speaking, of their
landlord and Mr. Waters, the little expedition set forth. The latter
gentleman accompanied them for a short distance, until fairly past the
outskirts of the town, and on the broad highway marked by a thousand
wheels which led to Ballarat. He volunteered a modicum of advice,
limited in quantity, but valuable.

'There's plenty of gold there, never fear, and new finds every day. You
may go home with a fortune next year, and in the _Red Jacket_ too, if
she keeps lucky and don't get run down. You and that "Cousin Jack" are
both workers, I can see it in all your ways. Stick together, you can
trust each other, and don't make more friends than you can help. You'll
find men by the score there that would cut your throat for a ten-pound
note, and chuck Mrs. Polwarth and Tottie down a shaft for the same
price. Keep a good look-out at night. Don't drink or play cards with
strangers. If you fall across a streak of luck, follow it up to the end,
but don't keep gold in your tent. If you don't hit it just at first,
persevere all the same. It's bound to come. And now I'll say good-bye,
and good fortune to you. Look up Burnett when you come back; if I'm not
with him, he'll know my address.'

So their friend--a good and true one in every sense--shook hands with
Jack and his wife, kissed Tottie, with whom he left a large parcel of
sugar-plums, and departed. It was strange that he and the boarding-house
keeper should have taken such a fancy to the party; but such was the
fact, and in new countries and wild places outside the pale of ordinary
society, sudden and chance-made friendships spring up and blossom into
full fruition much more frequently than people in old countries would
believe. They had nothing to gain from these emigrants. They only
accepted the bare amount due for services rendered. They prevented them
from being over-reached in the purchase of that vitally necessary
equipment in goldfield days--the horse and cart. They saw, too, that
unlike the hero in that exciting Anglo-Colonial romance 'It's Never too
late to Mend,' they were put in possession of a horse that _would pull
down hill_ as well as up. In fact they acted with simple good faith,
generosity, and gratuitous courtesy, all through.

This was not the conduct to be expected from perfect strangers in a
'lawless community' like Melbourne, _vide_ the fiction of the day. But
it happened to be true nevertheless.



CHAPTER IV


It is unnecessary to accompany the little party along the somewhat
tedious and decidedly muddy road which led the adventurers of the day to
the spot 'where the root of all evil grew wild up the country.' O dear
old friend, who used to quote this, and make merry over Governor Tarbox,
where art thou now? They saw the Royal Mail dash by, drawn by six horses
in an American coach, the leather-brace springs of which, and the plank
road, were a constant wonder to Jack and Mrs. Polwarth. Now trotted
along a dozen well-mounted police troopers, their boots and steel
scabbards shining in the sun, conveying 50,000 ounces of gold in a
four-horse drag. Anon, a drove of staring, long-horned fat cattle,
engineered by a dog of high educational attainments, a black boy, and a
couple of bearded, wild-looking stock-riders. Then, again, the bullock
team of the period--fourteen bullocks drawing a laden canvas-covered
waggon, with a tall Australian driver, the whip of him at times raising
hair, at times volleying like musketry--was another unequivocal
surprise. A flock of 2000 fat sheep, a drove of unbroken horses, a train
of a dozen pack-mules, all these were fascinating novelties and wild
surprises to the newly-arrived Britishers.

A few days, however, sufficed to inure the little party to the toils and
difficulties of the journey, such as they were, and to teach them to
make light of them. The road--as before stated--nearly a mile wide in
places, and marked in black mud on the green turf, was visible to the
naked eye night or day. Mrs. Polwarth learned to fry chops and steaks
and make cakes as if she had been to the manner born, while the men
pitched their tents and made their nightly camp as if they had done
nothing else all their lives. Tottie, even, used to run about and pick
great bunches of yellow flowers, which were so like buttercups, together
with daisies and fringed violets, and was the merriest of the party.

'This is going gipsying with a vengeance,' said Lance one day. 'I never
expected to find myself driving a cart and hobbling out an old horse,
like a tinker on a common; but as it's the regular thing to do, and as
this Tom Tidler's ground can't be so very far off now, I suppose one
mustn't grumble.'

'It's main cheap travelling,' Jack would reply to these occasional
repinings. 'It don't cost much, that's one thing, and the weather seems
like taking up, so the little one can play about same as if she was at
home.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Ballarat--at length! The far-famed!--the wonder-town!--the capital of
the kingdom of gold! A confused array of huts, tents, weatherboard
houses, and stores huddled together, as if rained down from the sky, on
the side of a hill partly covered with the iron-stemmed, sombre
Eucalyptus. A brook, with yellow waters hurrying down between green and
grassy banks. Crowds of silent, preoccupied looking men anxiously
engaged in what, to the new-comers, seemed mysterious mining operations.
Some were standing mid-leg deep in the creek, protected by thigh boots,
rocking curious wooden cases, which looked like children's cradles, and
which they afterwards found were called by that name. Policemen and
mounted troopers went to and fro among them, or issued from an
encampment higher on the hill--which was evidently the headquarters of
the executive department. Mud-stained, bearded, and roughly dressed were
the greater part of the population; Lance thought he had never seen so
many ruffianly-looking fellows before. A marsh, filled with waving
reeds, lay on a plateau a short distance to the westward of the field.
The green banks looked pleasant to the eye, shaded, as they were, by
wide-spreading trees--thicker of foliage than the others.

'If you think well, sir, we might just as well pitch our camp here,'
said Jack. 'It's away from the crowd like, and I'll manage to make it
snug and home-like in a week or two. We can leave the Missis here while
you and I look out for a claim, as they call it.'

So they made their temporary home by the side of Lake Wendouree, as it
came afterwards to be called, little dreaming that the day would come
when the marsh would be dammed and deepened, when, steamers would ply
upon its surface, and boat races and regattas take place thereon, with a
thousand school-children holding high festival on its banks.

However, these developments were in the future. Nothing was to be seen
now but the waving reeds, the green grass, and a great black log lying
on the ground, by the side of which they pitched the tent, as being a
species of shelter and handy for purposes of cookery. Then the men
wandered through the diggings, talking to the miners, as opportunity
offered, and trying to learn something about the recognised method of
making a commencement to dig gold.

Chance favoured them the day after they arrived, by the occurrence of a
dramatic incident, instructive in its way, as it turned out.

They were walking along the side of the creek, looking at a
curiously-silent toiling crowd of 20,000 men, who, working in very small
and shallow claims, 16 feet square, on the celebrated 'Jewellers'
Point,' were turning up gold in handfuls, panfuls, and, in some
instances, nearly bucketfuls.

Suddenly every man raised his head and shouted 'Joe.' Jack and Lance
thought the whole crowd had gone mad, as they hasted to join in the
chorus. They noticed, however, a dozen or more individuals leave their
work and depart unobtrusively. A moment after, a man came running
desperately down a gully which led to the creek, hotly pursued by two
troopers. He wormed his way among the holes, where the horsemen could
not well follow him, and seemed in a fair way of escaping, when he ran
nearly into the arms of a constable on foot, whom, coming from another
direction, he had not seen. This official, a wily and active person,
promptly secured him. He was then handcuffed and led off to the camp,
where, to the great astonishment of the Englishmen, who followed to see
the end of the affair, he was chained to a log by the leg; evidently a
desperate criminal, they decided.

Lance interrogated one of the troopers who remained by the prisoner. 'I
suppose he's a hardened offender. Is it for murder or robbery? or only
horse-stealing?'

The trooper laughed. 'Well, he ain't what you might call a desprit bad
'un, though he's broke the law. He's been diggin' without a license.'

'What's that?'

'Well, you'll soon find out, young man. If you don't get one, you'll get
tethered like this chap here. It's a permit to dig gold, and you have to
pay thirty bob a month to the Crown. You didn't think you were going to
be let dig up a fortune on Crown land for nothing, did you?'

'Oh, I understand. Well, where can we get one?'

'D'ye see that big outside tent at the camp? Well, that's the Mining
Registrar's. He'll give you one apiece, if you've got the cash, and then
you can dig gold by the hundredweight, if so be as you can find it.'

'All right. Can I have a word with the prisoner?'

'Oh yes; while I'm here.'

Lance went up to the manacled one and accosted him. 'What's your name,
my man?'

'I'm not "my man," or your man or any one else's. Though I'm not a free
man, certainly, if it comes to that. Isn't it an infernal shame that a
free-born Englishman should be chained up like a dog because he hasn't
thirty shillings in his pocket?'

'It doesn't seem right,' said Lance. 'The money's not much, but, of
course, a man may be out of luck and not have it. The reason I asked you
your name was that I was just going to the Registrar to get a couple of
licenses for my mate and myself, and I could get you one at the same
time.'

'Didn't I tell you I had no money?' said the man, rather savagely.

'What does it matter about such a trifle? Of course, I will pay for you,
and you can give it to me when convenient.'

'Thanks, very much,' said the stranger, with a softened voice and an
accent which spoke of different surroundings. 'My name is Hastings.
Edward Charles are my Christian names. You must make allowance for my
being out of temper. This sort of thing is enough to gall any man, and
there will be trouble out of it yet.'

'Now,' said Lance to the trooper, 'if I get a license, as you call it,
for our friend here, will you let him go?'

'By rights,' said the trooper, who had a good-natured face, 'he ought to
be brought up to-morrow before the Commissioner for not producing his
license when called upon so to do by any authorised person. But they're
all away, and I can square it--say he had got one that day, or
something.'

'That will do,' said Lance, with a smile, as he handed the man a
half-sovereign. 'I'll soon have his paper and my own. I can't leave a
man--a gentleman, too--like this. That's the tent, isn't it?'

'He's a gentleman, that chap,' said the trooper to himself. 'Any one can
see that; just out from home, too. But he's too soft. His money won't
last long if he goes and pays up for every chap here that hasn't got a
license.'

As it turned out, it was money well invested.

Trevanion went to the tent, where he found a busy gentleman sitting
before a table covered with notes and gold and silver, official papers
and books, etc., all in rather a state of confusion. He cut short his
explanation by asking 'What names?' in a gruff voice.

These being supplied, he filled up three forms printed on parchment,
which he cut out of a long narrow book like a cheque book, and, holding
them in his hand, said, 'Four pounds ten you have to pay.'

Lance handed over five sovereigns and received ten shillings change. He
then glanced at the licenses, consecutively numbered and dated, which
gave permission to John Polwarth, Launcelot Trevanion, and Edward
Charles Hastings 'to dig and search for gold upon Her Majesty's Crown
lands in the colony of Victoria for the space of _one month_ from date.'
These documents had been signed in blank--'EVELYN P. S. STURT,
Commissioner.'



CHAPTER V


The trooper came back to the log with the two 'new chums,' as he, a
native-born Australian, would have called them, and turned his back
while Trevanion handed Hastings his digging license. He then faced
round. 'You've been arrested according to law for digging in Growlers'
Gully without a license. Do you now produce one?' Hastings handed him
the parchment slip before referred to. 'You hand me this license all
correct and regular. I now discharge you from custody, and,' continued
the trooper, evidently thinking he ought to say something magisterial
and impressive, 'I hope it will be a warning to you.' He then unlocked
the padlock, which was passed through a chain which held the handcuff
which was round the man's ankle, and released him.

Hastings laughed as he stood up and stretched himself. 'I expected a few
strange experiences when I started to dig gold in this extraordinary
country, but I never thought to be chained up to a log by the leg.
However, it's all in the day's work. You've only done your duty, Doolan,
and indeed you've stretched it a bit in letting me off. I'll perhaps be
able to do you a good turn some day. Good-bye.'

'Now Mr. ----,--I really don't know your name,--Trevanion, thanks, I see
you and your friend are just off the ship and therefore not up to the
wicked ways of digging life. I may say now that I hold myself deeply
indebted to you. In requital, if you'll come to Growlers' Gully, where
I'm hanging out, I can lay you on to a "show," as we miners call it,
that may turn out something good.'

'We know nothing as yet,' said Lance. 'We're quite raw and
inexperienced, therefore shall be very glad to go to Growlers' Gully or
any other place, if there's a chance of setting to work in good
earnest.'

'The best thing you can do, then,' said his new friend, 'is to walk out
there and stay in our tent to-night. To-morrow you can get back and show
your party the way. It's no good staying where you are.'

'Done with you,' said Lance. 'Jack, you can go back and tell your wife,'
and away they went. After walking three or four miles, a kind of open
ravine, which in Australia is called a gully, presented itself. The
tents were thinner and the miners not quite so busy. 'That's our tent,'
said Hastings, 'and there's my mate sitting on a log outside, smoking
and wondering what's become of me. Hulloa! Bob, did you think I was lost
or in chokee? This is Mr. Trevanion; he's stood my friend or else I
should have spent the night on the chain, so we must lay him on to a
show, if there's one in the gully.'

'It's a nice way to treat a Christian, chaining of him up like a dorg,
ain't it, sir?' said the miner slowly. 'It'll raise trouble some day,
I'll go bail. Proud to see you, sir. There's plenty of tea in the billy,
it'll soon warm up. Luckily I baked last night and there's a goodish
lump of corned silver-side of beef. You'll be ready for dinner, both on
ye, I reckon.'

'This child is,' said Hastings, and 'Mr. Trevanion has had a goodish
walk, which ought to sharpen his appetite. That's right, Bob.'

As he spoke, his companion, who, if slow of speech, was evidently a man
of action, placed some tin plates on a small table in the tent, knives
and forks, with a large loaf, half a round of cold corned beef, and a
bottle of pickles. This done, he poured out two pint pannikins of tea,
and sitting a little way off outside, filled his pipe and lit it afresh.

'Mind them Irishmen that took up number six claim above Jackson's?'
inquired he.

'Think I do,' mumbled Hastings, whose mouth, like some people's hearts,
was too full for utterance. 'Think I do; what about them?'

'What about 'em?' returned Bob. 'Why, they've jacked up and cut it. Said
they wanted summut more certain. A dashed good show, I call it.'

'There's a chance for you, Trevanion,' said Hastings. 'Go and peg it out
the moment you've finished this humble meal. You've got twenty-four
hours to be at work in it. But the sooner you make a start the better. I
shouldn't like to see you lose it. Bob will go with you.'

Lance made very good time over the corned beef, which he couldn't be
induced to leave for a while. But he and Bob made a formal pegging out
half an hour afterwards, thus taking legal possession of two men's
ground.

The very next morning saw the party duly installed. Mrs. Polwarth and
Tottie had arrived, the tent was pitched, a fireplace made, the windlass
fitted with a new rope, and Lance and Jack working away as if they had
been mining all their lives.

For nearly a fortnight the two men toiled and delved, one winding up and
the other picking and shovelling away at the various strata which
intervened between them and the precious ore they hoped to discover.

'We shan't get no gold here, I don't believe,' quoth Jack, mournfully,
one day. 'I've heard of a grand diggings only fifty miles off. I'm
warned they're a-pickin' of it up in handfuls.'

'It wants ten days to the end of the month,' replied Lance. 'I like to
stick to things when I've begun. Suppose we make up our minds to keep at
it till then. It isn't fair to Hastings to run away without a good
trial.'

'All right, Mr. Lance, we'll give it till the thirty-first. If we don't
hit it then, I'm off to Forest Creek for good. Until then we'll see who
can work the hardest.'

As far as manual labour was concerned there had now come to be perfect
equality between the man of birth and the son of toil. Stalwart and
symmetrical always, the frame of Lance Trevanion had now acquired from
daily labour and simple food the muscle and elasticity of an athlete in
full training. Hour after hour could he swing the pick and lift the
shovel weighted with clay and gravel, or wind up the heavy raw hide
bucket, fully loaded, without the slightest sense of fatigue, with
hardly a quickening of the breath. The healthful, yet abundant, food
always procurable at a prosperous digging, amply sufficed for all their
needs; the sound and dreamless sleep restored strength and tissue, and
sent them forth ready, even eager for the morning's toil.

As Lance walked among the tents, or strolled up the busy lighted street
on Saturday night, resplendent in clean flannels or a half-worn
shooting-jacket of fashionable cut, many an admirer of form, even in
that _lanista_ of magnificent athletes, the flower of the adventurous
manhood of many a clime, stopped to make favourable comment on the
handsome young Englishman who had come to the gully with 'Callao'
Hastings.

Just one day before the last one of the month, when the partners were
already inquiring the distance of the first stage to Forest Creek, Lance
broke into a stratum of decomposed rock mingled with quartz gravel. This
was from a foot to eighteen inches in depth, and extended across the
shaft. They did not know--ignorant as they were of the humblest mining
lore--what had happened till they consulted their guide, philosopher,
and friend, Hastings.

'Why, you've bottomed,' he made answer, with a look of profound wisdom,
'I'll go down and have a look at the "wash."'

They lowered him down. Ten minutes after he sent up the bucket,
half-full; then, after the rope was lowered, came up himself. 'Get a tin
dish and carry it down to the creek till I wash the "prospect,"' quoth
he.

He filled the dish with the 'wash-dirt,' as he called it, dipped it
again and again in the yellow waters of the creek, sending out the
clay-stained water with a circular twist of his wrist, in a way
incomprehensible to Lance and Jack. Lastly, when bit by bit all the clay
and gravel had disappeared, leaving but a narrow ring of black and gray
sand around the bottom of the dish, he spoke again--

'Look there,' he said meaningly.

They looked, and saw dull red and yellow streaks on the upper edge of
close-lying grains, with an occasional pea-like pebble of the same
colour.

'Is that--is that----?' asked Lance in a husky voice.

'Gold!' shouted Hastings, 'yes, that's what it is. I call it an ounce to
the dish, with eighteen inches of wash-dirt for the whole width of the
claim; your fortune's made. It's a golden hole, nothing less, and one of
the richest on the field.'

       *       *       *       *       *

So it was.... Day after day the partners cradled the precious gravel;
day after day they returned to their tent with a tin pannikin or camp
kettle containing enough of the precious metal to cause the most
pleasurable excitement in the owners, and to occasion exaggerated
reports of their wealth and the inexhaustible richness of the claim to
pervade the field.

'You'll have to look out now,' said Hastings, impressively, one day.
'You've got a most dangerous and unenviable reputation. You've supposed
to have gold untold in your tent. Do you know what that means here?'

'But we take our gold to the Commissioner every day,' said Lance, 'and
we see it sealed up and labelled and put in a safe before we leave.'

'That's all very well, and the most sensible thing you could do, but
nothing will persuade some of those fellows, with which the gully is
getting too full to please me, that you don't keep gold or cash in your
tent.'

'Well, what of that?'

'What of that among some of the greatest scoundrels unhung? Fellows that
for a ten-pound note would chop Mrs. Polwarth up for sausages and fry
Tottie with bread sauce, after knocking both of you on the head? You
don't know what a real bad digging crowd is, and when you do it may be
too late.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Now the reign of Plutus had set in, as far as Lance and his companion
were concerned. A few short weeks and how had their prospects changed.
What was now their position?--shovelling in gold at the rate of five
hundred pounds a week per man. It seemed like a dream, a fairy tale to
Lance. A year or so at most of this kind of work and he would be able to
return to England in the triumphant position of a man who had seen the
world, who had been, as the phrase runs, the architect of his own
fortune, who had boldly accepted the alternative rather than own himself
in the wrong, and who now had carried out what he had vowed to do in
spite of the incredulity of disapproving friends.

And his cousin, his beloved Estelle, what would be her feelings? He
wrote to her at once, telling her to abandon all doubt and fear on his
account. Where were her prophecies now? He should always bless the day
on which he sailed for Australia. He might even go the length of
thanking his father for his stern reproof, his unjust severities. After
all it had been for the best. It had made a man of him. Instead of
lounging about at home, or idling on the continent (for he would never
have taken his degree if he had stayed at Oxford till he was gray), he
had seen what a new country was like, met numbers of the most
interesting people, learned how to carry himself among all sorts of
queer characters, learned to work with his hands and to show himself a
man among men. To crown all, he was making eight or ten thousand a year.
With a little judicious speculation he was very likely to double or
quadruple this. And in three years from the day he left she would see
him back again, he had almost said dead or alive. What talks they would
have over his adventures and wonderful, really wonderful, experience!
loving each other as of old and rejoicing in one another's society. The
life agreed with him splendidly. He was in famous condition, and except
that he was sunburned and a little browner, there was no change to speak
of. She would be able to judge if he had altered for the worse in manner
or lost form. Perhaps he had roughened a little by associating with all
sorts and conditions of men, but it would soon come back again when once
more he found himself among his own people and near his heart's darling,
Estelle.

Thus far the welcome letter--how welcome those alone can tell who have
longed for tidings from a far country, who have waited with the
heart-sickness of hope long deferred, and have at length snatched at the
precious missive that told of safety and success, even of the
approaching return.

Estelle Chaloner treasured this missive from a far country, read it and
re-read it day after day: she watched the features change and the colour
fade from her uncle's face as he listened to the exulting cry with which
she announced a letter from Lance, watched the stern face soften and
heard the first words of regret which had passed his lips since the day
of wrath and despair.

'I was hard upon the boy, perhaps,--it's this accursed family temper, I
suppose,' he said. 'Where is the lad that isn't a fool in some way or
other! We are a stubborn breed, and once heated slow to cool. Tell him
when you write that he will be welcome again at Wychwood. Not to stay
away too long, though, whatever his good fortune may be, for I am not
the man I was, Estelle, and I should like to see my boy's face again,
before--before I die.'

Here the hard voice changed, the stern man turned his head. Could this
be Sir Mervyn? thought Estelle. In all her previous knowledge of him she
had never known him to express regret for any act, speech, or opinion
whatever, however placed in the wrong by after-consequences. That he
should be really regretful and repentant struck her in the light of a
species of miracle. More than that, it imbued her with a vague fear, as
if there was some impending ill when such an abnormal change took place
in the social atmosphere.

'Do not grieve, my dearest uncle,' said she, winding her arms around
him, with a look of beseeching tenderness. 'I know, from the way Lance
has written to me, that he has long since ceased to harbour resentment.
He knows that he was in the wrong, though he, and I too, must I confess
it, at the time, thought that you were too hard upon him. Depend upon it
we shall see him in a year, if not less, and all will be forgotten in
the joy of his return, in the triumph of his success.'

'God grant it,' said the old man, 'but I have evil dreams. I believe the
devil enters into a Trevanion at times. Perhaps Lance may break the
spell. If he has an angel for his wife like my darling Estelle, it will
be all the more likely.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Trevanion and party, of Number Six, Growlers' Gully, were 'fair on
it'--'had struck it rich, and no mistake,' in miners' parlance. Fame and
fortune were both theirs, assured, unchallenged; the fame, as in too
many cases in this world, considerably in advance of the fortune. His
partner, Polwarth, a shrewd, long-headed 'Cousin Jack' (as the Cornish
miners are called), stuck steadily to his work, stayed at home with his
wife and child, and beyond building a comfortable weatherboard-fronted
bark cottage for them, made no difference in his equilibrium.

But it was otherwise with Lance Trevanion. His striking appearance, his
manner and bearing, his reputation for wealth, coupled with romantic
tales of his family circumstances, commenced to make him a personage of
consideration, as well as to cause his society to be sought after in the
higher social strata in and around Ballarat. Even at the Gully, now that
it had developed a true and defined 'lead'--the auriferous course of a
dead and buried river of the past--a couple of branch banks had been
established, shops and hotels had sprung up.

All created organisms, during certain periods of their existence, are
capable of development. The conditions being varied, plants and animals,
including that strangely-constituted vertebrate, man, suddenly or by
graduation, but not less surely, expand and change, or decrease and
degenerate, as the case may be. Physical expansion does not invariably
presume moral advancement, and, indeed, the removal of restrictive
pecuniary conditions occasionally conduces to the reverse result. Alas!
that the delightful freedom from restraints which our civilisation
renders galling, which is often described by the phrase 'money being no
object,' should, in itself, be ofttimes that broad road leading to
irrevocable ruin, to destruction of body and soul.

When a man arises from sound and untroubled slumber at or about five
'A.M. in the morning,' _vide_ Mr. Chuckster, and within an hour is
commencing a long day's work, which process is continued week in, week
out, with the exception of Sundays, there is not much room or
opportunity for the Enemy of man, who proverbially finds work for 'the
unemployed.'

These, and chiefly for such reasons, were the dangers of 'Growlers'
Gully' during the early period of their existence--an eminently peaceful
and virtuous community. Hard at work from morn till dewy eve, that is
from daylight to dark, a matter of fourteen hours, there was scant space
or opportunity for riotous living. A quiet talk over their pipes before
the so-early bedtime, a glass of beer or grog at the unpretending
shanty, which, before the era of hotel licenses, was compulsorily modest
and unobtrusive, was the outside dissipation indulged in by the
'Growlers.' There was sufficient prosperity to produce hope and
contentment, but not enough, except in rarely exceptional cases, to
bring forth the evil craving for luxury and excitement. There was no
theatre, no gaming saloon (under the rose, of course), no inrush of
fiends, male and female, as upon a diggings of published richness; and
therein lay safety, had they known it, such as should have made every
man thankful, and every woman deeply grateful to the Higher Power that
had so ordered their destiny and surroundings.

So might, perchance, have continued their Arcadian freedom from evil had
not the exceptional richness of Number Six been known and bruited
abroad. But, somehow, principally through Lance's carelessness, it had
leaked out, been spread far and wide, been wildly exaggerated, and now,
every day new arrivals from the most unlikely places in other colonies
testified to the brilliant reputation which 'Growlers' had acquired.
Greatness, indeed, had been thrust upon them. There was no escaping the
celebrity, wholly undesired by the more thoughtful and fore-casting
miners. But the majority of the adventurers of the day were young and
inexperienced. Intoxicated with their suddenly-acquired wealth, they
were splendidly reckless as to the morrow. They ever welcomed the
irruption of the heterogeneous army of strangers which invaded their
hitherto rather close borough. They treated their rash migration, made
upon the flimsiest reports, as a humorous incident wholly appropriate to
goldfield life. As for the risks to which such an admixture might fairly
be held to expose the safety and solvency of the community, they were
contemptuously indifferent.



CHAPTER VI


Among the new arrivals who came in numbers to swell the gathering crowd,
whose huts and tents were now scattered for miles around the original
gully, which, owing to the chronic discontent of the prospectors, had
given its name to the locality, were some people from a distant part of
the neighbouring colony of New South Wales. They constituted a large
family party, comprising brothers, cousins, the mother of the young men,
their sister, and a friend or two. Their tents were pitched in an open
flat at no great distance from claim Number Six, and without any special
overture on either side, a casual acquaintance commenced which bade fair
to ripen into friendship. The migrating party were all native-born
Australians. Gold-lured, they had travelled in one encampment from their
homesteads on the upper waters of the Eumeralla, a tributary of the
Snowy River. In that mountainous region, thinly settled with scattered
families, tending their herds of wild cattle and wilder horses, had
these stalwart men and fearless girls been born and reared. The men were
fine athletic fellows, free and cordial in their manners, apparently
liberal and obliging in such small matters as came into notice. Apart
from his natural curiosity, too, as to the characteristics of this
company of 'Sydney natives,' as they were generally called--people of
pure British race and descent, who had never seen Britain--Lance was
attracted by their riding feats as well as by the high quality of the
unusually large number of horses which belonged to the party. That they
were consummate horsemen, he, a fair judge and performer in the hunting
field, at once perceived. Their ways of managing the animals, catching,
handling and saddling them, were all new to him. He came to walk over to
their tent in the evening, to talk over the gold news of the 'day', to
hear their stories of adventure by flood and field, to him novel and
interesting, and by no means unattractively rendered. Besides all this,
there was another appendage to the Lawless family--one which, since the
ancientest days, has sufficed to attract the ardent susceptible male of
whatever age and character with steady resistless force. There was a
woman in the case, and a fairly prepossessing damsel she was. The sister
of the young men, Kate Lawless, was indeed a very handsome girl.
Bush-bred and reared as she was, uneducated and wholly unacquainted with
many of the habitudes of civilisation, she comprised much of the
perilous fascination of her sex. Tall and slight, but with a rounded
symmetrical figure, there was an ease and unstudied grace in all her
attitudes, which an artist would have recognised as true to the training
of nature. Like her brothers, more at home in the saddle than in a
chair, she compelled admiration when mounted on her favourite horse, a
gray of grand action; she swept through the forest paths or amid the
awkward traps and obstacles of a goldfield with such perfection of seat
and hand as can only be obtained by that practice which commences with
earliest childhood. Her complexion was delicate, indeed, unusually fair,
save where an envious freckle showed that the summer sun had been all
too rashly defied, her soft brown hair was unusually abundant, while her
bright dark gray eyes had a glitter at times, in moments of mirth or
excitement, which denoted, either for good or ill, a character of no
ordinary firmness.

Lance Trevanion had been out of the way of female fascinations for a
considerable period. The o'ermastering strength of his feelings after
the quarrel with his father; the fierce, persistent determination with
which he had followed up the fortune which he had vowed to gain in
Australia, had for the time being dispossessed the minor frailties. But,
now that wealth had begun to pour in with a flowing tide, now that
leisure had succeeded ceaseless toil (for he had felt justified in
putting on a 'wages man'), now that flattery, spoken or implied,
commenced to indicate him as Trevanion of Number Six, 'a golden-hole
man,' and the half-owner of one of the richest claims on the field, the
ordinary results of more than sufficing money and time commenced to
exhibit themselves.

'I don't know that I like that Lawless crowd over-much,' said Hastings
to him one day. 'I'd be a little careful, if I were you.'

'Why, what's wrong with them?' answered Lance, rather hotly. 'They're
fine, manly fellows, and pretty good all round. They can ride and
shoot--they're very good with their hands--and I never saw smarter men
to work. Quite different from what I expected Sydney natives to be.'

'And their sister's a very pretty girl--eh! Come, don't be offended, I'm
only advising you for your good. But I met an old friend, who was a
squatter in their district, and he says they are a bad lot--gamblers and
horse-thieves--more than suspected of worse things, indeed.'

'Well, of course, your friend may be a little prejudiced,' answered
Trevanion, trying his best to repress his rising irritability. 'They may
have fallen out. What's the difference between squatters and drovers?
That's what they are. They told me----'

'What's the difference between country gentlemen and poachers?' replied
Hastings. 'You haven't been long enough in the country to know the ins
and outs of things. But, take my word for it, the sooner you drop your
native friends the better.'

'Really, my dear fellow,' answered Lance, putting on a lofty and
superior air, which his friend had never before observed, while the
strange glitter in his eyes became more intense with every word, 'you
must permit me to manage my own affairs and choose my own friends. I
have not been so long in the country as yourself, but I am not quite
devoid of common sense, and have seen a little life before I came here.
The Lawlesses are pleasant, manly fellows--quite as good as most of the
men we meet out here; and Miss Kate is a friend of mine of whom I shall
allow no one to speak disrespectfully.'

Hastings was an exceptionally cool man, or he would doubtless have
requested his interlocutor, shortly, to go to the devil his own way,
and, thereafter, have washed his hands of him. But he owed a debt of
gratitude for his first generous service which he was too sincere and
genuine to forget.

'You must take your own way, I suppose,' he said good-humouredly. 'We
won't quarrel, if I can help it. But I hope you won't have reason to
regret not taking my advice. Have you heard who the new Police
Magistrate is?'

'His name is Mac, something or other; comes from Tasmania, and knows
every escaped convict in the colonies by sight, they say.'

'Oh, Launceston Mac! Is that the P.M. who is to reign over us? No doubt
he's a good man, but a little too fond of appearing to know everybody,
and awfully severe. He's too quick in his decision, for my taste. I feel
like the sergeant in _Rob Roy_, who considers that, "Were it the
Bailie's own case, he would be in no such dashed hurry."'

'Oh, well, there are plenty of rascals here and to spare. He may try his
hand on them, and welcome.'

'There's a new Sergeant of Police, too,' he continued. 'Can't remember
his name; something like Barrell or Farrell. They say he's a "regular
terror," as Joe Lawless expressed it.'

'Frank Dayrell! Is _he_ come?' asked Hastings, with a change of tone. 'I
used to know him in a wild district out back, before the gold. There was
great joy when he left Wanaaring.'

'Why, what was the matter with him? I heard he was a very smart, active
officer.'

'All that,' said Hastings, 'but more besides--much more. Sergeant
Francis Dayrell bore the name of being one of the most unscrupulous,
remorseless men that ever touched a revolver. When he has duty to do,
he's all right. But, above everything, he must have a conviction. If he
can manage that, with his prisoner, well and good. If not--_caveat
captivus_.'

'Whatever he is,' answered Lance, 'it won't matter much to us. We can
afford to pay for "Miner's Rights" now,' he added laughingly, 'and
there's nothing else likely to bring us within the talons of the law.'

'I wouldn't make too sure of _that_,' his companion returned half
musingly, and with a strangely altered expression. 'Dayrell is a most
extraordinary man.'

That there was, in the early days of the great Australian gold
irruption, a large proportion of remarkable and exceptional characters
on all the goldfields, few who have the faintest recollection of that
socially volcanic period will be found to deny. It could hardly have
been otherwise. Adventurers of every sort and condition, of all ages and
both sexes, from every clime and country, had there congregated at these
wondrous auriferous centres. The first year's manual labour, which all
essayed as the recognised form of ticket in the lottery, saw many of the
unused toilers disgusted or discouraged. Meanwhile, a demand arose for
competent persons to fill appointments the emoluments attached to which
were calculated on war prices. The public and private service were both
undermanned. Hence, every day well-born and well-educated mining
amateurs relinquished the pick and shovel to become gentlemen, so to
speak, once more. The more fortunate became Goldfield Commissioners,
Police Magistrates, Customs Officers, Clerks, Agents, Storekeepers,
Inspectors of Police, Auctioneers, and what not. The salaries were
large; the profits extraordinary--in many cases far exceeding the gains
of the ordinary miner. The rank and file of the unsuccessful applicants,
fully equal, if not, in some cases, superior to the fortunate
competitors, contented themselves with becoming police-troopers, store
clerks and assistants, coach-drivers, billiard-markers, or barmen. In
all these conventionally humble situations they were, if sober and
shrewd, enabled to save money and lay the foundation of future opulence.
The police force--more particularly the mounted division--was popular
with the more aristocratic waifs. It afforded a reasonable degree of
leisure, a spice of danger, and the privilege of posing in _quasi_
military array, besides riding a well-appointed charger and wearing a
showy uniform. Among the privates and, so to speak, non-commissioned
officers of the force were to be found, therefore, a large proportion of
what, in a regular army, would have been called soldiers of fortune.
They were occasionally impatient of discipline, wild and reckless in
their habits, given to occasional brawling, drinking, and dicing, much
as were the Royalist soldiery in the days of the first Charles. But,
like them, they were brave to recklessness, cool and daring amid fierce
and lawless crowds, and of all that strangely gathered band the wildest
and most untamed spirit, yet the coolest, the most _rusé_, deadliest
sleuth-hound, by general acclaim and common report, was Sergeant Francis
Dayrell.

Tall and slight, with fair hair and beard, and a false air of almost
effeminate softness in his blue eyes, he was wonderfully active and
curiously muscular as compared with his outward appearance. That he had
received the education of a gentleman all could perceive. Of his family
nothing was known. Ever reticent about his own concerns, he was not a
man to be interrogated. An admirable man-at-arms--promoted, indeed, in
consequence of some exceptional deed of power, the taking, indeed, of a
desperate malefactor single-handed; he was an unsparing martinet to
those below him, merely respectful to his superiors in rank, and
habitually hard and merciless to the criminals with whom he had to
deal. With the exception of occasional boon companions, with whom, at
intervals, he drank deeply, and, it was alleged, gambled for high
stakes, he made no friends and had no intimates. Solitary, if not
unsocial, he was generally feared if not disliked, and the mixed
population of the goldfield, many of whom, doubtless, were conscious of
'sins unwhipt of justice,' united in giving the sergeant a very wide
berth indeed. Such was the man who had suddenly been transferred to the
police district which included Growlers' Gully and its vicinity.

Among his friends, the Lawlesses, Lance was not long in perceiving that
the sergeant's advent was not regarded as a wholly unimportant
circumstance. He rather wondered to hear the tone of mingled dislike and
bitterness with which the affair was discussed.

'Not that _they_,' Ned Lawless, the eldest of the brothers, and, in a
sense, the leader of the party, laughingly remarked, 'had any call to be
afraid, but there were friends of theirs, quiet, steady-going farmers
and drovers, upon whom this cove, Dayrell, had been tremendously
hard--treated them dashed unfairly indeed. So that if, by chance, his
horse came home some day without him, he, for one, would not be
surprised, nor would he be inclined to go into mourning for him.'

'If he only does his duty, though,' Lance could not help answering,
'_that_ ought not to make Dayrell unpopular.'

'There's ways and ways of doing things,' returned Ned. 'I quarrel with
no man for doing his duty--that he's paid for. But this man's a ---- dog,
and I'd shoot him like a crow if he came messing round me, and think
nothing of it either.'

Trevanion couldn't quite understand the savage tone with which these
words were uttered; he thought that something had occurred to put Ned
out, as he was habitually a good-tempered fellow. When he went to Kate
for an explanation, he found himself no nearer to a solution.

'I hate the sight of him,' she said, 'with his soft voice and sneering
ways. I believe he'd hang us all if he could. He nearly "run in" a young
man we knew on the other side, and him as innocent about the duffing as
the babe unborn. He'll get a rough turn yet, if he doesn't look sharp,
and serve him right, too.'

'But _you_ have no cause to mind his coming here, Kate,' he said in a
bantering tone. 'You've never stolen a horse, or "stuck up"
anybody--isn't that the expression?--(except me, you know). I wonder you
girls don't admire a handsome man like Dayrell.'

'I wouldn't mind laying him out for his coffin,' said the girl
vengefully. 'I might admire his features then. But,' and here her face
assumed, for a few seconds, an expression which caused her companion to
gasp in amazement, 'his turn may come yet, and if Frank Dayrell dies in
his bed he's a luckier man than some of us think he'll be. By Jove!' she
exclaimed suddenly, 'if that isn't him, and almost close enough to hear
me. He's the devil himself, I do believe.'

By a curious coincidence the unconscious object of this discussion had
emerged from a by-track, and, suddenly reining up, rode slowly past the
pair. Whatever his moral qualities he was utterly _point device_ as a
man-at-arms. His tall erect figure and _manège_ horsemanship were well
displayed on the handsome roan thoroughbred which he rode as a charger.
High boots, very carefully polished, with bit, stirrup-irons, and
sabre-scabbard glittering in the sun, showed the military completeness
of his equipment. At his sword-belt hung a serviceable navy revolver,
while from toe to chin-strap no smallest detail was omitted.

As his eye fell on Lance and the girl, he nodded and laughingly raised
his helmet.

'Well, Miss Lawless--we mustn't say Kate now, I expect--have you had a
ride after moonlighters lately? I expect Mr. Trevanion doesn't know what
the meaning of the word is. However, you and Ned will soon enlarge his
limited colonial experience.'

As the trooper rode slowly past them, his well-bred high-conditioned
horse arching his neck and champing the bit which had stopped him so
suddenly, the girl turned pale in spite of her angry look, and lowered
her defiant eyes. Without speaking more or altering his careless seat
and steady regard, he sauntered slowly on, with one foot dangling
sideways in the stirrup. For an instant his eyes met those of Trevanion,
who, irritated by the whole bearing of the man and a certain
ill-concealed air of authority, said, 'I daresay you'll know me again.
May I ask what reason you have for favouring Miss Lawless and me with
your particular attention?'

The sergeant's features slightly relaxed, though his eyes maintained the
same cold, penetrating inscrutable expression which had so annoyed
Lance, as he replied--

'Kate Lawless and I are old acquaintances, perhaps I can hardly say
friends. As for you, we may possibly be better acquainted in future. But
if you take my advice--that of a well-wisher, little as you may suppose
it--you'll stick to your claim, and be careful in your choice of
associates.'

Before the angry reply, which was rising to his lips, could find
utterance, the sergeant struck his charger lightly across the neck with
his glove and cantered off, raising his helmet in a half-mocking salute
to Kate Lawless.

'Insolent scoundrel,' said Lance, 'if he dares to address me again I'll
knock him off his horse. If I was in my own country I'd show him the
difference in our positions. But in this confounded country things are
turned upside down with a vengeance. But what did he mean by saying you
and he were old acquaintances?'

'He be hanged,' said the girl, whose colour and courage had apparently
returned. 'We never were nearer friends than to pass the time of day.
But he was stationed once on Monaro, where we all lived, and, of course,
he came to the place now and then. I think he was a bit sweet upon
Tessie, but she couldn't stand him and so he dropped coming to Mountain
Creek. He's not worth minding, any road. We'd better finish our walk and
get home for tea, I'm thinking.'

It was the early summer. The winter had been cold and wet. The Ballarat
climate is by no means of that exceptional mildness which the Briton
innocently believes to characterise the whole of Australia, making no
allowance for widely diverging degrees of elevation and latitude. It had
been severe beyond the usual average, wild and tempestuous. But now, all
suddenly the delicious warmth of the first summer months made itself
felt. Day after day witnessed the riotous growth of pasture and herbage,
the blooming of flowerets before the joyous sorcery of a southern
spring. Their path lay through the primeval woodland, bordered by an
emerald carpet studded with flower-jewels and redolent with balsamic
forest odours. As the shadows lengthened and the birds' notes sounded
clear and sweet through the evening stillness, the girl's voice, as she
told of wild rides and solitary experiences in their mountain home, had
a strangely soft and caressing tone.



CHAPTER VII


Following closely upon this little episode, a fresh discovery in Number
Six demonstrated to Lance Trevanion that whatever else was raw,
unfurnished, and disagreeable in Australia, the colony of Victoria
generally, and Growlers' Gully, in the district of Ballarat,
particularly, were the easiest places to make fortunes in, out of a book
of fairy tales. Each week the yield of the claim grew richer, the
balance at the bank to the credit of Trevanion and party became larger.
So imposing was it that Lance seriously thought of selling his share in
the claim to his mate, even if he lost a thousand or two by it. Jack
Polwarth was a good fellow, and what, indeed, did a little money matter
any more than an odd handful of precious stones to Sinbad in the valley
of diamonds? He would be at home with his friends in, say, half a year.
That is if he returned by India, took a look at the Himalayas, saw
Calcutta and Madras; or why not viâ Honolulu, getting by heart the new
world, including the Garden of Eden as exhibited in the isles of the
southern main, before reappearing triumphant in the old. What would his
father say now? Where would be his cousin Estelle's misgivings, that
unswerving friend and lady-love whose letters had been as constant as
her heart? What a heavenly change would it be once more to the ineffable
beauty and refinement of English society after the rude environment of a
goldfield, the primitive civilisation of an Australian colony, but so
few years emerged from the primeval wilderness.

It was with a sort of sob or gasp that he realised the dream-picture on
which he allowed his thoughts, a rare indulgence, to dwell. And after
all why should he not carry out his purpose? Why indeed? Strong and
unbending in matters of need and pressure, a certain indolence, an
occasional tendency to irresolution, formed a portion of his character
which often delayed prompt action and permitted opportunity to pass by.
The loitering life he lived at present, a central figure, so to speak,
amid admiring associates and envious adventurers, was pleasant enough in
its way. Then the old old temptation! It would give him, yes,
undoubtedly it would, a certain amount of pain and uneasiness to break
off finally with Kate Lawless.

Tameless in spirit as she was, reckless of speech and fierce of mood
when her ungovernable temper was aroused, Kate Lawless could be
wonderfully soft and alluring, like all such women, when the tender fit
took her. There was then a child-like simplicity and abandon which
caused her to seem, and, indeed, temporarily _to be_, a different woman.
She resembled one of those rare psychological studies--which are indeed
scientifically authenticated--who lead a dual existence. For no two
individuals could be more unlike than Kate Lawless in one of her
'tantrums' (as her brothers familiarly expressed it) and the same woman
when the paroxysm was over, imploring forgiveness and lavishing caresses
on the object of her causeless resentment. That there are such feminine
enigmas no student of humanity will deny. But with all her powers of
fascination, she was so uncertain in her mood that she caused Lance
Trevanion the most serious doubts whether she reciprocated the affection
which he had been repeatedly on the point of avowing for her. Sometimes
she was especially friendly, full of fun and vivacity, taking long rides
through the wild forest tracks with him, on which occasions she would
astonish him by the way in which she would ride at stiff timber or
gallop adown the rock-strewn ranges, breast high with fern, daring him
to follow her, and shouting to imaginary cattle. At these times her
whole aim and endeavour appeared to be to attract and subjugate him. At
other times she was cold and repellent to such a degree that he felt
inclined to break with her for ever, and to congratulate himself on
being quit of so strange and unsatisfactory a friendship.

He had not told himself, indeed, that he was prepared to marry her.
Democratic as he had become in many of his opinions, and conscious,
self-convicted, of falsehood and treachery to his cousin Estelle, he yet
in his cooler moments shrank from the idea of marrying an uneducated
girl of humble extraction, reared in a wilderness and bearing traces of
a savage life, beautiful exceedingly, and despite of her wilful and
untamed nature, wildly fascinating, as he confessed her to be. Thus
swayed by opposing currents, his heart and brain drifted aimlessly to
and fro for a space, while still a strange and unreal tinge of romance
was given to his life by the ever onward and favouring current of the
golden tide.

Although matters had not progressed sufficiently far on the pathway to
civilisation at Growlers' to establish a claim to society in any
conventional acceptation, yet was there a rudimentary germ or nucleus.
One or two of the Government officials were married. There was a
clergyman who had a couple of daughters, energetic, intelligent damsels,
who had adapted themselves with much tact to their unusual surroundings.
At the camp there were gatherings of the officials of various
grades--police, gold commissioners, magistrates, and so forth, with a
few of the more aristocratic adventurers whose names were known, and who
were armed with introductions. It would be inaccurate to deny that there
was a little loo now and then, also whist, of which the points were
certainly not sixpenny ones. To these rational expedients of passing the
time, which, when there was no actual business on hand, occasionally
lagged, Mr. Trevanion would have been a welcome addition; good-looking,
well-bred, and--more than all--exceptionally fortunate as a miner. But
to all these hints and suggestions he--with a certain perverseness
difficult to account for, and which was remembered in days to
come--obstinately turned a deaf ear. More than one hint--well meant--was
thrown out touching the expediency of being 'so thick with those
Lawlesses.' Of course one could understand a young fellow being
attracted by a handsome lively girl like Kate Lawless. In those wild
days every man was a law unto himself, and revelled in his freedom. Yet
was there not lacking, even in that _mêlée_ of rude adventurers and
unprecedented social conditions, more than one kindly adviser. There
were men who knew the world--European and Australian--well and
thoroughly. From them he received warnings and advice. But he repelled
all friendly aid, and obstinate with the perverse intractability of the
Trevanion nature, disregarded them all.

Beside outside acquaintance, in addition to Hastings and his mate Jack
Polwarth--who with his honest-hearted good little wife never ceased to
disapprove and to keep up a persistent warfare, so to speak, against the
Lawlesses--he had a friend within the fortress who more than once gave
him a warning, had he cared to avail himself of it.

Quiet and reserved as Tessie (or Esther) Lawless had always shown
herself, he had never fallen into the error of mistaking her for a
commonplace girl. Without the showy qualities of her cousin Kate, she
gave token from time to time of having been better educated and
differently brought up from the others. She was always treated with a
certain amount of respect, and, even in Kate's most irritating moods, as
she rarely replied, so was she the only one of the party who escaped her
scathing tongue.

She never appeared to seek opportunity to gain Lance's attention, though
when she did speak there always appeared to be some underlying reason
for her remarks. One of her characteristics was a steady disapproval of
the sharp tricks and double dealings of which her cousin often boasted,
and which Lance did not generally comprehend. He supposed them, indeed,
to be among the acknowledged customs of the country, and not considered
to be illegal or discreditable.

'They are nothing of the sort,' she was accustomed to say, with
considerable emphasis. 'They are theft and robbery--call them what you
will; they are certain to bring all concerned to the gaol at some time
or other. If people don't mind that, nothing I can say will have any
effect.'

'You'll have to marry a parson,' Ned Lawless would reply. 'What do you
think of the young chap that preached to us in the flat last Sunday?
Why, half the squatters began by a little "duffing." Nobody thinks the
worse of a man for that.'

'If they're caught they go to gaol,' replied the uncompromising Tessie.
'Then they're criminals, and can never look any one in the face again!
And serve them right too in a country like this, where the gold fairly
runs out of the ground into people's pockets.'

They all laughed at this, and the conversation dropped, while all
hands--the girls excepted--set to at a night of pretty deep gambling,
which lasted well into the small hours.

A fortnight after this, as Lance was sauntering down in the evening to
the Lawlesses' camp, he found to his great surprise that there appeared
to be no one at home. The tents were all down, and gone, but two.

One of the younger boys--a silent apparently stupid youngster of
fourteen--was in charge of the few remaining horses and the packs left
behind. He could give little or no information, except that the party
had moved to a new digging, of which he did not know the name, or,
indeed, in which direction it was. All he knew was that he and Tessie
had been left behind, to stay till they were sent for. All the horses
were gone but three. Tessie had gone out for a walk along the Creek, but
would be back soon. 'Here she comes now.'

The boy pointed to a female figure coming slowly along a track which
followed the banks of a little creek, near which the Lawlesses' camp had
been formed, and then walked over to where the hobbled horses were
grazing, as if glad to escape from the necessity of answering other
questions.

The girl approached with her head down, and her eyes upon the ground,
walking slowly, as if immersed in deep thought. Suddenly she raised her
head and gazed at him with a peculiar expression in her brown eyes. They
were not large, but clear and steadfast and--while she was speaking--had
a singularly truthful expression. There was a kind of half-pitying look
in them, Lance thought, which made him suppose that some misfortune had
happened to the little community, of which he had so lately been a
regular member and associate.

'What's the matter, Tessie?' said he. 'I can see at once that you are
troubled in your mind. Why are they all gone away? Didn't Kate leave any
word or message for me? All this is very sudden.'

'Mr. Trevanion,' said the girl, stopping short as he approached her, 'I
sometimes think you are the most innocent person I ever met. We natives
think young men from England are not very sharp, sometimes--but that is
mostly about bush work and stock, which they can't be expected to know.
But of all I ever met I think you are the most simple and--well, I must
say--foolish.'

'You are not complimentary,' replied Lance, rather sullenly, and 'You
don't rate my understanding very highly. May I ask if you have any
letter from your cousin Kate for me?'

'Yes, I have,' replied the girl, speaking with more energy than he had
ever before noticed in her, 'and I have been tempted to tear it to
pieces and leave you to guess the meaning. If I had acted as your true
friend--which I have always been--I should have done so. Take my advice
and drop us all--once and for ever. Why should you persist in making
friends of us? We are not good company for you--a born gentleman. Why
don't you behave like one, and leave people alone who are not your
equals in any respect?'

'May I ask for the letter you refer to?'

'Listen to me for the last time,' she said, coming closer to him and
looking earnestly into his face. 'Listen to me, as if I was your
sister--your mother--or the dearest friend in a woman's shape you have
on earth. I know what is in that letter. Kate wants you to join her and
the rest of the crowd at Balooka. Don't go! Do you hear what I
say?--_don't go_! or you will repent it to the last hour of your life.'

'Why should I not?' asked he. 'Are you not going yourself with Billy
here to-morrow?'

'I am _not_ going,' she said. 'I shall go to Melbourne to-morrow by the
coach, and, perhaps, never see one of them again, or you either. They
have been kind to me in their own fashion. I have eaten their bread,
and, therefore, I will not say more than I can help. But beware of Kate
Lawless! She is not what she appears to be! She is deceiving you, and
worse even than being the dupe of a heartless and unprincipled woman may
happen to you. Oh, promise me,' she said, 'promise me before I leave
that you will not go!'

'If I had any doubt, your last words have decided me,' he said, and as
the angry light commenced to gleam in his eyes the girl's expression
changed to that of wonder and strange terror, deepening visibly.

'It is himself!' she said, almost shuddering. 'Can there be two? Is the
Evil One walking on the earth and working his will as in the old old
days? You will not be turned now,' she went on. 'God is my witness that
I have done my best. Your blood be on your own head!'

'Say good-bye, Tessie,' he said. 'I shall never forget your good
intentions, at any rate.'

'Good-bye,' she said, in a tone of such sadness that he felt impressed
in spite of himself. 'You will not forget _me_. No, whatever happens you
will not do that. For your dead mother's sake, for your sister's, and if
there is any one dearer than either beyond the seas, for _her_ sake, God
bless and keep you.' And, waving her hands distractedly, like a woman in
a dream, she walked swiftly towards one of the tents, which she entered,
and was hidden from his view.

'Here it is,' she said, reappearing, 'if you will have it,' and, as if
moved to sudden despair, she cast the letter upon the ground with every
gesture of anger and contempt. 'If it was a snake you wouldn't pick it
up, would you? And yet,' she went on, suddenly dropping her voice to a
low, earnest whisper, 'the worst carpet snake you ever saw--a death
adder, even--would do you less harm than what's in that letter, if you
follow it. Be warned; oh, Mr. Trevanion, be warned.'

As she spoke her face softened, she leaned forward in a beseeching
attitude, her eyes filled, and this ordinarily reserved and
self-contained Tessie began to weep hysterically.

'Confound the girl!' said Lance to himself. 'What a terrible to-do about
nothing at all! What's the good of coming to Australia if one can't
choose one's own society? I might as well be in Cornwall again. Surely
this girl isn't in love with me, too?'

His unspoken thought must have manifested itself in some mysterious
fashion, though no word escaped him, for Tessie Lawless left off crying,
and, wiping her eyes, with a haughty gesture, appeared to return to her
usual composed bearing.

That night brought but little sleep to the eyes of Lance Trevanion. It
was late when he entered his hut, and, flinging himself on the bed
where, for the most part, he had known nought but dreamless repose, he
commenced to think over the situation.

Should he accept the warning so solemnly given by this strange girl,
who, before this, had manifested but little interest in his career, and
had lived a merely negative and defensive life?

'How little we know of people's natures,' thought he, 'women's
especially. Who would have thought this quiet girl had all this fire and
earnestness in her? Her warning squared curiously with all that he had
gathered from other sources. Was there something mysterious and by no
means fair and above-board about these Lawlesses? It looked like it. And
Kate! What an artful treacherous jade she had proved herself to be, if
what her cousin said was true. Well, at any rate, he would go and see
for himself. He knew, or thought he knew, enough of life not to entirely
trust one woman's word about another. If Kate was false and deceitful,
he would have the satisfaction of telling her so to her face. If she was
true, well, he really did not know what was to be done in that case. At
any rate, he would go and see. Yes, he would show he was not afraid to
meet them all, there or anywhere else.'

The fateful letter was short, badly written and worse spelled. It merely
stated that her brothers had settled to move to Balooka, naming a new
digging nearly a hundred miles away, and not far from the foot-hills of
the great Alpine range. They had gone into a large purchase in horses,
and were going to drive them to Melbourne in another month, when they
expected to make a lot of money out of them. 'If he cared to see her
again he might meet them next week at Balooka. The road went by
Wahgulmerang.' This precious epistle was signed, 'Your true friend and
well-wisher, Kate Lawless. P.S. If you only seen the black mare that was
gave me by a friend.'

There was nothing alarming in this apparently simple and guileless
missive. A ride to a new digging was not only a pleasant novelty, but
distinctly in the line of his occupation as a miner, now that he was an
authority as a 'golden-hole man' with local fame and reputation. He had
a good horse, and though stabling was expensive he had felt justified in
being well mounted, as the companion of such a horsewoman as Kate
Lawless. The reference to the black mare and the generous friend rather
piqued him, as was probably intended. He had never encountered any one
in the guise of a rival, and felt curious to see what kind of admirer
had come forward.

His preparations were not long in making. He informed Hastings and his
mate Jack that he was going to Balooka and might be absent for a week or
two.

They evidently suspected the nature of the magnet which was attracting
him, and by their manner showed anything but cheerful approval of his
plans; wise by experience, however, they refrained from expostulation.



CHAPTER VIII


More than once--many times, in fact--Lance Trevanion revolved in his
mind the strange mysterious warning which he had received from Tessie
Lawless. Careless, indeed reckless, as he had become lately in the
gratification of his caprices; safe in the possession of wealth hitherto
undreamed of and daily increasing; basking in a local splendour of
reputation based on the broad pedestal of success, there was yet
something in the girl's earnest tones and candour of mien which awed and
impressed him. Did she--could she--know anything really important? What
_could_ there be behind the scenes likely to operate prejudicially as
far as he was concerned? Why should he not go to this place which Kate
had named, stating playfully that it was rather an out-of-the-way hole,
but one which, as he was always praising up the beauties of English
scenery, he might like to see? '_She_ couldn't talk that sort of
rubbish, but there was a big dark mountain, a running river, not like
this ditch of a creek, and a flat beside it, like a small plain; snow,
too, in the winter. He'd better come up and see. It would be a change
after this beastly hot, dusty diggings.' So between idleness,
irresolution, and the lure of womanly wiles not weakened in witchery, in
a latter day and a newer world, Lance Trevanion finally decided to go to
Balooka. 'He had given his word,' he told himself, 'and what a man says
he should stand by, in great things or small. Such, at least, has always
been the wont of the Trevanions of Wychwood.'

So next morning he sent for and saddled his horse--an upstanding,
well-bred bay, with a star and two white hind legs, which he had bought
a month or two since from Ned Lawless. There was no finer horse on the
goldfield. More than once he had been asked from whom he had purchased
him, where he was bred, what his brand was, by inquiring admirers, after
a fashion which he was apt to dispose of hastily, if not rudely, as
betraying the ignorance and bad form of colonists.

He had intended to make a very early start, but it so chanced that there
had been an unusually rich washing-up the night before, and Jack
Polwarth, honest but unlettered, was most urgent that he should make the
deposit in the bank himself, receive the receipt, and see the amount
duly divided and paid in to their separate accounts. To this, after some
grumbling, he agreed, though not without declaring that Jack could do it
just as well himself, for Mr. Stirling, the manager of the branch of the
Australian Joint Stock Bank, then doing the chief business at
"Growlers'," was smart, straight, and plucky enough to run the Bank of
England, if that time-honoured institution had rated at its true value
the growing gold-crop of Australia, and opened there.

It may be here explained that the gentleman placed in charge of a branch
bank on a leading goldfield in Australia differs widely from the portly,
white-waistcoated, decorous potentate generally cast for the character
in the metropolis or the large towns of the settled districts. He must
be young, in order to undergo easily the shifts and privations of
goldfield life. High-couraged the man needs to be, who sleeps with one
revolver under his pillow and another at his right hand; himself,
perhaps, and his assistant, the sole custodians of a hundred thousand
pounds in gold and specie, within a bark-walled, bark-roofed shanty,
surrounded by an unscrupulous population, among whom, though not
disproportionately so, are some of the most reckless desperadoes,
refugees, and unhung murderers anywhere to be procured. He must be free
of speech and open of manner, so as in a general way to commend himself
to the miner of the period; a man, as a rule, who, while respecting and
preferring a gentleman in matters of business, abhors formality. It is
by no means to his detriment if, in his hours of ease, he demonstrates
his ability to give points at billiards or euchre to nearly all comers,
or to 'knock out in six rounds' the leading talent in the glove
tournaments periodically held. In addition to these various gifts and
graces he must have a cool and strong head, a firm will, and a resolute
determination to do his duty to his employers at whatever hazard, and
finally, while not holding aloof from the amusements of the hour, to
remain well governed, sober and temperate in all things, amid the
manifold and subtle temptations of the 'field.'

Oftener than not when the General Manager looks around among his more
promising juniors for the possessor of these qualities, he finds him
among the scions of the aristocratic families (for there are these in
all British Colonies, and recognised as such), the heads of whom,
holding Imperial official appointments, or having received grants in the
old colonial days, have failed to follow any of the numerous paths to
fortune trodden by their humbler comrades. In many instances the
unsuccessful colonist of this class--often a retired military or naval
officer--had anxiously desired to imbue his sons with that mercantile
knowledge in which he himself stood confessedly deficient. And the
youngsters, shrewdly observant of the weak point in the paternal career,
in a large number of instances, have developed an aptitude for business
which has regained for the family the status lost in the past.
Furthermore, in the occasional adventures of a more or less dangerous
nature, inseparable from a transitional state of society, the pioneer
financier has more than once exhibited an amount of courage and
coolness, including steadiness under fire, which has proved him a worthy
descendant of the grizzled veteran who, with clasps and medals for half
the battles in the Peninsular War, had never mastered the difference
between principal and interest, much less the mystery of debit and
credit balances.

Such a fortunate and not unusual combination was Charles--generally
known as Charlie Stirling. Him the miners on more than one 'rush' were
wont to pronounce emphatically 'a dashed good all-round man, if ever
there was one.' Australian born, and in right of such privilege,
standing six feet in his stocking soles, strong, lithe, sinewy, a fine
horseman, and a sure shot, courteous ever, yet, in business matters,
cautious if liberal, Charlie Stirling--one of a large family, in which
all the brothers were 'men and gentlemen,' and the sisters handsome and
intellectual--was, at that day, perhaps, the most popular and widely
trusted bank manager out of Melbourne.

It was with this personage that Lance determined, as he expressed it,
'to waste the morning' in delivering Trevanion and party's gold,
watching the same being weighed and the proceeds calculated at the rate
of three pounds seventeen shillings and sixpence per ounce, duly paid to
the credit of the accounts of Lancelot Trevanion and John Polwarth,
respectively.

Then, as he anticipated being absent a week or two--the weather was
getting very hot and he thought a change to a cooler climate would be
enjoyable--the idea suddenly occurred to him that he might as well leave
his brass-bound trunk containing all his English souvenirs and
valuables, including letters and papers, in Mr. Stirling's care. 'The
tent might be burned down or robbed in his absence,' he bethought
himself, 'and Stirling is such a brick that if I came back in ten years
instead of ten days, it would be as safe as when I left it. There are
not so many men I'd say the same of, but if there's any man to whom the
old boast "you can trust your life to him" applies, that man is Charlie
Stirling!'

Between business and pleasure the day was pretty nearly disposed of. His
valise had been packed in the morning. The bright bay horse was faring
well in the stable of the 'Prospector's Arms' hard by the bank--where
all hands went to lunch at Mr. Stirling's invitation. He and his clerk
lodged there, as far as meals went, though they took care--as, indeed,
was strictly necessary--to sleep at the bank. Mrs. Delf, the smart and
proverbially energetic landlady, was instructed to prepare a more than
usually _recherché_ collation. Champagne ornamented the festive board,
of which a local magnate--the opulent squatter of the vicinity--was
invited to partake, and all things being fittingly concluded, Lance
Trevanion made his adieus.

'Well, good-bye, Stirling!' he said, as he mounted the resolute bay, who
arched his neck and gave a playful plunge. 'You'll honour my drafts, I
suppose? and, by the bye'--here he drew a rather large envelope from his
shooting-coat pocket--'keep this till I return. I had a fit of the blues
last week, and scribbled what you'll find inside. Good-bye, Jack'--here
he shook hands with Polwarth--'I'll ride by the claim, and say good-bye
to Tottie and her mother.'

Half an hour's fairly fast riding brought him to the claim, alongside of
which stood the rude canvas shelter which had for so many weeks, even
months, filled the place of 'home' for all the party. A true home in the
best sense had it been. There had the little party enjoyed, so far,
peace, security, warmth and shelter, sound sleep and wholesome meals.
Near it was the shaft through whose incursion into Mother Earth's
interior the _esse_, to be so much more noble _in posse_, had been reft
by hard and honest toil. Even such a dwelling is not quitted wholly
without regret.

'Well, good-bye, Mrs. Polwarth!' he cried as he rode up to where that
worthy matron--having placed a gigantic loaf in the hot ashes of the
recent fire in the open chimney--was washing and cleaning up all her
belongings. 'I'm going away for a week.'

'Where to, sir?' she queried, 'if I may make bold to ask.'

'Well, up the country a bit. Ned Lawless wants me to join him at a new
diggings, more than a hundred miles from here.'

'Ned Lawless!' the good woman echoed in a tone of voice by no means
expressive of satisfaction. 'And what call have you, Mr. Lance, to go
making free with the likes of him? I don't like none of the breed--men
nor women, if you ask me, and what I've heard is a deal worse than what
I've seen. They're most like a lot of gipsies, to my thinking, as a
cousin of mother's went away with, and never was heard of no more. Don't
have no truck with them, Mr. Trevanion. What 'ud the squire say?'

This last appeal, like many well-meaning deterrents, signally failed of
its effect. With a frowning brow, such as Mrs. Polwarth had rarely if
ever seen, Lance turned his horse's head, muttering, 'Don't talk
nonsense, Mrs. Polwarth; things are very different from Cornwall, and
the Lawlesses are my friends. I'll trouble you not to----'

At that moment, when, perhaps, something of the fierce nature of the
man--of late subjected to wholesome influences--might have broken forth,
a voice was heard saying, 'Kiss Tottie, Lance,' and that rosy little
innocent, bright-haired and blue-eyed, like one of Guido's angels, ran
forward from the tent almost up to the horse's shoulder. 'Keep away,
Tot,' he called out, springing down. 'You little puss, do you want
Pendragon to tread on your naughty toes?' The child ran to him, as if
secure of welcome, and throwing her arms round his neck, kissed him on
brow and eye, with all the loving abandon of childhood. 'Come back soon
to Tottie,' she cried. 'Naughty Lance, to go away.'

'Lance come back soon,' he said, and his face softened as he looked at
the child, in a way which showed how the finer chords in that mysterious
mechanism, the human heart, may be stirred by one touch of simple
nature. 'And I'll bring a bag of sugar-plums twice as big as this,'
diving into his pocket and throwing towards her a large paper
receptacle of sweets. 'Bye-bye, Tottie. Good-bye, sweetheart, good-bye,'
he carolled forth, as he struck spurs into his horse, and disappeared
round a turn of the winding, tree-girdled forest-road. 'May the Lord
keep him from all evil, and from the Adversary,' said Mrs. Polwarth, a
sound disciple of Wesley. 'His heart is that good, if his head's a bit
wrong set.'

Lunch had been, perhaps, slightly protracted owing to the accompanying
champagne, one consequence of which was that after going back to the
claim, and saying good-bye to Mrs. Polwarth, not to speak of putting a
few of his personal possessions in order at the tent, Lance Trevanion
found on reference to the sun's height above the horizon that it was
much later in the day than he supposed. It would not be possible without
hard riding to make the stage he had proposed. There was nothing to be
gained that he knew of by saving a day in the expedition; he therefore
decided to stay quietly in the township that night, stable his horse at
the hotel stables, retire early, and make a 'daylight start.' An
apparently trivial disturbance of his original plan, yet upon such
diminutive difference in action what enormous consequences frequently
depend.

Day had scarce broken as Lance Trevanion rode down the slope and across
the creek flat, which so lately the Lawless encampment had occupied and
rendered home-like, where he had passed so many a pleasant hour. Empty
and deserted, it wore to him, now, a forlorn and melancholy aspect. The
boy had evidently packed the tents and removed the remaining chattels
according to instructions. Tessie was, of course, also gone. She had
indeed been seen on the Melbourne coach.

The day promised to be perfect. The sun stealing through the eastern
woods was slowly irradiating the sombre slumberous landscape. Mists were
rising from the lower levels, forming lakelets of white vapour, into
which capes and promontories ran, and islands floated. The birds
awakened by the sun-rays commenced with note of carol to welcome the
golden azure day. The well-bred hackney stepped out gaily, shaking his
head and making his curb-chain ring in a fast and easy walk. 'What a
glorious climate! What a grand country this is!' thought he. 'How free
is every man's life here, untrammelled by the vexatious restraints of a
narrow society. The very air is intoxicating. Joyous, indeed, is this
life in a new world!'

The journey was much longer, besides being rougher as to wayfaring, than
Lance had expected. Following the directions given to him and the
straggling tracks which the earlier digging parties had made, he began
to approach the celebrated Balooka 'Rush.' He had noticed that he was
gradually quitting the open forest country. All suddenly, after toiling
up one range after another, he found himself upon a mountain plateau.
Beneath this, and beside a rushing, brawling, snow-fed river, wholly
unlike any stream which Lance had yet seen in Australia, lay, far adown
a deep glen, the already populous mining camp.

Lance gazed with astonishment at the novel and picturesque landscape.
'Am I in North Wales again?' he could not help asking himself. 'Who
would have thought to have seen such a river? Such richly green
meadowlands? Such a stupendous glen? And oh!' he thought, as he passed
round a cape of volcanic trap-rock which impinged upon the smooth
upland, 'what magic and enchantment is this?' Yes, truly, as a loftier
line of summit of the great Alpine mountain chain which bisects the
continent came into view. So sudden was the surprise, so strangely
contrasted with all his preconceived ideas of Australian scenery was the
presentment of the wondrous white battlements upreared against a
cloudless azure sky, that he was constrained to rein in his horse and
gaze, silent and spellbound, at the supernal splendour of the
apparition. 'If Estelle were by my side! If she could but behold this
entrancing prospect,' he thought. 'She, whom the view of a far blue
range of hills, of a peaceful lakelet, would send into ecstasies of
admiration! How often had they stood together in the fading summer eve
and gazed at the wide and wondrous landscape, as they then deemed it,
which extended for some twenty or thirty miles around Wychwood.' Here,
with a new world unfolding to his gaze, what crowds of ideas and
half-formed projects coursed through the adventurous brain of the gazer.
Born of the class and moulded of the race which had produced the
immortal voyagers, the unconquered warriors, the dauntless adventurers
of Elizabeth's reign, Lance Trevanion needed but the stimulus of his
present surroundings to be inspired with lofty and enterprising ideas.
His original intention of returning home and settling down to the
monotonous and luxurious stagnation of an English country gentleman's
life became hateful to him. Far rather, if Estelle would join him here,
would he invest in these half-tamed Australian wilds, acquire a
principality along with the colossal herds and countless flocks of the
typical squatter, which magnates he had seen and heard tell of.
Eventually, he would embark with a capital sufficient to buy up half the
Duchy, to restore the House of Trevanion to its ancient grandeur, and go
down to posterity as _the_ Trevanion, the latter-day champion of the
race, who had redeemed the once regal name from the mediocrity which had
oppressed and disfigured it. But these momentous plans and enterprises
could by no means be carried out without the companionship and solace of
'one sweet spirit to be his minister,' and in that hour of exultation
and unfaltering confidence there came to him, like the strain of distant
music, the low, sweet tones--the gentle chidings of his queenly Estelle.
_She_ would, unless he misjudged her, follow him to the ends of the
earth. Why, then, should he wait to linger here amid rude
surroundings--even ruder society? His business could be quite as well
managed in his absence by the faithful Jack Polwarth. How suddenly the
idea struck him! Why, he could take his passage in the _Red Jacket_--she
was to sail in a fortnight; he had seen the advertisement in the Port
Phillip _Patriot_ of the day before he left Growlers' Gully--and be in
England in six weeks! A month or two in England, a honeymoon trip on the
continent, and they could be easily back here before next winter. Miners
had done it, even in his experience. The great thing was to make a
start. He would not lose time. He had lost too much already. He had half
a mind to turn now, and get back as far as the Weather-board Inn he had
seen about ten miles distant. What was the use, after all, of seeing
this new field, Balooka--or the Lawlesses--which meant Kate? What good
could come of it? Perhaps the reverse, indeed. Was there really anything
hidden, at which Tessie had clearly hinted? So sharply and clearly did
this new view of his plans and prospects strike him. May there not be
moments when the voice of a man's guardian-angel sounds with a strangely
solemn and distinct warning in his ears, for the moment drowning, as
with a harp of no earthly tone, the fiend-voice which ever seeks to lure
him to his doom? It would appear so. For even as Lance Trevanion turned
his horse's head, and paced slowly, but resolvedly, in the opposite
direction by which he had advanced, a woman rode at half-speed from out
one of the forest tracks--leading a saddled horse--and reined up with
practised ease in the main road, almost beside him. It was Kate
Lawless.

For the moment he could scarce believe his eyes. He awoke from his
day-dream with a half sense of disloyalty to his promise, as the
startled gaze of the girl rested upon him. Their eyes met. In hers he
thought he recognised a surprised and doubtful expression, unlike her
usual fearless regard. She looked athwart the track adown which she had
come, and along the main road into which she had entered. At the first
clattering sound of her horse's hoofs Lance had turned his horse's head
in the direction of Balooka, so that she had not the awkward admission
to make that he had been retracing his steps.

'Did you meet or pass any one on the road?' she said, as soon as they
had interchanged greetings. 'I couldn't hardly make out who you were
when I came up. Sure you seen no one?'

'Not a soul, except a Chinaman,' he said; 'but what does it matter? I've
met _you_--and you have ever so much more colour than when I saw you
last. How becoming it is!' And, in truth, the girl's cheeks showed a
heightened hue, whether from emotion or exercise, which he had never
observed before during their acquaintance.

For the rest, she looked handsomer than he had ever thought her. Her
graceful figure swayed easily in the saddle as she steadied her
impatient horse--an animal of high quality, and, unknown to Lance, as
was also the thoroughbred she was leading. Her hair had become loosened
at the back from the great knot in which it was mostly confined, and
hung in bright luxuriance almost to her waist. Her eyes sparkled, her
smile seemed the outcome of unaffected pleasure at meeting Lance again.
The old witchery asserted itself--old as the birth of history, yet new
and freshly fair as the dawning day. For the time Lance felt
irresistibly impelled to follow where she might lead, to abide at all
hazards in the light of her presence.

Where were now the high resolves--the lofty emprise of a short half-hour
since? _Où sont les neiges d'antan?_ Gone, gone, and for ever! Was there
a low sigh breathed beside him as he rode close by her bridle-rein adown
the long incline, in which they could see the diggers' tents in
thousands whitening the green valley beneath them?

'So you have come to see us at last,' she said archly. 'I began to
think Tessie had frightened you off it. I can't tell what's come to the
girl. Billy told me she'd been pitching a lot to you: how bad we was,
and all the rest of it.'

'I said I would come, didn't I? and here I am. And a grand country it
seems to be. But what are you about, yourself, and whose horse, saddle,
and bridle are they? You haven't been "shaking" them? isn't that the
word?'

'No fear,' she answered--half shyly, half angrily, as it appeared to
him. 'I suppose you think we haven't got a decent horse. I rode out with
Johnnie Kemp--one of our chaps that's working a claim at Woolshed Creek,
and brought back his horse for him.'

'Johnnie Kemp knows a good horse when he sees him,' he replied, as he
looked at the well-bred animal. 'You'd wonder how they got such a coat
up here. And how is Ned? You left Growlers' Gully rather suddenly, don't
you think?'

'That was all Ned's doing; he heard about this place being so good, and
was afraid to wait. He and the boys have got a first-rate claim here;
but he's been buying a lot of horses lately, and talks of starting for
Melbourne with a mob next week.'

'That would suit me exactly,' said Lance. 'I should like to make one of
the party, for I intend to be in Melbourne some time before the month is
out.'

'What makes you in such a hurry to get to Melbourne?' the girl asked,
and, as she spoke, she leaned across nearer to him and laid her hand on
his horse's mane, holding her bridle-rein and the led horse in her right
hand. 'Old Pendragon looks lovely, don't he? You'd better stop and keep
me company while Ned's away. I shall be as miserable as a bandicoot, for
the chaps are away more than half the time, and this is a roughish
place--a deal worse than Growlers'; poor old Growlers'--I always liked
the place myself.'

As she spoke, her voice became lower, with a softened, appealing tone in
it which strangely stirred the pulses of the listener. The day was
nearly done; the solemn summit of the snow range was becoming paler, and
yet more pale, as the crimson and gold bars of the sunset sky faded out.
There was a hush, almost an unbroken silence in the forest; far beneath,
still, the mining camp appeared to be a mimic _corps d'armée_, from
which one might expect to encounter sentinel and vedette. The girl's
gray eyes were fixed upon him with a pleading, almost childish
intensity. It was one of those moments in the life of man--frail and
unstable as it is his nature to be--when resolutions, principles, the
experience of the past, the hopes of the future are swept away like
leaves before the blast, like driftwood on the stream, like the bark
upon the ocean when the storm-winds are unchained.

What an Enchantress is the Present; Ill fare the Past and the Absent! be
they never so divine of mien, so spotless of soul. Lance Trevanion
placed his hand on the girl's shoulder as she looked up in his face with
the smile of victory. 'I shall have to take care of you, Kate, if Ned's
going to desert the camp,' he said. 'I suppose he won't be wanting to
settle in Melbourne.'



CHAPTER IX


They rode quietly adown the winding track, which the sharpness of the
grade rendered necessary, until finally reaching the wide green flat,
they halted before the much-vaunted 'rush' of Balooka. The early summer
sun's rays in that temperate region had as yet been unable to dim the
green lustre of the herbage, or turn to dust the close sward of the
river meadows. The contrast was sharply accented in this still dreamy
eve between the brilliant tones of the levels and the sombrely-purple
shadows of the overhanging mountain, the faintly-burning sunset tints,
while through all sounded the rhythmic murmur of the rushing river
rippling over slate and granite bars, in the crevices of which were
'pockets' filled with gold. The strange blending of sounds which arose
from the camp--an occasional shot, the barking of dogs, the low hum of
many voices indistinctly heard--were not devoid in unison of a rude
harmony.

'Can anything be more wonderful than this change of scenery?' exclaimed
Lance admiringly. 'Who thought there _could_ be such a spot in
Australia? It is lovelier than a dream!'

'It don't look bad,' assented his companion. 'That's our camp to the
right. You can see they've yarded the horses. Ned's in front with his
gray horse, and I spot a stranger or two. Perhaps he's sold the mob "to
a dealer."'

Touching the led horse with the quince switch which she used as a
riding-whip, Kate dashed into a hand-gallop, and, riding at speed across
the boggy runlets which trickled from the hills, pulled up short at a
cluster of tents somewhat away from the main body of miners. They had
been pitched close to the edge of the far-extending flat; nearly
opposite was a brush and log stockyard, in which were nearly a hundred
horses.

Springing from her horse, though still holding the two bridles in her
hand, the girl walked up to her brother, saying as she came, 'It's all
right, Ned, Trevanion's come with me. I fell in with him--My God!' she
continued in an altered tone, 'what's up?' Then for the first time
turning her searching glance on the plainly-dressed man with a slouched
felt hat who stood by her brother's side, she exclaimed, 'Frank Dayrell,
by the Lord! Why, I thought you were a hundred miles off. What call have
you to be worrying and tracking us down, like a black-hearted bloodhound
that you are?'

'Hold your d--d chatter, Kate, can't you?' said her brother, whom she
now noticed had handcuffs on, though, with his hands before him, it was
not at first apparent. 'Why the devil didn't you keep away when you were
away? I thought you and he were gone for good.'

'Johnnie Kemp was only going as far as his claim; you know that,' she
answered, with a meaning look, though her cheeks grew pale and her lips
became hard and set. 'Now, Sergeant Dayrell, what are you going to do to
me--put the bracelets on, eh?'

Then this strange girl burst into a wild fit of laughter, which, though
bordering on hysterical seizure, was yet sufficiently natural to pass
for her amused acknowledgment of the humour of her situation.

At this moment Lance Trevanion, who had been gazing around with the air
of a man surprised out of all ordinary power of expression, dismounted
and advanced towards the man-at-arms.

'Sergeant Dayrell,' he said, 'I am quite at a loss to understand these
very strange proceedings. Have you a warrant for the arrest of my friend
Lawless here? Is he to be punished without trial? And for any rashness
to this young lady here be assured that I will hold you accountable.'

The trooper smiled grimly as his eye, cold and contemptuous, met that of
the excited speaker.

'Your _friend_, as you call him, is arrested on suspicion of stealing
certain horses missing from the Growlers' Gully and the Ballarat field
generally, several of which, in that yard, are already identified.
_Miss_ Kate Lawless will have quite enough to do to clear herself. She
knows where that led horse came from. As for you,' and here his voice
suddenly became harsh and menacing, 'the horse you ride is a stolen one,
and I arrest you on the charge of receiving, well knowing him to be
such. Put up your hands.'

Lance Trevanion had come nearer to the sergeant as he spoke, the frown
upon his face becoming yet more ominous and dark, while the gloomy fire
in his eyes had become strangely intense. As the sergeant spoke the last
word he drew his revolver, and pointing it full at the young man's head
advanced upon him. He doubtless calculated upon the surprise which in
the case of most criminals, alleged or otherwise, rendered them easy of
capture, for he signed to one of the men in plain clothes who stood near
to bring the handcuffs ready in his hand. But at that moment Trevanion,
springing forward, knocked up the barrel of the revolver, and, catching
his enemy fair between the eyes with his left, felled him like a log. He
lay for an instant without sense or motion. Before Lance had time,
however, to consider what use he should make of his instinctive success
the two constables were upon him from either side. He made one frantic
struggle, but the odds were too great, and after a short but severe
contest the fetters were slipped over his wrists with practised
celerity, and the locks being snapped, Lance found himself, for the
first time in his life, a fettered captive.

The sergeant rose slowly to his feet and gazed upon the young man, now
breathless and held on either side by the myrmidons of the law. His brow
was flushed and red, but there was, at present, no mark of
disfigurement.

'That was one for you, Dayrell,' said the mocking voice of Kate Lawless,
as she stood by her brother, with a jeering smile on her lips. 'My word,
Lance Trevanion, you got home then if you never get the chance of
another round. Why don't you slip the bracelets, sergeant, and have it
out man to man? I'll see fair play. You've a lot of science, we all
know, but I'll back Lance for a tenner. What do you say?'

The expression on the sergeant's face had never varied from the cold and
fixed expression which it had worn when he made the charge against
Lance, but now he relaxed visibly and wore a comparatively cheerful air.

'You are a good straight hitter, Trevanion,' he said, 'and I like a man
all the better for being quick with his hands. I didn't count on your
showing fight, I must say. But you never can tell what a man will do the
first time he's shopped. You'll know more about it before we've done
with you.'

'Good God!' said Trevanion, 'you don't surely mean to say that you
believe I have had anything to do with stealing horses? I may have been
deceived. I begin to suspect that I have, but how many men have bought
stolen horses on the diggings without a thought of anything dishonest?
What reason have I either, a man with more money than he knows what to
do with?'

'You can tell all that to the Bench,' said the sergeant coldly. 'All I
know is that I find you in possession of a stolen horse and the
associate of horse-stealers. You must stand your trial like other men.'

Had the mountain suddenly rolled down, filled up the river, and
pulverised the camp, Lance's astonishment could not have been more
profound. He groaned as he felt the touch of the cold iron, and then
sullenly resigned himself to the indignity.

'Now, Miss Tiger-cat,' said this modern presentment of Nemesis, '_you_
know pretty well where the horse you were riding came from, and where
the one you were leading ate his corn a week ago. I must take them with
me, but you can have your side-saddle. Whether you're brought into this
racket depends on yourself, _you understand me_.' And with a meaning
glance the sergeant turned to his men. 'One of you take the prisoners to
the lock-up. Shoot either of them if they try to run. The other take
these three horses and secure them at the camp stable. I'll remain here
till you come back to watch these horses in the yard.'

The little procession moved on. The fettered prisoners--now linked
together--the three led horses. The number was swelled by dozens of idle
or curious spectators to nearly a hundred before they reached the
temporary but massive wooden building which did duty as a gaol; and
therein, for the first time in his life, Lance heard a prison key
turned, and a prison bolt shot, upon--himself.

Words are vain things, after all. Who can essay to describe--be it ever
so faintly traced--the mingled shame and surprise--the agony and the
sorrow--the wrath and despair of the man unjustly imprisoned? Think of
Lance Trevanion, young, gently nurtured, ignorant, save by hearsay, of
crime or its punishment, suddenly captured, subjected to durance vile,
in danger of yet infinitely greater shame and more lasting disgrace.
Haughty and untamed--so far removed by race and tradition from the
meaner crimes from which the lower human tribes have for ages suffered,
it was as if one of the legendary demon-lovers of the daughters of men
had been ensnared and chained. Ceaselessly did Lance Trevanion rave and
fret on that never-to-be-forgotten night. The dawn found him pale and
determined, with set face and drawn lips. Every vestige of youth seemed
to have vanished. Years might have rolled on. A careless youth might
have been succeeded by the mordant cares of middle age. So changed was
every facial line--so fixed the expression which implied settled
resentment of an outrage--even more, the thirst for revenge!

When he became--after hours of half-delirious raving--sufficiently calm
to reflect upon and realise his position, nothing could be clearer than
the explanation. Scales seemed, metaphorically, to have fallen from his
eyes. How blind! How imbecile had he been, thus to walk into the trap
with his eyes open! _This_, of course, was what the girl Tessie had
meant when with such disproportionate earnestness she had warned him not
to go on this ill-fated journey. She knew what Ned Lawless's past had
been, what any 'business' of his was likely to be; and Kate--double-dyed
hypocrite and false-tongued jade that she was--how she had lured him to
his doom. Perhaps not exactly that, for, of course, his utter ignorance
of their villainy would appear on the trial, if it went so far, and as
to buying a stolen horse it was next to impossible to avoid
that--numbers of people he knew had done so; and then, what motive could
she have for enticing him to Balooka, when she must have known the
tremendous risk to which she was exposing him? She, surely, had no
reason to wish to injure him? Surely, surely, not after her words, her
looks, her changes of voice and expression, all of which he knew so
well! But throughout, and above and below all his thoughts, imaginings,
and wonderings, came with recurring and regulated distinctness--What a
fool I have been, what a fool, what a thrice-sodden idiot and lunatic!
_Now_ he knew what the friendly warning of Hastings meant. _Now_ he
understood Mrs. Polwarth's dislike and Jack's blunt disapproval of that
intimacy.

It was easily explained. He had had to buy his experience. He had paid
dearly for going to that school. And who were, proverbially, the people
who would learn at no other? Fools, fools, again fools!

The day had passed without his touching the simple food which had been
placed before him. At sundown the constable who came to see that his
prisoner was all right for the night, pitying his evident misery, and
accepting the non-absorption of food and drink as an incontestable proof
of first offence, tried to persuade him to 'take it easy,' as he
expressed it.

'You've never been shopped before, that's seen. Well, it's happened to
many a good man, and will again. Don't go back on your tucker. You've a
long ride before you. We shall start back for Ballarat to-morrow. If you
get clear, you're all the better for not losing heart. If you don't, it
won't matter one way or the other.'

Lance nodded his head. Speech--to talk as he did when he was _that other
man_, the man who was a gentleman, free, proud, stainless, who never
needed to lower his eyes or doff his hat to any living being--to him now
speech was impossible.

The policeman looked at him, turned again, and shook his head and walked
out, locking and bolting the door mechanically.

'Dashed if I can make out that case,' said the trooper to himself.
'Dayrell knows why he arrested that young fellow, I don't. Any child can
see he didn't stand in with that crowd. They've had him soft, selling
him a cross horse as any man might have knowed was too good for them to
own on the square; but if he gives up the horse they can't touch him, I
should think. He floored Dayrell though, and that'll go agin him. The
sergeant can make it pretty hot for them as he don't fancy.'

Early next morning, half an hour after a pannikin of tea and a plate of
meat surmounted by a large wedge of bread had been placed in his cell,
Lance Trevanion was taken out and placed upon a horse. He was helped
into the saddle, the feat of mounting in handcuffs being rather a
difficult one to the inexperienced captive, as any gentleman may
discover by tying his hands together and making the attempt. He was
permitted to hold the reins by means of a knot at the end, and, with
some limitation, to direct the animal's course. But a leading-rein was
buckled to the snaffle, by which a mounted trooper led his horse. Ned
Lawless, also handcuffed, was similarly accommodated. One trooper rode
ahead, one behind. Neither of the prisoners' horses were such that if
they had got loose and essayed to escape, would have had much chance by
reason of superior speed. They were leg-weary screws, and were, indeed,
nearly due for superannuation, the goal of which would be reached when
they had carried (and risked the lives of) a few dozen more prisoners.
Dayrell remained behind at Balooka. Possibly he had some reason for the
delay, but if so he did not disclose it.

What a different return journey was this from the commencement of it,
when Lance had set out so light of heart, so joyous of mood, his pockets
full of money, his credit unlimited, all the world before him, as the
ordinary phrase goes; able to pick and choose, as he supposed, among the
world's pleasures and occupations, to select, to examine, to purchase,
to refuse, at his pleasure. A good horse under him, the fresh forest
breeze in each inhalation exhilarating every pulse as he rode at ease or
at headlong speed through the winding forest track. A man, a gentleman,
rich, successful, respected, more independent than a king and unlike
him, free to come or to go at his own sovereign will and pleasure.

And now, how had a few short hours, a conspiracy, heedless imprudence,
and malign fate changed and disfigured him. A prisoner fettered and
confined, charged with a grave offence, at the mercy of a severe and
unscrupulous officer whom he had been imprudent enough to defy and later
on to resist, what might he not expect?



CHAPTER X


Long and deadly wearisome was the journey to Ballarat. Necessarily slow,
it became insufferably tedious to impatient men who had been used to
take counsel but of their own will and caprice. An early start, a late
ending to the dragging day's journey, broken but by a short mid-day
halt. Such was the order of Lance's return to Ballarat, until, on the
fifth day, they saw once more in the distance the smoke of the thousand
camp fires and heard the distant surge-like murmur of the army of the
Mine.

Wearied and heart-sick, melancholy and furious by turns, Lance Trevanion
almost commenced to doubt of his own identity. When they arrived at the
camp he found himself led forward between two troopers and half
conducted, half pushed into a cell, the clang of the bolt seeming to
intensify the strange unreality of his position. The trooper informed
him that his meal would be sent in directly; that he would have to make
the best of it with the blankets doubled up for a bed in a corner of the
cell until next day. Then he would be brought before the police
magistrate, and either discharged or committed, as the case might be.

On the journey Lance had, after his first paroxysm of rage and disgust,
abundant leisure to think over and over the facts and probable
consequences of his position. He was apparently to be arraigned, if
committed for trial, for having in his possession a stolen horse. But
could they, could any one prove that he had 'guilty knowledge--that he
knew of its being dishonestly come by'? Were not half the horses then
sold in Ballarat supposed to be stolen, stolen from the 'Sydney side,'
from South Australia, from all parts of Victoria indeed? He had never
known any one tried on such a charge, and had, indeed, thought in his
ignorance that laxity about the ownership of live stock was one of the
customs of the country, rendered indeed almost inevitable from the
absence of fencing or natural boundaries between the immense herds and
flocks.

He had not, of course, the smallest suspicion that Pendragon, the horse
he had so named in memory of the old Cornish legend, which he had bought
from Ned Lawless at a high figure, was other than perfectly 'square,' as
Ned would have phrased it. Had he known the truth he would have
repudiated the purchase with scorn. But now, to be arrested and marched
to gaol with as much formality as if he had taken a horse out of the
stable of a neighbouring proprietor in Cornwall, or 'lifted' a flock of
black-faced sheep, struck him as truly anomalous and absurd.

Next morning, after a night which came to an end in spite of his forlorn
condition, he found himself making one of a large class of _détenues_
who, for one offence or another, were to come up for judgment.

The ordinary charge-sheet of a goldfield is fairly filled as a rule, and
at this particular period of the existence of Ballarat as a town a large
proportion of criminals of all shades and classes had managed to make it
their temporary home. Expirees from Tasmania, where the transportation
system had only lately come to an end, had swelled the proportion of
habitual criminals. These were daring and desperate men; an inexorable
penal system had partially controlled, but failed altogether to reform
them. So frequent had been the assaults upon life and property with
which this class was credited, that an official of exceptional firmness
and experience had been specially selected for the responsible post of
police magistrate of Ballarat.

This gentleman, Mr. M'Alpine, generally familiarly and widely known as
'Launceston Mac,' was credited with using a short and trenchant way with
criminals. Presumably a large proportion of his _clientèle_ had been at
some time or other before him in Tasmania. He had, it was conceded, a
wonderful memory for faces, as also for 'accidents and offences.' It was
asserted for him that he never met a man under penal circumstances that
he could not recognise if encountered twenty years afterwards. It was
only necessary in the case of doubtful identity to direct the attendant
police to 'turn him round,' which formula was almost invariably followed
by the remark, 'Seen you before, my man, on the other side, your name is
so-and-so. Six months' imprisonment with hard labour.'

Doubtless in nineteen cases out of twenty the inference was correct, and
the punishment just. But there _was_ a probability that occasionally the
worthy justice was mistaken. Among the hordes of criminals with which he
had been officially connected, small wonder if an occasional lapse of
memory took place, and then so much the worse for the accused.

But, as in all comprehensive schemes of legislative repression the
individual suffers for the general advantage, so the occasional
misdirections of justice, in that era of widespread license which might
so easily degenerate into lawlessness, were but lightly regarded as
incident to a period of martial law; and no one gainsaid the fact that
the practised readiness, prompt decision, and stern resolve which Mr.
M'Alpine brought to bear upon the thousands of cases were of priceless
advantage to the body politic and all law-abiding citizens.

It was this Rhadamanthus, before whom so many an evil-doer trembled,
that Lance Trevanion found himself compelled to confront. He knew him,
of course, by fame and report, as who did not?--but had never met him,
as it happened, personally. He did not doubt, however, but that a few
words of explanation would suffice to set him free. It was therefore
with a sense of awakening hope that he obeyed the summons to follow one
of the constables to the court-house. This was a large but not imposing
building, composed of weather-boards, rude, indeed, and deficient as to
architectural proportions. However, it was a great improvement upon the
large tent which did duty as a hall of justice in the primitive days of
the gold outbreak.

Erect upon the bench, regarding the herd of prisoners, as one by one
they came before him, with a stern countenance and searching glance, sat
Mr. M'Alpine. His eyes had that fixed and penetrating expression
generally acquired by men who have had long experience of criminals. His
face seemed to say to such: 'I can identify you, if necessary--I know
every thought of your vile heart--every deed of your ruffian life. Don't
dare to _think_ of deceiving _me_ or it will be worse for you--plead
guilty if you are wise, and don't insult the court by a defence!'

Long and so sombre had been Mr. M'Alpine's experiences of every kind of
iniquity, of evasion, if not defiance of the law, that it is doubtful if
he considered any person ever brought before him to be perfectly
innocent. Certainly not, unless conclusively proved by competent
witnesses. The _onus probandi_ lay with the accused. It is asserted by
outsiders that all police officials in time acquire a tinge of the
hunter instinct, which impels them to pursue, and, if possible, run down
every species of quarry once started, irrespective of guilt. But this,
doubtless, is an invention of the enemy.

After the squad of 'drunks and disorderlies' had been dealt with, the
names Launcelot Trevanion and Edward Lawless were called; 'the
prisoners' were ordered to stand up.

A novel experience, truly, for the heir of Wychwood. The court was
crowded. It had somehow leaked out that Trevanion, of Number Six,
Growlers', had been 'run in' by Sergeant Dayrell for horse-stealing. The
news had not yet got as far as the Gully proper--the time not having
allowed. But every 'golden-hole man' was pretty well known on the
'field,' and Lance was a prominent personage, by repute, in the mining
community.

'What the blazes has a chap like that any call to shake a horse
for--that's what I want to know?' inquires a huge, blackbearded digger.
'Why, they say he's worth forty or fifty thousand, if he's worth a
penny, and the claim washing-up better and better every week?'

'He never stole no moke,' returned his companion decisively, 'no more
than you or me prigged the post-office clock, that's just been
a-striking! He's a free-handed chap with his money, and that soft that
he don't know a cross cove from a straight 'un. He's been had by Ned
Lawless and his crowd. That's about the size of it.'

'They can't shop him for that, though,' said the first man,
contemplatively filling his pipe. 'They say he was riding a crooked
horse when he was took. Kate Lawless was with him on another. The yard
was half-full of horses the Lawlesses had worked from hereabouts. It
looked ugly, didn't it?'

'Looked ugly be blowed!' said his more logical and experienced friend.
'Things is getting pretty cronk if a chap can't ride alongside a pretty
gal without wanting to see a receipt for the nag she's on! I believe
it's a plant of that beggar Dayrell's. He wants a big case, and that
poor young chap may have to suffer for it.'

'Dayrell wouldn't do a thing like that, surely,' exclaimed the first
speaker in tones of amazement. 'Why, it's as bad as murder, I call it.
What's to become of a swell chap like him, if he's lagged and sent to
the hulks?'

'There's devilish few things as Dayrell _wouldn't_ do, it's my opinion,
if he thought he'd get a step by it,' replied his friend. 'But this
cove's friends'll make a fight for it. They'll have law. They've got
money, and so has he, of course. They'll have a lawyer from Melbourne.'

It did not appear at first as if there was much danger to be apprehended
as far as Lance was concerned. Directly his case was called, he stood up
and faced the Bench and the expectant crowd with a stern
expression--half of defiance, half of contempt.

'May I say a few words in my own defence?' he commenced. 'I am certain
that a short explanation would convince the Bench that any charge such
as I am called upon to answer is ludicrous in the extreme.'

'We must first have the evidence of the apprehending constable,' said
the police magistrate decisively, 'after which the Bench will hear
anything you have to say.'

'But, your worship, I wish to speak a few words before.'

'After the evidence,' said the P.M. sternly. 'Swear Sergeant Dayrell.'

That official strode forward, stepping into the vertical pew which is
placed for the apparent _in_-convenience of witnesses, by adding to
their natural nervousness and trepidation the discomfort of a cramped
wearisome posture. To him, at least, it made no difference. Cool and
collected, he made his statement with practised ease and deliberation,
as if reading an oft-recited passage out of a well-known volume,
watching the pen of the clerk of the Bench, so as to permit that
official to commit to writing correctly his oft-fateful words. They were
as follows--

'My name is Francis Dayrell, senior-sergeant of police for the colony of
Victoria, at present stationed at Growlers' Gully. I know the prisoners
before the court. On Friday the 20th September last, from information
received, I proceeded to a digging known as Balooka, situated in New
South Wales, and distant about one hundred and seventy miles from
Ballarat. I arrived on Monday evening the 23d, and proceeded to the camp
of the prisoner Edward Lawless, whom I arrested by virtue of a warrant,
which I produce. It is signed by a magistrate of the territory. In a
yard close to the prisoner's camp I found a large number of horses,
several of which I at once identified as being stolen from miners at
Ballarat, or in the vicinity. Others appeared to have brands resembling
those of squatters in the neighbourhood. The prisoner Lawless was unable
to account for his possession of these, or to produce receipts. He was
about to leave for Melbourne, I was informed, in order to sell the whole
mob. I arrested him and his cousin Daniel, and charged him with stealing
the horse named in the warrant. While he was in custody I observed the
other prisoner, Launcelot Trevanion by name, riding towards the camp in
company with a young woman. She was riding one horse, and leading
another. When he came up I identified both the horse he was riding and
that of his companion as stolen horses, both of which have been
advertised in the _Police Gazette_. I produce the _Gazette_ wherein the
brand and description correspond. I charged the prisoner with receiving
a certain bay horse branded H. J., well knowing him to be stolen, and
arrested him. I then conveyed the prisoners to the gaol at Ballarat
East, where I confined them.'

This evidence--which even Lance admitted to himself placed matters in a
more unfavourable light than he could have supposed possible--being read
over, Mr. M'Alpine said, 'Have you any question to ask the witness?'

'Yes, your worship,' answered Lance, bringing out the last two words
with apparent difficulty.

'You are aware that I had the bay horse in my possession for some weeks
at Growlers', and rode him openly there?'

'Yes, certainly.'

'Then why did you not arrest me there?'

'I had my reasons, one of which was that I had not received an answer
from Mr. Jeffreys--the breeder of the horse.'

'Was that with reference to the hundred pound reward offered on
conviction of any one proved to have stolen one of his horses?'

'No!'

'That reward did not actuate you in arresting me on a charge of which
you must know that I am innocent, if you have watched my conduct at
all?'

'I _have_ watched your conduct, and know you to be an habitual associate
of the Lawlesses, who, as a family, are known to be among the most
clever horse and cattle stealers in New South Wales. I have known you to
make a practice of gambling with them for large sums. It has been stated
to me that you have lost as much as five hundred pounds to them at a
sitting.'

'Did you not know that I had come straight from Ballarat when I rode up
to the camp at Balooka?'

'I am not in a position to state where you came from. I saw you ride up
with Kate Lawless, in whose company I have repeatedly seen you. On this
occasion you and she were in possession of three horses--all stolen
property--the one she rode, the one she led, and the horse you rode.'

'How could I know that the horse I bought from Ned Lawless was stolen?
He did not know, I believe, or he would not have sold it to me, I am
sure.'

'That you will have to explain to the court,' returned the sergeant,
with pitying contempt.

'Good God! Did I look like a guilty man when you arrested me?' exclaimed
Lance, in a tone which had an echo of despair as plank by plank he felt
his defence foundering, as it were, at every cold and sinister answer of
this relentless foe.

'You made a most violent resistance,' replied the sergeant calmly, 'of
which my face still bears the mark. I don't know whether that is to be
taken as a proof of your innocence.'

'I appeal to your worship,' exclaimed the unfortunate accused as a
nameless terror stole over him--such as Quentin Durward may have
experienced when Tristan L'Hermite and Petit André were about to attach
him to the fatal tree--lest, ignorant of all legal forms, he should be
tried and condemned before he had a chance of exculpation. 'I appeal to
your worship to permit my case to be adjourned, in order that I may
bring witnesses who can prove my innocence, and also that I may obtain
legal assistance. Surely you cannot sit there and see an innocent man
wrongfully condemned. Though a miner, I am a gentleman of good, indeed
ancient family; an act such as I have been accused of is, therefore,
impossible to me. For God's sake, permit me an adjournment!'

The magistrate's face was impassive. His nature was probably not less
compassionate than that of other men. But long familiarity with crime,
long official acquaintance with every variety of villainy, had indurated
his feelings to such an extent that but little trust in human nature, as
ordinarily displayed within the precincts of his court, had survived. No
doubt this young fellow looked and spoke like an innocent man; but how
many criminals had looked and spoken likewise? The wholesale stealing
of miners' and squatters' horses--now worth from fifty to a hundred
pounds each in the Melbourne market--had reached such a pitch that the
miners had declared their intention to shoot or lynch any future 'horse
thieves,' as the American miners called them, if justice was not done
them by the Government. Mr. M'Alpine had this in his mind at the time,
and, with all proper respect for the rules of evidence, had come fully
to the conclusion that it was high time that an exemplary sentence
should be passed upon the very next culprit caught 'red-handed'; he
therefore made no reply to the passionate appeal of the unlucky
prisoner.

'Read over the evidence,' he said, in a cold voice, to the clerk of the
court.

That official with colourless accuracy read out Dayrell's damaging
statement on oath, as well as Lance's questions thereupon, which, as
generally happens to the accused who essays his own defence, had injured
rather than aided his case.

'Do you wish to ask the witness any other question?' he inquired, in a
tone which would have led a bystander to think that the process was a
pleasant interchange of ideas between gentlemen, which any prisoner
might enjoy.

'No; certainly not, but I should like to say----'

'I understood you to apply for an adjournment, for the purpose of
calling witnesses and employing a legal practitioner?'

'Certainly I did, but I wish----'

'The prisoner stands remanded to this day week at 10 A.M. Bail refused.
It is understood that any authorised person is not to be denied access
to him. The court stands adjourned till ten o'clock to-morrow morning.'

As this closed proceedings, the police magistrate walked slowly forth,
leaving Lance to be re-conducted to prison, with, however, permission to
see all friends and legal advisers.

Before the proceedings closed the sergeant had made a formal request for
the adjournment for a week of the case against Edward Lawless, assigning
as a reason that he was not fully prepared with the necessary evidence.
This had been assented to: both prisoners were then marched back to
gaol, and being locked up in separate cells, were left to their
reflections.

From the sound of whistling and even singing which proceeded from the
apartment occupied by Mr. Edward Lawless, the penalty of imprisonment
did not appear to fall heavily upon his elastic spirits: the iron had
not entered into his soul in any marked degree. But far otherwise was it
with Lance Trevanion. He had buoyed himself up with the idea that he
would only need to make a short explanation to the magistrate, and that
he would be immediately set at liberty. In this expectation he had been
bitterly disappointed. So far from his release being an easy matter, it
seemed as if a fresh element of doubt, a dismal dread, undefined yet
ominous, had been introduced into the affair. Would he perhaps _really_
be convicted and sentenced? The idea was maddening, but innocent persons
had been found guilty before, if some of the tales which he had heard
were not untrue. Why not again? This was a strange country. He had been
deceived and thoroughly duped, as he could not help confessing to
himself. Might he not find himself yet more fatally mistaken in all his
conclusions?

Seated on the floor of his cell, he rapidly fell into a state of
semi-stupor as these sombre imaginings coursed through his brain,
sometimes slowly and with saddest procession, at other times with almost
delirious haste. Was he indeed Lance Trevanion, the free, fearless
traveller of a week since? It surely could not be! What was he to do
next? Life or liberty, which came to the same thing, was surely worth
fighting for. He must have legal assistance if it were possible. There
was hardly a lawyer in Ballarat that was _practising his profession_. A
sufficient number there abode doubtless, but they were all in the year
1852 engaged in mining. After a while the ebb of adventure set in, on
which a return took place to nearly all the professions. But in the
spring of 1852 the golden tide was at flood-mark. It was hard to find
any man in the place or position which he had formerly held.

From this mood of doubt and despair Trevanion was aroused by steps in
the corridor and the opening of the door of the cell. He had but scant
time to rise and stand erect when Hastings and Jack Polwarth
entered--the latter with an expression of alarm and astonishment that
but for his evident sincerity would have been ludicrous.

'Why, Mr. Lance--Mr. Trevanion,' cried Jack, in tones of subdued horror,
'whatever has come to ye, that they have had the face to do this? Can
they stand by it, think ye, Mr. Hastings? Locking up a gentleman like
Mr. Lance here and makin' oot as he's stolen a trumpery 'oss, him as
wouldn't do the like for a Black Forest full of 'em. It's fair murther
and worse--all the gully's talking on it, and I could fetch a hundred
Cousin Jacks and Devon lads as'lld pull the place about their ears if
you'd but say the word, Mr. Lance?'

'I'm afraid that would do no good, Jack,' said Hastings, whose concern,
not so freely expressed, was as deep and sincere as that of Lance's
faithful partner. 'I see no reason though, Trevanion, why you shouldn't
be out in a week. However, all this is deucedly annoying and vexatious.
Still we must be patient. Queer things happen on a goldfield. You
remember my plight when first we made acquaintance?'

'Annoying!' replied Trevanion, slowly turning his frowning face, in
which the lurid passion-light of his gloomy eyes had commenced to burn.
'Why in the world should I have been selected by Providence for this
damnable injustice? I feel already as if I was disgraced irrevocably.
How can I ever show my face among my equals again after having been
arrested, handcuffed, charged with felony, locked up like a criminal?
Great God! when I think of it all I wonder why I don't go mad!'

'It's no use getting excited over it,' said Hastings. 'The thing is to
_do_ all that we can, not to think or talk about it over-much. Stirling
will be here to-morrow. He could not come to-day, but will leave his
bank before the stars are out of the sky to-morrow, and will be here by
breakfast-time. He could not come to-day because of business. We will
see about your witnesses and manage to get a lawyer up from Melbourne in
time. Keep up your spirits. There are dozens of men, and women too, that
can prove an _alibi_. If my claim was as good as yours I'd swap places
cheerfully with you.'

'Don't be too sure of that,' returned Lance with a sardonic smile. 'I
have a kind of presentiment that evil will come of this business. Why, I
know not, but still the feeling haunts me. Well, Jack, we never thought
of this on board the _Red Jacket_ when we were so jolly, eh?'

'Just to think of it,' exclaimed Jack, with the tears running down his
honest face. 'And never a Trevanion in a prison before since that
king--I can't mind his name--shut up one of them in the old Tower of
London and cut his head off. But that was dying like a gentleman--that
ever I should have lived to see this! I could never show my face at
Wychwood or St. Austell's again.'

'Why, Jack, you're about as foolish as your--master, I was nearly
saying--as your mate there, at any rate. Why, Lance is not even
committed for trial. All sorts of things may happen in the meantime.
_Must_ happen; _must_ happen. Now, we must say good-bye, Lance. I'll
send you in some books. I don't see many about. For God's sake, keep up
your spirits.'

The time fixed for the remand having expired, Lance and his
fellow-prisoner, Ned Lawless, were brought up for their preliminary
trial. All necessary arrangements had been completed; no further reason
existed for delay either on the part of the Crown or of the prisoners.

The sergeant was quite ready with his witnesses; Stirling and Hastings
had secured the services of the celebrated Mr. England, the great
criminal lawyer, about whose capacity the general miners' opinion, as
expressed on the occasion, ran thus: 'Well, if England don't get him
off, nobody will.'

These important preliminaries having been settled, the crowd waited with
impatience mingled with a certain satisfaction that so important a trial
was really to come off and not to be strangled in its infancy, like many
promising legal melodramas to which they had looked forward. There would
be no mistake about this one at any rate. Sergeant Dayrell had come down
in full uniform from the camp at an early hour. The show would be on
soon after the clock struck ten.

At that hour punctually Mr. M'Alpine took his seat upon the bench. In
five minutes the court was crowded. After the ordinary business two men
were marched in with a policeman on either side and placed in the dock.
They were Lance Trevanion and Edward Lawless. The latter looked calmly
around at the crowd as if there was no particular occasion for
seriousness of mien. His mental attitude was easily comprehended by
those of his compatriots who were present, whatever might be thought by
the emigrant miners who were so visibly in the majority. Ned had played
for a heavy stake--he had staked his liberty on the hazard and lost. If
he had won there was a matter of two or three thousand pounds--indeed
more--in the pool. That would have set him up in a decent-sized cattle
station capable of indefinite development. It was a fair risk. He had
taken it knowingly and with his eyes open. Now that he had lost, as the
cards had been against him, there was nothing for it but to pay up. It
would be three years' gaol, or perhaps five at the outside.

When Lance Trevanion stood up in the dock, confronting squarely the
assembled crowd and the Bench, an almost audible shudder, accompanied by
a species of gasping sigh, passed through the court. Quietly but
correctly dressed, access having been possible to his raiment at
Growlers', he looked thoroughly a gentleman, a man of race and gentle
nurture. As he stood, calm and impassive, with a steadfast unflinching
gaze, the most suspicious person, however permeated with universal
distrust, could not have connected him with the meaner crimes. In a
half-smile, haughty and grimly humorous, his features relaxed for a
moment as he met the sorrowful gaze of Mrs. Polwarth. Then he drew
himself up to his full height and awaited the first act of the drama in
which he played so important a part.

The curtain was not long in rising. The clerk of the court stood up and
read out the evidence of Senior-Sergeant Dayrell, taken at the first
hearing of the case, as also the order of adjournment signed by the
police magistrate. A stoutish dark man, with a mobile face and direct
clear glance, stood up and said, 'May it please your honour, I beg
pardon, your worship, I appear for the prisoner, Launcelot Trevanion.'

'By all means, pleased to hear it, Mr. England. Sergeant Dayrell, your
first witness.'

'Call Herbert Jeffreys,' and in answer to the stentorian call outside of
the court a gentlemanlike man with a bronzed countenance and of quiet
demeanour stepped into the witness-box. On being sworn, he deposed as
follows: 'My name is Herbert Jeffreys, I am a land-holder and grazier,
residing at Restdown, which is distant about one hundred and twenty
miles from Ballarat. I have seen a bright bay horse with a star, outside
of the court, branded "H. J.," which is our station brand, at least for
all horses and cattle running on the Campaspe. I swear to the horse as
my property. He has been missing for nearly twelve months. I am
perfectly certain it is the horse, and cannot be mistaken. I notice a
slight cut inside of the hock, which was the result of an accident. I
never sold him or gave prisoner or any other person authority to take
him. He is a valuable animal, worth between eighty and a hundred pounds,
as prices go. We have had a large number of horses stolen during the
past year.'

Cross-examined by Mr. England: 'We had more than two hundred horses
before the diggings. We have offered a hundred pounds reward for the
conviction of any person found stealing our horses or cattle. It was a
measure of self-defence. We should soon not have had one left. Do not
consider it an inducement to the police to make up imaginary cases. If
people do not steal our horses the reward is a dead-letter. If they do,
they deserve punishment. I never saw the prisoner Trevanion before. If I
had, I should probably not have been here to-day.' (Asked why.) 'Because
any one can see that he is a gentleman, and doubtless unused to this
kind of work. I have no doubt that he purchased my horse without
suspicion that he had been stolen. Can't say whether or not the horse
has been in the pound since I saw him last.'

Trevanion looked over at the witness as he spoke thus with a frank
expression of gratitude, while Mr. Jeffreys, having descended from the
witness-box and signed his deposition, sat down in a chair provided for
him to watch the trial.

The next witness called was Carl Stockenstrom. 'My name--ja wohl--I am a
dikker from Palooga. Haf been dere all der wege more 'an dree months. On
Thursday neuntzehn Zepdember, I saw de brisoner at the Gemp's Greek, ten
mile from der Palooga. He was ride mit de fräulein Lawless. He ride not
the horse outside de court. It was anoder. They was having one fine
lark. She can ride--she ride like nodings dat I never shall see. I swear
positif to de prisoner, his face, his figure, above all dings to his
eyes.'

Cross-examined by Mr. England: 'I have lost a good horse myself. I did
not advertise him in the local baper. Many of my mates lost theirs. I
did not think it worth while. The two were driving some horses when I
see dem. I saw two of them in Ned Lawless's yard, and was told they was
sdolen. Police dook dem away mit de oders anyways.'

'Call Hiram Edwards.'

A gaunt American miner stalked forward, and with characteristic
self-possession stepped into the witness-box.

'Diggin' at Balooka? Yes, sir; followed the first rush. Heard talk of
hoss-thieves among the boys; advised to hang the first man caught
riding a wrong horse, just to skeer other critters. Worked well in San
Francisco, that simple expedient. Do not know prisoner personally, but
saw a man durned like him on Friday, 20th September last, in company
with that skunk, Ned Lawless, trading horses.

'Lost no horse? No, sir; know too much to keep one on a placer workin'.
Sold mine same day I struck the gulch.'

Cross-examined by Mr. England: 'Hev a sorter dislike to swear positively
to prisoner as having been in company with Lawless on that Friday. To
the best of my belief he was the man. (Has the prisoner any objection to
look at me for a moment.)' Then Lance turned suddenly and looked at the
witness with a determined and sternly interrogatory expression. The
witness changed front noticeably. 'I now swear to the prisoner as the
man I saw with Lawless on Friday; positively and plum-centre. Know his
eyes anywhere. First day I saw him was the Wednesday before. He and
Lawless both carried stock-whips.'

Senior-Constable Donnellan deposed: 'I am a mounted trooper, at present
stationed at Balooka. I know the prisoner, and have been observing him
closely at Balooka for the last three weeks. Frequently saw him in
company with Edward Lawless and his sister. As they were suspicious
characters, or, at any rate, had a name for finding horses that were not
lost, I thought it my duty to watch them.

'On the morning of Wednesday, 18th instant, I saw Lawless and prisoner
ride out early from the former's camp; they went for some miles up a
gully, and on reaching the top, where there is a small plain, I saw two
men meet them with a small lot (ten, I believe) of riding horses. They
drove them to the camp and put them into a yard. I have ascertained that
nearly all of them were stolen, and have since been identified by
miners. Saw prisoner several times with Kate Lawless at Balooka; am
certain that prisoner is the same man. Sent a messenger to Ballarat
express to communicate with Sergeant Dayrell, who came over and arrested
both prisoners.'

By Mr. England: 'Took particular notice of prisoner's
appearance--prisoner is tall and broad-shouldered, with dark curly hair
and dark complexion. Has no ill-will against prisoner, Trevanion. If it
is sworn that prisoner was in another place, near Ballarat, at the time
mentioned by me, would not believe it. It was impossible, unless a man
could be in two places at once. Never spoke to prisoner at Balooka but
once; noticed that he had remarkable eyes. Was at the Lawlesses' camp
when he rode up with Kate Lawless; had seen him leave Balooka with her
early that morning. He was riding the horse prisoner led back. Can't
account for prisoner returning with a different horse and saddle, unless
he "shook" it. Beg the Bench's pardon--meant he may have picked it up on
the road. Thought prisoner looked slightly different, and was
differently dressed. Spoke differently, a little, not much. Attributed
this to seeing the Lawlesses, Ned and Dan, in the hands of the police
when he returned; and was dressed differently from what he had on in the
morning; had several times noticed him change his dress more than once
in a day. Would swear to the prisoner; would know him by his eyes and
general appearance anywhere.'

Several other witnesses--miners, stock-riders, and small farmers--were
examined. They swore to ownership of various horses found in Ned
Lawless's 'mob' or drove, now in charge of the police.

'Is that your case, sergeant?' inquired the police magistrate, when the
last of these witnesses had, at some personal inconvenience, signed the
depositions. 'I have but one other witness, your worship,' answered
Dayrell with an air of great deference, 'rather a material one, however.
Call Catharine Lawless.'

From whatever cause, the utterance of this witness's name produced a
profound and universal sensation in the crowded court. Every miner knew
that the young Englishman had foolishly, as most people thought,--very
naturally, in the opinion of others,--admired the girl, and made no
secret of his feelings. For what reason was she now to be called as a
witness for the Crown? Had she turned traitress? Would she betray her
sweetheart in the hour of his peril? Far from immaculate, vain, violent,
and reckless as she was, the girls of her class and country were
proverbially as true as steel to their lovers--clinging to them more
closely in adversity, ready even to stand by them on the scaffold if
need were.



CHAPTER XI


'Catharine Lawless!' Thrice was her name called outside of the court, as
by law directed. As the echo of the last summons died away, a tall woman
closely veiled issued from a side door and walked composedly over to the
witness-box. Every eye was directed towards her; no sound was audible,
save some involuntary exclamation as the most sensational character of
the _corps dramatique_ appeared on the stage. Quietly and becomingly
dressed, _bien gantée_ and in all respects accurately finished as to
each personal detail, she moved forward with an air of haughty
indifference to her surroundings, including the court, prisoners, and
spectators. These last might have deemed that she was some interesting
stranger, an eye-witness by chance of deeds concerning which she was
compelled to testify.

'Swear the witness,' said the magistrate, as the book was placed in her
right hand, 'and will she be pleased to remove her veil?'

Thus admonished, the girl threw back her veil with a half-petulant
gesture, and touching the sacred book lightly with her lips, as the
solemn formula was recited, gazed around the court with an air of
insouciance apparently as unstudied and natural as if she had come
direct from Arcadia.

For one moment her clear gray eyes, unheeding every other creature in
the crowd of spectators, rested on the two men in the dock. Those who
knew her--and there were many such in the congregation--looked eagerly
for some softened expression, some sign of regret, as might any woman
wear when beholding her lover and her brother in the place set apart for
felons, who knew them to be charged with a serious offence, and liable
to years of degrading imprisonment, from which, perchance, a word from
her lips might save one--might even alleviate their lot--so great is the
sympathy felt for the power exercised by a handsome woman, even in the
temple of justice.

Those who thus reasoned were doomed to disappointment. Her gaze passed
coldly over her brother's lounging form and tranquil features, but when
she encountered the stern interrogation which was written on the
frowning brow and set lips of Lance Trevanion, she drew back for an
instant, and then slightly raising her head and drawing herself up, an
action which displayed to perfection the symmetrical moulding of her
figure, returned his regard with a glance as fierce and unfaltering as
his own. For one moment only did the mental duel appear to last, for one
moment was each antagonistic electric current propelled along the mutual
course. Then, with an impatient gesture, she turned half round and
awaited the official questioning.

The oppressive silence which up to that moment had pervaded the court
ceased, as by a broken spell, and comments were audible to those
immediately around the speaker, more than one of which went as follows--

'She's going to swear up, you bet your life. Never saw a woman look like
her that didn't. Sooner have her on my side than against me, that's all
_I_ know.'

'Dayrell's been working a point to set her against him, that's where
he'll score the odd trick, you'll see,' observed his equally philosophic
friend. 'She's been dead nuts on that new chum, that's why she's
thirsting for his blood now. I think I knows 'em.'

'What is your name?' commenced the sergeant, who in the preliminary
examination was, as the police officer in charge of the case, permitted
to officiate in Courts of Petty Sessions as Acting Crown Prosecutor.
'Catharine Lawless.' This answer was given in a low but distinct voice.
'You are the sister of Edward Lawless, one of the prisoners now before
the Court; and you have been residing with him at Balooka, and recently
at Growlers' Gully?'

'Yes. We have all been living with him since father died.'

'Just so. And you know the other prisoner, Launcelot Trevanion?' Here
the sergeant feigned to examine his notebook, ostensibly to refresh his
memory, but really in order to afford witness and prisoner opportunity
to look at each other. Also that the court, the spectators, the
magistrate, and lastly he, Francis Dayrell, might appreciate their
mutual discomfort.

This Mephistophelian design was set at naught by the self-possession of
the witness, who after one glance, brief as the jagged lightning and as
scathing, answered deliberately--'Yes, I do know Lance Trevanion, _I
know him well_.'

There was not much in this apparently harmless Saxon sentence, chiefly
monosyllabic, but those who were close enough to hear the last words
thrilled for long days after as they recalled the concentrated venom
with which they were saturated.

'When you say you know the prisoner, Trevanion, well,' queried Dayrell,
with an air of respectful interest, 'you mean, I suppose, that he was a
great friend of your brothers, and of the family generally. Your brother
Dan, your cousin Harry, and his sister Tessie--you are rather a large
family, I believe--were all friendly towards him, as he to you?'

'Yes; very friendly; we all thought no end of him.'

'Of course, of course; most natural on your part and his. He was often
at your camp, at Growlers'. Used to play a game or two of cards
sometimes with your brothers--a little euchre--eh?'

'Yes; I believe so.'

'You believe so? Don't you know it, Miss Lawless? Were not the stakes
rather heavy sometimes?'

'They may have been. I never played for money. The boys may have had a
gamble now and then.'

'Really, your worship,' interposed Mr. England, 'I can't see what these
trivialities have to do with the case. The witness is an extremely
prepossessing young woman--outwardly. We admit at once that she
exercised a certain fascination over my client. Why shouldn't she? _Nemo
omnibus horis sapit, etc._, particularly on the diggings. But the
sergeant, apparently, will proceed to ask her if she ever sewed on a
button for my client, and I appeal to your worship, if we are to sit
here all day and listen to this mode of examination?'

'I must ask your worship's permission to conduct the case in my own
way,' returned the sergeant. 'I guarantee that these apparently trivial
details are of material importance to the case.'

'You may proceed, Sergeant Dayrell. I trust to you not to encumber the
depositions with needless details.'

'I shall bear in mind your worship's directions; and now, Miss Lawless,
please to attend to me, and be careful in answering the next question.'
Here he fixed his eyes meaningly upon her countenance.

'You remember the evening of Monday, the 23d of this month, when I saw
you ride into your brother's camp at Balooka, in company with the
prisoner, Trevanion?'

'Yes; I do.'

'Had he been with you and Ned at Balooka for some time previously?'

There was a pause after the sergeant's measured and distinct words
sounded through the court, and the witness trembled slightly when they
first reached her ear. Then she raised her head, looked full at the two
prisoners in the dock, and answered--

'Yes; he had.'

As the words left her lips, the face of Lance Trevanion worked like that
of a man about to fall down in a fit. His eyes blazed with wrath and
unrestrained passion. Wonder and scorn, anger and despair, struggled
together in every feature, as if in a stage of demoniac possession.
Placing his strong hand upon the rail of the dock, he shook the stout
structure until it swayed and rattled again.

'You lie, traitress!' he said, in vibrating tones. 'I never saw Balooka
before that evening, and you know it. Your words--like yourself--are
false as hell!'

'I submit, your worship, that the witness must be protected,' Dayrell
made haste to interpose. 'If she is to be intimidated, I cannot
guarantee her most important evidence.'

A curious phase of human nature is it,--well worthy of the attention of
physiologists, but none the less known to those in the habit of
attending criminal courts,--that you may with tolerable certainty detect
a man deliberately swearing falsely when giving evidence on oath.
Villain as he may be,--scoundrel of the deepest dye,--even _he_ does not
altogether enjoy the sensation of, in cold blood, committing perjury
before a crowd of comrades, every one of whom knows that he is
forswearing himself. Thus feeling, there is generally some token of
uneasiness or shamefacedness by which the experienced magistrate or
judge, and most certainly his friends and fellows, can perceive his
perjury.

But, strange and mysterious as it may seem, _it is not so_ in the case
of a female witness. She may be deposing to the truth of the most
atrocious falsehood, to what the greater part of her hearers, as well as
herself, _know to be false_, and not the quiver of an eyelid nor the
tremor of a muscle reveals that she has called upon the Supreme Being
to witness her deliberate betrayal of the truth. For all that can be
discerned in the countenance--in her mien and manner she may be clinging
to the truth with the constancy of a martyr.

There was a murmur in the court from more than one voice as Lance
Trevanion's heart-felt exclamation burst forth. This being promptly
suppressed, the magistrate, with a more sympathetic tone of voice than
he had as yet used, 'requested the prisoner not to injure his case by
intemperate language. Possibly the outburst of conscious innocence, the
Bench admitted, but he would warn him, in his own interest, to reserve
his defence till the evidence was completed.' Lance apparently saw the
force of his argument, for after one withering glance at the
witness-box, he bowed his head without speaking, and resigned himself
apparently to listen unmoved to all further statements.

'Did you--now consider carefully and _make no mistake_'--here the
sergeant fixed his eye sternly, even menacingly, upon the girl, who
stood calm and resolved before him--'did you know of your own knowledge
that the prisoner, Trevanion, met your brother Ned at the Swampy Plain
tableland and assisted him to drive certain horses into the yard?'

The girl looked again across to the figures in the dock, neither of whom
apparently saw her, as they, by accident or otherwise, had averted their
faces. Then a mysterious darksome look of pride and revenge came over
Kate Lawless's face as she coolly scrutinised them both. Slowly she
answered--

'Yes; I was at home when he and Ned came in from Swampy Plains with ten
horses and put them into the yard.'

'You swear that?'

'Yes,' looking her interlocutor full in the face. 'Yes, I swear that.'

Her face as she pronounced the words grew fixed and more intense of
expression. She changed colour, then gasped for breath, staggered, and
before any man near her was quick enough to intercept her swaying form,
fell, as one dead, her full length upon the floor.

'The strain has been too great for her, she has fainted,' said the
sergeant. 'The witness is unable to bear further cross-examination at
present. Your worship must see that. I pray for a remand of the
prisoners, and will undertake that the witness appears to-morrow at ten
o'clock and submits herself to the cross-examination.'

'No doubt,' said the magistrate, 'the position is most distressing, but
I shouldn't have expected Miss Lawless to faint on any occasion.
However, she is certainly not in a state to bear more of the witness-box
to-day. The prisoners stand remanded till to-morrow morning at ten
o'clock.'

The unwilling crowd gradually left the building, when much various
comment arose as to the guilt or otherwise of the accused.

'Wait till England gets at that Kate Lawless,' said a digger, 'he'll
turn her inside out. I don't believe half of what she says. She's gone
back on Trevanion for some reason or other; now she'd hang him if she
could. That's a woman all over.'

'Serve him right for havin' no more sense than to go runnin' after a
bush filly like her instead of minding his business. It'll learn him
better if he gets lagged over the job; it looks bad for him, now, don't
it?'

'It's dashed hard lines, I say,' answered his mate, 'that a fellow
should get jugged just for a bit of foolishness-like, as none of us are
above now and then. I'll never believe he knew that bay horse wasn't
square, and it'll be a burning shame if he gets into it.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The day and the hour arrived. Again the crowded court--friends, foes,
strangers, and acquaintances, all were there. Lance's friends from
Growlers' mustered in force--Mr. Stirling, Jack Polwarth, Mrs. Polwarth,
and poor Tottie, who stretched forth her little hands with a piteous
gesture and then burst into tears as she saw her friend Lance placed in
the dock and shut in. The crowd was visibly affected by this little
incident, and more than one woman's tears flowed in unison with Mrs.
Polwarth's, who bent her head down and sobbed unrestrainedly. When Kate
Lawless, pale but composed, appeared and took her place in the
witness-box a menacing murmur ran through the crowd, and sounds
ominously like hisses made themselves audible. These were quickly
repressed as Mr. England, stepping forward, commenced his
cross-examination.

Fixing his eyes searchingly upon the girl's defiant face, he thus
began--

'You said, I think, in your examination in chief that you knew the
prisoner, Trevanion, well?'

'Yes; so I did.'

'Now, when you say you knew him well, do you mean us to believe that you
were only ordinary friends and no more?'

'I mean what I said; we were very friendly--all the time we were at
Growlers'.'

'That's all very well, but I must have more. You know something of life,
Miss Lawless, though you've lived in the bush all your days. Now didn't
this unfortunate young gentleman make love to you?'

'Well, I suppose he did.'

'And you returned it, or gave him to understand that you did?'

'I did like him very much. There was no reason why I shouldn't, was
there?' Here Miss Kate looked coolly at the barrister, who, trained
gladiator as he was, doubted whether he had ever had to deal with a
keener antagonist.

'I am not here to answer questions,' he said, very gravely. 'You are to
reply to mine, as his worship will tell you.'

'Then I am to understand that you and he considered yourselves
sweethearts (as the familiar expression goes) when you were at
Growlers'?'

'Yes, and afterwards.'

'And you have had no quarrel or misunderstanding?'

'No; none at all.'

'You wish his worship to believe that?' said the barrister, in sterner
tones. 'To believe that you come here prepared to swear at the dictation
of Sergeant Dayrell everything that he puts into your mouth which can
tell against this unfortunate young man--your sweetheart, as you have
admitted?'

'I don't care whether you believe it or not. It's the truth.'

'And your feelings have not changed towards him? Will you swear that?'

The girl hesitated. Her face flushed, then paled, her bosom heaved. She
placed her hand upon her heart as if to still its beatings.

'No,' she answered, with a changed voice; 'I won't swear that.'

'Thank you, Miss Lawless. I will not trouble you with further
questioning. That admission gives the key to the more important points
of your evidence.'

As the girl moved back from the witness-box she was stopped by one of
the constables and requested to sign her deposition. It was noticeable
then that her hand trembled so that she could hardly hold the pen. She
made this an excuse for requesting the clerk to write her name, to which
she affixed her mark, as in such case made and provided.

The case for the Crown being closed, Mr. England proceeded to call the
witnesses for the defence. The first name was that of Charles Stirling.
He came forward with a firm, confident air, tempered with respect to the
court. Placed in the witness-box, his evidence was to this effect--

'My name--Charles Stirling, manager of the Growlers' Gully branch of the
Australian Joint-Stock Bank. Have known the prisoner, Trevanion,
intimately since his occupation of Number Six claim. Have a high opinion
of him as a man of honour and a gentleman. Remember him purchasing the
bay horse now proved to have been stolen from Mr. Jeffreys. Was
consulted as to the purchase. Advised him then to be careful about
Lawless's receipt, and to satisfy himself from whom he (Lawless) had
purchased the animal. Trevanion was unwilling to believe anything
against the Lawless family, and was not a man to be guided by others. As
far as he knew, he was scrupulously upright and honourable. He
(Stirling) was never so surprised at anything in his whole life as when
he heard that Trevanion was in the hands of the police. There must be a
mistake somewhere. Prisoner had a large balance to his credit in the
Joint-Stock Bank. There could be no motive for saving a paltry fifty
pounds by purchasing a stolen horse. If it was sworn that Trevanion had
been seen at Balooka on the 19th September or previously, that statement
was false, as on that day he had been all the morning at the Joint-Stock
Bank disposing of a parcel of gold, seeing it weighed, and the money
placed to credit.'

Cross-examined by Sergeant Dayrell: 'He was as certain that Trevanion
was at his bank at Growlers' on Thursday as that he himself was at court
now. Any one who swore otherwise was deceived, or else had reasons of
their own for committing perjury. He did not intend to be other than
respectful to the court, but felt so strongly in this matter that he
could scarcely control his words. Was not aware, of his own knowledge,
that Trevanion was in the habit of gambling with the Lawlesses for heavy
stakes. May have heard something of the sort. Most of the young men at
the diggings played a little; it afforded a relief to the monotony of
their lives, and they (as far as he knew) never went very deeply into
it. Was a friend--he might say a particular friend--of prisoner's. He
and his mate, Mr. Polwarth, were customers of his bank. Neither had ever
owed his bank money, they were always depositors.'

John Polwarth, sworn: 'Was mate and partner in "Number Six, Growlers'"
with Mr. Trevanion. Had known him in England. Came out in the same ship.
Could swear that he never knew the horse "Pendragon" was stolen. He was
a gentleman, and couldn't steal a horse if he tried ever so hard; or buy
a stolen one, knowingly. He had been with Mr. Trevanion at the bank all
the morning of Thursday, 19th inst. Mr. Stirling was there, and a
clerk.'

'Was he sure it was him?'

'Was he sure the judge was on the Bench now?'

'How did he explain the fact of prisoner Trevanion being seen at Balooka
on Wednesday, 18th, and previously?'

'Only by believing it to be "a straight lie," or that the witness saw
some one very like Trevanion.'

'Very like Trevanion?'

'Very like.'

The witness appeared to be recalling something in his mind.

'Ar hev it noo, boys,' quoth he, suddenly looking towards the Bench, 'I
humbly beg your worship's pardon, but this terrible business has put
things out of my head like. I see how it's all come about. There was a
chap aboard the _Red Jacket_, about a year older than Mr. Trevanion
then, as like him as two peas. Danged if I doan't believe it's he as
have been riding about with Ned Lawless here, and all the while he's
been taken for Master Lance. The name of the man he meant was Lawrence
Trevenna; came from North Devon, he did, though he had a Cornish name.
Had never set eyes on him since the day they landed in Melbourne. Never
liked him; thought it was a case of good riddance of bad rubbish.

'Was a friend of Mr. Trevanion's; he wouldn't call him prisoner--not for
no man; any way he wasn't committed for trial yet; always would be a
friend--in gaol or out of it; but would not swear to a lie for him or
any other man--not if it was his own brother.'

Gwennyth Polwarth was then called, and up came the poor woman--sore
abashed and troubled--with Tottie clinging to her, and refusing to be
separated from her mother.

'Yes, she and her husband had come out with Mr. Lance. When in the _Red
Jacket_ had made it up to be mates. Mr. Trevanion, though he was a grand
gentleman at home, worked as hard in the claim as any man on the field;
would never believe that he had aught to do with a stolen horse. It was
that Ned Lawless there, and his bold gipsy of a sister. I say it to
their faces, as I have often warned him against, that's got him into
this trouble.'

'Could he have been at Balooka on Thursday, or Wednesday, 18th, as was
sworn by one witness?'

'Not unless he was a spirit. He came round to the claim, and said
"good-bye" to me and the child on _Thursday evening_; would swear that
to her dying day.'

'As to his being at Balooka, or any place a hundred miles off, it was a
thing impossible. There were people in the court as wanted to swear away
his life, any one could see. But there's Cousin Jacks enough at
Growlers' to smash the gaol and the court-house too, if these things are
to be carried on, and it would be seen yet (the witness said in her
excitement) what would come of it.'

'Sergeant Dayrell would ask the witness no questions. The Bench would
perceive the animus which coloured all the evidence.'

Mrs. Delf was next called. 'Her name was Mary Anne Delf; she had no call
to be ashamed of it, and was the wife of the landlord of the "Diggers'
Rest." Know that gentleman?' pointing to Lance. 'Well, he always stayed
at her house. Dined there with Mr. Stirling, Mr. Ross (of Bundalong
Station), and Mr. Polwarth, on Thursday, the 19th of September last.
Remembered the day particular, because there had been a wash-up at
"Number Six" the day before, and they had sold the gold to the bank, and
had it weighed and settled up for.

'Was she a friend of Mr. Trevanion's? Yes; and she was proud to say so.
It was a pity all his friends weren't as straight, though she said it
herself. But he was as innocent of all this duffing racket as Tottie
Polwarth there.'

Here poor Tottie, hearing her name, turned her eyes away from the dock,
where they had been resting sadly for a long time, and said audibly--

'Isn't Lance coming, mammy?'

This pathetic appeal, joined to a solitary glance from the prisoner,
proved too much for Mrs. Polwarth's self-possession, and, seizing Tottie
by the hand, she hurried from the court. Upon which Mrs. Delf, though
unused to the melting mood, had recourse to her handkerchief, and sobbed
aloud, as did various like-minded female sympathisers.

'Have you any other witnesses to call for the defence?' said the police
magistrate, addressing Mr. England, as who should say, the case has
lasted long enough.

'But one, your worship, but one. Call Esther Lawless.'

Again the densely packed assemblage was visibly moved. Here was another
of those Lawless girls; and what evidence was she going to give? Surely
an _alibi_ had been fully proved in Trevanion's favour already. What
could shatter the evidence of Mr. Stirling and Polwarth, Mrs. Delf and
Mrs. Polwarth? However, here she comes.

Tessie Lawless had not been so prominently before the public of
Growlers' as her cousin Kate, but, none the less, from the extreme
rarity of young and good-looking women at the earlier diggings, had she
been an object of curiosity and admiration. Hence she was well known by
sight and reputation, and her appearance in court was consequently of
the nature of a romantic incident.

'Your name is Esther Lawless, and you were residing with your cousins,
at Growlers', recently,' began Mr. England, with the suave deferential
manner by which counsel are won't to placate the feminine witness,
'where you knew the prisoner, Lance Trevanion?'

'Yes, certainly, I know Mr. Trevanion. He was often at our camp.'

'He was on friendly terms with all of you?'

'Yes; too much so for his own good.'

'Why do you say that, Miss Lawless?'

'Because my cousin Edward was not honest in his dealings, and I thought
Mr. Trevanion might be drawn in, unwarily, as he has been, I am sorry to
say.'

'Can you say anything as to the purchase of the bay H. J. horse, stated
to have been stolen from Mr. Herbert Jeffreys?'

'Yes; I wrote out the receipt which Edward gave Mr. Trevanion when he
bought the horse for fifty pounds from him. He was then described as
purchased from Henry Jones, of Black Dog Creek.'

'How did you come to write the receipt in your cousin's presence?'

Here the witness paused for an instant, as if hesitating what to answer.
Then she said, 'I was always in the habit of doing any writing that was
necessary.'

'But why? for what reason?' persisted Mr. England.

'_Because none of my cousins can read or write._'

As this announcement was made, evidently with reluctance, by the girl,
over whose ordinarily colourless countenance a flush rose as she spoke,
all eyes were turned towards Kate Lawless, who was sitting upon a bench
reserved for witnesses, and afterwards in the direction of Ned. The
latter celebrity smiled faintly, as if the higher education thus implied
was comparatively unimportant. But on his sister the effect of the
disclosure was widely different.

She turned her face quickly, and, as she did so, her eyes
sparkled and her set lips expressed--if not anger, malice, and all
uncharitableness--at least a far from benevolent intention towards the
speaker. Making as if to rise, but repressing herself with a strong
effort, she assumed a scornful attitude, as if prepared to listen with
resignation.

'Do you remember any conversation with reference to the horse?'

'Yes; Mr. Trevanion asked where Henry Jones lived, and whether he had
any more horses of the same breed. Ned answered that he lived at Monaro,
and that he would have some more to sell when he bought his next draught
from him.'

'You believe, then, that Trevanion had no idea that the horse was
stolen?'

'No more than you had. He said over and over again that he must get
another or two from Jones.'

'Now, Miss Lawless, you need not answer this question unless you like.
_Did you know_ that the horse was stolen?'

'No, I did not, or I would have warned Mr. Trevanion. I may have doubted
whether everything was quite square about him; but I never thought for a
moment that he was stolen.'

'May I ask you, also, what reason you were likely to have for warning
Mr. Trevanion?'

'Merely that I had a friendly feeling for him, and did not wish to see
him taken in.'

'A very good reason, too. Now there has been evidence to the effect that
Mr. Trevanion admired your cousin Kate; that he paid her a good deal of
attention?'

'Yes; no doubt he did.'

'You must excuse my asking you, but it is necessary to come to a correct
understanding; was there any rivalry or jealous feeling between you?'

'Not the slightest. He was polite--he couldn't be otherwise; but he
never cared two straws about me, or any one but Kate, though I was his
real friend; but he never knew it.'

'Was there not a letter from Kate Lawless sent by your hand to him,
after she had left for Balooka?'

'Yes; but she had to get some one to write it for her. I had a great
mind not to deliver it. I wish now that I never had, and all this might
have been saved.'

'That will do, Miss Esther. Stay--one more question. You had never, of
course, seen Mr. Trevanion in company with your cousins before you came
to Ballarat?'

It occasionally happens that an advocate, in putting a question which he
believes to be perfectly innocuous, makes some fatal mistake which
damages the whole of his previous evidence. The witness changed colour,
and hesitated, then appeared to wish to avoid answering the question.

Mr. England divined the situation. 'It's of no consequence. The witness
is not strong. You can go down, Miss Lawless.'

But it was too late. Dayrell was not the man to overlook a false move.
'I request that the witness's answer may be taken.'

'As the question has been asked, Mr. England, I think it should be
answered,' said the magistrate. 'I will put it myself from the Bench.'

'Have you at any time, witness, seen the prisoner Trevanion in company
with your cousins, before the family came to Ballarat?'

Esther Lawless stood erect as she fixed her eye with a troubled gaze
upon Mr. M'Alpine's countenance.

'Must I answer this question, your worship?' said she; 'is it necessary
in the case?'

'I think you had better,' said he, not unkindly. 'I am sure you will
tell the truth.'

'I would not swear falsely to save my own life,' said the girl, in a low
but distinct voice. 'I can only speak the truth while I stand here. I
_did_ see him riding with Ned one day before we left the Eumeralla.'

At this admission, which apparently astonished the greater number of the
spectators as much as it did Mr. England and the magistrate, both
prisoners turned their faces towards the witness with undisguised
surprise. On the countenance of Lance Trevanion there suddenly arose a
look of complete bewilderment. Abandoning his pose of scornful
indifference, he beckoned hastily to Mr. England, who came over to the
dock. After a whispered colloquy, he again addressed the witness.

'I do not wish in any way to lead you, or to induce you to alter any
part of your evidence which you feel certain of, but I entreat you, as
you value the liberty, perhaps the life of an innocent man, to
reconsider your last answer. I will repeat my question. Are you
prepared, upon your oath, to state that you ever saw the accused, Mr.
Trevanion, in company with your cousin before you left New South Wales
to come to Ballarat?'

The witness looked upward for a moment and clasped her hands. She
shuddered, and essayed in vain to reply, but finally with recovered
firmness of mien said, 'I wish it were not so, but I cannot be mistaken.
I saw him once certainly, and I believe once again, but I did see him
once, if I can believe my eyes, near Eumeralla.'

A keen observer who had watched Kate Lawless's countenance might have
marvelled at the mysterious smile which stole over her features at that
moment, might have noted also a look of conscious triumph mingled with
sudden wonder. For an instant, as she glanced towards the dock, her eyes
sought out those of her brother; they met hers with one swiftest glance
of sudden meaning.

On Lance Trevanion's countenance a despair sombre and terrible commenced
to settle. His attitude expressed utter hopelessness, the deepest
disappointment. When Esther Lawless, after a sudden burst of tears, was
permitted to leave the court, he did not raise his head. Mr. England
made one of the brilliantly exhaustive speeches which had opened the
prison gates to so many enterprising or unlucky personages. The court
was charmed, captivated, convinced, by the overpowering rush and flow of
his persuasive eloquence.

But Lance neither stirred nor looked up. The presentiment was about to
be fulfilled. He was prepared for the worst.

The case was closed. Then. Mr. M'Alpine gave his decision--

'He had heard that day some of the most extraordinary and contradictory
evidence that in his varied experience he had ever listened to. In view
of the prisoner's high character and independent position, attested by
so many witnesses, he had been on the point of discharging him, but,
after hearing the witness's last answer, which amounted to an admission
that the prisoner had been an associate of the Lawless family, even
before they had migrated to Ballarat, he could not entertain a doubt as
to a committal. It was incontestably a case for a jury. It was for them
to decide as to the credibility of opposing witnesses.'

Then came the concluding formula, after which the prisoner was asked if
he desired to say anything.

'Only this,' said the erstwhile proud scion of an ancient race,
stainless in honour, flawless in blood, of whom he alone--oh, hard and
bitter fate!--had ever linked hands with disgrace! 'Only this: that I am
as innocent of all thoughts of wrong or dishonesty to any man as my
mate's little child. I never knew or thought that the horse was other
than honestly come by. I have been deceived--by man and woman both. But
the knowledge has come too late. The witness Catharine Lawless has lied
foully. The other witnesses, particularly Esther Lawless--who is good
and truthful--have been deceived by the resemblance borne to me by
another person. I never was at Balooka before, and never in my life saw
the Eumeralla district--never heard the name even! I protest my
innocence of this and all other charges. I can say no more.'

Mr. M'Alpine paused in thought for a while--an unusual course with
him--then, amid the almost unnatural silence of the court, he said: 'I
feel compelled to send the case for trial. Launcelot Trevanion, you
stand committed to take your trial at the next ensuing Quarter Sessions,
to be holden at Ballarat, on a day to be named. Bail refused. Sergeant
Dayrell, call up the witnesses to be bound over to appear.

'This court stands adjourned.'



CHAPTER XII


Bail having been refused, presumably at the instance of the police--who,
in cases where there is probability of the prisoner levanting or of
arrangements being made to defeat the ends of justice, are entitled to
object--there remained no course but that Lance Trevanion should be
re-committed to gaol. Ned Lawless was also detained for safe keeping,
the same reasons operating even with greater force in his case. This was
the third time that Lance had been brought forth to stand before a
gaping crowd--the third time that he had been transferred to the grim
precincts of a prison and heard the massive iron gates clang behind him.

'I begin to feel,' he said bitterly to Stirling, 'almost like an
habitual criminal. If there is a God that judgeth the earth, as they
used to tell us in old days, why am I permitted to be thus degraded,
falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned?'

It was in this period of trial and sore need that Lance discovered the
nature of friendship. Genial acquaintances and friendly-seeming
personages he had encountered by the hundred. These were now for the
most part too busy or indifferent to visit him in his affliction.
Charles Stirling, however, in spite of his onerous and responsible
duties, lost no opportunity of aid or service. Sometimes he rode half
the night in order to get back to his work in proper time after visiting
the captive and comforting him as best he could. He petitioned the
Governor-in-Council, drafting and procuring signatures to a memorial
setting forth Lance's hard case and praying that he might be released on
bail. He addressed members of the Bench, and essayed to persuade them to
act independently, offering to find bail to any amount and lodge the
money. Hastings and Jack Polwarth canvassed their fellow-miners. The
newspaper press was invoked. But all in vain. The time was in-opportune.
So many horses had been stolen that a strong popular prejudice had
arisen; justice demanded a victim. A reactionary sentiment commenced to
prevail. It was openly stated that because Trevanion, of Number Six, was
a 'swell' and had dropped into a lucky claim, that was no reason why he
should be let off more than a poor man.

Wild and unsettled were the times too--those years early in 'the
fifties.' Martial law was thought necessary for the holding in check of
an army of untamed spirits. A close discriminating adherence to legal
form could hardly be attained. The upshot of it all was that, to the
disgust and despair of Hastings and Jack Polwarth, who had hoped against
hope, all their efforts were vain, and Lance was compelled to resign
himself as best he might to his enforced and protracted _duresse_.

Before leaving for Melbourne Mr. England had indeed almost guaranteed
that he only needed to be placed on his trial to be acquitted, asserting
that no jury in the colony could possibly find him guilty upon the
evidence brought before the Bench; that a committal was very different
from a conviction; that some magistrates made a point of committing for
trial all prisoners brought before them so as to escape responsibility;
that Mr. M'Alpine had a habit of acting in that way; that he (John
George England) would take the shortest odds that the jury acquitted
Lance without leaving the box.

How the weeks dragged on! Autumn was fast changing into winter when the
Quarter Sessions were held. Lance had expected to have been in Melbourne
about the time. Only to think of it! And had he not paltered with his
duty and his solemn promise might he not have been in England now,
seeing the yearly miracle of the spring transformation in that favoured
clime and hearing the surges beat against the frowning headlands of
Tintagel? Madness was in his thoughts. Why did he not dash his brains
out against his prison walls and so end the hideous burlesque upon truth
and justice, honour and common honesty even? Why had he not courage to
do so? No--it would become his father's son to die in ways and fashions
many and varied; but within gaol walls! No! a thousand times, no! That
would be a doom impossible for a Trevanion of Wychwood.

From time to time he had gleams of hope--this miserable captive so
unused to fetter and thrall. It _could_ not be. It should not be. The
eternal justice of heaven would be falsified were this wrong to befall
him. The words of prayer that he had lisped in childhood--the Bible
lessons to so many of which he had hearkened in the old Norman Church at
Wychwood--what would all these be but hollow cheats and ghastly
mockeries were he to be found guilty? It was a simple impossibility. He
had now but to wait--to eat out his heart for one other week, and
then--oh! joy unspeakable! he would be free--free! A free man--not a
prisoner! Did he ever imagine that he would attach such a meaning to the
word freedom? It mattered not. Let him but once set foot outside this
dismal gaol wall. Again he saw himself on the back of a good horse, or
at the claim with good old Jack Polwarth and his wife and Tottie--poor
dear Tottie! But here he could no longer follow out the chain of
probabilities. His eyes filled with tears, and the once-proud Lance
Trevanion, lowered in spirit and strength by confinement and meagre
diet, threw himself upon his miserable pallet and sobbed like a child.

       *       *       *       *       *

The 'next ensuing Court of Quarter Sessions,' to which Lance Trevanion
had been committed for trial, was formally opened at Ballarat on a
certain Wednesday at ten of the clock. The sheriff was in attendance,
with bailiff and minor officials, and also various barristers, including
Mr. England. An unusual number of police appeared on the scene,
including the superintendent of the district--a very high personage
indeed. All were in full uniform, while conspicuous among them stood
Sergeant Dayrell, calm and impassive as usual, though a close observer
might have noticed an occasional sign of impatience.

When the doors of the court-house were opened a rush took place which
filled the building so completely that many were excluded and compelled
to remain outside, trusting to occasional reports of the exciting
matters within. The judge in his robes, attended by the sheriff, took
his seat upon the bench punctually at the appointed time. And once more
Lance Trevanion and his fellow-prisoner Ned Lawless were brought forth
to serve as a spectacle to a wondering or sympathetic crowd, as the case
might be.

The Crown prosecutor, in opening the case, alluded to 'the prevalence of
a system of horse-stealing, now become so notorious; if unchecked it
might lead to the gravest results. The jury would have an opportunity of
hearing the evidence in detail, from which they would of course form
their judgment. But they must not lose sight of the fact that the
prisoners had been caught "red-handed," if he might use the expression.
They were actually in possession of a large number of stolen horses,
many of which were of great value. Some had since been identified by
their owners, who were chiefly miners and working-men connected with the
diggings. He had no desire, he might assure them, to prejudice their
minds in any way; he would merely furnish his evidence for the Crown as
he was bound to do, and trust to the intelligent jury he saw before him
to do their duty without fear or favour. It was a painful sight to him,
as it doubtless was to them, to see two such fine specimens of early
manhood arraigned for so serious an offence. But no consideration of
that sort must be suffered to influence their minds. He would not detain
them longer, but would call the first witness.'

As in all trials, the same witnesses as on the preliminary examinations
were heard, the difference being that no written depositions were taken,
the judge only recording in his notes the evidence with care and
exactness. Mr. England cross-examined the witnesses with increased
rigour and more searching scrutiny. Every fact or fiction in their
previous history which could tend to weaken or discredit their testimony
in the eyes of the jury was fully ventilated. Every motive which could
possibly colour this testimony against the prisoners was suggested or
exposed.

Sergeant Dayrell's evidence was unsparingly criticised. To his calm and
carefully worded statements, studiously colourless, but little exception
could be taken. Still, more than one _historiette_ had been elicited
from the distant part of the colony where he once was stationed which
tended to establish his reputation for unscrupulousness, for desire for
conviction at all risks. He was forced to acknowledge that he had been
the apprehending constable in a well-known stock case near the New South
Wales border, as well as to admit that his zeal on that occasion being
in conflict with the law, had caused the committing magistrate to be
mulcted in heavy costs and damages. These and other facts being
mercilessly dragged forth somewhat detracted from the value of his
evidence.

Then Catharine Lawless was once more called. Again it seemed that the
spectators, as upon the appearance on the stage of a favourite actress,
awoke to more than common excitement and intensity of interest. All eyes
were upon her as she walked composedly up to the witness-box. Dressed
quietly but in perfect taste as before, there was so much grace and
freedom about the girl's every movement--such self-possession in her
bearing--that she looked superior to her surroundings.

She was evidently on her guard against such a display of emotion or
merely feminine weakness as had occurred at the first trial. Calmly and
imperturbably she gave her evidence, and as before deposed to having
seen Lance Trevanion in the companionship of her brother at Eumeralla,
and also at Balooka long before the day of arrest.

If there be any force in the modern doctrines of the projection of nerve
force--of the subtle relation between the mesmeric will power and the
object of its current--then, as for one moment she turned towards the
dock and confronted the lurid light that blazed in Lance Trevanion's
haughty and contemptuous regard, she should have trembled and fallen to
the earth.

But no such effect followed. She gazed back for an instant with a glance
fierce and tameless as his own, then coldly averted her face as she
repeated her lesson, as Mr. England vehemently characterised her
statement.

'Then you still persist, Catharine Lawless,' said that gentleman,
turning with unchivalrous suddenness upon his fair antagonist, 'you
persist in declaring that you saw Lance Trevanion both at Balooka and
Eumeralla on the date you have stated?'

'I have sworn I did see him,' she replied, while a shade of sullenness
commenced to overspread her countenance.

'If these witnesses, Mr. Stirling, Mrs. Delf, Mrs. Polwarth and her
husband, besides several others, have sworn that they saw him at
Growlers' at a date which makes it absolutely impossible that he could
have been within a hundred miles of the localities you mention, is that
true or false?'

'I don't care what they swear, I have told the truth.'

'That is what they have sworn. Now, you know Mr. Stirling, Mrs. Delf,
Jack Polwarth, and the rest, don't you?'

'Well, yes, I have seen them.'

'Do you think they are people likely to swear to an untruth?'

'I can't say. What I said was the truth.'

'And what they say--false!'

'I suppose so.'

As before, she was the last witness for the Crown. When her evidence was
completed, she faced Mr. England, with one indignant, half-revengeful
expression on her face, then walked slowly, and with coolest composure,
from the court.

When the case for the Crown had come to an end Mr. England in an
impressive speech 'put it to his Honour whether it was really necessary
to waste the time of the court by calling witnesses for the defence. The
other prisoner--the only accused, properly so called--had already
pleaded guilty. Was it not patent to his Honour, to the jury, to every
one in court, that this Edward Lawless--he desired to speak of him with
no undue harshness--was the real and only criminal. His client had no
doubt been highly imprudent in keeping company with such dangerous
associates as the Lawlesses, male and female, had proved themselves to
be, but he would ask his Honour, as a man of the world, Who amongst us,
in the heedless days of youth--careless of consequences, and
unsuspicious of guile--had not done likewise? Were people to be treated
as criminals--branded as felons--merely for socially encountering
persons afterwards guilty of felony? What a Star Chamber business would
this be in a British Colony!--where, thank God, every man was under the
ægis of the common law of the realm. His client, unfortunate in that
degree, had merely been a spectator, a looker-on. As to the H. J. horse,
he was as ignorant of all guilty knowledge as himself or his Honour; was
it not the wildest flight of absurdity to imagine for one moment that a
man with twenty thousand pounds to his credit in the bank would be
likely to receive--knowing him to be stolen--a fifty-pound horse? The
thing was absurd--so absurd that he would once more put it to his Honour
whether the farce should not be ended by at once asking the jury for
their verdict, which they would, he was confident, give without leaving
the box.'

The judge 'felt the force of much that had been so ably presented in
favour of his client, but, with every wish to afford the prisoner
facilities for his defence, he was compelled to decline the application
of counsel. He would prefer to hear the witnesses for the defence before
summing up and addressing the jury.'

Mr. England bit his lip, but he 'bowed, of course, to his Honour's
ruling,' and proceeded to call his witnesses.

Then commenced the deeper interest of the performance. Every spectator
appeared to listen with concentrated attention. Not a syllable escaped
attention. Not a sound arose from the dense and closely packed crowd.

All the former witnesses were called. Each in his turn gave evidence
which appeared to be so conclusively in favour of the prisoner that
every one in court thought with Mr. England that the jury would never
leave the box. Mr. Stirling, Jack Polwarth, Mrs. Delf, all testified to
the effect that Lance Trevanion had quitted Growlers' on that particular
day, Friday, the 20th September, for Balooka. When asked whether it was
possible for the prisoner, Trevanion, to have been seen at Balooka
shortly before the date named, they, with one accord, declared it to be
impossible. He had been seen every day by one or other for months
before. As to his being a couple of hundred miles off, it was absolutely
false and incredible. In addition to the witnesses heard previously, two
miners named Dickson and Judd were called, who swore positively that
they had seen the prisoner, Trevanion, on Friday, 20th September, near
'Growlers',' evidently commencing a journey to the eastward. He had a
valise strapped before his saddle, and was going along the mountain
road.

'Would it lead to Balooka?'

'Yes; that was the way to Balooka. One of them had been there, and a
rough shop it was. They were quite positive as to his identity.'

'He was a noticeable chap, and the horse he rode wasn't a commoner
either. Any man with eyes in his head would know the pair of 'em
anywhere, let alone chaps as had worked the next claim but one to him
and Jack Polwarth.'

Asked whether they were quite certain that they had met the prisoner on
the day stated by them, or whether they thought it might have been the
day before.

'It was that very Saturday morning, and no other. They were as sure of
it as of their own lives. If men couldn't be sure of that they could not
be sure of anything.'

Of course they knew Lance Trevanion well?

'Yes, very well, by sight. Not that they had often spoken to him. He was
a gentleman, a big man in his own country, they heard tell. He kept
himself a deal to himself, except in regard to the Lawless family, and
he would have done well to have let them alone too.'

Tessie Lawless, when called upon, moved towards the witness-box with a
much less assumed step than her cousin. She also turned her head towards
the dock. Those who watched her saw her face soften and change like that
of a woman who suddenly beholds a suffering child. As she scanned the
pallid and drawn features of Lance Trevanion, upon which anger and
despair, consuming anxiety and darkling doubt had written their
characters indelibly, it seemed as though she must force her way to him
and weep out her heart in bitter grief that he should be in such ignoble
toils.

Then she braced herself for the effort and stood before the judge. The
statement which she made was almost identical with that on a former
occasion. A very good impression on the jury was evidently made by her
candour and earnestness.

As she answered firmly yet modestly each question put to her by Mr.
England, the judge was observed to listen with close attention and the
jury to be unusually interested. Mr. England, scanning their faces with
practised readiness, saw in imagination their short retirement and a
unanimous verdict of 'not guilty' proceeding from the lips of the
foreman. Then, as he approached the critical period of the question
which had been so unlucky in its effects during the preliminary
examination, he felt as nearly nervous as a man of his proverbial
courage and varied experience could be. He was more than half disposed
to omit the question altogether; how he hated himself for having been
fool enough to put it in the first instance.

'I don't think I need trouble the witness with any other questions, your
Honour,' he said tentatively; but here Dayrell rose and evidently
prepared himself to interpose. With lightning quickness Mr. England
decided to put the question in his own form and fashion, rather than
leave it to the enemy.

'One minute, Miss Esther,' he said, as if the idea had just occurred to
him. 'I think you said that you were uncertain, or could not quite
recall, whether you had ever seen the accused Lance Trevanion before you
left the Eumeralla to come to Ballarat?'

This he said with a smilingly suggestive air which would have given the
cue to an ordinary witness less imbued with a sense of unfaltering right
than Tessie Lawless. But as the girl's clear brown eyes searched his
face with a troubled expression, he comprehended that there was no hope
of evasion, that he had got hold of one of those impracticable witnesses
who really do speak 'the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,' to the
consternation of lawyers and the disaster of defendants.

'I said that I _had_ seen him before, at the Eumeralla,' she said
simply, 'I can't swear anything else. I _did_ see him, and it was a bad
day for him--and--and for me too,' she added.

'Now think again, Miss Esther. Reflect that your answer to my question
is perhaps more important than any one you ever made in your life. How
can you account for Trevanion being so far from Ballarat? What business
had he there, and why should he leave Growlers' Gully, to which he came
from the ship, as I can prove?'

The girl looked again at the dock and those who stood therein--at Ned
Lawless, who lounged good-natured as ever, and smiling to all
appearance; at Lance, who stood erect, darkly frowning and with a fixed
stern expression, as of one who should never smile more.

'It will break my heart,' she said, 'but I must speak the truth while I
stand here. I _did_ see him on the Eumeralla, before we left home for
Ballarat, one day with Ned.'

'I must ask again whether there is any possibility of your being
mistaken in the identity of the accused?' persisted Mr. England. 'You
have heard doubtless of men being so wonderfully alike that strangers
could not in many cases discover the difference?'

'Just stand down for an instant. With his Honour's permission I will
recall the witness John Polwarth.'

'You are recalled upon your former oath, Mr. Polwarth. I wish to ask you
whether you ever saw an individual most strangely resembling Trevanion?
If so, when and where?'

'Yes--sartain,' replied John, looking pityingly upon Lance as he stood
in the cage, as Jack afterwards designated it. 'There was a chap as
called hisself Trevenna--Lawrence Trevenna--as coomed oot in ship with
us, and was as like the master here as he'd been his twin.'

'Was the likeness really astonishing?'

''Stonishin'! I believe you. It was the most surprisin' likeness ever I
seed, and so the missus'll tell you besides.'

'Well, what became of him?'

'Nivir heerd tale or tidings of him since he left the ship. Wasn't sorry
for that either. He was that bad-tempered and fond of card-playing that
I couldn't bear to have him in the same mess with me and the missus.'

Mrs. Polwarth, also recalled, gave similar evidence with considerable
spirit, and hoped that some of the witnesses heard to-day might have
some good cause to know the individual as she meant. 'He was death on
playing cards, and that fond of money that he wouldn't leave off when he
lost. He was the worst-tempered man in the ship.'

'That will do, Mrs. Polwarth. You may go and sit in the court with your
husband. Now, Miss Lawless, you have heard what these two most
respectable witnesses have sworn to. Are you still certain and positive
in your own mind that you saw Lance Trevanion _himself_ on the flats of
the Eumeralla, or did not rather fall in with Trevenna, who seems born
for the special purpose of complicating this most involved and unhappy
case?'

A look of relief and sudden satisfaction passed over the girl's face as
she answered, 'I do now feel in doubt. Oh! I will not swear positively.
I never dreamed that there was any one so like Mr. Trevanion.'

'Then,' pursued Mr. England, 'having now become aware that there is an
individual so strikingly like Lance Trevanion that a stranger could
hardly know them apart, are you desirous to correct your former
evidence, given in ignorance of the fact, by now declaring on your oath
that you are unable to identify the man you saw with the prisoner,
Trevanion?'

The light came back to the witness's eyes, and even a faint colour rose
to her cheeks as she answered firmly, almost joyfully, 'I believe in my
heart that it must have been Trevenna that I saw. I cannot swear now
that I saw Mr. Trevanion.'

A faint murmur of approval arose in the court, which was promptly
suppressed as the Crown Prosecutor rose.

'I do not wish, your Honour, in any way to impugn this witness's
testimony. She has every desire, I feel convinced, to speak the truth.
But I wish to ask her whether of _her own knowledge_ she is aware that
such a person as Lawrence Trevenna exists?'

'I have just heard two people swear to it,' the girl replied hastily, as
if fearful that this welcome solution of a dreadful doubt should be
taken from her. 'What more do I need?'

'Just so. But you must perceive that in the event--improbable, I admit,
but possible--that these witnesses were mistaken or misleading, you have
no knowledge of your own to fall back upon?'

'If I could only see them both together,' pleaded poor Tessie ruefully,
'I am sure I could pick out the one I saw at Eumeralla.'

'I am afraid there is no chance of that,' said the barrister, 'unless
Sergeant Dayrell can produce him.'

'Perhaps it would be convenient,' answered Dayrell, in the most coldly
incredulous tones, 'if I could produce a counterpart of the prisoner,
Lawless, at the same time. I do not wish to distress the last witness,
but one would be quite as easy as the other.'

The girl faced round, as his clear but slightly raised voice sounded
through the court, and looked full at him, with scorn and indignation in
every line of her countenance.

'I thought better of you, Francis Dayrell,' she said. 'You are acting a
falsehood, and you know it.'

Dayrell's lips moved slightly, but no sound came from them for a moment.
He bowed with an affectation of extreme courtesy before addressing the
Bench.

'Your Honour, I claim protection against such an imputation. But I make
great allowance for the witness, whose relation to the prisoners excuses
much.'

His Honour was understood to reprove the witness mildly but
impressively, and to express a hope that she would abstain from all
aggressive remarks in future.

Tessie's evidence being concluded, the Crown Prosecutor proceeded to
address the jury, pointing out what, in his opinion, were the salient
points of the case as brought out in evidence.

'In the first place, they would remark that large numbers of horses had
been and were at that very time being systematically stolen from the
miners. There existed no doubt, in the minds of persons capable of
forming an opinion on such matters, that a well-organised and
widely-spread association had been formed, by means of which horses
stolen in one colony were driven by unfrequented routes to another, for
the purpose of sale. It was not as if an occasional animal here and
there had been taken. That offence, criminal in itself, doubtless,
deserved some punishment. But, considering the great value of horses at
the diggings, their almost vital importance in the ordinary course of
mining industry, and the difficulty of following up and punishing
marauders without ruinous loss of time and expense, he was there to tell
the jury that a greater wrong, a more flagrant injustice, could not be
inflicted on any mining community.

'With regard to the prisoners arrested and arraigned together, one had
pleaded guilty and the other had denied all knowledge--all criminal
knowledge--of the fact that the horse he was riding when arrested had
been stolen. There had been evidence given that day before them which
directly pointed to the prisoner Trevanion's general association with
the Lawlesses, such evidence as, if believed by them, must lead to the
conclusion that the mode of procuring and disposing of the large number
of horses found in the elder Lawless's possession was not unknown to
him.

'On the other hand, there had not been wanting evidence most favourable
to the prisoner, Trevanion; favourable in its purport, and entitled to
respect on account of the character and position of the witnesses. It
was their province to pronounce upon the credibility of the witnesses.
He would not detain them longer. They were the judges of fact. His
Honour would in his charge direct them as to the law of the case.'

Then Mr. England arose, threw back his gown as if preparing for action
in another arena, and faced the jury with an air of confident valour.

'His learned friend, the Crown Prosecutor, had most properly confined
himself to a bare statement of facts--if facts they could be called. In
the whole of his experience of alleged criminal cases it had never been
his good fortune to be connected with a defence, the conduct of which
was so childishly clear, the outcome of which was so ridiculously easy
of solution. Putting aside for the present the utter want of all
reasonable motive for the commission of a felony--the perpetration of a
crime by a man of good fame, family, and fortune--this extraordinary
purposeless deed, for which only the wildest condition of insanity could
account, he would briefly run over the evidence for the defence.

'First, as to the character of the prisoner's witnesses, shame was it,
and sorrow as well, that he should have to refer to this unfortunate
gentleman--he would repeat the word--by such a designation. The jury
would note, giving the case that attention which was its due, that every
witness for the defence was a person of unblemished character. Beginning
with Mr. Stirling--their tried and trusted friend--what man within a
hundred miles of Ballarat would doubt his word, not to speak of his
solemn oath! Then, John Polwarth and his wife--the former a hard-working
legitimate miner, one of a class that the country was proud of, and
whose industry was rapidly lifting it to a lofty position among the
nations. His fond and faithful wife. Charles Edward Hastings, a man of
birth and culture, yet, like the majority of this population, an
earnest, efficient toiler. Then their respected friend and benefactress,
Mrs. Delf. He should like to see any one look into that lady's face and
doubt her word. The two wages-men from the Hand-in-Hand claim, men who
had no earthly interest but of upholding the truth; and last, but by no
means the least in weight of testimony, Miss Esther Lawless--the witness
of truth, even against her own sympathies, as any child could see.

'So much for the character of our witnesses and their reliability. Then
as to the agreement of this testimony. Examined separately and without
suspicion of collusion, what had been their evidence, differing only
with those shades of discrepancy which before all practised tribunals
absolved them from any hint of tutoring? Why, it amounted to triumphant
proof beyond all question or challenge, that on Thursday, the 19th of
September, Launcelot Trevanion was at the Joint-Stock Bank at Growlers'
Gully, and that he could not have started on his journey to Balooka
earlier than Friday, 20th, the day he was asserted to have been seen
there. He held this important position to be proved, so much so that he
should not again perhaps refer to it.

'Having thus briefly, but he hoped clearly, presented to them the
overwhelming weight of evidence, amounting to one of the most convincing
_alibis_ ever proved before a court, he should pass on to the evidence
for the Crown. There was an absence of direct proof, but he hesitated
not to impugn the _bona fides_ of Sergeant Dayrell and Catharine
Lawless. He owned to regarding it with considerable suspicion. He
implored the jury, as they valued their oaths, to scrutinise this part
of the case most heedfully. What the motives of these witnesses might be
he was not prepared to assert, but as men of the world they would
probably form their own opinion. Catharine Lawless had admittedly been
on friendly, more than friendly terms with the accused, why had she so
completely turned round and given damaging evidence against him? In the
history of light o' loves of this nature were found fatal enmities, and
hardly less fatal friendships; was it not probable that jealousy, "cruel
as the grave," was the motive power in this otherwise inconsequential
action? Cool and high-couraged as this witness had shown herself, he
could not avoid noticing signs of discomposure which pointed to
unnatural feelings and untruthful statements. Was there then some
relentless vengeance in the background, the secret of which was known
only to the Lawless family and Sergeant Dayrell, to be wreaked upon this
unfortunate victim of treachery? He was betrayed alike in love and in
friendship, in business and in pleasure. This conspiracy, he could call
it by no lighter name, was no accidental affair, but a carefully
planned, cold-blooded, and deliberate crime. In all trials involving
criminal action it was the habit of eminent judges to direct juries to
examine carefully the probability or otherwise of the prisoner's
_motive_ for committing the offence charged against him. In this case no
motive could possibly be said to exist. Was it likely, as he had before
inquired of them, that a man with a fortune, a large fortune to his
credit in a bank, with a weekly income of most enviable magnitude,
increasing rather than diminishing, should lend himself to a paltry
theft, such as was alleged against him? It was as though the leading
country gentleman of a county in Britain should steal a donkey off a
common, if they would pardon him the vulgarity of the simile. Gentlemen
might smile, but was there anything to excite mirth in the haggard
features and melancholy mien of the unhappy young man whom they saw in
that dock? Let them imagine one of their own relatives placed in that
position by no fault of his own, and they could understand his feelings.
He would not for an instant urge them to act inconsistently with their
oath, but he implored them to avoid by their verdict that day the dread
and terrible responsibility of convicting an innocent man.'



CHAPTER XIII


Then the judge, with a final glance at his notes, commenced to sum up on
the evidence. He stood singular among his fellow-jurists for plain and
unostentatious demeanour, both on and off the bench. In the matter of
outward attire he could not be accused of extravagance. A studied
plainness of habit distinguished him on all occasions. Careless,
moreover, as to the fit of his garments as of their colour or quality.
As a lawyer he was proverbially keen, clear-headed, and deeply read; but
he wasted no time upon his judgments, and never was known to 'improve
the occasion' by the stern or pathetic harangues in which his
fellow-judges, for the most part, enclosed their decisions--the wrapper
of the pill, so to speak. So rapid and decisive were his Honour's
findings that some of them had passed into household words. When he
arose from his seat, and after taking a short walk along the judicial
dais, as if in mental conflict, resumed his position, the spectators
knew that they would not have long to wait. '"Very honest man rides a
stolen horse," would have been the gist of my charge, gentlemen of the
jury,' he said; 'but this truly strange and complicated case demands the
closest examination. The evidence presents exceptional features. On one
side you have a young man of good character and means. His pecuniary
circumstances should have removed all temptation to commit the offence
charged. In a spirit of recklessness he associates with the Lawless
family. About their character--with the sole exception of Esther
Lawless--the less said the better. He buys from Edward Lawless a horse
proved to have been stolen--many an honest man during the turmoil of the
gold period has done the same. He has occasionally gambled for large
sums, which is highly imprudent, but not felony, in the eyes of the law.
The evidence for the defence proves fully--if believed--that he did not
leave Growlers' Gully for Balooka until the 19th of September--competent
witnesses swear positively to this fact. If you believe them, the case
is at an end. On the other hand, as many swear to his having been seen
at Balooka long before the day referred to, and also at Eumeralla, the
old home of the Lawlesses, some of these witnesses must be in error, as
the prisoner manifestly could not have been in two places at once.
Catharine Lawless had evidently an animus _spretae injuria formae_, he
felt inclined to say, which might be freely translated into a lover's
quarrel of some sort. As men of the world, the jury would largely
discount her evidence. A still more remarkable feature of this truly
remarkable case was that Esther Lawless--whose conscientious scruples
did her honour--testified also to having seen the prisoner at Eumeralla
in association with Edward Lawless. They had heard John Polwarth's
evidence, and his wife's, regarding a shipmate curiously like Trevanion.
Such similarities, though rare, were not unknown. There was a
possibility of mistaken identity. These points, as well as the
credibility of the witnesses, were for them to consider. They were the
judges of fact. But it was their especial duty to give the prisoner the
benefit of all reasonable doubt--a doubt which he should certainly share
with them if they brought in a verdict of _not guilty_.'

When Mr. England heard the conclusion of the judge's charge, he scarcely
doubted for a moment that after a short retirement of the jury his
Honour's last words would be repeated by that responsible body. He
therefore sat down, and calling over Charles Stirling, imparted to him
confidentially his feeling on the subject. 'His Honour plainly and
unmistakably was with them, and had summed up dead in favour of
Trevanion. He was one of the best judges of the Victorian Bench,
clear-headed and decisive, detesting all mere verbiage. A man, a
gentleman, a sound lawyer--all these Judge Buckthorne was known to be.
Pity he could not borrow a little deportment from Sir Desmond, who had
enough and to spare.'

Thus they talked while the business of the court went forward. Another
jury had been impanelled; another case called on; another prisoner had
been put in the dock and placed on the farther side with Ned Lawless.
They seemed to know each other. Lance cast upon him a brief, indifferent
glance, and resigned himself to silent endurance.

With respect to the issue, Charles Stirling was by no means so confident
as his legal friend, veteran as he was, boasting the scars of a hundred
battles. But in his character of banker he had the opportunity of
hearing the general public, as represented by the 'legitimate miner,'
as he was fond of calling himself, which means every sort and condition
of mankind, anxious to compel fortune by the primeval process, but
wholly without capital to develop enterprises.

Now the jury was chiefly composed of ordinary miners. Of these it so
happened that a large number had had their horses stolen. They were
valuable animals at that period, most difficult to replace, and the
owners, therefore, felt their loss acutely. They came to the trial with
a fixed and settled intention of striking a blow at horse-stealers, to
which end it was necessary that some one, they hardly cared who, should
suffer.

They were determined that an example should be made. It would do good
and prevent others from being so immoral and short-sighted as to rob
honest miners.

'This Trevanion,' they reasoned, 'had really been mixed up with the
Lawless crowd, and a worse lot, now it turned out, had never been seen
near Ballarat.'

It was argued that the evidence went to show that he had been a known
friend and an intimate of the family at the place with the native name,
and had been seen there when horse-stealing on a large scale was being
carried on.

'Kate Lawless swore point-blank to his having been away with her
brothers long before the Lawless crowd had come to Growlers'. Trooper
Donnellan had sworn to seeing him there. Hiram Edwards, the Yankee
digger, had seen him there, and other miners. They had no call to have a
down on him, even if Dayrell and the girl had.

'Besides these, Tessie Lawless, who every one knew was a straight girl,
and wouldn't have said a word against him for the world if she could
have helped it--even _she_ had to confess that she had seen him at
Eumeralla.'

'What about this chap that was said to be the dead image of him?' asked
a younger juror. 'It was hard lines to be lagged innocent through
another cove's work.'

'Well, they might believe that if they liked; it was put up, some
thought. Jack Polwarth and his wife, like all these Cousin Jacks, would
swear anything for a Cornishman. Mr. Stirling was a nice chap, but he
was a banker, and wasn't likely to go back on a man with a good account.
Mrs. Delf was a good sort, but Trevanion used her house regular and
spent his money free. They knew what that meant. His mind was made up.
If Ned Lawless, as was waiting for his sentence, was in it, Trevanion
was too. He must face the music. He'd be let off light, but it would be
a lesson to him. If they didn't shop some one over this racket there
wouldn't be a horse left on the field by Christmas.'

At different times, and from different speakers, such was the general
tone and substance of the arguments advanced by the majority. The
minority defended their position, and from time to time denied that
sufficient evidence had been furnished to show guilty knowledge or
participation in crime on the part of the prisoner. But, after several
hours spent in debate, the minority yielded, disinclination to be locked
up all night lending force to the logic of their opponents.

When the jury marched into court, after notice by the sheriff's officer
to the judge that they had agreed, a hush of anxious silence reigned
throughout the building. Lance stood up fearless and erect, as a soldier
faces the firing-party at his execution. Ned Lawless never changed his
position, but seemed as careless and unenvious as the youngest lad in
court.

'How say you, gentlemen of the jury?' said the judge's associate, a very
young gentleman, with discretion, however, beyond his years. 'Do you
find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?'

There was an air of solemnity pervading the jurors generally, from which
Mr. England at once deduced an adverse verdict. The women fastened their
eyes upon the foreman with eager expectation or painful anxiety; all
save Kate Lawless. For all her emotion displayed, expressed in her
countenance, the prisoners might have been Chinamen charged with
stealing cabbages.

There was a slight pause, after which the foreman, a burly digger who
had been a 'forty-niner' in California, and had seen the first rush at
Turon, uttered the word 'Guilty!' The effect of the announcement was
electrical. A tumult seemed imminent. The great crowd swayed and surged
as if suddenly stirred to unwonted action. Groans mingled with hisses
were heard; women's cries and sobs, above which rose a girl's hysterical
shriek, thrilling and prolonged, temporarily in the ascendant. The deep
murmur of indignation seemed about to swell into riotous shouting, when
an additional force of police appeared at the outer entrance, by whom,
after vigorous expostulation, order was restored.

The judge proceeded to pass sentence, contenting himself with telling
the jury that 'they had proved themselves scrupulous guardians of the
public welfare, and had not allowed themselves to be swayed by
considerations of mercy. Their grasp of the facts of the case was
doubtless most comprehensive. It was their verdict, not his. They had
accepted the sole responsibility. Launcelot Trevanion, the sentence of
the court is that you be imprisoned in Her Majesty's Gaol at Ballarat,
and kept to hard labour for the term of two years. Edward Lawless, the
sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned in Her Majesty's Gaol at
Pentridge, and kept to hard labour for the term of five years. Let the
prisoners be removed.'

Then the disorder of the crowd, previously restrained, burst all bounds,
and appeared to become ungovernable. Tessie Lawless fell forward in a
faint and was carried out. Mrs. Polwarth shook her fist in the direction
of the sacred judgment-seat, and declared in resonant tones that more
would come of this if things were not mended. Snatching Tottie up, she
and Mrs. Delf followed in the wake of Mr. Stirling and Hastings,
continuing to impeach the existing order of things judicial, and
declaring 'that an honest man and a gentleman had no show in a country
like this, where straight folks' oaths counted for nought; where
policemen and lying jades had power to shut up in prison a man whose
shoes in England they wouldn't have been allowed to black.'

'End of first act of the melodrama,' said Hastings to Charlie Stirling,
with grim pleasantry. 'Audience gone out for refreshment. "What may
happen to a man in Victoria!" as the Port Phillip _Patriot_ said the
other day. Poor Lance! it makes me feel revolutionary too.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The end had come. With a hoarse murmur, half-repressed but none the less
sullen and resentful, the crowd surged outward from the court. A strong
body of police escorted the prisoners to the van, in which, despite of
threatened obstruction from some of the Growlers' Gully contingent, they
were placed and driven towards the gaol, which, built on a lofty
eminence, was nearly a mile from the court-house. Ned Lawless preserved
his ordinary cheerful indifference, nodding to more than one
acquaintance in the crowd, as who should say, 'They don't have me for no
five years, you bet!'

But Lance moved like a man in a dream. The force of the blow seemed to
have arrested the ordinary action of the brain. 'Guilty! _Two years'
imprisonment!_ Oh, God! Was it possible! and not some evil dream from
which he would wake, as in the days of his boyhood, to find himself free
and happy. It could not be. The Almighty could not be so cruel, so
merciless, could not suffer a wrong so foul, so false to every principle
of right, truth, justice! This hideous phantasmagoria would vanish, and
he, Lance Trevanion, would find himself back at Number Six, hailing the
dawn with joy, ready to sing aloud as he left his couch with pure
elation of spirits.'

The actuality of changed conditions was brought home to him by the
prompt alteration of treatment to which he was subjected on arriving at
the gaol. Marched through a large yard in which a number of prisoners
were sitting or standing aimlessly about, Lance became aware that a
great change had taken place in his status and prestige. Before this he
was only on committal; for all the prison authorities knew, he might be
acquitted, and walk forth from court unstained in reputation.

But now things were different. He was a prisoner under sentence. Bound
to conform to the regulations of the establishment, who must _obey
orders_. Do, in plain words, what he was told, no matter in what tone or
manner couched, must perform menial services, descend from his former
position to be the servant of servants, nay more, their dumb and
unresisting slave, unless he saw fit to defy the terrible and crushing
weight of prison authority. Should he submit? he asked himself, sitting
down on the scanty bedding, neatly folded on a narrow board.

'Should he submit? or rather should he not give volcanic vent to his
untamed temper, strangle the warder who next came to his cell, and "run
amok," scattering the gaol guards, dying by a rifle bullet rather than
by the slower but not less certain action of the prison atmosphere? Had
it not killed so many another, born, like him, to a life of
freedom?--and yet--he was young--so young! Life had joys in store--for a
man of three-and-twenty, even if he had to waste two years in this
thrice accursed living tomb! Disgrace! dishonour! Of course it
was--would be all the days of his life. Still there were other
countries--other worlds, almost, of which he had since his arrival in
Australia heard more than all his schooling had taught him. The Pacific
Slope; the South-Sea Islands; the Argentine Republic; New Mexico; Texas;
Colorado! These were localities of which many a miner talked as
familiarly as Jack Polwarth of Cornwall or Devon. Two years would pass
somehow. How many weeks was it? A hundred and more! The Judge, however,
had ordered the time he had spent under committal to be deducted from
the whole term--that was something. Well, he would see it out. He had
friends still who were staunch and true. He would change his name and go
to one of those places in the New World where men were not too
particular about their associates' former lives--as long as they paid
their way and lived a manly life. But home! Home to Wychwood! Home to
his father and Estelle! Never! No! He could not look them in the face
again.'

These reflections were brought to a close abruptly by the sudden opening
of the cell door and the entrance of two warders, one of whom carried a
suit of prison clothes. One was a tall powerful man with a hard
expression of countenance and a cruel mouth. He looked at Lance with a
cold, scrutinising air.

'Stand up, prisoner Trevanion,' he said, as if reading out of a book,
'and the next time you hear your cell door open comply with the
regulations.'

'What regulations?' inquired Lance.

'They're on that board,' pointing to a small board placed in a corner of
the cell. 'You can read, I expect? Now, strip, and dress yourself in
this uniform.'

Disencumbering himself of his ordinary garments, Lance soon found
himself attired in a striped suit of coarse cloth, fitted also with
rough blucher boots and a woollen cap.

'Follow Warder Jackson.'

The shorter warder grinned: 'You've got to see the barber and the
photographer next. You won't hardly know yourself, will he, Bracker?
We've got yer photer' before you was took, and now all we want is yer
jug likeness. Then we have yer both ways in case yer gives us leg-bail.
Turn.'

They halted in a wide passage where a man in prison garb stood by a
camera. He had been a photographer before committing the forgery for
which he was imprisoned. His talents were now utilised in securing
likenesses of his fellow-prisoners, a modern gaol invention which had
proved of immense value in the identification of criminals who had
either escaped or had committed fresh crimes.

Before being placed in position a man came out of a passage bearing a
razor, with shaving materials and scissors of formidable size.

'Sit down,' said the tall warder, pointing to a bench, 'the gaol barber
will cut your hair now and shave you, after this he will shave you twice
a week and cut your hair every fortnight.' Subduing a frenzied impulse
to seize the razor, cut every one's throat and his own afterwards, Lance
sat down, and in a marvellously short time found his face denuded of
moustache and whisker, while his head felt strangely cold and bristly.
He submitted, vacantly staring and unresistingly, to being placed in the
position proper for the apparatus. When the negative came out and was
shown to him exultingly as a first-rate likeness he did not recognise
himself.

This creature in the repulsive and bizarre habiliments, with cropped
head and hairless face as of a patient in a lunatic asylum. Was this
really himself? Was this Lance Trevanion? It could not be, unless he had
gone mad. Perhaps he had without knowing it; men did not know when they
lost their reason, so he had read, or how would they persist in saying
they were sane? His head was burning, his eyes darkened, he gasped for
breath, and before either warder could save him, fell prone and heavily
on the stone floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

He recovered to find himself in the cell to which he had first been
taken. He was sitting upon the two blankets which represented bed and
bedding for a hard-labour prisoner, and had been considerately propped
up against an angle of the wall. He had been 'under observation' of a
warder unconsciously since being carried there. This official was
enabled to look in through a small barred aperture for that purpose,
placed in the cell door. When the prisoner struggled into consciousness
he departed, leaving Lance to realise his position and to compose his
thoughts.

Merciful heaven! what thoughts were his! Let those say who have suddenly
awakened to the consciousness of crime, not only alleged but legally
proved; who as criminals, in spite of denial and protest, have been
tried and sentenced. To the awakened knowledge of dishonour fixed,
public, irrevocable! A mark for the pity of friends, for the scorn of
strangers, for the chuckling triumph of enemies! Up to a certain stage
of legal conflict imagination cheats the boding heart with hope of
release, victory, sudden good fortune.

But, the verdict once delivered, the sentence pronounced, hope trails
her wings and abandons the fated victim; faith permits the lamp to burn
so low that a breath of unbelief suffices to extinguish it; charity
flees in dismay from frenzied cries and imprecations. Then this is the
opportunity of the enemy of mankind. This demon train finds easy
entrance into the ruined fortress of the soul. The furies are not idle.
Remorse, revenge, jealousy, cruel as the grave, all the unclean and
baser spirits ravenous for his soul, forsaken of God and man, as he
holds himself to be, gather around the scapegoat of society as the
diablotins around the corpse of the physician in Doré's terrible
engraving. A carnival of evil, weird and Dantesque, begins in the lonely
cell. In that hour, unless his guardian angel has the power to shield
him from the dread assault of the lower forces, a transformation, such
as was but fabled in old classic days, takes place. The higher
qualities, the loftier aspirations, the old beliefs in honour, valour,
virtue, and justice take flight for ever, while the brute attributes
stalk forth threatening and unchallenged.

Day after day Lance Trevanion performed mechanically his portion of
appointed work among the prison herd. To them he spoke no word. When
locked up with the rest for the long long solitary night, which
commenced before dark and did not end till after sunrise, under gaol
rules, he sat brooding over his woes. Stirling had called with printed
permission from the visiting justice to see prisoner Trevanion, but he
refused to meet him. How could he bear that any of his former friends
should look upon him degraded and repulsive of aspect? No! He would
never see them more--while in this hateful prison-house at least.
Afterwards, if he were living and not turned into a wild beast, he would
consider. Friends! How _could_ a man have friends while suffering this
degradation?

Towards the warders his demeanour was silent rather than sullen, but he
could not be induced by threat or persuasion to affect the
respectfulness which is, by regulation, enjoined between prisoners and
officials. These last were indifferent, to do them justice, regarding
Lance as 'a swell chap as had got it hot, and was a bit off his chump.'
The exception to this state of feeling was Bracker, the head warder, who
desired to be regarded with awe, and was irritable at the slightest
failure of etiquette. His manner, devoid of the faintest trace of
sympathy, was harsh and overbearing. To the higher class of prisoners he
was especially distasteful, and from this knowledge, or other reason,
they were the inmates towards whom he appeared to have the strongest
dislike. It may easily be imagined that although the visiting
magistrate, to whom is entrusted the duty of trying and punishing all
descriptions of prison offences, is presumably impartial, yet it is
within the power of any gaol official, if actuated by malicious
feelings, to irritate a prisoner to the verge of frenzy, and afterwards
to ensure his punishment under form of law. The trial takes place within
the walls of the gaol. The warders give their evidence on oath. In a
general way they corroborate each other's testimony. It is not difficult
to foretell, even though the magistrate be acute and discriminating, how
the decision will go. The punishments permitted in prison vary in
severity. Confinement in a solitary cell with half rations, or even
bread and water, for periods varying from three days to a fortnight,
mark the initiatory stage of repression. Then comes the dark cell, an
experience which awes the boldest.

After which, for insubordination coupled with unusual violence of speech
or action, flogging may be inflicted, if a second magistrate be present
at the hearing of the case. This was the code to which Lance Trevanion
now found himself amenable. All ignorant of its pains and penalties, he
bore himself with a sullen contempt alike of the tasks and routine
observances by regulation imposed upon all prisoners. He obeyed, indeed,
but with an air of indifference which provoked Bracker, who secretly
resolved to 'break' him, as the prison slang goes. To that end he
commenced a line of conduct which he had seldom known in his extended
experience to fail. More than once, however, in his career, Bracker had
been accused of cruelty to prisoners. At the last gaol where he had
served the visiting magistrate had come to the conclusion that these
repeated charges were not entirely without foundation, and so reporting,
his official superior had warned him that if any offence of the kind was
proved against him he would be disrated, if not dismissed. It was
therefore incumbent on him to be wary and circumspect.

He commenced by speaking roughly to Lance almost every time he entered
his cell, compelling him to roll up his blankets several times in
succession under the pretence of insufficient neatness, swearing at him
when there was no one near, and abusing him as a lazy lubber who
wouldn't take the trouble to keep his cell neat and wanted to have a
body-servant to wait upon him. Among Mr. Bracker's other engaging
qualities was that of being a radical of the deepest dye in politics and
a democrat particularly advanced. A child of the masses, he had received
just sufficient education to qualify him for a rabid advocacy of certain
communistic theories. Arising from this mental enlightenment partly, as
well as from the fundamental condition of an envious and malignant
nature, was a hatred of privileged orders and an unreasoning spite
towards gentle-folk and aristocrats of whatever sex or grade. He had
read accounts of the French Revolution and lamented that he had not the
power to put in force, in these degenerate days, some of the drastic
remedies by which 'the people' of France ameliorated their own condition
and wiped out the long score of oppressions which they had suffered at
the hands of their natural enemies.

As a man, a politician, and a warder he felt therefore a subtle
satisfaction in tormenting a member of the hated class secretly. He felt
it due to himself also, as a matter of professional etiquette, not to be
'bested' by a prisoner under sentence. He settled to his daily dole of
insult with cruel craft and grim resolve. Such may have actuated a
plantation overseer in South Carolina towards a contumacious 'nigger' in
the good old slave-holding days before the war.

Daily the 'assistant torturer' pursued his course. Mere oaths and
continuous abuse were always carefully timed to be out of earshot of all
others. Daily Lance Trevanion endured in silence the varied taunts, the
bullying tone, which he had never needed to bear from living man before.
Indignant scorn lit up his sad despairing eyes at each fresh
provocation. More deeply glowed their smouldering fires, but no word
came from the tightly-compressed lips; no gesture told of the well-nigh
unendurable mental agony within, of the almost unnatural strain.

'Yes, you may look,--blast you for an infernal stuck-up aristocrat,'
Bracker said one morning. 'You know you'd like to rub me out, but you're
not game--_not game_--do you hear that? You and all your breed in the
old country, and this too, have been living all your lives on the labour
of men like me, and treating us like the dirt under your feet, and you
can't salute your superiors like another prisoner. You're too grand, I
suppose. But by ----, I'll break you down, my fine fellow, before I've
done with you. I'll have you on your knees yet. You're not the first
that's tried it on with me, and, my word! they paid for it. I'd like you
to have seen them knuckle under before I left off dealing with them.'

The next day, on some transparent pretence, Lance was ordered to take up
the work of one of the long-sentence prisoners, which involved menial
and degrading, not to say disgusting duties. These he performed
patiently and mechanically, yet with a far-off look as of a man in a
dream. Even this penance was insufficient to appease the malevolence of
his tormentor. He made a practice of standing near, watching his victim,
enjoying the spectacle of the captive 'swell' engaged for hours in the
meanest conceivable employment. From time to time he made brutal jokes
upon the situation with his assistant warders or those prisoners who
were always ready for personal reasons to take the side of their
taskmasters.

After the night's stillness and respite--stillness how oppressive, even
terrible in its unbroken silence!--Lance would brace himself to confront
anew his bitter fate. He would repeat to himself all the reasons that he
could summon for stubborn endurance and patient adherence to the course
he had laid down for himself. But with the morning light came his
inexorable foe, ordering him here and there, persisting in declaring
that he was in the habit of breaking minor regulations, making a
laughing-stock of him before other prisoners in every way, driving him
along the road which was sure, in Bracker's experience, to land him in
some act of overt insubordination.

One morning, after an hour's trial of every species of aggravation,
Lance's patience so far failed him that he turned upon his persecutor
and told him that no one but a coward would thus treat a man in his
position, and who was unable to defend himself or retaliate. He did not
say much, but doubtless committed himself to the extent of infringing
the gaol regulations, which enjoin respect and obedience to all
officials.

His adversary at once seized his advantage, and ordering him back to his
cell locked him up, pushing him roughly inside the door. This portion
of his duty performed, he lodged a complaint in due form of
insubordination against Launcelot Trevanion, hard labour prisoner under
sentence.

The gaoler held over the case until the end of the week, when Mr.
M'Alpine, as visiting magistrate, regularly attended to hear cases and
complaints.

The trial of prisoners charged with such offences is conducted _in
camera_, the magistrate, the gaoler, the parties to the complaint, and
the witnesses being only present. For reasons held to be sufficient, the
public and the press are excluded. Evidence on oath is taken down in
writing, that the depositions may be afterwards referred to. The
magistrate decides on the evidence brought before him. The accused is
permitted to call witnesses. But for obvious reasons the warders and the
companions in captivity of the culprit or complainant constitute
necessarily the only available testimony. Thus it is to be feared that
occasionally the scales of justice may be deflected, and though forms
are adhered to, wrong-doing triumphs and revenge is wreaked.

So, in the present case, Bracker swore positively that Lance had
habitually refused to obey orders, and on this occasion had abused and
threatened him in language unfit to be repeated. He handed in a paper on
which was written a selection of foul expressions of his own invention.
His tale was corroborated in part by another warder, who had heard Lance
speak in an excited tone of voice to the complainant--though he was not
near enough to catch the sense of his words. One of the
prisoners--mindful of favours to come--'swore up' in Bracker's interest,
and more circumstantially confirmed his story. Against this weight of
evidence Lance's denial availed nothing. His resentful demeanour tended
to prejudice Mr. M'Alpine against him as being mutinous and defiant.
There was no little difficulty in preserving order among the desperate
_détenus_ of the day, as it was. The sternest repression was thought
necessary. In view of example and deterrent effect, Lance was therefore
sentenced--after an admonition of curt severity--to a month's solitary
confinement upon bread and water, the last week to be passed in the dark
cell.

The ill-concealed triumph depicted on Bracker's countenance was hard to
bear. The solitary cell, the meagre fare, often unduly abridged,
represented to a man of Lance's temperament and experiences the
extremity of human wretchedness. But a sharper sting was added by
Bracker's daily jeers: 'So you won't give a civil answer yet when you're
spoke to,' he said, one afternoon, stirring Lance rudely with his foot.
'And you won't stand up when you're told? Wait till to-morrow, when
you're due for the dark 'un--seven days and seven nights! That'll bleach
you, my flash horse-thief, like a stick of celery! I'll take the steel
out of yer before I've done! Bigger chaps than you have been
straightened here before now!'

On the next morning, accordingly, Lance was marched to the dark cell,
and thrust in so roughly that, weakened as he was by his Lenten diet, he
fell down, bruised and half-fainting. There was barely sufficient room
in the small circular cell for him to lie at length, and as he regained
a sitting posture and strained his eyesight to discover one ray of light
amid the almost palpable darkness, he realised fully the utter
desolation and horror of his position. Despair took possession of him.
Forsaken of God and man, as he deemed himself to be, he raved and
blasphemed like a maniac, ceasing only when sheer exhaustion brought on
a stupor of insensibility, from which he passed into perturbed and
fitful slumbers.

He awoke only to undergo with partially renewed faculties still keener
miseries. Unaware of the time which he had passed in sleep, he was
ignorant whether it was day or night. No sound penetrated the thick
walls of the cell. The Cimmerian gloom was unrelieved by the faintest
pencil of light. Had he been dead and entombed he could not have been
more utterly separated from knowledge of the outer world--from communion
with the living. Days seemed to have passed since he first entered the
cell. His brain throbbed. His heart-beats were plainly audible to him in
the horrible silence. Delirious fancies commenced to assail him. He saw
his father's form as he had last seen it, with visage stern and
inflexible. He seemed to say: 'All that I foresaw has come to pass. You
have dishonoured an ancient name!--blotted a stainless escutcheon! Die,
and make no sign!'

Then his cousin Estelle's sweet face came slowly out of the gloom,
gazing upon him with sorrowful, angelic pity. The infinite tenderness,
the boundless compassion of love, shone in her starry eyes, which, in
his vision, commenced to irradiate the gloomy vault. Clearer grew the
outlines of her form--a celestial brightness appeared to render visible
every outline of her form, every lineament of her countenance, as she
inclined herself as if to raise him from his recumbent position. He
threw up his arms with a cry of joyous recognition. The action appeared
to recall his wandering senses. The impenetrable dungeon gloom again
closed over him like a descending iron platform. A steel band appeared
to compress and still more tightly environ his brain, until a deathlike
swoon terminated simultaneously both agony and sensation.



CHAPTER XIV


When Lance issued from the dark cell and was relegated to ordinary
confinement, he fully justified Bracker's anticipations in one respect.
He was 'bleached,' as that official had described the change of
complexion likely to result. His face was ashen white, his eyes had a
vacant stare like those of a blind man. He staggered from weakness, so
that the warders were fain to hold him up more than once. When addressed
he made no answer. It seemed as if his senses had suffered partial
obliteration. Bracker was not present when his victim was returned to
his cell after serving the full term of punishment. The other warders,
who had no special dislike to him, were indulgent rather than otherwise
in their treatment and comments.

'You're a bit low, Trevanion,' one of them said; 'I'd ask to see the
doctor if I were you, and get sent to hospital for a week or two. He'll
order you wine, and soup, and things. You'll be slipping your cable like
that other chap Bracker got into trouble about, if you don't mind.'

Lance made no reply. He sat down slowly and doubtfully upon the folded
blankets at the farther end of the cell, steadying himself with
difficulty against the angle of the wall.

'Now, you take my tip,' said the elder of the two men to his fellow as
they left, after bolting the cell door with the clang inseparable from
prison life, 'that chap will do one of three things before a month's
out. Bracker's been running him too hard. He's a well-bred 'un, and they
won't stand driving. He'll either die, go mad, or----'

'Or what?' said the younger man.

'Well, Bracker had better look out. Some fine morning he'll have
Trevanion's fingers in his throat, and he mayn't find it so easy to get
'em slacked off again. I've known that happen before now. And when the
chap was choked off it didn't matter to Dawkins. _He_ was the warder. It
happened when I was at the stockade.'

'Why didn't it matter?'

'Because _Dawkins was dead_! The chap laughed when they dragged him
off, and said they might do what they liked with him. He'd settled
Dawkins, and that was all he cared for in the world. They might hang him
now, and welcome.'

'And did they?'

'Of course they did, but we old hands knew Dawkins had been tantalising
him; it was a way of his with some prisoners, and this cove made up his
mind to rub him out. He got him to rights, safe enough.'

'Hadn't we better tell Bracker?'

'What for? He thinks he knows everything, and wouldn't thank us. Likely
think we'd been putting up something to get his place. Let him take his
chance like another man.'

       *       *       *       *       *

When the medical officer saw Lance he ordered his immediate removal to
the hospital ward. He said the prisoner was dangerously low and feeble;
that his health had suffered more than could be accounted for; and that
there were certain bruises and excoriations which could not have been
produced in any ordinary way. He spoke kindly to Lance, and advised him
to follow his treatment and diet marked out for him, and to be more
cheerful and resigned if he wished to get well and come safely through
his imprisonment.

'You're only a young man, Trevanion,' he would say. 'After this couple
of years are out there is nothing to prevent your going to the United
States, or to any other part of the world where people have never heard
of you, of Ballarat--hardly of Australia, for that matter. And what a
deal of life there is to come for you--the best part too. Take courage
and make up your mind to bear the necessary hardship of your sentence,
and look forward to the day when you will go forth a free man.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether acted upon by this well-meant advice, or following out some
course of action nurtured like the fungus of a dungeon in the dark
depths of his brooding heart, a change took place in the sullen
captive's mien. He seemed thankful for the 'medical comforts' doled out
to him, and availed himself of them readily. He listened respectfully to
the chaplain and gaol surgeon, and when, after a fortnight's treatment
in the hospital ward, he was reported fit for the ordinary discipline of
the gaol, the warders with one exception declared that they would not
have known him to be the same man.

The ordinary routine of prison life is scarcely calculated to develop
the finer feelings in the keepers of the wild beasts in human form over
whom they hold watch and ward. Boundless dissimulation, craft and
subtlety, tameless ferocity, ruthless cruelty, are their leading
characteristics. Apparently peaceable and harmless, theirs is but the
guile of the red Indian or the dark-souled Hindoo, biding his time until
the hour comes for murder and rapine. Let but the keeper relax
vigilance; let the sentinel slumber at his post, and mutiny and murder
are prompt to unmask. Still, with this knowledge drilled into them by
decades of experience, the ordinary prison officials are just if not
merciful, strict but not severe; while their own discipline is so
rigorous that any departure from regulations is sternly and invariably
visited on the offending official.

Bracker was an exception--for the credit of the department it must be
admitted that he was the only man in that great prison-house who would
have acted as he did towards any prisoner, however vexatious.

As Lance passed into his cell he saw his oppressor watching him with the
expression he knew so well. He was not long left in suspense.

'Didn't Saunders complain of not being strong enough for the wood and
water work, Jackson?'

'Yes, sir,' replied the under warder.

'Well, take this man here and put him in his place. He's fat and lazy
enough after his loafing in the hospital to do a little work again.'

'This way, Trevanion,' said the warder. 'You've got to work in the lower
yard.'

As he passed Bracker their eyes met for an instant.

'You're not worked down yet, my man,' said Bracker, with an insolent
laugh. 'Wait till you've had another month's graft where I'm going to
put ye. "Jimmy Ducks" aboard an emigrant ship's a fool to it.'

Lance drew himself up for an instant and looked full into his
tormentor's face. The cruel cowardly eyes fell for a moment before the
gaze of the patrician, degraded and despairing as he was. Then the
warder quietly pushed him on.

'Don't cross him, if you take my advice,' he said. 'He's a devil all out
when he goes for a prisoner, and I never knew one that didn't come off
worst in the end. You lie low for a bit and give him his head. The
doctor's your friend now, and he'll see he doesn't crowd you.'

Lance nodded his head in recognition of the kindness of the man's
intention, then silently commenced his laborious and uncongenial task.
When he returned to his cell at night worn out and exhausted by the
unwonted toil, hardly recovered indeed from the pitiable weakness to
which he had been reduced, he swore a bitter oath and then and there
registered an unholy vow.

From that hour he awaited but opportunity to wreak a full measure of
vengeance upon his adversary. He felt his strength declining day by day.
Daily did he endure the cheap taunt, the cruel mockery, the ingenious
expedients, by which Bracker sought to intensify his misery. But a
single chance he would yet give to him, if he had the manhood to accept
it.

One morning he addressed him with the usual salute.

'I wish to speak a few words to you, and before I do so I wish you to
understand that I mean no--no--disrespect----'

'Speak and be d--d,' was Bracker's courteous rejoinder.

'It is only this. You have been what the people here would call "running
me,"--that is, putting me to work above my strength, insulting me
habitually as well. Why you should do so is best known to yourself. I
can't stand it much longer. If you will leave off this line of conduct
and treat me fairly, like any other prisoner, I will promise on my part
to--to--behave well and reasonably. Don't decide in a hurry--it may cost
both our lives.'

Bracker laughed aloud. He stopped to look at Lance more than once, then
he laughed as at too exquisite a joke. It was the mockery of a fiend
exulting in the agonies of a demon-tortured soul.

He misconceived the situation. He concluded that his captive's courage
had failed him; that henceforth he would be able to treat him with the
contemptuous cruelty with which he was wont to finish his persecutions.
He triumphed in his foresight, and could not forbear showing a cowardly
exultation.

'So you've dropped down to it at last, my flash horse-duffer, have you?
You've shown the white feather that I always knew was in you--a rank cur
from the beginning, with all your brag. By God! I'll make it hotter than
ever for you, just for this very bit of impudence. D--n ye! Get back to
your muck.'

As he spoke the last words, ending with a foul expression, he had drawn
near Lance, and raising his foot as if for a contemptuous kick, he
placed his hands on his shoulders. The long corridor between the cells
was for the moment without a second warder. With a panther-like bound
Lance sprang forward, and in another moment his hands were at Bracker's
throat, clutching with the grasp that death alone relaxes.

'Dog!' he ground out between his teeth. 'Your last hour is come. Die,
wretch, and go to hell--die, if you had a hundred lives, scoundrel and
villain that you are--die for your cruelty to a helpless wretch that
never did you harm!'

So sudden was the onslaught that Bracker, though a powerful man, had no
chance of resistance, never dreaming that the cowed convict, as he took
Lance to be, would turn upon him. In another moment he was on his back
on the floor of the cell, his foe with knee on chest awaiting the moment
when the blanched features should display no sign of life, nor abating
for one second the deadly gripe of the slayer of his kind.

Of his own safety--of his assured doom for killing a prison official--he
thought not. The blood fury was on him. His unendurable wrongs, his
daily torment, had reached the point of desperation when the human
animal turns at bay, disregarding alike the hunter's spear, the baying
hound, the fast-flowing life-blood.

Another minutest subdivision of time would have settled the matter.
Another dead warder would have been found by the side of a reckless and
desperate prisoner. The usual inquest would have been held, when, after
a verdict of wilful murder, the rope or a sentence of imprisonment for
life would have terminated all public interest for a season.

But in mercy or otherwise to Mr. Bracker an attendant accidentally
returned to the corridor and noticed the open cell door. This, of
course, was irregular. Rushing towards it he was just in time--hardly a
second too soon--to prevent Mr. Bracker, 'our late respected head warder
of Ballarat gaol' as he would have been styled, from posing as a corpse,
and Lance Trevanion, late of Wychwood, Cornwall, from becoming a
murderer!

Some considerable time elapsed before Mr. Bracker returned fully to his
senses after regaining consciousness. He had been hurled to the cell
floor with such violence that concussion of the brain had taken place,
while his swollen throat testified to the deadly gripe of the victim who
had so nearly turned the table upon his tormentor. It was fully a week
before he was in a condition to give evidence before the Visiting
Justice. The interval Lance was condemned to spend in 'solitary,' to be
nourished wholly on bread and water,--to be abandoned in fact to the
society of the Furies, which none the less mordantly than in the days of
the world's green youth rend the heart and shatter the brain of their
ill-fated or guilty victim.

Lance was rapidly passing from one stage of misery to the other, from
the unmerciful to the merciful woe. As he sat or lay in his cell the
long hours through, the thought crossed his brain, revelled and ran riot
there, that if he had only persevered in his policy of endurance, if he
had been strong and patient instead of weak and impulsive, this needed
not to have happened. He might probably have found some door of escape
from his tribulation, not literally of course, but through the clergyman
and the Visiting Justice, the latter of whom would have been most
uncompromising in punishing an official who misused his power.

Now that the storm of passion was over, the fury spent, the _brevis
insania_ passed away, calmer reflection would intrude. To what further
sentence had he rendered himself liable? Would he be committed for
attempted murder, or would it be manslaughter? Should he be condemned to
a further sentence of years--long years of imprisonment? Might he not be
hanged for the attempt to commit the capital offence? No doubt he
intended to kill Bracker--that he would not deny. His mind was made up.
If a shameful death or long imprisonment was to be his doom, he would
rid himself of a worthless life. He had procured the means of
self-destruction during his first remand. The feeling aroused among his
fellow-captives by his daring attempt to take the life of his gaoler was
peculiar and exceptional. Though many of the prisoners from motive of
policy were subservient to Bracker, he was liked by no one. He had been
known to be trying to 'break' or crush Trevanion. Cruelties and
unnecessary severity springing from the irresponsible use of power are
presumably not unknown in gaols. But the prison herd knows that at a
certain point despair sets in. Reckless retribution follows, and the
life of the agent or leading actor in the tragedy nearly always exacted
counts with himself and his fellows merely as dust in the balance.

The criminals like to think that from their midst will arise at least
one man who devotes himself to sacrifice, so only may he avenge himself
and them upon their enemy. The time comes, and with curious certainty
the man. Then the words of the first warder come true. The sullen
patience of the harassed convict, who rarely resents routine discipline,
however severe, becomes exhausted, and the debt is paid in full by a
brutal murder or a life-long injury. Let it be borne in mind that 'early
in the fifties' the problem of successful goldfield management was yet
unsolved in Australia. The legislation had been chiefly tentative; the
police and prison arrangements were incomplete. From the seething mass
of the mining population, not always ruled with tact or temper, smarting
under alleged injustice and excited by the enormous yield of the
precious metal, arose a dangerously large and increasing criminal class.
The overcrowded gaols, ample for a pastoral colony, were unable to
contain them. Among the more experienced officers apprehensions of a
revolt of the mining population--unhappily but too well-founded--began
to assume the appearance of certainty. In such event the prisoners, if
altogether centralised or confined inland, might easily be
liberated--would hardly fail to be so on the first outbreak. Considering
these contingencies, the Government of the day determined to relieve the
pressure upon the metropolitan gaols by establishing prison hulks.
Vessels moored in the waters of Williamstown Bay could be more easily
guarded--would obviously be more difficult to escape from. Ships by
scores, deserted by their crews, lay at anchor motionless and tenantless
as that of the Ancient Mariner. Their owners were too happy to sell at
any reasonable price. The idea was approved--not sooner approved than
acted upon. The _President_, the _Success_, the _Sacramento_, the
_Deborah_, were purchased and forthwith proclaimed to be, and to be
considered, Her Majesty's gaols. They became from that day floating
prisons. There were those long after who did not hesitate to designate
them as floating hells.

One of the leading ideas connected with the scheme was the compulsory
labour of the convicts, who, it was thought, might be employed
beneficially to themselves and to the state in building at
Williamstown--then a chief port of Melbourne--wharves, lighthouses, and
docks. There were millions of tons of blue-stone--a species of volcanic
trap--to be had near the shore for the quarrying. Harbour accommodation
was miserably insufficient. The labour of a thousand men was a valuable
consideration in that day of dearth of every kind of manual labour. Long
afterwards the navvies employed in the construction of the Yan Yean
aqueduct received one pound sterling per day. At this time double the
wage would not have furnished the labour these convicts performed, and
in many instances performed well.

The _President_ enjoyed the bad eminence of being styled and worked as a
strictly penal hulk--an abode for refractory and desperate criminals.
Many of these were, in the prison slang, 'long-sentence men,'
incorrigible felons serving a life sentence for repeated offences; men
who could not be trusted to work even in the iron-gangs--so skilful and
determined were they in all methods of escape. Many of these were doomed
never to leave the _President's_ gloomy cells but for the coffin and the
shroud. Others again, after performing the allotted form of strictly
penal and reformatory discipline, were drafted on board the _Success_,
where they underwent the more popular and varied experience of working
in the quarries on the main-land--in irons, it is true, but having the
excitement of a daily voyage to and fro in one of the barges used for
the purpose.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Lance was brought up for trial he found to his relief--if indeed
anything could have afforded him a gleam of satisfaction--that in spite
of the heinousness of his offence--penally considered--a favourable
feeling had sprung up with regard to him. Now that Bracker had in their
opinion got his deserts, several of the 'good conduct' prisoners came
forward with voluntary statements. They had seen the injured man
knocking about the prisoner Trevanion. He was always 'tantalising,' and
seemed to want to provoke him to a breach of regulations. Had not spoken
before, because they were afraid of Bracker, who was well known to be
revengeful. It was believed in the gaol (sent round, doubtless, in the
wonderful way criminals have of communicating with each other) that he
had caused a prisoner in another gaol to hang himself.

Two warders had also noticed his conduct to prisoner Trevanion when he
came out of hospital. Thought it severe and unnecessary. The prisoner's
own statement was taken on oath. He admitted the offence, but averred
that he had become reckless through consistent ill-treatment. Bracker,
of course, denied everything in the most unabashed manner, looking with
evil eye upon the recalcitrant warders and the 'good conduct' prisoners.
But the papers had been sent for in the last inquiry made into his
conduct, also upon a charge of cruelty to prisoners. The evidence,
unfortunately for him, was very similar. Mr. M'Alpine, who was an
unsparing foe to all official misconduct, at once decided against him.
After a terrific lecture, he reminded Bracker that he had been disrated
for a former offence of a like nature. He should recommend him,
therefore, for dismissal, which recommendation, to the general joy of
the inhabitants of the Ballarat gaol, was promptly carried out.

'Prisoner Trevanion, whose conduct if condoned must have a bad effect
upon the other prisoners (_other prisoners_, how the words fell like
drops of molten lead upon his heart!), is ordered to serve the rest of
his sentence on board Her Majesty's hulks at Williamstown.'

       *       *       *       *       *

    Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn
      In the cold and heavy mist,
    And Eugene Aram walked between
      With gyves upon his wrists.

This verse, from Hood's pathetic ballad, Lance had been fond of and
learned by heart as a schoolboy, little dreaming how closely the
circumstances would apply to himself in the after-time.

It _would_ keep ringing through his brain with incessant automatic
iteration, as Lance found himself early next morning driven off to
Ballarat, leg-ironed and handcuffed, in charge of two warders. The two
men, with himself in the centre, took their seats in the back part of
Cobb's coach, and in company with various other passengers, clerical and
lay, male and female, as is the slightly unfair practice of the
Government, looking at it from the standpoint of the travelling public.
However, no great inconvenience having so far resulted, the sentimental
objection to travel with criminals has lessened. And being decidedly the
more economical mode of escort, as far as the Government is concerned,
the arrangement is continued.

Of course glances of pitying wonder were cast from time to time,
especially by the female passengers in the crowded coach, at the men in
police uniform and the sad, sallow, clean-shaved man sitting between
them. One young girl alone, though sitting nearly opposite, had
exhibited no interest in the trio. She sat near the right-hand door of
the coach. Closely veiled, she had turned her head towards the town and
the crowd always attendant on the departure of a coach.

The clock struck six. The powerful high-conditioned horses sprang at
their collars, obedient to the practised hand of 'Cabbage-tree Ned,' one
of the 'stage' heroes of the period. The heavily-laden coach swayed on
its thorough-brace springs and rattled down Sturt Street at the rate of
twelve miles an hour. More than once had Lance been the envied occupant
of the box seat beside this very driver, who, smoking the proffered
cigar, was as civil to Trevanion of Number Six as an official of his
exalted position could afford to be to any one.

    And now he sat, chained and alone,
      The 'warder' by his side,
    The plume, the helm, the charger gone, etc.

Gone, gone, indeed,--how many things had gone!--fame and fortune, hope,
honour,--all that made life worth living. The sooner that wretched
dishonoured life went too, the better for all. Thank God, it would be
easy to drop overboard from barge or boat--the waters of the bay had
ended the sorrows of many a hopeless wretch, it was said. The heavy
irons provided for a quick and silent escape from life's weary burden.

An involuntary sigh, as the sequel to the train of thought, from the
fettered captive, together with a faint but distinct tinkle from his
leg-irons, appeared to arouse the girl from her reverie.

She gazed at the prisoner long and earnestly, then with a cry of grief
and despair which thrilled the hearts of all who heard her she threw
herself forward, and clasping his manacled hands within her own looked
into his face, worn and altered in every feature as it was, with the
piteous agony of a frightened child.

It was Tessie Lawless!

'Lance! oh, Lance!' she cried in tones so full of anguish that the
warders forbore to interfere, and the coach passengers listened in
sympathetic wonder. 'Is this what they have brought you to? Oh, wicked
wicked girl! Worse and more wicked man! For I know now how they plotted
to destroy you. Your blood will be on our heads. Surely we must suffer
for this if there's a God. Where are they taking you to? Oh, God! have
mercy!'

The driver having inquired tersely into the occasion of the disturbance,
and having gathered that a girl had recognised a friend or relation in
the prisoner, lighted a fresh cigar and let his horses out adown the
incline with the remark that accidents would happen, but a good-looking
girl like her had no call to fret; she might have her pick of twenty new
sweethearts long before this one had served his time. Women would go on
like that, he supposed though, to the end of the world.

The public, as represented by the twenty inside passengers, did not
exhibit undue surprise or other emotion. Some of the women whispered
'poor thing--fine young fellow too--pity he's gone wrong,' and so on.
The men kept mostly mute, though not unsympathetic. They were not unused
to seeing tragedies acted in everyday life in those unconventional days
of the early goldfields. The passions had lacked hiding-places such as
are furnished by a highly-civilised community.

The crowded goldfields camp more nearly represented 'board ship' than
the provincial life pure and simple, and things were done and said,
necessarily _coram publico_, which in more conventional communities
would have been wholly suppressed or excited inconvenient remark.

Therefore, after a vain attempt to persuade poor Tessie to moderate her
feelings, Lance was fain to yield to the contagion of her grief.
Weakened in mind and body by his late sufferings, softened by the
tenderness of her every tone, and touched by the first kind words he had
heard since his imprisonment, he was fain, though hating himself for the
weakness, to weep for company. As the tears streamed down the convict's
grief-worn countenance--tears which he vainly strived to hide with his
manacled hands--every heart was touched, and those emotions of our
common humanity which ennoble the species were deeply stirred. Murmurs
of 'Poor things,' 'Poor girl,' 'Hard lines,' etc., were heard. Even the
warders, though unused to the melting mood, were raised from out of
their ordinary groove of total indifference to human suffering not
provided for by the gaol regulations. After a short colloquy the one
nearest to Tessie motioned to the girl to exchange seats, an offer which
she thankfully accepted.

There was no dereliction of duty involved in this charity, which was
heartily and unanimously endorsed by their public. Relaxation of
discipline was necessarily permitted in the case of escort of prisoners
from one part of the country to another. Such a task was generally
looked upon in the light of a holiday by warders or police troopers. It
involved change of air and scene, higher pay for a time, and with
various perquisites and indulgences. All that was required of them was
to deliver over their charge safely to the authorities. That being the
result, they were allowed a certain latitude with regard to the means.
If the prisoner thereby escaped, their punishment was exemplary. It
often happened, however, that the prisoner, being a fair sort of fellow
(as prisoners go), was conversed and generally associated with on terms
of equality. Of course proper security was exacted. A single trooper,
camping out through a stretch of thinly-inhabited pastoral country, has
been compelled to handcuff himself to the prisoner nightly for his
better safeguarding. But these formalities apart, much cheerful
companionship has ere now been enjoyed between the (official) 'wolf and
hound.'

Hence, as the first warder observed in a gruff whisper, 'they had no
call to bother their heads if the poor chap's girl wanted a yarn with
him. It was the last one as he'd see for a spell, unless he fell across
a mermaid.' Here the speaker, who had been a ship's carpenter once,
growled a hoarse rumbling laugh. 'Let him have his bit o' luck for once.
He'd got stiffish times to come, or else they'd heard wrong.'

So Tessie, sitting on the right side of Lance--there being no one to the
left of him at the coach-window--leaning her head on his shoulder,
commenced to whisper in his ear. The friendly warder studiously gazed at
the fast-flying landscape, as if it possessed peculiarly picturesque
effects. The second man almost turned his back upon Lance in his anxiety
to be out of the reach of confidential communications, while Tessie's
murmuring voice, instinct with more than womanly tenderness, sounded in
the ear--ay, in the heart of the captive, so lately sullenly despairing
of God and man--like the voice of an angel from heaven.

'You may think me immodest, Lance,' she said--'I may call you that now,
may I not?--but I don't care. There are times when a woman must follow
her own heart, and this is one of them. I would tell you what I feel
now if there were hundreds looking on. I cannot help it; and what does
my poor life matter? When I think of what you were when I first saw you!
full of health, hope, and spirits, with a smile for every one, and under
compliment to no living man, I felt as if my heart would burst when I
saw you--saw you--as you are!'

Here the girl's tears streamed down like rain--and she sobbed, though
striving with all her will power to restrain her feelings--till her
slender form shook and trembled in a manner piteous to see. Her forlorn
companion gazed at her silently, with a world of misery in his hollow
eyes. Just at that particular juncture the conversation in the coach
became, if not more cheerful, decidedly more loud and animated, and
their united voices helping to drown poor Tessie's lamentations, some
poor opportunity was given her to recover herself.

'You think me very silly,' she said, with a miserable attempt to smile.
'I did not know how much I cared for you until the trial--women don't
always. I thought I had a friendly feeling, and no more, till I felt I
could have killed Kate--wretch that she is! for the part she took
against you. Then I knew--that I loved you! Oh! my God! I know now! But
you would never have been told it if you had been free and rich--not
now--not now either--except I thought I could do you some good--some
good, after helping to ruin you. God forgive me!'

'I have been back to Ballarat, back to Eumeralla and the Snowy River, to
other places, too, because I was determined to find out how the thing
was worked between Dayrell and Kate.'

'And did you find out?' Lance said, and his voice sounded strangely
hoarse in the girl's ear--even his voice had changed, she thought. 'What
fiends there are on earth!'

'I am certain that I have,' she answered. 'I daresay you wondered--and
so did I--what made Kate so venomous against you all of a sudden?
Dayrell didn't like you because you thought yourself above him, and for
another reason, and besides he wanted to get his name up for a
conviction, because so many horses had been stolen and the Commissioner
had been blaming the police.'

'What was the other reason, Tessie? I never did him any harm.'

'Well, it doesn't matter now, but he--he--chose to fancy he admired
me--poor me!--when we lived at Eumeralla. I never could bear the sight
of him--and showed it. One of the boys stupidly chaffed him about it
after we came to Growlers', and said I was "gone upon you," as he called
it. That foolishness made all the mischief, I believe. He set himself to
have you somehow.'

'And he did! May God blast and wither his soul and body, as he has
mine!' groaned Lance, with a savage intensity that made the girl
shudder.

'Oh, don't--don't!' she cried. 'I can't bear to hear you speak like
that, you seem so different when you do. Then, when you were searched,
he found a letter which you had half-written to your cousin in England,
and out of that he made greater mischief still. He finished it himself
in his own way, and then read it to Kate, making her believe that you
had been engaged to your cousin all along, and were making game of her
as a half-bred, common bush girl that you were amusing yourself with.'

'Then how about seeing me at Eumeralla? _you_ swore to that!' said Lance
reproachfully, unable to repress his anger as he thought of the strange
medley of fact and fraud by which he had been betrayed.

'I did, God help me!' said poor Tessie, very humbly. 'Why couldn't I
swear falsely, like others? It was that villain Trevenna. I have seem
him since, but only for a moment or two. It is the most extraordinary
likeness that ever was seen. I was deceived, and so were the other
honest witnesses. He was also in the plot against you. He was an admirer
of Kate's, and she played fast and loose with him. When he heard that
you and she had met at Growlers', and were seen riding about together,
he was furious, and vowed to shoot you if he got a chance. He was in
with Ned and Dan in some cross work at Eumeralla, but only showed on
occasions. He used to come across from Omeo, where, if all reports are
true, the worst villains in all Australia are gathered together.'

The day was cold, and long besides to the crowded passengers, relieved
only by a short mid-day halt for refreshment. The roads chiefly unmade
and deep with mud, through which the steaming team rushed, unrelaxing
the high rate of speed with which they had started. Their colours were
hardly discernible. Along the plank road for twenty miles matters were
something better; here the pace was at times little less than full
speed. Even then occasionally a loose plank would fly up as a horse trod
too near the end, and a shower of mud and water would be impartially
distributed. Two persons only felt not the enforced tedium to be a
weariness. Lance and Tessie, in the early gloom of a winter evening,
were enabled to talk still more at ease. They enjoyed their opportunity,
this wintry smile of fortune, as those who might never meet again in
life. So many chances were against it. But this strange interview had
been most beneficial to Lance. It had softened his heart and revived his
drooping, well-nigh extinguished faith in Providence and his fortune.
The girl persuaded him to promise that he would do his best to disarm
his gaolers by good conduct. The chances were against his finding a
second Bracker. She would find means of communicating with him from
Melbourne. Trust her for that! She had already given liberally to his
present guards, who were fully convinced that she was a young woman
deserving of every consideration.

'You promise me, on your honour,' she said, as the lights of the town
and the well-macadamised street warned of the approaching halt.

'My honour?' he said drearily.

'Yes, your honour,' she answered proudly; 'I believe in it, and so will
others yet.'

'I promise,' he said; 'may God bless you, Tessie, whatever may be my
fate.'

They sat silently, her hands clasped around his, her head against his
shoulder.

'Mine is a strange love tale,' she said, 'is it not? But for this
meeting, it might never have been told. No living man shall hear such
words again from me. And to think that you and I may never meet again!'

The coach stopped. There was the usual bustle of escaping passengers and
mislaid luggage, as the girl threw her arms around Trevanion's neck and
kissed his lips, his cheeks, his forehead, with passionate fervour.

'You are mine,' she said, 'for this day if for no other, and, unless my
heart tells me false, it is the last last time! Do not forget poor
Tessie; if she could have saved you with her life you would have been
free and happy. May God bless and keep you.'

She descended the coach-steps slowly, and, walking calmly down the
lighted street without looking back, was soon lost in the crowd of busy
or pleasure-seeking wayfarers.



CHAPTER XV


After the conclusion of the sitting of the Court as presided over by His
Honour Judge Buckthorne, when Lance and Ned had been carried off to
undergo their allotted sentences, it was observed that Kate Lawless and
Sergeant Dayrell, while apparently strolling aimlessly together along
the street, were engaged in an earnest and apparently confidential
conversation.

'Well, that chap was got to rights if ever a man was,' observed the
Sergeant. 'There'll be some of the flashness taken out of him before he
comes out again.'

The girl looked at him searchingly before she answered. When she did
there was no triumph in her voice.

'Poor devil! it _was_ hard lines, when you come to think of it. And all
for a horse that he knew no more about than the dead! He looked at me,
as he walked out, so sad and fierce-like I couldn't help pitying him.'

'You mean you might have pitied him if he hadn't thrown you over for the
girl at home--if he hadn't treated you like the dirt beneath his feet
after promising to marry you--after amusing himself by making love to
you as if you were a South Sea Island _wahine_!'

'Perhaps he did. Suppose he did,' replied the girl musingly, evidently
in one of those fits of reactionary regret which so often in the
feminine nature--strange and enigmatical always--are prone to succeed
the exaltation of passion. 'For all that, I feel sorry, now it's over. I
can't get him out of my head, locked up in one of those beastly cells.'

'Your brother Ned's in one too. You don't seem to think of him.'

'No, I don't--not so much. Ned's different. He's been working for it
these years. He's lost the deal and has to pay up. He's not one to whine
either, and I'd take the odds he's out again and in the mountains long
before his time's up. But when I think of Lance and what a swell chap he
was, so hearty and jolly when we first seen him, I feel like a good
cry.'

'Perhaps you'd like to pass him over to Tessie when he comes out,'
sneered the Sergeant. 'She'd be so happy to console him.'

'I've that feeling for him yet, bad as he's treated me,' said the girl,
raising her head and stamping her foot, 'that I'd kill any woman that
took him from me, even now. He's played me false and thrown me over, I
know, and yet, by George!' she cried, suddenly facing round upon the
Sergeant, while her eyes flashed and her bosom heaved with sudden
passion, 'I wonder if he _did_ write all you showed me? I can't read a
line, more shame to father and mother that never had me taught like that
Tessie. So what's to prevent you putting down anything you liked and
saying he wrote it? Suppose you'd been working a cross all along? Frank
Dayrell, if I ever find out as you turned dog on me that way your last
hour's come. By ----! I'd shoot you like a crow, and if I didn't I'd
find somebody that would. Don't you make any mistake.'

Dayrell smiled in his old scornful way as he pointed out the extreme
improbability of Lance's writing to his affianced bride in England in
any other way. What else was he to say to her? 'Why, you never thought
he would marry you, did you, Kate?'

'Why did he make a fool of me then?' said the girl, standing slightly
back and facing the trooper as if, like the tigress which such women are
said to resemble, she needed but another spark of anger to cause her to
spring upon him and rend with tooth and talon. 'Why shouldn't he marry
me? I'd have made him as good a wife as that girl or any other in the
world, I don't care who she was. I know I'm ignorant and all that, but
one woman's as good as another if she takes to a man. That makes all the
difference, and I'd have blacked his boots and waited on him hand and
foot, and been a good woman too, if he'd been true to me--as God hears
me, I could--I would!'

And here, wrought up by a strange admixture of feelings--remorse,
regret, disappointment, doubt, and suspicion--newly aroused, the
half-wild daughter of the woods burst into tears and abandoned herself
to the womanly indulgence of a fit of passionate lamentation.

'It's too late now, Kate,' he said after a while, coolly removing his
cigar, which he had lighted at the first appearance of lamentation.
'Better clear out for Eumeralla and make it up with Trevenna. I believe
you carried on with him till Lance came on the scene. He's a handsome
fellow, and Tessie, you know, and some other people couldn't tell the
difference.'

Then he laughed in a sardonic, derisive manner, as though the joke was
an exceedingly good one--irresistible indeed.

Kate Lawless dried her eyes and looked keenly at him with an expression
of contempt and dislike which, in spite of his habitual indifference, he
by no means relished.

'Frank Dayrell,' she said, 'I believe you're the very devil himself; I
see your game partly now. You'd a down on Lance because Tessie was gone
on him, and wouldn't look at you. That's a nice reason to lag a man for,
isn't it? And if you'd play false in one thing, you would in another. I
see how you've worked it, partly. When I find out the rest it'll be a
bad day for you, mark my words. Good-bye.'

'Good-bye, Miss Lawless!' here he made her a deferential and elaborate
bow. 'You'd better be civil though, or I may have to run in Larry
Trevenna. That'll make a double widow of you--the man you'll marry and
the man you were going to marry. Smart work that, eh?'

'You look out for yourself, Dayrell,' she replied, as she moved slowly
away from him. 'You're pretty smart, but that mightn't save you some
day. You take my tip and leave us alone from this day out.'

Thus they parted. The girl walked sullenly away--the Sergeant, strolling
in another direction, hummed an air from an opera, stepping lightly as
might a man without a care in the world. Had he but known the future!
How heedless are the feet of men, surrounded by the traps and pitfalls
of Fate, all ignorant, mercifully, that a few inches one way or the
other means instant, irrevocable destruction. As for the woman, she went
on her way and he saw her no more.

'I wonder what the deuce _will_ become of the fair Kate?' he said
musingly, and half aloud, as he strolled along leisurely towards the
police camp. 'If she marries this fellow Trevenna she'll be paid out for
her sins, whatever they are. He's the making of one of the most precious
scoundrels that even this colony ever saw. The Lawlesses crowd can't
teach him much. If he marries her there'll be murder or something like
it before long. I think I see my way to another sensational case before
the game's played out--more than one indeed.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The town at which the coach had stopped, on this his first and
memorable journey as a prisoner accommodated with leg-irons and
handcuffs, was Geelong, to the gaol of which town Lance was relegated
for the purpose of being forwarded to the hulk _President_. Accordingly,
after due course of procedure, Lance found himself one morning in a
police boat seated between his two Ballarat warders in near proximity to
the celebrated _Sacramento_. When they came within a certain distance of
the vessel they rested on their oars and commenced a conversation. The
ship's trumpet replied, but afforded no manner of information to Lance.
Apparently the colloquy was satisfactory. The sentry, who had been
steadily pointing his musket in their direction, presented it towards
the lighthouse, and all requisite permission being obtained the
momentous embarkation was commenced.

The hulk _President_ was a plain solid barque of one thousand tons
register, broad in the beam. Dutch-built was she, and had been strong to
encounter storms, but was destined to defy such forces no more.

On the fore part of her deck an iron roof protected the galley and
water-tank, giving her an expression of being settled in life. In front
of and around her bows was a planked and railed gangway, along which a
warder with a loaded rifle marched to and fro.

The heat of the summer suns reflected from the cloudless sky, the
shimmering water plain, had blistered the paint--a staring dreadful
yellow it was--upon her weather-worn hull. Armed figures walked on
either side of this terrible vessel. Except the solitary boat in which
Lance was a passenger, nothing seemed to come near. To his excited fancy
she seemed a plague ship. He could imagine the dead in their
heavily-weighted shrouds being cast in scores from her gloomy
port-holes. He stared at her in sullen silence. He had lost the habit of
ejaculation. What did it matter--what did anything matter? He was in
hell. In hell! What difference did the depth of the pit, more or less,
make, once within the Inferno?

There was a swell, consequent on a gale which had been blowing on the
previous night. The boat rocked and pitched as she came alongside of the
grim ungainly hulk. His fetters made it difficult for him to step from
the boat to the ladder. He tripped, and one of the warders was
constrained to hold him up.

'Look out! you mustn't drop overboard and cheat Her Majesty's
Government like Dickson did last month. Blest if you wouldn't go down
like a stone with them clinks on.'

A quick regret passed through Lance's heart that he had not dropped
quietly overboard, and so exchanged this torture-ship for eternal rest
and peace. But he clambered up with one warder in front and one
immediately behind.

At the deck he was met by the first and second officers, to whom an
important-looking document was presented by the senior warder who had
come down in charge.

'H--m, ha!' remarked the dignitary, opening it with deliberation and
then glancing searchingly at Lance. 'Refractory, determined, and--put
him into number fifty-six. If lower deck don't suit him, we must move
him aft. Show the way, Mr. Grastow.'

The 'way' led down a narrow ladder, the gradient of which was such that
the fettered man, heavily weighted as he was, had some difficulty in
getting down safe. However, as before, one warder preceding and one
following, he was partly supported, partly led. As he touched the deck
he looked round, and for an instant laughed aloud at the grim pleasantry
which, like a ray of light in a dungeon cell, had found access to his
brain. He was on board a slaver! His boyhood rose up before him, and he
saw himself again reading _Tom Cringle's Log_ under the King's oak at
Wychwood. There were the iron gratings above, through which the sun came
grudgingly, which afforded the only air and light to the long low
corridor into which the deck had been altered. Rows of small cells on
either side, each duly numbered, into which a herd of some forty or
fifty chained men were being driven, as it appeared to him. In the gloom
of the half-lighted passage their dark or sallow countenances, in which
the eyes and teeth alone gleamed in relief, might well have passed for
those of negroes. They laughed and talked or cursed and swore with a
freedom which surprised Lance, used to the strict and silent rule of the
Ballarat gaol. It was their recreation hour, he found. They had returned
from their exercise on deck.

As he scanned these foul and hideous countenances, from which all
semblance of the higher human attributes had departed, he shuddered
involuntarily, and a groan so deep and hollow came from him that the
warders who had accompanied him were affected.

'Don't you take on, Number Fifty-six,' said one, 'it's a deal worse than
Ballarat, but you go in for good conduct now and your time won't be so
long in runnin' out. See what you've got by behaving awkward, and
they're a deal worse, if you go contrairy here, than ever our lot was.'

'Down the ladder,' said the officer of the _President_; 'we've no time
to spare in this ship.'

Lower, lower still, another ladder, another deck. Here the gratings were
nearer to the floor, the cells were smaller and more numerous, the whole
arrangement still more nearly resembling his fancy of the slave-ship.
Had there been a row of miserable Africans sitting down, with another
row between their knees, and another yet in the same condition, as was
formerly the human method of packing the 'goods' so largely dealt in by
our good friends the Spaniards, Portuguese, and French, and indeed our
own most merciful and Christian nation, the illusion would have been
complete. They would have sold well in Victoria at that time, doubtless,
labour being so very scarce and valuable. The air, foetid with the
odours and emanations from three hundred men, having even to be filtered
through the crowded deck above them, was indescribably offensive. In
spite of ordinary precautions, the odour was that of galley-slaves.
Below the level of the waters of the bay as this deck was, Lance could
hear the waves washing beside the prison-house, while from the cells,
the bolts of which were partially drawn and the opening secured with a
chain, came ribald songs, yells, and curses, with an occasional noise of
weeping and bursts of yet more dreadful laughter.

Walking forward still towards the stern, they came to a cell numbered
fifty-six on the south side of the vessel. At no great distance, and
dividing it from the after-cabin, which was used as a sort of
store-room, was a grating of massive iron bars extending from one side
of the ship to the other.

The padlock was unlocked, the massive bolt shot back from the staple,
and Lance saw his habitation. A low, narrow cell, with heavy timber on
every side, only excepting a small port-hole narrowing outwards and
capable of being closed at will. The length to the concave wall of the
vessel's side was about eight feet, the width scarcely six. From two
iron hooks hung a rude canvas hammock. Here he must abide for the
present. It would depend upon himself whether he remained there.

From the timbers of the vessel's side protruded an iron ring with a
short chain dependent from it.

'What's that for?' said one of the Ballarat gaolers.

'Oh, nothing,' returned the hulk warder, 'it's there in case it's
wanted.'

The narrow door closed, the heavy bolt shot into its place, the
padlock-key turned, and Trevanion was alone and at sea once more. Once
more Lance Trevanion found himself on ship-board, but under what
different circumstances. He felt the heaving deck under his feet. The
day was dark and squally, and the barque rolled and pitched in a
sufficiently lively manner. The familiar movement recalled the scenes
which he had loved so well. He was a born sailor, and of the breed of
men that joy in the strife of wind and wave. The revulsion of feeling
was so great that he staggered and well-nigh fell.

How well he remembered the last time he had been at sea; the voyage out,
so free and joyous in spite of minor discomforts; the perfect
independence, the hearty, unconventional comradeship, the delight with
which all greeted the first step on _terra firma_; the general wonder,
excitement, and eager expectation of rapid fortunes to be acquired in
this strange new land of gold.

And now he was a chained and guarded felon, reserved for Heaven alone
knew what new degradation, even torture, in this sea dungeon. Long
before dark--the days were short in July--a warder came with bread and
water.

'When do we go on shore to work?' asked Lance, thinking to adapt himself
to his changed condition.

'Work? They don't do no work in the _President_; this is the punishment
hulk. All you chaps is supposed to belong to the 'fractory lot--my word!
some of 'em just are, and no mistake. You gets one hour a day exercise
on deck. Ten on yer's sent up in the cage at a time. The rest of the
twenty-four hours has to be took out in the cell.'

'My God!' groaned out the unhappy man, 'can this be true, twenty-three
hours in this den? Surely such cruelty can never be permitted.'

'That's about the size of it, Fifty-six,' answered the warder, preparing
to lock up and depart. 'And the sooner you make up your mind to man it,
the better it'll be for you and the sooner you'll be drafted to the
_Success_, when you'll have a chance of fresh air. So long.'

The lock closed, the bolt clanged, and Lance was left to sit down where
the last captive had leaned his weary frame, till his prison shoes--not
heavy either--had worn into the solid planking, and when at last heart
and brain had risen in wild revolt and he had cast away the wasted life
which had become so valueless and unendurable.

From the time when the door that closed upon hope and the outer world
clanged to, Lance Trevanion sat statue-like and motionless. The day
passed, the cell grew darker, the night came with no cessation of the
subdued but truly infernal din of noise to which nearly every cell
contributed its quota. The wind rose and moaned, the ship rocked more
heavily, the waves plashed around and above his cell, and still Lance
Trevanion stirred not. He _must_ have slept at length, worn out and
over-fatigued, for he started suddenly from a dream of Wychwood and the
first meet of the season to feel the sun feebly lighting up his prison,
to listen and shudder as his irons clanked with the instinctive
movement.

He sat up and gazed around for a while in the half-stupefied condition
produced by conflicting sensations. He endeavoured to collect his
thoughts and to resolve upon a course of action. What was he to do? At
present the mode of life--rather the living death--to which he felt
himself condemned seemed intolerable. But much would depend upon the
duration of the strictly penal term. If it were a matter of months only,
it might be borne. Then he would be 'promoted' to the _Success_, would
enjoy the favoured position of being permitted to work for ten hours a
day in a quarry--heavily ironed, of course--and on an equality and in
company with some of the most atrocious scoundrels that any country had
ever produced. It was not an alluring prospect. Still, he had at any
rate no actually malignant enemy like Bracker. It might be possible to
establish a friendly feeling with some of his guardians. He would make
the attempt. Even escape did not seem so altogether impossible. He
remembered Tessie's words. He knew that what one woman could do she
would accomplish. A man here and there _had_ escaped from the hulks and
got clear off, several had been drowned, two had been shot. Still these
were fair risks. The twenty-three hours a day in the cell constituted a
maddening monotony of captivity. Yet, from whatever reason, whether from
the sea air, his unexpected meeting with Tessie Lawless, or 'something
which never can be expressed,' Lance Trevanion's spirits rose higher
than they had done since the day of his conviction, and in the depth of
his saddened heart stirred a feeling that was almost hope.

When his gaoler made his appearance with the one-pound loaf of bread
which was to serve for his daily dole and the can of water similarly
apportioned, he assumed a cheerful air. 'When do we go up for exercise?'
he said.

'Your batch'll be sent up at eleven o'clock, Fifty-six. Then you get
down just in time for dinner, half-pound boiled beef for you then, so
you can save some for supper; half-pound of vegetables. That'll be the
lot.'

'Now look here, I don't know your name--oh, Grastow! what I want to say
is, I have only two years to serve. When I get out I shall have plenty
of money. I can make it WELL worth your while to help me; what do you
say? Is there any harm in that?'

'I don't know as there is, Fifty-six,' replied the gaoler warily. 'But a
many of the crew of the _President_ (we call 'em the crew among
ourselves) says the same thing. When they gets out they nat'rally
forgets. What are we to do? We can't summons 'em in the Small Debts
Court; how am I to know ye ain't on that lay?'

'I can show you how if you'll carry a note from me on shore and leave it
in the post-office. I'll guarantee a five-pound note is sent to any
address you name within twenty-four hours.'

'Ten-pun' note might do something,' answered the warder reflectively.
'The risk's a big 'un. If I'm nabbed I lose my berth straight off and
stand a blessed good chance of being brought into one of these here
fancy shops myself.'

'Why, who's to know?'

'Well,' replied the warder, looking round, 'it 'ud stun yer to count the
spies that seem to be bred regular in a place like this, one man
watching another for the reward. But I'll chance it, I will, the first
time I go ashore. Now then, you Fifty-five, what are you making all that
row for?'

The occupant of the next cell, Number Fifty-five, as he was in due
sequence, had apparently gone mad. He raved and shrieked, cursed and
yelled continuously. He banged at the door, which he could not well kick
as they had taken away his boots. But ever and anon he amused himself
with wildly extravagant rhapsodies, as well as by devoting his gaolers
to the infernal deities, as also the heads of any Church running counter
to his sectarian prejudices. Then he was taken out, secured, and hauled
before the chief officer for punishment. That autocrat ordered the
sullen-visaged 'Vandemonian,' as the warders designated him, to undergo
several days in the 'box' on bread and water. He was carried off,
struggling and cursing, by main force, being crammed into the 'box'
aforesaid. This retreat, which was inspected by Lance on another
occasion, appeared to be a species of _oubliette_, apparently in the
very keel of the vessel, so constructed that the delinquent could
neither stand up, lie down, nor sit with ease. In addition to this
rigorous confinement a gag was placed in the mouth of the offender if he
refused to stop his unseemly outcry.

A few minutes before eleven o'clock Lance's door was unlocked, and he
was summoned forth to take part in a new portion of the programme. Being
marched into the centre of the passage, he there saw a large iron cage,
of which the door, just sufficiently large to admit one man, was opened.
On either side stood an armed sentry with rifle at the _poise_.

An additional pair of warders was in attendance. The inmates of the
cells, called by number, not by name, shuffled or stumbled out and made
for the door of the cage, like tamed wild beasts under the keeper's
whip.

It was a piteous, strangely-moving sight to a lover of his kind, had
such been there. Men of various types and all ages obeyed the
summons--the white-haired convict, reckless and hopeless, the larger
half of whose life had been spent within prison walls, and who was now
doomed to linger out the last years of a ruined life in places of
confinement. The whole expression of the face denoted the human wreck
which the _forçat_ had become. The evil eye, furtive yet ferocious, the
animal mouth and jaw, the shaven, sallow cheek--every faculty once
capable of rising to the loftier attributes of manhood seemed
obliterated--the residuum but approached the type of the simian
anthropoid--bestial, savage, obscene.

'Great God!' thought Lance, as one by one the felons passed into this
cage, some young and hardly developed into fullest manhood like himself,
some of middle age, some stunted and decrepit, bowed and misshapen from
constant confinement and the weight of their irons, yet all with the
same criminal impress upon form and feature,--'Great God! shall I ever
become like these men? And yet once I had as little fear of becoming
_what I am_----'

He passed in last, the door was shut, the cage commenced to ascend. His
companions grinned and chuckled as, with a brutal oath, the older
convict asked what he was sent on board for.

Lance hesitated for a moment, and then, reflecting that if he attempted
to show what his companions in misery might consider airs of superiority
they would find some way of revenging themselves, answered in as
careless a manner as he could assume--

'Well, I knocked over the head warder at Ballarat.'

'Good boy! What for?'

'He had been "running" me--wanted to make me break out, I suppose. I
couldn't stand it any longer and went for him.'

'Why didn't yer choke the ---- wretch?'

'Because I hadn't time.' Here the savage joy which he experienced when
his enemy lay gasping beneath him came with a rush of recollection, and
the old fire, so long absent, glowed lurid in his eyes. 'Another second
or two and Bracker would have been a dead man.'

'Bracker, was it?' said one of the younger convicts. 'I was under him at
Pentridge, and a ---- dog he was! He tormented a cove there till he
hanged himself. I'm dashed glad he copped it, anyhow.'

'You're a right 'un, anyhow,' said the older convict approvingly. 'It
wants a chap like you now and then to straighten them infernal wretches
that think a man's like a log of wood as you chop and chip at till it's
all done. I learned one of 'em different on the other side, and there's
one or two here as'll get a surprise yet if they don't look out.'

At this stage of the conversation the slowly-ascending contrivance
reached the upper deck, and the inmates became as stolidly silent as
Eastern mutes.

One by one, covered by the rifles of the deck guards, they stepped out
and followed each other in the shuffling walk peculiar to heavily-ironed
men along and around the deck. Each man was a certain distance behind
the one immediately preceding him. The foremost man walked to the bow of
the vessel. When reached, he turned stiffly round as if by machinery,
and resumed the same monotonous tramp in the opposite direction.

Melancholy treadmill and mockery of locomotion as was this parade, still
it was not wholly without its attractions. The vision arose before their
aching eyes of the blue sky, the dancing wave, the far-off purple
mountain. There drove seaward an outgoing steamer. Alas, alas! what a
world of vain regrets did she evoke in Lance's mind! There were
white-winged gulls, yachts and skiffs that resembled them in free and
graceful flight. All these constituted a pageant impossible of
production within prison walls. Then the ocean breeze, with every
inspiration after the foetid atmosphere of the lower deck, revived and
in a sense exhilarated them. These joys and glories of the sea could not
be shut out even from the gaze of the fettered captives, unless the
further refinement of punishment of blindfolding had been added. And
even in the _President_ none of the officials had hit upon this
deterrent device.

So by the time that Lance and his fellows had completed their allotted
tramp, at the end of which time he was fatigued, unused as he was to
lift his legs with such an encumbering weight, he felt, somewhat to his
surprise, that his general tone had been raised. He saw the shore, then
known as Liardet's Beach, which did not seem so great a distance away.
He could imagine in the night, when a dense fog enveloped the mud flats
of the bay, the low sandy beach, the thickets of the tall ti-tree
(_melaleuca_), that either by swimming or with friendly aid a prisoner
might cross the intervening stretch of mud flat, so dreary and darksome
at low water, and, disappearing into the thickets, be as little likely
to be again seen as a ghost flitting at cock-crow.

During the remainder of this day Lance was sensible of an unusual
feeling of exaltation, so much so that when night came,--the dreary
night commencing so early and ending so late, when sleep would have been
the most precious of boons,--he was wholly unable to compose himself to
rest, as the phrase in orthodox fiction runs: Compose himself!--irony of
ironies!--with the murmur of the prison herd in his ears, in which ever
and anon a maniacal shriek shrilled through the murky midnight air.

The waves plashed and the rising gale moaned as if in natural protest
against the foul cargo of crime, misery, and despair amid which he lay.

In the strange half-delirious fancies which coursed through his brain,
he saw, plainly as it seemed to him, the face of the God-forsaken,
desperate criminal who had last occupied this very cell. He saw him
sitting crouched, hour after hour, day after day, in the very place
where he sat. He marked the spot where his boot-heels had worn the solid
plank. He saw him taken out to punishment. He saw him return more
dogged, hopeless, and defiant than before. Lastly, he could see him
apparently standing upright, but in reality suspended by the twisted
woollen cord, his blanket torn into strips, gone to carry his case into
that ultimate court of appeal where the wrongs of earth shall be righted
by the justice of Heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

From this time Lance Trevanion experienced a complete change of
sensation. 'Cabined, cribbed, confined' as he was most literally, there
seemed to have been breathed into his soul with the salt scent of the
ocean that which no art of man could shut out--the hope of freedom, the
promise of escape. Moreover, a brief note had reached the address agreed
upon between him and Tessie, and the warder, finding it transmutable
into sovereigns, had formed a different opinion of Number Fifty-six. He
began to look upon him as a victim of oppression, as something out of
the run of the ordinary 'crew' of the _President_; finally as a young
man who was worth taking a little trouble about, and for whom it might
in the end be worth encountering even the serious risk of dismissal.
After all, if made worth his while, what did dismissal from the
Government service amount to? It involved no moral stigma, no personal
disadvantage. If he cleared out with cash enough to set up a
public-house, or even a store, at some of these new goldfields which
were 'breaking out' every day, how could he do better?

Having established friendly relations with his immediate attendant,
Lance soon proceeded to reap the benefit of confidential intercourse.
Articles of food, 'medical comforts'--luxuries, even--were smuggled in
to Number Fifty-six. With the aid of these and recovered appetite, born
of the sea air, and the tonic ideas which now pervaded his system, Lance
improved measurably. He was reported to the chief officer for good
conduct, and that dread official was pleased to address him one day,
and, remarking upon his behaviour, to inform him that he would be
transferred to the hulk _Success_ at the end of three months, being much
earlier than, from the grave nature of his offence, he might have
calculated upon. Lance touched his cap, smiling bitterly as he shuffled
off on his mechanical round with the faint rattle which his chains
_would_ make, however carefully he might be-wrap and bandage them.

At the end of three months! Well, the first week was over. It had seemed
a month, and there were eleven more to follow before the penal period
would be completed. In Heaven's name, what was he to do until then, hour
after hour in solitude? But one little hour on deck, again to feel the
free ocean breeze, to note the curling waves, the gliding sea-bird.
Sometimes, indeed, even this faint solace was debarred. When the weather
was rough and the hulk unsteady at her moorings, the hour's exercise,
that precious respite, was forbidden. It was too difficult to haul up
the cage, to supervise satisfactorily the deck occupants. So the dark
dull day was fated to end in gloom and sadness as it had commenced.
Sometimes, indeed, the second day passed over without the blessed
interval. Not until the bad weather came to an end were the ill-fated
captives permitted the scanty dole of fresh air and sunshine.

As much of Lance's leisure time while at exercise as he could devote to
this sort of reconnoitring he managed to concentrate on the mud flats,
which at low tide were hardly a mile distant. These he carefully
examined. He learnt by heart their bearings from the shore; satisfied
himself that once there he could manage for himself. Of course there was
the reverse side of the shield. The hulks--more especially the
_President_, as holding a sample of the worst and most desperate
criminals of the whole prison population--were most closely watched. No
boats but those of the water police were permitted to come within an
area marked by buoys, more than half a mile square. Was it worth while
to run the risk of being caught and run down by these, or would it be
more prudent to await his transfer to the _Success_ and take the chance
of escaping from the quarries?

The latter idea seemed feasible. Amid a regiment of convicts nearly a
thousand strong, who worked from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the quarries, at
the piers, or the building of a lighthouse--surely amid such an army of
labourers some opportunity of escape would be afforded him.

Meanwhile, in spite of adverse circumstances, matters were decidedly
improving. His friendly gaoler showed him how he could keep his
port-hole open in fine weather, even after locking-up time for the
night, and by other concessions materially lightened for him the weary
hours.

More than once too had he received a letter from Tessie, carefully
written on the smallest possible scrap of paper, but with its few words
of priceless value and comfort to the captive. In the last one a
distinct plan of escape was devised.

At this time, among the various pursuits and avocations by means of
which men of gentle nurture who had been unsuccessful at the goldfields
procured a living while leading an independent life, that of
wild-fowling ranked high. Game of all sorts was readily saleable at
fabulous prices to the hotel and restaurant keepers of Melbourne. Every
day scores of men, with pockets stuffed with bank notes, came to the
metropolis eager to embark for England with what seemed a fortune to
them, or to enjoy a season of revelry preparatory to returning to
Ballarat or Bendigo. There was, as the miner's phrase then went, 'plenty
more where that came from.' With such free-handed customers a
_recherché_ dinner, with fish, game, and fruit, preceding a theatre
party, was indispensable. The cost was not counted. Bills were despised
in those days when every river in favoured districts was a Pactolus.
Hotel-keepers and tradesfolk were reproached for their meanness in not
swelling their totals to a respectable sum. The free-handed miner, whose
drafts, payable in the rich red gold Dame Nature was so proud to honour,
mocked at expense, and exacted profusion at his quasi-luxurious
banquets. Such being the state of affairs, with teal and widgeon at ten
shillings a brace, and black duck at a sovereign the pair, a reduced
gentleman, with a punt and duck gun, was enabled to lead a
philosophical, remunerative, and far from laborious existence.



CHAPTER XVI


It came at last--the week--the day--the very night to which Lance had
looked forward with such nervous anxiety. When compelled to pace the
deck for the last morning, as he trusted, with his chained comrades, he
barely concealed his exultation at the thought that on the morrow he
might be a free man once more. He feared it would be visible in his
countenance, in his very step, which in spite of himself was almost
elastic, causing his chains to clank unusually. Indeed one of his
fellows in adversity noticed it.

Keen to detect the slightest change from the stereotyped prison bearing,
he growled out, 'What the ---- are ye at, step-dancing with your
bloomin' irons, ye ---- fool? They'll clap the fourteen-pound clinks on
ye if ye try the shakin' lay. Stoush it, ye ----'

The words were perhaps unfit for publication, but the intention was not
all unkind. The trained _forçat_ had quickly divined that something not
in the programme--an 'extra,' so to speak--was likely to be played, and
thus warned him against premature elation.

Lance felt his heart stop as the possibility occurred to him that the
caprice of a warder might order him to wear irons weighing a quarter of
a hundredweight in place of the comparatively light ones which at
present confined his limbs. He at once 'dropped,' as the adviser would
have phrased it, and falling into the chain-gang shuffle as if
instinctively, said, 'All right, Scotty, this foggy day makes a fellow
want to warm his feet.'

'Warm your feet!' scoffed the convict, 'you'll be lucky if you can raise
a trot without hobbles these years to come. When your time's up they'll
have ye for something else, like they did me. Once they've got a cove on
these ---- hell-boats they don't like to let him go again.'

'How long have you been lagged, Scotty?' inquired Lance, less indeed
impelled by curiosity than desirous of turning the conversation from
what he felt was a dangerous direction.

'Me?' growled the convict hoarsely, glaring for a moment at Lance with
his wolfish eyes--eyes which rarely met those of another steadfastly. 'I
did ten stretch on the Derwent afore I come across the Straits--ten long
years. That warn't enough for 'em, for I hadn't been a year at Bendigo
when I was "lumbered" for robbing a cove's tent as I'd never been nigh.
No! God strike me dead if I had! I knew the chap as did the "touch" as
well as I know you. He and Black Douglas did it between 'em. But I'd a
bad name. I'd come from the other side, and I was picked upon. I was
seen going towards the tent the night before. The chaps that lost their
gold swore to me; they wanted to "cop" somebody. And there was I, as was
going straight and had a good claim and didn't need to rob nobody, and
thought I had a chance in a new country, there was I--"lagged" and
dragged aboard again, and me no more in it than a sucking child. I went
_mad_ pretty well, and here's the end of it. But by ----' and here the
half-insane felon swore a terrible oath, 'I'll give 'em something to
talk about afore I'm done, and it'll be true this time--true as
death--death--death!'

Here the unfortunate creature, whose features had gradually assumed an
expression of ungovernable rage, lashed to fury by the thought of real
or fancied injustice, raised his voice to a shriek like the cry of a
wild beast, and with every feature working like those of an epileptic,
fell on the floor of the deck helpless and insensible.

'What's all this?' demanded a warder, marching to the spot, yet
cautiously, as always doubtful of a rush among the fierce animals over
which he and his comrades ruled. 'Dash it all, you fellows are like a
lot of old women--jabber, jabber. I shall have to put some of you in the
black hole if you don't look out.'

'It's only Scotty, sir,' answered a crafty-looking convict who had been
looking on, with a strange mysterious smile. 'He's got a fit or
somethink. He's always mad when he gets on that Bendigo yarn of his.'

'Oh, Scotty, is it?' replied the warder carelessly. 'Throw a bucket of
salt water over him; he'll come to directly. Your hour's up all but five
minutes, men. You can go below and keep quiet, or it'll be worse for
some of you.'

So below they went, in tens and tens, one after the other, murmuring and
cursing among themselves, devoting Scotty, Lance, and the warder to the
least respectable deities, yet not daring to raise their voices lest the
dreaded 'black hole' or the more terrible 'box' should be apportioned to
some of them with indiscriminate severity.

Lance, perhaps, was the only one who retired to his cell with a feeling
of satisfaction. Gloomy was the evening, dark yet not stormy. Brooding
over all things hung an enshrouding, clinging fog. The lights of the
vessels in the bay were invisible until the boats almost ran against
their sides, then they appeared like blurred and wavering moons. The
invisible flocks of sea-birds flying landwards, true precursors of a
storm, wailed and shrieked in curiously weird cadence, like the ghosts
of shipwrecked mariners. Yet no breath of rising wind or gathering
tempest stirred the black waveless plain which stretched for so many a
mile seaward and lay illimitable between the murky shores. To those long
versed in sea signs--and there were many such on board this mockery of a
ship--a storm was imminent. Phantom-like, motionless, lay the
_President_ on the oily moveless deep, a corpse-like hull upon the
lifeless water. In that hour she seemed a derelict of that dread fleet
which the poet dreamed of in his weirdest, grandest poem:

    'And ships were drifting with the dead
      To shores where all were dumb.'

       *       *       *       *       *

If there was a period of comparative rest and peace in that lazar ship,
choked to the gunwales with human nature's foulest disorders, it was
between the second and third hour after midnight. Before that time there
was little or no repose, much less silence. The restless felons,
debarred from work or exercise, were loath to sleep or to permit such
indulgence to others. But from about an hour after midnight to the
lingering winter dawn a certain, or rather uncertain, quantity of sleep
was procured. Not incorrectly may it be said that then in all abodes of
sin and wretchedness.

    'The wicked cease from troubling
    And the weary are at rest.'

The hush of nature, the strange compulsion of the tangible darkness and
solemn stillness of the night, was unbroken save by the flights of
sea-fowl and the occasional sound from the shore, when softly yet
distinctly touching the very stern of the vessel a grating sound was
heard by Lance, secreted in an old state-room. Two large-sized ports,
through which a man could easily crawl and drop himself into the water
or on a boat below, were open. 'Lower away,' said a carefully modulated
voice, 'and look sharp.'

As he spoke a stout rope was let down, of which the man in the boat-punt
laid hold. Lance leaned out through the wide port of the state-room and
could just distinguish the outline of a small boat. 'Drop slowly down,'
said the strange voice; 'gently does it.'

The captive had by this time seated himself on the window-sill with his
legs outward. His irons were wrapped and muffled with portions of his
blanket, which he had sacrificed for the purpose. A twisted rope was
made of strips of the same material, a stout gray woollen, woven and
milled in Pentridge, and therefore free from shoddy and mixture.

Adown this Lance cautiously lowered himself--how cautiously and
anxiously! A slip--a touch of foot on the side instead of the centre of
the frail bark, and failure--recapture even--were imminent. The splash
would at once alarm the vigilant ears of the sentries, whose
rifle-bullets would be spurting in and about the spot in no time. Inch
by inch he lowered himself until he felt a man's hand touch and steady
him. His feet were on the flat bottom of a ducking canoe which floated
low on the surface of the stirless deep. Lower still and lower he sank
down until he found himself sitting on the floor of the punt with an arm
on either thwart and his back nearly touching the stern. With one strong
noiseless stroke the strange boatman sent his light craft yards away
from the prison-ship, and as the hull vanished abruptly, swallowed up in
the Egyptian darkness of the night, Lance felt a great throb at his
heart. He inhaled joyously the salt odour of the tide, for he knew that,
bar accidents, he was again a free man.

'Steady,' said the boatman in a low but distinct voice as he settled to
his sculls, 'another quarter of a mile and we may talk as much as you
please. We shall make the shore before yon black cloud bursts, and after
that no boat leaves any ship in the bay till sunrise.'

Lance sat carefully still, and indeed had little inclination to talk for
a while. Swiftly, smoothly, they seemed to speed through the ebon
darkness lit up from time to time by the phosphorescent scintillations
which fell from the black water at each dip of the oars.

'How do you steer?' he said at length. 'It wouldn't do to get lost in
this fog; we might easily be picked up, and then my fate would be worse
than before.'

'See that light?' said the rower, pointing to a tiny speck like a
beacon, miles away on the main.

'I do see a very small glimmering,' said Lance; 'are you sure that is
the right direction?'

'That light,' said the stranger slowly, 'is a fire in a nail can which
is kept alight by my mate. It stands before our hut in Fisherman's Bend,
and there could not be a better place to land.'

'How so?'

'Because it is cut off before and behind by marshes. There is no track
to Liardet's Beach, which is only half a mile off. There is a mud flat
in front, and hardly any one but ourselves knows the channel. It's dead
low water now; any boat, even if they chased us, would be stuck in the
mud in ten minutes, and it isn't every one that knows how to get off
again.'

'Then we're right, and I'm a free man once more. Great God of Heaven!
what a feeling it is. May I ask your name, the name of a man that's
saved my life?'

'My name's Wheeler. Not that it matters much, unless I'm had up for
being so soft-hearted as to mix myself up with the law's victims. But
one gentleman takes a fancy to help another now and then in this
topsy-turvy country. I've heard and can see for myself that you're one.'

'I _was_,' groaned out Lance. 'People called me one. Shall I ever be one
again?'

Here his irons, stirred with an involuntary movement, made a slight
sound.

'That is the answer. My God, what had I done that I should be tortured
thus?' His head sank down upon his knees, and he made no sound or sign
till the boat glided up to the verge of the small beacon light and a
second man appeared out of the darkness, taking hold of the painter
which was thrown out to him.

'Haul her up, Joe, as far as you can,' said the boatman, stepping out on
the low sedgy bank, so low as to be barely distinguishable above the
water. 'Stop, I'll help you. Sit quiet then till we come to you.'

The shallow canoe, with the prow released from weight and tilted up, was
pulled bodily on to the land. Then the men stood on either side of
Lance, and, raising him from his cramped position, helped him to step on
to _terra firma_, and thence into the door of a small hut, in front of
which stood the nail can aforesaid.

The hut was small, but weather-tight and snug as to its interior
fittings, displaying the extreme neatness coupled with economy of space
often observable where men live by themselves, especially if one of the
celibates happens to have been a sailor.

'This is my mate, Trevanion,' said the first mariner. 'His name's Joe
Collins, formerly second lieutenant of Her Majesty's ship _Avenger_. My
name you know, so we needn't stand on ceremony with one another. We are
well posted up in your story, thanks to your plucky pretty friend, so
there's no need for explanation. You and I are ready for supper, I
suspect, so we'll turn to while Collins sees to the canoe and makes all
tight for the night. There's the first storm-note; it's going to blow
great guns before long, just as I thought it would.'

Mr. Wheeler rattled on in a cheery, careless sort of way, while his
friend went in and out, fed the dogs, of which they had two or three
couples--retrievers, terriers, and one of the tall handsome greyhounds,
the kangaroo dog of the colonists. Lance knew that the talkativeness was
assumed for the sake of putting him at his ease. Too strange and excited
to converse himself, he could but sit in a rude but substantial chair,
fashioned out of a beer-barrel and covered with a kangaroo skin, and
look silently from one to the other.

Meanwhile the tea was made, the corned beef and bread set forth in a tin
dish, pannikins placed ready, and the substantial bush meal, always
fully adequate to the needs of a healthy man in good training, was
ready. Before commencing, however, Mr. Wheeler fished forth from a
species of locker a square bottle, apparently containing Hollands. From
this he poured into each pannikin a pretty stiff 'second mate's glass.'

'Do us no harm this cold night,' he said. 'Your health, Trevanion, and a
good journey to follow a bad start. It often happens here, take my word
for it.'

The three men raised the tin pints and looked at each other. 'Thank you;
from my heart I thank you,' Lance gasped out. 'God bless you both, if my
wishing it will do you any good. I shall never forget this night.'

One is far from recommending, or indeed palliating, the continuous use
of alcohol, but there is no evading the fact that when people are more
or less exhausted, beside being chilled and dispirited, a glass of
spirits, be it sound cognac, 'the real M'Kay,' or, as in this instance,
good square gin, produces an effect little less than magical. There are
those who, in the joyous season of early youth, or fixed in the higher
wisdom of abstinence, require it not. But strictly in moderation and
under exceptional circumstances it is a medicine, a luxury, an _elixir
vitae_.

No sooner had the powerful cordial commenced to produce its ordinary
effect than the heart of the ransomed captive was conscious of a feeling
of lightness to which it had long been a stranger. Hope, timidly
approaching, whispered a soothing message; a vision of distant lands and
brighter days assumed form and colour. The cramped limbs recovered
warmth; the sluggish blood commenced a quicker circulation. He found
appetite for the simple meal, and listened with interest and amusement
to the tales of moving incidents by flood and field with which, between
their pipes, the woodsmen beguiled the winter evening. Lastly, the door
was bolted, the dogs let loose, and Lance was invited to avail himself
of a comfortable shakedown, where opossum cloaks and wallaby rugs
protected him from the searching night air, now keen-edged with the fury
of a howling storm. The wearied fugitive slept soundly, as he had not
done for months. He awakened to find that the sun had risen and that his
hosts had left him to complete his slumbers undisturbed by their exit.

His feelings when he arose and looked around were instinctively tinged
with apprehension. By this time at least his escape had been made known.
What excitement must have been caused! What despatches to the other
prison-ships and their guards! To the water police! To the hunters of
men on land and sea whose beards had been mocked at! Their energy would
be further stimulated by the offer of a reward, as well as by the
certainty of promotion in the event of recapture. As the captive sat up
on his couch and looked through the open door upon the still waters of
the river-mouth, from which the fog, now that the storm had blown itself
out, was slowly lifting, he felt a shudder thrill through his frame as
he realised how near he was still to his prison home, how helpless too,
manacled as he was. He struggled to his feet, however, with a renewal
of hope and confidence in the future. The fresh and unpolluted air acted
like a cordial as he breathed it with long gasps of enjoyment. The close
walls of lofty ti-tree which shut in on three sides the nook of land,
indistinguishable from the water until at close quarters, provided at
once a shelter and a hiding-place almost impossible of surprise. The
wild-fowl swam and dived and splashed and squatted, heedless of their
chief enemy man. He found himself reverting in thought to the sports of
his youth, to the happy days when, gun in hand, he would have joyed to
have crawled within range of the shy birds and rattled in a right and
left shot.

One of his irons clanked; the rag had slipped. How the sound brought him
back to the present! His lips had shaped themselves into a curse, his
brow had darkened, when his hosts suddenly appeared, emerging from a
creek which wound sinuously through the marshy level. Fastening up the
invaluable punt, they stepped lightly out, bearing with them a goodly
assortment of wild-fowl--noble black duck, delicate teal, and that
lovely minute goose, the _Anas boscha_, commonly known as the 'wood
duck.'

'Grand bird this,' said Wheeler, throwing down a magnificent specimen of
that finest of all the family--the 'mountain duck'--with his
bronzed-fawn and metallic plumage. 'Splendid fellow to look at, but
that's all. Pity, isn't it? Not worth a button to eat. Why do we shoot
them? you'll ask. We sell them to the bird-stuffers. They pay well at
the price they give us. Now then, we'll proceed to business, which means
breakfast. Spatch duck--a couple of teal, eh? How do we do it? Pop 'em
into boiling water. Feathers off in a jiffy. Cut them in four, broil,
and serve hot. Tender as butter, these flappers, for they're not much
older. After breakfast we'll unfold the plot. Slept well? I thought so.
Hope you've got an appetite.'

Lance was well aware that Mr. Wheeler's cheery, garrulous tone, not by
any means characteristic of men who live lonely lives, was assumed for
the purpose of concealing his real feelings and saving those of his
guest. But he appeared to take no heed, merely performing his toilet
with the aid of a bucket of water and a rough towel, and treating
himself to a more thorough lavation than had been lately possible. Mr.
Collins, R.N., had been setting-to with a will as caterer, and in far
less time than one would think, a meal, in some respects not to be
disdained by an epicure, appeared on the small table which, fixed upon
trestles, was placed before the hut door.

'Try this teal, Trevanion; it's as plump as a partridge. Here's cayenne
pepper; lemons in that net. Cut one in half and squeeze--"squeeze
doughtily," as Dugald Dalgetty advises Ranald M'Eagh to do when he has
his hand on the Duke of Argyle's windpipe, in the event of His Grace
attempting to give the alarm. I read _A Legend of Montrose_ over again
last week. What a glorious old fellow Sir Walter is, to be sure! When
you've finished your first beaker of tea, there's more in the
camp-kettle, Australice "billy." Did I ever think--or you either,
Trevanion--that we should drink tea out of a "billy," or be our own
cooks, housemaids, washerwomen, and gamekeepers all in one. Still, there
are worse places than Australia, and that I'll live and die on.'

While Wheeler's tongue was going at this brisk rate, it is not to be
supposed that his jaws were idle. The friends played a real good knife
and fork, and Lance, between invitation and the natural temptation of,
in its way, a dainty and appetising meal, followed suit. The other man
gave a lively sketch of their morning's sport, and by the time breakfast
was finished and pipes lighted, a well-worn briar-root having been made
over to Lance on the previous evening, the gnawing feeling of consuming
anxiety commenced to be somewhat allayed.

'Now we open the council of war,' began Wheeler, after two or three
solemn puffs. 'Collins and I have to make a little _détour_ on business
which will occupy us till mid-day. Half an hour after we leave, a
mysterious artificer will suddenly appear, not out of the ground, like
Wayland Smith in _Kenilworth_ (pray excuse any excessive quotation of
Sir Walter, but the fact is we got a second-hand edition cheap last
month, and have been feasting upon him ever since). Well, this lineal
descendant of Tubal Cain will arise out of the ti-tree and will
disembarrass you of, say, any garniture which you may consider
inconvenient to travel with. I don't know him; you don't know him; he
don't know us; nobody knows anybody. You apprehend? But _the work will
be done_. Afterwards look in that bag and you will find a rig-out,
half-worn but serviceable, and somewhere about your measure.'

'Stop a minute--just permit me one minute,' proceeded Wheeler
hurriedly, but ever courteously. 'A trifle more explanation is
necessary. Here is your route arranged for you by your good angel, your
admirable friend and protectress, with whom Collins and I are madly
enamoured--but this by the way. Listen again. When you feel ready for
the road, take this left-hand path through the ti-tree. You see it
starting behind that bush. You cannot get off it once you are on it.
Follow it for three miles. You will meet there, by a reedy lagoon, a man
with two horses. Mount the one which he leads, asking no questions. He
will say "Number Six?" you will say "Polwarth." Of course you are the
Mr. Polwarth of Number Six on a tour of inspection. He will ride with
you the whole night through, stopping only at necessary intervals. At
daylight you will find yourself more than fifty miles on the Gippsland
road. He will take you by "cuts" and by-tracks to a part of Gippsland
from which you may make your way to Monaro, to Twofold Bay, to Omeo--all
A1 places for a man who wishes rest and seclusion for a season. You will
take your choice. On the led horse--a good one, as I am informed--you
will find valise, waterproof, and other necessaries. Here is a
pocket-book, which I am commissioned to hand to you, in which are £50 in
notes and gold, besides a letter from her to whom you owe so much.'

Mr. Wheeler rattled out this full and complete code of instructions with
his customary rapidity, finishing off with the delivery of the
pocket-book to Lance, who held out his hand mechanically and stood
staring at him for a few moments like a man in a dream.

Then he found his tongue.

'You have done for me that which many a man's brother would have
declined. I am a poor creature now, and can't speak even as once I
could. But may Heaven help you in your need, as you have stood by me.
Some day it may be. I cannot say, but the day may come when a scion of
the house of Wychwood may repay some slight portion of the debt of
gratitude its most ill-fated son has incurred. Farewell, and God for
ever bless you.'

The men looked in each other's eyes for a little space, one strong
hand-clasp, after the manner of Englishmen, was exchanged, and they
parted.

'That's a man of birth and breeding who has been wrongfully convicted,
I'll stake my life,' said Wheeler to his friend, as, with gun on
shoulder and long steady stride, they left the hut behind them. 'Had I
not been convinced of it, all Ballarat would not have tempted me to go
into the affair. But between pity and admiration for that trump of a
girl, I gave way. I wonder whether his luck will turn now and all come
right.'

'There's a great deal in luck in this world,' said Mr. Collins
sententiously. 'It's hard to say.'

Within a few minutes after the time specified, and for which Lance
waited with ever-increasing impatience, a quietly-dressed individual so
suddenly appeared as to startle him. He came around the side of the hut
while Lance was deep in the perusal of Tessie's letter, which also
contained a few lines from Mr. Stirling, telling him that his order for
cash, worded in a certain way, would always be paid to any person whom
he might name at any place.

He looked up for an instant and saw the broad frame and steady eye of
the stranger confronting him. 'Could this be a detective in plain
clothes? The thought was madness.'

The stranger smiled. 'All right,' he said; 'I'm the blacksmith; come to
take the clinks off--not the first job of the sort I've done. Sharp's
the word--sit down, sir.'

Here the stranger produced from his pockets and a bag an assortment of
tools of various sorts, including files of marvellous finish and temper.
Seating himself, Lance freely yielded his limbs to the man of iron, who,
in something under half an hour, produced remarkable results. How the
heart of Lance Trevanion swelled with joy when he saw the hated manacles
drop heavily upon the rug on which he had been sitting!

'So far so good,' remarked the liberator artisan. 'One of 'em's chafed
your ankle, but you'll soon get over that. Ugly, ain't they? If you'll
dress yourself while I take a walk along the river I'll show you what
I'll do with them.'

A few minutes sufficed for the inspection of the beauties of the Yarra.
When he returned, the good-looking young man with the clean-shaved face
and short hair did not look in the least like the hunted convict of the
previous day.

'My word,' quoth the smith, dragging out an old sugee bag, 'you look
fust-rate--never see any one change more for the better--for the better.
Here goes!' Thus speaking, he placed the irons in the bag, which he
afterwards nearly filled with the prison clothing of which Lance, even
to his boots, had denuded himself. These he took into the punt, and
rowing to a deep place in the river near the bank he threw in the sack,
which the weight of the irons caused to sink at once. 'Many a poor
fellow's been buried like that at sea,' he remarked, in soliloquy. 'I
wonder if it ain't as good a way as any. The p'leece won't find them in
a hurry, I bet. And now Mr. Never-Never, I'll show you the left-hand
road, as I was told to. There's your track, and good luck to you.'

Lance had good reason to believe that this service had been paid for,
but he could not bear that the man who had rendered him such material
aid should go even temporarily unrewarded. So he extracted one of the
five-pound notes from the pocket-book and presented it to him at the
close of proceedings.

'You're a gentleman,' said the smith, unconsciously using the
stereotyped expression of those receiving a gratuity in advance of
expectation.

'I was once,' replied Lance, with a sadly humorous half-smile. 'God
knows if I ever shall be one again.'

'No fear,' quoth the hammerman, with a cheery, consoling accent. 'You've
got the world afore you now. Many a man in this country has been a deal
lower down that holds his head high enough now. Keep up your "pecker."
It'll all come right in the end.'

On the narrow marshy track, which led between thick-growing walls of
ti-tree eight or ten feet high, there was not, as Wheeler averred, much
chance of losing the way. Lance plodded on cheerfully for about an hour.
Once he could have done the distance in far less time, but from want of
exercise and other reasons he had contracted the habit of taking short
steps, which he found it difficult to change. He felt altogether out of
sorts, and was by no means sorry to see near a deep reed-fringed lagoon
a man who looked like a stock-rider sitting on a log watching two
hobbled horses that, saddled and bridled, fed close by the water's edge.

As the foot traveller emerged from the ti-tree thicket, the man walked
to the horses' heads, and, after one look at the newcomer, commenced to
unloose the hobbles. These he buckled on to each saddle, and, tightening
the girths, said interrogatively, 'Number Six?'

'Polwarth,' was the answer returned.

Upon this he held the bridle of one of the horses and motioned for Lance
to mount, after altering the stirrup to suit the stranger's length of
limb. This done, he mounted and rode forward at a steady pace, turning
neither to the right nor left, except when apparently some advantage
would seem to be gained by it. Both horses walked fast, particularly the
one which Lance bestrode, which he found to be good in all his paces,
free, clever, and in all respects a superior style of hackney.

Mile after mile did they ride after this fashion, walking, trotting, or
cantering as the roads, both deep and difficult in places, permitted.
The rate at which they travelled was on the whole rapid, though the
guide evidently husbanded the powers of both horses in view of a
toilsome journey still to be made.

An hour before midnight, pursuing a by-track for some distance, they
came upon a hut in a forest near a deserted saw-pit. It had once been a
snug and substantial dwelling, but the timber had long been cut and
carted away, so the hut was no longer needed. The grass grew thick and
green around. The guide, with practised hand, first lighted a fire in
the large mud-lined chimney, and then unsaddled and hobbled out the
horses. He produced from a rude cupboard bread and cold meat, tea,
sugar, and the quart pot and pannikins necessary for a bush meal. These
had evidently been placed there in anticipation of such a visit. Besides
all this, there were a couple of rugs, and as many double blankets of
the ordinary gray colour used by travelling bushmen.

The fire having burned well up, and a couple of dry back logs having
been placed so as to ensure a steady glow for at least half the evening,
his taciturn guide relaxed a little. 'Here we are for the night,' he
said, 'though we'd best make an early start, and I don't know as we
could be much more comfortable. We've plenty to eat and drink and a fire
to sleep by, no cattle to watch, and a good roof over us. I've often had
a worse night along this very road.'

'I daresay,' said Lance, who began to shake off his fears of immediate
capture. 'This must be a queer road in wet weather.'

'I believe yer,' answered the guide. 'Many a mob of fat cattle I've
drove along this very track. It's a nice treat on a wet night, sitting
on your horse soaking wet through, nearly pitch dark, and afraid to give
the bullocks a chance for fear they'd rush. This here's a picnic in a
manner of speaking.'

'I suppose it is,' quoth Lance. 'Things might be worse, I daresay. I
shall sleep well, I don't doubt. I haven't been riding much lately.
Where shall we get to-morrow night?'

'Somewhere about the Running Creek; it's a longish pull, but the horses
are good and in fine buckle. You can do a long day's journey with an
early start.'

Their meal over, the two men sat before the glowing fire on the rude
seats which they had found in the hut. The soothing pipe helped still
further to produce in Lance's case a calm and equable state of mind. To
this succeeded a drowsily luxurious sensation of fatigue, which he did
not attempt to combat, and, stretching himself on his rug, he covered
himself with the blanket; he and his companion were soon asleep.

The stars were still in the sky when he started at a touch on the
shoulder, and found that his companion had noiselessly arisen and
prepared breakfast. The horses also, ready saddled and bridled, were
standing with their bridles over the fork of a tree near the door. Lance
was soon dressed. Breakfast over, they were in the saddle and away while
as yet the first faint tinge of the dawn light had scarcely commenced to
irradiate the mountain peaks which stood ranked like a company of Titans
near the eastern sky-line.

With this, the second day's journey, a change commenced to make itself
apparent in Lance Trevanion's mien and bearing. The fresh forest air was
in his lungs, the great woodland through which they were now riding
commenced to endue him with the fearless spirit of the waste. He could
hardly imagine that it was so short a time since he was in fettered
bondage. What a difference was there in his every movement and
sensations! He began unconsciously to act the free man in tone and
manner. He praised the paces of the horse he was riding, and criticised
that of his guide in a way which showed that experienced person that he
was no novice in the noble science of horse-flesh. He began to draw out
his companion. In him he perceived, as he thought, the ordinary bushman,
an experienced stock-rider, or, perhaps, confidential drover, and thence
he began to wonder how much of his past history he had been made
acquainted with. A chance question supplied the information.



CHAPTER XVII


'Where are ye thinking of going, boss, when we get to Bairnsdale?
Twofold Bay's a terrible long way off to go prospectin'. I'd a deal
sooner chance Omeo. It's only twenty miles farther on.'

'Omeo, Omeo!' repeated Lance. 'Why should I go to Omeo?'

'Haven't ye heard? There's a big show struck close by the old township.
They say they're leaving Ballarat, lots of 'em, to go there. It's the
richest find yet, by all accounts; shallow ground too!'

'Omeo, Omeo!' Lance again repeated half unconsciously to himself. Had
not Tessie made reference to it in the coach from Ballarat? Had she not
said that Lawrence Trevenna was there, the man to whose baleful shadow
he owed ruin and dishonour, the ineradicable disgrace which would always
be associated with his name? He had a heavy account to settle with him.
When they met all scores would be cleared off. This much he had vowed to
himself in the prison cell at Ballarat, in the hulk _President_ in the
silence of midnight, in that foetid hold of the prison-ship, where he
could scarcely breathe the polluted atmosphere, laden with crime, heavy
with curses. There, in that time of horror and dread, again and again
had he sworn to take his enemy's life--that one or other should die when
next they met, be it where it might.

And then again, as he hoped to efface himself, to feel secure from the
pursuit which he heard in every breeze and feared in every echoing hoof,
where could he find so safe and unsuspected a refuge as this new
digging--wild, rough, isolated as Omeo must necessarily be? Far from
civilisation of any kind, on a lone mountain plateau, snow-covered in
winter, only to be reached by paths so devious and precipitous that
wheels could not be employed, where every pound of merchandise or
machinery was fain to be carried on pack-horses. There could be no
better place for a hunted man to disappear, to obliterate himself. There
he could remain for the present,--unknown, invisible to all who had
known the former Lance Trevanion,--until he matured his plans and could
make his way to a foreign shore.

Here, as he recovered health and strength under the influence of the
mountain breezes and the wild woodlands which lay so near the
river-sources and the snow summits, it would be comparatively easy to
transmit his share of the Number Six washings, still safe in the
Joint-Stock Bank in the custody of Charlie Stirling. Here, once located
and established as Dick, Tom, or Harry--surnames were in the nature of
superfluities at goldfields of the class which Omeo was pretty sure to
be--he could make arrangements for selling out to Jack Polwarth. Quietly
and without suspicion he could arrange to have the whole of his property
transferred to him in cash, and some fine morning, under cover of a trip
to Melbourne on business or pleasure, he would show Australia a clean
pair of heels, and in America, North or South, in some far land where
his name was never heard, would live out the rest of a life with such
solace as he might, might even--when Time, the healer, should have
dulled the heart-pangs which now throbbed and agonised so
mordantly--might even reach some degree of contentment, if not of
happiness.

And Estelle! Estelle! There was the sharpest sting--the bitterest
grief--the direst pang of all. Could he ever look again into those
lovely, trusting eyes, having undergone what he had done? Could he ask
her--angel of purity that she was; the embodiment of the refinement of
generations of stainless ancestors; sheltered, as she had been, by the
conditions of her birth and education from all knowledge of the evil
that there is in the world,--could he ask her to lay her head upon a
felon's breast?--to take his hand in life-long pledge of happiness, when
at any time, in any land where this long arm of extradition could reach,
the hand of justice might seize him? No! Such companionship, such love,
could never be his in the future. He had lost them for ever. On the
lower level to which he had sunk he must remain. To its privations he
must accustom himself; the surroundings he must endure. There was no
help for it. If Tessie Lawless chose to share his lot he might not deny
her. She knew the whole of his story. She loved him. She had been
faithful and true. She deserved any poor recompense, such as the damaged
future of his life, that of a nameless man, could offer, if she chose to
accept it. For Trevanion of Wychwood was dead, and his early love, with
all his high hopes and noble aspirations, lay deep in the grave of his
buried honour.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the day of Lance Trevanion's arrest at Balooka, no word, by letter
or otherwise, had reached Wychwood of the fortunes of its heir. Days,
weeks, months succeeded each other in the uneventful round into which
country life in England has a tendency to settle when ordinary interests
are withdrawn or unduly concentrated. It was pitiable to note the
squire's anxiety when the Australian mail was due. For him, as for
Estelle, there seemed to be but one man whose fortunes were worth
following in the whole world--from whom letters were as the breath of
life. And now these tidings from a far land, regular, if brief and
sententious, up to this time, were suddenly withheld.

With the failing health of the Squire--for he suffered from one of the
mysterious class of complaints before which strong men go down like
feeble children--passed away much of his fierce obstinacy, his pride and
arrogance. He thought of his son as he had last seen him,--haughty,
tameless, defiant, with all his faults a true Trevanion,--and now, when
he hoped to have seen him once again, grown and developed, though
bronzed and possibly roughened by the rude life of a colony, when he had
schooled himself to recall rash words and to make the _amende_ as far as
his nature would permit, here he was thwarted, bewildered, maddened by
this sudden arrest of all knowledge of his fate.

'The boy has had the best of the fight,' he groaned out.

Ever at his side, at this crisis chief counsellor and consoler, Estelle
here rose to her true position in the house. Awakened to the necessity
of taking a leading part in the family fortunes, the added weight of
responsibility appeared to nerve and mould her to a loftier resolve, to
a more sublimely unselfish purpose. She it was who suggested to the
desponding father every shade of excuse for the stoppage of the letters
which were as the life-blood to his failing constitution. She it was who
ransacked the newspapers for reports, meagre as they mostly were, of the
great Australian gold fields. She it was who looked up maps and
authorities upon the colonies, until she even acquired the recondite
knowledge, granted to so few Britons, that Victoria is not situated in
New South Wales, nor Tasmania the capital of Western Australia.

Torn and rent as was her own heart when she allowed herself to think of
her lover,--lost to her in the wilds of a far country, perishing in the
wilderness for all she knew, exposed to dangers among savages and
outlaws even more ruthless,--she yet braced up her courage. She nerved
herself to bear the worst, if only she might soften the pain and anxiety
which began increasingly to sap the strength of the failing head of the
ancient house.

More than once had she interviewed the passengers in vessels returning
from Melbourne, hungrily eager for any shred of news from Ballarat. Did
they know a miner named Trevanion, or even Polwarth? How long was it
since they had seen him, and what were his present circumstances? But
these inquiries were vain. Few of the returning adventurers had troubled
themselves to remember the names of their chance acquaintances. Others
indeed had heard of the untoward fate of the young Englishman, but
thought it no kindness to tell his friends. They could not possibly aid
him or alleviate his condition. Better to let the bad news unfold itself
in due time.

So the weary days went on. Spring glided into summer. The ancient oaks
and 'immemorial elms' of Wychwood Chase were clothed anew with tender
greenery. The glad, brief life of the northern summer burst into joyous
fulness, then paled and waned. Autumn, with slow pace but ruthless hand,
despoiled the glades and strewed the forest aisles with withered leaves
and fallen chaplets. Ere the blasts of winter had commenced to herald
the doom of the dying year, it became generally known that the Squire of
Wychwood was failing fast--would, indeed, hardly last over the coming
Christmastide. It was observed that he buried himself in his library,
that he had given up all habitual modes of exercise. No guests were
invited to the house, and Miss Estelle more often dined by herself than
not in the great, lonely dining-room which had so often echoed with
festive mirth, or, in older days, still rang with ruthless revelry.

As the Squire's health declined his affections seemed to concentrate
themselves upon his niece. She had in all respects borne herself as a
daughter to him--had shown even more than a daughter's sympathy and
constant, watchful care.

The younger son was at college. He would be the heir to Wychwood in
case the adventurer on the far Australian goldfield never returned to
claim his inheritance. Amiable, well conducted, of respectable ability
and fair attainments, he had never (such is the perversity of the human
heart) been a favourite of his father's. The stern old man--bitterly as
he had quarrelled with the disobedient elder brother, whose nature was
in so many respects a reflex of his own, yet in his heart owned him for
the higher nature--recognised in him the befitting heir to his ancient
demesne, to the hall in which nobles had sat and princes feasted. Now to
his gloomy and brooding soul all hope was lost. Some dire misfortune,
even a fatal accident, had doubtless happened--must have occurred,
indeed, or Lance's chronicle of his life and adventures, meagre as to
detail, but of regular recurrence, would have continued. If only he
could have set eyes on Lance before he died! Could he but have told him
how he had regretted the rash words and bitter speech, the prayers he
had prayed for his safe return; ay, the tears he had shed in the agony
of his remorse--he, the proud, inexorable Trevanion of Wychwood! It was
well-nigh incredible. None of his old-time comrades and
fellow-roysterers could have believed it of the Dark Squire, as the
villagers then named him, with lowered tones and bated breath. But in
the days of sorrow and failing strength,--when the strong man is brought
low; when those hours, so long approaching, so long menacing, have come;
when death seems no longer a strange visitant but a familiar friend,
more welcome in truth than the sad alternation of sorrow and
unrest,--the haughtiest pride of man is lowered. In those hours of
lonely grief and dark despair many a recantation is made--many a vow
recorded undreamed of in life's festal season.

       *       *       *       *       *

The death-day came at last. He lingered on past the season fixed by
general expectancy; but ere the first bud of the swelling leaflet had
been set free by the breath of spring in his ancestral glades, the
Squire lay with his warrior forefathers in the historic vault, which had
not been opened since the last Lady of Wychwood had been carried there,
long ere her beauty had faded. The retainers of the house, and not a few
of the notables of the county, assembled to pay the last form of respect
to one whom, in despite of his latter-day life of seclusion, they
recognised as one of the born leaders of the land. As the long
procession passed slowly along the winding road, which at one point
skirted the sea-cliff, to the venerable chapel which had seen so many
solemn ceremonies celebrated connected with the family, more than one
inquiry was made for the absent heir, and uniform regret expressed that
he should not have returned from the far south land to claim his own and
assume his rights.

When the last sad duties had been paid to him whom, in spite of his
stormy outbursts of temper, Estelle could not help holding in love and
pity, a strong resolve appeared to actuate the once timid girl,
shrinking, as carefully-nurtured women do, from independent action and
strange surroundings. The estate would go, of course, to the
heir-at-law, strictly entailed as it had been for many generations. But
it had been in the old man's power to dispose as he pleased of the large
amount accruing from the savings of late years, and from the sale of an
estate which was not included in the entail. This bequest, which had
been made while the testator was of perfectly sound mind and body, was
of such amount as to render Estelle perfectly independent for the rest
of her life; indeed, to exalt her somewhat to the position of an
heiress.

In the long conversations held in his latter days of decadence between
the Squire and his niece, it had been definitely agreed that Estelle
should proceed to Australia and there seek out the errant heir--should
bring him back if possible by force of entreaty or persuasion to the
land of his forefathers, to the rank and position handed down from the
fierce warriors and splendid courtiers whose presentments frowned or
smiled down upon their descendants in the old hall.

'I have such faith in you, my darling Estelle,' said the Squire, in one
of his later confidences, 'that I shall die more peacefully knowing that
you will search this far country for my lost unhappy boy. You have sense
and courage in a degree rarely bestowed upon women. Your heart has been
true to him during his long absence--this more than anxious period of
doubt and dread. If he be in the neighbourhood of the place from which
we last heard from him, you will be sure to gain some tidings of him. If
you see him, your influence over him, powerful for good, always for
good, as in the past, will save him, and once more the old ancient race,
which has never yet failed of a male heir in the direct line, will be
fittingly represented. If Lance, the son of whom I was so proud, returns
no more from that far country, the estate will of course pass into the
hands of his brother. But you are in any case _well_ provided for. May
God bless and reward you, my darling Estelle, for your forbearing
kindness to a broken-spirited man. And now, kiss me, darling; I think I
could sleep.'

He slept the sleep which knows no awakening on earth.

The parting words of her uncle had for Estelle almost the sacredness of
a dying command. She had vowed, kneeling by his bedside, to leave no
region unexplored, to carry through the search with the completeness
which characterised all her proceedings. The high courage and resolute
will which were hers by inheritance from the Trevanions stood her now in
good stead. With an air of quiet resolve she arranged all her personal
affairs without parade or hesitation; within a fortnight her passage had
been taken, a few letters of introduction procured, also a very moderate
outfit suitable for a young lady travelling, if not incognito, in a very
unobtrusive way. And at the appointed day and hour Estelle found herself
speeding away over the waters blue in company with a stranger crowd of
enforced acquaintances, borne over an unknown sea on a wild and
desperate quest. Before her, in imagination, she pictured the rude
solitudes of an unknown land--even the fancied perils of a lawless
goldfield.

       *       *       *       *       *

The low coast of the island-continent line, irregular and faint,
appearing from out the southern sky, so long unbroken. A new land--a new
city. Melbourne at last! The land how strange! The city how new! The
people how foreign-appearing and _bizarre_ to the voyager from the
region of tradition and settled form. Estelle looked and moved like a
strayed princess amid a horde of nomads. She had schooled herself into
the belief that in her quest she would be called upon to suffer all
kinds of privations, and to mingle with every variety of 'rough
colonists.' She resolved to make a trial essay. In pursuance of this
heroic resolution she preferred to go to an hotel upon her own
responsibility, before delivering the letters of introduction with which
she had armed herself. She was not exactly fortunate in her choice, as
indeed was to be expected. However, she was agreeably surprised at the
civility with which she was treated, as well as by the absence of
'roughness,' as displayed by the _habitués_, many of whom were patently
uneducated. Still Estelle made the discovery shortly, that even so
recently constructed a city as Melbourne, in the fret of a gold-fever,
was not essentially unlike an English town--that a handsome young woman
was more or less an object of attraction and curiosity. Tolerably well
veiled, doubtless; nevertheless an inquiring tone displayed itself
unmistakably. And, in spite of her resolve to brave all the social
inclemencies of her novel surroundings, Estelle Chaloner shrank from the
implied doubtfulness to which her unprotected condition led up. Escape
was easy. She smiled as she thought of her boasted independence; how
soon it had failed her! Being a sensible girl, however, in the least
restricted sense of the word, she capitulated forthwith, resolving to
present one of the letters of introduction without delay.

Having packed up her belongings,--not too extensive,--paid her bill, and
arranged all things ready for departure, Estelle picked out a 'nice'
looking letter, and resolved to abide the hazard of the die. The address
was, 'Mrs. Vernon, Toorak, South Yarra, near Melbourne.' The aboriginal
sounding names gave no information as to distance. 'Near' might mean two
miles or twenty. A man's next-door neighbour in Australia was sometimes
fifty miles distant, she had heard. Happily she bethought herself of
asking information of the landlady of her hotel.

'Toorak, Toorak!' said that important personage. 'Oh yes; I know it well
enough, and a nice place it is--all the swell people live there! Mrs.
Vernon's place is one of the best there. A grand house, and everything
in style. You'd better have a cab called; they'll take you there for ten
shillings, luggage and all.'

'I may not be asked to stay,' replied Estelle diffidently, 'and if I am,
I am not sure that I----'

'Oh yes you will,' interposed the hostess. 'Don't talk that way. Wait
till you see what sort of a place it is. And Mrs. Vernon's a lady that
won't let you go, I'll answer for it.'

A short half-hour's drive across Princes' Bridge, through or around the
maze of Canvastown, past the Botanic Gardens, and along a newly made and
recently metalled road, brought Estelle to a pair of massive ornate iron
gates, on the northern side of the road leading along an avenue of some
length.

'This is Charlton Lodge,' said the driver. 'Shall I drive to the front?'

'Certainly,' she replied, as she smiled at the question. The winding
avenue was well gravelled, with a border of shaven grass, beyond which
were beds filled with flowering shrubs, planted amid and underneath tall
pines, with an admixture of elms, oaks, and Australian cedars.
Everything exhibited careful tendance, demonstrating that although many
of the best labourers had levanted to the goldfields there were still
some few servitors who preferred comfort to independence. Estelle was
beginning to wonder how long the preliminary approach was to last, when
a velvet-piled lawn came into view, around which the carriage-drive took
a sweep, her charioteer halting underneath a spacious portico of
classical proportion and finish.

The cabman rang the bell, and receiving assurance from a neatly dressed
parlour-maid that her mistress was at home, returned to his seat and
awaited events, while Estelle was duly ushered into a handsomely
furnished drawing-room of unquestionable modernity of tone.

After a reasonably short interval, employed by Estelle in a
comprehensive survey of the apartment, which, indeed, bore tokens of
intelligent and appreciative taste, a well-dressed elderly lady
appeared.

'Miss Chaloner!' she exclaimed. 'I am truly glad to see you at last. I
have been wondering what had become of you. My dear friend, Mary Dacre,
wrote to me to say that you were coming out by the mail, and that you
had kindly brought a letter to me. I heard of the vessel's arrival, and
that you had left the vessel and gone to an hotel. I called at Scott's
and Menzies's, but they had not heard of you.'

'I went to the Criterion,' said Estelle smilingly. 'I rather regretted
it afterwards.'

'Of course you did, my dear, and permit me to say that it partly served
you right. Why did you not come to me _at once_? Melbourne is such a
queer place now since the diggings have broken out. There are all sorts
of strange characters and curious people about. It is hardly a place for
a young lady just now, unless under efficient chaperonage.'

Estelle gazed at the kindly old lady, whose eyes at that moment shone
with maternal tenderness for an instant before she answered. Her voice
softened as she said--

'You must remember, as no doubt Miss Dacre told you, that I came to
Australia for a special purpose; and that if I expect to be successful
in my search I cannot afford to let small obstacles stand in my way.'

'Small obstacles! That is very well, but surely you don't intend to go
up to the diggings and to horrid places in the bush all by yourself?'

'That is just what I _do_ intend, my dear Mrs. Vernon,--neither more nor
less. I have thought over the matter scores--yes, hundreds of times--and
I can see no other way. If I merely wished to see the country I might
arrange things differently. But I have one important, principal,
all-absorbing purpose in view. It is my star. I fix my eye on that, and
all other things, even those which appear to be insuperable
difficulties, must give way.'

'Dangers and difficulties, traps and pitfalls, do all those count for
nothing in your list of drawbacks?'

'I must use a man's argument. I see other women have done--are doing the
same--why not I? Suppose I were a sempstress or a poor governess on her
way to an engagement, should I not have to do the same?--to travel
unattended; to take my chance of rough or uncongenial companionship? Why
am I so much more precious than other girls of my age, that I have to be
fenced round with so many precautions?'

'All this is fine talking, my dear Miss Chaloner, and it's very nice of
you to say so; but a young lady of position and fortune cannot--_must
not_--travel about by herself as if she were a barmaid or a music-hall
singer. There _is_ a difference beside that of age and sex--and the
disagreeables--you have no idea of the nature of them.'

'I don't know much about them, though I may partly guess, my dear Mrs.
Vernon, but we Chaloners and Trevanions are said in Cornwall to be an
obstinate race. My mind is made up. I must take a seat in the Ballarat
coach for next Monday.'

'I am afraid you _are_ an obstinate girl,' said Mrs. Vernon
good-naturedly. 'Well, a wilful woman must, I suppose, have her own way.
I have relieved my mind, at any rate. Now the next thing is to see how
we can help you in your perilous adventure. Let me think. Do I know any
Ballarat people? No, but Mr. Vernon does; if not, his friends do, which
comes to the same thing.'

'I hope that you won't take all this trouble about me,' said Estelle
earnestly. 'I know how to get there, with my own unaided intelligence.
You would be surprised how much I know about Port Phillip from books and
newspapers.'

'And you are bent upon acquiring your own colonial experience? Well, my
dear, it may be all for the best in the end; but if you were a daughter
of mine I should not have one happy moment from the time I lost sight of
you till you returned. Do you know any one at Ballarat, or have you
letters to people there?'

'There is one gentleman there whom I seem to know quite well through my
cousin's letters. He was never tired of praising him. He spoke of him as
his best friend. His name was Charles Stirling. He was a banker. Then
there was a Mr. Hastings, and John Polwarth, Lance's partner,--both
miners.'

'A banker and two miners! Chiefly young and unmarried, I suppose. And
are these all your introductions in a strange town, and that town
Ballarat, you dear innocent lamb that you are? Well, well; we have five
days before us. Mr. Vernon will be home to dinner at seven, and we can
have a council of war. Here comes afternoon tea, after which we go for a
drive if you are not tired.'

'I am not in the least tired,' replied Estelle. 'And now that my
departure is decided upon I am ready for anything.'

So the carriage was ordered out--a costly enough equipage in those days
of unexampled enhancement of prices--the three-hundred-guinea pair of
horses that consumed oats at twelve shillings a bushel and hay at
seventy pounds a ton, driven by a coachman at three pounds a week. But
Mr. Vernon was a merchant who had made one fortune by the lucky cargoes
of mining necessaries, and was fast making another by gold-buying. Such
an additional item of expense as a carriage for his wife was the merest
bagatelle.

So the ladies drove to St. Kilda for a breath of sea air, taking the
Botanic Gardens on their way back, where there was a flower-show
patronised by His Excellency, Mr. Latrobe, and all the rank and fashion
of the metropolis, chiefly represented by a few squatters and club men,
with a sprinkling of gold commissioners on leave.

Mrs. Vernon was not averse to the company of so distinctly
aristocratic-looking a damsel as Estelle Chaloner, whose appearance,
quietly dressed as she was, elicited, in that day of matrimonial
competition and proportional scarcity of young ladies, endless admiring
comment.

At dinner, for which they had barely time to dress, they were enlivened
by the society of Mr. Vernon--a shrewd, good-humoured mercantile
personage--and a gentleman whom he introduced as Mr. Annesley and
described as a Goldfields Commissioner. This last was a very
good-looking and correctly dressed young man, not long from England. He
was in Melbourne, on leave after twelve months' hard work on the
diggings, according to his own account, and had some flavour of the high
spirits and abounding cheerfulness of the naval officer on shore about
him. His host 'drew' him judiciously about mining life and adventure, on
which he was by no means loath to enlarge. He was evidently gratified by
the intense interest with which Estelle listened to his amusing and
justifiably egotistic rattle, and in the innocence of his heart essayed
to complete her subjugation. But, to Estelle's intense regret, he did
not come from Ballarat--'had been quartered in quite a different
district.' She was deeply interested in him, however, as marking a type
with which Lance must necessarily have often come into contact, and she
concluded an agreeable evening, widely different from her expectation of
things Australian, with an assurance from Mr. Vernon that he would bring
her a budget of definite information about Ballarat and its social
condition on the morrow.

Had she been in a position to listen to the conversation of her host and
his guest when she and Mrs. Vernon had retired for the night, and the
gentlemen had adjourned to the smoking-room, she would have scarce slept
so soundly.

'Lance Trevanion? of course I _had_ heard of the beggar,' said the
Commissioner, as he threw himself back in a settee and lighted one of
Mr. Vernon's choice cigars. 'We had a fellow from Ballarat staying at
the camp at Morrison's who had been at the trial and knew all about him.
But how could I tell the poor thing? What a sweet girl she is, by the
way! why, she'll have half Melbourne pursuing her with proposals if she
only lets them see her. Don't know when I've seen such a girl since I
left England. Why she should bother her head about Trevanion now, I
can't imagine.'

'Well, he's her cousin, my wife tells me, for one thing. They were
engaged, it seems, too, before he left home. Sad pity that such a girl
should spoil her chances here and throw herself away. But that's their
nature, we all know. Tell us the tale, Annesley; I never heard.'

'As it was told to me, this was about it. This fellow Trevanion, a
good-looking, well-set-up youngster, seems to have been a bad lot or a
d--d fool, one can hardly say which. Anyhow, he was fond of play, and
got mixed up with a crooked Sydney-side crowd. There was a girl in it,
of course. They won from him, it was said. He, like a young fool,
thought he might choose his own company at an Australian diggings, "all
people out here being alike," or some such rot. The end of it was that
he was run in for horse-stealing, or having a stolen horse in his
possession. Got two years. I've heard since that he was the wrong man,
but the Sergeant--queer card and deuced dangerous, that Dayrell--wanted
a case--the diggers had lost so many horses that they wanted a
conviction. So poor Trevanion had to pay for all.'

'What an infernal shame!' said Mr. Vernon. 'Couldn't anything be done
for him?'

'Well (by Jove, this is a cigar, I must have another by and by), looks
so, doesn't it? But it's necessary to be hard and sharp at the diggings
or the country would go to the devil. Wrong man shopped now and then,
like Tom Rattleton in California, but can't be helped. Ever hear that
yarn? No! Well, I'll just light number two, and here goes: Tom, you must
know, was a bit fastish before he left the paternal halls in another
colony. After one of his escapades, a friend of the family, good fellow,
observes one day, "Tom, it's no use talking, you'll come to be hanged."
"Thank you," says Tom, "I think I'll try San Francisco; this place is
too confined for a man of my talents." Gold at Suttor's Mill had just
been reported.'

'And did he go?'

'Like a bird, with lots of Australian "bloods," as they used to call
them. Had to work their way back before the mast, most of them. Tom had,
anyhow. After the fatted calf had been duly potted, friend of the family
arrives.

'"Hulloa, Tom! home again? Proud to see you, my boy. Safe back to the
old place, hey?"

'"That is so," answered Tom, putting on a little Yankee touch, "do you
remember what you said to me as I was leaving?"

'"No, my boy, what was it?" Friend didn't like to own up, you see.

'"Well, you said I'd come to be hanged, and, by Jove! _I nearly was_ in
'Frisco. _The rope was round my neck_, sure as you're there. Took me for
a gambler who'd shot a man the night before. He turned up in time to be
turned off, or I should have been--well, I _shouldn't_ have been here
to-day."

'Friend turned quite pale, grasped his hand, and sloped. Affecting,
wasn't it?'

'Good story, very,' quoth the host. 'Like Tom Rattleton. Reckless young
beggar he always was--but turned out well afterwards. _Experientia
docet._ Near thing, though. Now, touching this poor girl's cousin.
Nothing earthly will prevent her going to look for him.'

'H--m! Does she know any one in Ballarat?'

'Mr. Charles Stirling, a banker; Hastings and Polwarth, Trevanion's
mates.'

'Charlie Stirling! I've heard of him. Awfully good sort, people say.
Well, he'll do all he can. If she goes up he's the man to break it to
her. Dalton's Sub-Commissioner there. I'll leave a line for him. Between
them both they'll see no harm come to her. Well, Number Two rivals his
predecessor. It's a fair thing, I suppose. Good-night.'

A couple of days were spent pleasantly enough in Melbourne. A few of the
South Yarra notables dropped in, not quite accidentally, to Mrs.
Vernon's afternoon tea, whose manner and appearance rather altered
Estelle's preconceived notion of colonial society. They expressed the
wildest astonishment at hearing that she was about to explore Ballarat,
much as in London might a South Kensington coterie at hearing that a
cherished classmate thought it necessary thus to satisfy her doubts
about the Patagonians or the Modoc Indians, always ending their politest
commiseration with an invitation.

Finally, all entreaties proving unavailing, Estelle was driven in before
sunrise, and at 6 A.M. found herself on the box-seat of the Ballarat
coach, specially commended to the care of Mr. Levi, the driver, who was
waiting for the clock of the Melbourne post-office to strike,
preparatory to the customary sensational start of Cobb and Co.'s team of
well-groomed, high-conditioned grays.



CHAPTER XVIII


Much to Estelle's surprise, the journey, strange and unfamiliar as were
all things to the English maiden of a country family, was far from
unpleasant. The rapid rate of travelling, the speed and stoutness of the
horses, the astonishing dexterity of the American stage-driver, were
alike novel and interesting; and these were matters as to which she was
qualified to judge. Like many English girls brought up in a great
country-house, she rode well and fearlessly--had, indeed, for more than
one season, ere the shadow fell upon Wychwood, followed the hounds with
decided credit. Beginning with a pony carriage, she had in later years
amused herself with driving her uncle in a pair-horse phaeton, with a
groom in the back seat of course. She was therefore intelligently
interested in the ease and accuracy with which the laconic Mr. Levi
piloted his team alike adown crooked stump-guarded sidelings, through
dense primeval forests, and over unbridged creeks, for under such
perilous conditions the road to Ballarat in the early 'fifties' pursued
its devious course. The driver, in whose charge she had been placed,
with strong recommendations and a liberal _douceur_, by Mr. Vernon,
though saturnine and sparing of speech, as was customary with that
'spoiled child of fortune,' the stage-driver of the period, was, in his
way, courteous and respectful. He indicated from time to time points of
interest in the landscape. He even answered her questions civilly and
with a show of attention. Concerning the coach and harness, the leather
springs and the formidable brake, so diverse from all English
experience, he was explanatory and gracious. The day was fine, the air
clear and fresh, while from the close-ranked eucalyptus exuded balsamic
odours, which, to her aroused fancy and eager appreciation of the new
nature which encircled her, savoured of strange health-giving powers.
The flitting birds, the occasional forest cries, the great flocks of
sheep, the absence of enclosures, the droves of cattle and horses with
their equally wild-looking attendants, the long trains of bullock-drays
and waggons--were not these the wonders and portents of the land of
gold? In despite of forebodings and the sense of isolation with which
Estelle Chaloner had commenced this most eventful enterprise of her
life, the natural fearlessness of her race asserted itself, and, true
to the instincts of youth, her spirits rose perceptibly. When at the
close of the day the coach rattled along the macadamised road which
prepared the passengers for the lighted streets, the clanking engines,
and yawning shafts of Ballarat, she had confessed to herself that
Australia was by no means so dreadful a place as she had expected.

The team was now pulled up nervously close to the doorstep of a large
well-lighted hotel, thus at once exhibiting the proverbial skill of Mr.
Levi, and scattering the group of loungers which surrounded the
entrance. Then a man's voice hailed the driver cheerfully, and demanded
of him whether Miss Chaloner from Melbourne was on the coach.

'Right you are, Commissioner,' was the response. 'If you'll help the
young lady down, reckon I've delivered her into the protection of Her
Majesty's Government. Her luggage is in the rack. Joe'll have it near
out by this. Good-night, Miss. The Commissioner'll take care of you.'

'Good-night, and thank you very much,' said Estelle, as, stepping
downwards cautiously from the high box-seat, she found herself almost in
the arms of a tall man, who half-assisted, half-lifted her down.

'Permit me to introduce myself, Miss Chaloner,' he said, 'as Mr. Dalton
and Her Majesty's Commissioner of this goldfield. I had a note from a
friend and brother officer in Melbourne advising me of your coming. I
have arranged with Mrs. M'Alpine, the wife of the Police Magistrate, who
will be most happy to receive you. You will find her cottage more
comfortable than an hotel. Trust yourself to my escort and we shall be
there in a few minutes.'

'This is some of Mrs. Vernon's kindness, I am sure,' said Estelle.
'Really I seem to have friends everywhere in this land of strangers.'

'May you always find it so, Miss Chaloner. Please to honour me by
enrolling me among the number. This is our vehicle, and your luggage is
safely packed.'

A nondescript trap with four high wheels and disproportionately large
lamps stood near. Into this her companion helped her, and taking the
reins dashed away into the darkness, as it seemed to Estelle, at a
reckless and extravagant pace. After threading several side streets,
however, and ascending a slight elevation without loss or damage, Mr.
Dalton drew up beside a garden gate, out of which issued a lady, who,
taking both her hands in hers, welcomed her guest with effusive warmth.

'So glad to see you, my dear Miss Chaloner. Mrs. Vernon was afraid you
would get lost in our dreadful goldfield. We trust you will find us not
_quite_ such barbarians as the Melbourne people think us. Mr. Dalton,
you'll stay and have tea? No? Don't say you've got business; I know what
_that_ means--loo or poker at that wicked camp. Perhaps you'll look in
to-morrow evening? You may? That's very good of you. We'll manage a
whist party and a chat, at any rate. Good-night. Now, my dear, we'll
have a "small and early" all to ourselves. It's just as well Dalton
didn't come in. He suspected you were tired, I dare say.'

After a few more disjointed, but all hospitable and sympathetic
utterances, Mrs. M'Alpine inducted Estelle into an extremely neat and
comfortable bedroom, and bidding her not to trouble herself to make any
change in her attire, for tea was quite ready, left her to consider the
situation.

No sooner had this kindly acquaintance left the room than the
strangeness of the situation appeared to force itself upon Estelle. She
looked out through the open window--a hinged casement overhung with a
trailing creeper, the glossy leaves of which partly obscured, partly
diverted into glittering fragments of rays, the gleaming moonlight. It
was a still evening. The half-audible murmur of a large population,
confused and inarticulate, came faintly on her ear. There was a softness
in the air which soothed her somewhat excited brain. Thinking over the
strangely-varied experience of the past week, she could not help owning
to herself that so far everything had been rendered easy through the
kindness of these newly-found friends in a far land.

'Who knows,' she asked herself, 'whether I may not find similar aid and
guidance throughout my quest? May Heaven grant it! My errand is one of
sacred necessity, pledged as I am to this by my vow to the memory of the
dead. As God shall help me, I will remain faithful to the end. I begin
to feel that though far from dear England's shores I am still surrounded
by English hearts and English homes--changed in form, and in form alone,
as the latter may be. "Onward" must be my motto.'

Thus concluding her meditations, Estelle bathed her eyes, somewhat
sensitised after the day's exposure, and then making some slight but
befitting change in her attire, joined her hostess in the pleasant
sitting-room, now devoted to the exigencies of the evening meal. Over
the tea-table, and within the influence of a cheerful wood fire, the
younger woman became insensibly more unreserved and confiding as to her
place and purpose. Mr. M'Alpine had not returned to his home, presumably
detained by business of importance. It may be surmised that neither of
the ladies was deeply grieved at his absence, under the circumstances.

Being in full possession of facts, as far as Estelle had resolved to
furnish them to Australian friends, Mrs. M'Alpine strongly recommended
her guest to remain with her for the present, and await the coming of
Mr. Stirling, who would be certain to arrive on the morrow or the day
after, on being notified of her presence in Ballarat. 'Our town looks
uncivilised, my dear, but Growlers' Gully (fancy such a name) is, of
course, only a rude caricature of it. I don't think you could possibly
exist there, though there is an hotel of some sort.'

Very gently and quietly, but firmly, Estelle made it apparent to her
hostess that she was not to be shaken in her purpose. She had formed her
plans carefully before leaving Melbourne, indeed during the voyage, and
she had determined to see with her own eyes the very claim, as they
called it, where he, the loved, the lost Lance Trevanion had worked. She
must see John Polwarth, with whose name she was familiar, and his
honest-hearted wife. She would never be able to rest without full and
complete explanation from Mr. Stirling of all things connected with
Lance's mysterious disappearance. Of course she could imagine that in
Australia people often moved away to new diggings at great distances,
and, she supposed, left off writing to their friends, though she could
hardly account for it in her cousin's case. 'Poor thing! poor thing!'
said Mrs. M'Alpine to herself, 'she will have to hear the wretched truth
some time or other. _I_ can't venture upon it, but I don't know a man
who is more likely to break it to her gently than Charlie Stirling, and
so, as she is bent upon it, the sooner she gets safely out to
"Growlers'" the better.'

So it came to pass that, as Mr. M'Alpine was still absent on outpost
duty, a trusty messenger was despatched next day for the Commissioner,
who regretfully saw Estelle safely into the coach which, leaving daily
for Growlers' at the convenient hour of 10 A.M., was the recognised mode
of communication with that rising goldfield and township.

There were two horses instead of four. The coach was smaller, and by no
means so well appointed. The driver was less distinguished in air and
manner, but capable and civil, particularly after receiving the
Commissioner's strict injunction to take great care of his lady
passenger. The road was more than novel, indeed exciting, to Estelle's
untravelled mind, winding amid fallen trees, bounded on either side by
yawning dark-mouthed shafts of unknown depth--some desolate and
deserted, with unused windlass and dangling rope; others in work, with
full-laden buckets which, as they came to the surface, Estelle believed
to be partly filled with gold--now crossing a rushing water-race upon a
rustic bridge of most temporary nature, and finally plunging through a
creek which flowed level with the feet of the inside passengers. On the
farther bank of this much celebrated watercourse stood a scattered
collection of huts, tents, and cottages, threading which by no
particular roadway the coach dashed ostentatiously into a more closely
occupied thoroughfare, in which some dozen edifices of superior
pretensions denoted the business centre of the township.

Here the minor peculiarities of a goldfield, somewhat shaded off in the
civilisation of Ballarat, commenced to present themselves. The 'Reefers'
Arms' was an enlarged cottage, the front of which boasted the more
expensive and, in goldfields architecture, more correct material of
'sawn stuff,' disposed weatherboard fashion, while the side walls, the
roof, and rear of the building were composed of large sheets of stringy
bark. It was wholly unlike any building which Estelle had ever
imagined--certainly with a view to lodging therein. However, this was
not the time to falter or hesitate; she had chosen her course and must
follow it out.

Carrying her smaller property in each hand, and following the driver,
who walked through a group of loiterers or still unsated revellers who
encumbered the entrance, Estelle found herself in a painfully clean
sitting-room, in which her guide deposited her portmanteau, merely
saying, 'I'll call Mrs. Delf to see you, Miss,' and departed.

He had probably explained that the young lady was a friend of the Police
Magistrate and the Commissioner. Nothing further was necessary to
ensure her the utmost respect and attention which Growlers' could
afford. Both functionaries were men in authority, and as such to be held
in awe. Though it is probable that even without these valuable
introductions any girl, though wholly unprotected, who was
conventionally correct of conduct would have met with similar attention.
As to the peculiarity of a young lady, apparently of position, electing
to abide temporarily in such a queer locality as Growlers', the hostess
was not likely to disquiet herself. So many strange things and strange
people were constantly in the habit of passing across the orbit of any
given goldfield that surprise was of all the emotions the most rare and
difficult to arouse.

Mrs. Delf shortly presented herself: a neat, alert personage, shrewd of
aspect and decisive of speech. She anticipated any inquiry of Estelle by
remarking, 'Ned tells me, Miss Chaloner, as you want to stop here for a
while. Well, you know Growlers' always was a rough shop, and I can't say
as it's altogether A1 now, but I'll do what I can for you while you're
here, Miss.'

'Thank you very much,' said Estelle. 'I may stay a few days, or even
longer. Would you kindly tell me if you remember a Mr. Trevanion who was
mining here more than a year ago?'

'Trevanion--Lance Trevanion? Of course I do. Belonged to Number Six. He
and Jack Polwarth were mates--and a stunning claim it is this very day.
Know him? Why, he stayed here the very last night he was on the
field--poor fellow!'

'Then he has gone away--left this part of the country?' asked Estelle,
with such anxiety depicted on her countenance that the quick-witted
matron at once divined that the real truth was as yet unknown to her.
'And why do you say "poor fellow"? Has anything happened to him?'

'Oh no! Not at all, Miss--that is, not that I've heard of' ('and that's
a banger, if ever there was one,' ejaculated the good woman inwardly);
'it's a manner of speaking, that's all--we were all fond of him, and
sorry to lose him, you see. Is there any one else here you know, Miss?
Oh! Mr. Stirling of the Bank opposite will be here to dinner at one
o'clock; has his meals here regular, though of course he sleeps at the
Bank. He'll tell you all about Mr. Trevanion. Bless you, they was like
brothers. As for Mr. Stirling, he's that quiet--why, whatever's up at
the Bank? Not a fight, surely?'

This exclamatory query was apparently caused by a simultaneous rush of
all the unoccupied portion of the population, with the exception of
three men who stood up in a cart, across to the comparatively
pretentious building with corrugated iron roof, legended on the front as
the Joint-Stock Bank of Australia. Mrs. Delf's experienced eye had noted
the formation of a ring, simultaneously with the sudden precipitation on
his head of an able-bodied miner through the Bank's portal.

'It's that "Geordie" Billy, sure as I live; he's been cheekin' Mr.
Stirling about his gold and got chucked out. He's a rough chap when he's
had a drop. There's bound to be a row now.'

A tall brown-bearded man, decidedly in undress uniform, but effectively
attired for service, had by this time appeared at the door. He wore a
coloured crimean shirt, to which, however, was attached a white linen
collar. His coat was off, and his sleeves had been rolled up. He watched
with a smile the burly miner recover himself, and standing upright glare
around him with the silent fury of the bull-dog in his small black eye.

'Are ye game to come out of your box there and stand up to a _man_?' he
growled out. 'I'll show ye what it is to put your hands on me!'

The banker's answer to the challenge was to walk calmly forward, while
the spectators, with cheerful expectancy, closed around, in confident
trust that one of the principal excitements of their monotonous
existence would not fail them.

'I'd rather see you go home, Billy, and sleep off your sulk. It's the
grog that always makes a fool of you; but if you must have a licking,
come on.'

'Oh dear me!' cried Estelle, who, with the most liberal allowance for
the free and lawless life which colonists are believed to lead, had
scarcely expected this. 'Are they really going to fight? How dreadful!
That gentleman may be killed.'

'Not he, Miss. Mr. Stirling's a hard man to mark; not but what the
"Geordie's" as strong as a bull, and can fight too. Come to this window,
Miss; we can see it first-rate from here. They'll only have two or three
rounds, and his mates'll take away Billy.'

'And is _that_ Mr. Stirling?' asked Estelle, with deepest amazement. 'I
thought you said he was so quiet?'

'So he is, Miss, till he's put upon. I expect Geordie said he was
weighing the gold wrong, and Mr. Stirling won't likely stand that from a
digger, and put him out. That's about the size of it. Oh, do look, Miss;
they're going at it.'

Estelle was much minded to turn her head away. In her own country she
would doubtless have thought shame to have looked on at any such
spectacle. But somehow the anxiety to see how the aristocrat fared in
conflict with the man of the people overpowered her scruples, so she
gazed eagerly at the conflict, as might her ancestress at a tournament
where her badge was worn by a knightly aspirant.

'Geordie' Billy, belonging to a section of miners who hailed from 'canny
Newcassel,' was a low-set, broad-chested, unusually powerful man. Long
in the reach, and in the pink of condition from severe daily labour, his
enormous strength and dogged courage, independently of science, made him
a dangerous antagonist. Mr. Stirling was held to be the most finished
performer with the gloves on the field. It was therefore a contest of
champions, and as such awaited by the crowd with keen and pleasurable
expectation; and a very ugly customer indeed did Mr. Billy Corve appear,
as he came forward with an activity which the various 'nips' he had
indulged in that morning had but slightly impaired. Had one of those
sledgehammer blows which he delivered with fierce rapidity taken effect,
Mr. Stirling would have had some difficulty in 'coming to time.' But
stepping back from one, eluding another by what appeared to be the
slightest side movement of his head, and stopping a third neatly, he
caught his advancing foe such a left-handed facer as staggered him,
leaving him a prey to the body blow that followed, and which, getting
'home' to some purpose, sent him very decidedly to grass.

'Oh dear, how dreadful!' said Estelle, pale with apprehension. 'Surely
they won't let them kill one another? That poor man must be badly hurt.'

'Not a bit of it, Miss. You couldn't kill Billy with an axe. He'll be
all the steadier for it next round. Oh! look out, Mr. Stirling.'

This friendly admonition, which in the ardour of her partisanship Mrs.
Delf screamed out at the top of her voice, was justified by the apparent
success of the very ugly rush which Mr. Corve made, with the evident
intention of getting to close quarters. He broke through Stirling's
guard, and nearly succeeded in getting his head 'into chancery,' as that
peculiar feat of the combat is designated. Once enfolded with that
mighty arm, and the enormous fist left free to pound away at discretion,
the classical outline of Charlie Stirling's features would have been
sadly marred, perhaps permanently altered. But _dis aliter visum_.
Countering with lightning quickness through the 'half-arm rally,'
Stirling managed, by the exercise of desperate agility, to keep clear of
the octopus-like hug, in which science would have been vain. Finally,
springing backward, he evaded a final lunge, and darting in from the
side administered a rattling hit on the 'point,' which for the moment
completely discomfited his antagonist.

A ringing cheer went up from the discriminating crowd, while a friendly
bystander, moved to apprehensive sympathy, earnestly exclaimed, 'Keep
your head, Mr. Stirling; for God's sake, sir, keep your head.'

But Charlie Stirling had already seen the necessity for caution, for
though his gray eyes glowed and his chest heaved as he regained his
corner, he seemed to fall mechanically into the attitude of calm
watchfulness with which he had commenced the encounter.

'Wasn't that grand, Miss?' exclaimed Mrs. Delf. 'Mr. Stirling's as quick
on his pins as a wallaroo. I was most afeard the "Geordie" had him then.
This round will settle it. Don't go in, Miss. Maybe you'll never have a
chance to see a right-out good mill so comfortable again. Two to one on
Mr. Stirling.'

For her life Estelle could not have moved away then, though she had
turned her head a minute before, deeming that for shame's sake she could
no longer look on at such a sight. But the ancient fire which glowed in
the breasts of the patrician dames of Rome's proudest day, though
stifled and repressed for centuries, has never quite died out of the
female heart. After all, no one would be killed, or perhaps mortally
wounded. Mr. Stirling was Lance's friend, thus necessarily hers. She
could not bear to leave the arena ignorant of the fate of their
champion.

She had not long to wait. And now that her blood was slightly warmed by
the excitement of a real battle, a combat not quite _à l'outrance_, but
as near to it as is permitted in these degenerate days, she confessed to
herself that there was something not wholly inglorious in this ordeal by
combat.

The tall athletic form of Charlie Stirling showed to great advantage as
he advanced, with head erect and elastic step, towards his truculent
antagonist, whose countenance, with a splash of blood from brow to bare
neck, wore a savagely stern expression. Furious at his late failure, he
made a rush, with every intention of ending the fight then and there.
Forcing the fighting, and compelling Stirling to use his utmost skill in
warding off or evading his terrific blows, each one of which was
sufficient to disable an ordinary man, he appeared at one time to have
mastered his adversary. But Charlie Stirling, the hero of a hundred
glove-fights, was too clever, in the language of the _lanista_. Feinting
suddenly, he drew the blow, of which he had thoroughly mastered an
infallible guard, at the same time getting home with his right in a
terrific body blow, the effect of which brought his man forward, to be
shot backward by a lightning left-hander on the temple, which stretched
the brawny gladiator senseless, putting the possibility of 'coming to
time' entirely out of the question.

'Great work, Mr. Stirling! You gave him "London" that time,' shouted a
man who hailed from Bow Bells; and amid congratulatory cheers, in which
Estelle felt a sudden impulse to join, the discomfited champion, after
recovering his valuable intellects, was led off--resisting manfully, to
do him justice. But his crowd was decidedly against him, and by force of
numbers, in despite of oaths and protestations, he was borne off to a
rival hostelry, there to drown his mortification in beer, and finish the
day in a manner worthy of its auspicious commencement.

As for Mr. Stirling, he 'retired into his kingdom' (like the king in
Hans Andersen), 'and shut the door after him'--presumably for ablution,
for he emerged in half an hour, at the sound of Mrs. Delf's dinner-bell,
arrayed in conventional garments, and, save a slightly flushed
countenance and a forehead bruise, unscathed from his recent encounter.

Meanwhile Estelle proceeded to Mrs. Delf's dining-room--not without
natural misgivings as to the composition of the _table d'hôte_. These,
however, were set at rest by observing that only six guests were
provided for. They proved to be Mr. Stirling and the manager of another
bank, a commercial traveller, a gold-buyer, and a stranger unclassified,
all of whom were scrupulously correct and deferential of manner. Later
on she became aware that, according to the highly commendable custom of
Australian hotels, even on the most recent goldfields and out-of-the-way
country towns, there are two tables, corresponding to first and second
class in railways. At the first those who may be considered gentle-folk
are entertained, while to the second the rougher and less manageable
guests are relegated.

'Miss Chaloner,' said Mr. Stirling, bowing deferentially upon entering,
'perhaps you will permit me to introduce myself, while expressing my
deep regret that you should have been an involuntary spectator of such a
disgraceful occurrence. We are not generally so badly behaved, though
you are the only lady that has so far honoured Growlers' with a visit.
We have no police to keep order, so we are obliged to protect
ourselves.'

Estelle faintly smiled as she replied, 'You seem to be able to do so
pretty well, if I may judge from appearances. I hope no one is severely
hurt. Ought I to congratulate you on your victory?'

'You don't know how relieved I feel at your forgiveness, Miss Chaloner,'
he replied. 'As for Geordie (who really is a deserving individual when
sober, and a capitalist besides), he is wholly unhurt, and to-morrow you
will probably see him on the most friendly terms with me and all
mankind.'

Before returning to business, Stirling found means to intimate to
Estelle that he was aware from Mrs. M'Alpine's letter that she wished to
have some private conversation with him; that he would do himself the
honour of calling upon her later in the afternoon, when he would be most
happy to afford her whatever information he was possessed of about her
cousin.

'Thank you very much,' she said. 'Oh, Mr. Stirling, if you knew how I
have longed to find some one who could give me authentic news of his
movements. And you knew him so well?'

'Yes; _very_ well. I must go now, but you shall hear all that I can tell
you.'

Easier said than done, thought he, as once more in the small inner room
of his unostentatious edifice he lit his pipe and abandoned himself to
fullest contemplation. 'And what in the world shall I tell her? What a
glorious girl she is. What an air of refinement, and yet with what
courage and high resolve she has faced the difficulties of her position.
Proud, cultured, aristocratic to the finger-tips, she has volunteered to
expose herself to rough journeyings, rude associates--even ruder in her
imagining than the reality. And for what? For the sake of a heedless,
self-indulgent scamp like Lance Trevanion, who never was good enough to
black her boots. God knows, I pity him from the very bottom of my heart;
but I cannot help believing that it was his own selfish obstinacy in a
great measure that brought about his ruin. And now I have to tell this
sweet and noble creature that her lover was till lately a convicted
felon--actually at present an escaped prisoner, at the mercy of the
first police trooper that falls across him. The bare idea is frightful.'
And then Mr. Charles Stirling filled his pipe again to the brim and
smoked on for some considerable time, apparently in a most anxious, not
to say despondent, frame of mind. The irruption of a party of diggers
with a parcel of gold to be weighed and deposited here temporarily
diverted his thoughts, but soon after four o'clock, having finished his
day's work and impressed upon his junior to keep close to the bank
premises in his absence, he betook himself to Mrs. Delf's hostelry. He
found Estelle awaiting him in walking attire. He proposed that they
should visit Number Six claim, where Jack Polwarth still lived and
worked. It was barely a mile distant. On the way he would be able to
give her all the information she desired.

'Nothing would please her more. She was fond of walking, and should like
above all things to see a real claim at work.' So forth they fared
through the crooked, straggling street, crowded on either side with the
heterogeneous buildings of a goldfield town. Turning to the south, they
trod a winding track through a labyrinth of shafts of all sizes and
depths of sinking. Mounds of earth thrown up in every direction gave the
scene a ghastly resemblance to the cemetery of a plague-stricken city.
As if unwilling to enter upon the subject so unavoidably painful,
Stirling directed her attention to the various novel features of the
scene. When, suddenly turning towards him, she said in a low but
distinct tone of voice: 'And now, Mr. Stirling, please to tell me all
you know of my unfortunate cousin. No one has said so in so many words,
but I _feel_ it'--here she laid her hand upon her heart--'something
dreadful has happened to him. Is it not so?'

'I wish I could deny it,' he answered, in a tone of the deepest
feeling; 'but I cannot. Your heart has warned you truly. He is a most
unfortunate man.'

'He has left the locality altogether then, and permanently?' she asked.

'Yes.'

'Tell me all,'--here she clasped her hands and looked so imploringly in
his face that Charlie Stirling, seeing but the misery in her pleading
face, felt minded to kneel down and kiss the hem of her garment. 'Oh
that those eyes could so soften and glow for me,' he thought. 'And all
this heavenly love and tenderness wasted. Alas!'

But he said only, 'My dear Miss Chaloner, my heart bleeds for you; you
must prepare to hear the worst.'

'_Is he dead?_' said she hoarsely, in a changed voice.

'No, not _dead_. Better perhaps that he had been. Were he my brother, I
should say the same.'

'Thank God for that,' she said. 'If he is alive I may look upon his face
again. Tell me--tell me at once----' and here, oh marvellous and divine
power of woman's love! her face lit up with a glow of gratitude and
hope, which to her admiring companion's mind changed it into the
presentment of a saint.

He motioned her to sit down upon one of the fallen forest trees which
thickly, in places, encumbered the earth, and there told her as briefly
as might be the whole miserable tale. He made but scant mention of the
Lawless sisters, laying great stress upon the iniquitous nature of the
trap into which Lance had fallen--the persistent hostility of Dayrell
and his settled intention to secure a conviction.

'I see it all,' she said, rising from her seat and walking excitedly
onward. 'I see it all. He has been the victim of a conspiracy among
these wretches--poor poor Lance! Why did he insist upon coming to this
unhappy land? But is he alive--alive? Justice will yet be done. I will
see him if he is above ground in Australia, and together we must work,
with the aid of his friends, for an honourable release. Oh! I cannot
tell you how relieved I feel,' continued Estelle. 'I am glad; I thought
that he was dead. It has given me strength to bear the dreadful thought
of his imprisonment. And now tell me about it, tell me while I am
strong.'

Stirling saw his opportunity. It was a hard, a most painful task; but
now he would go through with it. He scarce hoped that she would have
made it so easy for him. This ground had now become more open, and on
the bank of the ravine, widening into a green and level meadow, he saw
the windlass and shaft of Number Six, above which floated a red flag,
the well-known signal, brought here by Californian miners, that the
claim was 'on gold.' They had still some distance to go; her feet, that
were so fleet and eager a while since, became slow and listless. Ere
they reached the mound on the other side of which they saw the stalwart
form and good-humoured countenance of John Polwarth, he had told and she
had heard the sad finale to the high hopes and joyous aspirations of
Lance Trevanion.

'And now that he has escaped from these terrible hulks, I suppose there
is not much chance of his being recaptured? This country is so wild and
large that surely prisoners must nearly always escape?'

'No doubt they do, but not so often as we might think. The country is
wild, but those who pursue them are keen and fearless. However, the
place that he has reached is inaccessible and distant.'

'Thank God for that,' she said softly. 'Perhaps he can travel safely
through the wilderness and find a ship for England. Oh, if he were but
once at home!--at home! Why did he ever leave? But I must not break down
now. Is that John Polwarth?'

'Yes, and yonder is Mrs. Polwarth at the door of that neat cottage, and
Tottie standing by her. I think we may as well call upon her first, and
have Jack in by and by. She is a good, kindly woman, and Lance's
misfortune was a bitter grief to her.'

'He seems to have had such _good_ friends around him,' said Estelle
sorrowfully; 'why could they not save him? But I know that he was wilful
and headstrong. Alas! alas!'

By this time they had reached Mrs. Polwarth's cottage--a mansion in the
estimation of all 'Growlers',' inasmuch as it boasted of four rooms of
medium size, a verandah, and a detached slab kitchen. Mrs. Polwarth, who
was engaged in sweeping around her door,--a space in front of all
miners' habitations being scrupulously kept clear of sticks, leaves, and
other untidinesses,--halted in her occupation and greeted Mr. Stirling
warmly.

'Why, whatever's brought you over to-day, Mr. Stirling? I suppose this
fine afternoon? Come inside and I'll get you a cup of tea after your
walk. Maybe the lady's a little tired.'

'We shall be glad of the chance, I am sure. Mrs. Polwarth, this lady is
Miss Chaloner, a cousin of Lance Trevanion, our poor friend and Jack's
partner. She has come all the way from England, from his old home, to
see about him.'

'The Lord bless and keep us!' said Mrs. Polwarth--a devout Wesleyan, as
are mostly Cornish mining folk. 'Only to think of that! It's the doing
of Providence, that's what it is. Sit ye down, Miss. To think I should
ever see you in my poor place. It's clean and neat what there is of it,
too. And to think of your being _his_ cousin--poor Mr. Lance's cousin.
Many's the tear I shed thinking o'er his sad fate. Oh dear! oh dear! I'm
that glad to see this day.'

'And I am very glad to see you, Mrs. Polwarth,' said the English girl,
softening at once at the sight of the genuine grief displayed by the
good woman, for the tears were by this time running down her cheeks. 'I
have so often heard of you in my cousin's letters that I seem to know
you quite well. And is this Tottie? Come to me, my dear, and tell me how
old you are.'

Tottie, a pretty child, rather more carefully attired than usual, was
not shy, and coming up to the pretty lady, as she ever afterwards
described her, looked up wonderingly, with great blue eyes and a wistful
smile.

'Mother, is this Lance's sister?' she said, with the curious childish
intuition which seems to suggest so many guesses at truth--some near
enough in all conscience. 'Is he coming back to Tottie?'

Mr. Stirling 'thought he would go and have a word with Jack,' and, not
sorry to leave the two women to open their hearts to each other, hastily
departed.

There was no particular news about Number Six. 'She was going on
steady,' Jack said. 'Last week was as good as any washing-up they'd had
for a month, and she wasn't half worked out yet. So that was Mr. Lance's
cousin, her as had coomed with Mr. Stirling? All the way from England,
too? It was her as used to write to him and tell him about the old place
at home, and how his father, the Squire, was. And now the Squire was
dead. And Lance, poor chap, had broke jail, and was gone nobody knew
where. And this young lady was here all the way to Growlers'! It beats
all. Wait till I run out this bucket and tidy myself a bit, Mr.
Stirling, and I'll come over and see the young lady. It's a sight for
sore eyes to see any one from the old country; no offence to you, sir,
as never was there, more's the pity. But it'll do Gwenny and me to talk
about for a year to come, I'll warrant.'

Thus discoursing, they walked over to the cottage, where Stirling
partook of the proffered cup of tea, and Polwarth, betaking himself to a
back apartment, performed ablutions which caused his honest face to
shine again, and, attired in his Sunday suit, presented himself after a
while to Miss Chaloner. This young lady shook him warmly by the hand,
and telling him that she had heard about him in every letter which Lance
had written until--until--lately, expressed her sincere pleasure at
seeing him and his wife.

'You were Lance's true friend, he always said. And many a time the poor
Squire and I felt so happy that he had an honest English heart and a
stout English arm to rely upon in this far country.'

'Ah, Miss! Me and the wife had that feeling for him as we'd ha' done
anything i' the world to keep him from harm, but there was them as he
took to, against our liking, that drawed him down the wrong way. It was
a bad day as he ever seed 'em. I was always at him to cut loose and quit
their company. But it was all no use; he was that set and headstrong.'

'_We_ knew that well, his poor father and I,' replied Estelle sadly;
'that strange obstinacy of his, which runs in the family, they say,
seems to have been his ruin. But I've come out here on purpose to find
him, and if he lives in Australia I _will_ find him before I leave.'

As Estelle pronounced the last words she raised her head proudly and
gazed with a fixed and steady glance into the forest path, as if in her
self-imposed task she could pierce their solitude and discover at
whatever distance the object of her quest.

Her expressive countenance, even more than her words, carried conviction
to her hearers of a high resolve. Stirling regarded her with mingled
feelings of respect and admiration, while Jack Polwarth, in rude but
honest tones, broke out with, 'And so ye shall, Miss, and we'll help ye
to the last drop of our blood; won't we, Mr. Stirling? Ye have the old
courage and the old spirit in ye, Miss Chaloner; I could fancy I heard
Mr. Lance himself speaking, poor chap.'

'I don't wish to pose as a heroine, Mr. Stirling,' she continued,
blushing slightly at the momentary excitement into which she had been
betrayed, 'but I wish all my friends to understand that I have fully
resolved, for several reasons, not the least of which is that so I
promised his father on his deathbed, to go through with this task, and,
Heaven helping me, will never abandon it while Lance is alive.'

'I can quite appreciate your feeling in the matter, Miss Chaloner,' said
Stirling. 'Nothing would give me more pleasure than to join you in the
search for our unfortunate friend. But I am, so to speak, chained to
this spot. In all other ways you may command me, and I have good warrant
for saying Jack Polwarth here, as well as Mr. Hastings, who is our
staunch ally also, will join in the enterprise, heart and soul.'

'This is truly the land of warm and unselfish friendship,' replied
Estelle. 'I have met with nothing else, for which I shall be grateful as
long as I live. It will give me fresh confidence in my search. I never
could have believed that the way would have been made so smooth for me.
I feel more at home here than I have done since I left England. So I
shall stay at Mrs. Delf's for a week longer, getting together all the
information which I shall need.'

'I think we had better be moving, Miss Chaloner, or Mrs. Delf's gong
will be sounding an alarm for tea. She has many virtues, but punctuality
and scrubbing she may be said to carry to excess.'

'Amiable weaknesses, to my mind,' said Estelle, rising from her chair.
'I feel disposed to humour them, and Mrs. Polwarth, if you will have me
to-morrow, I will come down after breakfast, now that I know the way to
Number Six, and spend the day with you and Tottie.'



CHAPTER XIX


Not only on that next day, but for several days following, did Estelle
wend her way to Number Six soon after breakfast was concluded at Mrs.
Delf's very punctual establishment. During this repast, and for some
minutes afterwards, it generally happened that she found herself
conversing with Mr. Stirling. That gentleman took so deep an interest in
each and every question connected with Lance Trevanion, that, as she
more than once owned to herself, his own brother--had he one in this
strange land--could not have done more or appeared more anxiously
considerate. He caused Mr. Hastings to be sent for, and that gentleman
appeared dressed in a habit of the period, and by no means resembling
the picturesque miner of fiction. He also exhibited a keen sympathetic
interest in all Estelle's plans and prospects. He recounted his first
introduction to Lance, and amused her by picturing himself as a hunted
fugitive pursued by the minions of the law, finally captured and
manacled. 'Nothing that mortal man could do,' he repeated with emphasis,
'was too much for him and his friends to do for Lance, a gentleman at
all points--brave, generous--only too confiding; the victim of an unjust
sentence--if ever a man was in this world.'

'You can't tell how grateful I am to you and Mr. Stirling for the way
you have spoken of him,' she answered. 'If only the poor Squire could
have heard you. Thank God! that he was spared the knowledge of his son's
disgrace; danger, or indeed death, he feared might have been his
portion; but imprisonment--a felon's doom and sentence--that!--oh, that!
he would not have survived a week.'

'Stirling and I are his friends, Miss Chaloner,' he answered calmly.
'There is no more to be said. We are neither of us given to forming
friendships lightly, or changing them afterwards--we may not be able to
do all we wish--but what is in our power shall not be spared. Will you
permit me at this stage to ask whether you propose to go in search of
him, and how you are going to set about it?'

'There seems no doubt that when poor Lance left Melbourne--escaped from
the hulks--he travelled into the interior. There is no one--no one that
I know or can think of--who could give me further information. But I
shall go to Melbourne. It is one stage on my journey; it may be that I
may discover the next one while there.'

'I can give you positively no advice as to your movements, for the
moment,' returned Hastings thoughtfully. 'I can only counsel you to
remain here a few days longer, when, between Stirling and myself, some
plan of action may be arrived at.'

'I am not restless,' she made answer, 'though I do not wish to lose
time. Anxiety and trouble in the end may be saved by not being too
hasty. I will therefore stay a few days longer than I at first intended.
But on Monday next I must return to Ballarat, _en route_ for Melbourne.'

'And after that?' queried Hastings, almost unconsciously. For he could
not help pitying from his heart this high-souled maiden, so utterly
alien in every thought and feeling to the people by whom she must of
necessity be surrounded. He saw her quitting the comparative security of
even this humble retreat for a doubtful, even dangerous, succession of
journeys in quest of what--of whom? An outlaw and a felon! Guilty by his
country's laws, and self-convicted now by his breach of prison
regulations. Doubtless he had received hard measure and unjust sentence,
but had he been true to himself and the traditions of his race, he
needed never to have placed himself in peril of the law. 'However,' he
continued in mental converse, 'she will never be persuaded--woman
like--that he has descended from her ideal. She must "dree her weird,"
as our Scottish friends say.'

So for the next few days Estelle amused herself by studying the ordinary
miner's life, partly in company with Mr. Stirling, who generally found
her quietly seated in Mrs. Polwarth's cottage in the afternoon after
bank hours, and partly from information derived from that worthy dame,
who was far from averse to diffusing her information.

'I don't see but what it's as good a country as the one we've left,
Miss,' said the shrewd matron; 'anyhow it's better for the likes of Jack
and me. There's a deal of rough ways and drinking, it's true, but no
one's bound to take part in it if they don't like. Jack, he's steady and
sober,--I'm thankful to the Lord for it,--and we're putting by more cash
every washing-up than we ever heard talk of in the Duchy. When Tottie's
a year or two older we'll send her to school in Melbourne. There's good
schools there, I'm told. There's no reason why she shouldn't have the
learning as we never had. We'll make a lady of her, please God.'

'I see no objection, Mrs. Polwarth, to her having the best education
possible,' replied Estelle thoughtfully. 'At home we are apt to
disapprove of children being educated above their station, as it is
called. But in a new country every one has a chance to rise in life, if
they prove worthy of it, and there is no reason why my pretty little
Tottie shouldn't be as much a lady, in mind and manners, as any one
else.'

'Do you really think so, Miss?' asked Mrs. Polwarth, anxiously. 'I've
known girls that were spoiled in the old country by being sent to
boarding-schools, and come back neither one thing nor the other. Spoiled
for farm lasses, and not quite up to being ladies, in spite of their
fal-lals and piano music. I'd break my heart if Tottie came to be like
that.'

'I think you may put as much learning into this pretty little head as it
will hold,' said Estelle, stroking the child's clustering ringlets.
'You'll always be a good girl, won't you, Tottie?'

'Tottie's mother's good girl,' said the small damsel, dimly conscious
that she was under discussion, and then reading the tenderness aright in
her visitor's face--that visitor so munificent in sugar plums and
dolls--'and Miss Chaloner's good girl too.'

'I really believe you will, Tottie dear,' she said, lifting up the child
and kissing her. 'May God bless all this prosperity to her, and to you
and John also. Some people deserve their good fortune, and I am sure you
both do.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The days passed on--the final Saturday came, and still no course had
shaped itself in the minds of her 'friends in council.' Tessie Lawless
certainly might have furnished information, but no one knew her address.
They were not even sure whether she would feel justified in disclosing
Lance's retreat. Stirling was still in much doubt--more than he cared to
show--with regard to Miss Chaloner setting forth on a hopeless quest,
when the daily mail arrived from Ballarat. Glancing through his letters,
he stopped suddenly, arrested by the handwriting of an unopened letter.
'Lance Trevanion, by heaven!' he exclaimed, half aloud; 'just in time,
too.' He tore it open. The fateful scroll commenced thus--

     'OMEO, _10th June 185--_.

     'Here I am, my dear Charlie, so far restored to my old feelings
     that I can put pen to paper again, at the very idea of which I
     have shuddered till now. But the fresh mountain air--we had
     snow for breakfast this morning--has made a man of me again;
     that is, as much of a man as I ever shall be till I quit
     Australia for good.

     'After I left my _last place_, I made tracks for this digging.
     The most out-of-the-way, rough, rowdy hole among the mountains
     that ever gold was found in. It's a hard place to get to,
     harder still to get safely out of, populated, as it is, by all
     the scum of the colonies, and the rascaldom of half the world.
     Very different from Ballarat or poor old Growlers', though I
     have no reason to say so.

     'How about the gold? you will say. _There is no mistake about
     that._ I have no mates. I am a "hatter," and have worked on my
     own hook--partly for occupation and partly for a blind. I have
     just made up my mind to prospect a reef which has been
     discovered near Mount Gibbo by a stock-rider called Caleb Coke.
     He is an ex-convict, "an old-hand," as they say here, and there
     are queer stories told about him, as indeed about most of the
     people in Omeo; but if the reef is rich--and they say nothing
     like it has been struck yet--I intend to have a shot at it.

     'You would laugh to see my hut; it is as neat as a sailor's
     cabin. I lock my door when I go out, and no one has "cracked
     the crib" yet. I bought a sea-chest, brass-bound and
     copper-fastened, which found its way up here on a pack-horse,
     and am supposed to have gold and jewels and all sorts of
     valuables therein. Henry Johnson is my purser's name, but the
     fellows, finding that I know Ballarat, have christened me
     "Ballarat Harry."

     'To turn to business, I think the time has come for my getting
     over by degrees, and very quietly, as much of my credit balance
     with your bank as can be safely forwarded. My plan is, of
     course, to clear out for the most handy port, and put the sea
     between me and Australia. But there's time to think of that. If
     you can manage it without risk, send me the portmanteau I left
     with Jack. It contained letters, and a good many home
     souvenirs that I should like to see again. My watch and rings
     are in a small drawer; you can send the key in a letter. If you
     forward a draft for a thousand, payable at a Melbourne bank to
     H. Johnson, or bearer, I can get it cashed here and buy gold at
     a heavy discount. It will be as good a way as any to transfer
     my share of Number Six hither, till I can transfer myself for
     good.

     'Remember me to Jack and his wife, and kiss Tottie for me. I
     wonder if I shall ever see her again.

     'For the present, adieu.--Yours ever, L. T.

    'Address:
    'Mr. Henry Johnson,
    'Long Plain Creek,
    'care of Barker & Jones,
    'Storekeepers,
    'Omeo.'

Here was a discovery!--a revelation! Stirling barely suffered himself to
finish it before rushing over to Miss Chaloner with the astounding news.
At first he dreaded the effect which it might have upon her, hopeless as
she had been of late as to the whereabouts of the lost Lance. Still, he
had noted and admired her self-control when he divulged the sad
intelligence of his imprisonment. He felt unable to withhold it from
her.

Leaving the bank entirely to the control of his junior,--a young man to
whom goldfield experience had imparted a discretion beyond his
years,--he hastened over to Mrs. Delf's, where he met Estelle just about
to start for her daily visit to Mrs. Polwarth.

She looked up suddenly. 'You have news?' she said. 'I am sure it is not
bad tidings. Oh! can it be? Lance found? Is he safe? Does he know I am
here?'

'My news is not quite so comprehensive as all that,' he answered,
looking admiringly at her fine features, so suddenly illumined with a
glow of tenderness, 'but I can say with truth that the good element
prevails.'

'You have heard from him then?'

'Yes,' he answered; 'by this morning's post. I have the letter here.'

'And is there--oh! is there anything in it which I should not read? May
I--ought I to ask you to show it to me?' she cried.

Stirling, inwardly congratulating himself that his correspondent had
refrained from mention of any member of the Lawless family, or indeed
from any chance allusion which might have shocked the innocent trusting
girl who now looked so imploringly at him, produced the precious missive
promptly.

'Here is his letter; let him speak for himself, Miss Chaloner. There is
no earthly reason why you should not see it. It will give you all the
information you need. You will please excuse me until dinner-time.'

'I am for ever grateful to you,' she said, with the tears fast flowing
from her shining eyes. 'I will walk down to the claim. I always feel at
home there. I shall be able to think over my plans calmly if this letter
changes them, as perhaps it may do.'

Thus they parted, he returning to his treasure-house just in time to see
two rival parties of diggers, literally laden with gold, who were making
good time in a race for the bank door, each desiring to ensure a
division of the precious metal before the establishment closed. Estelle,
holding fast her coveted letter, which she pressed closely to her bosom,
walked slowly along the track across the flat which led to Number Six,
as one that hoards yet delays the savouring of a joy too sweet and
precious for hasty possession.

Passing through the shaft-riddled portion of the creek meadow, where a
rich but shallow deposit had caused every yard of ground to be pierced
and tunnelled, she paused upon a grassy knoll where the outcrop of
basaltic rock had checked the miners' search. Here the timber had been
spared, and beneath a wide-spreading angophera Estelle Chaloner seated
herself, and on a basaltic monolith, first folding her hands and making
mute appeal to Heaven, commenced with hungry eyes to devour the
invaluable missive.

She read and re-read--read again--word by word, and sighed over the
closing lines, then folding it carefully and placing it in her bosom,
walked thoughtfully forward.

So he was at Omeo (such were her thoughts), a distant, rude, isolated
region as she had heard--indeed his letter so described it. But what of
that; he was safe, he was well, in recovered health and spirits--thank
an all-merciful God for this much. He had even _hope_--the expectation
of escape--of a life of happiness in England, or in some land beyond the
reach of this strange country's harsh unequal laws.

Once safely at Wychwood, who would recognise in the proud heir of this
historical estate the erstwhile miner, the unjustly treated prisoner?
Then what would be her part in his future life? True, he made no
reference to her; perhaps in a letter to a friend, chiefly on business
matters, such were hardly likely. Still, to such a friend as Mr.
Stirling, so nobly steadfast and true-hearted, he _might_ have said a
word about his poor Estelle in the lonely manor-house, as he would
picture her. But he was safe, free, almost happy in the enjoyment of his
lately acquired liberty. That was happiness sufficient for the present.
It would be time enough in the future to cherish other thoughts. Then
walking forward with cleared brow and a resolved air she soon reached
Mrs. Polwarth's cottage, before the door of which Tottie, evidently
expectant, descried her and ran in to report.

'Why, you're quite late to-day, Miss,' said the good woman. 'I began to
think you were never coming, and Tottie's been along the track as far as
I'd let her. Sit ye down and rest. Is there anything fresh? We heard as
the Ballarat men was talking of "rolling up" if the licenses wasn't
lowered.'

'Yes, Mrs. Polwarth, there is news, but not about licenses; a letter has
come by the mail to-day--this very day only, think of that!--from--from
_him_.'

'Not from Mr. Lance; you don't say so, Miss? Who'd iver have thought on
it? And is he well, has he gotten oot o' the country? The Lord bless and
keep him, wherever he is.'

'I trust He will, in His great goodness and mercy. It seems so
wonderful, after all these weary months, that I should actually have his
letter--his own letter written to Mr. Stirling--this week here--here!'
and she drew forth the priceless treasure, as it seemed in her eyes, and
again devoured it with hungry regard.

Then, half replying to Mrs. Polwarth's questions, half giving vent to
long-pent-up feelings which, in the presence of a tried friend of her
own sex, humble in social station as she might be, flowed freely and
unrestrainedly, Estelle Chaloner poured her heart out. After which she
experienced a feeling of intense relief, and was enabled to confer
rationally with Mrs. Polwarth about her course of action.

'I had fully intended, as you know, to go into Ballarat on Monday,' she
said, 'and therefore there will be no change of plan. The difference
will only be that before this dear letter came'--here she gazed
earnestly at the well-known handwriting--'I had no earthly idea in what
direction I should go after leaving Melbourne. Now I _do_ know, and oh,
how differently I feel!'

'Yes, I daresay,' said Mrs. Polwarth doubtfully; 'but then, Miss, how
are you to get to Omeo? It's a mighty rough place, everybody says, a
dreadful bad road, and worse a'most when you get there. Don't you think
it would be more prudent-like to wait a bit and let Mr. Stirling write
to him as you're here?'

'And allow him to think that I am afraid to come to any place where _he_
lives? Perhaps induce him to leave his retreat for my sake and risk
recapture? No! a hundred times no! I have not come so far to falter
now.'

'But, my dear young lady, how will you get there? Jack heard some of the
diggers talking about it, and they said all the tools and provisions and
camp things had to be took up on pack-horses. Nothing on wheels could
get there. And what will you do then? you can't walk.'

'I should not like to walk, certainly,' said Miss Chaloner, with a
smile. 'I wonder what some of my friends would say if they saw me
trudging along with a knapsack on my back. Not but what I would do that
if need were. But I can ride, fairly well too, so I will not let the
want of a coach stop me, I promise you.'

'And you have friends in Melbourne, and you'll see them first, now won't
you, Miss?' said the kind soul, devoutly hoping that such personages, if
possessed of ordinary prudence, would interpose and prevent further
romantic enterprises, of the success of which she in her own mind felt
deeply distrustful.

'I shall see them, of course, particularly Mrs. Vernon, who was like a
mother to me; but,' continued this headstrong and imperious young woman,
'all the Mrs. Vernons and Mrs. Grundys in Melbourne will not keep me
from Omeo--from any place where _he_ is.'

As she spoke she raised her head, her dark eyes flashed with sudden
light, and her whole frame appeared instinct with defiance of
difficulties and obstacles, how numerous soever.

Mrs. Polwarth seemed to recognise a familiar trait as she sighed and
merely replied, 'It runs in the family, Miss. I see you won't be said. I
could fancy as Mr. Lance was standin' before me this minute. Maybe
you'll get through safe, please the Lord's mercy. There'll be some as'll
pray for ye night and day.'

'I know that,' she said, taking the toil-worn hands in hers. 'No girl in
a strange country ever found truer friends; I wonder at it sometimes by
myself. But you know Heaven helps those that help themselves, and though
I am a weak woman I feel that in my difficult path I must chiefly rely
on myself. I have his happiness and safety to think of as well as my
own.'

The more worldly-wise matron could only press the delicate hand in hers,
while the tears came to her eyes. 'If he had only thought as much about
_her_!' she said inwardly.

But she held her peace as they walked together adown the track which led
to the township.

       *       *       *       *       *

At a conversation which took place on the Sunday evening preceding
Estelle's departure, she repeated her thanks to Stirling and Hastings
for their kindness to herself and their unswerving friendship for Lance.

'I wish our companionship had been more effectual to protect him,' said
the latter; 'but, speaking among friends, I may say that he was
wilful--too much so for his own good. So have been many men, however,
who have never paid such a heavy penalty. After this last news, however,
the question is, how we are to help him?'

'I shall travel at once to this--to where he is,' said Estelle quickly.
'You did not expect me to do anything else, did you?'

'I am afraid that I did not,' he said, smiling; though he added gravely,
'None the less, both Stirling and I think it imprudent for you to take
such a journey by yourself.'

'Yet I came here safely--even pleasantly.'

'Omeo is a very different place. It has the worst reputation of any
goldfield yet discovered. The outlaws of all the colonies are gathered
there. Police protection is a mockery; they have no "Launceston Mac" to
regulate them, and the road is impracticable for wheels--well-nigh
impassable, indeed.'

'All this sounds bad,' said Estelle, 'and, if I _could_ be intimidated,
might prevent my wishing to go. But I am past all that feeling. I must
have one more talk with you and Mr. Stirling. But on Monday I sleep in
Ballarat.'

'Of course Mrs. M'Alpine will be most happy to receive you again,' he
said, rather ruefully; 'and next day the coach will take you to
Melbourne. I wish the rest of the journey was as plain sailing. If you
would accept me as your escort to Omeo, and I could go, nothing would
give me greater pleasure. But I am in honour bound to stay with my mate
here and see our claim worked out, or I would leave to-morrow.'

'It is a great pity that Mr. Stirling can't shut up his bank and come
too,' she replied, smiling. 'But I know enough now about mining matters
to judge of the impossibility of your departing at a moment's notice. I
have been wonderfully helped so far. It really appears miraculous. And I
have the fullest faith that I shall not fall short of that aid which a
merciful God provides for His helpless creatures in the future. I will
write to you both, and hereby constitute Mr. Stirling as my banker and
guardian while I remain in Australia.'

In this fashion it came to pass that on the Monday morning Estelle
carried out her purpose of making the start--that all-important _premier
pas_ which is so often the insuperable difficulty in life.

The Growlers' Gully coach, departing with American punctuality at the
appointed minute, bore her away again as box-seat passenger, and, not
having more than two others besides the driver, went round by Mr.
M'Alpine's cottage and deposited her at the remembered garden gate.

Before leaving she had a long and earnest conversation with Charles
Stirling, whom she had grown to regard almost as a brother. His uniform
gentleness of manner, his chivalrous courtesy and studious consideration
for her in every possible particular, joined with a certain firmness in
maintaining his opinion in matters of importance, had insensibly won
upon her regard. She would have been no true woman had it not been so.
Nor could she, from time to time, refrain from involuntarily drawing
mental comparisons between her _fiancé_ and his friend.

Their circumstances and surroundings being similar, why could not Lance
have conducted himself with the prudence and self-respect which
characterised Mr. Stirling, and indeed Mr. Hastings also? Perhaps the
former, from holding a responsible position, was necessarily more
guarded by the proprieties; but there was Mr. Hastings, whom she had
seen working with his mate Bob, dressed like an ordinary miner, more
roughly living and lodging even than Jack Polwarth. Yet she could see
that he bore himself in all respects as a gentleman, and that such rank
by others was cheerfully accorded to him. Why could not Lance----? and
then she sighed deeply and turned her thoughts abruptly into another
channel.

It had been decided in council that Miss Chaloner should be suffered to
pursue her journey towards Omeo, at any rate as far as Melbourne, when
she would again place herself under the guardianship of Mrs. Vernon.
After much difficulty, the friends prevailed upon her to promise that
she would not commence the journey to Omeo until Mr. Vernon had arranged
for, in his opinion, a suitable escort. Thus reassured, she was
permitted to depart, being seen off by Mrs. Polwarth and Mrs. Delf,
besides a score or two of casual spectators and miners off work. These
worthy fellows had gradually come to the conclusion that a young lady
who was known to the Commissioner, and treated with such high
consideration by Mr. Stirling, must be a person of rank and title.
Indeed such a report gained common credence, and Estelle was long
referred to in the chronicle of Growlers' as 'the lady in her own right
as had come from England to see after poor Trevanion of Number Six.'

Before leaving, Estelle had volunteered to take charge of the
portmanteau which Lance had mentioned in his letter as containing some
of his much-cherished souvenirs and other possessions. But Stirling had
doubted the propriety of her burdening herself with a heavy and
presumably valuable package. It would be sure to cause her anxiety, and
from its very appearance might stimulate the cupidity of members of the
lawless class, at that time by no means easy to evade while travelling.
Both in her interest and Lance's he preferred to forward it by gold
escort to an agent in Melbourne, who again would await the opportunity
of police protection to send it on to Omeo. He would be in possession of
Lance's receipt for it before she had reached Omeo; perhaps even before
she had left Melbourne.

It was finally decided by the friends that Lance should not be informed
of Estelle's arrival. 'It would only unsettle him,' she said. 'He might
even come to Melbourne, and so run the risk of recapture. It will not be
long before I rejoin him at Omeo, or the North Pole,' she added, with a
smile, 'if he roams so far.'

The intervening stages were necessarily identical with those previously
encountered. Mrs. M'Alpine was still hospitably eager to receive this
wandering princess, as she evidently considered her to be. She would not
hear of her going on to Melbourne the following day, and Estelle,
fearful of the appearance of insufficiently appreciating her unusual
kindness, gracefully, though reluctantly, consented. Her hostess then
arranged so that a discreet selection of the officials then resident at
Ballarat should arrive in the evening. These were mostly young men,
among whom Estelle was pleased to greet her first Ballarat acquaintance,
Mr. Sub-Commissioner Dalton. Ladies were few and far between at that
period of 'the field,' but those who accepted Mrs. M'Alpine's invitation
showed that the exceptional circumstances amid which they lived and
moved had wrought no change in manner or mental habitudes. As for the
men, Estelle found them distinctly above the average in appearance,
bearing, and accomplishments. These last Mrs. M'Alpine unobtrusively
brought forward. Then it appeared that this one was well known as an
artist; another sang 'like an angel,' as one of his feminine admirers
expressed it, playing his own accompaniments on the piano; a third was a
distinguished performer in private theatricals, while all talked well
and amusingly. A rather extended course of travel, continental and
otherwise, joined with army and navy reminiscences, seemed to be common
to all. Mr. M'Alpine had arrived too, from some mining town with an
aboriginal name, and, much to Estelle's surprise, was a punctiliously
courteous and chivalrous elderly personage, mild and almost deferential
in manner to ladies, and possessing a vein of quiet humour which aroused
unexpected merriment from time to time,--very different, indeed, from
the stern, inflexible Rhadamanthus whom she had pictured in her
imaginings of the terrible 'Launceston Mac.'

When the evening came to an end--not particularly early, it must be
confessed--and the piano and whist table were succeeded by a modest but
very cheerful supper, Estelle came to the conclusion that she had never
seen so many entertaining, cultured, and, in a sense, distinguished
people gathered together in one small room in her life. That it should
be her experience in this curious corner of the remote antipodes was the
crowning marvel of the whole.

       *       *       *       *       *

Melbourne again! which--so accommodating is our mental to our bodily
vision--seemed quite a small London after Ballarat and Growlers'.

Mrs. Vernon, who was just about organising one of her regular winter
parties, hailed Estelle's arrival with unaffected joy. This was rather
dashed when she understood her guest's intention to depart for Omeo at
the earliest possible moment. If the truth must be told, she considered
the discovery of Lance's abiding-place at Omeo to be an unalloyed
misfortune. This view of the case was of course unexpressed, out of
deference to Estelle's feelings, who made it--the announcement--with
such unfeigned pleasure that her hostess could not, for pity's sake,
forbear the conventional words of sympathy.

'But, my dear, you cannot possibly go to that dreadful Omeo at present,
if indeed at all. It was only yesterday that I heard Mr. Vernon telling
some young man (a young man, my dear!) that he advised him to wait till
the winter was nearly over before he started for Omeo, as the roads were
positively dangerous.'

'I will wait any reasonable time, and I shall certainly be guided by Mr.
Vernon's kind advice,' the girl said; 'but I am resolved to reach Omeo
before the spring.'

'"A wilful woman,"' quoted the old lady, '"must, I suppose, have her
way," like a wilful man, but I am charmed to see that you recognise the
propriety of consulting Mr. Vernon. He has business relations with
Omeo--what they are I have not the faintest idea--mining requisites, I
presume--everything from picks and shovels to pianos and cornopeans--so
that he will know how to manage the transport service for you. And now,
my dear, come and see your room.'

Mrs. Vernon's home was enticing. A roomy, well-furnished modern house,
the upper windows of which commanded a far-reaching view of the waters
of the harbour and the bluffs and headlands trending easterly towards a
dim and mighty forest world, beyond which again rose mountain peaks. A
broad verandah protected it equally from winter rain and summer heat.
The gardens, filled with exotics of every land, sloped down, with
winding walks amid trim grass lawns and thickets of ornamental shrubs,
to the waters of the Yarra. Exclusive enough for meditation and rambling
walks, beautiful also with the carefully-guarded flowers which the
half-tropical summer and mild winter of the south permit to develop in
rarest beauty, had Estelle desired a restful retreat wherein to stay her
pilgrim feet for a season, no pleasanter spot, no more alluring bower,
could she have found. But such loitering in the path of duty, synonymous
in her case with the passion around which the tendrils of her heart--the
heart of a self-controlled, habitually reserved woman--entwined, was not
for Estelle Chaloner. Pleased and grateful as she could not fail to be
with Mrs. Vernon's motherly warmth and kindly tendance, she told herself
that she would rather have been in a stagecoach, rumbling along the
roughest road towards Omeo, the goal of all her thoughts and
aspirations, than playing her part mechanically among the pleasant
society people seated around Mr. Vernon's handsomely appointed
dinner-table.

As for that gentleman himself, he vied with his wife in welcoming his
prodigal daughter, as he persisted in calling her.

'We have adopted you, my dear Miss Chaloner; ask Mrs. Vernon if we
haven't. We wept till bedtime after your departure, didn't we, Mary? and
now that our daughter that we lost is found, what do I hear about her
going away again? It can't be done. It's against Scripture; ask Mr.
Chasuble here if it isn't. The fatted calf is doomed, and she must stay
for the feast.'

'I daresay you won't find me an undutiful daughter,' she replied
smilingly, 'but you must wait till I have returned from the wilderness
before feasting will be appropriate. I have seen little or nothing, so
far, of the rude and lawless waste I was led to expect--on the contrary,
refinement and courtesy seem indigenous to Australia.'

'Oh! that's all very fine,' laughed back Mrs. Vernon; 'you've been
spoiled at Ballarat, but you mustn't expect to find the country full of
handsome Goldfields Commissioners, six feet high, and crammed full of
accomplishments--like Mr. Dalton, or even Mr. Annesley, whom you saw
here. There are places so different.'

'Which we won't describe to-night, shall we, my dear?' Mr. Vernon
interpolated, appealing to his wife. 'Miss Chaloner shall do as she
likes, as the daughter of the house, while here and afterwards. If she
wants to go to the South Pole, John Vernon & Co. will charter a ship for
her, or a camel train; if Fort Bourke requires her presence, only give
us a little time--that is all I ask.'



CHAPTER XX


Those adventurous wayfarers only who have traced the sources of the
Snowy River, which in its southward course pierces the fertile district
of Gippsland, are familiar with the strange wild region which lies
between it and the northern watershed, where the Ovens, the Mitta Mitta,
and the King rivers swell with their hurrying waters the Mississippi of
Australia. The scenery is of a weird and wondrous majesty. Far as eye
can reach, a verdurous plain extends--a mountain park, in truth, it may
be called, differing from almost any other such formation in Australia.
Three thousand feet above the sea, a sheet of snow in the mid-winter, it
is a prairie waving with giant grasses when remorseless suns are
scorching the heart of the continent into barrenness. Standing on the
northern edge of the Dargo plateau, what a landscape bursts upon the
view! Mount Feathertop, divided by a ravine two thousand feet in depth
from Mount Bogong, with Kosciusko, king of Austral Alps, like twin
Titans, rise snow-crowned in awful majesty amid the mist and cloud rack
of the illimitable mountain world. Storm-swept and desolate is this
region in winter. The strayed traveller wanders beneath an endless
succession of wooded peaks, descends abysmal glens, and seems doomed to
traverse eternally the unbroken solitudes of the primeval forest.

Here first arose the hamlet, later on the mining township, of Omeo,
taking its name from the lonely lake so named by the wild tribes who had
hunted on its borders and fished in its depths from immemorial ages. Who
shall count the years from the launching of the first frail bark canoe
on its lonely waters? Situated in closest proximity to the region of
snows, which, if not eternal, commence to crown the mountain summits in
the early autumn, it is separated from the more civilised portions of
New South Wales and Victoria by roads which border precipices, by
mountain tracks, known only to the cattle-drover and the horse-stealer,
which, overhanging rivers thickly strewn with granite crags, offer
suicide on easy terms to the careless or the despondent.

Rivers, full-fed from a thousand springs which have their sources in
these mountains, rush from unexplored heights in the springtime, or
murmur musically the long green summer through, when the great levels
of Australian deserts are sun-baked as the plains of Hindostan.

Here dwell in scattered families or sparsely settled hamlets the various
classes of Australian highlanders. Hardy, active, fearless are they as
their Scottish prototypes;--originally recruited from the wandering
stock-rider, or in later years the lonely gold-seeker prospecting the
basaltic dykes and quartz-filled fissures of the foot-hills of the
Australian Alps. Herds of half-tamed or wholly wild cattle and horses
roam the profuse pastures, richly verdant during the short summer,
though snow-covered and deathlike during the winter months. Here, late
lingering and entrapped, they often perish, a company of skeletons
within a circle formed by unavailing trampling of the surrounding snow
only remaining in the spring to show the operation of nature's stern,
irrevocable laws.

Lonely and chiefly silent this mountain land--dividing the watersheds of
three colonies--pierced by precipitous defiles--barred of access by
rugged ranges, the only means of crossing the savage region being by
dangerous tracks skirting terrific precipices, sometimes, as is the
well-known King River pass, narrow, elevated, almost in mid air, with
abysmal deeps on either side.

The first dwellers in these dread solitudes were men inured to every
peril of the Australian bush, to whom the faint trail of the wilderness
was familiar as the field-path to the village rustic. Strayed cattle and
ownerless horses accumulated in the virgin mountain pastures. These were
at first driven to the nearest market by tracks only known to the
outlaws of the waste, or their confederates the stock-riders in charge
of rarely visited cattle-stations. Suddenly the trade developed, owing
to the higher prices ruling since the gold eruption. An organised system
of horse and cattle stealing arose. Outlying lots of fat cattle were
'cut out' or separated from the border herds of Monaro or Gippsland, and
crossed into opposite colonies. Detection in such cases was well-nigh
impossible. Much of the illegal work was done at night. If pursued, the
tracks were purposely blinded by station cattle driven across the trail,
while, from the rugged character of the country, strangers were at a
special disadvantage. Horses averaging from fifty to a hundred pounds
each, if capable of drawing a wash-dirt cart or transporting a digger's
movables from one mining district to another, were profitable plunder.

Chief among these _caterans_ of the southern highlands--raiders, however,
of a lower grade than their Scottish prototypes--was the well-known and
deeply distrusted Caleb Coke--an ex-convict who had 'served his
time,'--that is, completed the term of penal servitude to which he had
been originally sentenced. He had graduated in a school of lawless
license tacitly permitted by the customs of the country. Commencing as a
stock-rider on Monaro Plains, then a wild unsettled region, he and his
convict companions reigned unchecked amid the aboriginal tribes. Reports
of capricious cruelty or savage vengeance against the blacks were more
than whispered. Wild tales were told of lawless deeds--of inoffensive
natives wantonly shot down in satisfaction for stock killed or
missing--of reckless indulgence in all the baser passions by these
modern buccaneers. The lack of police supervision enabled them to revel
in every species of lawlessness unchecked and unchallenged, and as
surely as any deed involving exceptional craft or cruelty came to light
the name of Caleb Coke was rarely absent from the recital.

Rudely reared and wholly uneducated, this man represented the type of
Englishman that in earlier days helped to found the reputation of
British sailors and soldiers. Smugglers, mutineers, or buccaneers they
might become, but, whatever their faults, they possessed the cardinal
quality of courage in a degree unequalled by any other nation.

Scarcely above the middle height, and possessing no remarkable muscular
development, Coke had proved himself the possessor of a measure of
endurance and sinewy strength which rendered him totally indifferent to
the hardships of a life in the wilderness. Heat or cold, night or day,
on foot or on horseback, all seemed alike to Caleb Coke. Like many of
the early stock-riders, though born in English hamlets and grown to
manhood before expatriation, the erstwhile poachers, smugglers, or
deer-stealers took kindly to the wild life of the interior of Australia.
Long used to watch the habits and follow the haunts of fur and feather,
the tracking of the half-tamed herds of cattle and horses came natural
to the quick eyes, from childhood studious of the waste. Those among
these exiled shepherds and stock-riders whom favourable conditions of
life tended to soften saved their money, acquired property, and founded
families not undistinguished in the future. On the other hand, all whom
misfortune had soured or crime indurated, found in their newly acquired
quasi-freedom the means of safely engaging in practices more secret but
not less nefarious than of old, or criminal operations on a scale
hitherto unprecedented.

With the formation of a rich goldfield at Omeo, the centre of a
proverbially lawless region and a roving population, the results may be
imagined. Cash became plentiful, and was habitually carried in large
sums on the persons of gold-buyers and other speculators. Crime for a
while seemed about to overshadow the land. Fierce of aspect, ruthless in
beak and talon, 'the eagles were gathered together.' Had there been an
Asmodeus of the mountain, how plainly would he have descried, almost
without the aid of _le diable boiteux_, the Alsatia from which, as
surely as the levin-bolt from the thunder-cloud, wrong and rapine were
destined to result.

With his habitual want of caution, Lance Trevanion made the acquaintance
of Caleb Coke soon after he reached Omeo. That worthy, wily and
unscrupulous, found means to ingratiate himself with the stranger,
apparently flush of money, and no novice in mining. He made a point of
providing horses when there was a newly-discovered 'rush' to inspect. In
certain ventures, as so often happens, when the broad road is to be
traversed, all his 'tips' proved correct. His advice, _quoad hoc_,
seemed uniformly trustworthy. Coke, however, had an advantage on his
side of which Trevanion little dreamed. Before long he was fully posted
in Lance's history; whereas, of Mr. Coke's eventful career, beyond the
careless chatter of goldfields, Lance knew nothing. Still less did he
suspect aught of the sinister influence behind Coke. Not many days had
elapsed after Lance had resolved to take up his abode at Omeo before he
received a letter from Tessie Lawless, to whom he had sent a few lines
by his returning guide. It was addressed to Mr. Harry Johnson, miner, to
the care of the chief storekeeper, a man of multifarious trusts and
responsibilities, keeping the post-office among other duties, and being
entrusted with all deposits, from a parcel of gold to a quartz-crushing
machine--from a 'last will and testament' to a baby 'to be left till
called for.'

Tessie Lawless's missive--the outflow from a heart as true and faithful
as ever beat in a woman's bosom--ran as follows--

     'MELBOURNE HOSPITAL.

     'When you receive this you will be safe--safe from persecutors,
     and once more--oh! that I should have to write such words--a
     free man again. What misery and degradation you have suffered!
     my poor dear unjustly punished----. I dare not even write your
     name for fear of--of consequences. But I shall be proud and
     happy all my life through that I was able to contrive to set
     you free--free! I have seen Mr. Wheeler since, and I could not
     help laughing, anxious and miserable as I have been, and am, at
     the way in which the affair was managed.

     'You will see by the heading of my letter where I live. I am
     not a patient, but I was so restless and anxious until I heard
     of your safety that I took a situation as nurse in the
     Melbourne Hospital. There has been a good deal of
     sickness--fever, rheumatism, and so on--since the gold, and we
     are all kept hard at work night and day. I was always fond of
     helping sick people, and the work suits me exactly. So now you
     know where to find me. Address--"Nurse Hester Lawless, Fever
     Ward."

     'I know, of course, that though Omeo is an out-of-the-way
     place, you stand a chance of being arrested at any time. So,
     for _my_ sake, if you value my feelings, be as careful as you
     can. Don't make friends unless you are certain about them. You
     have _paid dearly for that_, haven't you? My cousin Kate
     married Trevenna soon after the trial. They are somewhere about
     Monaro, and not likely to come across you, thank goodness. He
     doesn't treat her well, they say, so I can fancy what their
     life is. _It serves her right!_ You mustn't think me cruel, but
     I never shall forgive her as long as I live. I heard that Ned
     had got out of gaol, but am not sure whether it is true. Poor
     Ned! he was not all bad. I hope he may clear out to another
     colony, and keep straight for the future.

     'I have been rambling on, but must now say good-bye. Good-bye,
     too, in earnest. I shall not write again unless I hear
     anything, and want to send you warning. You know my heart--I
     need not say that if you only tell me to "come" I will follow
     you to the end of the world. I do not advise you to do it--the
     other way, indeed--but L---- T---- must judge for himself;
     though he might easily win a grander wife, but he will never
     never find a more loving and devoted mate than poor

     'TESSIE.'

'A truer woman never breathed!' Lance ejaculated, as he read this letter
in the lonely hut. 'But for her I should still be in those beastly
hulks--perhaps chucked overboard some morning, with a round shot for a
steadier! What in the world shall I do? What can I write to her? If she
comes up here it will be sure to make people talk. They always try to
find out more about a digger that's married than single, and if they
find out too much, that infernal Dayrell, or some other ambitious
trooper, will have the office given him, and _both_ of us made miserable
for life. No! she's the dearest little girl in the world, and I may as
well make up my mind to tour California or South Sea Islands with her
for a wife, as she says. England must be for me a foreign land
henceforth, and Estelle--poor Estelle--a beautiful dream! England's no
country for a man with a stain on his honour.'

'"My native land, good-bye!" as Byron says. _He_ never saw it again, for
that matter. Heigho! I wonder if I shall? Something tells me his fate
will be mine. An early death, though there is no Greece to fight for--no
such luck in store for Lance Trevanion as a patriot's grave--a hero's
tomb. I used to think of such things once, strange to say. How queer it
seems that a soldier's death in the open, and so many many other things
are henceforth for me _impossible_.

'I see nothing for it but to hang on here, putting the crowd off the
scent by working, talking, dressing like any other digger, till I get my
share of Number Six by degrees from Charlie Stirling,--trump that he
is,--then clear for Callao or 'Frisco without beat of drum, taking
Tessie Lawless with me.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Both before and since the conviction of Ned Lawless, who was one of the
originators of the Omeo cattle-stealing gang, Lawrence Trevenna had been
a partner in crime, a sharer in ill-gotten profits. He it was at
Eumeralla whom the miners, the police, and indeed Tessie Lawless
herself, had seen from time to time, and had mistaken for Lance
Trevanion. They might well be excused. With some allowance for
discrepancies in speech and manner, only observable when the two men
stood side by side, few people could have told the difference.

His nature, inheriting the strongest proclivities to lawlessness of
every shade and scope, needed but the occurrence of suitable conditions
to develop into the commission of the darkest deeds. The comparatively
easy profession of stock-lifting had, after his first chance wayfaring
to the Monaro district within a few months after he quitted the ship,
commended itself to him as an exciting and lucrative line of life.
Athletic, bold, and attractive after a fashion, he had singled out Kate
Lawless as the object of his admiration before the migration of the
family to Ballarat. Becoming aware of the reckless girl's flirtation
with his rival and antagonist of the voyage, he had sworn to take a
deadly revenge. With the aid of the Sergeant, and acting upon the girl's
jealous mood, he had been enabled to gratify his hatred to the full; and
now he heard through Caleb Coke, whose information from various sources
was rarely inaccurate, that his enemy had escaped from prison and was
actually living in Omeo.

Trevenna's practice in connection with the 'duffing racket,' as Coke
would have expressed it, was to travel through from Monaro with drafts
of stolen animals and to await the arrival of others of the gang at
Dargo, a place about fifty miles from Omeo. The men who met him were not
suspected in their own neighbourhood, and as the stock were unknown
locally, were enabled to drive them down the Snowy River into Gippsland
or into Melbourne market by devious ways, known but to themselves,
without arousing suspicion. Thus the mining and general population of
Omeo had rarely seen and never noticed Trevenna. His beat lay on and
around the Monaro district. Occasionally, when conference with Coke was
necessary, he met him at the hut at Mount Gibbo, a lonely and rarely
visited spot. As far as the Omeo people were concerned, Trevenna was, to
all intents and purposes, an unknown man. It was, in a sense, against
his interest to meet with Lance Trevanion at present. He therefore took
general precautions against such an event, keeping himself, however,
well posted up, through Coke, as to his rival's movements.

The destined meeting took place, however, after a fashion wholly
unexpected by either, Fate proving, as of old, too strong for the
machinations of mortals.

Trevanion had appointed a day to go with Coke to one of the newly opened
reefs which bade fair to make Omeo the premier goldfield of Australia.
It was at no great distance from the old man's hut. Lance had borrowed a
horse and ridden to the point indicated by Coke, and after an hour's
ride found the reef which they had come to inspect. It was in truth
wonderfully rich,--the stones 'strung together with gold,' as the
prospectors expressed it. Lance secured a share which could hardly fall
short of an astounding profit as the claim developed; and when Coke
suggested riding to his hut for a meal he readily assented.

The day was fine, the mountain air clear and bracing. The view, as they
gradually ascended one of the foot-hills of the main Alpine range, was
far-stretching and majestic. At the distance of a few miles, but
apparently almost overhanging the lonely hut,--a substantial building,
very solidly constructed,--arose the sullen shape of Mount Gibbo,
snow-capped, and ever bearing on its granite ribs the marks of the
Alpine winter.

A couple of savage-looking kangaroo dogs and a collie of suspicious
aspect walked forward from the massive hut-door, which Lance noticed was
carefully secured by a padlock. A narrow bridge of logs led across a
sedgy runlet, which, like many mountain streams, was unfordable, except
in occasional spots. From the hut could be seen any man or beast
approaching at a considerable distance. The idea crossed Lance's mind
that in the middle ages it would have been a most suitable site for the
castle of a robber baron. He smiled as he thought that perhaps his
friend Mr. Coke was only a later survival of those picturesque
tax-gatherers.

Dismounting at the door, Coke hung his bridle-rein over a wooden peg
driven into a stump close by, and, motioning to his companion to do
likewise, unlocked the door.

'Hold on!' he said, as he pushed back the heavy door cautiously, and,
leaning forward, pulled out by the collar a brindled bull-dog of such
ferocious aspect that Lance drew back involuntarily.

'You seem to believe in dogs, Coke,' said he, as he noted the savage
brute's red eye and grim jaw half approvingly. 'He would be rather a
surprise to any one that called upon you when you were not at home.'

'He's not easy stopped when he goes for the throat,' said the old man,
dragging the brute along by the collar and fastening him to a chain
stapled into a section of a hollow log, which served as a kennel. 'He's
a queer customer, is Lang. He dashed near settled a cove as got into the
hut once by the winder when I was away. I was just back in time not to
have to bury him, but it was a near thing.'

'One would think you had something valuable in your hut that you have to
guard it so well,' said Lance, looking at the dog, now lying down
licking his paws and showing his formidable teeth from time to time.

'Maybe I have, maybe I haven't,' said the old man sourly. 'Anyhow, I
don't like people coming about my place when I'm away. I've always kept
a dorg or two as wasn't safe at close quarters. They know it now, black
fellows and white both, and lets us alone, eh, Lang, old man?'

The dog gave a low growl as he spoke, while at the same moment the
collie and the kangaroo hounds raised their heads, and turning towards
the road, which wound along a rocky incline from the eastward, gave a
joint whimper, and seemed on the point of breaking out into a chorus of
barking. Lance, looking instinctively in the same direction, saw a
horseman emerging from a patch of timber, nearly a mile distant, and
apparently riding at speed towards the hut. The dogs, however, appeared
to have come to a conclusion in their own minds favourable to the
approaching stranger, inasmuch as they lay down and awaited events.

'D--n him,' growled the old man, as, shading his eyes mechanically with
his hands, he gazed searchingly at the horseman. 'What the devil brings
him here now?'

'You know him then?' queried Lance.

'Know him? Well, yes,' answered Coke, with the tone of a man disgusted
with things in general. 'Maybe you do too, and if you'll take a fool's
advice, you'll neither make nor meddle with him. He's pretty hot
property, is Larry Trevenna.'

'My God!' groaned out Lance, as his face flushed high, and then grew
pale to the lips. 'This is more than I could have hoped for. Now look
here, Coke,' and he turned upon the old man with a subdued wrath in
every look and tone that, fearless as he was, awed the ruffianly elder.
'This Trevenna did me the worst wrong that one man can do another.
Through his villainy I have been chained, starved, gaoled, treated like
a dog--falsely accused, too, if ever man was. If I shoot the infernal
hound as he pulls up his horse, I should be doing a good deed. If I
don't, it is only that he may feel that, man to man, I am his master,
and the punishment I intend to give him will not be so soon over. But if
you interfere, by word or deed, by God! I'll shoot the pair of you like
dogs.'

He touched his pistol as the last words came from his lips in low
concentrated tones. His chest heaved, his hands were clenched until the
muscles in his bare arms stood out like cordage, and the lurid fire in
his deep-set eyes glowed as though ready to leap forth with volcanic
flame. The resistless force of long-repressed passion asserted itself at
this supreme moment.

The crafty veteran recognised the necessity of neutrality, and assumed
his position with promptitude. 'Larry must take his chance. It's dashed
little I care which way it goes. I'll see fair play, anyhow.'

There was little time to say more. The horseman had crossed the creek
and, riding at a hand-gallop, pulled up at the door, throwing his
bridle-reins, stock-rider fashion, on the ground, and leaving the
hard-ridden hackney, a grand three-parts bred animal, to recover his
wind and graze on the green tussock grass till he should need him.

Without apparently taking notice of the stranger who, in ordinary
miner's garb, stood by the old man,--most probably taking him for a
wandering prospector or hard-up 'hatter,'--he called out, advancing the
while--

'I say, old King of the Duffers, do you know there's half-a-dozen chaps
from Monaro waiting for you at Dobbs' Hole? They've a stunning lot of
nags with them, so you'd better scratch all you know and get there
before dark. Who's this cove? Perhaps he'll give us a hand? I must have
a pot of tea first, though.'

He moved towards the hut door, near which Lance and the old man were
standing. Lance stepped forward.

'So we meet again, Lawrence Trevenna?'

Trevenna was no coward. Still the sudden apparition of a deadly
enemy--as if he had arisen from the earth--would disturb the equilibrium
of most men. He started back. But a life filled with risk and imminent
peril had schooled his nerves. He smiled, as if in apparent
good-fellowship.

'By Jove! So it's _you_, Trevanion? Who'd have thought of seeing you
here? Well, you've slipped the clinks, it seems. I was always dashed
sorry you got into that scrape so deep. You'd better go shares with Coke
and the rest of us in this lay. There's money in it--pots and pots of
it.'

'D--n you and your money too, you scoundrel!' shouted Lance, advancing
upon him with hate burning in his eyes and vengeance written on every
line of his countenance. 'You!--You propose to me to share in your
villainies? Have not you and your accomplices worked me ruin enough
already? Put up your hands!'

Trevenna smiled and took his ground. Among the younger members of the
lawless gang with which he had allied himself he had seen many a similar
encounter, half or wholly in earnest. And in the pugilistic practice so
popular among Australian youths of all classes, Larry Trevenna, to which
cognomen he had been, for greater convenience, reduced, was held to be,
if not the very cleverest of that wild band, so near the top of the
class that there were few--very few--that cared to arouse his anger.

He had, as he supposed, advanced considerably in the science of the
prize ring, and fondly trusted that the fast and vigil inseparable from
a bushman's life would render him more than a match for any infernal
swell (as he would have phrased it), especially one who had so lately
'done time,' and been therefore precluded from the enjoyment of fresh
air and exercise.

Old Caleb Coke's rugged features writhed themselves into a saturnine
grin as he watched the savage onset with an inherited instinctive
interest.

'Dashed if I ever seen a better-matched pair,' he growled out, half
unconsciously. 'I'd a walked twenty mile when I was a youngster to see a
battle like it. It's even betting--Larry's a quick hitter and pretty
fit, but I doubt he's met his match. Well, it's d--d little to me who
wins. First blood to Larry, by ----!'

By this time the two men were hard at it. The heavy blows on face and
body, which in such a contest fall fast and furious, sounded strangely
clear in the rarified mountain atmosphere--the old stock-rider and the
dogs the sole spectators. These last--comrades of mankind under such
ever-changing conditions--looked on with manifest interest. The
bull-dog, indeed, until warned by a kick from his master, being minded
to smash his chain and make a third in the encounter. The blow from
Trevenna to which Coke had alluded had split the flesh above the cheek,
showing the white bone underneath, as if gashed by a knife. Its effect
was due less to want of skill on Lance's part than to his desperate
determination to get to close quarters with his foe. And, indeed, all
unheeding of the punishment, which would have staggered another man
less iron-sinewed and agile, he forced his opponent before him with a
succession of blows, delivered with such terrific power and rapidity
that Trevenna's guard was completely broken in, eventually sending him
to the earth, half stunned and motionless.

Lawrence Trevenna had underrated his foe in more than one respect.
During the few weeks which he had spent in Omeo Lance Trevanion had
worked harder than he had ever done in his life before. Partly to dull
the memories of the past, as well as to quiet the haunting fear of
apprehension, he had toiled incessantly. The keen air, the healthy
appetite, the free intercourse with his fellow-men, had restored him to
fullest strength and activity. Never in his life, as he stepped forward
to meet his foe, had he felt more fully conscious of muscular strength
and deer-like elasticity--those glorious physical gifts with which only
early manhood is endowed.

As they fronted each other for the second time, face to face and eye to
eye, as is the wont of men of British race in such a contest, Coke could
not fail to be impressed with their extraordinary likeness to each
other, and the similarity of their general cast of feature. The colour
of the hair was identical, and but for a slight deviation in the
direction of coarseness on the one hand, and that indescribable
something which belongs to the man of birth on the other, they could
hardly have been distinguished from each other by a casual spectator. In
their eyes, so remarkable in both, burned in that hour the deadliest
fire of hate, the difference alone being that while it glowed
furnace-bright in the orbs of Lance Trevanion, Trevenna's glare, in
demoniacal malice, resembled the rage of a wild beast.

'By ----,' said the old man, as once more he marked the blood-stained
faces of the desperate combatants, who again went at each other with
silent fury, 'I could fancy as they was brothers. They ought to shake
hands and travel the country. What a circus they'd be able to run. Ha!
Larry's down agen. The Ballarat cove's too good for him.'

It was even so. For a short time only it appeared as if the issue was
doubtful. There was but little thought of evasion or parrying of blows
on either side. The terrific rally with which the second round ended
would have brought to a close more than one world-famous fight. But
Lance Trevanion fought as though each arm--like the Familiar of the
enchanter--wielded an iron flail. And when Lawrence Trevenna went down,
beaten dead and senseless from the last tremendous 'upper cut,' it was
evident that he would not come to time.

'That last left-hander knocked him out,' said the old man, with a grin
of qualified approval, while a strange expression lurked in his evil
eyes. 'It ain't no use follerin' it up, as I see. Dip that pannikin in
the bucket while I sluish his neck a bit. You ain't settled him this
time, Harry, but it's a d--d close shave.'

'He deserves death at my hands a dozen times over,' said Lance, gazing
down upon the fallen man, as Coke raised his bleeding face, and, after
an interval, succeeded in restoring animation, while the dogs stood
around licking their lips, as if the savour of blood had aroused their
ferocious instincts. 'But I have done with him for the present. Let him
cross my path again at his peril.'

Thus speaking, he turned to where his horse had been secured and made
preparations for departure, waiting, however, in order to satisfy
himself as to the condition of his late antagonist. That personage,
after a few minutes, was sufficiently recovered to raise himself to a
sitting posture, and eventually to his feet, when he supported himself
by leaning against a tree.

But though temporarily worsted in the conflict, Trevenna had no whit
abated of the ferocity with which he had commenced the encounter.

Declining, with a wave of the hand, the proffer of bush hospitality by
the old man, Lance Trevanion made as though to mount his horse, when
Trevenna shook his hand, and, with a voice hoarse and almost
inarticulate, arrested his departure.

'Stop!' he said. 'I want a word with Trevanion before he goes. You've
had the best of it now. I didn't think you were so good, blast you! But
I'll see you at my feet yet. I've got the girl you were so sweet on, and
you may thank her for being what you are--a runaway convict; d'ye hear
that, Lance Trevanion? Kate Lawless is my wife now, and d--d well broke
to come to heel when I crack the whip, you take your oath. I've got
square with you so far, and by ----!' and here the ruffian swore a
blasphemous oath, 'I'll be more than even with you yet.'

He paused, apparently more from exhaustion than from other reasons, for
his disfigured face, all blood-stained though it was, grew ghastly pale
as he swayed forward as though he would have fallen.

Lance rode towards him, and for an instant raised his hand; then gazing
at him with deepest contempt, made answer--

'No doubt you have treated your unfortunate wife as only brutes like
yourself are given to do. You are repaid in some slight degree for any
cruelty to her, little as she deserves it at my hands. As for you, you
scoundrel, I will shoot you like a dog if you come across me again. So I
give you fair warning.'

Then Lance Trevanion mounted his horse, unheeding of food or shelter.
For, as if the elemental powers had awaited the issue of the conflict,
the sky was suddenly overcast, the wind arose and wailed stormily. The
ranges were blotted out by driving mists, and without warning one of the
sudden storms of a mountain region broke wrathfully over the plain.
Another man might have sought protection. At any other time such a
thought might have crossed his mind. But the fierce spirit of Lance
Trevanion in that hour of overwrought feeling joyed in the elemental
turmoil. Facing the tempest, he sent the spurs into his horse and drove
recklessly into the very teeth of the storm; the drenching rain, the
blinding lightning, the thunder rolling above him and echoing along the
mountain crags, only serving as distractions to the yet fiercer tumult
raging within. Two hours' desperate riding over flooded creeks, through
forest and flat, rocky ridge and sedgy morass, brought him to Omeo. The
storm-swept streets were deserted, the stores and hotels filled. Pulling
up at the door of his hut, he unsaddled his horse, whose heaving flanks
sufficiently attested the pace at which he had covered the distance, and
turned him loose, with all reasonable expectation that he would discover
his owner's abode, after the manner of 'mountain' horses, accustomed
from colt-hood to find their way to particular localities, wholly
irrespective of times and seasons.

This duty performed, he unlocked the door, carrying the saddle and
bridle inside with him. His steed trotted off briskly, after a
preliminary shake, and apparently made a straight course for his home.
Nor was the act of turning him loose on that wild winter evening amid
the still driving rain and bitter wind in any sense cruel and
unfeeling. The stock-rider to whom he belonged would remark in such a
case that the rain would wash his coat clean from mud or sweat stain. He
had never been shod in his life, never known a rug or a stable, and was
as impervious to disease of the throat or lungs as his ancient comrades,
the wild cattle of the snowfields.



CHAPTER XXI


For some days after his encounter with Trevenna, Lance Trevanion
avoided as much as possible going into the township. He devoted himself
to working steadily at his claim at the reef, to which he had gone
before the adjournment to Caleb Coke's hut with unexpected results.

His first impulse was to prepare for sudden departure. Trevenna, as a
cheap and obvious form of revenge, would probably inform the police of
his identity without delay. He shuddered at the idea of
recapture--nothing, of course, could be easier than to send word to the
nearest police station that prisoner Trevanion, lately escaped from the
hulk _President_, and for whom a reward of no trifling amount was
offered in the _Police Gazette_, was living as 'Harry Johnson,' the
miner, just outside of Omeo township.

Yet, upon further reflection, other considerations presented themselves:
Coke and Trevenna were evidently 'working' this horse and cattle
business together. They would not, presumably, be too anxious to bring
the police near to the scene of their illegal practices. They would
assume also that he, Trevanion, if recaptured, might reveal much to
their disadvantage. Besides, he was now receiving weekly drafts to a
considerable amount from Charles Stirling. These he exchanged through
Barker and Co., the storekeepers at Omeo, for drafts on a Melbourne
bank, keeping up the appearance of a mining speculator by buying parcels
of gold from time to time, which were transmitted to Melbourne by
escort--consigned to the same bank. He was loth to interrupt such
satisfactory financial operations, while proceeding in a manner so
favourable to his project of escape. In a few more weeks, if nothing
happened in the meantime, a sum would be placed to his credit in
Melbourne with which he could safely embark for San Francisco,
Valparaiso, or the Islands, leaving the remainder to be sent after him.

Thus arguing, he determined to trust to the chapter of accidents, and,
unless he received further warning, to abide the issue. Besides this, he
believed that Coke entertained a friendly feeling towards him; even that
he might depend upon him for notice in case Trevenna was determined to
play the informer.

As matters turned out, Trevenna and Coke were at that very time maturing
plans with which the sudden arrival of additional police would have
seriously interfered. But of this determination, as well as of its scope
and intention, Lance Trevanion was ignorant.

He had not, of course, been able to keep out of sight and observation of
his fellow-miners at Omeo. A parcel of gold had been offered for
purchase by his friend Barker, and as it was rather larger than usual,
he felt bound to go into Omeo to inspect it. His face--decisively as the
battle had terminated in his favour--still bore the signs of the severe
punishment which he had received. And all unheeding as he had been of
the pain during the heat and fury of the conflict, the disfiguring
bruises and cuts were none the less _en évidence_ for days after the
affair.

But this condition of facial disarrangement was too familiar to all
classes of society at Omeo to cause more than faint surprise or trivial
comment. 'Been having a friendly round and slipped the gloves off,
Harry?' said the storekeeper. 'I didn't think there was a chap on the
field that could paste you like that!'

Lance muttered something about 'accidents will happen,' and so on. 'Tell
you all about it some other time.' Yet though not denying the
impeachment, he showed so little desire to be questioned upon the matter
that the storekeeper, a shrewd person, dropped the subject and addressed
himself to the more important business of the gold purchase.

This was concluded, and the gold safely placed in the fire-proof safe,
at that time a necessary part of every storekeeper's outfit, there to
await the monthly or fortnightly escort. By far the greater portion of
the gold so purchased was sent to town by escort--the protection of the
police troopers being in general considered sufficient. In spite of the
perils of the road, there were, however, always to be found men,
fearless or foolhardy, as the case might be, who preferred to be the
bearers of their own winnings in Nature's lottery, or of that which they
had purchased as a speculation.

Lance had been working for nearly a week after making this purchase, at
his claim, which, strangely enough, was the only payable one for some
distance on either side. He had heard nothing further of Trevenna. Coke
appeared to have left his usual haunts temporarily. Once more a feeling
of comparative security came over him. The apparently peaceful and
isolated nature of the locality assisted to lull his grief-worn spirit
into a condition of repose.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was noon at the Tinpot Reef. He had been working hard since early
morning, and had just decided to prepare his mid-day meal. The fire was
kindled, the camp-kettle placed upon it, and the water for the tea, that
indispensable adjunct of the Australian's _al fresco_ refection, was
commencing to boil. In anticipation of this stage of proceedings, Lance
had seated himself upon a fallen tree and was smoking meditatively,
after the manner of his class.

It was a lonely and silent spot--on this particular occasion rendered
more solitary and deserted-looking than ordinarily, from the fact that
the discouraged holders of the adjoining claims had arranged to prospect
a distant gully, and had, to that end, departed in a body on the
previous morning. The ropes were still upon the windlasses, the raw-hide
buckets on the braces. The tents and huts, with their rude adjuncts,
showed that the desertion was but temporary; therefore, the camp could
not legally be appropriated as 'worked and abandoned ground.' Still
there was an eerie, and it might have been thought by a supersensitive
resident an ill-omened, aspect about the place.

The morning had been fair, but though no clouds obscured the sky a chill
wind had arisen, and the temperature seemed to fall as the rising blast
became shrill-voiced and wailing.

Listening half mechanically to the boding signs of storm, Lance did not
notice the clatter of hoofs as a woman came at speed along the ravine
which lay to the eastward, and reined up her horse within a few yards of
his camp.

He turned listlessly towards her, but started to his feet and gazed into
the face of the rider with the look, half intent, half horror-stricken,
as of one who views an apparition.

'Kate Lawless!' he exclaimed.

'I used to be once,' the woman made answer, in a voice which seemed
struggling with an attempt at cheerfulness over-lain with habitual
melancholy. 'Won't you lift me down, or have you forgotten the way?'

He was at her side in a moment, and as, with the accustomed aid, she
sprang lightly to the earth, each gazed into the other's face for an
instant without speaking.

'Hang the mare up to that dead tree,' she said. 'I've ridden her hard
and far to-day, but she'll have to carry me across the mountain
to-night; I mustn't chance letting her go. And now I suppose you're
wondering what brought me here? I've got something to say to you, Lance
Trevanion, that's well worth the hearing.'

'And what may that be?' he made answer coldly. 'Let me remind you that
the last words I heard you speak caused my ruin, body and soul.'

'For God's sake, don't talk to me like that,' she said. 'I'm the most
miserable woman this day that walks the earth. I've helped to ruin you,
I know, but how I've suffered for it! I'm risking my life in coming here
to-day, and except to warn you for your good I wouldn't have done it.
Look at me, Lance, and see if I'm speaking true or false!'

'You took a false oath once,' he said slowly; 'why should I trust you
now, Kate?'

But while he spoke he could not avoid marking the unmistakable traces
which misery had imprinted upon her face and form. His voice softened,
his heart relented in spite of his just scorn and indignation. How
changed was she indeed! And could that haggard woman, who, with
streaming eyes and sorrow-laden features, stood before him in a
suppliant attitude, be the Kate Lawless of old days?

The trim and lissom girl, with an air of wild unconscious grace, lithe
of form and displaying in her every movement the instinctive charm of
early womanhood, had disappeared for ever. In her place stood a
hard-faced woman--bitter, reckless, and despairing. Her dress, that
unfailing test of feeling, showed that she had ceased to concern herself
about her personal appearance. Her fair hair was carelessly twisted into
a large knot, which showed behind the old felt hat which she wore: a
shabby kirtle was secured with a belt around her waist above a torn and
faded gray tweed riding-skirt. A red silk handkerchief knotted loosely
round her neck furnished the only coquettish-looking bit of colour that
her dress afforded, and, in spite of the carelessness and disorder of
her apparel, formed an effective contrast to her dark gray eyes, still
bright, and her abundant hair.

'You are changed, indeed, Kate,' he said musingly. 'So am I. Don't you
think, by the way, I ought to call you Mrs. Trevenna?'

'Call me Kate this time,' she said; 'God knows whether we shall ever
meet again. Do I look miserable, neglected, downtrodden to the very
ground? For that's what I am, besides being the wife of the greatest
brute, the meanest villain, ever God made. But it serves me right, Lance
Trevanion; it serves me well right!'

Here the wretched woman burst into a fit of passionate weeping. Hiding
her face in her hands, she sat down upon the log, and in broken
sentences detailed her wrongs and described the cruelty with which she
was habitually treated. Why did she marry him? Well, she hardly knew.
She was restless and miserable after the trial. Ned was gone, and she
was half mad, and could have drowned herself when all was over. Once in
Trevenna's power, the brute had shown her that one of his reasons for
making her his wife was to wreak his spite upon her as a former
favourite of his enemy; to punish her by every ingenious device of
callous cruelty for having preferred Trevanion to himself. She had been
worked upon before the trial by the artfulness of Dayrell and Trevenna,
the former having caused a letter to be written, as if from Lance to his
cousin, sneering at her low birth and bush manners in a way which led
her to believe that he had from the first intended to impose upon her
ignorance. Hasty, credulous, and madly ungovernable in her fits of
ill-temper, she had been practised on to bear false witness at the
trial. Then Tessie, ignorant of the wonderful likeness of the two men to
each other, had really mistaken Trevenna for Lance, having come upon him
unexpectedly in one of his trips to Eumeralla.

'And this is what I've brought you to,' she continued, gazing at his
rude attire, his changed aspect; for _never_ does the look of freedom
and careless pride return to the man who has known the prison garb, the
clanking chain,--who has once answered mechanically to the harsh summons
of the gaol warder. 'A working digger, and worse. Oh, my God! An escaped
prisoner. God forgive me! I don't see as _you_ can. No man could that
has gone through what you have!'

And here the frantic woman cast herself at his feet and bowed her head
to the earth in an attitude of despairing supplication almost oriental
in intense self-abasement.

In spite of his cruel wrongs, of the life-wreck and dishonour in which
this woman had been chiefly instrumental, Lance Trevanion's heart was
touched as he saw the once haughty and tameless Kate prone in the dust
at his feet.

He raised her gently, and, seating her beside him, essayed to comfort
her. 'Kate,' he said, taking her hand, 'we are two miserable wretches,
destined to be each other's ruin. Why should all the blame fall upon
you? Fate was too strong for us. It is over now. We must bear it as we
may. If I have undergone the torments of the damned, your deadliest
enemy could not have chosen a worse lot than you have made for yourself.
I forgive you freely. Now you have far to go, and I must finish my shift
by sundown. Let us make believe we are at the camp at Ballarat again; my
dinner is nearly ready.'

A faint flicker, dying out instantly into rayless gloom, was visible in
the woman's sad eyes. She dried her tears, and with a strong effort
recovered her self-possession.

'You are too good to me, Lance; God bless you for it,' she murmured. 'I
shall thank you to my dying day, whenever that is: I somehow think it
mayn't be long. Anyway, I _will_ have a few mouthfuls. There's thirty
miles of mountain road to go back, and I must be home before _he_ comes.
I see you're marked,' she continued, looking with curiously blended
sympathy and shyness at his discoloured face, 'but you're nothing like
as bad hurt as _he_ was, or you couldn't move about or stoop to blow up
that fire. He was close upon dead for a week after he got back. He
didn't tell me who done it till one day we quarrelled when he was
better. Then he half killed me,--kicked and trampled on me, as he's done
many a time. If it wasn't for--for the child,'--here she hesitated and
looked down,--'I'd have left him long ago.'

'Cowardly brute, ruffianly dog!' groaned Lance, grinding his teeth, 'why
didn't I kill him when we met at Gibbo? I had two minds to finish him
there and then. Things could hardly be worse than they are. But the next
time we meet one of us dies; I swear it, as God hears me.'

'Oh! don't talk like that,' she cried, and even in his wrath Lance
recognised with amazement the new element of pitying tenderness which
anxiety for his safety evoked (oh! wondrous-fashioned instrument, the
woman's heart! soaring to seraphic melody, yet at times clanging with
frenzied discords, echoes from the Inferno); 'if there's anything of
that sort you'll be sure to be taken, then it will be "life" or worse.
But,' changing her tone to one of grave entreaty, 'what I came for
to-day was this,--I knew you were here, no matter how; where I live we
know a lot, all the worse for us and other people.'

'And what was it, Kate?'

'_I came to warn you_,' she said, as she fixed her eyes imploringly upon
his countenance, 'and you believe me, just as if Tessie was talking to
you this minute.'

'To take care of my horse, Kate?' he said, half jestingly; 'I haven't
any to lose.'

'To take care of your LIFE!' she cried, almost with a scream. 'You have
that to lose, haven't you? and unless you are carefuller than I ever
knew you to be, you'll find it out too late. I overheard him and that
old wretch Caleb Coke (and of all the murdering dogs I ever heard of I
think he's the worst) talking over some plan they've put up, and from
words I caught I made out it was about you. There was a deal about
gold-buying and some hut, and a box with nuggets and things locked up in
it--money as well. You'll know if that fits. The man, whoever it was,
was to be "put away," as Coke said. So you take my tip! _Trust nobody
about this field_, Caleb Coke above all, and get shut of Omeo the first
minute you can.'

'When did you hear this?'

'The day before yesterday. They sat up late drinking, and Coke took more
than he does in general; he's that full of villainy of all
sorts,--robberies and murders too, people say,--that he's afraid of grog
for fear of giving himself away. Anyhow, they both went off early this
morning, and Trevenna's to be back to-night. So I ran up this little
mare--she's the only one I've got now to my name--as soon as they were
well off the place, and rode here on the chance of finding you at this
reef.'

'Well, Kate, my poor girl, you've done me a good turn, if you never do
another. You may have saved my life, you see. Not that it's worth much.
But I've a notion of getting away to California or the Islands next
month, and if I carry that out what you want me to be careful about may
rise in value, do you see?'

'Oh, don't joke in that horrid way; you never used to,' said the woman,
rising and gathering up her skirt, as if in preparation to depart. 'It
makes my heart ache'--here she pressed her hand to her breast; 'I have
one, though you mightn't think it. But oh, for my sake, for every one's
sake, for the sake of that girl in England, if you want to see her
again, be careful! Don't go out of sight of Omeo--if you value your
life--till you start for Melbourne, and then travel in company. Coke
thinks no more of a man's life than a wild dingo's, and Trevenna's as
bad. The things I've heard, I wonder God lets them live. I must go now.
I've stayed too long. Remember my words; they're as true as if I was on
my dying-bed.'

Then she walked rapidly to where her horse stood patiently--a small roan
mare, the fineness of whose limbs, together with the character of head
and eye, denoted Arab blood, crossed probably with the wild 'mustang' of
the hills. Trevanion kept by her side, wondering when the strange scene
would end.

She made again as if to depart, for an instant touching the mare's
bridle. Then, turning towards him, held out her hand--'Good-bye, Lance,
and God bless you, wherever you are. You are sure you forgive me, don't
you?'

'As I hope to be forgiven,' he said solemnly, unconsciously using a
half-forgotten form of words, the true meaning of which had long been
alien to his heart. 'That is, you poor ill-treated Kate, I forgive you
freely, and with all my heart.'

As he spoke, the woman turned upon him a countenance so transfigured by
gratitude and tenderness that Lance Trevanion, for the moment, hardly
recognised her, so wonderfully softened, so refined and ennobled, was
every lineament by the unwonted emotions. Deep and bright in her lifted
eyes shone the fires of a buried passion as she gazed for a moment into
those of her companion. Then, as if inspired with sudden frenzy, she
threw her arms around him, and, pressing his head to her bosom, kissed
him passionately on the lips and forehead.

Disengaging herself as suddenly, she waved him back from approaching
her, and, springing into the saddle, drove the astonished mare wild,
plunging over the crown of the ridge and adown the rocky side of the
ravine, which the roused and sure-footed animal cleared with leaps like
the 'flying doe' of her native woods.

'Poor Kate!' he exclaimed, as he slowly retraced his steps, and,
gathering up his mining tools mechanically, proceeded to complete his
day's work; 'there is good about her after all. How queerly men and
women are compounded in this mad world--as I begin to think it is. What
a life hers must be, tied to a scoundrel like Trevenna! and yet _he_ is
a free man--whose whole life, since he came to the colony, has been
criminal--while I, who, God knows, never had a thought of wrong-doing,
have worn the felon's chain, and may again, who can tell? "A mad world,
my masters!" in truth and saddest earnest.'

No doubt remained in Trevanion's mind, as in the seclusion of his hut
that evening he pondered this singular interview, but that the woman had
warned him in all good faith. If her words were not true, she was indeed
the falsest of her sex. But there are looks, tones, gestures which
neither man nor woman can feign; moments in which all the truth of the
being comes to the surface; portions of our lives when a clearer insight
is gained in the passing of seconds than can be derived from years of
ordinary experience.

Such a flash of enlightenment was this, as when the lightning gleam
pierces the gloom of midnight, showing the perils of the road,
disclosing pitfalls and precipices previously shrouded in darkness. His
course had been thus illumined. How heedless was he, pursuing what
appeared to be a fairly open pathway; and yet, what unsuspected dangers
lurked on every side. These two remorseless villains, attracted by the
report of his comparative opulence,--of course the gold-buying would
reach all ears,--were evidently planning his robbery and murder. If not
his own, whose then could it be?

There was another man whom it possibly concerned--Con Gray, well known
as a gold-buyer in Omeo. He had lately made heavy purchases--had even
stated that this was his last trip to Melbourne. This man was perhaps
the fated victim. Under any circumstances Omeo was no longer safe
harbour. He would sell his claim on the reef. He would invest his cash
in gold, and, making some excuse, join the escort, and so get to
Melbourne unsuspected, and safe from being robbed on the road--if a man
could be said to be safe at any point of the journey between these
savage solitudes and the metropolis.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus having fully resolved to quit Omeo, taking whatever risks might be
involved in that step rather than await the perils which seemed to be
thickening around him, a feeling of impatience now took possession of
Lance Trevanion. On the very day on which he had met Kate, he had
'broken down' some stone of extraordinary richness, which, though it
might prove to be only a 'shoot,' in mining parlance, served to cause
the value of the claim to rise measurably. He had therefore no
difficulty in disposing of it to very great advantage, giving as his
reason for quitting so promising a 'show' that he had decided on
devoting himself to gold-buying for the future.

Meanwhile, the vision of final escape from a life of dread and
suspicion, from the rude surroundings and mean shifts by which alone he
could hope to secure safety under present circumstances, commenced to
arise clear and inspiriting before him. It seemed comparatively easy to
slip down to town under cover of having gold to dispose of--as did many
a miner of the period. And then--and then, once on blue water with a
draft for five thousand pounds in his pocket, and more to follow at
regular intervals as long as Number Six continued 'payable,' what a
vista of change, affluence, almost happiness, opened out before him!
This was Saturday; on this day week the monthly gold escort would leave
Omeo for Melbourne. It gave him ample time to make needful preparations.
It was the last day of the month. It might be the last day of his exile.

       *       *       *       *       *

The week passed in an uneventful fashion. It seemed to Lance Trevanion
as if all things were working harmoniously for his release from the
thraldom he had so long endured. The claim had been well sold. He had
received the proceeds in cash, as indeed is the custom of goldfields. He
had made several advantageous purchases of gold, and had received
advices from the mercantile house in Melbourne with whom, through Barker
and Co., the storekeepers, he had established business relations, that
they would be prepared to honour his drafts or furnish him with bills of
exchange in Britain or America. All things seemed prosperously working
together for a noiseless and unsuspected exit from Omeo--from
Melbourne--from Australia. He had reduced his worldly possessions to the
smallest portable quantity, while leaving his hut and belongings in
apparently the state which they would present during his absence,
presuming merely a temporary absence.

So steadily had he laboured, so assiduously had he devoted himself to
the arrangement of every detail which by any chance could be needed,
that on the Thursday evening he was in the somewhat nervous position of
a man who had nothing to do but to await the signal for departure. At
the same time, he had neglected no precautions which could tend to throw
his comrades of Omeo and the public generally off their guard. He had
not signified his intention of starting with the escort. He had made the
same arrangements which would have been necessary for the consignment of
his gold if he himself was absent.

He had said casually to his friend Barker, the storekeeper, that 'he
might go, or he might not; he was not sure; just as the fit might take
him. Anyhow, he would only be away a fortnight. It depended upon any
fresh "show" turning up. There was a talk of something towards the Snowy
River.'

He had purposely, from the day of his arrival at Omeo, adopted a rough,
laconic manner, in keeping with his assumed character of 'Ballarat
Harry'; had been, indeed, at some pains to efface tokens of gentle
blood, of culture, of refinement, of that chiefly indefinable personal
accompaniment which is usually described as 'the manners of a
gentleman.'

This curious possession, sometimes laboriously acquired, and yet only
perfect when merely derived from the accident of birth and inheritance,
is, by some shrewd observers of human nature, believed to be wholly
inseparable from the individual who has once possessed it. Others
believe--granting a careless habit of association, a looseness of fibre,
recklessness of mood, sordid surroundings, not to mention a fixed
intention of cutting loose from all the influences of early
training--that wondrous, almost incredible declension may take place.
One likes to fancy that the refinement produced by years of early
training, joined with hereditary tendency, can never be obliterated. But

    'Want can quench the eyes' bright grace,
    Hard toil can roughen form and face.'

Although in the case of Lance Trevanion it would have been an
exaggeration to have said with the poet--

    'Poor wretch! The mother that him bare,
    In his wan cheek and sunburnt hair
    She had not known her child.'

But (and I who write have many a time witnessed the transformation) it
is by no means so easy to recognise the 'lapsed gentleman' after he has,
for whim, indolence, or necessity, played the bush labourer for a year
or two. The roughened hands, the altered expression of face, the gradual
disappearance of _les nuances_, the minor society tricks of expression
and manner, the rough habiliments, the changed step--all these and
more--the inevitable concomitants of the comparatively rude life of the
miner, the 'sundowner,' the shepherd or boundary-rider--denote the
disrated aristocrat. Any one of the subdivisions of Australian manual
labour _does_ inevitably, indisputably, change and disguise the
individual, of whatever previous history. There are exceptions,
doubtless; but such are rare.

In addition to the safeguards which a miner's garb, daily labour, and
rude association provided against recognition, Lance had practised of
set purpose the slang phrases and ungrammatical idioms common among men
of his adopted occupation. This kind of verbal deterioration is more
easy to acquire by careless habit than to relinquish when an upper
stratum of society is again reached, as relatives of young men returning
from 'back block' sojourns or 'northern territory' explorations have
discovered to their regret. Taking his privations into consideration, it
must not be considered very wonderful that the 'Ballarat Harry' of Omeo
was a different-appearing personage from the Lance Trevanion of No. 6,
Growlers', much more the haughty, rebellious heir of Wychwood.

The expected morning broke--a transcendent day of early spring, known
even to this mountain land, mist-shrouded and storm-swept though it be
in its winter garb. The sky was cloudless, the air breezeless, as the
sun uplifted his golden shield over the forest-clothed shoulders of the
Bogong and the Buffalo.

As the pearl-gray tints of the dawn-light insensibly dissolved,--losing
themselves, even as had the darker hues of the earlier morning, in a
bath of delicatest pink, enriched ere the eye could trace the
translucence with hues prodigal of crimson and burnished gold,--the
austere marble-white snow-peaks appeared to stand forth in yet more
awful and supernal splendour. Contrasted with colouring of indescribable
brilliancy, they appeared a company of phantasmal apparitions in the
silence of that wondrous dawn pageant.

Lance Trevanion was but a man as other men. How many times had he looked
upon these and kindred wonder-signs of Nature with incurious eyes,
holding them to be but ordinary phenomena with which, in the grip and
peril of Circumstance, he had nought to do. But now, his nervous system
being more tense, and his mental tone exalted in view of an imminent
deliverance, a stir took place among faculties long disused. In curious
unexplained fashion the beatific vision connected itself with his cousin
Estelle, whom he had ceased to regard as a terrestrial entity. Severed
from her, not less by seas and oceans than by inexorable fate, her
image, bright and celestial as it had formerly appeared, was now fading
rapidly; becoming fainter and yet more ethereal with each succeeding
recollection.

But on this, the last morn which he hoped to spend in this wilderness,
her image seemed to present itself with strangely persistent clearness
before him. How she would have joyed,--she that was so passionately fond
of landscape scenery, who discovered fresh beauties in every humble
hillock and lowly streamlet,--could but she have stood here with him;
together could they have beheld this entrancing vision. With quickened
tide, the back-borne stream of memory brought to his recollection the
many times they had stood hand in hand and gazed at sunset, stream, or
woodland, glorified by Nature's alchemy. He could almost fancy that he
heard her voice, soft and low, rich, yet so clear and distinct, as she
dwelt upon each feature of the landscape with instructed enthusiasm. He
recalled her dainty ways--her unvarying softness and sweetness, her
unfailing tact and temper, which had so often turned the tide of the
Squire's wrath, the discreet counsel that had so often been displayed in
times of perplexity.

And now, what torture to think of her! of all the sweetness and beauty,
divine as it now appeared to him, lost for ever, as much alien to him,
henceforth and for evermore, as though she had been born on another
planet!

The sudden change from the currents of his thoughts led the lonely,
half-despairing man to an almost complete temporary detachment from his
surroundings. He forgot much of the misery, the despair, the evil hap of
this past year--that year which had been so much more eventful than the
whole of his previous life. A new hope appeared to arise within his
outworn, wearied heart. Might he not, if he regained the old
land--might he not yet recover his position? Great heavens! was it then
possible that such an elysium should be in store for him? He knew
Estelle's steadfast fearless nature; he knew the sweet and loving pardon
that would shine in her eyes when they met, if ever permitted by a
merciful God. Was there a God? and could He be thus merciful even to a
forlorn, degraded outcast like himself?

As he stood leaning, with folded arms and meditative air, against the
doorpost of his humble dwelling, the clatter of hoofs along the track
which led near the hillock upon which the hut stood gave a fresh current
to his thoughts, and recalled him to a sense of the present. 'One day
more,' he said, half aloud. 'Shall I ever see these hills and valleys
again? I owe them much. They have proved good harbour for the stricken
deer.'

'Who the deuce is this?' His thought shaped itself into speech as a
wild-looking rider forced his horse, a half-broken colt, as near to the
hut door as he could get him. The colt snorted and trembled, after the
manner of his kind, but refused to budge a foot nearer. The horseman,--a
long-haired, long-legged native lad,--exercising his spurs vigorously,
besides devoting the colt and all his relatives to the infernal deities,
was fain to hold out a scrap of paper in his hand and await Lance's
approach.

'It was you as sold Number One South, on the Tinpot Reef, to Yorkey
Dickson, wasn't it?' inquired the ingenuous youth, staring at Lance.

'Yes; what then?'

'Well, there's been a bloomin' row between him and his mates and Mick
Doolan's crowd. They're measuring him off, and makes out as you'd took
up too much ground. He wants you to come. He give me this for ye; blank
ye, I'll knock the blank head off ye, if ye don't stand quiet.'

This last communication, though in strict continuation with his previous
address, was apparently intended for the colt's progressive education,
that vivacious animal having taken fright at Lance's approach, and
swerved backward with rear and plunge directly Lance reached out his
hand for the missive. He, however, retained hold of the paper, which,
after some difficulty, he deciphered--

     MR. HARRY JOHNSON.

     Dear Sir,--I paid you honest for Number One South, which I
     stand a good show of loosin' if you don't come out and prove
     your pegs. The Tips are trying the bluff game, and if you don't
     stand by me I'll be regular jumped and run off the field. Come
     afore dinner.

    Yours trewly,
    YORKEY DICKSON.

'My word! I'll have him steady enough by the time we get back to Tin
Pot. Been backed first time the day afore yesterday, and of course he's
touchy,' he explained, as the colt, after a wild rear, in which he
nearly fell backwards, stood with his forefeet rooted to the ground and
snorted, trumpet-like. 'Shall I say you're a-comin'?'

'I suppose so--yes,' slowly answered Trevanion, half absently. 'Curse
the claim and all belonging to it! I never wanted to see it again. But I
won't have the fellow done out of it. Tell him I've half a mind not to
come, as I'm going to Melbourne to-morrow. It's lucky for him I got word
to-day.'

'All right! I'll tell him you'll be there by dinner-time. So 'long!' and
with the words on his lips he turned his horse's head, and with spur and
shout forced him into a hand-gallop along the main track to the
township, up the principal street, and opposite the hotel door before
the half-tamed excited animal had time to halt or resist.

'It's an infernal nuisance,' said Trevanion, half aloud. 'But I don't
want to leave things tangled up. Yorkey paid me good money, and I
shouldn't like the poor devil to be wronged by those scoundrels. I'll
walk, too; it will do me good, and keep me from thinking.'

The day promised to be glorious. Slowly the mountain mist had rolled
back, and gradually disclosed the tones and magically blended colour
effects which the awakened morn revealed. A dull grayish green tinted
the undulating prairies, stretching to the darkly dense forest which
clothed the foot-hills of the Australian Alps. The sombre mountains
gradually ripened in colour as the sun-rays pierced them in concentric
lines, so that a graduated scale, shading from darkest green to
brilliant emerald, developed hourly. Deathlike, still eternal-seeming,
majestic, their snow-crowns rested on Bogong and Buffalo, with far-seen
Kosciusko and Feathertop in the azure distance.

The solar heat became distinctly noticeable--indeed, bordering on
oppressive. But Lance, excited in spite of himself, stepped joyously
forward as he felt the miles slipping behind him, as though on some
long-remembered schoolboy truant expedition. How different was the free
elastic stride with which he covered the ground now from the aimless,
dejected shuffle of himself and his fellow galley-slaves of the
_President_! His spirits rose with each mile of the way traversed.
Surely everything was turning in his favour. He would be pardoned yet,
his fair fame re-established. His innocence would not be so hard to
prove, after all. Tessie and Kate could _now_ give different evidence.

'Yes! England, Estelle, Wychwood! Fate would repent her of this dire
injustice. He would yet again place foot on the shore of his native
land, the home of his ancestors, as surely as he would presently ascend
the ridge on the other side of this Mountain Ash Gully, into which he
was now descending; as surely as he would behold the plain
far-stretching towards the horizon, the diggers' tents in the secluded
valley.'

Thus thinking, and moving forward with eager, quickened step, he reached
the bottom of the ravine, which--a notable exception to the general
distribution of timber--was covered with a scrub or thicket of the
mountain ash saplings for some distance back. From the course of the
little stream, eastward, appeared a narrow flat, riddled with shafts
long worked and abandoned, but still furnishing, in this depth and
closeness, a record of former richness.

'What would Kate say if she saw me here to-day?' he thought to himself.
And then her warning rang in his ears. 'As you value your life,' he
seemed to hear. 'When I get back,' he said, 'I will swear to take
excellent care of myself.'

'If such a thing as prudence can be knocked into a Trevanion, surely
what I have undergone should produce it. But what a lunatic! what a
benighted idiot I was to leave England at all! Why couldn't I have borne
the old man's petulance, like scores of other fellows that I have known?
All would have come right in the end, with Estelle's help. What a girl
she was! And what a fool I have been! Looking back, it seems incredible
that I--that _any man_--could have been so mad, so blindly besotted! I
wonder how the old Squire is now? He and Estelle must have a lonely time
enough of it in the gloomy old manor-house. Well, I swear--as God hears
me now--that when I return--if I ever do--I will humble myself before
the old man, and, yes, try for the rest of my life to make amends to him
and to her for the sorrow and anxiety which I have cost them.'

As this last thought passed through his mind, shaping itself
unconsciously into articulate speech, he stopped, with his right foot
raised upon a block of stone, and listened intently, with head half
turned towards the thickest portion of the scrub, which here approached
the narrow track worn in old days by the cattle-herds of the surrounding
pastures.

At that moment a shot was heard, and Lance Trevanion fell forward on his
face, temporarily disabled, if not mortally wounded. Following the
report, two men emerged from the covert, one of whom carried a gun. They
were Caleb Coke and Lawrence Trevenna.

'That dropped him,' said the former, with a fiendish chuckle. 'Not far
from the "curl," I'd say, if it was a bullock. Many a one the old single
barrel has finished. I thought she'd carry straight that distance.'

Here the wounded man moved his arm and groaned.

'Ha! my fine gentleman!' said Trevenna, 'I swore I'd have ye under my
feet yet. Where are ye now?' And here the hellish villain spurned the
unresisting form of his prostrate foe. 'What do ye say about "time" now?
This is the last round of all.'

'That's no good,' growled Coke, 'and d--d cowardly, into the bargain.
You couldn't stand up to him when he was right, so ye may leave him
alone now. He's only stunned; the ball's grazed his forehead. Lend us
that tomahawk o' yourn. I'll finish him.'

Two crashing blows, one of which clove the skull even to the brain, and
this man--this 'masterpiece of nature,' so lately in full possession of
the strength and beauty of youth--lay a disfigured corpse.

'Now lend a hand and let's get him off the road a bit,' said Coke, as
coolly as if he was directing the assistants of a slaughter-yard.
'Scrape some sand over that blood; there ain't much, but it might show.
We've got to strip him first, and then it won't take long to drop him
where he won't be seen again in a hurry.'

Dragged through the scrub some twenty yards or more, the dead man lay
with dreadful widely open eyes as they had placed him. A heartrending
spectacle surely, had but the men who now busied themselves in stripping
the corpse possessed the feelings of ordinary humanity. But a lifetime
of crime, for the most part undetected, had dulled the heart and brain
of the older ruffian, to the exclusion of all but the baser instincts--a
veritable demon disguised in form of man. Fiends of the pit could scarce
have exceeded him in remorseless cruelty.

In Trevenna's case the love of gain, the hope of booty, together with
complicated feelings of jealousy and revenge, rendered him callous to
all natural feeling. Swiftly was the dead man divested of his clothing;
his watch, a few bank notes, which he had perhaps placed in his purse in
readiness for the morrow, were secured, and after counting and
inspection, taken possession of by Trevenna.

This done, the old man pointed to a mound a few yards distant around
which the saplings clustered thickly, showing that some time had elapsed
since the shaft which it marked had been commenced.

'That's the deepest shaft on the flat; they was a-sinking for the blue
"lead" and bottomed on rock. You take hold of him.'

A combined effort placed the dead man on the edge of a shaft, down which
the old man peered with ghoulish glee, as if to gauge the depth. 'Hold
on,' he said, as he dropped a stone. The men waited for some seconds,
which seemed long, until a dull thud came up from the lower level,
telling by its delay that the shaft was little under a hundred feet.

In another moment the unresisting form was drawn to the edge of the
yawning black-mouthed pit, which, so wondrous straight and narrow, had
been driven deeply into the bowels of the earth. A push, a heave, and
the once noble and beautiful form of him who was Lance Trevanion
disappeared from the face of the earth, hidden from the light of the
sun, from the ken of mortal man, for ever and for ever!

       *       *       *       *       *

As the strange dull sound, so unlike any other, which follows the fall
of a human body down a deep shaft came up from below, Trevenna shuddered
in spite of his hardihood.

The old man laughed aloud. 'You're only half baked yet, Larry, with all
your blowing. When you've seen as many coves rubbed out as I have,
you'll have better narves. We've got a ticklish game to play yet, mind
ye, so don't go a-shivering and shaking like a school-girl. Take off yer
duds now and collar his, and let's see how yer look.'

Trevenna, with a rude oath, repelled the accusation of softness, and
doffing his own garments, which he made into a bundle and threw down the
shaft, proceeded to dress himself in the dead man's clothes. This
transformation effected, the curious similarity between the two men
became so apparent to the only spectator that Coke yelled with apparent
amazement and danced around him with fiendish delight.

'By ----!' he cried, 'if that ain't the rummiest fake ever I see. Your
own mother wouldn't know the difference. Hanged if _I_ could tell, and I
knowed the pair on ye purty well. Pitch a log or two down the hole; it
won't be long afore it falls in. It's bad standing ground, and then he
won't need no tombstone. We'd as well collar our horses now and get to
the cove's hut after dark. Then you start fair to-morrow morning as
'Ballarat Harry,' alias Lance Trevanion, Esquire, and I'm d--d if
there's a digger on Omeo as'll know the difference. What are ye lookin'
in the grass for?'

'When we had the--the mill--I swear he had a watch-chain. It must have
dropped hereabouts.'

'Well, I'm blowed!' chuckled the older ruffian, 'if that ain't a good
'un. Takin' a man's life, his money, his duds, and his watch, and then
growlin' because the chain's a-missin'. You'll find it in his hut, I'll
go bail.'



CHAPTER XXII


Lance Trevanion, dwelling and working by himself, had accustomed the
miners around Omeo to his irregular, independent mode of life. Sometimes
he was absent for days together, returning at midnight or dawn, as the
case might be. When it was reported that he had been seen to enter his
hut just after dark in company with another man, no one looked upon the
circumstance as calling for comment. He had been at the claim which he
had sold to Yorkey Dickson early in the day, and being detained there,
discussing the intricacies of a mining dispute, had reached his home
after sunset.

On the next morning--the one fixed for the departure of the escort for
Melbourne--he was heard inquiring from the Barker storekeeper if his
gold had been properly labelled and directed. 'He was not sure about
going himself,' he said, 'but thought it likely he might at the last
minute.' The storekeeper looked at him with a certain air of surprise.
'What are you staring at?' he asked abruptly, at the same time fixing
his eyes intently on the man.

'Oh, nothing, Harry,' Barker replied apologetically, 'only I thought
there was something queer about you this morning. If you'd been a
drinking man I'd have thought you'd had a booze on the quiet. And your
face ain't got rid of them marks yet. Seemed they was about gone, last
time I seen yer.'

'They'll not last much longer,' he said grimly, 'and the man that gave
them to me got the worst of it. He won't be so ready for a row in
future.'

'Is that so?' inquired the trader confidentially. 'We all thought it
must have been his fault, you bein' such a quiet card in a general way.
Serve him right, I say.'

'So I say too,' replied his auditor. 'By the way, just send your boy
over to the post-office to see if there are any letters for me. I'll
have a smoke while he runs over.'

In a few minutes the letters came. One from the banker in Melbourne
acknowledging his last draft and informing 'Mr. Henry Johnson' that they
would receive and hold to his order the parcel of gold of which they had
advices. The other, addressed to 'Mr. Henry Johnson, Long Creek, Omeo,'
was in a female hand. Mr. Johnson placed it in his pocket unread,
saying carelessly that it would do to read when he got home.

'He's a rum chap, that Ballarat Harry, as ever I see in Omeo,' said the
storekeeper. 'Sometimes so jolly in a quiet way, and then he's as stiff
and stand off as can be. But I'm dashed if ever I seen him as queer as
he was to-day; why, I hardly knowed him when he came in first!'

When 'Harry Johnson' reached his hut, he sat down, and shutting the
door, which he carefully secured with a bolt, took out the letter and
read as follows--a sardonic smile upon his features the while--

     TOORAK, _10th September 185-_.

     MY OWN DARLING LANCE--Could you ever expect to receive a letter
     from me written in this country? In your wildest dreams, did it
     ever occur to you that I should come out to Australia in search
     of you? I told you at our last parting at dear old Wychwood
     that I would come, if you did not return within the time
     specified. I don't know that the time has quite elapsed, but
     when the poor old Squire died (how changed and softened he was,
     Lance, in his latter days you can hardly think) I could not
     stay in England. You never wrote. We did not know what had
     become of you: whether you were dead or alive. I promised him,
     Lance, on his deathbed, that I would seek you out. And you know
     we Chaloners and Trevanions hold to our word.

     I _know now_ all that you have done and suffered, my poor
     darling--_all_! I can partly understand why you did not write.
     Still you should have done so; you know you should. I am not
     going to reproach you or to write a long letter. But fancy me
     having been up at Ballarat and stayed at Mrs. Delf's inn at
     'Growlers',' and know Jack Polwarth and his wife and dear
     little Tottie--who hasn't forgotten you--and Mr. Hastings and
     Mr. Stirling! I was actually there when your letter came from
     Omeo!

     Why didn't I write? You see _now_ how hard it is to bear when
     friends are silent. But I refrained, sorely against the grain,
     _for your sake_. It might unsettle you, I thought, even tempt
     you to come to Melbourne, where the risk would be terrible. So
     I waited till I could get a really good opportunity and escort
     for Omeo. You will see me--I am almost beside myself with joy
     at the thought--almost as quickly as this letter reaches you,
     Mr. Vernon, my kind host, says. He bought me a delightful
     horse--so safe and pleasant. I shall quite enjoy the ride up. A
     storekeeper, his wife and daughter, also an assistant, are my
     companions, so you see I am well protected. Have you got the
     ring and the token? I have mine safe. Ever and till we meet,
     your own

     ESTELLE.

'Well, I'm blowed,' was the reader's inelegant but characteristic
exclamation as he folded up the letter,--oh! rare and precious
outpouring of a fond woman's love and tenderness,--'if this game isn't
right into my hand! I've got his gold. I've got his cash. His girl's
running fair into my arms, and, if the luck holds, I'll have his house
and land in the old country. Lance Trevanion, if I haven't got square
with you, the devil's in it, or Caleb Coke, which comes to the same
thing! I've got to take care _he_ don't turn dog on me, though. It was
he put me on to plant for Trevanion in Mountain Ash Gully. We're both in
it, though he fired the shot and knocked him on the head afterwards.
We've gone whacks so far in the nuggets and cash in the hut; who'd 'a
thought he'd such a pile stowed away there? But if I can get to
Melbourne, take the girl on the hop, marry her, and clear out to England
or 'Frisco the day after, as I expect he intended to have done, old
Caleb may whistle for his share. By Jove! what a lucky job it was that
Coke and I had a good overhaul of the hut on the quiet. It's put me up
to all I wanted to know to act Lance Trevanion to the life. I've done it
before, but now I'm up in my part to the letter. I've got the very
clothes he was last seen in, the marks on my face _he_ gave me, damn
him, much about the same as I gave _him_; with putting on a bit of a
drawl that he always had, the devil himself wouldn't know us apart. I
wonder if he will when _my_ turn comes below?'

Then the villain laughed aloud, a ghastly sound in the lonely hut and
still night The unnatural sound died away,--guilt rarely laughs
long,--when, lighting his pipe and stirring the embers of the fire in
the chimney, he recommenced his meditative plotting.

'Now then, the devil of it is, that I'll have deuced little time to work
things in, if this girl Estella, or whatever she calls herself, comes up
to-morrow or next day. However, perhaps the shorter the time the better
the chance; she'll be bustled, and won't have time to think. All I've
got to do is to play Lance Trevanion to the life for a day or two, get
her off to Melbourne, and follow up after. The sooner I'm off the
better, for fear Kate gets wind of it and blows the whole bloomin' plant
to blazes. There's nothing she'd like better, blast her! I think I can
do the swell business middling near the mark. I've been studying some of
those squatter toffs that come to Monaro for store catch. If a bit of
slang leaks out, or a slip in grammar, why, of course, it's from
associating with rough cards at the diggings, not to mention the
chain-gang business; she'll believe, like all these flats of new chums,
that Australian life's enough to take the shine out of any man's mind
and manners, grammar, and good looks. Then the wedding! Ha! ha! if that
won't be the best joke out. Fancy Larry Trevenna spliced to a real
lady--a dashed handsome girl I believe she is--anyhow her likeness says
so. Next day off to England or America,--the last if I can fix it--and
no more Australia for yours truly.

'The best of it is, even if I _am_ nabbed, I can easily prove that _I'm
not him_. Then there's the bigamy racket, though I daresay if I let Kate
off, she'd be glad enough to take her own way and clear out. It's a
ticklish business, of course; but I stand to win or lose a heavy stake,
and I'll play it out, by God! I don't see how she can doubt I'm the real
man. I've read his letters and things till I nearly know all the places
and people by heart. I've got the ring and the locket she talks about,
and a lot of family trinkets and nicknacks, and there's no mistake we
_are_ as like--that is, were--as two peas. Why the deuce we should be,
the devil only knows. Well, I'll have another smoke and turn in. There's
a deal to think about to-morrow.'

Next day being Sunday, which even at the wildest Australian digging
differs somewhat from other days, Mr. Harry Johnson dressed himself more
carefully than usual, and after breakfast went 'down town'--that is, he
proceeded to Barker's store, in order to gather up news generally and
discover whether Miss Chaloner was on the road up, so that he might be
fully prepared for the momentous meeting.

As it happened, he found out precisely what he wanted. A young fellow
had arrived that morning and had passed a party one stage back on the
road answering to their description. The young man was not a miner, but
a cattle-dealer, making a forced march to Monaro in order to buy store
cattle. The price was rising daily, so he was riding post-haste for fear
of losing the market. He had overtaken the storekeeper's party, in
which were three women--one a fine-looking girl--to this he could
swear--and riding a clever, well-bred hackney: such a horse was never
bought in Melbourne under a hundred pounds. He believed they would be in
Omeo to-morrow evening before sundown, and were going to stay at the
Reefers' Arms.

On Monday, therefore, Lawrence Trevenna devoted the whole of his
energies to the fullest preparation for the leading part which he had to
play. He neglected no precaution. He made fresh search among the papers
of Lance Trevanion. He read and re-read the letters contained in the
brass-bound portmanteau which had been sent to Omeo by Charles Stirling.
He reckoned up over and over again the various points on which it was
necessary for him to be accurately informed in order to satisfy any
lurking doubt of Miss Chaloner.

He had noted more than one reference to the chain with a coin attached,
and an almost historical heirloom which he had given her at parting. The
ring which Lance always wore, and which he had taken from the dead man's
finger, was also alluded to. The half threat which Estelle had made to
come to Australia, if Lance did not return, or write, was spoken of. Of
course, as a passenger in the _Red Jacket_, he knew the day on which
that vessel sailed, when she arrived in Melbourne, and those occurrences
of the voyage which Lance had described in his home letters. The doubt
in his mind was naturally whether this high-born damsel would throw
herself into his arms with the unreserve of plighted love, and be ready
to marry and depart with him from Australia at the earliest possible
period; or whether she might have her doubts as to his being the right
man, and so work confusion or even danger. Much was on the cards. All
depended on the deal. But he held a strong hand, he told himself.
Trumps, too, in profusion. And, with the hardihood of a born and
practised gambler, he stood prepared to back his luck to the last.

The following day passed slowly; but as the evening wore on he lounged
over to the hotel at which the travellers were to arrive, and made it
carelessly but generally known that he expected a young lady who was
coming up with Caldwell and his wife and sister. He was thereupon
congratulated in a jocular manner, when finally, as the early spring day
was fading fast into the short twilight, the tramp of horses' feet was
heard along the well-worn track which came up from the coast town, and
the little cavalcade, composed of two men and three women, halted before
the hotel verandah.

The inn loungers gathered around the strangers, proffering aid, much
stimulated by the prospect of news. The ladies had been assisted from
their steeds, and the landlord was leading the way to the principal
sitting-room, in which a cheerful fire was blazing, when a tall man came
through the party, and, pausing before the young lady who followed at
the rear of the party, said, in a voice tremulous with emotion,
'Estelle, my darling, we meet at last!'

The girl gazed earnestly in his face for a moment, his eyes meanwhile
fixed on hers with an intense and even increasingly fervid glance; then,
as he wound his arm around her waist and drew her towards him, she
murmured with undoubting faith--'Lance, ah! my dearest Harry, I hardly
knew you at first. It must be your beard, I think. And how did you
happen to be here to meet me?' she continued, disengaging herself from
his embrace, as a sense of shyness and confusion commenced to assert
itself as she looked around.

'And why did you not write and tell me you were in Australia before?' he
said, half menacingly; 'it was hardly fair to me, I think.'

'It is a long story; we shall have plenty of time to talk it over. I did
it for the best, though I daresay you will blame me. But I must go and
rest a little; we are all terribly tired. You will be here this evening,
though I warn you we shall go to bed early.'

She did not appear at the ordinary evening meal, sending out word that
she was fatigued, and had a quite too overpowering headache. The
storekeeper's wife and daughter were loud in praise of the uncomplaining
manner in which Miss Chaloner had undergone the hardships of the
journey. 'It's not as if she was used to it, poor dear,' said the
matron, 'like me and Bessie here, as has had to rough it all our lives,
pretty near. Yet there she was, taking everything as it come, and never
a growl out of her. My word! she can ride though.'

'And that horse of hers is a plum,' assented Miss Bessie; 'she looked
after him well, and he's worth it. I'd like to have him, I know, instead
of my old crock. I believe he's thoroughbred, or close up; and if they
ever have races in this beastly hole, he'd win all the money they're
game to put up, hands down.'

'Nonsense, Bessie,' replied the elder woman; 'how do you know? Your
tongue goes too fast, Miss. Don't you think so, Mr. Johnson? I don't
know what's come to the girls nowadays, they're that forward and think
they know everything. But you're a lucky man, if it's true as you're
engaged to be married to the young lady, as it seems is a fact. There's
very few girls like her in this country or any other, you mark my words,
and I hope you're good enough for her, that I do. I'll just go and see
how she is.'

The worthy dame, on returning from the bedchamber, brought the
intelligence that Miss Chaloner could not appear again, being prostrated
by a nervous headache, but sent a message to Mr. Johnson that she would
be quite well in the morning, and would be glad to see him after
breakfast. With this ultimatum 'Mr. Johnson' was fain to be outwardly
content, and, though inwardly chafing, betook himself to his hut, there
to spend the night with what 'companions of Sintram' might be available.
He was not, however, wholly dissatisfied with the progress made.
'Anyhow,' he thought, as, after a couple of potent 'nips,' he sat
smoking over his fire, 'the first act's over, and pretty right too. She
believes I'm the man, and though something or other's startled
her,--like a half-broken filly,--she'll come to, after a bit. I must
have a regular good pitch to her to-morrow, and bring out the cove's
rings, and trinkets, and keepsakes, that she knows about. I'll have the
whole thing out with her, and settle about when we're to meet in
Melbourne and get spliced. It's a job that won't stand waiting about. I
must get her away and on the road in a day or two, and pick up the
escort and get down by myself. If I leave with her, that infernal
Kate'll get wind of it and be on our track as sure as a gun. She thinks
I went to Monaro for horses, and won't be back for a month, but she'd
fossich out any woman business if I was the other side of h--l, I do
believe.'

'I shall be cornered,' he said to himself, pursuing the same train of
thought, 'if she wants to stay here a while and see where I was working,
and all that rot that women are so dashed foolish about. I must lay it
out that I might be taken any day, and the sooner we both get to
Melbourne and off by the first ship--the day after we're married, if
possible--the safer for her dearest Lance--that's me--_me_!'--here the
villain laughed aloud with fiendish enjoyment of the base deceit of
which the unhappy girl was to be the victim. 'If he could only see us!
ha! ha! Once we're married, there's no get over that. Once we're clear
away, hang it, I'd almost like to have him alive again, to enjoy the
sight of his face and see how he took it. His lady-cousin--his wife as
was to be, that wouldn't touch me with a pair of tongs--if she
knew--_if_ she only knew--that it was Larry Trevenna, that used to be a
stable-boy, a farm-lad, a horse-dealer's tout. If mother hadn't died,
things might have been better, and old granddad too. She used to talk as
if there was some mystery. I wonder if there was, and what sort. Anyhow
there will be, and that's enough for the present, if it comes off.'

Estelle rose early next morning with a view to survey at leisure her
novel surroundings. She had perfectly recovered from the fatigue of the
previous day. The regular exercise of the bush journey had acted
beneficially upon her health and spirits, as indeed such a term of
travel does upon all normally constituted people. The night had been
clear and frosty. As she paced the verandah, which, as in most houses of
the class, absorbed the whole front of the hotel, she was first
surprised, then charmed and excited, by the view of the majestic Alpine
range, the snow-covered peaks of which were glittering in the rays of
the morning sun.

'How grand! how inconceivably lovely!' said she, half aloud; as
gradually the view opened out, in a sense expanded itself before her
rapturous gaze. 'How little I expected to feast my eyes upon a scene
like this! Poor Lance, poor fellow! how often such a glorious landscape
as this must have comforted him in his loneliness! Perhaps he thought of
me at such times; he could not help it. He used to tease me at Wychwood,
I remember, about what he called my craze for scenery. I must remind him
of it to-day. Yes, to-day; how strangely it sounds! I shall have to make
up my mind----' and here she seemed to fall into a musing mood, while a
sigh from time to time escaped involuntarily. 'Yes,' she thought; 'it
would be hardly advisable to live here after we--after we were married.
Reports would be sure to get abroad, and then, perhaps, if he was
recaptured his punishment would be increased, and that would kill
him--would kill us both indeed. I could never survive it, I feel sure.

'Then, what would be the safer course to pursue? To go to some seaport,
where they could take ship for Europe or America, as the case might be?
Why should they not take their passage for San Francisco? Once landed
there, who was to know Lance from any other Australian digger, numbers
of whom had been backward and forward since the earliest "rush," in
1849? Melbourne in some respects would be the better port of shipment;
it was nearer, more easily reached, and there was such a mixed multitude
of "pilgrims and strangers," miners, speculators, colonists, Europeans,
and foreigners, that any number of persons "illegally at large" (an
expression she had caught in Melbourne) might pass unnoticed.'

The clang of the breakfast-bell put an end to her meditation, and
exchanging the keen air of the outer world for a seat near the glowing
fire, high piled with logs, she took the place reserved for her near her
travelling companions of the previous day. The social atmosphere of the
_table d'hôte_ was less 'select' than that at 'Growlers',' but the
utmost decorum nevertheless prevailed. Among the strangers to her was a
middle-aged man, whom she heard addressed as Mr. Gray, and more
familiarly as Con. He was a gold-buyer, about to leave for Melbourne on
the following day.

'How many ounces are you taking down this time, Con?' asked a jocular
miner at the other end of the table 'You'll be waited for some day, if
you don't look out.'

'Not much this time, old man,' said Gray. 'But you're right; it _is_ a
risky game, and I don't think I'll chance it much longer. Indeed this
may be my last trip.'

'Right you are,' said the furnisher of the raw material. 'I'm blessed if
I'd travel that road the way you fellows do, and known to have gold on
you, for all the percentage you make out of it. There's too many cross
chaps about, for my fancy and so I tell you.'

'Well, a man must live, you know, Johnny,' replied the gold-buyer
good-humouredly. 'But I think I'll take your advice and cut the road
after this.'

When her lover arrived, Estelle, as was natural, bent an earnest gaze
upon his form and features. Neatly but plainly dressed, his stalwart
figure, erect and stately, showed to great advantage among the
carelessly attired loungers who thronged the entrance. His bold regard,
his dark and clustering hair, his regular features, stamped him as a
being of different mould, in her eyes, from the ordinary persons around
them. A thickly growing beard and moustache hid the lower part of his
face, and concealing much of his mouth and chin, somewhat altered
(Estelle thought) the expression of his countenance. It was not wholly
an improvement, though she could understand his reason for adopting the
prevailing Australian fashion.

He passed carelessly into the parlour, where there were still a few
people gathered around the fireplace. Putting his arm round her waist,
he said jocularly, as he drew her towards him, 'So you have recovered
from your fatigue. After our long separation, it seems awfully hard on
me that we should see so little of each other.'

The storekeeper's wife smiled, and Miss Bessie giggled, as Estelle,
blushing deeply, withdrew herself from his clasp, saying hurriedly, 'I
don't think there's any necessity for being so affectionate in public.
We have a great deal to talk over and decide to-day.'

It was a strange feeling that had come over her for the moment. Added to
her natural dislike to such endearments before spectators of the class
then present, a curious indefinable sensation of repulsion took
possession of her temporarily, as strong as it was instinctive. He drew
back, with a half-angry look; then, assuming an air of injured dignity,
said, 'I ought to apologise. I forgot you hadn't been long out from
home. We don't mind these trifles in Omeo. Do we, Mrs. Caldwell?'

'Not when people's engaged,' said the matron; while Miss Bessie tossed
her head, and said, 'She thought all the gentlemen wanted keeping in
their places; she'd let them know when she'd a young man of her own,
that she would.'

All this was of course painful to Estelle; but fearing, from his changed
expression, that she had hurt his feelings, she proceeded to make
amends, after the manner of her sex, by hastily proffering concessions.
The sudden thought of his melancholy life, of his wrongs and
misfortunes, almost impelled her to beg his pardon in the humblest
manner for the involuntary slight. Yet the thought _would_ obtrude
itself of how differently Mr. Stirling or Mr. Dalton would have acted
under the same circumstances, and a sigh told how grieved she felt that
any environment, how sad and mournful soever, should have obscured the
refinement so inherent in the blood of Trevanion.

Prompt to redress the fancied injury, she placed her hand within his
arm, saying, 'I think the best thing we can do is to go for a nice long
walk on this lovely day, and you shall show me a little of the
"field,"--you see I understand diggers now,--and your hut, where you
have been living all this time by yourself, you poor lonely hermit that
you were.'

"Now that's the way to behave," said Mrs. Caldwell, smiling, with
motherly approval; "I see you'll know all you've got to do after a
while--girls is flighty at first, Mr. Johnson."

So they walked forth along the principal (and only) street of Omeo, not
wholly without observation from the miscellaneous crowd of miners,
teamsters, wayfarers, tradespeople, bushmen, and others, with which a
mining town where gold is abundant--and such was then the stage at which
Omeo had arrived--is filled up. More than one head was turned from time
to time to gaze with interest and surprise at the distinguished-looking
though plainly dressed girl 'who had come up to Ballarat Harry.'

'His luck's in, my word,' was the remark of a stalwart miner, who, pick
on shoulder, was following a cart with his mate, conveying their worldly
possessions. 'I wonder if they're going to live in that hut of his on
the ridge. She don't look as if she'd been used to cook in a slab
fireplace, or lift the lid off a camp-oven.'

'Camp-oven be blowed,' rejoined his mate, who was affectionately
carrying a long-handled shovel, as being too valuable an implement to be
trusted in a vehicle, 'they're a-goin' to Melbourne to be spliced; and
most like he'll settle there and take to gold-buying on a big scale.
He's well in, is Harry, by all accounts.'

'It beats me what she sees in him, then--a gal like her, as might have
any man in the whole bloomin' colony, in a manner of speaking. Harry was
a jolly, free-handed chap, as you'd see when he first come, but he's got
that surly and short lately as you'd hardly know him as the same man.'

'Well, I warn't here when he first come, but from the look of him, when
I see him the other day, I shouldn't be surprised if there was something
"cronk" about him, for all his gold-buying.'

All unheeding of this careless but not inaccurate criticism, the lovers
sauntered on. As they cleared the outskirts of the town, Estelle said,
'Now you must show me your hut. I _must_ see the place where you have
lived your lonely life, poor fellow. How I used to pity you, when I
thought of it.'

'There it is, on that rise--this track leads up to it. It's such a
miserable hovel, I hardly like you to see it.'

'Nonsense! you forget I've been to Growlers' and Ballarat, and know all
about diggings. Why, it's the regular thing, like a shooting-box or a
bothy in the Highlands. Everybody does it. Better men than you (I was
going to say) live in huts. Why, this is quite a grand hut! What fine
broad slabs, and a big padlock too. I thought the miners were so
honest?'

'Sometimes,' he said; 'not always.'

They walked into Ballarat Harry's hut. Estelle sat herself down on a
three-legged stool by the side of the still smouldering fire, and gazed
into the pile of ashes on the hearth. Here, for so many a lonely
evening, had he sat and smoked and thought--ah! with what bitterness--of
a lost home, a forfeited birthright, of a father's curse, which,
harmless as thistledown at first, had commenced to be so fatally
prophetic. It _was_ hard. Fate had been against him--against them from
the beginning. But she would make up to him--as far as woman's love
might repair the wrongs of destiny and the cruelty of man--for this
dreadful episode of his life.

'Oh Lance--dear Lance!' she said; 'how you have lived through it all I
can hardly imagine.'

'If I had not had the thoughts of you to keep me up,' he said, looking
at her with eyes of bold admiration, 'I might have given in. But I kept
always saying to myself, _she_ will reward me, Stella will be mine when
we meet, and all the past will be forgotten--and you _are_ mine,' he
said, as he took her hand in his and made as if to exact the betrothed
lover's accustomed tribute.

But again a shrinking feeling of denial--for which she could not
account--possessed her whole frame. She drew back shuddering. 'Pray,
don't let us have any nonsense of that kind,' she said; 'there will be
plenty of time by and by. At present, I feel as if I had so much rather
hear all about your trial and the cruel unjust sentence which ruined
you, and of your life in those dreadful hulks; I always wonder how you
managed to escape.'

For one moment the flash of his eyes in stern displeasure reminded her
vividly of bygone days and their lovers' quarrels at Wychwood. Then he
spoke, in a voice studiously free from irritation--

'I got out through the help and managing of Tessie Lawless--a girl that
cared a deal more for me than you do, if that's the way you're going to
treat me. You've forgotten our old Wychwood days, I suppose. Well, as
you'll have to leave to-morrow, or next day at furthest, for Melbourne,
and we go different ways, we mustn't fall out, must we? I can wait. So
we'd better talk over this journey.'

'Now don't be cross, my dear Lance; you must give me time. Remember,
I've been a lonely and very sad woman for years, and all thoughts of
love and marriage were put out of my head. Do tell me of your escape.'

'Well, I DID escape,--which is the chief thing that concerns us now,--or
I believe I should have hanged myself, like the fellow that was in my
cell before me--or got shot, like two other men, for trying to clear out
by day. What I suffered, no tongue can tell!'--here he assumed the most
tragic expression possible, and groaned as if at the recollection,--'the
very thoughts of it make my blood boil.'

'But how did this girl--Tessie Lawless, was that her name?--succeed in
releasing you?'

'Well, she persuaded a man who, I believe, was pretty sweet after _her_,
to come one dark night with a boat to the stern of the old hulk. She
sent money and bribed my warder, so I was able to get out and drop down
into the boat. After I was free, she sent a man and two horses to where
I could meet them, and I came up here.'

'What a brave girl! I should like to see and thank her. She must have
been a great friend of yours?'

'Well, I suppose she thought a good deal of me in her way, poor thing. I
believe she's in Melbourne somewhere, but I've never seen her since.'

'You don't seem to have been very anxious to thank her for all the
devotion and courage, I must say. It's the way of the world, I suppose,
and Australia is very like other places in essentials, I begin to
suspect. And now, what are our plans to be? It will be a risk for you to
remain here longer, I suppose?'

'To be sure it will. You can't tell what may happen. Any day I might be
arrested. Our dart--our plan, I mean--is to get to Melbourne as soon as
possible. You can go down with Holmes Dayton and Con Gray. A policeman
goes with them as escort, and, I think, Gray's sister-in-law. You
couldn't have a safer party. I shall go across country towards the
Murray, and travel a way of my own. We can meet in Melbourne at any
place you arrange, and be married at once--that is, the day before the
vessel sails that we take our passage in for San Francisco. Then we're
off as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and no one the wiser! What do you say to
that?'

'I suppose,' she answered slowly and reflectively, 'that it would be the
best plan.'

'The best plan!' he repeated, almost angrily, while a sudden flash shone
from his eyes, and a frown of impatience crossed his face, which brought
back old memories with magical suddenness. 'Why, of course it is. There
can't be any other, unless I hang on here till that infernal hound
Dayrell track me down. But you don't seem to be half keen about it. Can
it be'--and here he changed his voice and looked earnestly, almost
pleadingly, into the girl's face--'that you have changed your mind? If
you have, say so. I have lost home and friends--everything--I know. Am I
to lose you too?'

His eyes rested on the girl with almost magnetic power. Then a blush
came to her cheek, as she replied--

'You have my promise, Lance, and the word of a Chaloner is sacred.
Surely you should know that? Of course I will do as you wish. But--and
here she smiled and raised her eyes pleadingly--you must not be hasty,
but bear with me a little. All things are so strange, and the time is
short. After all my looking forward to our meeting, you have taken me a
little by surprise.'

'Forgive me, my darling,' he said, with well-acted warmth; 'I _was_
hasty, but you know the Trevanion temper--my pride was touched. And you
will be ready to start to-morrow? That horse of yours (old Vernon, or
whatever his name was, is no bad judge, if he picked him) is as fit for
the road as when he left Melbourne. I suppose he expected to get a
commission out of you?'

'You must not talk in that way of my good old friend,' she said gravely.
'He was like a father to me; I can't be too grateful to him and his dear
good wife. But I shall be quite ready to start in the morning with the
people you mention. I am so glad there is a girl in the party.'

As they walked back to the inn, the arrangements for meeting in
Melbourne were discussed in detail and completely sketched out. She was
to go to Mr. Vernon's house, and thence, when apprised of his arrival,
she would meet him at the South Yarra Church, only escorted by her
friends. Mr. Vernon would 'give her away,' and she would ask them to
keep the matter secret. The ceremony would be deferred till the day
before the sailing of their vessel for Honolulu or San Francisco, as
might be decided. Unless Fate intervened with unexampled unkindness, it
seemed as though a burst of sunshine was about to break through the
cloud of misfortune which had so long encircled them.

'By this time to-morrow evening,' he said, 'you will be on your way to
Melbourne. It's lucky you've had so much practice lately in riding. I
suppose you found it rather awkward at first?'

'Awkward?' she said, gazing at him with astonishment, 'Why, you surely
must have forgotten that I hunted regularly the season before you left
home.'

'Oh yes; of course--of course,' he said. 'But I seem to have forgotten
so many things,'--here he assumed an air as of one indistinctly
recalling long-past incidents. 'Then the horses out here are so
different.'

'I don't think that at all,' she answered; 'I have seen some wonderfully
fine horses here. And I am sure my good old Wanderer, that I rode up, is
as grand a hackney as ever was saddled. You mustn't run down Australian
horses, you know.'

'Never mind the horses,' he said pettishly; 'I wish _I'd_ never seen
one, out here at any rate; and now let us settle it all, how we're to
meet, and all the rest of it. I'm to send a note to John Vernon and
Company, Flinders Lane,--is that the address?--and you'll be ready at a
day's notice, won't you?'

'Yes,' she said slowly and half absently; 'I suppose so.'

'You see it's this way,' he said, coming still nearer to her and looking
into her face as if to read her inmost thoughts. 'I can't afford to hang
about Melbourne. What I've got to do is to find out the first steamer,
take our passages as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, then get the license: there's
a church close by the Vernons, isn't there, where all the swells
go?--Toorak, or some such name. We slip over there before lunch, and
next day we're man and wife and at sea--clear of Australia--free and
safe for ever! What a sell it will be for those bloodhounds of police!'

As he spoke rapidly, his eyes gleamed with unholy triumph, carefully
schooled as was the general expression of his countenance. In spite of
her deep abiding sympathy for his sorrows, the girl's gentle spirit
recoiled from the savage satisfaction displayed in his closing words.

'Oh! Lance,' she said, 'do not speak like that. It pains me to hear even
a tone of lightness about our deliverance. If God permits it, we should
be thankful all our lives. But even if there has been pursuit, these men
that you so hate have only been doing what they supposed to be their
duty.'

'You are an angel,' he said, with an air of deepest conviction and
tenderness, 'too good for me and for every one. For your sake, I suppose
I must forgive these rascally traps, especially if they don't run me
down. And now, as we shan't see each other in the morning, just one kiss
before we part for the last time.'

But again she drew back; the same indefinable feeling of repulsion arose
in her instinctively, as strong, as inexplicable. 'You have not long to
wait now,' she said softly; 'until then, you must humour all my whims.
You will, Lance, won't you?'

'I suppose so,' he said half sullenly; 'women are all alike, full of
fancies. But I _did_ think you would remember old days. You used not to
be so stand off and distant.'

'We were girl and boy then,' she said. 'Everything seems so changed. I
can hardly fancy even now that we are to be married in a fortnight,
though I have come all this way to find you out. Some strange mysterious
feeling stirs within me from time to time. I can hardly explain it. It
is almost like a presentiment of evil.'

He laughed suddenly, and as suddenly stopped. '_I_ am not changed,' he
said, 'except by what I have gone through'; then he dropped his voice
into a mournful murmur, as he carelessly and apparently by chance
touched the Chaloner ring. 'But if you can't make up your mind; if you
would like to cry off, to leave me to my fate, say so in time. Perhaps
it would be better for you after all.'

'No, Lance!' she said, and as she spoke she raised her eyes heavenward,
moist with tears of tenderest sympathy, as the thought rushed across her
brain of his lonely and desperate condition, abandoned by _her_ as by
all the world. 'We Chaloners keep faith. I am your plighted bride, and
I am ready to fulfil my vow, my promise to the living and to the dead.
But you must bear with a woman's weakness and consider how little time I
have to prepare. What would they say at Wychwood, I wonder?'

'We're in Australia, Stella, and not in England--don't forget that,' he
answered, the frown again darkening his countenance. 'I hope we shan't
see the old country for many a day. We must learn to forget old ways and
fashions.'

'I can never do so, wherever we may wander,' she answered, with quiet
emotion. 'I don't like to hear you speak of it as a thing of course, and
I wish you would call me Estelle, Lance, not Stella. You never used to
do so.'

'Very well, Estelle,' he said, 'I won't do it again, if it bothers you.
Stella's a common name out here; that's the reason, I suppose. And now,
as we're at the hotel, we'd better say good-bye. I won't come in the
morning. It's no use making people talk; they're ready enough, without
helping them. You and that Miss Graham can get away with old Dayton
to-morrow. It's the way everybody up here travels, and nothing's thought
of it. I'll write the moment I get down. Most likely I'll be in
Melbourne as soon as you.'

They parted with a simple hand-clasp, she gazing into his face as if to
read the signs of a spirit worn and wearied with the worldly injustice.
His face was calm, and betrayed no emotion other than deep regret at the
departure of a friend. He tried to throw into the parting words the
sentiment which the occasion demanded, but it was patently an effort,
and had not the ring of truth or tenderness.

'He _is_ changed,' she told herself, as she moved forward across the
verandah of the hotel and sought her bedroom. 'How changed, I could
hardly have imagined. But who would not have been altered by the
frightful experience he has gone through! I must try and make him happy,
as some poor recompense for all his sorrows.'

Could she have noted the dark and evil expression of her companion's
face, as he lit his pipe and strode savagely along the path to his
solitary hut, heard the foul oaths with which from time to time he
essayed to relieve his feelings, or the vows of vengeance upon her for
her coldness, she would have deemed him changed indeed.



CHAPTER XXIII


The morning of their departure rose bright and cloudless. The air was
fresh and bracing, for the hoar-frost lay unthawed for hours on the
wire-grass in the sheltered valleys, adown which the little cavalcade
passed on the Gippsland road. The trooper, a young mounted constable of
the Victorian Police, with the storekeeper, Holmes Dayton, rode in
front. Then came Estelle Chaloner and her travelling companion, Janie
Graham, a young girl born and nurtured in the bush, the niece of the
gold-buyer Constantine Gray. She had been on a visit to Omeo (save the
mark!), and was now returning to her friends. They had not gone far when
Dayton, the storekeeper, turning into a forest track which ran at right
angles to the main road, explained that he had occasion to meet an
acquaintance on business, and would rejoin them at the next
stopping-place. The trooper then fell back to effect companionship with
Gray, while the girls succeeded to the leading position.

Mounted on the good steed which she had learned to love, Estelle's
spirits rose as she felt his free elastic motion. Rested by his sojourn
in the inn stable, he paced fast and easily along the forest paths.

Though unable to account for the feeling, Estelle was conscious of a
distinct sensation of relief, almost amounting to exhilaration. She was
quitting Omeo for ever, and she looked forward with pleasurable
anticipation to the few days of wayfaring which the journey to Melbourne
would necessitate.

'It will be my last week of freedom,' she told herself. 'I shall have to
sell you, though, my poor Wanderer, you dear, good, faithful creature!'
and she patted her horse's arching neck and pushed over a stray lock of
his mane. 'Well, wherever I go, and whenever I see the old land again, I
shall never have a better horse. I have ridden some good ones in the old
country, but I doubt if any one of the lot was as sure-footed, as easy,
as untiring--certainly not on the food and treatment you have had to put
up with. I wish I could take you home. Indeed, if we were going back in
the ordinary fashion, I _would_ take you with me, whatever it cost. It
would be only buying you over again; and good horses are cheaper here,
even at gold prices, than in England.

'Now let me see,' she continued, in soliloquy, 'we shall be near
Melbourne by the end of this week. Then, for I suppose it would be
dangerous for him to wait, I must huddle up a few dresses and be
married at once. _Married at once!_' Here she sighed; the light died out
of her eyes, and the freshness of the morn seemed to fade out of her
face. How different was it from the meeting in Australia which she had
promised herself in her more sanguine imaginings! Even if he had been
comparatively poor, her fortune would have sufficed for all needs until
he was enabled to claim his paternal heritage. But now, how
immeasurably worse than poverty was his condition!--disgrace,
dishonour,--irrevocable, perhaps inexpiable,--possibly debarring him
from ever claiming his rights! She saw herself after the vow had been
sworn which bound her to a dishonoured man, a passenger in a foreign
vessel, voyaging to a distant land, with perhaps dangers and privations
in store of which she had no previous conception. How strange and unreal
it all seemed!

But it was too late to despond--to falter. She had promised: she would
perform. Shrinking with maidenly reluctance from the hasty, and in a
measure clandestine, union to which she found herself committed, she
felt compelled to call up all the reserves of resolution, of which she
had so uncommon a portion, before she could still the instinctive
dislike to the next act in the drama of her destiny.

       *       *       *       *       *

As these thoughts--sombre, hopeful, and desponding by turns--passed
through her brain, the bright spring day wore on; the babbling
brooklets, through which their horses plashed ever and anon, ran clear
and sparkling. As Estelle Chaloner mused over her surroundings and gazed
upwards through the tall white-stemmed eucalypts which, rank upon rank,
hemmed in the rugged bridle-track, looked at the trooper, the
gold-buyer, the rustic damsel who was to be by day and night her closely
associated companion, she could hardly realise her own identity. 'How
changed is my _monde_,' she thought, 'in the course of a few short
months--my daily thoughts and feelings, my plans of the present, my
prospects in the future! Am I indeed the same Estelle Chaloner who sat
in the old hall at Wychwood for all the long sad autumn months, who saw
the red leaves fall in those ancient woods, waiting the while for the
last sands of a sick man's life to run out? And now, where am I? and
_what am I_? What I shall be in the future I almost tremble to think.'

Immersed in reverie, she had trusted the conduct of her horse almost
entirely to his own discretion. A hackney exceptionally good in the slow
paces, as are many Australian horses, the Wanderer had, for his own
pleasure and satisfaction, gone forward at the top of his walking speed,
which was sufficiently fast to keep her companion's horse at a jog-trot.
From time to time, at an earlier stage, the rustic maiden had laughingly
protested; then Wanderer was held back. However, in this particular
instance the failure of consideration was unnoticed, until Estelle was
aroused by a cry from her companion, so loud and vehement in tone that
she knew at once that no ordinary occurrence had called it forth.

Reining up sharply, she turned in her saddle to behold a sight which
blanched her cheek and well-nigh froze the life-blood in her veins.

From out the tangled forest growth, emerging from behind a gigantic
eucalypt, two men, masked and armed, had stepped into the roadway,
abreast of the gold-buyer and the trooper. A third man, half hidden by
the bushes, levelled his fire-arm a few paces in the rear. Both girls
sat horror-stricken on their horses as the trooper's carbine and the
fire-arms of the robbers appeared to make simultaneous reports. The
gold-buyer fell heavily from his horse in the road; the trooper
staggered and swayed in the saddle, dropping his reins, but recovered
himself, though evidently hard hit and unable to control his horse. The
wounded man rose to his knees, but at that moment one of the masked
strangers rushed over and struck him over the head. Estelle's eyes
darkened, and she felt as if all sensation was leaving her; but,
recovering herself, she shook her reins, and the free horse dashed down
the slope leading to the creek of which they had been told, with the
speed of a racer, accompanied by her terror-stricken companion, whose
hackney followed suit with the instinct of his kind.

The creek was crossed almost immediately. Mile after mile fled away like
a dream before either of the girls thought of drawing rein. At length,
at the foot of a steep and rocky range, the horses commenced to slacken
speed.

'My God!' said the girl, 'did you see that? They have murdered my poor
uncle! Whatever shall we do? Do you think they will come after us? Is
there any house that we can go to along this horrid road? I know we
shall both be killed and planted so as never to be heard of again.'

'Let us think over our best course,' said Estelle, aroused to the
necessity of self-possession in the hour of need, and in the presence of
a weaker nature. 'I remember this range. Five miles on the other side is
an inn, near a water-race. If we can get there we are safe; there seemed
to be a good many people about when we passed up. But I hear horses
galloping after us. Good heavens!'

They stopped, and, listening, could plainly hear the sound of more than
one horse coming fast along the rocky road behind them.

'We must turn into the wood,' said Estelle; 'fortunately it is thick
enough to hide us until we see who are following up.'

They rode some distance into the forest, the low-growing pendent shrubs
of which, the product of a damp climate and constant rainfall, were
sufficiently dense to shield them from observation.

Nearer and nearer came the hoof-beats. The girls gazed anxiously through
the close foliage. Then a chestnut horse came round a corner of the
range, upon which sat a man whose arms were apparently helpless.

'Great Heaven!' said Estelle, 'it is Beresford the police trooper. He
has been wounded in the arms. See! he cannot hold the reins, poor
fellow!'

'That's his chestnut horse,' said the rural young lady excitedly; 'I'd
know his blaze and white stockings a mile off. But what's follerin' him
up? I'm blessed if it ain't poor old Uncle Con's horse, and he's got his
pack all right and reg'lar too. Those chaps is gone cronk and done their
villainy for nothing. I'm dashed if I ever see the like!'

'We had better catch them up,' said Estelle; 'the Lawyers Rest is hardly
five miles distant. We might help that poor Beresford.'

Suddenly relieved from the deadly fear of the close presence of the
wretches whose deed of blood they had witnessed, the girls put their
horses to full speed and overtook one fugitive before he reached the
hill-top. Bending down from her saddle, the Australian maid caught the
pack-horse's bridle, bursting into tears and loud lamentation as she
recognised her dead kinsman's effects attached to different sections of
the pack-saddle.

'Poor old Uncle Con,' she said, 'there's his mackintosh, his water-bag,
his billy-can--all the old traps I know so well. Many a time I've joked
him about them--so particular to have everything handy for camping, he
was. He won't camp no more, poor old man! He said it would be his last
trip, and so it was. I wonder if I shall live to see those villains
hanged? That old wretch Coke's in it for one, I'll swear.'

Scarcely had they ridden another mile when they overtook the police
trooper. Partly disabled and in pain, and guiding his horse with
difficulty, the deathlike pallor of his face told of weakness from loss
of blood; yet he braced himself gallantly for the work that lay before
him.

'Let me hold your rein,' said Estelle, as she rode up to his horse's
shoulder; 'are your arms badly hurt?'

'Riddled through and through,' said the young fellow, groaning. 'The
brute must have loaded with slugs; my wrists feel the worst, and there's
a hole in my shoulder as well. I may get some one to ride back with me
from the inn. I can't leave poor Con dead on the road.'

The sight of the unpretentious slab edifice with a bark verandah which
was dignified with the title of Lawyers' Rest was more grateful to
Estelle's strained vision than would have been the most palatial hotel
in Europe, for around it stood a dozen men, while several horses, 'hung
up' to the palings of the little garden, testified to an unusual
gathering. The trooper's dull eye brightened at the sight, and he looked
as if the spirit within him had power to overcome the weakness of the
flesh. They rode up to the door, a strange cortège, in the eyes of the
miners and squatters there assembled--a woman leading a horse, upon
which swayed and bent forward a wounded man, while a girl followed with
a pack-horse heavily laden and mud-splashed to the eyes.

As they reined up amid the excited crowd, the trooper lay forward in a
deathlike swoon, and was only saved from falling by the strong arms
which lifted him from the saddle and bore him tenderly to a couch.

In broken and disjointed sentences Estelle described the deed of blood,
while the gold-buyer's niece inveighed wildly against the murderers of
her uncle. He was a well-known man, and a corresponding degree of
indignation was aroused, while all necessary steps were taken for the
relief of the fugitives.

The gold was removed, and, after being weighed in the presence of
witnesses, deposited with the landlord, as also the other effects of the
deceased. Wanderer and his comrades were stabled, a comfortable room
prepared by the landlord's wife for the girls, while a dozen well-armed
men were ready to start for the scene of murder within ten minutes of
their arrival. With them rode Trooper Beresford, recovered from his
faint. Revived with eau-de-vie de Cognac, he insisted on accompanying
them.

But this was a bootless errand. Beresford pointed out where the men
first appeared from behind the buttress of the forest giant. The tracks
were as a printed page to the experienced dwellers in the waste who
stood beside him. But the gold-buyer lay dead in the centre of the road.
From a gunshot wound the blood had welled forth into a pool, while his
skull had been cleft with more than one stroke of an axe.

'We'd better take him back to the shanty with us, boys,' said one of the
older men, by common consent elected to act as leader. 'You young chaps
as has got sharp eyes hunt about, and don't leave so much as a button
behind if you come across one, next or anigh him. It's no use follerin'
the tracks for more than a bit, just to see which way they've headed.
Beresford here ain't fit, and if they're the men we suspect, one of
'em's near Mount Gibbo by this, and the rest many a mile off some other
way.'

So the dead man was placed on a horse, and the party wended their way
sadly back to the little hostelry with their silent blood-stained
companion.

On the morrow, at a formal meeting, it was decided that a strong body of
volunteers, with a black tracker, should follow up the trail of the
murderers. A reward sufficiently large to tempt an accomplice was
offered for information leading to a conviction, an old comrade of the
dead man subscribing more than half the amount. A messenger had been
despatched to the nearest police station, and the Coroner shortly
arrived to hold an inquest upon the body.

This melancholy business having been completed, and a verdict of 'wilful
murder by persons unknown' having been brought in, Estelle felt
sufficiently recovered to recommence her journey. Now that she had
experienced one of the dread realities of goldfields life, much of her
former confidence had departed. She felt an overwhelming impatience to
regain the security of civilisation, and cheerfully accepted the offer
of the escort of the Coroner, who was also a police magistrate. He
accompanied her as far as the next township on the way to Melbourne.
There were also a couple of police troopers _en route_ for the barracks
at Jolimont, so that nothing better could be wished. At the township
they fell in with a squatter and his daughter bound for Melbourne, with
whom they joined forces till Toorak once more rose to view and the
winding Yarra Yarra. And now this strange and terrible occurrence had
passed like the horror of a dream, and Estelle Chaloner was again in
Melbourne, safe under the sheltering wing of Mrs. Vernon. Awakening on
the first morning in that well-ordered home, she felt as if evil-hap or
danger could never menace her more. Shaken in nerve and outworn by the
journey, words could faintly express the need she felt for rest. Yet a
shuddering dread possessed her lest she might be destined for
experiences not less terrifying and lawless in her future.

But no season of repose was as yet for her. She must risk whatever
further trials fate had in store. Her word was given; the plighted vow
must be kept. The life, the very soul of him to whom she was pledged to
entrust all that womanhood holds most sacred, trembled in the balance.
Was she, from girlish timidity, from mere nervous shrinking and feminine
reluctance, to which she could not give a name, to draw back meanly from
mere personal considerations? What were her wrongs and probable
privations to _his_? The die was cast.

Early in the following week the half-expected, half-dreaded fateful
letter arrived. 'He had taken _their_ passage,'--'_our passage_,' she
repeated to herself--'in the _John T. Whitman_ for Callao, in the name
of Mr. and Mrs. H. Johnson. He had arranged for the marriage at the
little church at South Yarra, on the morning of the day the vessel was
to sail. She would sail on that afternoon, and no humbug about it; he
had seen the first mate and made things right with him, so his
information was good. Nothing remained, then, but for his heart's
darling Estelle to hold herself in readiness to be at St. Mark's at the
hour appointed, and all would yet be well. What he had suffered since
they parted, no tongue could tell!... She might imagine his feelings
when he became aware of the diabolical crime that had been committed. He
was half-way to Melbourne when he heard of it. No doubt justice would
overtake the guilty parties. '_She_ had escaped--that was everything.
Poor Con Gray was right when he said it should be his _last trip_.'

And so the day was at hand--close, inevitable! This was on Tuesday.
Saturday was the day fixed for the sailing of the _John T. Whitman_--for
the joining of two hearts, two bodies, two souls--irrevocably,
eternally--in this world and the world to come. For how can the human
mind realise the essential dissociation during the probation of this
earthly life, or even amid the spiritualised conditions of another
existence, of those _once_ made one flesh--wedded, and welded together
under the sanction of the most tremendous of human sacraments?

Like most prospective occurrences seen dimly and afar, Estelle Chaloner
had not closely analysed her feelings when the day of doom should
arrive. Now, she experienced a kind of minute analysis of her
sensations, distinctly painful in its intensity. She read and re-read
Lance's letter, and, among other things, marked with surprise an
occasional lapse in grammar, or the use of a small letter when a capital
was imperative. Even the handwriting, though more like Lance's letters
from school than his latter-day epistles, seemed cramped and laboured.
'Poor fellow, poor fellow!' she said softly to herself, 'I suppose he
hasn't written much lately. Australia is a bad country for
correspondence, and yet----' here she smiled and blushed slightly as she
recalled the pile of home letters she had watched Mr. Stirling despatch
one Sunday morning, and her playful reference to his dutiful habits.
'People differ in Australia, I suppose,' she continued, 'as in all other
places. What ignorant folly it is to think otherwise!' and again she
sighed--sighed deeply; then rose from her seat half impatiently. 'It is
my fate,' she said; 'man or woman, who can escape their destiny?'

Of course, all Melbourne rang with the account of the Omeo Tragedy, as
it was called. Every provincial paper, from one end of Australia to the
other, had its moral deduction, its elaborate amplification. Murders and
robberies were unhappily far from infrequent in those early days of the
Gold Revolution--that social, political, and pecuniary upheaval which
overturned so many preconceived opinions, and changed the destinies of
states no less than individuals.

But for this special crime the horror was universal, the clamour for
vengeance upon the villains who had done to death a worthy and
inoffensive citizen was exceptionally loud and persistent. A friend of
the murdered man offered three hundred pounds for information leading to
conviction; the Government as much more. It was confidently hoped that
such 'honour among thieves' as existed would disintegrate before so
powerful a solvent.

Meanwhile Estelle found herself, to her surprise and slight annoyance,
placed involuntarily in the position of a heroine. Her portrait was in
the illustrated papers; not, however, limned from any miniature, but hit
off from a thumb-nail sketch made by an ingenious but deeply respectful
young gentleman connected with the press, during the passage of a brief
interview. It had leaked out in some way, probably through her
travelling companion, that Estelle was about to be married to a man
connected with mining pursuits (so he was described) at Omeo. This fact
was dwelt upon and emphasised as adding to the natural interest felt in
the case. This version of the affair was more than distasteful to her;
as, apart from her natural disinclination to be described and commented
upon from every conceivable point of view, she dreaded lest the
additional publicity forced upon her private affairs might prove fatal
to

Lance's freedom.

The bridal preparations, however, went on. Mrs. Vernon, having once
expressed her sincere regret at the sacrifice, so complete and uncalled
for, which Estelle was about to make, and having withstood, not wholly
unmoved, the indignant remonstrance of the high-souled maiden, remained
acquiescent under protest. Their vessel, an American clipper, was
visited; the cabin allotted to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson criticised, but
finally furnished and fitted up with many a cunning device for staving
off the ills of a life on the ocean wave or lightening the _ennui_ of a
'home on the rolling deep.'

Finally, the very day fixed for the ceremony _did_ arrive. Estelle
appeared at breakfast pale but determined, and about eleven o'clock Mr.
Vernon returned from Melbourne in a cab, prepared for paternal
functions. Then this abnormally small South Yarra wedding-party drove
down the Toorak Road, and, not far from the entrance of Caroline Street
thereunto, alighted before the small but ornate church of St. Mark's.

'By the bye, Estelle,' said Mr. Vernon suddenly (he had long since
arrived at the semi-paternal stage, which included the use of her
Christian name), 'I met an old friend of yours in Melbourne, just down
from the diggings.'

'An old friend?' she replied smilingly.

'Well, one of your oldest in this country, excepting ourselves. Guess
who it was.'

'I am sure I cannot tell,' she said, 'unless it be John Polwarth. I
shall always think of him as a real friend.'

'Not very far off. Was there no one else at Growlers'? Think again.'

'Mr. Stirling or Mr. Hastings then--good and true friends both. Which of
them can it be?'

'Well, it was Charlie Stirling. His father was an old friend of mine,
and a better fellow than Charlie doesn't live.'

'How strange! how wonderful!' said Estelle, almost musingly. 'To think
that he should be down here before Lance goes away. Do you think he will
come to see--to see--the ceremony?' And here a blush faintly overspread
her countenance.

'He wasn't sure. Just off the coach, and covered with mud, but would
rush off to his hotel and do his best. Then he told me a piece of news
about himself.'

'What was that?'

'Why, he had got a year's leave of absence, and as he had made a lucky
hit in the Coming Event,--a claim that's nearly as good as Number Six,
he says,--he's going to treat himself to a run home.'

'Going to England! Mr. Stirling going home! You don't say so? Who would
have thought it?'

'Well, he is just the man to appreciate it thoroughly. It will improve
him, as it does every Australian with the requisite amount of brains.
Though I really don't see how Charlie Stirling _could_ be much
improved--except by a good wife,' he added thoughtfully.

'I am sure I hope he will find one,' Estelle replied; 'no one is more
worthy of that or any other happiness. I wonder if he will come, and
whether he will think Lance much altered?'

Mr. Vernon made no reply to this latter remark. Indeed he was strongly
inclined to say, 'Confound Lance!'--or even to use a stronger
expression. But he consoled himself with the conviction that it was
impossible to advise women for their good--even the best of them. And
thus reflecting he preceded the little party into the church.

They had purposely delayed so as to be as near the appointed
hour--half-past eleven o'clock--as possible; and the half-hour chimes
from the churches in the city were rhythmically audible as they entered
and took their places. The gray-haired clergyman--a tall, venerable
personage--advanced from the vestry and stood as expectant of the
entrance of the bridegroom. As a side door opened, that personage
entered from the right side of the chancel.

Mrs. Vernon gazed at the newcomer with unaffected interest. In certain
respects he was a man whom no girl would have been ashamed to
acknowledge--tall, erect, stalwart, his dark crisp hair and beard
trimmed according to the prevailing fashion. He looked around with a
quick and searching glance which apparently took in every individual in
the church. Then he fixed his eyes steadily upon the group in the midst
of which Estelle stood, and advanced towards his bride. He smiled as
Estelle murmured his name, and hastily shook hands with Mr. and Mrs.
Vernon, who seemed hardly prepared for the salutation.

There was nothing particular to find fault with in his morning suit, yet
somehow Estelle could have wished one or two details altered.

The bride looked more than once towards the rear of the church, as if
expectant. But the inexorable minutes fled, and walking forward, at a
sign from the clergyman, she knelt before the communion rails. One gleam
of triumph, which, had she caught, would have strangely disturbed her
thoughts, flashed from her companion's eyes. He knelt beside her, and
the time-honoured service commenced.

Every precaution had been taken to secure secrecy in the matter of the
ceremony. When the little party walked unobtrusively in and the service
began, there appeared to be no spectators but those already known and
invited. In some mysterious way, however, the news spread. A wedding is
rarely, if ever, conducted without a few attendants not included in the
original programme. Some few strangers appeared as the clergyman
commenced to read the opening sentences. They were not, however, such as
to attract attention. But just as the clergyman reached the words, 'Wilt
thou take this woman to be thy wedded wife?' two men entered at one of
the side doors and looked searchingly at the bridal pair. One of them
gave vent to a sudden ejaculation, while the other, a tall man in police
uniform, drenched and travel-stained, walked rapidly up to the altar. To
the dismay of the congregation, he placed his hand on the bridegroom's
shoulder. Not less menacing and abrupt were his words than this unusual
act, of such unnatural seeming in a sacred edifice--

'Lawrence Trevenna, you are my prisoner. I charge you with the murder of
a man known as Ballarat Harry, otherwise Lance Trevanion. Put up your
hands,'--here the speaker's tones became harsh and resonant,--'or
by ----! I'll shoot you where you stand.'

At the first touch of the stranger's hand, the bridegroom started as if
to resist his captors, for by this time Charles Stirling stood by
Dayrell's side. For one moment he raised his hand as if to strike his
antagonist, but as he faced the pistol level with his brow, and marked
the Sergeant's steady eye and grim, set countenance, his courage
appeared to waver, then to fail utterly. He mutely acquiesced while the
manacles were slipped over his unresisting hands. At this moment
Estelle, who had been gazing at this strange and sudden apparition with
wide eyes of wonder and alarm, uttered one piercing, heartrending shriek
and fell senseless into the arms of Mrs. Vernon.

Then Mr. Vernon, hitherto silent in wonder, as were the other witnesses
of the scene, moved as if to address the intruder. It was not necessary
to make verbal interrogation; for, advancing a few steps and bowing to
the company, he thus addressed them--

'My excuse to you, reverend sir, and these ladies and gentlemen, must be
the extremely urgent nature of my errand. My name is Francis Dayrell, a
sergeant in the police force of Victoria, at present quartered at
Bairnsdale. I have ridden night and day to effect this arrest, and must
ask permission to congratulate the lady's friends upon her escape from a
fate too terrible to think of. This scoundrel, who has so successfully
personated his victim, the late Launcelot Trevanion, is the husband of
one Catharine Lawless, through whose information his villainy has been
frustrated. Mr. Stirling (here he motioned to that gentleman, who
advanced to where the spectators stood amazed and awe-stricken) is in
possession of the facts. I leave him to make fuller explanation.' Here
Sergeant Dayrell bowed again, not without a certain ease which spoke of
different experiences, and removed his prisoner.

       *       *       *       *       *

It has been remarked that those clever people who dedicate themselves to
a criminal career are prone to small oversights and inadvertent acts
which often lead to their detection when success seems assured. Were it
not so, such are the qualities of coolness and energy displayed by the
'irregulars' of society, that its virtuous members would have but little
chance of survival in _la lutte pour la vie_. After the event every one
is wise; surprised, too, that the criminal should not have perceived to
what his heedlessness plainly led. The evil-doer himself is even
genuinely astonished when, in his interval of enforced leisure, he gains
the opportunity of reviewing his 'plan of campaign.' He perhaps owns to
the gaol chaplain that he has been 'most imprudent.' But generally he is
more concerned to establish a theory of unadulterated bad luck, and to
lay the blame upon every one but himself.

Such misadventure occurred to Mr. Lawrence Trevenna--not less cautious
than daring, as he had previously proved himself to be. He left home
with surly abruptness, telling his ill-used wife that he was going to
Monaro and might be a month or more away. She was not to expect him till
she saw him, and so on. A large draft of horses to take delivery of,
etc.

To these considerate explanations the woman made answer that he need not
trouble himself to hurry back on her account--indeed, if he never came
back she would be all the better pleased. He might spare himself the
trouble of telling more lies than usual, as whatever he did say about
his business would make her believe something different.

'It would serve you right, you jade, if I never did come back,' he
ground out between his teeth, mingling the words with a savage oath. 'I
may take you at your word yet.'

'Do so,' she replied, 'and I'll go down on my knees and thank God for
it. As He is my judge, if it wasn't for the child, you'd never have seen
me here a day after you struck me first. Don't think I've left off
cursing the day I ever set eyes on you--coward and thief--and worse that
you are!'

He looked at her for one moment as she spoke, his eyes so full of
murderous rage that a bystander would have thought to see him strike her
to the earth. But putting strong constraint on himself, as, with a more
than malevolent smile, he bade her go back to the hut and mind her
baby,--'you're my wife now--for better, for worse, you know,' he
sneered. 'Stay at home and mind the house while your husband's away.'

The last part of this admonition was lost upon the person to whom it was
addressed, as with one fierce glance, expressive of the last extremity
of hatred and contempt, the woman passed into the hut and slammed the
heavy door, while her lord and master, whistling carelessly, pressed his
horse's side and moved rapidly away.

In apparent pursuance of his proposed plan, Trevenna rode for a dozen
miles down the Monaro road, then, wheeling suddenly to the eastward,
struck across the bush until he picked up the track which led to Mount
Gibbo. There he met by appointment Mr. Caleb Coke, and was thus enabled
to arrange certain illegal enterprises upon which they had resolved to
embark.

For the first few days after his departure Kate felt little else but an
all-pervading sense of relief, almost amounting to absolute pleasure.
Lonely and depressing as was her isolated life, miles away from any
neighbour; left for weeks at a time without a soul to speak to,--as she
would have expressed it,--she still had her homely and simple
avocations, amid which, like many a similarly situated bush matron, she
found sufficient daily occupation.

She had her baby boy,--a fine sturdy year-old fellow,--her poultry,
milch cows, and small patch of garden, to all of which she addressed
herself in turn. By degrees a softened expression came over her face.
The hard lines died out for a little space. It may have been that she
even repented of the bitter words and angry mood which had of late
become habitual with her. And when in the sunset-time she caught her
roan mare and rode around the paddock for the cows, carrying the
laughing baby boy before her on the saddle, there was a wondrous
transformation of the sullen-browed shrew of the morning.

The days passed on. The weather changed. The fresh, bright, cloudless
days of the early Austral summer commenced to follow each other in
unbroken peaceful beauty. The proud heart of the desolate woman was
insensibly touched by the softening influences of the Great Mother.
'Bird and bee and blossom taught her'--a lesson of self-reproach and
faintly shadowed amendment.

'Perhaps if I took him more easy like, he'd be a better man. Suppose
he'd married Tessie, I wonder if he would have been different. She was
always that quiet and patient with us all. She could get round Ned and
bring him straight when no one else could. Anyhow I might have a try.'

Revolving good resolutions, Kate Trevenna, who, with all her faults, was
energetic and most capable in household work, as are most of the
bush-bred Australian girls of her class, set to work with a will and
made her dwelling and everything within fifty feet of it as neat as a
new pin. The forenoon having passed quickly in this occupation, she sat
down to her mid-day meal,--a cup of tea, a slice of cold corned beef,
with home-baked bread and butter of her own making,--when a traveller
rode up. Him she knew well as a stock-rider on one of the far-out
stations in the Monaro district.

'Come in and have a cup of tea, Billy. Let your horse go for a bit,' was
the invitation by custom of the country. 'You've come a good way, by the
look of him. I'm all alone, you see; Larry's gone a journey.'

'I know that, Mrs. Trevenna,' said the young fellow, taking off his
saddle and putting a pair of hobbles on his horse before he permitted
him his liberty; 'I've just come from Omeo.'

'Omeo? that's not where he went. He's nigh Monaro by this time, and
going farther still.'

'Well, he was in Omeo last Monday,' said the stock-rider, 'or some one
dashed like him. They talked as if it was Ballarat Harry. I don't know
him, but anyhow Larry's bay horse Bredbo was there, for I seen _him_
right enough. I couldn't be mistook about _that_. He was foaled near our
old place.'

'Trevenna at Omeo! Then he never went to Monaro at all!' cried the
woman, with such a look, partly of surprise and partly of wild reproach,
in her eyes that the young man recoiled for an instant. Something was
wrong, he saw with instinctive quickness. He made a futile effort to
undo the domestic damage he felt he had brought to pass.

'Perhaps he changed his mind,' he suggested doubtfully. 'He's such a rum
cove, is Larry. No one knows when he's comin' or goin' half the time.'

'I expect not,' answered the woman gloomily, as if talking to herself.
'Now look here, Billy Dykes,' she said suddenly, walking up to the man
and looking into his face as if her flashing eyes could see his inmost
thought, 'you and I knowed each other this years; you tell me all you
heard about Larry, and keep nothing back, as you're a man.'

The young fellow seemed for the moment to have fallen completely under
the spell of this fierce woman, whose burning eyes and passionate speech
were for the moment suggestive of a disordered brain. He stared at her
for a moment, and then replied--

'There ain't a lot to tell, Mrs. Trevenna; but I expect you have a right
to hear it. He's no man to leave you like this, and there's more than me
thinks it. He's gone to Melbourne, that's what's up. Barker, the
storekeeper, told me.'

'Any one gone with him?'

'No; not as I heard on.'

'You're keeping something back, Billy Dykes. Don't try and humbug me, or
I'll----In God's name, tell me everything. Was there a woman in it?'

'Well, she didn't go with him, they said, but, in a manner of speaking,
it was all the same. He followed her, and a regular tip-top young lady,
by all accounts.'

'Did you hear her name?'

'Miss Chalmers, or Challner; something like that. Not long from
England.'

'_That English girl!_ the _cousin_, of course,' she murmured, in a
strange, low-toned, hesitating voice. 'So she's come out after all.
You're mistook, Billy, old man; it was Lance Trevanion they seen--Mr.
Trevanion, I mean--an Englishman, and very like Larry. They came out in
the same ship. He was to marry this young lady, his cousin. And I know
_he_ was at Omeo.'

'That makes it all right then. You've no call to fret, Mrs. Trevenna,
and I'm dashed glad of it. Only what was old Bredbo doing there? _I saw
him_, and couldn't be mistook. No fear. I know every hair in his tail.'

'It _is_ queer,' said the woman, whose countenance had cleared
wondrously, 'but, law, she may have got away from him on the road and
turned up at Omeo. Anyhow, I'll ride over and have a look. You eat your
dinner now, while I go down the paddock and catch my little mare.'

The bushman addressed himself to the cold beef and damper with a sigh of
relief as he watched his hostess pick up a bridle and walk rapidly
across the horse-paddock.

'She's a hot 'un, by the Lord Harry,' he said to himself, as he filled a
pannikin of tea from the camp-kettle near the fire. 'I wouldn't be in
Larry's shoes for a trifle if he's working on the cross with her. It's
a bloomin' mixed-up fakement, anyhow. I heard as Ballarat Harry at Omeo
was that like him you couldn't scarce tell 'em apart. And of course it
must be him as went down with the girl. But how does Bredbo come to be
there? and old Caleb Coke handy too--like an eagle-hawk shepherding a
dead lamb. It looks "cronk" somehow.'

He had finished a satisfying meal, providing against future
contingencies after the fashion of Captain Dugald Dalgetty (formerly of
Marischal College), of happy memory, when his hostess rode up, sitting
lightly yet erect on her barebacked steed, with an instinctive poise, as
in the side-saddle of the period, such as only the practice of a
lifetime could impart.



CHAPTER XXIV


Accustomed from earliest years to hasty departures, the nomadic
Australian housewife was not long in making her simple preparation for a
hundred mile journey.

The roan mare was carefully saddled and tied up to a tree. A leather
valise was strapped on. Finally the child, dressed for the road, was
brought out and placed upon the side-saddle, where with inbred sagacity
he sat steadily and looked around with a pleased expression. Then Kate
Trevenna, leading the mare to a log, lifted the child, mounted without
assistance, and gathered up the loose bridle-rein.

'We're going different ways, Billy,' she said to her visitor. 'You're
bound for Monaro, and I'm going to be in Omeo to-morrow, if Wallaroo
here stands up. I'll stop with Mrs. Rooney to-night at the Running
Creek, and leave the boy there till I come back. She's awfully fond of
children, and will do for him if it's a month. I'm going to find out the
rights of this business before I come back. I don't know what to think
of it, and so I tell you. If Larry's left me, it's the worst day's work
he ever did in his life. I've got a horrid thought in my head. I can't
hardly bear to think of it. If it hadn't been for you seeing old Bredbo
there I'd have known it was Trevanion. I seen him nigh hand there one
day last month. But _only one of 'em_ at Omeo, and him off to Melbourne
after that girl! There's something that wants taking out of winding. God
send it ain't as black as I fear it is. Well, so 'long.'

Thus they parted. The bushman filled his pipe mechanically while she was
talking, and rode meditatively adown the well-worn track which ran
towards the east; while the woman, giving her bridle-rein an impatient
shake, started off at a fast amble, which her spirited hackney seemed
only awaiting the signal to change into a stretching canter. She held
her boy upon her knee, resting and partly supported against her right
arm. Like bush children generally, he had a natural love for all sorts
and conditions of horse-flesh, and as his baby fingers closed upon the
rein, he seemed contented, even exhilarated by the motion, crowing and
laughing with infantine delight. As for his mother, she appeared to take
little heed of his childish ways, gazing straight before her with a
far-off look in her eyes and an occasional shudder, as some darker
imagining crossed her brooding brain. Occasionally she varied the fast
amble at which her mare slipped along the forest track by a smart canter
not far removed from a hand-gallop, but which, thanks to the easy
gliding stride of the gallant little animal which carried her, did not
render her living burden one whit less safe or easy to carry.

The sun was low when she sighted the paddock fence of the humble
homestead where she proposed to pass the night.

The fence ran across a broad green flat or meadow, which had gradually
widened from the upper portion of the gurgling mountain stream which
traversed it. There were no gates. They were of infrequent occurrence in
those days. But the slip-rails--three in number, and fairly
substantial--showed where means of ingress had been provided.

Scarce half a mile from the primitive entrance, which necessitated her
dismounting, was the hut, or homestead cottage, standing upon a sort of
forest cape high above the rippling creek.

As she rode up to the door of the unpretending building, walled with
slabs and roofed with bark, Kate gave a sigh of relief and stopped her
horse. No one appeared for a minute or two. Then she raised her voice,
in the high-pitched Australian call--originally borrowed from the
blacks, but since heard (unless modern novelists lie) in the streets of
London--ay, even in the 'Eternal City' itself.

Before she had finished the second call, a young woman came running out
from some building at the rear, and with many exclamations made haste to
welcome her.

'The saints presarve us, and sure 'tis Mrs. Trevenna and her darlin' boy
wid ye. 'Tis yourself is the moral of a good neighbor to be coming over
to see me. And yees will stay the night--the Lord be good to us. It's no
time to be travelling after dark. We'll have to take the saddle off
ourselves. Sure we haven't half a man about the place, or as much as a
dog. It's himself is away, and thim all afther him.'

'I'm come to stay the night,' Kate made answer, 'and I want to leave my
boy with you for a day or two while I go to Omeo on business. Now you
have the whole story, Mrs. Rooney. How does that suit you?'

''Tis what I do be praying for,' replied the handsome young Irishwoman,
who lifted down the child without more ado and fondled him effusively.
'Here's my beauty-boy; sure I'll look after him as if he was a young
governor waiting to grow up. It's the darlin' of the world he is; the
finest boy betwane here and Monaro. Come in and tell us your news,
alanna. And the saints be good to us, whatever are ye doing wid the
horse. Are yez going to hobble him, and the paddock the best grass
between here and Gipp Land?'

'I don't doubt that, Mrs. Rooney, but I must be off while the stars are
in the sky, and so I must make sure of Wallaroo. She can spell
afterwards, but she must travel to-morrow, if she never does again. I'll
tell you all about it as soon as I've put Harry to bed.'

'Come in; arrah, don't be standing talkin' there; come in, for the sake
of all the blessed saints. And you looking pale and tired like! Wait
till I get you a cup of hot tay.'

'All right, Mrs. Rooney; I'll be glad to have one. I feel thirsty
enough, though the evening's chilly. But while the kettle's boiling,
I'll take the mare down to the creek for a drink, and then she won't be
rambling about half the night looking for water. I want to be able to
lay my hand on her at daylight, or before. There's a long day before us
to-morrow, and perhaps Omeo won't be the end of it.'

'Saints above!' exclaimed Mrs. Rooney, who, an emigrant not long out
from the Green Isle, and newly married to an 'Irish native,' was filled
with daily wonder at the manners and customs of the bush,--'sure and ye
does be taking terrible rides in Australia. And do ye be telling me
ye'll be at Omeo by this time to-morrow? But hurry now, and I'll have a
cup of tay and an egg and a buttered scone ready for ye whin ye come
back.'

The saddle had been taken off and placed on a wooden stool in the
verandah. Kate led her palfrey down to the clear, fast-flowing streamlet
and watched her drink her fill. She then plucked a few handfuls of the
strong tussac grass which lined the little flat and rubbed dry the marks
on back and girth. This, with a slight general application of the
improvised currycomb, completed in her eyes all necessary grooming.
Slowly, and with eyes on the ground, she retraced her steps, coming
close up to the house before she unloosed the throat-strap of the
bridle.

'Have you got a bell, Mrs. Rooney?' she said. 'I shall know where to
look for her if it's dark.'

'To think of your wanting that now! 'Tis clivir of ye, so it is. Sure
Mick left one here before he went away. Here it is now, and a good
strong strap.'

The bell was fastened round the docile animal's neck, and then only was
she suffered to depart, short-hobbled and quietly munching the tall
gray-green grass, and looking as if no thought of wandering could ever
enter her head. None the less was it probable, as her mistress well
knew, that if slip-rail or panel was down she would be at her old home
by morning light.

The two women sat long over the fire, talking about things new and old,
the baby boy sleeping peacefully the while. Nor did Kate Trevenna find
rest when at length she sought her pillow. An hour before daylight she
dressed and prepared for the road, caught and saddled her horse, which
she fastened to the fence in front of the hut. Taking a cup of tea and a
crust of buttered bread from her warm-hearted hostess, and kissing her
child again and again, she rode away in the darkness ere the first
streak of dawn-light illumined the eastern sky.

'Sure and she's the fine woman,' soliloquised Mrs. Rooney, as she
listened to the sharp hoof-strokes which rang clearly on the rocky
track; 'she has some great sorrow on her entirely, or she'd never leave
the darlin' babe this way. Anyhow, I'll be the mother he's lost, and
maybe more, till she comes back. The saints be between us and harm,'
with which pious utterance the kind, simple soul betook herself back to
bed.

No grass grew under the roan mare's feet. Mile after mile she threw
behind her; now striking out freely at half speed, now pulling up for a
down-hill mile or so, over which she went at her fast, clever amble. Ere
the sun was well up Kate was miles away from her resting-place of the
night. A long day lay before her, for the journey would need every hour
and every minute of the time. Long and tedious was the ride to Omeo. But
the good mare had ere now known many a journey when the saddle had not
been off her back between dawn and dark--far into the night, indeed. The
Kate Lawless of old days was tireless as a forest doe. Some change in
nerve and constitution had doubtless taken place since then. None the
less was she still a woman of exceptional energy and courage. And with
bitter wrongs ceaselessly corroding in her heart, and the haunting fear
of a dark and bloody deed uprearing itself before her in that lonely
ride, she defied alike fatigue and womanly weakness with passionate
disdain.

Mile after mile, over rough track and smooth, as the narrow winding but
still plainly marked bridle-path led, with but rare and momentary halts,
the brave roan mare, with her stretching, gliding pace, at times a
hand-gallop, at times even faster still, swept on. An occasional drink
in a mountain runlet--a half trot up or down the steeper hills--yet all
unflinching, unswerving, the pair held onward their rapid way.

The day was far spent when the straggling tents and red-streaked
mullock-heaps around the Tin Pot Reef came in view.

'Here it was,' she thought, 'where I saw poor Lance last. It isn't far
to his claim--near the old dead urabba log. There it is! I'll go over
and have a look.'

She rode to the spot. The reef was not abandoned. The claim was in work.
The raw-hide bucket was ascending and descending with its
gold-besprinkled load, as so many a time at Ballarat and other places
she had watched it before.

'Curse the gold,' she said aloud, 'and all that belongs to it! It was a
bad day for the country when the first speck was found.'

'Halloo! mate,' she said to the miner above ground who was pensively
turning out the broken quartz on the 'paddock' side of the shaft. 'How
are you doing? Ground pretty good?'

'Might be better--might be worse, missus. Can't complain,' said the man
civilly.

'Wasn't this Ballarat Harry's claim?' she inquired, with an assumption
of carelessness, though her voice trembled and her cheek paled. 'You
bought him out?'

'That's so. Sold it to Yorkey Dickson and me. Yorkey's below. We very
nigh had to fight for it, after that. Some of the "Tips" tried to bluff
us out of it. Harry was a-comin' to see us through. Leastways he told a
young man as we sent to him. But he never turned up. That was queer,
wasn't it?'

'And you never seen him after?'

'Not a sign of him. Yorkey was for goin' into Omeo after him. Only we
heard he was off for Melbourne. So we didn't bother, and the jumpers
gave us best next day.'

'It _was_ strange!' she said musingly. 'He was never the man to say he'd
do a thing and then change his mind. No; good or bad, he'd stick to it,
poor Lance! Well, I must be going. So 'long.'

Slowly the woman rode forward--rode along lost in thought, while the
mare, keeping to the track instinctively, like most bush hackneys,
shuffled along at her fast amble till they came to the Mountain Ash
Flat, which lay between this reef and Omeo.

Here the mare made as if to follow an old cattle track, at right angles
to the road, of which she possibly had previous knowledge.

'Won't do, old woman,' said Kate, aroused from her reverie by the slight
change of direction; 'what road's this, I wonder? More tracks than one
along it--one would think it led somewhere.' She stooped low from her
horse, scanning with keen and practised vision the footmarks upon the
pathway. 'God in heaven!' she suddenly exclaimed, 'how did that come
there?'

In an instant she was off her horse and eagerly grasping at a glittering
speck amid the grass. It was a chain--a gold watch-chain with a curious
coin attached, which she knew well. She had often playfully noticed the
female face upon it. Here it was. She held it to the light. A part was
dimmed and mud-encrusted. It had been trodden into the earth, but since
washed by the rain. And what was the stain, dark red across the gold?
'_His_ chain--Lance Trevanion's chain!' she murmured to herself. 'How
did it come here? Of course he may have dropped it. I'll run these
tracks a bit. It looks as if--as if--but no! surely, it can't--_can't
have been_. Oh, my God! they never could have _murdered him_!' As she
muttered to herself, in disjointed and broken sentences, she led her
horse along the narrow track, searching eagerly for the signs of passage
or conflict--tokens that lie clearer than the printed page to the vision
of the Children of the Waste. Yes! there _were_ footmarks, deeply
indented in places, as of men that bore a burden. Here was a fragment of
a check shirt of the pattern the bush labourer mostly wears, there a
scrap of paper; and at a turn in the thicket-bordered path a
long-abandoned shaft came into view. Lower she bent, and lower still,
scanned yet more earnestly the slight mark of impress, invisible save to
eyesight keen as those of the wild tribes which had been wont to roam
these lonely wastes.

'The grass is longer here,' she whispered to herself in low and ghastly
tones. 'Something's been _dragged_ this way; the edge of the shaft looks
broken down. Oh, my God! poor Lance, poor fellow, is this what you've
come to after all?'

With stern set lips and eyes dry yet burning with deep unsparing hate,
she secured her horse to a sapling. Then lying flat upon the earth,
leaned over the edge of the dark unfathomed pit, and gazed into its
depths, half dreading what her boding fears had shaped. She called too,
at first brokenly, then loudly on him by name--'but none answered.' The
tree limbs they had cast down had been lately dragged a few paces. The
recent mark did not escape her watchful eye. As she looked heavenward in
her despair she caught sight of a soaring eagle. On an adjacent tree sat
a detachment of crows; she knew too well what their presence portended.

She drew herself upward, then walked slowly, almost totteringly, toward
the patient mare. But before reaching her she dropped suddenly on her
knees, and raising her clasped hands cried aloud, 'As God Almighty hears
me this day, I swear that I will take neither rest nor food until I've
got the tracks of the murdering dogs that killed the man I loved. Oh,
Lance, Lance! It was a bad day for you when we met first. But I'll have
revenge on your murderers--revenge--blood for blood--cowards and thieves
that they are. They had him crooked, I'll take my oath. And now,
Lawrence Trevenna,' she said, rising from her knees, 'it's you or I for
it--my life against yours to the bitter end,' she continued, in the same
broken, muttering monologue which she had half unconsciously used since
she had commenced to follow the trail of blood. Half mechanically she
loosed the mare and remounted. Then, giving the reins a shake, the
tireless animal dashed off at half speed--a pace from which her rider
never slackened until she reined up, after the darkening eve had dimmed
the outlines of forest and mountain, within sight of the lights of Omeo.

She had covered nearly seventy miles since daylight. Yet the fast
gliding pace at which she rode up the main street indicated no trace of
fatigue on the part of her hackney. For herself, every nerve seemed at
fullest tension; she felt as if she could have ridden day and night for
a week.

Attaching the bridle-rein to one of the iron staples with which the
verandah of the chief hostelry was supplied, she went at once to the
principal store, never very far from the hotel in country townships.

'Mr. Barker in?' she inquired of a tall slouching youth who was gravely
engaged in selling matches to a Chinaman. Economical of speech, like
most of his countrymen, he silently pointed to a stout man in a check
shirt standing before a desk. To him Kate walked.

'You're Mr. Barker?' He nodded. 'Well, I'm Mrs.

Trevenna! Has my husband, Lawrence Trevenna, been here lately?'

'I don't know as I remember,' said the trader cautiously; 'what sort of
looking man is he, missus?'

'Tall and dark; what most men and all fools of women call handsome. He
_said_ he was going to Monaro, but he's working a "cross," it seems to
me. I shouldn't wonder if he's gone to Melbourne.'

'There's no one left here for Melbourne, or indeed for anywheres,
lately, except Ballarat Harry,' answered Barker. 'We know him well
enough, and your description fits him to a hair. There's been a young
lady as come from England all the way to marry him. It was quite pretty
to see 'em together.'

'So he's gone to Melbourne--Ballarat Harry, I mean?' she asked. 'Did he
talk of being back soon?'

'Well, didn't say much one way or t'other. Rather short and grumpy he
was lately, was Harry. I hardly knowed him, he seemed so different. He'd
had a row with some chap too, and got his face pasted a bit. P'raps that
made him cut up rough like.'

'Was he badly cut, then,' asked the woman, gazing earnestly in the
trader's face, 'or just a bit of a rally like--half in joke, half in
earnest?'

'Not it. A regular hard-fought battle. A fight to a finish, if ever
there was one. First time I didn't notice it so much. Next time I saw
he'd had a fearful pounding. But I expect he's all right now.'

'All right--very likely,' assented the woman absently. 'Can you tell me
where the police barracks are?'

'There's the place, near that big fallen tree, but there's no one in it.
Tracy went away home to White Rock yesterday. The other chap went away
with the gold escort.'

'How far to White Rock?'

'A good thirty mile. There's a straight road; you can't miss it. It
starts south as soon as you cross the bridge over the creek.'

'All right,' she answered, 'there's no turn off?'

'No; half-way you come to a shepherd's hut. There's no one living there
now. Keep it on your left, and the track gets plain again.'

'Thanks; good-night. I must see Tracy on business. I shall be there by
bedtime, I expect.'

Then fared she forth into the night. No rest, no food for steed or rider
till her errand should be done. The game, bright-eyed mountain mare, as
much refreshed by the halt as a less high-caste steed would have been by
a feed of corn, started away as if just mounted. Kate patted the smooth
arching neck. 'Carry me well to-night, Wallaroo, and you'll never have
another hard day's work as long as you live. Not if I own you, anyhow.
And it'll have to be bad times when we're parted.'

       *       *       *       *       *

Away through the darksome close-ranked forest groves--away through the
rocky defiles where the mare's bare hoofs rang from time to time as on
metal--away through sedgy morass and water-laden plain--away through the
long gray tussac grass, which rustled wiry and dry in the hoar-frost.
The stars burned and scintillated in the dark blue cloudless sky. The
low moon rose and stared--redly, weird, and witch-like--upon the
solitary woman threading alone the dim desolate waste. All silently, yet
surely, the slow hours sped. Still wound the forest path, serpent-like,
amid untouched primeval giants. Still clattered the fleet mare's hoofs
along the uneven trail. The great constellation of the southern heavens
had changed the aspect of its cross when a chorus of barking dogs
disclosed the outpost of law and order. A couple of huts, a slab stable,
a small but securely fenced paddock, made up the establishment. She rode
up to the gate of the little garden, and throwing down her reins as she
slipped from the saddle, walked stiffly to the door of the cottage. She
rapped sharply with the end of her riding-whip.

'Who's there?' a man called out.

'It's me--Kate Trevenna. Police work. Look alive.'

'All right, Mrs. Trevenna,' replied a cheery voice. 'Wait till I strike
a light. Here we are. Walk in and sit down.'

'Oh, it's you, Tracy; I'm glad of that. Look here, is your horse in the
stable and fit?'

'Fit as a fiddle; what's up?'

'Hell's up--murder--robbery--the devil's turned out, or something like
it. You'll have to ride, I tell you. Where's Dayrell?'

'At Warrandorf, fifty miles off.'

'That's all right,' she answered; 'he'll do it yet, if he's sharp. Can
you start in half an hour and take a letter to him?'

'Yes; in a quarter. Where's your letter?'

'You go and saddle your horse. You'll have to ride harder than ever you
did since you were in the force, and I'll tell you what to write. Is
your paddock all right?'

'Yes.'

'Then I'll turn my mare out while you're saddling and make the fire up a
bit. I see there's a back log. I must have a cup of tea and a bite
before I go to bed.'

In ten minutes the trooper was back, whistling to himself and apparently
as cheerful as if a fifty mile night ride over a bad road was an
adventure calculated to raise any man's spirits.

'Now, Mrs. Trevenna, where's your letter? You'd better turn in with the
wife when I'm gone and you've made yourself a cup of tea. There's bread
and meat in the safe.'

'How far is it to where Dayrell is? Fifty odd--nearly sixty miles. I can
do it in seven hours--perhaps less. I'll be there soon after daylight,
so as he can start at once.'

'That will do. Get your pen and a sheet of paper and write down what I
tell you. Are you ready? Begin like this--

'This is from Mrs. Trevenna--Kate Lawless that was; every word is God's
truth. Lawrence Trevenna and Coke have murdered Lance Trevanion and hid
his body in a shaft near the Tin Pot Reef. I tracked them down, and
to-day can show the place. Trevenna went to Omeo and passed himself off
as Lance to the young lady that came out from England to marry him. He's
off to Melbourne, where they are to be married and start for England, he
taking Lance's name, money, and wife. Ride like hell if you want to
block the villain's game. Only left here a few days. That's all.'

'By Jove,' quoth the trooper, folding up the paper and putting it
carefully in his pocket, 'that's something like a letter! I knew he was
an infernal scoundrel, but I didn't think he was quite so bad as that. I
do pity you, Mrs. Trevenna; but there's no time, is there? So I'll say
good-bye to my old woman and clear. You chum in with her till
to-morrow. I'll go back with you, and we'll see further about that
shaft.'

Three minutes afterwards the trooper's horse-hoofs clattered along the
stony track. Kate sat long over the fire, from time to time mechanically
addressing herself to the simple meal which she had made ready. Then she
arose, and slowly, with uncertain steps, betook herself to the
goodwife's inner chamber.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus, and by such means, was Lawrence Trevenna tracked--followed up--run
to earth. From what trivial neglect and want of caution in 'blinding his
trail' had the sleuthhounds of the law been loosed upon his flying
steps; and from what apparently savoured of the merest chance had the
avenger of blood been enabled to seize him in the hour of his triumph.
Had but the ceremony been completed, had but the ship which sailed for
Callao on the next day taken 'Mr. and Mrs. Johnson' among her
passengers, what woe, limitless and irrevocable, would have been
wrought! In that day no ocean telegraph was available to intercept the
criminal, to ensure his arrest ere his foot touched the alien shore. Had
but the trooper at White Rock been 'absent on duty,' had Dayrell been
from home when he arrived at Warrandorf, the precious, indispensable
time would have been lost--that day--that night during which a desperate
trooper, careless of life and limb, rode on relays of horses to
Melbourne, and, haggard, sleepless, travel-worn, but cool and resolute
as ever, arrived before the fatal vow was sworn.

Little remains to be told. The once brave, stalwart, gladsome
presentment of him who was Lance Trevanion was recovered from the shaft
and identified beyond dispute. For his murder, as well as for that of
the gold-buyer Gray, Trevenna, Coke, and a confederate named Fogarty
were tried. All difficulties of legal proof and identification were
removed by the consistent conduct of Mr. Caleb Coke. True to his
unvarying principles, he turned Queen's evidence. His life was spared.
Trevenna and Fogarty were hanged. Unaffected by the curses of his
comrades in crime and the execrations of the crowd, Coke retired to
Mount Gibbo, and there lived out to extreme old age an unblest and
solitary life. His secrets died with him, and were only told _sub
sigillo confessionis_.

He retained possession of the hut under Mount Gibbo to the last. But
the wandering bush tramp turned aside with a curse when he marked the
sinister elder standing at his door, or sitting on the rude bank
surrounded by his dogs. It was popularly asserted that he abstained from
the use of ardent spirits, being fearful of betraying the crimes with
the memory of which his soul was laden. But the stock-riders averred
that more than once, when passing the lonely hut after midnight, they
had heard shouts and curses, mingled with screams and laughter even more
dreadful. These were popularly believed to proceed from the Enemy of
Mankind, or some one of his lieutenants engaged in spending the evening
with his sworn liegeman, Caleb Coke.

After such brief interval as sufficed for her recovery from the shock
her feelings had sustained, Estelle Chaloner naturally decided to return
to England. The recurring horror with which she recalled her
providential escape from a fate too dreadful to conceive needed the
anodyne of complete change of surroundings, of which a long voyage only
could supply the requisite conditions. She therefore, to the unaffected
grief of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon, caused her passage to be taken in the good
ship _Candia_, in which the luxurious nature of her cabin fittings, duly
provided by Mr. Vernon, caused much wonder and admiration among the
other passengers. Mr. Charles Stirling, who had been so considerate as
to delay his voyage, 'went home' by the same boat. It did not surprise
her Australian friends to hear that he made such use of the exceptional
opportunities enjoyed by a fellow-passenger, that Miss Chaloner
consented to merge her future existence in that of Mr. Charles Stirling.
This arrangement was completed at St. George's, Hanover Square, after
the shortest interval allowed for the trousseau of a young lady of
position. Mrs. Vernon's remark was something to the effect, that though
she had striven to be true to her plighted faith, she really believed
that Estelle liked Charlie Stirling better all the time.

Number Six, Growlers', was worked out in due course, but not before Jack
Polwarth found himself one of the richest men 'on Ballarat,' as he would
have phrased it. This was what the world calls the height of good
fortune. But there was an even rarer possession which John Polwarth and
his good wife had been gifted with, even before the advent of the gold
so plentifully showered upon them. This was such a proportion of sense
and shrewdness as sudden wealth and its destructive flatteries had no
power to assail.

In accordance with Mrs. Polwarth's aspiration, Tottie had been sent to
one of the best ladies' schools in Melbourne. Here she had received
careful instruction, and enjoyed the privilege of association with girls
of the higher colonial families. Acknowledged to be 'sweetly pretty' in
her maiden prime, as well as amiable, popular, and an undoubted heiress,
no difficulties were placed in the way of her invitation to vice-regal
entertainments. Her father's mansion in St. Kilda was noted for its
princely yet unostentatious hospitality. Small wonder then that
Tottie--beautiful, cultured, a lady in mind and manner, such as her
mother had fondly hoped to behold her, and withal credited with 'pots of
money'--should marry a distinguished globe-trotter, a man of rank and
ancient birth, be presented to her gracious Majesty on her arrival in
England, and gain golden opinions in every sense of the word.

The after-life of Tessie Lawless was that of the woman who, partly from
a natural tendency to self-sacrifice, partly from despair and hopeless
sorrow, remained in the hospital to which she had devoted her life. Her
course henceforth was the onward path of duty. During an epidemic of
fever several of the nurses fell victims to their labours. A modest
inscription in the Melbourne cemetery bears testimony to the anxious
care and continued watchfulness of Nurse Esther Lawless, the best loved
and most deeply respected of all the hospital attendants.

Charles Stirling returned to Australia, but only to settle his affairs,
and so that he might take up his abode in England 'for good.' His wife,
naturally, could never be induced to return to Australia, even for a
short sojourn. In spite of occasional twinges of regret which assail him
when the continued absence of the northern sun tends to lower his
spirits and suggest the 'golden summer eves' of his native land, Charlie
Stirling finds the old country very fairly habitable. His wife's
fortune, added to his own, provides an extremely comfortable, not to say
luxurious existence, as well as an assured provision for the olive
branches. The Honourable Mrs. Delamere (_née_ Polwarth) and her
husband--who will be a peer some day--are frequent and welcome guests.
Mrs. Stirling takes great pride in introducing her beautiful Australian
friend, whose fairy godmother, while endowing her with fortune and
fashion, added the rarer gifts of unselfish kindliness.

The estate and revenues of Wychwood went to the younger son--a
devolution which afforded to all the country people unfeigned
satisfaction, as removing the curse under which they devoutly believed
the family to exist.

One mystery was unravelled, in the closer search made after his
succession among the Squire's papers. In a secret receptacle was
discovered a collection of letters which proved incontestably that
Lawrence Trevenna was his natural son, born two years before his
marriage to the mother of Lance Trevanion. The girl's father was a
disreputable horse-and-turf-tout and betting man in a small way in a
distant county; the girl herself the worthy offspring of such a
father--handsome, bold, unprincipled. The Squire discovered that a
deliberate plot had been laid for him. Hence his previous inexplicable
hatred to all and every form of horse-racing and the gambling therewith
concomitant. Attempts at blackmail were referred to as having been
resisted by legal advice, but finally compromised by the payment of a
comparatively large sum--only a part of which had helped to provide
passage-money and outfit for Lawrence Trevenna. Some fragmentary addenda
to the faded writing and curiously worded letters told of deep and
bitter regret--even of repentance. But the sin had been sinned. The
guilt lightly incurred in the riot of youthful passion had grown dark
and menacing of aspect with the slow gathering years. And 'the vengeance
due of all our wrongs' had haltingly, but with sleuth-hound deadliness,
tracked down his happiness and shortened the wrongdoer's life. But for
the fatal resemblance, the mysterious heritage of unbridled passion
bequeathed to the Ishmaelite offspring, the heir of his ancient house
had doubtless escaped injustice, imprisonment, and death. And now,
'Conrad, Lara, Ezzelia are gone.' A youthful scion--fair, blue-eyed,
mirthful--makes merry in the old halls of his race. But of the wandering
heir--he who defiantly quitted home, and friends, and native land in
search of gold; who vowed to conquer fortune with the aid of the strong
arm and tameless heart; to return successful, rich, honoured of all men;
to claim his bride in his own ancient hall--of him the oaks in the
Druids' Grove of Wychwood murmur to the midnight stars, 'Nevermore.'


THE END



POPULAR NOVELS BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


_ROBBERY UNDER ARMS._

A STORY OF LIFE AND ADVENTURE IN THE BUSH AND IN THE GOLD-FIELDS OF
AUSTRALIA.

     _GUARDIAN_--"A singularly spirited and stirring tale of
     Australian life, chiefly in the remoter settlements....
     Altogether it is a capital story, full of wild adventure and
     startling incidents, and told with a genuine simplicity and
     quiet appearance of truth, as if the writer were really drawing
     upon his memory rather than his imagination."

     _SPECTATOR_--"We have nothing but praise for this story. Of
     adventure of the most stirring kind there is, as we have said,
     abundance. But there is more than this. The characters are
     drawn with great skill. Every one of the gang of bushrangers is
     strongly individualised. A book of no common literary force."


_THE MINER'S RIGHT._

A TALE OF THE AUSTRALIAN GOLD-FIELDS.

     _ATHENÆUM_--"The picture is unquestionably interesting, thanks
     to the very detail and fidelity which tend to qualify its
     attractiveness for those who like excitement and incident
     before anything else."

     _WORLD_--"Full of good passages, passages abounding in
     vivacity, in the colour and play of life."


_THE SQUATTER'S DREAM._

     _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"It is not often that stories of colonial
     life are so interesting as Mr. Boldrewood's _Squatter's Dream_.
     There is enough story in the book to give connected interest to
     the various incidents, and these are all told with considerable
     spirit, and at times picturesqueness."

     _FIELD_--"The details are filled in by a hand evidently well
     conversant with his subject, and everything is _ben trovato_,
     if not actually true. A perusal of these cheerfully-written
     pages will probably give a better idea of realities of
     Australian life than could be obtained from many more
     pretentious works."


_A SYDNEY-SIDE SAXON._

     _GLASGOW HERALD_--"The interest never flags, and altogether _A
     Sydney-Side Saxon_ is a really refreshing book."

     _ANTI-JACOBIN_--"Thoroughly well worth reading.... A clever
     book, admirably written.... Brisk in incident, truthful and
     lifelike in character.... Beyond and above all it has that
     stimulating hygienic quality, that cheerful, unconscious
     healthfulness, which makes a story like _Robinson Crusoe_ or
     _The Vicar of Wakefield_ so unspeakably refreshing after a
     course of even good contemporary fiction."


_A COLONIAL REFORMER._

     _GLASGOW HERALD_--"One of the most interesting books about
     Australia we have ever read."

     _SATURDAY REVIEW_--"Mr. Boldrewood can tell what he knows with
     great point and vigour, and there is no better reading than the
     adventurous parts of his books."





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