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Title: Fern Vale (Volume 3) - or the Queensland Squatter
Author: Munro, Colin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    FERN VALE

    OR THE

    QUEENSLAND SQUATTER.


    A NOVEL.

    BY COLIN MUNRO.

    IN THREE VOLUMES.
    VOL III.

    LONDON:
    T. C. NEWBY,
    30 WELBECK STREET, CAVENDISH SQUARE.
    MDCCCLXII.


    EDINBURGH:

    PRINTED BY THE CALEDONIAN PRESS,

    "The National Institution for Promoting the Employment of Women
    in the Art of Printing."

    SOUTH SAINT DAVID STREET.



FERN VALE.



CHAPTER I.

    "What sport shall we devise, here in this garden,
    To drive away the heavy thought of care?"

    RICHARD II., _Act 3, Sc. 4_.


Three days after that to which we brought down our narrative in the last
chapter the morning broke calmly and serenely over the wooded wastes of
the bush; and while the pleasant zephyr of the morning tempered the rays
of the sun, as he sped his course to the zenith, a happy party of
equestrians might have been seen cantering by the bridle path between
Strawberry Hill and Brompton. That party consisted of our friends,
Mrs., Miss, and Tom Rainsfield, and the Fergusons, accompanied by their
black boy Joey. The van was led by the first named lady, accompanied by
William Ferguson, while the others followed riding two abreast, having
paired off in a manner most congenial to themselves. The rear was
brought up by Joey and William's dogs, who coursed through the bush in
seeming delight at the prospect of wearing off a little of the rust that
had grown on them from their late inertness.

They had ridden for nearly four hours when they slackened their speed a
little as the noon-day sun became more powerful; while, at that moment,
they came to a beautiful little spot where a grassy slope terminated in
a lagoon, whose waters appeared to the travellers clear and refreshingly
cool. Here Mrs. Rainsfield drew up her horse, and proposed a halt for
tiffin; which being generally assented to, the party dismounted. The
bridles of their horses being each fastened round a tree, some
down in a shady spot on the green sward, and partook with that hearty
zest that can only be appreciated by those who have been similarly
situated.

When perfectly refreshed they proceeded on their way, and arrived at
Brompton before the close of the evening. There they were hospitably
received by Mr. and Mrs. Smithers, and very graciously by Bob, who was
all urbanity for the occasion. They found several of the guests had also
arrived, those, who like themselves had arrived from a long distance;
and the house then was as much a scene of gaiety as if it had been the
grand reunion itself. The evening passed pleasantly enough; but, our
object being more particularly to picture to the reader the _fêtes_ of
the following day, we will draw a veil over the company for the night,
and introduce them again on the morning.

The morning in due time came; and was simply a repetition of those
common to a Queensland summer. A cloudless sky spanned the horizon, in
which the sun had a tropical brilliancy, without the scorching power
incidental to most sunny climes. The air was genial and salubrious, and
the balmy breeze bore on its placid wings the aroma of the surrounding
acacia and mimosa. It was such a day as poets love to picture, but
which, to the incredulous matter of fact denizens of "foggy England," a
description only generates a confirmed and unqualified pyrrhonism. With
all the exercise, however, of the scepticism of our friends in the "old
country," it, nevertheless, does not diminish the lustre of such
glorious sunshine as, we again repeat, is to be found nowhere in such
tolerant perfection as in Queensland, and which marked the morning to
which we allude. Perhaps the weather was a little warmer than usual, and
the atmosphere drier; rather more so, in fact, than the settlers
desired, for their rivers and creeks were getting low, and many were
desiring rain to refresh their grass, and refill their water-holes and
courses. However, such desideratum had no consideration with the party
assembled at Brompton, whose sport at the time they seemed determined
nothing should mar.

The great _fête_ of the day was to be the races; and it was then that
the agrarian beauties of Brompton showed to advantage. It may be
remembered in an early chapter of our story we gave a cursory sketch of
the station, but in the event of its topography having escaped the
memory of the reader, we will again partially repeat the description.
For some considerable distance down the bank of the Gibson river the
land was almost perfectly level, and unusually free from timber. It was
fenced off into paddocks of considerable size. Towards the centre of one
of these was a swamp, from which the surrounding ground had just
sufficient rise to constitute it the reservoir for the drainage of the
land; while towards the river, and immediately on the bank, the land
rose in a little knoll. Here then was a naturally formed race course;
and, by the erection of a few posts, a course was marked out that for
amenity, level, turf, and convenience of sight, it would be difficult to
surpass.

Towards eleven o'clock nearly all the expected guests having arrived,
and the ground became a lively scene as the gay and well-mounted
equestrians cantered in laughing and merry groups backwards and
forwards; some few, more exhilarated or pedantic than the rest, trying
the course and the mettle of their steeds. The guests of the Smitherses
were not the only ones who had congregated to witness the sport. Other
visitors of a more plebeian character, and self-invited, were there; all
those within a circuit of some thirty miles, who by any possibility
could obtain release from their work, had camped themselves in the
neighbourhood to be spectators. The company had ridden over the ground,
and had dispersed in all directions; when the horses "entered to run,"
decorated with their party-coloured rosettes, and led by their
respective riders carrying their saddles, were descried coming on to
the course; and speedily the scattered parties converged to the knoll we
have mentioned, and which now served for a grand stand.

The horses approached the post; and the necessary preliminaries having
been gone through, they assumed their places; when the few of the
spectative portion of the company, who still remained in the way,
speedily retired, responsive to the call of "clear the course;" and,
after the usual amount of "false starts," the signal was given that was
unanimously acted upon, and away went the horses.

Horse-racing is the same all the world over, at least in all parts of
the globe where the Anglo-Saxon race holds sway. Therefore we need not
tire our readers by giving a prolix account of this one in particular.
We will merely say that the usual excitement prevailed at the start,
when the horses and their riders received respectively their due amount
of praise from their various admirers, whose bets were interchanged on
the result of the struggle. That the exciting anxiousness in watching
the progress round the course was there equally apparent That the
various hopes and fears of the betters as they witnessed the pulling up
or the falling away of their respective favourites; the intensity of
excitement; the uttered remarks; and the increasing watchfulness, as
some slight rise on the plain or piece of heavy ground tried the mettle
of the high-blooded animals, were all to be seen and heard there; and
that the other excitements of such a scene were equally noticeable. That
breathless interest as the horses approach the straight run to the
winning-post; the last exciting struggle of man and beast, when the
impatience of the former is administered to the latter in whip and spur;
the shouts of the jockeys mingled with the snorting of the steed, when
both are blended in the thunder of the latter's hoofs, which shakes the
very turf; while the straining animals pass the post with the seeming
velocity of steam.

As the panting and foam-covered horses, and exhausted-looking riders,
returned to the scales, the tongues of the assemblage were loosened; the
groups reunited; and, in the interval between that and the next race,
cantered about; while some of the younger equestrians emulated among
themselves the previous competitors. A small tent had been erected on
the bank of the river for the dispensation of refreshments, and for a
shady retreat for the ladies; and thither many resorted.

At this period of the amusements our friends had formed themselves into
a group with Mr. and Mrs. Smithers; but without Bob, who had been a
rider, and was the winner of the late race. They had leisurely ridden
round the course, and had returned to the stand, when Eleanor expressed
to John Ferguson (in whose company she had been riding) a desire to
dismount, and take a seat in the tent. He was instantly out of his
saddle assisting her to the ground, and (after giving their horses in
charge of a black boy) handed her to a seat in the shade. Bob Smithers,
who had divested himself of his riding costume for his ordinary
habiliments, then entered; and rudely brushing past John, advanced to
the girl and took her hand, while he exclaimed:

"Come along with me, Eleanor, I want you."

The abrupt manner of his entrance, his forcible abduction of the lady,
and his uncouth behaviour to himself, rather annoyed John. But the look
of patient endurance, mingled with entreaty, which Eleanor cast upon her
rough protector, struck our hero as containing more melancholy and
suffering than was to be expected in a young affianced bride, whose
nuptials were speedily approaching. It more than convinced him that his
friend Tom was right when he said that Eleanor Rainsfield could never be
happy with Bob Smithers. With a mind strangely agitated between fears
and hopes John emerged from the tent to see the being he loved leaning
on the arm of his rival, and going through the ceremony of several
introductions.

She freely entered into conversation with her new-made friends; but the
party being augmented by some others, to whom we presume Bob Smithers
did not condescend to introduce her, he led her away; and they walked
arm in arm to another part of the ground, apparently in earnest
discourse. She was laying her hand upon his arm, while she looked in his
face, and seemed anxious to impress something upon him; while he
appeared to listen attentively to her remarks, though he ever and anon
burst out into a loud laugh and ejaculated a few monosyllables, which on
each occasion created a faint smile on the features of his lovely
companion.

John Ferguson witnessed all this, and his heart sank within him. Never,
thought he, would woman hang on and talk thus with man, if she did not
love him. "Ah!" he mentally exclaimed, "she loves him devotedly; fool
that I was not to believe this before. Strange infatuation that led me
on to hope, when she herself told me as plainly as she could there was
no hope. I am doomed to disappointment I see; she never can be mine, for
she loves Bob Smithers." And with that melancholy solace John left the
spot of his soliloquy.

What was the nature of the conversation that so disturbed his peace of
mind we do not deem it necessary to reveal, but we are disposed to think
that our love-sick friend came to a too hasty conclusion upon the nature
of the communicant's symptoms. John Ferguson was not sufficiently versed
in women's little natures to be able to construe aright their motives in
their actions, or the impulses that actuate them in their deportment.
His dejection was, consequently, the more acute from the construction he
had put upon Eleanor's conduct. It was true she was engaged to the man
with whom he saw her converse, but he never dreamt to ask himself the
question, if that circumstance was not, in a great measure, owing to
his own dilatoriness; not to classify his supineness under a more
sheepish head.

He was sauntering away in his usual despondent mood when Tom Rainsfield
approached him from behind, administering, as he did so, a smart slap on
the shoulder, with the exclamation: "Why, John, what is the matter with
you? have you been visited by a myth? for you are as white as a sheet.
Come along with me, and I will give you some fun; William and I have
been looking for you all over the ground;" and, without waiting for an
answer or an objection, he led him off to where a party of gentlemen had
assembled to witness the next race. Amongst them were Dr. Graham, Mr.
Brown, and some others, which it is needless for us in our history to
trouble the reader by bringing forward.

When the race was finished they speedily made their arrangements for the
proposed sport Tom had alluded to, which was none other than a Kangaroo
hunt. Mounting their horses, accompanied by some powerful kangaroo dogs
(of which William's figured not the least conspicuously), and, with as
many guns as could be mustered on the station, they started into the
bush in a direction where they anticipated finding game.

These dogs, of which we have made mention, we may be forgiven for a
short digression to describe. They are a breed of the gaze-hound
species, though in many respects they are peculiar to themselves. The
stock was originally obtained from a cross of the Scotch staghound and
the English greyhound, and has made a race which combine in their
character the strength and courage of the former with the fleetness of
the latter, of whom, in colour and form, they have the greatest
resemblance. At the same time they are possessed of a muscular
developement which is essential to enable them to endure the severe
conflicts to which they are frequently subjected.

The party had not ridden far before they descried a herd of kangaroos,
though not within range of shot; the guns, therefore, were instantly
slung, and the dogs and riders gave chase.

The kangaroo as, doubtless, our readers are perfectly aware, is anything
but a graceful animal in its movements. Its fore legs are very short,
and, one would think, of little use, either for ambulation or defence;
but the paws are armed with strong and sharp claws, and in the
diminutive limb to which they are are attached, are possessed of
considerable strength, and can be used defensively with immense effect.
In their propulsion, however, these crural appendages are perfectly
unavailable; for the animals propel their unwieldy looking bodies by
long bounding leaps on their hind legs (which are long and powerful),
springing not from their feet, but by an impulsion from the whole leg,
from the hock joint to the toe, the whole of which length meets the
ground at every leap. In this motion, unsightly as it appears, they are
very fleet, frequently distancing the hardest rider, and only being
brought to bay by the dogs after a tedious chase.

The kangaroos were no sooner sighted by our party than they were away,
the dogs with the lead, down hills across gullies, and up slopes;
through thick underwood, where the exercise of the greatest care was
necessary for the rider to preserve his seat; over fallen logs, and
under pendent branches; dangers frequently occuring simultaneously,
overhead and under foot, and requiring the firmest seat, and the
quickest eye, to avert. All these, which would make the heart of many a
bold steeplechaser quail, but which are incidental to a kangaroo hunt,
were successively gone through by each member of the present party; and
after an hour's hard riding, the foremost horseman, who had with
difficulty kept the dogs within sight, halted when they came to a stand;
and the whole of the sportsmen collected to witness the fight.

An "old man" kangaroo sat on his haunches in a swamp, with his back to
a tree, dealing blows right and left with his epitomized limbs to those
of his assailants who ventured within his reach. The kangaroo had got
into water of sufficient depth to enable him to sit up in it, and guard
himself in the manner we have mentioned, while the dogs were raised off
their feet, and had to attack him at considerable disadvantage. They,
however, were in point of number superior to the game, and the entire
pack (six in number) boldly rushed to the charge. Though they were
successfully beaten off on each attack, and nearly all receiving wounds
that would, probably, produce scars of no mean magnitude, they as
frequently rallied, and returned to the fight.

After looking on for some time, and perceiving that the "old man" was
too knowing for the dogs, one of the party despatched him with a shot,
when he was dragged from his entrenchments, his body deprived of its
tail (which was carried off as a trophy), and left for the dogs to do
the work of further demolition. The hunting party then returned to the
station, but, not being so hasty in their homeward progress as they were
in their outward, it was late in the afternoon before they reached the
scene of festivities. The company at the time was breaking up from the
race-course to return to the house to dine, which important business of
the day having been got over, the guests amused themselves in various
ways until the hour of the _coup de main_, the grand finale--the ball.

We have already explained that a short distance from the house stood the
wool-shed of the station; and at the time of which we write was
comparatively empty, so much so that the bales of wool waiting for
transmission down the country occupied only a small space in the
building, to which we will, with the kind permission of our readers, in
imagination, transport them. The external appearance of "the shed" was
not such as to give the beholder any very exalted idea of internal
splendour; consequently, upon an entrance the eye was instantly struck
with the taste and skill displayed in the ornate arrangements. The
bareness of the slab walls was relieved, if not entirely concealed, by
the tasteful manipulations of the foliate decorator. At the head of the
room, in the midst of a collection of variously tinted green foliage of
numerous forms and leaf, were displayed in letters, some with the yellow
blossoms of the acacia, the magic word "love," under which was entwined,
with the wild vine and the flower of the sarsaparilla, that emblem of
mutual affection, a true lover's knot. Above it was a star of palm
leaves and fern, radiating from a centre, which was concealed by an
immense stag's horn fungus. The side walls were similarly, though not so
elaborately, decorated, and on them shone forth "mirth," and "concord,"
accompanied by various other devices; while at the head of the room, at
the feet of love, stood a piano, which had been removed from the house,
to provide the "spirit of the ball."

The room was illuminated by a bunch of lights, hanging from a rafter in
the centre. Though simply an extemporized chandelier from the hand of a
bush carpenter, it had its material so tastefully hid, by the same
genius that had decorated the walls, that it answered the purpose
admirably for which it was intended. If it did not surpass in effect the
most brilliant crystals, it was at least pretty and unique, and, with
the emerald tints in its reflection, imparted a pleasing and subdued
light, which favourably contrasted its sombre illumination with the
trying glare of the sumptuous city ball-room. The seats were arranged
round the sides of the room, and had their rough nature concealed in the
bush fashion, by being overspread with scarlet blankets, which gave them
the appearance of comfortable ottomans, and afforded a pleasing relief,
both visual and corporeal. The opposite end of the building was
partitioned off by a suspended carpet, which, by being gathered up a
little in one corner, afforded a means of entrance to what appeared to
be the sanctum, but which, in fact, contained the supper and
refreshment tables, duly caparisoned and loaded with the good things of
this life.

The guests congregated in the ball-room at an hour that would have
shocked the sensibilities of English ladies of _haut-ton_. But ceremony
was a thing not worth studying by the lady-guests at Brompton; they had
no occasion to retire to their boudoir and spend hours in getting
themselves up for the evening, or, when their personal adornments had
been completed, to sit waiting until the arrival of a genteel hour, in
an agony of mind lest they should mar the perfection of their
soubrettes' art. Enjoyment was the order of the day at Brompton, and
when it was proposed, shortly after coffee was handed round in the
drawing-room, that the company should adjourn to the ball-room, the
guests made the necessary transition; and in a few minutes the house was
entirely vacated.

The ladies of the company were for the most part married; hence we may
not be accused of partiality in declaring that our two friends, Eleanor
and Kate, far surpassed in beauty all their compeers, and shared between
them the adulation of the sterner animals. It could not be
satisfactorily determined which was the belle of the evening; for the
admiration of the gentlemen was about equally apportioned, and it was
difficult to decide between two such blooming beauties.

We think we hear some of our readers enquire, "how were the ladies
dressed?" On that point, fair mesdames, we would crave your especial
indulgence. We know that is a theme on which you love to dilate; but we
(though delighted to gaze upon your charming forms, graced by the
alluring symmetry of your well-fitting and becoming attire) confess
ourselves as ignorant as babes in the technicalities of habilimentary
detail. However, thus much our observations befriended us. We can affirm
that the chief characteristics of the costumes of the gentler sex were
becoming neatness and chaste simplicity, without that unblushing display
which we have so frequently noticed in gay circles; and which, we must
confess, does not accord with our exalted idea of female modesty,
innocence, and virtue. The manner of _our_ heroines was frank, candid,
and gay; without frivolity, affectedness, or coquetry; and their
costumes neat and ladylike.

The hand of Eleanor Rainsfield was so much desired in the mazy dance
that John sought in vain for an opportunity of soliciting a
participation with her in the pleasures of the evening, or even of
entering into conversation with her, until she had danced with nearly
all the gentlemen in the room. Then, she having been led to a seat near
where our despondent hero sat, he seized the occasion to ask her to
dance, which she promised to do after obtaining a short rest. During the
interval they fell into a sort of desultory conversation; but they were
not destined long to enjoy even this intercourse; for Bob Smithers
espying the occupation of his "lady-love," hastened to remove her from
an influence he in no way relished.

"Eleanor," said he, "I want you to dance with me."

"I am engaged for the next dance, Robert," she replied.

"To whom?" he asked.

"To Mr. Ferguson," she answered.

"Oh, never mind, you'll dance with me," said her lord. "Your engagement
with me always ranks in precedence of others; and I am sure Mr. Ferguson
will not mind looking for another partner."

"Mr. Ferguson has been waiting until I was disengaged, Robert," said
Eleanor, "on purpose to dance with me; so I must keep myself engaged to
him for the next dance, but will devote the following one to you."

"Well, as you like," exclaimed Bob Smithers, in none of the most amiable
moods; "if you want to dance with Mr. Ferguson you can, but I wanted to
dance with you myself;" and, casting a look of intense malignity on the
object of his detestation, and one of equal rancour on his affianced, he
strode to another part of the room.

Neither look had been lost on the parties to whom they had been
directed; in John they caused emotions of no pleasurable nature, whereas
Eleanor treated the truculence of Smithers with a calm benignity. The
moistened dewdrop, however, that gathered in the corner of her eye,
discovered to the anxious and watchful perception of John Ferguson the
hidden sorrow that rankled in her breast, and which she strove to
smother, dreading its discovery to the world.

As might be imagined, under such circumstances, the dance was gone
through with mere mechanical action, and with an undisturbed silence;
for the thoughts of both parties were too much occupied on matters
having no immediate connexion with the operation of dancing to indulge
in much conversational intercourse. Besides which they both, or at
least John, was conscious of the jealous eye of Smithers following them
in every movement; and therefore felt the more uncomfortable. It was a
relief to both when the music ceased, and John led his partner (who
expressed fatigue) to a seat; but she had hardly relinquished his arm
before she was pounced upon by Bob, who, as he carried her off, scowled
fiercely on his unfortunate rival.

John Ferguson was of an easy temper, but no man likes being grossly
insulted, and supplanted in the service of the one he loves, therefore
he felt the contumely to which he was subjected; and to calm his ruffled
temper, and to seek refreshment to his aching head, and an emollient to
his fevered brain, he walked out into the cool of the evening
atmosphere. He continued to wander, with his gaze fixed in a thoughtful
abstraction on the star-lit firmament, contemplating apparently the
argentuous brilliancy of the lunar orb travelling its ethereal course,
when his meditations were unceremoniously interrupted by the approach
of Smithers, who hastily confronted him with the following expression:

"I would like to have a few words with you, sir, and if you'll step into
the bush, out of hearing of our visitors, I will speak."

John replied, if he desired to say anything to him, he might have no
hesitation in saying it where he was; but that if he particularly wished
him to step a little on one side, he had no objection to do so.

Upon gaining a retreat from the possibility of being overheard Bob
Smithers began: "I have to request one thing of you, sir, and that is
that you discontinue your attentions to the lady to whom I am engaged.
On a previous occasion I made a similar request, as also did Mr.
Rainsfield; but both you seem to disregard; therefore, I have to make it
to you again, and to accompany it with a peremptory order that it be
complied with."

"I can't see, Mr. Smithers," said John, "that because I am called upon
by Mr. Rainsfield and yourself to break off my friendship with the
lady, that I am of a necessity compelled to comply; so long as I am
honoured by the friendship of Miss Rainsfield I shall make all your
demands subservient to the dictates of my own heart. While she holds out
the hand of cordiality to me I consider the privilege and pleasure
accruing too great to refuse to grasp it; but if Miss Rainsfield desires
our intercourse to cease, then, of course (however painful such an
estrangement would be), my courtesies would be discontinued."

"Well, sir," said Smithers, "I have only to repeat that they shall be
discontinued at once, or I will take steps to prevent their recurrence.
The lady is engaged to be married to me, and I have a right to dictate
whom she shall recognize as her friends."

"When you are married to the lady I shall not dispute your right," said
John; "though even then, if your wife should so far honour me as to rank
me among her list of friends, all your monitory language and manner
would not induce me to behave cavalierly to her whenever we should
chance to meet. But at present I heed not your request, unless it be
reiterated by the lady herself."

"That, sir," said Smithers, "you shall not have the satisfaction of
hearing, and you will instantly renounce all pretensions to the lady's
favours or leave the station."

"The first portion of your request I have already informed you I cannot
comply with; and the other, notwithstanding your gross insolence to me,
I could not offer such an affront to your worthy brother and his
inestimable lady, as to obey it."

"Then, by heavens! you shall fight me," exclaimed the exasperated
Smithers. "I'll be on this spot with pistols in ten minutes; so you may
make the most of your time, and obtain a friend."



CHAPTER II.

    "Are honour, virtue, conscience, all exiled;
    Is there no pity, no relenting Ruth?"

    BURNS.

            "But I remember now
    I'm in this earthly world; where to do harm
    Is often laudable."

    MACBETH, _Act_ 4, _Sc._ 2.


The suddenness and hostile nature of Smithers' challenge so took John
Ferguson by surprise that for some few minutes he could not utter a
sound; and, when he had sufficiently recovered himself to speak, his
adversary was out of hearing, on his mission to prepare the instruments
of death. Left to a calm consideration of his position all its
unpleasantnesses in a moment flashed across his mind. Here he was
involved in a broil the result of which might prove fatal if persevered
in, and with the brother of his kind entertainer. The successful suitor
of the girl he adored, he was called upon to meet in deadly strife. John
felt he could not leave the place to compromise his honour, and insult
his host; at the same time he looked upon a hostile meeting with Bob
Smithers with great repugnance. Much as he had been contemned by Bob,
and many as were the indignities offered to him, John bore him no
animosity; and he could not reconcile to his conscience the idea of
steeping his hands in the blood of a fellow mortal; even in the act of
self-defence, when that defence became culpable by his voluntary
exposure. Yet he feared not death; no, he could stare the grim tyrant in
the face, and unflinchingly meet his shafts. He even felt he could court
his embrace now that he was to lose the only being he deemed life worth
living for.

"Oh! Eleanor! Eleanor!" he exclaimed. "Oh! that I had not known thee!
cruel fate, that I should be drawn into the vortex of thy charms only to
be suffered to estimate thy worth, and then have my hopes crushed on the
rocks of despair. With thee life would be an Elysium; without thee 'tis
a perpetual blank; a dismal future looms in the distance like the shades
of stygian darkness. Oh, cruel fates! would that thou had'st bereft me
of life while yet I breathed in the delicious dream. But yet a door of
hope is left me to escape this bondage. I will meet the fire of your
favourite, and let him, if he so desires it, release my wearied spirit."
Thus John soliloquized as he walked back to the ball-room in a state of
mind bordering on insanity, and reduced to the lowest depths of
love-sick despair. But a "still, small voice" faintly prompted reason,
as his agitated feelings somewhat subsided, and he ceased to
apostrophize his idol, as he approached the building.

He entered the room, and casually casting his eyes round the company
rested them on his brother; whom, upon his obtaining an opportunity, he
called out unobserved by the mass of the guests, and in a few words
explained to him the incident we have just described.

"But, surely, John, you do not intend to accept the challenge?" said
William.

"I have already done so," replied his brother.

"Why, you must be demented! my dear John," exclaimed the other. "Because
a coarse, blustering fellow like that chooses to insult you, and then
call upon you to present your body as a mark for him to shoot at, surely
you are not going to forget all respect for yourself, and commit an open
violation of the laws both of God and man."

"With regard to dyeing my hands in his blood you need have no fear,
William," said John.

"Then why sacrifice your own life?" asked his brother.

"I could with very few regrets submit now to that dissolution which
sooner or later must take place; but I am convinced Bob Smithers is too
much a coward to attempt my life. The laws of his country will stare him
in the face, and will prevent him pulling the trigger of a weapon with
its muzzle directed to my body. His object is simply to frighten me away
from the station, or induce me to act a coldness towards Eleanor;
neither of which desires I intend to gratify, so will stand his fire."

"But, dear John," exclaimed his brother, "only consider, if he should be
malicious enough to attempt your life, or even to wound you, what a
dreadful misfortune it would be; and what would be the anguish of our
dear parents. Believe me, John, it is wiser to avoid the possibility of
any such catastrophe; no dishonour can be attached to you for a refusal
to comply with a barbarous custom. Pray allow yourself to be dissuaded
from this meeting."

"No, Will, I have no fear of the consequences. Bob Smithers will never
have the courage to fire at me; and I will shame him by showing my
contempt for his threats."

"Well, I am grieved at your obduracy, John, for my heart has misgivings
on the result."

"Don't be agitated, William, but be convinced there is nothing to
apprehend; and now come I have been absent some time, and he appointed
ten minutes from the time of the challenge for the meeting."

William, perceiving it was useless to attempt dissuading his brother
from his purpose, accompanied him in silence to the spot where Bob
Smithers and two friends already waited. Upon the approach of the
Fergusons one of the opposite party stepped forward to John, and offered
to enter into the arrangement of preliminaries with his brother, whom he
presumed would act as his second.

Upon John stating his brother was on the ground in that capacity William
allowed himself to be led away by his co-adjutor, and followed him
mechanically through his various manoeuvres; acquiescing in the
arrangements, the nature of which he hardly contemplated. His mind was
intent upon the iniquity of the proceedings, and he was cogitating on a
scheme whereby he could obviate the necessity of having his brother's
life placed in jeopardy. With this thought uppermost in his imagination
he addressed himself to his companion:

"It occurs to me, Mr. Brown (for it was he), that this meeting is
perfectly unnecessary. My brother has consented to it without having
offered any provocation to Mr. Smithers. I think the challenge was given
in a moment when that gentleman was heated by his controversy, while I
have no doubt he would far prefer letting the matter drop, if no stigma
would be attached to him on account of retraction. If so I can answer
for both my brother and myself that the affair will not travel beyond
our two selves."

"I fear, my dear sir," replied Brown, "it is useless making any such
proposition to my principal, for he considers himself aggrieved by the
pertinacity of your brother in his aspiring to the hand of Miss
Rainsfield after he has repeatedly informed him that that young lady was
affianced to himself. He is so considerably offended and chagrined at
your brother's contumacious conduct, and his decided refusal to accede
to any of the terms my principal has proposed, that he will not be
disposed now to accept any other mode of satisfaction than this. If your
brother thought of any amicable settlement he should have done so
before; now there is only this course open."

"Pray don't imagine that I am making any overture with the concurrence
of my brother," said William. "He, I am sorry to say, is as determined
upon this course as your principal can be; but it is that very
obstinacy I lament, for I look upon the whole of this affair not only
as extremely heathenish and barbarous, but incompatible with the
character of gentlemen."

"Your language," replied Brown, "is calculated to cast opprobrium on all
those gentlemen engaged in this little matter, and requires some
explanation and apology; for which, I will be glad to have a few words
with you after the termination of this meeting."

"Now then," shouted the unoccupied colleague of Mr. Brown, "it surely
does not require all that time and talk for you two to pace out the
ground. I could have settled a dozen pairs in the time you are taking
there in arranging the preliminaries of one."

"All right, Graham," said Brown, "we have settled it now;" and turning
to William he continued: "We will draw for positions and you can place
your man, while I do mine. Dr. Graham attends professionally in the
event of either party falling; now then, sir, draw if you please. Oh!
blank; your man takes the right:" saying which he hastened to put
Smithers in position, while he left William standing seemingly rooted to
the ground.

John, seeing his brother's indecision, came up to him, and led him away,
saying, "I suppose as Smithers has taken up that position, I am to take
this. They are particularly obliging; his second has arranged me so that
I shall have the moon directly in my face. Very kind of him, though he
does it with a mistaken object. It will enable his principal to see to
miss me; for that is what he will most desire."

"Pray, John, do not let yourself be deceived," exclaimed his brother;
"they mean death I am convinced, and it is not too late to come to an
amicable settlement."

"Nonsense, William, exhibit some degree of fortitude," said John. "I
tell you again Smithers is too much a poltroon to meditate my death;
though I believe if he could effect it without making himself amenable
to the laws he is not wanting in the disposition."

"Then, even if he does not," said William, "think how the matter will be
talked about. The reports of the pistols are sure to be heard, and the
occurrence will be known almost instantly; think also how it will wound
Eleanor's feelings."

"Tell her, William! that I was irrevocably drawn into it by Smithers
contrary to my own wishes, and that I met his fire without returning
it."

"That is poor satisfaction for either you or her," said William "(her
especially), if you come off scatheless as you anticipate, and as I hope
and trust you may, having her name bandied about all over the country on
the evil tongue of scandal."

"There, Will! there's a good fellow! leave me now," said John, "you see
they are impatient; his second is waiting for you to bring me my weapon.
I had almost forgotten that, and they did not seem disposed to refresh
my memory."

William slowly walked across the ground, and took a pistol from the
hands of Mr. Brown; and placing it within those of his brother retired
to his position to await the issue of the firing.

Upon the enquiry being asked if both were ready, and an affirmative
being returned, the signal was given, and a report of a double discharge
reverberated in the stillness of the bush. William instantly rushed to
his brother, and found him standing with his right arm still extended in
the air, in the position in which he had fired, while his left hand
covered his eyes and features which were suffused in the purple dye.

"Merciful heaven!" cried William, "my dear brother, where are you hit?"

His question to John was answered in a burst of boisterous merriment
from the opponents, and he hastily turned upon them to enquire the
cause of their unseemly hilarity; while Smithers advanced towards his
late antagonist, and replied: "See to him, he must be severely hit, for
he bleeds apparently profusely."

"There is a trick in this, William," said his brother. "'Tis true I am
hit, but not with lead; I am blinded with what appears to me to be red
currant jam."

Another roar of laughter from Smithers and his friends succeeded this
confession, and the perpetrators of the practical joke indulged their
risibilities to the full; evidently congratulating themselves upon the
success of their plans. Their self-complacency, however (at least of one
of them), was brought to an abrupt termination; for as the truth of the
plot flashed across the mind of William, as the instigator of the
proceedings approached to witness the effects of his scurrile trick, the
high-spirited youth sprang towards him, and avenged his brother's
ignominy by felling the coward to the ground.

Graham and Brown instantly rushed to the spot, and interposed; the
former seizing William, while the latter confronted him, and stated that
if there was any cause of quarrel, it could be settled in a manner
befitting gentlemen; "and unless," said he, "I am mistaken in Mr.
Smithers he will instantly require satisfaction for your outrageous
assault."

"Unhand me, sir," said William, as he shook himself from the iron grasp
of the pugnacious doctor, and turning to Brown he exclaimed: "You speak,
forsooth, of requiring the satisfaction of a gentleman; you and your
compeers, who debase yourselves by not only countenancing an insult from
your friend and patron to my brother, but by making yourselves parties
to a trick which no gentleman would be guilty of. As for your prototype
he has not only proved himself a blackguard by having recourse to the
subterfuge of a plea of wounded honour to perform a despicable action;
but a coward in taking a mean advantage of a gentleman under the
hospitable roof of his brother. See, the viper actually slinks away! The
derogation he intended for another reflects opprobrium on his own
infamous character; and the consciousness of his venality deprives him
even of the power of defence." Excited as William was, and inflammatory
as was his language, they failed to stir the blood of Smithers, whose
baseness was exemplified in his cowardice; for he actually left the spot
(as William's remarks would infer) in the midst of the young man's
vituperations.

John Ferguson took his brother's arm, and led him also away from the
scene, saying as he did so: "Calm yourself, William, and never mind me,
I am not hurt, though still almost blind by that stuff in my eyes. The
disgrace of this proceeding will reflect more to his dishonour than to
mine. The report of our pistols has given alarm for I see people coming
this way, so I will get my horse saddled and take my departure."

"Do not depart yet, John," said his brother. Remain till morning at any
rate, and take leave of Mr. and Mrs. Smithers; they will think very
strangely of your sudden departure.

"They are sure to hear of the affair," replied John, "and my departure
will save the unpleasantness of a meeting. I will leave it to you to
make what explanation you like to them; as also to account to Eleanor
for it in what way you think best. She will no doubt have a version of
the matter from Bob Smithers; but I have a better opinion of her than to
imagine she will credit the exaggerated pseudology of malicious
gossips."

For John to wash himself, change his attire, segregate Joey from the
dependent's festivities, get his horse in and saddle him, was the work
only of about half an hour; and the whole of it was performed without
notice from any one belonging to the establishment. John Ferguson and
Joey then started, and as the retreating sound of their horses feet were
lost in the stillness of the night, William retraced his steps to the
scene of gaiety; not to join again in the mirth, but to take an
opportunity of detailing the particulars of the late proceedings to Tom
Rainsfield; judging that he would be the best channel through whom they
could reach the ears of Eleanor. With that intention he sought out his
friend, and was astonished to find that Bob Smithers had already
communicated the fun, as he called it, to some of his choice companions;
though he had studiously avoided any mention of his rencontre with
himself.

It was at an hour close on the heels of morn that the guests broke up
the ball; and consequently it was far advanced in the forenoon before
the assemblage in the breakfast-parlour was by any means numerous. It is
true some of the bachelors had taken their departure; but those in the
bondage of matrimony, and swains who were to act as convoys to the
ladies, of course had to wait the time and pleasure of the fair ones;
and, we must confess it, many were not loath to be detained by their
tender charges.

Our friends were about the first to leave, as having a longer journey to
perform than most of the guests, and neither of them desiring to prolong
a stay where the occurrences had been so painful to one of their party,
they bade a kind adieu to their entertainers; and took the road at a
sharp trot, which they kept up for some hours, notwithstanding their
fatigues of the previous day and night.

We think we informed the reader, in an early chapter of our history,
that Eleanor was (unlike most native girls) not a good horse-woman; and
that it was therefore an exercise she did not frequently indulge in. It
will not be wondered at then that the long ride to Brompton, and the
constant exercise there, had fatigued her. Her horse showing symptoms of
restlessness at starting it was proposed by William that he should affix
a leading rein to the bit ring of her horse's bridle, and ride by her
side with it in his hand. The idea was commended by the party, and was
adopted. They started, William and Eleanor leading the way, Mrs.
Rainsfield following, and Tom and Kate bringing up the rear, and
continued, as we have said, at a brisk pace for some hours.

They had accomplished about half the distance to Strawberry Hill when
they approached rather an abrupt turn in the bush; which, in its
acuteness, prevented them from seeing, until they came immediately upon
it, a large tree which stood right in the centre of the road; or rather
a path had been beaten on either side of it. The main track led by the
right side of the trunk, and William guided his own horse and that of
his companion to take it; but Eleanor's animal became suddenly
refractory, and made a sudden deviation to pass the tree on the other
side. This movement was so unexpected that neither equestrian was
prepared for it; and the two horses, each taking opposite sides of the
tree, were brought to a check in their rapid course by the leading rein
we have mentioned. At the time William had got it firmly fixed round his
left wrist, and could not (when he saw the accident that would
inevitably occur) disengage it; for so instantaneously did it happen
that he had hardly time for meditation before the shock took place, and
both riders were hurled from their saddles with considerable force.
William, though prostrate, still kept his hold of his own bridle and the
rein of Eleanor's horse; and rose with considerable pain, though (with
the exception of numerous bruises) uninjured, to lead the horses free of
the tree.

With Eleanor, however, the accident had resulted far differently. When
the check was felt by her horse the leading rein made him wheel his head
suddenly against the trunk; and, his fore feet tripping him as he did
so, he fell forward to the ground. Eleanor was thrown from her saddle;
and, but for one of those inauspicious events which so frequently occur
to mar our well-being, would have come off more lightly than her
companion. As it was, in her precipitation, her habit in some way became
entangled in her horse's caparisons; and, instead of being thrown clear
of danger, she was hurled with some force to the ground at the animal's
feet The horse also fell; and with the whole weight of his body across
her legs.

It was the work of a moment for the rest of the party to pull up their
steeds, and for Kate to leap from her saddle to the side of her friend;
and another for Tom and William to extricate her from her dangerous
position.

"Oh, dearest Eleanor," passionately exclaimed Kate, "tell me that you
are not seriously hurt. Oh, that horrid, horrid horse!"

"I fear I am, Kate dear," replied the poor girl, "I am very much
bruised, and my leg now I try to move it gives me great pain: I am
afraid it is broken."

"Oh, gracious goodness! what shall we do?" cried Kate; "lean on me,
Eleanor love, and see if you can rise."

The poor girl did so; but the pain was more than even her wonted heroism
could endure. With a faint cry of agony she sank fainting into the arms
of Tom, who was standing at her side ready to support her in case of
need, and there unfortunately proved to be need; for Eleanor, as she
herself had anticipated, had broken her leg.

The unconscious form of the suffering creature was carried into the
adjoining shade, and gently placed on the turf in a reclining position;
while the ladies speedily had recourse to those gentle restoratives,
with which they are happily at all times so ready, in cases where the
sympathies of their kindly natures are brought into play.

We masculine mortals plume ourselves on our knowledge of the female
character; which we profess to read as the astrologers of old did "the
gems that deck eve's lustrous mantle;" and to divine their secret
wishes, fancies, and inclinations, as the professors of clairvoyance do
their susceptible pupils. But we are inclined to think woman's heart is
the true arcana of life; at least of this fact we are certain, woman's
troubles can only be appreciated by woman; and woman in sorrow can only
be soothed, or woman in pain can only be alleviated by those whose
anodynes are the effects of intuitive impulsions, arising from the
reciprocal communings of kindred spirits. Oh, woman! bless'd woman!
Favoured daughters of Eve! thou never shinest in such perfection as when
thy ministering hand assuages the pain of a sick couch. Happy is the
man, with all his flaunted superiority, who, in the time of
indisposition, when his spirit wavers indecisively between this life and
the other, is blessed with the possession of thy tender solicitude, to
smooth the passage to the mysterious bourne, or nourish the reviving
spirit with thy calm, patient, and may be, vigil-dimm'd orbs, ever
watching for returning convalescence. But we are digressing; our
feelings of gratitude to the sex are carrying us away from the subject
of our narrative, and we must apologize to our fair readers for our
abstractedness.

Through the tender care of her friends Eleanor speedily recovered her
consciousness, though only to be made aware, by contemplation, of the
dreadfulness of her situation. She was suffering the most excruciating
agony, and was more than twenty miles from any assistance. The thought
would have subdued the stout heart of many a man, but with her evoked
not a murmur. She bore her sufferings, both bodily and mental, with her
characteristic heroism,--a heroism that admitted of no complaint,--a
perfect subjugation of the feelings, passively enduring pain with an
annihilation of all querulousness,--one that in a man would have
distinguished the bold spirit; but in a woman denoted the sublimity of
that nature, which, in its gentle texture, shines out in bold relief and
claims the laurels for an endurance which extinguishes, in its
sublimated lustre, the baser material of the stern "lords of the
creation."

A hasty council was now formed in debate as to the best means that could
be adopted to procure assistance for their wounded friend. It was
proposed first that she should attempt to get back to Brompton; then
that one of the gentleman should ride back at once, and procure some
conveyance; then that the ladies should return to Brompton, and obtain
the requisite assistance, while the gentlemen constructed a litter and
carried the invalid as far on the road as they could, or until they were
met by assistance. To all of these propositions Eleanor, however, gave
her emphatic veto, and declared that she would not consent to return;
but affirmed her willingness and ability to proceed to Strawberry Hill.

This desire again was energetically combatted by her friends, who argued
that such a course would endanger, not only her limb, but possibly her
life; and that it would be far better for her to waive her scruples,
and consent to return to the Smithers'. But to all entreaties on that
head she turned a deaf ear. "I will mount my horse," she said, "with
your assistance, and by going quietly I will be perfectly able to reach
home. So do not, my dear friends, make yourselves uneasy on my account."

At this juncture when all was indecision, Kate started up and exclaimed:
"Now I'll tell you what to do. Dear Eleanor says she will not return to
Brompton, and that she would prefer going home; a thought has just come
into my head and I will act upon it. There was a doctor at the party
yesterday, and I heard Mr. Robert Smithers ask him to stop until this
afternoon; so I will ride back, and catch him before he leaves, and
bring him on here; but, in the meantime, you must assist Eleanor into
her saddle, and while William leads the horse, Mr. Rainsfield ought to
walk at her side and protect her from falling; and, if Mrs. Rainsfield
would only ride on before and send out the spring cart to meet you, the
arrangements would be complete."

The boldness of the scheme so astonished her friends that Kate was on
her legs and ready to mount before they could think of objecting to it.
Eleanor was the first and most earnest in dissuading her from so rash a
step; but all opposition was cut short by the spirited girl herself, who
said she would not be dissuaded; and addressing her brother said: "Come,
Will, assist me into the saddle and don't detain me; for I will go, and
there is no use of either of you accompanying me; your assistance will
be required by dear Eleanor. Do as I propose, and you will find I will
be at Strawberry Hill with the doctor very shortly after you."



CHAPTER III

    "Gallop apace, you fiery footed steeds,
    Towards Phoebus' mansion."

    ROMEO AND JULIET, _Act_ 3.


Great was the astonishment at Brompton when Kate Ferguson made her
appearance, galloping up to the station, and drew up before the house.
At the same time she gathered up the folds of her habit; and, leaving
her panting steed to the care of some of the assembled attendants,
disdaining any assistance, she leaped to the ground and ran into the
house.

At the door of the parlour she was met by Mrs. Smithers who exclaimed,
with apprehension depicted in her countenance: "For mercy's sake! tell
me, dear Kate, what has happened to cause your return alone?"

"Eleanor has met with an accident," she hurriedly replied, "and I want
the doctor; is he here?"

"Unfortunately he went only about a quarter of an hour since," said Mrs.
Smithers. "I will send after him though; but tell me what was the nature
of poor Eleanor's accident."

"She was thrown from her horse, and has broken her leg," exclaimed Kate;
"but do let me urge you to send after the doctor at once; or if you
direct me to the road he took, I will follow him myself."

"I could not hear of such a thing," replied the lady of the place, "as
to permit you, my dear, to go. Sit down for a moment, or go to my room
and put off your habit, while I despatch a messenger."

Mrs. Smithers left the room on her mission, and shortly returned and
informed her impatient visitor, that a man had been sent after the
doctor, with injunctions to lose no time in bringing him back. "Doctor
Graham has ceased to practise," she said, "but under such circumstances
he can have no objection to lend us his professional skill; and as
Robert is with him, and will consequently urge him to speed, we may
confidently expect him here in a very short time. Come now, my dear, put
off your things, and tell me how the unfortunate occurrence took place."

The whole circumstances of the accident were then related, after which
an animated discussion was carried on between the ladies; the married
one contending that it was impossible for the younger one to return home
before the following morning, while Kate stoutly declared her intention
to proceed at once, when the doctor arrived.

"Such a course, my dear Kate," urged her friend, "would be unnecessarily
exposing yourself to a fatigue which I am convinced you could not
endure. You had far better remain with me until the morning, and then
Mr. Smithers will either drive you over in his gig, or accompany you on
horseback. The doctor and Robert shall be sent off immediately they
arrive, but as to you travelling the road by night is a thing quite out
of the question."

Still all arguments were unavailing; Kate persisted in returning at once
to be in attendance on her friend; affirming that she did not fear the
journey, nor anticipate any fatigue. So, Mrs. Smithers finding it
useless to attempt persuading the determined girl, proposed that, so as
to ease her journey as much as possible, Mr. Smithers should still drive
her over, and lead her own horse behind the vehicle. Mr. Smithers was
then sought for, and the melancholy intelligence was communicated to him
by his spouse; who desired him to place himself and his vehicle at the
disposal of Miss Ferguson.

He regretted the sad event most feelingly; at the same time he expressed
himself only too happy to be of service to Kate, and would hear of no
objection from her; saying, "Why! if you could stand the journey
yourself, Miss Ferguson, your horse could not carry you." So that the
little messenger was perforce obliged to relinquish her opposition to
the proffered assistance.

It was late in the afternoon before the sound of approaching horsemen
heralded the arrival of Bob Smithers and his friend, the brusque and
generally not over-courteous son of Æsculapius. They were not long
permitted to remain inactive, for the impatient anxiety of Kate for the
safety of her friend stimulated them to use despatch; and very soon
after their arrival they were tearing away again in the direction of
Strawberry Hill, in concert with Mr. Alfred Smithers and his charge. The
horsemen took the lead, and were followed closely by the vehicle; which,
by the speed that they maintained, required a skillful hand to guide
through the mazy difficulties of the bush track. The night, however, was
beautiful, and the moon bright and clear distinctly illumined their
path; so that the occasional diminution of the speed was not owing so
much to impediments and difficulties of a vehicular nature, as to a
desire on the part of the horsemen to take it easier. But these little
delays, insignificant as they were, did not accord with Kate's ideas of
the urgency of the case; and the flagging equestrians were constantly
prompted by her to an acceleration of their pace.

Towards the latter part of the journey the bush was more dense, and the
travelling of the gig consequently became more difficult. The frequent,
though only momentary detentions, so harassed Kate that she exchanged
her seat in the gig for the back of her own jaded horse; and she led the
way at a rate that gave her less fatigued followers something to do to
keep even within sight of her. All their remonstrances against the
velocity of her pace had no further effect than a raillery from Kate at
their complaining of a speed that she was enabled to keep up; and she
told them that if they were tired out she would go on and report their
approach. However much they disliked the toil of such riding they were,
for their own credit, obliged to keep pace with her, as neither of them
relished the idea of being outstripped by a girl; and that girl one who
had ridden a far greater distance in the previous twelve hours than
they.

In the meantime Mrs. Rainsfield had acted upon Kate's suggestion, and
had ridden home with all speed. She prepared a couch, and had it placed
in a light cart; which was then despatched to meet the invalid, with
strict injunctions to the driver to go as fast as he could, until he met
the party. Neither had Tom and William been idle, for they had placed
poor Eleanor on her saddle, where Tom held her while William led the
horse. But the pain, which the motion caused to her wounded limb, was
such that she could not with all her fortitude endure it. The young men,
therefore, constructed a sort of impromptu sedan, in which they carried
her for some distance; in fact, until they were met by the conveyance
despatched from Strawberry Hill. They then transferred their burden to
the vehicle, and continued the journey more easily for the poor girl;
though their rate of travelling was necessarily very slow. It was
midnight ere they delivered their charge into the hands of Mrs.
Rainsfield, and barely an hour afterwards Kate and her companions
galloped up to the house.

The doctor was instantly shown into the invalid's room, when the broken
leg was soon set, and the patient placed in as easy a position as
possible; when, after giving directions to her cousin for her further
treatment, he left the room to partake of some refreshment with his
friends before they parted for the night. Tom and William waited for the
report of Kate, who was assiduously attending on Eleanor, and would not
hear of rest for herself until she had first satisfied her mind of the
safety of her friend.

The following day the invalid was considered by her medical attendant to
be sufficiently out of danger, and progressing so favourably as to
warrant his departure. He therefore left, accompanied by his boon
companion, Bob Smithers, who preferred his society to that of the
residents of Strawberry Hill, and was followed by Mr. Alfred Smithers in
the gig.

We have so frequently, and we think so fully, dwelt upon the character
of Eleanor Rainsfield that we are convinced she is by this time
perfectly understood by our readers. We need therefore only say that it
was quite possible for her to suffer the deepest mental agony without
the slightest semblance of its being discernible in any display in her
facial muscles. We say that it was quite possible that the existence of
sorrow could have been working deleteriously at the heart's core of the
invalid, and not be visible by any outward signs; and it was more than
probable, after the events that had lately occurred, that some such
sorrow did exist. We have already said that Eleanor was habitually of a
taciturn and uncomplaining nature; and, whatever were her griefs, she
rarely allowed their utterance to pass her lips; so it was not to be
deemed strange that her friends were unacquainted with her state of
mind. What that was we dare not violate our trust by divulging, beyond
the fact that there _was_ something that preyed upon her mind which
caused her to remain feverish and restless on her sick couch, and which
retarded her return to convalescence. She progressed but slowly; and it
was nearly two months before she was enabled to leave her room, and
expose her emaciated frame to the summer breeze in a seat in a shady
part of the verandah.

During all this lengthened illness, her friends at Fern Vale had been
constant in their attentions, and hardly a day passed without some
enquiries being made or some intelligence being conveyed. Visits of
William and Kate were interchanged with Tom, who had delayed his journey
to town until Eleanor was what he considered sufficiently recovered to
spare him. When that time had arrived, and he saw his cousin at last
enabled to move about, he took his departure; not, however, without
making a special purpose of visiting Fern Vale to bid adieu to his
friends there.

Why such particular consideration as this was required prior to his
departure on a journey that would not occupy more than a month, or why
it was necessary to take such a formal leave of friends he was in the
habit of seeing so frequently, and whom he could and did inform of his
intended departure upon the last occasion on which they met, we are at a
loss to conjecture. We do not, however, consider ourselves justified in
making any surmises, but intend simply to content ourselves by
chronicling the event; deeming in so doing we perform our duty, and
avoid the probability of misleading our readers, by indulging in
speculations that might lead to erroneous assumptions respecting the
motives of our friend. Therefore it is only known to Tom himself, or
rather was best known to him, what took him to Fern Vale, and what kept
him for hours in company with Kate Ferguson. But there he remained
looking over her sketches, and turning over her music, as he listened
rapturously; while her pliable fingers fluttered over the keys of her
piano, and exorcised the very spirit of the muse in the exquisite
diapason that she produced to enchant him. If it was simply to bid adieu
to the young lady he might have done that, we should have thought, in a
much shorter time, and taken his departure. It could not have been to
visit her brother, for as yet he had not seen him, and neither made any
effort nor expressed any desire to do so. He had, in fact, arrived at
Fern Vale early in the forenoon, and finding Kate alone in the
sitting-room, his gallantry (or rather his inclination) suggested that
he should endeavour to relieve the _ennui_ of the young lady. Thus he
had occupied, for nearly the whole of the morning, her and his own time,
in which occupation he seemed perfectly contented; so much so that we
strongly suspect that he--But we were about doing what we repudiated our
intention of, viz., speculating on Tom's motives. So, dear reader! with
your kind permission, so far as we are concerned, we will leave him to
enjoy uninterruptedly the pleasure of Kate's society.

We must now beg the courteous reader to follow us over a period of about
a fortnight, during which time Eleanor had improved very little in her
health; when Kate and William one morning left Fern Vale to ride over to
see her. The weather had continued very dry for months past, and a large
portion of the bush had been slightly fired, so as just to burn off the
long dry withered grass, and leave on the ground a thick coating of
soot. Through this our friends were riding at a pretty sharp canter (as,
being like most of their birth and character, no less speed satisfying
them), when Kate's horse tripped and came down, precipitating his rider
over his head, and sending her sprawling amongst the ashes.

Her brother alighted to assist her to rise; but she was in no way hurt,
and regained her feet with little difficulty or hesitation. But she had
no sooner faced William than he lost all control over his gravity, and
burst into an immoderate fit of laughter; while to his sister's enquiry
as to the cause of his merriment, he replied only by laughing the
louder; and she became annoyed at what she called his silly behaviour.

"Tell me," said she, "what are you laughing at; is my face dirty?"

"Oh, dear no!" replied he, "it is not dirty."

Now in this reply of William's we would endeavour to exonerate him from
any duplicity or pseudology. If he meant to use the words ironically, or
to imply that his sister's face was not dirty, on the principle we have
sophistically heard enunciated that soot is clean dirt, not dirtying
where it comes in contact, but merely soiling; then it must be admitted
he spoke the truth. But we suspect rather that he meant to say her face
was not only dirty, but a shade worse; for it was absolutely black. And
much as we respect etiquette, and would be loath to commit such an
impropriety as to laugh at a lady, we question very much our ability,
had we looked on Kate's face on this occasion, to have preserved a
stoical equanimity of countenance.

"No but, Will, dear," persisted Kate, "do tell me; is my face really
dirty? I am sure it must be or you wouldn't laugh so. It is unkind of
you to tease me;" and the little orbs in the darkened firmament, and the
little mouth that had escaped disfigurement in the sudden metamorphosis,
exhibited symptoms of a lachrymose tendency.

Nothing so soon softens the obdurate heart of a man as seeing a woman in
tears; especially when she is a handsome young girl, and is beloved by
her masculine tormentor. Therefore we may safely surmise, that
William's laughing soon ceased; for he instantly changed his manner to
his sister, and said:

"Yes, Kitty, darling; your face is as black as a crow; and would enable
you to make a splendid personation of an Ethiopian vocalist, if that
sable people ever exhibit their ladies. But forgive me, poppet, for
laughing at you; I would defy the goddess of grief herself to refrain
from smiling if she had perchance cast her eyes upon you as you rose
from the ground."

"Oh, dear me! what shall I do?" said Kate, in a most piteous way. "What
shall I do? You know, Will, I can't go on in this figure, we must go
back."

"Nonsense, my dear," said William, "you can go on very well. A slight
application of water at Strawberry Hill will very soon remove all traces
of your cloudiness."

"But, Will," replied his sister, "all the people will be laughing at me
if I go on as I am, presenting such an odd appearance."

"Not in the least, my pet," said William; "besides if you turned back
home our people would laugh at you quite as much, not for the soot on
your face, but for your foolishness in returning. At Strawberry Hill,
however, no one will laugh at you, for they will have too much good
breeding; and if you put your veil down over your face it will be
invisible; while at the same time you can present yourself to Eleanor,
and test her affection by seeing if she will kiss you in that plight.
I'll engage she'll laugh, for she'll think it is a little stratagem of
yours to take her by surprise and excite her merriment. She will
therefore think herself called upon to reward you with a smile."

"I don't like to go in this figure, Will," said Kate; "do you think we
shall be able to find any water-hole on the road where I could wash my
face?"

"Not one, Kitty," said William, "nor a drop of water nearer than
Strawberry Hill, unless you like to go to the river; and it would be
quite unnecessary, for if you went there you wouldn't be able to
thoroughly remove the black. The washing would only make you appear
worse, inasmuch as, instead of being black, you would be dirty. But
come, my little queen of Artimesia! let me put you on your horse, and
we'll go ahead. I have often heard of a sable beauty, and declare you
are one in perfection; if you were not my sister I would do the romantic
and fall in love with you. There now! up you get, and let us be off; for
the sooner you get to 'the Hill' the sooner you'll have your visage
restored to its natural colour. But before you touch your face, Kitty,
just have a look at yourself in the glass; though I need not have told
you to do that, for I know it is the first thing you are sure to do."

"Don't be cruel, Will! and tease me so," said Kate, "or I'll go back
home."

"Very well, my dear," said William, "I'll grant a truce, and spare
you."

The brother and sister then turned their conversation into some other
channel, and rode on until they came within sight of Strawberry Hill;
when Kate pulled down her veil to conceal her darkened countenance from
the gaze of the curious. As they approached the station, and got
sufficiently near to distinguish the people about the place, Kate was
startled to see some gentleman on the verandah, whom she knew (by his
appearance) was not Mr. Rainsfield, and she remarked to her brother:
"Oh, William! I can't go up to the house in this figure. See, who is
that on the verandah? he is a stranger I know and I shall never be able
to meet his gaze. Can't you take me somewhere, where I can get my face
clean before I show myself?"

"Don't be frightened Kitty," said William, "no one will be able to
distinguish the colour of your face through your veil; and, if I mistake
not, the individual you see, and whose appearance seems to cause you
such uneasiness, is none other than Bob Smithers, who will make himself
scarce when he sees me. Put on a bold face under your blackness, and try
a _coup de main_, though it is not likely under your present eclipse to
be a _coup de soleil_. If Eleanor is on the verandah when you alight run
into the house and carry her off at once; and if any of the family
should see you in your flight I will make some explanation for you."

This seemed partially to satisfy Kate, and they rode together up to the
house. As William had conjectured the party they saw was Bob Smithers;
who, as soon as he had been able to distinguish who were the approaching
visitors, had left the spot where he had been seen by them, while
Eleanor, who had been sitting just inside one of the French lights, came
out to greet her friends as they made their appearance. William assisted
Kate off her saddle, when she ran up to the girl who stood with open
arms to embrace her. But instead of falling into that loving lock,
which was intended to unite the beatings of their young hearts, and
which she was generally so ready, with her usual ardour, to reciprocate,
she partially lifted her veil and discovered to her astonished friend
her beaming countenance. Instead of being radiant with glowing smiles it
was of course more gloomy than thunder; but her merry laugh rang as a
silvery note from the shades of Hades, while her bright eyes and pearly
teeth, in such deep contrast, shone with a more marked resplendence.

Eleanor for some moments gazed at Kate with silent wonder, and then
asked in the faint voice of a valetudinarian: "Why, dearest Kate, what
have you been doing with yourself?"

"I will answer for her," replied William. "You see our little Hebe has
gone into mourning; and, considering that the mere outward habilimentary
display was an empty conventionality, she chose to mark her grief in her
countenance; so that she might indulge uninterruptedly to any extent of
sorrow. As to her motive I am inclined to think she has done it to court
notice, and notoriety; for I am convinced she never looked so handsome
before."

"That is a poor compliment William pays you, Kate," said Eleanor; "but I
appeal to you for a correct version of the phenomenon, for I am afraid
to question your brother, as I see he is in a facetious mood. Come to my
room, my dear, and we can have a talk to ourselves."

"That is the very thing I desire, Eleanor dear," said Kate, "for I am
quite anxious to see what a fright I am, and wash off all the dreadful
smut. I saw Mr. Smithers here as I came up, and I would not for the
world that he should have seen me thus."

"He was here a few minutes ago," said Eleanor, "but has disappeared
somewhere."

"Well, Will," said Kate, "why are you still standing staring at us? why
don't you take the horses away?"

"Oh, I am really very sorry for keeping him," said Eleanor, "it quite
escaped my memory; you go to my room, Kate dear, and I'll send some one
to see to the horses."

"Not for worlds, Miss Eleanor, would I permit you to do such a thing,"
exclaimed William. "I can myself take the horses to the stable; but I
was waiting to take a last fond look of Kate. I am, in fact, enchained
to the spot; if ever she was a beauty she is one now, and a shining one
that would be a fortune to a London advertising blacking manufacturer."

"Be off, you impudent fellow!" replied his sister, "and don't show
_your_ face here until you can cease to be offensive;" saying which, she
turned into the house with Eleanor, while William took the horses to the
stable to remain for such time as he stopped at Strawberry Hill. This
business he accomplished; and, knowing that the girls would be sometime
engaged together with their own little secrets, and having no desire to
come into contact with Bob Smithers, he thought he would fill up half an
hour by paying a visit to Mr. Billing, and enjoying the refreshment of
that little individual's conversation.



CHAPTER IV.

    "The wondering stranger round him gazed,
    All spoke neglect and disrepair."

    SIR WALTER SCOTT.


William sought the capricious storekeeper in the proper sphere of his
labour, viz. the store-room, and, as he had anticipated, found him
deeply engaged in some imaginarily abstruse piece of figurative
collocation, from the study of which he relieved his brain and raised
his eyes at the sound of intrusive steps. William advanced with
outstretched hand, which was humbly and respectfully taken by Mr.
Billing; who, as he removed his spectacles from his nose, and shifted,
we will not say rose from his desk, answered to his visitor's sanitary
enquiry in his blandest manner: "I thank you, Mr. Ferguson; it affords
me great satisfaction to say I am in the enjoyment of excellent health,
and trust, my dear sir, a similar blessing is dispensed to yourself."

"Well, thank you, Mr. Billing," replied William, "I am pretty well. But
don't let me disturb you if you are busy, I have just called in to see
and have a chat with you; but if you are engaged I will not interrupt
you; for I thoroughly agree to the principle that business must be
attended to."

"I assure you, sir," said Mr. Billing, "I appreciate your kindness in
thinking me worthy of your consideration. I feel favoured, sir, beyond
measure; and if you will still further honour me by gracing our humble
dwelling, I can say, sir, with confidence Mrs. Billing will be equally
as delighted as myself."

"But I hope, Mr. Billing, I am not taking you away from your business,"
said William.

"By no means, my dear sir," exclaimed that urbane individual, "however
engrossed I might be in my mental or corporeal occupations, the respite,
sir, from those labours, when it is occasioned by the honour of a visit
from a young gentleman of your talent and abilities, is of too valuable
a nature, sir, not to be gratefully seized by your humble servant. Pray
accept my best thanks, sir, for your attention, and permit me to invite
you, sir, to our unpretending abode; for lowly it is, and not of those
pretensions I could desire, sir, nor of such as it has been my lot at a
former period of my life to possess, yet, sir, to it I can offer an
Englishman's adjunct, a hearty welcome."

"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Billing," replied William, "and will
be happy to accept of your hospitality."

"This way then, Mr. Ferguson," said Mr. Billing. "Allow me to close the
door of the store. I always lock it in my absence to prevent, sir, any
unpleasant affairs, such as have occurred here, you know. If you will
be good enough to step this way, sir? I must apologize beforehand, for
the litter which I expect you will find, sir, in our domicile by
explaining that Mrs. Billing does not anticipate the pleasure of
visitors."

Considering the sight that greeted the eyes of William as he entered the
cottage, such an apology was certainly necessary, or rather unnecessary,
to prepare him for what he was to witness. We said necessary, to excuse
the lady of the house for the chaotic arrangements of her household,
seeing that one couldn't enter the dwelling without being painfully
aware that slovenliness and disorder reigned supreme. Therefore we
corrected ourselves in the expression, and stated the absence of such
necessity; as no one could be so blind as to imagine that the litter
which Mr. Billing alluded to was merely the result of an occasion; for
it was too palpably evident that the spirit of disorganization was the
presiding genius of the Billing mansion, and, moreover, the visitor
would be strengthened in the conviction the very moment he cast his
eyes upon the wife of Mr. Billing's bosom. We will repeat then that Mr.
Billing made numerous apologies for the disorder to which he was about
to usher William Ferguson; and we may safely conjecture that William was
not a little surprised when all the internal arrangements of the home
burst upon his vision.

"Let me show you to my domicile, Mr. Ferguson," said the little man in
rather a pompous way; "as usual, sir, the house is turned topsey-turvey,
Mrs. Billing is such a woman for cleanliness. You have no doubt, Mr.
Ferguson (though you have not yet become entangled in the meshes of
matrimony), heard of the nuisance of a musical wife; let me equally warn
you, sir, against choosing the partner of your connubial bliss, from
those of too cleanly a predilection. My spouse, sir, for instance, has
periodical fits for cleansing (and I regret to say, sir, they are of too
frequent occurrence for my especial comfort); then nothing but dust,
soap and water, and disquietude pervades the house for a full twelve or
twenty-four hours. You are aware, sir, 'at home' (I mean of course in
Old England) we paterfamiliases are taught, sir, to look upon
washing-days as the very superlative of domestic misery; but my wife
always had a propensity for having something like a washing-day very
nearly six times a week, sir; and she has brought her customs and
prejudices with her to this barbarous country. But come in, my dear sir,
and take a seat, while I inform Mrs. Billing of your presence; and if I
may be so bold, sir, as to add, I will entreat you to make yourself
quite at home."

This introductory prologue of Mr. Billing's was delivered as he stood
with the door slightly ajar, and holding it by the handle while he
addressed William, no doubt to fully prepare him to a proper
appreciation of the merits of the lady to whom he was about to be
introduced. When we say introduced we do not mean that formal ceremony
in which strangers are brought to a mutual acquaintance (for William had
frequently before met Mrs. Billing), but the mere act of being ushered
to her presence in a house into which he, as yet, had never entered. Mr.
Billing had stood, door in hand, while he uttered about half of his last
sentence, when William saw, or fancied he saw, a female hand suddenly
draw back the cover of a muslin blind that screened the lower part of a
window situated in close proximity to the door at which he stood.
Instantly thereafter a female head was substituted in its place, but as
instantly withdrawn; while the noise of some falling object was
distinctly heard, and was as speedily followed by that of a hastily
closed door; all of them unmistakeable signs of a surprisal and retreat.

At this moment Mr. Billing pushed open the door and entered the
evacuated room, in which he concluded his lugubrious notice of his
lesser half's peculiarities, and desired his visitor to take a seat;
which his visitor, picking up a chair that lay prostrate on the floor,
accordingly did; and Mr. Billing went in search of his lady. Judging
from the seeming confidence with which he walked into an apartment
entering from the one which William sat in, forming the only other one
in the front of the cottage, the operation was one of more certitude
than the verb he made use off would imply; and also judging from the
subdued whispers that William could overhear through the thin wooden
partition that constituted the wall of the room, the search was also
attended with wonderful success. But during Mr. Billing's absence to
look for his spouse, let us join our young friend in his general
inspection of the furnishing and upholstery department of the
establishment.

In the first place we must say, distinctly and candidly, that the room
was furnished badly. Not that there was any paucity in the collection;
but the articles, though numerous, taken in the abstract, with the
greatest regard to symmetry, contrast, and beauty, and the best possible
display of talent in their collocation, any one with the slightest
pretensions to comfort, we are certain would eliminate the entire mass;
and any appraiser, if such an individual existed, within the boundaries
of New South Wales, if called in to take an inventory, would elevate
both his nose and his shoulders.

But we will, with the reader's kind permission, give a short
description, for the benefit of young couples about to furnish; and out
of respect for the feelings and the patience of those of our readers,
who have no desire or necessity for such detail, we will epitomize the
catalogue as much as possible.

First then we must state that there was no semblance of order in the
arrangements. Far from it; in fact, quite the reverse. All things seemed
to have been placed with a predetermination on the part of some one to
create as much confusion as possible, and to put each individual
article into as awkward a position as imaginable. It is true William had
rescued a chair from a lowly position, and had placed it on an
unoccupied spot on the floor, and used it for the purpose for which in
its construction it was intended. But it was well our young friend was
not of an erratic disposition, for if he had been bent upon voyages of
discovery, other than could be effected by his eyes, he would have found
himself in as great a labyrinth as ever impeded the progress of the
polar explorers. The fact was William was perfectly hemmed in; so that,
with the exception of a small spot that was partially occupied by his
chair, there was no room to stir, or at least very little; and he did
not consider it wise, or politic, to risk his knees and shins in an
attempt to penetrate into the thickly timbered recesses of the
apartment. As he sat in the midst of this mass, which seemed to have
been collected as the entire furniture of a dwelling, deposited in a
room for the convenience of the van that officiates at flittings, he
almost looked like an anxious emigrant keeping guard over his effects
when landed in a strange country, or as "Caius Marius mourning over the
ruins of Carthage."

But we have wandered from our task, our self-imposed descriptive task,
which we confess ourselves at a loss to perform with satisfaction; for
having no cabinet-making knowledge, and never having before been called
upon to take an inventory of such chattels, we feel ourselves, to make
use of a vulgar idiom, "all abroad." We fear we have assumed the title
and privileges of the author without considering whether or not we are
possessed of the attributes pertaining to one; and, in our insensate
conceit, we are afraid we have forgotten the absence of that recondite
perspicuity and facile elucidation which are imperatively essential to
the character we have arrogated. But we fancy we hear some of our
impatient readers exclaim, "We wish you would tell us, without 'beating
about the bush,' what the room contains; it is all nonsense your making
excuses now, you should have thought of your incapacity before you
commenced your history, and must go on with it; all we can do is to pity
and smile at your ignorance;" and we exclaim, "A thousand thanks, kind
readers! That is the very lenience we wished to evoke; we now can
proceed with confidence, if not in our powers of depiction, at least in
your charity and forbearance."

Well then, in the centre of the room stood a table, which we venture to
say had not been displaced in the general disorganization,
notwithstanding that its satellites had. There was nothing extraordinary
about this table, and yet there was a something which inspired awe, or
at least curiosity, and that would lead to the enquiry, Whence came it?
and this was precisely William's thought. Ah! that was a rare old table,
and struck William with a desire to know its history; but unfortunately
it had not the power to satisfy his enquiring mind; and he, having no
one at the time with him from whom he could glean the information, was
not likely to be the wiser. With the reader, however, we will not be so
harsh or uncommunicative, but will make use of our knowledge, and impart
the secret of its life; at least from the time whence it boasted of Mr.
Billing as its owner. First, however, we will give a sketch of its
general appearance.

When we called it a table, we should have in greater justice said two
tables, for, though one, it was also two. This seeming paradox may be
explained by stating that, as it stood, it was one, but in its integral
parts it could be spoken of in the plural number; in fact, to descend to
the common vernacular mode of expression, we will say they were two side
leaf-tables that had graced the parlour windows of the little box at
Brixton. The leaves were, and had been for many years (in fact, rarely
otherwise), quiescent, and were each made to hide its diminished head in
a close contiguity to the object's crural appendages. The two tables,
thus reduced to their natural bounds, were arranged with an
affectionate concomitance so as to act the part of a table of family
pretensions. It was of mahogany; and we will assume the postulation,
that it was of solid mahogany, to which assumption we are led from its
antique appearance, presuming that in the good old days of our
ancestors, that refined species of humbug and deception, yclept
veneering, was not in vogue, as our forefathers, so we are told, could
not tolerate anything but what was substantial. But how sadly have we
degenerated in these latter days! We now no longer perpetuate their
creed, or retain any of their material predilections, except those for
beef, beer, "bacca," and bills.

But to return to the table. We said it was mahogany, but we must correct
ourselves; we mean it was so originally, when it stood in the parlour at
Brixton, but now no longer could it be said to be of that wood. If it
but spoke, what "tales it could unfold" of voyages, journeys, mishaps,
and accidents, that would put the whole fraternity of aristocratic loos
far into the shade. Mr. Billing was wont to say he loved that old table
as much as hundreds of individuals are in the habit of affirming a
similar affection for a certain "old arm chair." He would also inform
his friends, when in a communicative mood, that that table had belonged
to his friend Lord Tom Noddy, whom he knew very well; but, unfortunately
for our poor little friend's aristocratic reputation, on one occasion
when he was a little "farther gone" than was usually his habit to go,
the truth of _in vino veritas_ was exemplified. On that occasion he
innocently informed his friends, that, of course, the Lord Tom Noddy did
not know him; that he, Mr. B., had bought the table at a sale of that
nobleman's effects, when the inconvenient demands of low tradespeople
rendered a sojourn in London exceedingly annoying to his lordship, and
induced him to fancy his health demanded attention and his person
relaxation and continental air. But still Mr. Billing could boast of
what very few, if any, men in Australia could, that is, that he was
possessed of a table that had belonged to a real, live lord; and many
were those who were made aware of the fact.

We fear we are not confining ourselves to a succinct account of minutiæ,
but are again running too much into detail of no moment; and we will,
therefore, continue more briefly the history and description of this
wonderful piece of furniture. It had been considered too great a
treasure to be sacrificed in the break-up of the Brixton "box;"
consequently it was carried off to gladden the eyes and astonish the
nerves of the natives of Australia. As we have already said, many were
the misfortunes it had gone through in its various peregrinations, and
vast the trouble it had been to its present owner, who, notwithstanding,
through all his vicissitudes, stuck to it as long as it stuck to him.
Lord Tom Noddy's table was in much the same predicament as Jack's knife,
which had had five new blades and three new handles; for his lordship's
table had had innumerable splicings, nailings, screwings, patchings, and
new leggings, composed of a variety of fibrous material, and of numerous
colours and artistic designs. Yet there it stood, with its legs of an
unequal longitude, some with castors and some without (the latter being
supplied with a stone or a piece of wood, to preserve as nearly as
possible the equilibrium); and, with more than one bandage to conceal a
fractured limb, this relic of the past, this trophy of Mr. Billing's
palmy days, and proof of his intercourse with aristocracy, preserved a
dignified composure, like a veteran surveying the scene of a triumph. We
said that the table stood in the centre of the room, and bore no
evidences of having been moved in the general disorder; of this we were
morally certain, for, judging by its paralytic appearance, it threatened
a speedy dissolution if touched.

The other members of this conglomerate fraternity were some dozen
chairs, more or less, also in various stages of dilapidation, and of
them we can say much in a few words. They were American, machine-made,
cane-bottomed, painted, and patent varnished ladies' and gent's body
supporters, and bore the same relation to civilized furniture as Dutch
clocks used to do to the old-cased patriarchs, that in our halls marked
the phases of fleeting time.

They were "machine-made," we say, that is, the legs, bars, etc., were
cut and turned by machinery; they were possessed of cane bottoms,
whether also arranged by machinery or not, we can't say, though they
were painted and varnished by its aid. But why such ordinary articles of
domestic use should be patent we are at a loss to comprehend, unless it
were for the design, or in the operation of painting the decorating
portion, which consisted of an application of gilt varnish on the front
of each leg and prominent part of the seat, and the representation on
the back, in high colours and gilt, of some flowers and fruit, which it
would be difficult to match with originals, from all the varieties that
have been produced, from the Eden apple downwards.

The next article was a sort of chiffonnier, a piece of furniture that
made a great display; with crystal and china arranged with precision on
the top, and a protecting covering of chintz, no doubt the uninitiated
would imagine, to keep the polish from sustaining any injury. But must
we discover the truth? Oh! deceitfulness of man, and, we may add, of
woman too. This elegant and costly piece of furniture was nothing but a
large deal box placed up on end, with rough shelves fixed into it to add
to its utility, and with a gaudy cover put over it to hide its
nakedness. There was another article of a similar construction, a
luxuriant-looking ottoman, and a sofa which had originally, no doubt,
been of polished cedar (of which wood, we may remark, all the best
colonial furniture is made, and found to equal, if not excel, Honduras
mahogany), and with horse-hair cushions, etc. But now it presented a
doleful appearance of weather-beaten features and limbs, and where a
horse-hair covering had existed, now only canvas was visible. A mirror
of the dull and heavy school rested on the mantel-piece, along with
sundry portraits, no doubt of a family importance, executed in an art of
stern profile blackness, which art, we believe, is extinct, and happily
so. The floor had no covering, neither had the walls, which showed the
wood in its crude state, or rather in the serrated condition in which it
had left the sawyer's pit. A few children's stockings and shoes
scattered about; a woman's dress, mantle, and bonnet lying on the table,
with some calico in the process of conversion to an article of apparel;
a piano of ancient make which, we must say though, belonged to Mrs.
Rainsfield, and was placed there for the use of the children while under
the tuition of Mrs. Billing, completed the furniture; and, with other
scraps, such as towels, dusters, and odds and ends, all heaped
together, as we have said before, in interminable confusion, the reader
has an idea of what William was surveying.

We have already confessed our lack of the author's talent of succinct
expression; and what we might have been able, had we been possessed of
such a gift, to have detailed in a few pithy words, and what was noticed
by William in a few minutes, it has taken us so long to describe. We
must therefore beg to assure the reader that Mr. Billing was not so rude
as to leave his guest waiting alone so long as we have kept him, but
shortly re-entered the sitting-room and informed William that Mrs.
Billing was that moment engaged with the children, but if he would
excuse her for a few minutes she would be obliged to him.

Now it happened that William had heard certain sounds that indicated
arrangements of no possible connexion with children's attiring and
ornature; such as the washing of an adult's hands, the operation of
adjusting that corporeal appertinence, which is made to enclose the
forms and symmetrize the figures of Eve's fair daughters of the present
age, the rustling of silk, and other prognostics of a personal
embellishment. But still conveniently deaf as a visitor should be to
such sounds he begged that Mrs. Billing would not allow herself to be
drawn from her attention to the children on his account, for he would be
sorry to inconvenience her by his call.

Mr. Billing thanked him for his politeness and consideration, and
entreated him not to mention anything about inconvenience; and at that
very moment Mrs. Billing sailed into the room, or at least as much of it
as she could get into; and, while shaking hands with William, said: "I
am delighted beyond measure, Mr. Ferguson, at your kindness in calling
upon us. It is so affable of you, and I can only express my regrets that
you should have happened to have chosen a day when you see we are all
topsy-turvey. You must know, Mr. Ferguson, I always like to keep my
house clean and in order, although Mr. Billing will persist in grumbling
at what he calls unnecessary cleanliness; but still I am glad you have
honoured us with a visit." "Go away, Johnny, and Bobby! Mary, don't be
rude!"

These latter expressions were addressed to various olive branches of the
Billing tree, who showed their heads at the door whence had emerged the
parent stem, and to which, we presume, the juveniles had come to satisfy
their curiosity as to the nature of the intrusion on their domestic
privacy. But they did not seem disposed to obey the injunctions of their
maternal parent; who therefore rose and put them inside the room and
shut the door, while they continued to amuse themselves by keeping up a
perpetual kicking.

Possibly the reader may desire to know something about Mrs. Billing, her
genealogy, etc. If so, we will endeavour to prevent disappointment by
giving a brief sketch of her. She was a lady, "a perfect lady," as her
husband used to say, and we should imagine, nearly twenty years the
junior of her lord. She was not absolutely plain; she might once have
been good-looking. In fact, Mr. Billing used to assure his friends, when
first he married her she was a beauty, one, he affirmed, of the Grecian
mould. We will not flatter her, however, by saying she was handsome;
though we will state that her looks were capable of great improvement by
the study of a little judicious display and effective costuming. But
these virtues or follies, as our readers may consider them, obtained
very little regard from Mrs. Billing; notwithstanding that on sundry
occasions, such as the present, she made an effort to appear as in
former years.

She had taken some little pains, we say little pains because of the
insignificance of the result, to present a genteel appearance to our
friend William, and had made a hasty toilet. If it had effected any
improvement in her appearance it argued badly for her presentableness
before the operations of ablution and ornature had taken place. Her
hair, in keeping with her eyes, was black, and parted not scrupulously
in the centre; a stray lock on the forehead segregated from its rightful
position was brought immediately across the line of demarcation and
incorporated in the opposition. However, its lamination was lost in the
plastering the whole had undergone in the toilet operations; and, as
Mrs. Billing was not a vain woman, such a mishap was not deemed worthy
of notice, or at least the trouble of rectification. Her features, if
not good, were certainly far from bad. There was a vivacity and
expression in them, but there was also an unctuousness that was a
necessary concomitant on her perpetual bustle, which incessantly
displayed itself in her pale face. She wore a black silk dress, that
made a rustling like dry leaves in winter, and was modelled in a fashion
so as to confine both the wrists and the throat of the wearer; at which
points it terminated without the muslin adjuncts we usually look for.
As for the dress itself nothing need be said, except that it might have,
and had been a good one, but was then rather seedy. It gave us, however,
the idea that it was worn in much the same manner, and for much the same
purpose, as the closely buttoned up frock-coat of the "shabby genteel
gentleman," who is unable to make any display of spotless linen. But we
will make no ambiguous allusion to a lady's under garments, though we
cannot shut our eyes to noticeable facts. Neither could William, for he
perceived that her boots, though they had once been of a fashionable
make, were not what they had been, for their glory had long since
departed. He also noticed that her hands and facial contour were of a
different shade to her neck and throat. It might have been an optical
illusion, the effect of a deceptive light, the contrast of complexion,
or the exposure to sun; but he thought that where the tints blended the
contrast was too perceptible to be natural, and therefore concluded that
the phenomenon arose from the dirt not being thoroughly removed, or the
omission of an ablutionary application to the dark tinted part.

William also noticed,--but we must again crave the indulgence of our
fair readers, whose pardon we implore for adverting to such a
subject,--when Mrs. Billing turned herself to eject and inject the
juvenile representatives of the Billing family; he saw her back! yes,
reader! her back! Now no lady should turn her back on a gentleman any
more than a gentleman should perform so derogatory an act upon a lady,
either literally or figuratively. More especially if that lady be not a
good figure, or if her dress does not fit immaculately. We do not
insinuate that Mrs. Billing had not a good figure, she was _once_
graceful; but it was to be presumed, that considering the ample proofs
she had given of a proclivity to gestation, the symmetry of that figure
had to some extent been impaired. Be that as it may, the dress of Mrs.
Billing did not meet behind by some three or four hooks; and the
consequence was that a sight was revealed to the bashful gaze of our
young friend which caused him to blush; while the remembrance of the
cleanly characteristics, enunciated by her lord as pertaining to her,
made him wonder. For there! immediately underneath the habilimentary
cuticle, William saw garments of so suspicious a colour as to make it
questionable whether they had attained their peculiar hues by the
process of dyeing, or by their contact with this world's filth.

But there is one thing that we must explain before we leave Mrs.
Billing. We have already told the reader that cleanliness was Mrs.
Billing's peculiar and predominant idiosyncrasy, and we must reconcile
this statement to our portraiture of unbecoming slovenliness. It is
easily said in a few words. Mrs. Billing was one of those women who are
always in a fuss about their domestic affairs; who are for ever
fidgeting about the dirt in the house; and always attempting to remove,
or remedy it, though in the attempt they only succeed in adding to the
filth. Making "confusion worse confounded;" leaving things worse than
they were before; adding to the discomfort of their husbands, their
children, and themselves; whom they keep in a perpetual state of
slovenliness and untidiness. Such was Mrs. Billing's failing; and if her
husband was blessed with perspicuity sufficient to notice it, for his
own peace of mind, he abstained from any dictation that might have
embroiled him in family dissensions; and he was right: for on the whole
she was undeniably a good wife to him notwithstanding her little
peculiarities.

Mrs. Billing had managed to squeeze herself into a seat, as her husband
had previously done, without necessitating any extraordinarily
unpleasant contiguity to her visitor; though any extension of
prerogative on the part of the upper or nether limbs of either of the
party would have been detrimental to the visages, or shins, of the
others. So they were all perforce compelled to adhere to a strict
propriety of deportment.

The lady was particularly charmed, or at least she continued to say so,
at what she designated the condescension of Mr. Ferguson in visiting her
humble abode.

"I am truly delighted to see you," she said again, for at least the
twentieth time; "and only regret I can offer you no inducement to
prolong your visit. I suppose there would be no use in my asking you to
stay and take pot-luck with us in the friendly way, Mr. Ferguson? Not
that it would be any change of fare to you, for we are necessarily
humble people now; and, if we even desired it, we could not have
anything out of the common. It is not here like 'at home,' where you
can, even with the most moderate means, procure anything nice. In this
horrid country neither love nor money can buy tasty things. One has to
be contented with what we can get, and we live so incessantly upon
mutton that I wonder we're not all ashamed to look a sheep in the face.
But, as I was saying, can we persuade you to stop and take pot-luck with
us, Mr. Ferguson?"

"I really thank you, Mrs. Billing," said William; "but my friends will
expect me to make my appearance at the house shortly. I have brought my
sister over to see Miss Eleanor, and have just dropped in to see you as
I passed."

"Yes! it is very kind of you," said Mrs. Billing; "and of course Mrs.
Rainsfield will be expecting you. However, if at any time you shall be
disposed to honour us with a visit, let us have the pleasure of your
company sufficiently long to enable us fully to enjoy it. Devote some
evening to us, and we will endeavour to amuse you. We would be most
happy to see your sister too, if she would condescend to honour our roof
by her presence; she is a gentle, amiable young lady. I need not ask if
she is well as that I am sure of?"

"Thank you," said William, "she is quite well, and I have no doubt will
be happy to join me in paying you a visit; especially when I tell her of
your kind enquiries."

"Will you try a little spirits, Mr. Ferguson?" asked the master of the
mansion. "I am sorry I have no wine to offer you, and neither any choice
of spirits; but I shall be delighted if you will join me in a glass of
rum."

"I am obliged to you; not any," replied William.

The conversation continued for some short time longer, chiefly though on
the part of the Billing couple; who took upon themselves the initiatory
to enlighten their visitor upon all their family affairs and departed
greatness. William soon began to feel a distaste for this kind of
conversation and society, and had made one or two attempts to break the
spell. But as the pair kept up an alternate and incessant dialogue he
could not find an opportunity of taking his leave; and neither did he
effect his retreat until he had risen from his seat, stood hat in hand
for nearly ten minutes, and repeated more than once that he feared his
sister would be wondering what had become of him.

He at last succeeded in escaping, and cordially shaking hands with the
quondum commercial man and his lady, he took his departure and walked
back to the house. Mr. Billing returned to, and was speedily lost in the
abstruse calculation from which his attention had been diverted by
William's visit; while Mrs. Billing retired to the precincts of her
sanctum, to divest herself of her outer covering for one of more humble
pretensions, in which she had been habited at the time of her
surprisal.



CHAPTER V.

    "Your words have took such pains, as if they labour'd
    To bring manslaughter into form, and set quarrelling
    Upon the head of valour."

    TIMON OF ATHENS, _Act 3, Sc. 5._


When William made his appearance at the house he found Eleanor, Mrs.
Rainsfield, and his sister together in the sitting-room; and, after
receiving a severe rating for his cruelty in teasing Kate about her
accident, he was asked by Mrs. Rainsfield what had detained him so long
at the stables. Upon his replying that he had visited the Billings
nothing would satisfy the girls but that he had an object in making such
a visit, and they insisted upon having a detailed account of all his
proceedings, and what he saw and heard at the storekeeper's cottage.
During his narration of the circumstance we will leave him for a few
minutes while we glance at another part of the station.

Over the rails of the stockyard fence leaned a man, we might have said a
gentleman, smoking a short pipe, and carrying or rather holding in his
hand a heavy riding-whip, which we wish the reader particularly to
notice for the reason which shall shortly be seen. At his side leant
another gentleman with his back to the fence, and his eyes bent on the
ground. The first was Bob Smithers, and the other, Mr. Rainsfield; and,
at the moment of our discovering them, they were, or had been, in close
conclave. Before we proceed to listen to the conversation we will
premise by stating one fact, which we have no doubt the reader has
conjectured, viz., that the marriage between Bob Smithers and Eleanor
had been postponed _sine die_, or until such time as her health should
be thoroughly restored.

"Yes, I say again, it is a confounded nuisance that the girl is so slow
in getting well; she might have broken half a dozen legs, and got right
again by this time. I want to get her away from that infernal fellow
Ferguson, and all his set; and I shall never do that until I have
married Eleanor. Then, by G--! if any of them cross my path, they may
expect to meet a tiger." So spoke the puissant Bob Smithers, that had
grossly insulted the senior brother of "the set," and submitted ignobly
to a blow from the younger; from whom he slunk away like an intimidated
cur who had rushed yelping at some wayfarer, and received a warm
reception.

"I don't think you need make yourself at all uneasy, Bob," said his
companion. "Though John Ferguson has made overtures to Eleanor, which
you know were rejected, it is not very probable that his brother or
sister will at all interfere; in fact, I hardly think the young girl,
his sister, knows anything about her brother's feelings on that point.
Eleanor is exceedingly attached to them, and well she might be, for
their behaviour to her has been kind and affectionate in the extreme."

"Well, that may be," said Smithers; "but still I hate them, especially
that young cub that is here now. He had the audacity to strike me on the
night when we paid out his brother; and, but for the intervention of
some of the people, I would have killed the young wretch on the spot."

"As to striking you," said Mr. Rainsfield, "I am not at all surprised at
that. I wouldn't have thought much of the young fellow if he had stood
passively by, and seen a practical joke perpetrated on his brother. But
why didn't you retaliate, or wait for him till after the ball, and then
have given him a good sound horse-whipping?"

"I couldn't get an opportunity of being at him then," said Smithers,
"but I'm d----d if I don't carry out your suggestion now. I'll get an
opportunity before he goes away."

"If you do I only hope you'll manage it so as not to implicate me," said
Mr. Rainsfield. "I don't wish to interfere with your private quarrels;
but I would not like the young fellow attacked in my house or in my
presence. Though I have quarrelled with his brother I haven't done so
with him; and I must say he has been so attentive to Eleanor during her
illness that I would consider any countenanced outrage on him would be
the offering of an insult to her. Nevertheless, if you have any little
settlement to make with him, let it be out of my sight and hearing, and
I won't interfere with you."

"All right, old fellow," Smithers replied, "you need not fear me, I'll
manage it comfortably enough you'll see. I'll get him quietly away from
the house, and let him feel the weight of this." Saying which he laid
his whip about some imaginary object with a force that made the missile
whiz in the air, and with a determination that plainly portrayed the
satisfaction with which he would operate upon his victim.

"Very well," said Rainsfield, "do as you like. Only, as I said before,
don't implicate me, and though I rather like the young man I shall have
no objection to hear of the whole matter after it's done."

These two worthies then separated, Bob Smithers to seek the opportunity
of which he spoke, and the other either to go about some business of the
station, or to keep as much out of the way of the coming event as
possible. The reader will no doubt wonder how a man of Mr. Rainsfield's
generally reputed integrity could reconcile his conscience to such
behaviour; and also that he should willingly, and, we may add,
collusively aid the suit of a man, of whose mental and moral turpitude
he could have had no doubt, in preference to the honourable addresses of
a gentleman in every way a more eligible match for his cousin. "But
thereby hangs a tale," and it is our painful task in the office in which
we stand, to see that that tale be not suppressed.

At an early date after Eleanor's settled sojourn with Mr. Rainsfield he
became aware of the existence of an engagement between her and Bob
Smithers, from whom we may safely conjecture the knowledge was obtained.
When Rainsfield, feeling for the dependent and forlorn condition of his
relative, took her to the bosom of his family he did so out of pure
sympathy and kindliness towards her, and had no wish or desire to
interfere in the disposal of her affections. Consequently he paid very
little attention to the matter. But Smithers made a proposal to him
which, if it did not excite his cupidity, induced him to think more of
the affair as one in which he as a relative, and a protecting relative,
had an interest. It had the effect of suborning his countenance to the
match, and enlisting his strenuous exertions, to induce Eleanor to
accede to the wishes of the Smithers family, and plight herself anew to
the man who had already received her youthful acquiescence.

The offer that Smithers had made to Rainsfield was this. That they
should enter into partnership, and throw their respective properties
into one concern, and work together on equal terms. Smithers was to
embark all the country he was then possessed of, or the proceeds arising
from the sale of any portion, and what capital he could command; and the
other was to bring in the stock and station of Strawberry Hill. In
making this offer Smithers conceived that he would be benefited by such
an arrangement, in so far as he would be able to more effectually stock
the immense tracts of country he had taken up. He considered this more
advantageous than disposing of the runs; as, he argued by lightly
stocking them in the first place, and allowing them to become by
gradation fully stocked, through augmentation and the natural increase,
he would eventually be possessed of larger property than if he with his
own means only stocked an integral part of his holdings. On the other
hand Rainsfield considered the offer as equally worthy of attention to
himself, possibly looking at it in the same light. However, he had
agreed to it; and this was the _douceur_ that had made him a warm
partizan of the Smithers' cause; and that had influenced the collusion
that worked for the consummation of Bob's, or we might say Mrs.
Smithers', matrimonial scheme.

With regard to Eleanor, her feelings, we fear, were little dreamt of in
the matter. Rainsfield deemed Smithers a good match for her, and
possibly believing that she entertained at least some respect for the
man, he never imagined for a moment that she could have had any
objection. While she, on the other hand, from the continual promptings
of her cousin, in the absence in her mind of any other imaginative cause
for her cousin's warmth, attributed it to the desire on his part to be
relieved of an irksome burden; and she had given her consent.

We must admit that women are as equally (it is even affirmed they are
more) susceptible than men to the warm affections of the heart; and that
as they are inspired by love so are they influenced by aversion. And as
a man, we mean of course with honour and conscience, would go to any
extremity rather than ally himself to a woman whom he contemned, so
would a woman feel as great a repugnance in accepting a man for whom she
could not entertain any respect. We do not say that Eleanor actually
abhorred Bob Smithers; but we can affirm that she felt no enjoyment in
his society, but rather the reverse; and though she had accepted him to
avoid the unpleasantness of her situation, the match was positively
distasteful to her. Smithers' nature was diametrically opposed to hers.
They had no one feeling in common; his tastes were not as her tastes;
nor hers as his. Besides, she had an exalted, and perhaps romantic, idea
of matrimony. She didn't think it proper to marry for convenience, but
imagined it was a compact that was only justly and favourably formed on
true love. Not that at the time of her engagement with Smithers she had
experienced the sentiment; but she was aware she had entertained the
proposal of a man in the absence of it, and therefore had sacrificed a
moral principle. But her trial was to come.

She then met John Ferguson; and their mutual companionship, if it had
had its effects on John, had surely had no less so on her. It is true
she had thought no more of him, at first, than as a friend, a kind
attentive friend. But then she admired him, his precepts, his manners,
his conversation, and his general ingenuousness; she liked him, and
found pleasure in his society. Did she think she loved him? It may be
she never gave herself a thought on the subject. She was content to live
in the pleasing delusion, that John Ferguson was nothing more to her
than a friend; but there was her danger. She might have mistaken his
manner; misconstrued his feelings; and been blind to the more than
ordinary warmth of his greeting. But the pleasure in his company, the
delight at his approach, the longing for his presence between the
intervals of his visits; and the heart's palpitations, as she felt the
welcome touch of his hand in the grasp of friendship, must and did have
their own warning voices, to which Eleanor could not shut the ears of
her understanding. She suspected he loved her; she read it in his eyes;
but she feared to ask herself the question, Was the feeling
reciprocated?

Next came the explanation. He declared the existence of that lasting
affection which never dies. But could she give him hope? could she
encourage him in his love? No! she felt she could not. She had
voluntarily given herself to another, yet felt she had by her manner
incited this one; had probably by her demeanour given him cause to hope,
while she was not justified in holding out any. She might have, nay, she
even feared she had, destroyed his peace of mind, and all through her
own selfishness. Why had she not warned him in time? why not forsworn
the pleasure to which she had no claim? These were questions she asked
herself, but could give no reply, except the sigh her heart chose to
offer. Her relationship to Smithers reverted to her mind. That she did
not love him, nor he her, she was convinced; then why not accept the
love of John Ferguson? She meditated; but in that meditation her
principle got the better of her inclinations, and she sacrificed her
interest, her happiness, and her comfort, for the inviolable
preservation of truth.

These scruples were known to Mrs. Rainsfield and Tom, who, we have seen,
considered them unnecessarily severe, and combated against them
unceasingly, though without making any impression on the mind of
Eleanor. They deprecated what they considered her folly, and attempted
by all the arts of persuasion to move her from her purpose; but she had
been inculcated with a perception of high morality, and an appreciation
of strict integrity. Truth had been always represented to her mind as
the fundamental basis of all virtue. Her desires and her passions had
been regulated to a subserviency to the Christian character, and her
nature had been moulded in a religious education. Consequently, upon the
dictates of her conscience she acted, and felt she would be guilty of an
unpardonable moral offence to refuse her hand where her word had been
pledged.

In this light, then, the parties stood to one another. Rainsfield was
anxious to get his cousin married to Smithers, who was equally uneasy to
have the event consummated, as he had serious misgivings on the eventual
possession of his prize. Eleanor, though she was by no means anxious to
hasten the marriage, had no desire to unnecessarily postpone an
occurrence which she could not prevent, but of which latterly, more than
ever, she had had cause to dread. However, she knew regrets were vain,
and therefore attempted to attune her thoughts and feelings to a strict
sense of duty, to forget her own personal likings, and to enter calmly
upon the obligations expected of her. Notwithstanding all her fortitude
poor Eleanor was but mortal, and she could not sustain the gigantic
contest she had undertaken. She strove long and bravely, but her love
would at times overcome her, and leave her the constant prey of her
feelings, and to a melancholy contemplation of the sacrifice she was
making; hence her protracted illness and tardy recovery.

But we must return to our narrative. We left William and the ladies in
the parlour at Strawberry Hill house, and Bob Smithers walking from the
stockyard in that direction, breathing heavy threats of vengeance
against the gentleman who had so grievously offended him, and who had
escaped his just punishment upon the occasion when the offence was
committed. It is needless for us to comment on Bob's version of his
affray with William Ferguson, as the correct one is already known to
the reader; but the tale he told Rainsfield was the one related by him
wherever the circumstance of the blow became known.

William, as we have said, was sitting in company with the ladies, and
was submitting with the greatest docility to be made use of, by lending
his hands for the extension of a skein of silk while it was being wound
off by Eleanor, when a little boy bearing the Billing impress on his
features appeared at the open window, and said he had something to say
to Mr. Ferguson.

"Say it out, my boy," said William, who imagined it might be some formal
invitation from the Billing paterfamilias.

"Please, sir, father told me to tell you a gentleman was waiting down at
our house to see you," said the boy.

"And who is the gentleman, my lad?" asked William.

"Please, sir, I don't know," he replied; "father only told me a
gentleman wanted to speak with you directly."

"Is Mr. Rainsfield down at your father's house?" asked William.

"No, sir," was the reply.

"Very well; tell the gentleman, or your father, that I will be down
there in a few minutes," said William; "and that if the gentleman is in
any very particular hurry, it would have been a great saving of his time
if he had come up here."

Now, the circumstance struck all present (though no one said so) as
being rather remarkable, that Smithers, for they knew it could be no
other than he, should desire to meet William Ferguson alone, and away
from the house. William knowing or suspecting the nature of the coming
interview, fearing that his friends would have a similar suspicion, and
having no desire to excite their fears, tried to show his coolness and
indifference by whistling an air as he left the room. But this
oft-repeated stratagem had not the desired effect of allaying the fears
of one, at least, who was cognizant of the quarrel at Brompton and the
whole attendant circumstances. This was Eleanor, and she was convinced,
from the manner of Smithers, that he meditated some action which he was
ashamed to perform within sight of the house. She therefore hastily put
on her hat, and prepared to follow William, and being joined by Kate,
she stepped out through the window to the green sward in front.

Hardly a dozen steps were necessary, to bring them clear of the angle of
some outhouses that intercepted the view of the stables and Billing's
premises; and as she cleared that angle, it was to this point Eleanor
directed her gaze. The sight that she then witnessed showed that she was
only too correct in her surmise as to the intentions of Smithers; for
there she saw him in high altercation with William, who stood perfectly
at ease taking the matter as coolly as possible. His arms were folded
across his breast, and a pleasant smile played on his features, while
his antagonist had worked his wrath up to the culminating point, ready
for a mighty explosion; and raved about the ground while he brandished
his whip.

We will not trouble our readers, or shock their ears or senses, by a
recapitulation of the dialogue; suffice it to say, that if warm it was
short. So that when Eleanor discovered the disputants she witnessed the
exacerbation of Smithers' ire, and the descent of his whip across
William's shoulders. The fate of Smithers on this occasion might have
been similar to what it was on a former one had not the attention of
William been drawn off from his purpose by hearing a loud shriek at his
rear. He turned to see whence it came, while his castigator, taking no
further heed of the circumstance than to look round to see from whom it
emanated, continued to belabour at his victim with redoubled energy.

It was Eleanor who had uttered the shriek when she saw the blow struck
by Smithers; and instantly flying between the belligerents, throwing
her arms around the neck of her intended husband, she exclaimed:
"Robert! Robert! for mercy's sake, what are you--" But she was not
permitted to finish the sentence for the ruffian whom she had clasped in
an embrace that should have melted a heart of stone shouted in her ear,
coupled with an expression not fit to be repeated: "What business have
you here?" while he flung her from him with a force that hurled her
insensibly to the ground, where she lay without a murmur. This was more
than the honour and chivalry of William could bear. To be attacked
himself he cared little as he was well able to defend himself, and also
to retaliate when he thought fit; but to see a brute, without one spark
of manly feeling, not only lift his hand to a lady, and that lady a
gentle amiable girl who was about to bless him with more earthly
happiness than was meet for him to enjoy, but to prostrate her with such
force as to momentarily deprive her of vitality, was more than his
spirit could placidly endure. The lion was roused in his nature; and,
while Kate attended to her fallen friend, he sprung like an infuriated
animal on the cowardly villain; wrenched his whip from his hand and let
him feel not only the weight of _it_, but also of the avenger's athletic
arm, in such a way as would cause him to remember it for many a day.

When William had thrashed the wretch until he had driven him to seek
shelter in the stables, he returned to where still lay the form of
Eleanor, who showed no signs of returning consciousness. Feeling alarmed
at the lengthened duration of the swoon Kate and her brother thought
they had best remove her to the house at once; with which intention
William took her in his arms, and carried her in to Mrs. Rainsfield.

The good lady was quite alarmed at the appearance of poor Eleanor's
features, when her still inanimate form was brought to her. An ashy
paleness pervaded her face; her eyes were closed; and, with the
exception of an occasional faint sigh, no signs of life were visible. We
say, Mrs. Rainsfield was justly frightened at the appearance of the poor
girl, and she asked in an agitated manner: "What is this? what is the
matter? Eleanor swooned? Good gracious! what does it mean?"

"My dear Mrs. Rainsfield," said William, "if you will allow me to tender
my advice I would suggest that you instantly put Miss Eleanor to bed. I
sadly fear her injuries are severe, and that it is more than a mere
swoon under which she is now labouring. Pray, don't delay, but remove
her at once; and Kate can tell you all the circumstances. If you will
lead the way I will carry her into her room."

"Poor Eleanor! and is this too the work of that viper, Smithers?" said
Mrs. Rainsfield.

"It is, indeed!" replied Kate.

"Oh, the vile wretch!" exclaimed the lady. "It is as I thought, he
cares not a straw for her life. A man that would treat a tender, loving
girl in this way, would be guilty of any enormity; and yet she is so
infatuated as to court her own misery by persisting in accepting this
monster. Oh! what would I not give to see her safe out of his clutches?
But he surely can't have the effrontery to look her in the face after
this; nor she so silly as to receive him if he does. Certainly not, if I
can dissuade her, and I think I have some good ground to work upon now."

By this time William had deposited his burden on the little snow-white
bed of the motionless girl, and left the room and the patient to the
guardianship of Mrs. Rainsfield and his sister; while he strolled out
for a few minutes to calm his agitation, and weigh the circumstances in
his mind. He had walked backwards and forwards for about a quarter of an
hour when he turned again into the house just as his sister was looking
for him.

"Oh, Will!" she said, "Eleanor is in a dreadful state. She is fearfully
ill, and we think it is a fever. Mrs. Rainsfield says there is a doctor
who has lately settled at Alma, and she was going to send one of the men
over for him; but I thought it would be better, to prevent the
possibility of any mistake, for you to go. Will you go, and at once,
Will?"

The answer William gave to his sister's question was to dart off to the
stables for his horse; and in a few minutes afterwards he might have
been seen galloping through the bush to procure the services of the son
of Galen located at the nearest township.



CHAPTER VI.

    "Oh! wretch without a tear--without a thought,
    Save joy above the ruin thou hast wrought--
    The time shalt come, nor long remote, when thou
    Shalt feel far more than thou inflictest now."

    BYRON.


When Smithers had partially recovered from the wholesome chastisement
administered by William Ferguson, and had witnessed, from his
concealment, the hasty departure of his foe, the nature of his journey,
and the cause of his precipitance, flashed instantly across his mind;
and, we would fain believe, his conscience was visited by compunctions
for his unpardonable brutality. He cogitated for some time on the
course he was to pursue, and thought of how he could explain away the
circumstances; for even to her whom he knew would forgive much he hardly
dared venturing an explanation; knowing too well that his conduct was
not to any extent defensible. He, however, determined to make the
attempt to see Eleanor, and endeavour to remove from her mind any
impression that might be injurious to his cause; and with that idea he
approached the house.

Oh, Smithers, you ignorant inflated fool! How little you know the nature
of woman, and how less you can estimate their worth, and appreciate the
value of such an one as her who has surrendered her heart to thy
keeping! Thinkest thou that it is woman's only province to forgive? That
thy perpetual contumely should be continually pardoned, and thou,
without any innate goodness or recommendatory virtue, should ever claim
the devotion of a spirit the personification of purity, while thy
conduct is such as would make that spirit, were not its adjuncts truth
and compassion, shrink with loathing from the vile contamination of your
very breath, and a fear of the consequences of your truculence and
inhumanity! It is true, some women blinded by the infatuation of love,
would sacrifice their happiness, peace, and liberty, even life, on the
unworthy object of their ardent affection; but if thou believest this,
buoy not thyself up with the idea that all thy sins will be forgiven
thee! Eleanor has had much to deprecate in thee! many have been the
wounds thy churlishness has inflicted on her gentle nature, and though
she was willing to sacrifice all her earthly happiness to maintain
intact her truth and honour, yet remember she is not actuated by love,
but by an exalted sense of duty. Let her once be convinced that she is
exonerated from a performance of that, and thy bird has flown. Duty has
a strong tractive influence on a mind attuned to a high appreciation of
integrity; but love is a still more powerful incentive, and dost thou
know thou art not the happy possessor of that love? Yes, thou not only
knowest that no such sentiment is felt for you by that being whose
purity thou contemnest, but thou fearest, nay, even art certain, that
the object of that being's love is another; and that other he whom thou
hast striven to make thine enemy! Yet, knowing all this, thinkest thou
that woman, frail confiding woman, could trust thee as her mundane
protector? Because Eleanor has forgiven much, thou thinkest thyself
secure; but if this last is not the _coup de grâce_ in thy catalogue of
contumacious infamies we shall be inclined to deprecate Eleanor's
leniency. But to return.

One of Bob Smithers' characteristics was a conceited self-complacency
that distended his very soul with its blinding virus; and, speaking in
the figurative of a popular apothegm, he estimated his commendable
qualities as equivalent to no insignificant quantity of that mean
maltine beverage which we thirsty members of the great Anglo-Saxon
family call small-beer. He therefore thought he had but to go to his
betrothed with a penitential cast of countenance, and claim as a right,
and receive as a matter of course, that forgiveness which he was
entitled to expect.

"I was only", (he said apologetically to himself), "in a bit of 'a scot'
at the time, and when she came in my way I pushed her off when she fell.
It was her own fault, and she must know I did nothing to her but what
any other man similarly situated would have done."

At the conclusion of his meditations he stepped on to the verandah of
the house, and seeing a servant passing out of the sitting-room, into
which he had entered by the window, he called her and asked, "Where was
her mistress, or Miss Eleanor?"

"Miss Eleanor is ill, and missus is with her," replied the girl who
looked awkward and rather sheepish at her questioner.

"Is Miss Eleanor very bad, Mary?" asked Smithers.

"I think she is, sir," replied she.

"Mary! Mary!" called a voice that was almost instantly followed by the
utterer, Kate, who ran into the room, saying: "Do run out, and try and
find Mr. Rainsfield." But she had hardly got the words out of her mouth,
as she stood in the doorway of the room, than, catching sight of
Smithers, she uttered a faint scream, and fled hastily from his
presence. She was instantly followed by the girl, who had partly heard
the cause of her young mistress' illness, and was desirous to escape the
questioning of one whose character she could also despise.

Smithers stood musing for some minutes, not altogether pleased with
these evidences of repulsion on the part of Eleanor's friends; but his
fears of their influence over her mind were only momentary. He must see
her, he said to himself; have an interview with her, and the little
difficulty will soon be arranged. Then he would hurry his marriage, he
thought, and take Eleanor away from the hated influence. "Those
Fergusons," he continued in his soliloquy, "are a pragmatic, hateful
lot, and I can't understand why Rainsfield does not keep them away from
his place." Smithers firmly believed they had been created for the
express purpose of causing him annoyance; and their present especial
object in settling in that district was to frustrate his marriage, and
rob him of his bride elect. "But he would defeat them," he said to
himself, "or he'd be--;" but here his mental reservations were
interrupted by Mrs. Rainsfield, who exclaimed as she entered the room:
"So, sir! you dare to show yourself again in my house after the vile
atrocity you have been guilty of. As to your infamy I do not wonder at
it, for it is only the fructification of a nature equally depraved,
brutal, and worthless. But after your insulting attack upon a guest of
mine, and your cruelty to a gentle and amiable girl that you should
have ventured within the precincts of this house I am truly astonished.
I know you to be too great a coward to do so did you think there was any
possibility of your meeting with the one who so lately gave you your
deserts; and I can only attribute your presence now as a further proof
of your arrogance, and to an endeavour to insult the female inmates of
this dwelling."

"I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Rainsfield," replied the object of
that lady's invectives; "I never offered any insult to you or any other
lady in this house; so your strictures on me are quite uncalled for."

"What, sir! can you stand before me with such barefaced effrontery, and
tell me such an unequivocal falsehood?" cried the lady. "Have you not
insulted me by cajoling from my presence a gentleman, who is my friend
and visitor, to basely assault him? and then what do you say of your
dastardly behaviour to that girl who was contemplating her own misery
and destruction by throwing herself away on such a wretch as you?"

"I decline to answer you, madam," said Smithers, "for your language is
most offensive."

"Then even you are susceptible on the point of feeling," replied Mrs.
Rainsfield, "and yet you think I can't feel an insult. I tell you, sir,
that if you had subjected me to the treatment that you did Eleanor I
should have considered it an offence of the most unpardonable nature.
But I love Eleanor even better than I do myself, and you may therefore
expect no mercy at my hands. For your offence to myself I shall expect
an expiation by your totally absenting yourself from this house; and if
I have any influence over the mind of that ill-used girl (which I hope
and trust I have), you may rest assured it will be exercised to your
disadvantage. So, sir, without any further parley, I have to request
that you instantly leave the house."

"I shall do nothing of the sort, madam," replied Smithers, "your
husband I presume is the master of this house?"

"Well, sir, I expect him here every moment," exclaimed the lady, "and if
you do not obey my injunctions you shall be forcibly expelled from the
premises."

"And situated as I am," continued Smithers not heeding the last threat
of his irate companion, "with regard to Eleanor, I think I am entitled
to see her."

"You shall not be admitted to her presence, sir," replied the lady.

"I wish to see her," said Smithers, "to explain the circumstances under
which the accident occurred."

"Accident indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Rainsfield. "It requires no
explanation, sir, it speaks for itself. I have already had your
brutality recounted by an eyewitness."

"By her friend I presume and one that is therefore not mine," sneered
Smithers, "the sister of that villain who first poisoned Eleanor's mind
towards me."

"Cease, sir! your invectives against one with whom you are not worthy to
be mentioned in the same breath," cried Mrs. Rainsfield. "It was Miss
Ferguson who related to me the unmanly and ruffianly manner in which you
hurled Eleanor to the ground. She now lies with her life in imminent
peril, and yet you have the audacity to stand before me and call it an
accident which you will be able to explain."

"Yes, madam! I am confident I shall be able to satisfy Eleanor that it
was not intentional on my part. I am exceedingly grieved that she should
be so extremely ill, but believe me, Mrs. Rainsfield, this once, that if
you will permit me to see her only for a few minutes I will be quite
contented, and will certainly relieve her mind from any impression of my
having wilfully harmed her."

"No, sir! it is useless your attempting to alter my determination. I
tell you emphatically, that you shall not see her. She is now in a
raging fever, and the sight of you at this moment might extinguish the
flickering flame of her existence. To save me from any painful
necessity, I trust, sir, you will see the expediency of ceasing your
importunities and at once taking your departure."

"I much regret that you will not permit me to see Eleanor," exclaimed
Smithers, "because I am sure you are acting under a misapprehension of
my motives and actions. If you would but permit me to explain, I--"

"It is useless, sir."

"But I am confident you must have been misinformed of the circumstances.
Your informant is no friend of mine, and would have consequently given
the affair a colouring detrimental to my interests."

Mrs. Rainsfield could stand no more of this colloquy, and with
difficulty suppressed her rage. It had twice or thrice been just on the
point of overflowing; but now it was beyond her power to restrain it. To
have her young friend Kate branded as a liar by the infamous viper
before her struck her dumb with indignation; and it was some moments
before she regained the power of utterance, when she exclaimed:

"You mean grovelling, despicable villain! You must of necessity add to
your opprobriousness by including Miss Ferguson among those whom you
choose to insult, and attack her with your scurrility. Because you
generate lies yourself do you think she is capable of uttering
falsehoods? I will endure you no longer. Instantly leave this house,
sir, do you hear me? or I'll--"

"Pray, what is the matter, my dear?" enquired Mr. Rainsfield, who
entered at this moment.

"Oh, John! cause that man to leave the house, and I'll tell you,"
replied his wife.

"My dear Rainsfield," commenced Smithers, but was cut short by the
infuriated lady, who exclaimed:

"Not a word in my presence, sir. I have already ordered you to leave the
house; do you intend to obey me?" Then, turning to her husband, Mrs.
Rainsfield said in a voice almost choking with passion: "John, will you
not assist and support me? I have been grossly insulted by that man, who
persists in defying me. Is he to continue doing so?" and she sank into a
chair, and gave vent to her excited feelings in a flood of tears.

Rainsfield was not one of those unfortunates, belonging to that class of
marital bipeds known as "hen-pecked husbands," though he was certainly
of an uxorious disposition. It cannot therefore be supposed that he
could have calmly witnessed the distress of mind his spouse evidently
appeared to be in without feeling some sympathy; and she being in that
state in which philosophers tell us woman soonest touches the heart of
inexorable man, viz., in tears, that sympathy was heightened.
Rainsfield's connubial heart was softened at the evidence of his wife's
woes; he therefore turned to Smithers, and said: "Leave us together just
now, Bob; I'll see you before you go."

It must be distinctly understood that though Rainsfield, as he was in
duty bound, sided with his wife on this occasion, he had no desire to
quarrel with Smithers, even if his wife had; far from it. It is true he
had heard something of the little fracas of flogging and fainting; but
that was nothing to him. If the young men chose to quarrel, he
considered, let them do so! and if his cousin chose to interfere, and
get hard knocks for so doing, he could not help it. If the girl had
fainted it was a pity, but what influence had he over her syncope? Women
always made a great deal, he thought, about those things, but generally
cool down after a while and forget such little grievances. So when he
communicated to Smithers his wish that he should leave the house, he did
so with an expression in his look that plainly said: "Never mind, old
fellow, you will lose nothing by leaving your case in my hands." The
delinquent, we have no doubt, fully understood it, for he instantly
obeyed the behest. Let it be said, however, to the credit of Mr.
Rainsfield, that as he took this view of the case he was only aware that
Eleanor had fainted and was ill; but had no idea that William Ferguson
had gone off to Alma for a doctor, and that Eleanor's case was so
dangerous. He therefore imagined that his wife had magnified her danger,
and the heinousness of Smithers' crime; and consequently thought more
lightly of the whole affair than did his partner. But he was shortly to
be undeceived.

As Smithers left the room Rainsfield took a seat beside his wife and
said: "Well, my dear, what is the cause of all this? you seem agitated.
I have heard something of what has happened, but surely that is not
sufficient cause for your angry altercation with Bob Smithers, and
making yourself miserable."

"Do you not think so, John?" she replied; "first to have Eleanor nearly
brought to death's door (for she is in such a raging fever that I have
been compelled to get William Ferguson to go to Alma for a doctor), and
then to be insulted and openly defied in my own house by the villain who
is the cause of it all; do you not think that is sufficient to make me
agitated?"

"Certainly, my dear," replied her husband, "the matter appears to me in
a new light. I was not aware it was of so serious a nature; pray tell me
all about it."

Mrs. Rainsfield was not long in replying to this mandate, and speedily
gave her husband a detailed account of the horrors of Smithers'
proceedings, permitting them in nowise to lose in her narrative any of
their force and piquancy. She then wound up her recapitulation of
atrocities by demanding to know if her husband could think of permitting
so vile a man to darken his door again. "Understand me, John," she said,
"I shall expect you to protect me against him and his insults: and that
can't be done while his presence here is tolerated. If ever he enters
this house I shall most assuredly consider that you are conniving at
his insolence, and shall certainly confine myself to my own room during
his stay."

We have seen that Mr. Rainsfield was mindful of his wife's wishes, but
at the same time had no desire to make a breach with Smithers;
consequently he found himself in a dilemma, from which he saw no
extrication without giving offence to one or other of the parties. He
therefore made no promise to his wife.

"You don't answer me, John," said she, "what am I to consider you think
of his conduct?"

"Well, my dear," replied her husband, "I really can't tell. It is
certainly reprehensible, but there is no use quarrelling with Smithers.
If it is any satisfaction to you that he should not visit us I dare say
he will not trouble you; but for my own part I can't see how you can
expect him to forego his right to see Eleanor."

"Eleanor herself, when she recovers, if she ever does, will relieve him
from that obligation," replied Mrs. Rainsfield.

"How can you say that?" said her husband. "She has expressed no
intention of doing so."

"No, certainly; the poor girl is not in a state to express any
determination," replied the wife; "but do you think she will suffer
herself to be led to the altar by a brute like him, a man who has shown
himself on more than one occasion quite unworthy of her? If she has got
the spirit I think she has she will treat him with that contempt which
he deserves."

"I see how it is," exclaimed Rainsfield, "you are prejudiced against
Smithers."

"Prejudiced against Smithers, John?" replied his wife; "yes, I may be,
but not in the sense you mean. You fancy I dislike the man because I
would prefer Eleanor to accept another but you are mistaken. Hitherto I
never disliked Smithers as a man, but as a suitor of Eleanor I certainly
abhor him; and for this reason that I saw her inevitable fate would be
misery and wretchedness if she were ever mated to him. Now though I have
more than ever cause not only to detest him for his insolence to me but
to fear him for Eleanor's life."

"You are infatuated against him," replied the husband. "And for this
quarrel of yours you would wish to destroy his happiness irrespective of
the feelings of Eleanor herself. You say she is really ill and cannot be
spoken to on the subject; then at present let the matter rest until her
recovery."

"On one condition only," replied Mrs. Rainsfield, "and that is that
Smithers in the interval be banished from the house. If you agree to
that I am content to leave his further expatriation to her good
judgment."

"So let it be," replied her husband. "I'll see Bob, and try to persuade
him to let the settlement of the affair remain in _statu quo_."

With that the couple parted, the wife to return to the sick room, and
the husband to seek Smithers. We will not trace their steps on their
respective missions but merely state that Mrs. Rainsfield and Kate
passed an anxious night with their invalid. At an early hour on the
following morning, hearing a horseman's step passing the house, while
they were anxiously expecting the doctor, Mrs. Rainsfield looked from
the window of the room where she was keeping her vigils and detected the
retreating outline of Bob Smithers' form as he departed for his home.
Her husband she had not seen since their interview in the parlour, but
as she had not since that time left Eleanor's bedside it gave her no
concern; or at least she never thought of an absence of which she was
not cognizant. However he had been absent all night, and while the
doctor, who had arrived with William shortly after the departure of
Smithers, was administering his febrifuges to poor Eleanor he was
enacting the scene which we will detail to the reader.

Rainsfield had had a long conversation with Smithers on the subject
that had been communicated to him by his wife; and had, after a good
deal of persuasion, induced him to agree to absent himself from
Strawberry Hill until Eleanor's recovery.

Smithers, when he found his companion disposed to favour him, was the
louder in his asseverations of guiltlessness; demanding an instant
opportunity of explanation, and vowing vengeance against everybody
concerned, and John Rainsfield in particular, for not being master in
his own house. However Rainsfield, though he was inclined to forget his
dignity by stooping to entreaty with him, was nevertheless firm to his
purpose, and not to be intimidated by his blustering; and at last
succeeded in inducing him to promise to take his departure by daylight
the following morning, so as to avoid the possibility of any further
unpleasantness. With that he left him to his own meditations, and walked
away.

Mr. Rainsfield had not taken many steps beyond the out-buildings
belonging to the house before he heard his own name called in a cautious
manner from behind a tree; and, glancing his eye in the direction whence
came the voice, he was startled to see the stalwart figure of a black,
half concealed behind the trunk, beckoning him with his finger. The
suddenness of the apparition for some moments unnerved him, and deprived
him of the power of utterance. He, however, mastered his fears; and, as
his self-control returned, he demanded to know what the black wanted
with him.

"You know me, Mr. Rainsfield?" replied the black, "I'm Jemmy Davies."

"Oh, yes, I know you," replied Mr. Rainsfield, "but I thought you and
the whole of your tribe had left the country."

"So we did, sir, but we've all come back again, and a great many more of
the tribe too, and they are determined to kill you. Barwang and all
Dugingi's friends will kill you, and I can't prevent them though I've
tried; for they are too strong for me. So I've come to give you
warning."

"They intend to kill me, do they? then, by G--! they shall repent their
rash resolve. But how am I to believe this?" asked Mr. Rainsfield of the
black. "You! you wretch, have you got some vile scheme in your head.
Think yourself fortunate that I've no gun with me or I'd shoot you on
the spot."

"You wouldn't shoot me," replied Jemmy Davies; "didn't Mr. Tom tell you
that I'm always a good friend to you, how I tried to stop Dugingi from
stealing your rations when you killed so many of our tribe; and now I
come to tell you that they want to kill you and you think me no good.
But what for do you think, Mr. Rainsfield, I want to do you harm? If I
want to see you die I wouldn't tell you of this; but let the black
fellows kill you. If you will not believe me I can't help it; but if you
like to come down to the crossing-place to-night at dark I'll meet you
and show you our camp in the scrub; when you will see if I tell you a
lie. I will stop Barwang and his friends as long as I can, but I can't
prevent them altogether from coming to you; so you had better look out
and be ready."

This warning sounded as an avenging declaration in the ear of
Rainsfield. He had for sometime flattered himself on his security and
tranquillity; and hoped, nay even believed, that he had effectually
ridden himself of a hitherto incessant annoyance. But now that the
surviving friends of his foes had returned, with the avowed object of
seeking vengeance, he was troubled in his mind. He, however, determined
to further question his informant, and, rousing himself from a reverie
into which he had fallen, perceived that the black had departed. Mr.
Rainsfield dragged through the remainder of the day with a heavy heart,
and never more than then regretted the absence of his brother. Should he
accept the black's invitation? he asked himself. It would be a
satisfaction to know in what force they were collected; but then (he
thought) the messenger might mean treachery. However, he would go; he
could detect it if it existed, and if it was attempted he could shoot
the wretch before he had time or opportunity to betray him. Yes (he
thought) he would arm himself well, and meet Jemmy Davies at the time
and place he appointed.

"I'm glad you've come, Mr. Rainsfield," exclaimed the black, emerging
from the obscurity of the bush, as the squatter rode down to the bank of
the river some few hours after the last interview.

"Yes I've come," said Rainsfield, "and at your bidding; but see I am
well armed," as he pointed to a brace of revolvers in his belt, "and, if
you are attempting to play me false, the first shot I'll fire shall be
through your body."

"Never fear me, Mr. Rainsfield," replied Jemmy Davies, "I'm not going to
betray you. My greatest fear is not from your pistols but from the
tomahawks of my tribe; for if they find me with you they will be sure to
kill me."

"Very well," said Rainsfield, "I'll follow you, lead the way;" and the
two crossed the stream in silence.

"You had better leave your horse here, sir," said the guide, "in case he
should be heard by the tribe."

Rainsfield acted on this hint and dismounted; and fastening the animal
to a tree, he said to the black: "Now you can go on, but remember if
this is a trap for me you had better think twice before you proceed; for
I shall keep my hand ready to lodge a ball in your heart the moment I
perceive any treachery."

"Never be afraid, sir," replied the black, who continued to thread the
scrub in silence with his companion close to his heels. When they had
proceeded thus for some little time Rainsfield perceived by the
appearance of lights, and the noise of the blacks' voices, that they
were nearing "the camp." Jemmy Davies desired him to keep close to him,
and make no noise, as they were nearer the camp than appeared through
the thick scrub, and then led him a few steps further forward, when the
whole tribe became plainly discernible. They then dropt on their hands
and knees and crept close up to what we may call the circumvallation of
the gunyahs; and the crouching white man surveyed intently the scene
before him. Then would have been the time to have profited by his
position if treachery had been meditated; but not a leaf stirred around
them, while Rainsfield was lost in a reverie none of the most pleasant.
He was, however, aroused from this by Jemmy Davies, who pointed to a
group apart from the body of the tribe consisting of about fifteen men,
who were all armed with their spears, nullanullas, and boomerangs, and
were painted for a corroboree. One black, taller than the rest, was
haranguing them at the moment, and his hearers were apparently
acquiescing in his directions, from the yells and other marks of
approbation with which they from time to time greeted his diatribe.

"That's Barwang and his friends," whispered Jemmy as he drew away his
companion from the spot. "They will have a great corroboree to-morrow,
and then you look out. To-morrow night they will come up to the station
to watch, very likely they will be somewhere about where you saw me this
morning; so if you keep some one on the look-out, and fire some shots
into the bush, they will think you see them and keep away. They won't do
anything to-morrow night, but watch. When they come up to kill you there
will come a great many, so keep looking out."

Rainsfield and his companion returned to the crossing-place, when the
former mounted his horse and passed through the river, while the latter
returned to his tribe.



CHAPTER VII.

          "Till taught by pain,
    Men really know not what good water's worth."

    BYRON.


The reader will remember Tom Rainsfield's journey to town had been
delayed for some time beyond when he had originally intended to start
owing to the precarious state of Eleanor's health; consequently, when he
took his departure, it was necessary for him to use speed in his
travelling.

The summer had by that time considerably advanced, and the country had
suffered much from the continued drought that had prevailed for months.
Rain was anxiously and hopingly looked for, and a pluvial visitation
would have been hailed by the entire population with satisfaction. Tom,
as he journeyed, saw this desideratum more plainly than before leaving
home; for, as he mounted on to the extensive plains contiguous to the
source of the Gibson river, the parched bare soil became perfectly
uncomfortable to travel on.

These plains were of fine black alluvial soil, so thinly timbered as to
have hardly a tree visible within range of the eye. They were covered
with grass, which, when the earth contained any moisture, flourished
luxuriantly, and would at times stand waving like an agrarian picture of
cereal plenty, so abundant as to impede the progress of the equestrian
traveller. But now a "change had come o'er the spirit of the dream," and
the herbous mass lay scorched and dry on the arid ground, offering no
nutriment to the browsing kine, and only requiring a single spark to
generate a grand combustion.

Much has been said and written of the burning prairies of America, and
of the bush-fires of Australia; and we may remark, it is in such places
as these plains where they originate. Though not so extensive and
destructive in their course of devastation as those fearful
conflagrations in the western hemisphere, the bush-fires are still
frequently of sufficient magnitude to be perfectly irresistible; and
occurring as they usually do in the heart of a settled country, they are
rendered more dangerous to human life and property. How they originate
often remains a mystery. Of course carelessness frequently gives rise to
them; though at the same time they have been known to occur in parts
where neither whites nor blacks ever tread; and too often, when the
destroying element rages over and sweeps away a homestead or a farm, the
work is attributed to the incendiarism of some inoffensive blacks, who
are made to suffer at the hands of the whites.

Tom Rainsfield journeyed on his course over these plains that looked
like a vast neglected hay-field; except in parts where water had lodged
and formed temporary ponds or "water-holes." There it presented an area
of black mud, baked hard by the power of the sun, and had absorbed so
much of its heat as to render it even painful for a horse to stand upon.
Tom rode under vertical rays, keeping as much as possible on the
withered grass (as being more comfortable than the sun-absorbing and
reflecting road), without the companionship of a fellow traveller to
relieve the monotony and solitude of the way; and not daring to indulge
in the consolation of a pipe, lest a stray spark should ignite the
inflammable material at his feet. Miles and miles of this weary and
trying travelling were passed, and Tom was not sorry when the track
entered a country less open, and he once more rode through bush land.

Here, too, the ground, though partially sheltered from the sun's rays,
was equally devoid of feed and moisture. Not a blade of grass was to be
seen, nor a drop of water in the creeks and water-holes. For himself,
notwithstanding that his thirst was insatiable, Tom cared little; he
could manage to do without a drink until he reached the end of his day's
stage; but it was for the faithful animal that carried him that he
anxiously scrutinized every spot likely to contain the smallest
reservoir of the much coveted liquid. But his researches were all
unavailing; as yet no water could he find; until at one point on the
road, when he had almost given up the search as hopeless, he spied a
large swamp filled with reeds, in which a herd of cattle lay almost
concealed, apparently cooling themselves in the water. Here then he had
no doubt he should find what he and his horse had so much desired; and
hastening on to the black adamantine margin of what had formerly been a
large lagoon, he witnessed a sight that struck him with dismay. Not one
drop of water was visible in the extensive basin, and the cattle which
he had imagined were luxuriating in a natural refrigerator, were dead
and immovable.

Such scenes are common under similar circumstances; and at times, while
the country is suffering from the effects of a drought, to see cattle
"bogged" in a water-hole is only thought of as a necessary consequence
fully expected, and therefore hardly to be deplored. Still when
witnessed by one who may be seeking that which is essential to life, to
allay a thirst which may be consuming, it is enough to make the heart of
such sink within him; and, though Tom was hardly in so reduced a
predicament, yet he could not gaze on the unfortunate animals without
some unpleasant admixture of perturbation and concern.

In the swamp as many as fifty cattle had sought shelter from the heat
and moisture for their thirsty tongues. But having waded through the
mud, into which they had sank to their middles, they had possibly
satisfied themselves for the moment with a concoction of glutinous soil
and vapid lukewarm water; but, from their exhausted strength, had not
been able to extricate themselves from their miry bondage, and had
consequently died in their captivity. The mud at the time of Tom's visit
had perfectly hardened, and he traversed the whole bed of the swamp, in
the vain hope of finding some friendly hole in which a few welcome drops
might be found for his worn-out steed. But his search was fruitless, and
he was at last reluctantly compelled to relinquish it, from the attacks
of myriads of flies, who were disturbed at their bovine repast. He at
length continued his journey with a worn-out horse and a fagged and
jaded spirit, and was not a little grateful, as evening gathered its
shades around, to espy the glimmer of a light from the station which was
his night's destination.

Tom's further progress was equally tedious and trying. The whole country
seemed parched up, and it was with the greatest difficulty he could push
on at all; and as the fatigue to himself and his horse necessitated him
to make his day's stages much shorter than he desired, it was the sixth
day from his leaving Strawberry Hill that he entered the village of
Waverley on the Brisbane river.

When we call this a village it is only out of courtesy that we are
guilty of such a misnomer. For though, by the government plan of the
township, it looks a well-arranged and thriving place, we must state,
notwithstanding that building allotments had from time to time been put
up at auction by the government, and we may add found purchasers, and
that the existence of a public-house, rejoicing in the high-sounding
title of the Royal Hotel, lent an imposing air to the place,--the
gracefully tinted Queen Street, Albert Street, Prince of Wales Street,
etc. etc., of the elaborate survey office map, only existed in the mind
of the surveyor, and the imagination of the land-jobber. The said
thriving thoroughfares remained in a state of primeval grandeur; having
their boundaries marked, for the convenience of inquisitive seekers
after information, by small pegs driven into the ground, and whose sole
object seemed to be to lie concealed and bewilder those who might desire
to find them.

By the foresaid plan this town or village (or, as the Americans would
say, this city) of Waverley was laid out with considerable taste. The
streets were all broad and at right angles; with a market reserve;
grants for church sites to various denominations of Christians; and a
broad quay facing the river, either for commercial purposes or for a
promenade for the inhabitants. But in reality the whole of the
architecture of the place was comprised in the sole habitation, the
Royal Hotel; which was built near the bank of the river, with a rough
fence enclosing three sides of a piece of ground that ran down to the
water's edge. This constituted the paddock for the horses of weary
travellers; and, judging from the dilapidated and generally insecure
state of the fence, argued the rare occurrence of a quadrupedal
occupancy. However, the sight of these little imperfections gave Tom no
concern, as he was confident his animal would not attempt, in the state
of fatigue to which he was reduced, to go roaming; and what gladdened
his heart more than anything was the sight of what he had long been
unacquainted with, fresh water. It was therefore with a considerable
amount of mental relief that he rode up to the unpretending hostlery. He
alighted at a door before which stood a post suspending a nondescript
lamp of antideluvian construction, and bearing from its appearance
questionable evidence of its ever having been submitted to the ordeal of
beaconing the path of the weary traveller. On the same post was affixed
a board on which the sign of the house was very plainly executed in
Roman character; informing, and we think very necessarily so, the
occasional visitor there was to be had accommodation for man and beast.

The road leading to the Royal Hotel was not the one usually taken by
travellers from the interior to Brisbane. But Tom had chosen it to
avoid the more frequented track; knowing that in the present state of
the country travelling on the latter would be much more difficult and
troublesome. Therefore he had come by this secluded spot; intending to
cross the river, and travel down by the northern bank to Brisbane, while
the usual route was through the thriving and populous town of Ipswich,
and down the southern side of the Brisbane river.

Tom Rainsfield entered the inn; and having his horse taken round by the
landlord to a bark shed designated a stable, where he preferred tending
the animal himself, rather than leaving him to the tender mercies of a
stranger, he gave him a drink of water and a feed of corn; and then
placing some bush hay at his disposal, left him to practise his
mastication, and make the most of his time. Having thus arranged for the
comforts of his steed Tom next thought of himself; so strolling into
the house, while something was preparing to satisfy the cravings of his
inward man, he walked into "the bar," to indulge in a pipe with
something cheering, and amuse himself by a little conversation with the
landlord. He entered the precincts of that _quarterre_ devoted to the
worship of the rosy god, and where the ministering spirit presided,
stationed behind a primitive sort of counter or bench, and at whose back
stood two kegs with taps and sundry bottles arranged on a shelf. These
(whatever their contents) appeared to be the stock-in-trade of the
establishment; excepting a large cask which stood in a corner, and which
by its appearance indicated spirituous contents, from whose bulk
probably the smaller kegs were from time to time replenished. Into this
sanctum then walked our friend Tom Rainsfield, and after calling for a
drink, and desiring the landlord in bush fashion to join him, he lit his
pipe; and taking his seat on the counter entered into the following
dialogue.

"I shouldn't think you did much business here?"

"Oh, pretty fair, sir."

"Why, there doesn't appear to be many who frequent this room. I should
have thought it would have hardly been worth your while to have kept a
house in this place."

"Nor more it would if I lived by gents a-stopping at my house; for I
don't get one of 'em a month. But you see them as pays me is the
sawyers; there are lots of 'em about these parts, cutting timber on the
hills and in the scrubs; and when they get their logs down into the
river they mostly stop here a while drinking before they raft the timber
over the flats on their way down to the mills. Then when they come back
they generally stop a while on the spree before they go to work. So, you
see, I makes a pretty good thing out of 'em; besides you see I keeps
rations here as well as grog, and sell them to the fellers when they run
short and ain't got no money."

"But don't you often lose your money? I suppose they have none when they
go to town with their rafts, and very little when they come back; that
is even if they ever do come back; then I suppose you lose your score."

"Oh, I manage to get it; precious few ever 'bilk' me, for I know my
marks pretty well, and them as I fancy won't come back I get to pay me
in timber; and I brand the logs with my own brand, and give some of the
fellers I can trust so much a hundred feet to raft them down for me. But
mostly the chaps come back before they have spree'd away all their
money. So I gets my share, as they pay me then what they owe me, and
have another go in until they 'knock down their pile.'"

"And how much do their 'piles' consist of?"

"Well, I couldn't say anything regular. I have had as much as a hundred
pounds 'knocked down' by one man at a time." And as the man said this he
smiled and heaved a sigh that seemed to say those were prosperous times
for him. True enough it was that he had had as large a sum of money paid
to him by one man; but as to the amount being actually spent, or an
equivalent even in liquor supplied, is extremely doubtful; but to follow
them in their conversation, Tom remarked:

"And then they return to their work, I suppose, quite penniless?"

"Oh, yes, it is very few of them ever have any money when they get back
to the scrubs; they have no use for it there, so they spend it like
men."

"Like fools you mean."

"No I don't. What is the use of the poor man saving his money? he can't
do anything with it; he can't buy any land to settle on; and he doesn't
care to save up his money to be robbed of it or lose it; he works hard
enough to get it, and so likes to spend it himself."

"That is certainly one idea why working men should spend their hard-got
earnings. I should have imagined that men who had laboured hard, and
were living in the bush and scrubs in all sorts of discomfort, would
have had some desire to better their condition, and would have
accumulated means accordingly."

"Not a bit of it, sir! they couldn't do anything with their money when
they got it."

"Could they not buy a piece of land and commence farming? Here, for
instance, the land seems excellently adapted for agricultural purposes."

"They can't get none, sir. The government folks won't sell any to the
poor man, leastwise the poor man can't buy none, and if he wants any he
is forced to buy it off the 'jobbers,' who generally screw him so much
that it doesn't pay. So the fellers prefer keeping to the scrubs cutting
timber; 'cos then they are not bound to work for sharpers, and can just
please themselves."

It was evident the landlord of the Royal Hotel did not classify himself
in the category of those astute blades whom he designated by so cutting
an epithet; though Tom's opinion on that head somewhat differed from
"mine host's." He considered him a swindler of no ordinary magnitude,
though merely a type of his class. He was one of those locusts who
fattened on the hard working and reckless classes of colonial labourers;
who when they are plundering their victims, even under the guise of
friendship, dissuade them from frugality; expatiating on the numerous
sources of fraud (excepting of course their own) to which "the poor men"
would be exposed; and by their vile persuasions and chicanery too often
succeeding in eliminating from the minds of those with whom they come in
contact all notions of providence; and confirming them in their reckless
and dissipated lives. These bush publicans are the cause of immense
misery and depravity, and cannot be too harshly stigmatized for the
enormity of their infamies.

Tom being informed that the edibles prepared for him were awaiting his
operations discontinued his dialogue, and adjourned to his epicurean
repast; at which satisfactory occupation we may leave him uninterrupted.
As his next day's stage would only be some five and twenty miles he
determined to delay his departure until the afternoon so as to give his
weary horse some additional rest; and it was therefore past noon on the
following day when he mounted his nag and left the village of Waverley.

In leaving the inn he traversed the bank of the river for some few
hundred yards on his way to the flats where he was to cross when he
overtook a man that apparently had preceded him from the inn, and they
both went on together. The flats at this time were almost dry; for the
water in the river had long ceased to run, and at the particular spot to
which we allude, which was in ordinary times used as a ford, it could
have been crossed dry-shod, while above and below it the river remained
simply currentless pools. As Tom rode down to the bed of the river he
was struck with the immense number of logs that laid scattered about,
some on the banks, some in the river above, and some below, where a
small boat was moored, and a party of sawyers and raftmen camped. To
this party Tom's companion evidently belonged, and had apparently been
despatched to the public-house by his mates, as he was returning with
two suspicious-looking protuberances on each side of his bosom. These,
to outward appearance, very much resembled the outlines of bottles that
had been thrust into the ample folds of his blue shirt for convenience
and security of carriage. While trudging on the road alongside of Tom
Rainsfield the fellow gave evidence of a loquacious turn of mind by
commencing a conversation and inquiring if Tom was travelling to
Brisbane. Upon being informed by our friend that that was his
destination, and that he had come by way of Waverley to avoid the main
road on account of its desolate, dry, and feedless state, he remarked
with a whimsical smile: "I suppose you think that 'ere Waverley a fine
town?"

"It seems a very good site for a township," replied Tom. "There is good
land in the vicinity, and abundance of water. I daresay in the course of
a few years it will be a flourishing place."

"Not a bit of it, sir," said the man; "it never will be nothing. That
'ere house of Tom Brown's, 'The Royal,' as he calls it, will be the only
house in it for many a day, unless there be another public. Lor' bless
you, sir, that place of his even wouldn't be nothing if it wasn't for us
sawyers; we keeps old Brown alive, and he knows it."

"Well, my good friend," asked Tom, "what is to prevent others settling
in the town besides Tom Brown?"

"Why, what would be the good of it?" asked the other; "there would be
nothing for them to live upon. All the trade that's done is with us
sawyers, and there isn't more than Old Brown can do himself. Besides,
you see, most of the land that has been sold in the village has been
bought by the swells, who keep it to make money of it when some one
should want to buy."

"I have no doubt," said Tom, "the land in the vicinity will eventually
be sold for farming, and then the growth of the village arising from the
trade that will ensue will be rapid."

"Ah! there it is, sir. You see the squatters have got all the land now
for their sheep to feed on, and a poor man as has got a pound or two,
and wants a few acres, can't get 'em no how."

"But the government is continually putting up land for sale," said Tom;
"and if any man desired to avail himself of the opportunity surely he
could attend the sales and effect a purchase."

"No, sir, they couldn't," said the man; "for, you see, suppose I'm
working here in the bush and want to buy a bit of ground, how am I to
know when there is any for sale? They will perhaps mark out a few farms
near Brisbane, or Ipswich, and put 'em for sale, and they are sold off,
or leastwise the best of 'em, before I or any of my mates know anything
about it; or if so be as how I should get to hear of it and go to the
sale, there's so many people wanting 'em, perhaps gents who maybe live
in town, and want paddocks for their horses, that they will give better
prices than I can give; so, you see, I don't get half a chance. If I
want a bit of land to farm I think I ought to be able to get it anywhere
I like just as easy as the squatter can get his country. Axing your
pardon, sir, I suppose you're a squatter?"

"That's true, my good man," replied Tom; "but I think myself that the
restrictions on the land are vastly injurious to the country, though I
doubt, even if every facility was given to the working man to procure
land if he would avail himself of the opportunity; and, instead of being
of benefit to him in the way intended, I question if the land would not
fall into the hands of 'jobbers.' Such a state of things is equally, if
not more, to be deprecated than the present system of permitting it to
remain in the possession of the squatters; for now it is made available
for pasturage; whereas then it would be allowed to lie unproductive
until such a time as the speculator could see an opportunity of a
profitable realization."

"There would be plenty of us would buy lands and settle on them," said
the man, "if we only had the chance. Now if you like, sir, I'll just
tell you a case."

Tom, though he knew all the man said was perfectly true, offered no
objection to the narrative, being desirous of eliciting from him his
notions on the subject, which was a much vexed one in the whole colony,
and purposely encouraged him to launch as deeply into it as he thought
fit.

"It is about my brother, sir," said the man, "so I know it is quite
true, and you may believe it. We both came to this country together
about seven years ago, and took to cutting timber and rafting because it
paid well those times; and we made plenty of money, though we spent it
as fast as we got it. But somehow my brother didn't join much with the
other fellows, for he always was a steady chap, but took to saving his
money, and 'you may believe me,' it wasn't long before he had got 'a
pile,' of more than two hundred pounds. Now, sir, you see, when Bill
(that was his name) had saved all that money nothing would do him but he
must have a bit of ground and commence farming. There was a talk then of
some land being marked out somewhere near this 'ere town of Waverley; so
Bill thought he would like to have a few acres hereabouts better than
anywhere else. He asked some one who knew all about that sort of thing
how he should go about it to buy some, and the chap told him that he
ought to go to Brisbane and ask of the surveyors. So off he went to what
they call the survey office, and told the big-wig there that he wanted
to buy some land. Now this card showed him a lot of plans of where, he
said, they had land for sale; and Bill looks at 'em and took directions,
and went into the bush to have a look at 'em. But he found 'em to be no
good; they was only lots that had been left at the government sales,
when all the best pieces had been sold, and the ironbark ranges and
quartzy or barren gravelly country left; so he wouldn't buy any of 'em,
and told the chap in the office that he wanted some at Waverley; but he
told him he couldn't have none there as it wasn't surveyed.

"Now the party Bill stopped with put him up to a wrinkle how he would
get the land he wanted to be surveyed 'cos he knew how to manage it. He
got up a requisition, or made an application, to have some lands on the
Brisbane river at Waverley surveyed and put up for sale, and sent it to
the government, as he said that was the sure way to get it. But it was
no go; the survey chaps told him that all the land thereabouts was
leased to squatters, and they couldn't touch it; but, says they, if you
want a nice piece of country there is some out here on the river, about
five miles away, that we are going to measure off into farms directly,
and they will just suit you; so, says they to my brother, just you go
out and have a look at them. Well, Bill went to look at 'em, and, sure
enough, they was first-rate land, so he said to himself I'll have a farm
there, and that's settled. But he was all wrong; for he didn't get a
farm there an' nowhere else as I shall tell you.

"When he came back, after having see'd the land, he went to the office
and told the people that that place would just suit him, and he would
take a farm and buy it right off. But they laughed at him, and told him
that he couldn't buy it before it was surveyed, but that in a short
time, a week or so at most, they would have it all right and ready for
sale; so Bill thought he might make the best of it and wait. A couple
of weeks passed and he went to them, but it was not done; so he waited
another week or two, and went back again, when they told him that they
had had no time to see to it, but were going to do so very shortly. So
he waited another month, and then enquired, when they had the cheek to
tell him that they were obliged to put it off for they could not attend
to it at all, having so much work to do at other places; but that if he
would come back to town in about three months it would be all ready for
sale.

"Now Bill was bent upon having one of them farms, so, instead of letting
the surveyor chaps, and the farms too, go to--where-ever they liked for
their humbugging, he came back to the bush to work for the three months,
and then went to town again to look after the land. But when he went to
the office even then the fellers hadn't surveyed it; and instead of
telling him like men that they were only humbugging him, and never
intended to do it at all, they commenced their little games again, and
told him that the surveyors were then at work on a particular job, but
that as soon as they were done there they would go to the land he was
waiting for. Well, sir, it's no good my telling you all the ins and outs
of it; but the long and the short of it is they kept Bill in a string
for six months, and then they didn't do the work, and I don't know if it
is done now; so, you see, that's how us poor men can't get any land."

"I believe what you complain of is perfectly true," said Tom. "The
system is much to be deplored, but I hope it will shortly be improved.
Unless a man is on the spot, and can wait for an opportunity, such as
when a sale occurs, there is certainly very little chance for him; and
men that are employed in the bush very rarely if ever have that chance."

"Just so, sir," said the man.

"And what did your brother do with his money after having so much of it
and his time wasted in looking after this land?"

"Ah, sir! there is what makes me curse the land, and the surveyors, and
all the lot, for it killed Bill, and there never was a better feller
breathing. I'll tell you how it was, sir. I told you Bill was a steady
chap; he never used to drink, anyhow not to spree, you know; but, you'll
guess, no man could stop at a public-house for six months doing nothing
without getting on the spree. Bill used to walk up and down on the
verandah at the public where he stopped, and smoke his pipe, while he
thought how them fellers at the survey office were a-treating of him,
and he got miserable like in his spirits. So when fellows got to know
him, and used to come into the house, they'd ask him to take a nobbler
with them; and somehow, you see, though he didn't do nothing of the sort
at first, he was soon glad to get some one to join him in a drink, and
being at it all day, you know, he used to get very drunk at times; so he
went on until at last he was always drunk. Now Bill all this time had
been keeping his money by him, so that he would be ready, when he
wanted it, to buy his farm. So, what with always having plenty of money
'to shout' for other fellers (for you know, sir, he was a stunning
feller to shout when he got a little bit screwed), and the lots of
fellers as always stuck to him when they knew he got 'tin,' he very soon
got 'cleared out;' and one day, after a tremendous spree, when he had
been drunk for more than a week, he got 'the horrors,' and started to
come home to the scrub. I never saw him after that, sir; for he got
drowned in one of the creeks on the road, and was found by some shingle
splitters soon afterwards without a shilling in his pocket; so that's
what he got, poor fellow, for trying to turn farmer. Now you see, sir,
we don't see the good of doing like that; so we never trouble ourselves
about saving any money, and we are a deal better off, and a happier,
than them as do."

Tom did not attempt to refute the sophistry of this argument as he was
aware that it would be useless. He knew that the case of this man's
brother was by no means a solitary one; for not only had the suicidal
policy of the colonial government with regard to the disposal of the
waste lands been instrumental in the destruction of numerous victims
similar to this unsophisticated sawyer; but it was absolutely driving
that entire class of men into reckless extravagance and dissipation.
Whereas a liberal land policy would not only have engendered a spirit of
providence, but have offered an inducement, and have proved a stimulus,
to the country's settlement by a thriving rural population.

But the ministerial Solons of the country could not be induced to view
the subject in that light; hence this deplorable state of morality and
improvidence, which unfortunately pervades the great bulk of the country
population. In urban localities the evil is not so severely felt, as a
steady and industrious mechanic, with his accumulated savings, is
enabled to purchase a town allotment (which allotments are just
frequently enough thrust into the market by the government as to keep
the demand in excess of the supply), and to build on it a house, which
he erects by degrees, as his means admit. Thereby, in course of a short
time, he gathers round him in the land of his adoption a comfortable
little freehold property. Thus it is, nearly all the town workmen who
are possessed of any savings convert them into something substantial;
but for the bushmen no such opportunity exists; and hence it follows,
that the towns-people are generally industrious, steady, and frugal,
while those of the bush are too frequently the reverse.

"That certainly was a melancholy end for your brother," said Tom to his
companion, resuming the conversation that had lapsed for a few minutes.

"Yes, sir, it was; and if Bill, poor fellow, had just been content to
stick to the scrub like us he would most likely have been 'still to the
fore.' You see, sir, we live a jolly life; are quite contented, and
spend our money while we've got it. Now those fellows over there,"
continued the man as he pointed to the sawyer's camp, in sight of which
they had just arrived, "not one of 'em would give up his life to go and
work in town if you paid him ever so high wages."

"I've no doubt their mode of life is fascinating; but still I should
think the heavy drinking in which they indulge sometimes impairs their
health and constitution."

"Not a bit, sir! We never feel anything the worse for a spree, nor in
anyways sick; 'cos you see we work hard, and most always live in the
bush; so we are always healthy."

"I've no doubt that will preserve you in a great measure; but still you
must be perfectly aware that, even if you never experience any
deleterious effects, you continually leave yourself destitute; and if
anything in the way of sickness should happen to you, so as to
incapacitate you for work, you would not only starve, but die from
neglect and want of proper treatment.

"Don't you believe it, sir! There would be no fear of my wanting
anything. Do you think if one of my mates was sick now that I wouldn't
share with him what money I'd got, or that I wouldn't look after him as
if he was my brother? In course I would, and if I got sick my mates
would do the same for me."

By this time Tom and his companion had half crossed the bed of the
river; and noticing the plans the men had adopted to get their timber
over the flats, Tom commenced a fresh interrogation to elicit from his
travelling concomitant some information on the usual mode of procedure.
As the subject may have some degree of interest to a few of our readers
we will give in our own words the substance of the dialogue, craving
permission to premise it by a remark or two on the general life and
movements of sawyers.

They are a class of men who exist during the greater portion of the year
in the bush and scrubs bordering on the rivers and creeks, where they
unceasingly and uninterruptedly practise their vocations. They generally
work in gangs, either on equal shares or on wages to one of their
number, who may be more thoughtful than the rest; and one who,
notwithstanding a fair share of dissipation, may have accumulated,
possibly through the influence of a thrifty wife, some considerable
means. The classes of timber most in demand, and therefore most sought
for by these men, are cedar and pine; which are procured separately, in
certain localities, in great abundance. This local segregation of the
woods is a characteristic of the Australian bush, and more than anything
else tends to create that monotony which is everywhere perceptible. It
causes the eye of the traveller to weary as he looks continually on the
leafless bare-looking trunks of the blue gum (which without intermission
meets his gaze for miles and miles on the lonely road) or the
sombre-looking ironbark that with equal pertinacity monopolizes the
ranges. Rarely, if ever, will an admixture of timbers be found to any
extent; and, consequently, those sawyers who cut pine leave the cedar
scrubs to be visited by the others; and _vice versa_.

The timber is usually cut in the dry season; and the trees after being
cleared of their limbs and foliate appendages, and denuded of their
bark, are drawn by the means of a bullock team to the nearest creek or
river, where they are deposited until such time as the rains
sufficiently swell the streams to float them from their resting-places.
With an iron brand in the shape of a punch, and a hammer, each cutter on
the end of every log indelibly marks his own property; and as the logs
are removed from their beds by the rising current, a staple is driven
into each. Through this a chain is passed, when the whole are collected
into one raft, and securely moored to wait, in their transit down the
stream, the pleasure of the proprietor. The time usually chosen to raft
the timber is when the rivers are moderately high after rains; or, in
the parlance of the upper part of the country, when there is "a flood,"
and in the lower, when there is "a fresh" in the river. They are then
started in their downward course either by the directing aid of a small
boat (if the ascent of the stream is practicable for it) or under the
guidance of some of the party; who make a firm footing for themselves on
their floating platform, by sheets of bark and foliage. They then trust
themselves to the current, while they guide the course of the raft with
poles until they come to flats. When the rivers are to any extent
swollen, or (as it is said in the country) "running," the rafts usually
pass over without difficulty; but if the water is low, and the flats
barely covered, the passage is necessarily not so easily effected, and
frequently impossible. Such then was the case at the Waverley flats at
the time of which we write. And it was with the water almost at the
lowest ebb that the party Tom saw had been endeavouring to float over
their raft; the process for which they had adopted we now propose to
explain.

It is necessary at some point to have a boat to assist the raftmen in
their guidance of the unwieldy mass, and one is usually kept by them for
that purpose at the highest point to which it can be conveniently
brought. After escaping all impediments the boat takes the raft in tow;
and, as it progresses on the stream and comes within the action of
tides, on the occasion of each flowing, the party have to draw their
raft into the bank, and camp until the return of the ebb. In their
journey to the mills rarely more than three or four of the party,
including the proprietor if not a joint stock affair, accompany the
timber; while the remainder pursue their occupation of cutting.

The party that was camped at the Waverley flats consisted of five
individuals in all. They had been working in shares for some months
collecting the raft they then had with them, and were all accompanying
it to the mills to sell it and have the proceeds equally distributed.
But the season having been an unusually dry one they had here met with
an effectual check, and had no alternative but to wait for rain.

When they first reached the flats the water was just running over them,
but not sufficiently deep to admit of the passage of their property; so
the fellows had recourse to the expedient of forming "a race" to effect
their purpose, and this they had accomplished in the following way: A
few of the logs were drawn up and arranged longitudinally from either
bank of the river in an oblique direction to a focus in the centre of
the flat; from this point the logs were arranged parallel to one another
right across the bank to the deep water below. They were then all firmly
staked into the soil, and the interstices between and below them were
packed so as to perfect a dam or barrier to the water. The result of
this plan as is evident was that the water flowing over the flat was
confined to the narrow channel between the parallel logs, and thereby
attained a higher elevation and a swifter current. To the mouth of this
impromptu canal, then, the sawyers brought the logs one by one, and they
were made, with very little guiding, to shoot through the passage with
speed and precision. After getting nearly a hundred of the logs in this
manner over the impediment, the water continuing to fall, eventually
left them with not even sufficient to make their sluice available; so,
with fully half their raft fixed above the flat, the men were compelled
to be idle until they had sufficient water to float the remainder over.

Tom had expressed surprise to his companion that he and his mates did
not proceed with the timber that had passed the flat, and leave some of
their companions behind to watch for the flood in the river, and secure
the others as they should descend. He pointed out that by that means
they would, in all probability, have got their first raft down to the
mills, and had time to return before the rains came on. But this, his
companion told him, the sawyers were afraid to risk, because, he said,
if the river rose rapidly, which they fully expected, they would want
all their number on the spot, otherwise they might lose half the timber.
Besides, in the absence of their boat, it would be an impossibility to
secure any of the logs if they should be washed over. "And then," he
continued, "we have been expecting the rain to commence every day for
weeks past." So it was deemed advisable by the whole party to await the
rising of the river; and, even watchful as they were, they fully
expected that if the flood came upon them at all suddenly, they would
lose a considerable number of the logs.

After crossing the river (or rather the bed of it), and leaving the
sawyers' party, Tom Rainsfield leisurely pursued his journey; and, after
riding for about twenty miles or so, he could perceive, by the nature of
the country and the occasional appearance of "improvements," that he was
approaching the town of Brisbane. Towards dark the road led him through
lines of fences, and past a few cottages and cultivated fields, and
thence by detached buildings, until he finally entered the town and put
up at his hotel not at all dissatisfied at the completion of his
journey. The country, even to town, had equally suffered by the drought.
Hardly a vestige of herbage was to be seen on the whole surface of the
ground, and the mortality amongst the beasts was fearful, and painfully
perceptible from the fulsome malaria in the atmosphere. Tom's horse was
reduced to a perfect shadow, and was so weak that when he reached the
inn he could hardly drag one foot after another, and certainly could not
have existed another day with a continuation of his privations. Hence
Tom was additionally delighted when he drew rein at the Crown Hotel, and
permitted his weary and faithful animal to be led away to the stables,
while he proceeded to refresh himself in a manner most pleasant after
his own fatigues.



CHAPTER VIII.

    "Ye glittering towns, with wealth and splendour crown'd,
    Ye fields, where summer spreads profusion round,
    Ye lakes, whose vessels catch the busy gale,
    Ye bending swains, that dress the flow'ry vale."

    GOLDSMITH.


When Tom Rainsfield arrived in Brisbane he found it entirely absorbed in
politics, and the public attention so engaged in the all-important
question of separation that even the deplorable state in which the
country then was in was for the time forgotten. Business for the nonce was
entirely relinquished, and the good citizens were in a perfect ferment
of exultation, consequent on the receipt of joyous news. As a few
remarks respecting the topography of the place, and the nature of the
people's agitation, may not be here amiss we will endeavour to describe
and trace their progress through their various phases to the date of our
narrative.

The town of Brisbane is pleasantly situated on a picturesque and
meandering river of the same name, about twenty miles from the point
where it disembogues into Moreton Bay. Passing its first establishment
it was not until the year 1840 that it was resorted to for the purposes
of trade. In that year drays first crossed "the range" by Cunningham's
Gap; and the squatters, who were then pushing on in the settlement of
the interior, discovered that this place could be made a convenient port
for the shipment of their produce to Sydney. The place, however, being
only a convict settlement free settlers were prohibited from approaching
it; and it was only by a special application to the government that on
the following year the land on the south bank of the river was surveyed
and laid out for a township, and a residence for the purposes of trade
permitted. The following year the convicts were wholly withdrawn from
the district, and the land that had been blighted by their occupancy was
thrown open to the public. From this period then, viz., 1842, is to be
dated the settlement of Moreton Bay, when the whole free population of
the district might have been numbered by dozens, and when the first
regular communication with Sydney was established.

The town of Brisbane at that time, and even for years afterwards,
consisted only of a few wooden huts; and, with the exception of the
government buildings which had been erected during the penal era for the
housing and confinement of the convicts stationed there, not a decent or
substantial edifice existed. A few acres of ground had been cleared by
the prisoners for cultivation immediately round the settlement, and at
two places situated on the river below the town, respectively two and
seven miles distant; but otherwise the wilderness remained in its
primeval condition.

The town on the northern bank of the river, which was much better
situated (both in a commercial and residentiary point of view) than that
on the southern, rapidly attracted the attention of speculators and
settlers. It was situated in a spacious pocket, caused by a bend in the
river, and flanked by gently undulating ridges. It was judiciously laid
out; with wide rectangular streets, commodious reserves for public
purposes, and was possessed of almost unbounded water frontage, which
could afford accommodation for a large commercial intercourse. One of
the boons left to the public upon the withdrawal of the convicts and
military, besides the court-house, hospital, and barracks, was a
botanical garden. It had been constructed for the especial pleasure and
accommodation of the officers and other officials of the settlement, and
became after their departure a very acceptable legacy to the people.

The young settlement prospered amazingly as it became more peopled by
the streams of immigration from the southern parts of the colony. The
squatters who had advanced with their flocks and herds from the occupied
districts in the southern interior speedily formed stations in actual
contiguity to the township; which was daily increasing its trade, as its
intercourse with the interior became more settled and developed. The
architectural appearance of the town for years showed no improvement;
and the comfort of the inhabitants was little thought of in its
commercial prosperity. Large sums were annually gathered into the
government coffers from the sale of the lands in the township, but
nothing was ever done by the ruling powers to improve its condition; and
it was allowed to remain in that state in which it had left the hands of
the surveyors. The lines of the streets were certainly marked, but no
levels were fixed; and the idea of drainage never entered the minds of
the people's rulers. In fact, though the government, as we have said,
continued from year to year to derive large revenues from the sale of
these town lands, they never deemed it necessary to expend a fraction in
even the formation of the streets; and hence, after twelve years from
its occupation by a free population, it was, like all other bush towns
in the country, in a wretched and deplorable condition. After rains the
so-called streets became perfectly impassable, even to foot passengers;
and the principal thoroughfare was frequently the course of a swollen
torrent, that had in successive years worn for itself a bed,
interspersed with deep holes, which rendered it absolutely dangerous to
venture amongst its snares after dark. The extorting policy of the
government had always been to sacrifice the interests of the distant
settlers for a centralized aggrandizement; or, in other words, the
revenues derived from this or any other country district were applied,
not solely to the defraying of the expense of legislative machinery,
but to the improvement and embellishment of Sydney, and other works that
had no local importance to the out-lying districts. This was one of the
main grievances that induced the settlers in later years to petition for
separation from the parent colony. But we are anticipating.

The advance of the district after its settlement continued with rapid
strides; and the labour requirements of the settlers kept continually in
advance of the supply. So that much inconvenience was felt by the
employers at the paucity of industrial bone and muscle procurable in the
district. For years the squatters were compelled to draw their supply of
labour from the Sydney market, an exceedingly expensive and by no means
satisfactory expedient, until the year 1848, when the influx of direct
immigration commenced. From this date ships at repeated intervals have
discharged their living freight on the shores of Moreton Bay, where they
have speedily met engagements at high rates of wages, and become
absorbed in the increasing population.

The first labourers introduced into the district were by private
intervention, and though extraneous to our tale, we may be pardoned for
mentioning it here. The prime mover of this scheme was the Rev. Dr.
Lang, who was at the time a member of the Colonial legislature, and than
whom no greater benefactor to the colonies, and no sterner advocate for
the rights and privileges of the colonists existed or exists. He was
foremost in all works of reform and public utility. He seemed to be
gifted with a prescience of the colonist's requirements, and was
indefatigable in his exertions for their advancement and amelioration.
He is the antipodean agitator, and the acknowledged benefactor of his
fellow colonists in their land of adoption. Many of the privileges of
the Australian constitution owe their existence to Dr. Lang's
indomitable perseverance and skill, and many of the most sapient
enactments bear the impress of his mental perspicuity. He is the father
of Australia, and his name will long remain to the people "as familiar
as household words."

Perceiving the great want of labour in the new settlement he was the
first who took any active part in the procuration of the desideratum. In
pursuit of this object in the year 1846 or 1847 he introduced a bill
into the legislature of New South Wales, having for its object the
introduction of an industrial class of immigrants into Moreton Bay. His
proposed plan was to induce the government to offer a small grant of
land to every immigrant arriving in the colony at his own expense,
equivalent to the amount of money actually paid for the passage. But the
project met with some opposition from the ministry of the day, and not
until after considerable perseverance did he receive assurances of their
assent. Being suddenly called to England on private affairs Dr. Lang
left his pet scheme in the hands of a colleague to procure for it the
formal sanction of the country; and he commenced to act upon the
assurance given him in the colonies by organizing a system of emigration
during his stay in England. This was in the years 1847 and 1848, when,
after continually drawing the attention of the middle classes of Great
Britain to the eligibility of Moreton Bay as a place for emigration, and
holding out the inducement of remission of the passage-money emigrants
would pay in an equivalent grant of land in the colonies, he succeeded
in the latter year in despatching three ships freighted with intending
settlers. Their arrival in the colony, though of considerable benefit to
the community there established, was fraught with many inconveniences
and privations to themselves. The Colonial government ignored their
title to grants of land; and the newly arrived immigrants found
themselves, upon landing in the country, disappointed in their
expectations, many of them destitute, and all in a place hardly
reclaimed from the wilderness of the bush, where no preparation had
been made for their reception. They were, therefore, disgusted with what
they considered the fraud that had been practised upon them, and were
loud in their declamation of those who had enticed them from their
comfortable homes to be subjected to the misery and discomforts they had
then to endure. Under these circumstances piteous were the
communications made to friends in the "fatherland," and dreadful the
detail of their distress in the far distant land of promise.

Their case, however, attracted some little notice from the local
authorities, and a piece of land adjoining the town was allotted them,
on which to erect dwellings. On this they settled, calling it Fortitude
Valley, from the name of one of the vessels that had conveyed them
thither; and when they got over their mortification, and gave their
minds to industry, they speedily transformed the almost impenetrable
bush into a scene of life and animation. The first privations of
settlement very soon succumbed to comfort and independence, and "the
valley" shortly became a populous suburb of the town of Brisbane, and,
at the period of our story, closely approximated to, if not equalled it,
in population. The settlers themselves, introduced under so unfavourable
auspices, were not long in immensely improving their condition, and many
of them, in the course of a few years, rose to positions of comfort,
eminence, and opulence; and if they ever reverted to the period of their
immigration, must have done so with feelings of thankfulness and
satisfaction.

From this period the influx of population continued, and the condition
in which the district flourished may be gathered from the following
tables:--

The entire district--

    In 1846, contained      2,257 souls
       1851,     "         10,296   "
       1856,     "         22,232   "

    And was estimated,

    In 1861, to contain         30,000 souls.

    The town of Brisbane, of which we wish
    more particularly to allude,

    In 1846, contained about       500 souls
       1851, the population was  2,500   "
       1856,                     4,400   "

    And in 1861 was calculated
      to contain                 8,000   "

Brisbane presents now a far different aspect to what it did some few
years back. As we have said, it is pleasantly and, both in a sanitary
and commercial point of view, admirably situated. From an obscure
settlement in the bush it has become a thriving town, with some good
streets, substantial stone and brick houses, stores, warehouses, and
wharves, and with shops that would not disgrace many a fashionable
thoroughfare in the British metropolis. It is possessed of spacious and
commodious government buildings, a gaol, mechanics' school of arts, an
hospital, several banking establishments, and fully a dozen churches
and other places of worship. The surrounding country, that was only a
few years before a wild waste, has mostly been cleared and put under
cultivation; and the banks of the river far above, and considerably
below the town, are studded with farms and gentlemen's seats, some
elegantly and tastefully constructed with a view both to comfort and the
exigencies of the climate. The town is further possessed of two steam
saw-mills; one daily, and another bi-weekly newspaper; weekly steam and
continual sailing communication with Sydney, and a dawning direct trade
with England. Five steamers ply on the river, and a daily coach runs by
land to Ipswich, and an export trade is done to the extent of
considerably over half a million sterling annually. The climate is
salubrious--the heat ranging, in the shade, between the means of 80° in
summer, and 50° in winter; and the soil of the neighbourhood has been
proved to be productive of a greater variety of plants than any other
country in the world. Coupled with wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, peas,
and a variety of other English edibles, its products comprise many of a
tropical nature, the practicability of the growth of which has been
fully demonstrated. Bananas, pine-apples, pumpkins, melons, figs,
grapes, peaches, maize, and sweet potatoes, are common articles of
culture; while indigo, arrow-root, sugar-cane, and cotton, flourish as
in their native climes.

Of the latter product we would fain say a few words _en passant_, as its
production of late has been a question that has been much agitated in
Great Britain, and received some attention in the colonies. We believe
the experiment of its growth was first tried upon the joint suggestion
of an influential settler of New South Wales, Mr. T. S. Mort of Sydney,
and the Rev. Dr. Lang. The former gentleman procured a supply of the
best sea-island American seed, and also an instrument called "a gin" for
cleaning the seed from the cotton, and placed them at the disposal of
the settlers of Moreton Bay. The seeds were planted, germinated, and
yielded cotton of the first description; but difficulties arose which
cultivators were unable to surmount. The first was the impracticable
nature of the instrument they were possessed of for cleaning. It was
found to be useless, and all similar apparatuses that were subsequently
introduced, and constructed on ideas suggested to the minds of local
mechanical geniuses, equally failed to perform the requisite work with
cleanliness and precision. Though this was in itself almost
insurmountable, the greatest drawback to the culture of the cotton was
the rainy weather, which usually set in just as the cotton was ripening;
destroying the crop, and inflicting serious loss on the cultivator. It
was, however, discovered that in the Moreton Bay climate the plant
became a perennial; and that, after the first year's growth, the pods
ripened considerably earlier and avoided the wet weather; while the
staple of the cotton improved with the age of the plant. Satisfactory
as was this discovery, the first failure militated against its general
cultivation; for most of the farmers in the district, being dependent
for their subsistence on their yearly crops, could not afford to
experimentalize, notwithstanding that they were certain of an ultimately
remunerative crop. A subsequent attempt to cultivate the cotton was
tried with no better success. Though the staple was produced none of the
cleaning machines to be had were efficacious; and no means being
procurable to extract the seed from the cotton, it was sent to England
in its raw state to be separated there. The cotton was cleaned by
hand-labour in some of the penitentiaries of the "old country;" and when
submitted to judges of the article, was pronounced to be the finest
specimen ever introduced into the country. But these repeated failures
damped the cotton-growing ardour of the people; and, being able
otherwise more profitably to employ their labour and capital, they
permitted its culture to be abandoned.

That cotton will eventually become a large export from this district we
have no hesitation in affirming, and we believe that the time is not far
distant when capitalists in England, interested in the cotton trade,
will take up the matter and embark in it. It is an undertaking which we
are confident, from the reasons we have expressed, would be found
remunerative even with the application of free European labour, and be
of considerable benefit to the manufacturers and consumers of the
staple. It has been frequently argued in the colony where it was grown
that the expense of labour would eat up the whole proceeds of the
cotton. But this we are disposed to dispute for many cogent reasons. In
the first place, notwithstanding the many assertions to the contrary,
Europeans can work at all times in the open air, even under the
scorching rays of a mid-summer sun; while the value of the cotton
produced, by the peculiar adaptation of the soil, has been found to be
of a superior character to even the finest American or Egyptian
productions; and, from the fact of the necessity of annual planting
being avoided, the expense of production after the first year is reduced
by more than one half. These facts at once disarm of its force the
statement that cotton cultivators in Queensland could not compete with
slave-grown produce without the aid of cheap coolie or lascar labour.

The postulation that without Asiatic skill and economy the cotton
cultivation is a chimera, has been assumed by a few interested parties
in the colonies, and reverberated by them from mouth to mouth among
their own party, without a solitary echo from the mass of the people. It
has been advanced in ignorance, and persevered in in dogmatical
obstinacy, to the entire subversion of reason and the results of
experience. The theory has arisen in a desire of personal aggrandizement
by its advocates, who have never dreamt of the consequences that would
accrue from an influx of heathenism and depravity, or the detraction
from the honour of the colony, and the degradation of our labouring
fellow-countrymen and colonists. It is happily only a party cry, and
that only of so meagre a nature, that it is almost an inaudible squeak.
But though insignificant as it is in the country where it originated, by
its propagation and circulation in the press, its virus has been made to
travel through the entire arterial system of the commonwealth; which is
thus made to believe in the moral gangrene of this distant member of the
empire. But to return.

Before we allowed ourselves to be led into the foregoing digression we
spoke of the land and water communication to the town of Ipswich; which
reminds us of the existence of that important town; and of which we also
crave permission, while on our topographical subject, to say a few
words.

Ipswich, or as it was originally called, Limestone, from the quantity of
that mineral which pervaded the neighbourhood, is situated on the
Bremer river, which falls into the Brisbane. It is distant from the town
of Brisbane about twenty-five miles by land, and sixty by water, and is
stationed at the highest navigable point on either stream. It was
formerly used by the government as a station for the sheep and cattle of
the settlement during the penal times; and, upon the withdrawal of the
prisoners, it was, like its sister settlement, declared a township,
surveyed, and thrown open to the public. The first land in it was sold
in Brisbane in the year 1843; but for three years afterwards the town
made little progress. With the exception of a brick cottage that had
been erected for the overseer in charge of the military and prisoners
stationed there while it was a government establishment, and which,
after the break up, was converted into a public-house to afford
accommodation and allay the thirst of wayfarers to and fro between
Brisbane and the interior, few buildings, even of the most makeshift
description, were erected. The place had as then attracted little or no
attention; for the traffic passed it on its way without any further
stoppage than what a bush public-house is expected to effect among the
bullock-drivers and draymen, while the drays came right down to Brisbane
without any interruption to their loads.

During the time of its attachment to the penal settlement at Brisbane
the communication between the two places had been maintained by the
means of boats and punts, in which the supplies of the station were
brought up, and live stock for consumption, and lime requisite for the
works at the township, returned. No doubt, acting on this knowledge, the
idea occurred to an enterprising settler of the district that the
traffic could be diverted from the road to the river, and would be
advantageous in the saving of time and trouble consequent on the
primitive style of land carriage in vogue. He therefore started a small
steamer in the year last mentioned, viz., 1846, to ply between the two
places; and though not successful in his project, so far as his own
pocket was concerned, the soundness of his conjectures was patent in the
benefits that resulted. The advancement of Ipswich may be dated from
that period, since which its progress has been extraordinarily rapid,
and even bids fair to maintain the race with the sister town with some
degree of success.

Though Ipswich is admirably situated for the purposes of trade with the
interior, it is by no means so eligible a site for a town, nor so well
planned out as Brisbane. Its streets are narrow, and have been lined by
the surveyors without any regard to levels or the "lay" of the country.
It is situated in a hollow, so that the drainage falls into the centre
of the town, while the surrounding hills preclude the possibility of
approach of any of those breezes which are so deliciously refreshing
during sultry summer weather. The buildings, on the whole, are
creditable, and even fine for so young a place, though by no means
equal to those of Brisbane; and its peculiar characteristics are,
bullock-drays, dirty streets, and public-houses. It is, however, a busy,
thriving town; and if in the selection of its site a little more
judicious forethought had been exercised, and more consideration for
comfort, health, and amenity displayed in its surveying, it might have
been made, with its beautiful surrounding scenery, as pretty a spot as
could have been desired. But in this, as in every other case in the
colonies since their foundation, the only thing that has been exhibited
is the cupidity of the government, whose only desire has ever been to
realise as much as possible from the sales of land, with as little
outlay as practicable. Hence the inhabitants are doomed to live in a
place that, upon the minutest visitation of rain, becomes a perfect
"slough of despond;" and from its concave situation, when under a
vertical sun, is at least ten degrees warmer than any other place in the
district.

This, then, is the point to which all the traffic now converges in its
passage to Brisbane, and diverges in its transit to the interior--the
highway between the two points being the river, while the road is merely
used for the lighter traffic of a few equestrians and light vehicles.
Such is the alteration, and we may of course add improvement, in the
appearance of the country by the influence of civilisation consequent on
the settlement of the district; and so rapidly has it taken place that
if any of the old official residents, who only knew it in its infancy of
freedom, were again to visit it, we have no hesitation in saying they
would not credit their senses. We are aware that in all new colonies,
where capital, industry, and perseverance are brought to bear upon the
barren wastes, the speedy transition to a smiling scene of plenty is the
inevitable result. But in most there is an air of freshness about
everything, which proclaims it a new place; while in those towns of
Moreton Bay the case is very different. They seem almost to have sprung
into maturity at once; and, especially in Brisbane, there is a
something about it so thoroughly English, that were it not for the
luxuriant growth of exotics, the heavy timber on the adjacent hills, and
the tropical appearance in the architecture of some of the suburban
dwellings which instantly strike the eye, a stranger could hardly bring
himself to believe this was the last formed of Britain's colonies; while
we can affirm it is already far from the meanest.

Before taking leave of this local subject we beg permission here to
introduce a little episode that is characteristic of the relationship
that existed between the two towns, or rather the settlement and the
station, before the advent that proclaimed the country open to free
settlers. Towards the latter end of the penal, or military,
administration, the district was visited by a fearful flood that swept
over the face of the country and rendered all travelling, either by land
or water, perfectly impracticable. The intercourse, therefore, between
Brisbane and Limestone was entirely severed, and for weeks no
communication could be attempted. At the station, during this stoppage,
the supplies began to run short (it never having been deemed necessary
to anticipate such an emergency), and the residents were soon suffering
serious privations from the want of their necessary rations. No boats or
horses were at the station at the time, so that they were unable to
intimate to the authorities below the state in which they were situated.
The officials at Limestone waited from day to day in the vain hope of
seeing the waters recede, and the means of communication re-established,
but they were disappointed. The flood continued at its height, and
starvation was almost staring them in the face. In this emergency the
officer in charge of the prisoners offered a free pardon to any who
would accomplish the voyage to the settlement, and report there the
distress the people at Limestone were suffering.

The passage was undertaken by two of the men, who knew that success was
freedom, and that failure's concomitant was death. One took the track
through the bush and perished, possibly by being washed away while
attempting the crossing of some swollen creek, but the other was more
successful, and succeeded in reaching the township in safety, where he
communicated the intelligence of the destitution at Limestone, and had
the gratification of relieving his former companions, and securing his
freedom. Supplies were immediately forwarded to the famished station on
pack-horses, which, only after surmounting considerable difficulties and
dangers, succeeded in reaching their destination. This passage was one
of the boldest and most extraordinary feats on colonial record, and,
considering the manner in which it was effected, freedom was certainly
not too great a reward. It was accomplished by the man tracing the
course of the river, travelling by land where such was practicable, and
taking to the river and swimming where it was not. When it is remembered
that all the low and flat parts of the country were under water, and
that it was computed half the distance of the journey, or nearly thirty
miles, was traversed in the swollen stream, with a flying current and
eddying pools, and amidst trees and other _debris_, swarming with
reptiles and insects brought down from the mountains and clustered on
the floating masses, some conception may be formed of what the intrepid
courier had gone through. But to return again to our narrative.

The period of which we write is the summer of 1857, when the cry of
"separation" resounded through the country. Some time previous to this
the colonists had received intimation of the intention of her Majesty's
government to erect Moreton Bay into a separate state amongst the group
of Australian colonies. But at this period, as we have already stated,
fresh despatches had been received, in which the boundaries and a sketch
of its constitution were defined, and the inhabitants were deep in the
contemplation of these topics. We fear that this disquisition on
history and politics may be considered an interpolation foreign to the
nature of our work, and uninteresting to the majority of our readers;
but we must excuse ourselves for an encroachment upon the prerogative of
the historian, on the ground that we wish the indulgent public to have a
correct idea of the historical, as well as the physical and social,
nature of Queensland. We would, therefore, throw ourselves again on the
leniency of our readers, while we trace, as succinctly as possible, the
origin and growth of the separation movement.

For some years previous to the year 1851 the colonists of Port Philip
had agitated the question of separation from the colony of New South
Wales, and in that year their efforts were crowned with success, their
district being, by imperial decree, erected into a separate colony under
the name of Victoria. The instigator and prime mover in this matter had
been the Rev. Dr. Lang; and at the commencement of the same year he
organized an agitation for a similar dismemberment of the Moreton Bay or
northern districts.

The inhabitants of those districts, groaning under the habitual neglect
of a distantly removed and selfish government, were not slow to respond
to the call of the agitator. The first meeting to consider the subject,
which was held in January 1851, resulted in the despatch of petitions to
the throne, praying for an immediate separation from New South Wales,
and an establishment as an independent state. They enumerated among the
general grievances, the remoteness of the district from the seat of
government, the inadequate representation in the legislature, the
confirmed neglect and inattention of their rulers to their requirements,
the total absorption of their revenues for the improvement of the
capital, and the impossibility to procure the outlay of any money on
absolutely necessary works; in fact the total subversion of the rights
of the inhabitants, and the general inconvenience experienced by a
connexion with New South Wales.

Much as the consummation was desiderated by all parties in the district
the people were divided into two bodies in the views which they took of
the subject; and each party drew up its own petition, and forwarded it
to England. One faction, and by far the most numerous and intelligent,
demanded a "free" separation, with the untrammelled administration of
their own affairs; while the other, principally composed of the
squatters in the interior, were contented with petitioning for
separation, with a reversion to the old penal system. Their object being
to have convicts sent to the new colony, and to procure their labour by
the old iniquitous "assigning" system.

The struggle continued apace between the contending factions on the one
hand, and with the governments of Great Britain and New South Wales on
the other. The pro-convict party, who had established a weekly
newspaper to advocate their cause, gradually diminished, until
eventually their zeal expired, and they succumbed to popular feeling,
leaving the body of free separationists united and energetic. Petition
after petition continued to be poured at the feet of Her most gracious
Majesty, who at last condescended to listen to the prayer of her loyal
though distant subjects. In the year 1855, by an act passed in the
Imperial Parliament, entitled, "The Constitution Act of New South
Wales," right was reserved to her Majesty to separate from that colony
any portion of its northern territory she, by her ministers, might deem
expedient. It was then made manifest to the colonists that some hope
existed of the desired event taking place, and their importunities
consequently increased. In July 1856, the then Secretary of State for
the Colonies (Mr. Labouchere) intimated, in a despatch to the Governor
of New South Wales, that her Majesty's ministers considered that the
time had arrived when the dismemberment should be effected, and
suggested that the 30th parallel of south latitude should be fixed upon
as the boundary of the two colonies. About this parallel a natural line
of demarcation exists in the form of a mountain range, and at no other
part of the coast could so eligible a division be made.

The magnates in Sydney perceiving that, notwithstanding all their
strenuous opposition, separation was determined upon considered it
useless to further attempt its prevention; but they were, nevertheless,
sanguine of their ability to mar the fair prospects of the new colony.
The thought of losing the revenue of so large a district rankled in
their bosoms, and the idea of procuring an alteration in the boundary
line, by a removal farther away from them, suggested itself to their
minds. Confident in their success and the time for an execution of their
machinations, that would be afforded them by the usual circumlocutions
of government, they forthwith entered upon their work.

One of the districts embraced in the proposed new colony was the
Clarence river, which was only second in importance to that of Moreton
Bay itself, and which comprised a coast-line of upwards of 120 miles,
and a country that extended nearly double that distance inland. This,
then, they set to work to retain; and, though the inhabitants themselves
of the debateable ground were strongly averse to a continued connexion
with the parent colony, and desired annexation to the new one, a
petition was presented to the legislature, purporting to be from the
residents of that district, and praying for the maintenance of their
existing relationship with New South Wales. The opprobrium attached to
the concoction of this petition is due to the then member of the
legislature for the New England district; for through his chicanery the
signatures were obtained and the people deceived. It was represented to
them as for a local assize court, and their signatures obtained on blank
sheets of paper, which were afterwards attached to the genuine
anti-separation petition and laid before the government of the colony,
by whom it was forwarded to the British secretary.

This fraud was shortly afterwards detected by the parties cajoled, who
exposed the deception practised upon them, and eventually petitioned the
crown with a similar view. But, too late: the first had reached the home
government as a genuine document, and the result may be imagined; for,
combining such a strong demonstration of public feeling as the petition
appeared to do with the biassed representations of the Sydney
government, the crown had no other alternative but to alter the boundary
originally intended Mr. Labouchere (dated just one year after his former
despatch) then informed the Governor of New South Wales that her
Majesty's ministers had determined to separate the northern colony at
the 28th (instead of the 30th) parallel of south latitude. There the
matter rested until the year 1860, when the proclamation calling into
existence the colony of Queensland was read in the capital city of
Brisbane by the first governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen.

We would not have pursued this theme had it not been to explain the
ferment in which Tom Rainsfield found the good people of Brisbane when
he visited their town, as we have said, in the summer of 1857; and,
amidst the agitation of the public mind which absorbed all thought and
attention, we will leave him for the present to pursue his business.



CHAPTER IX.

    "Hark! there be murmurs heard in Lara's hall,
    A sound--a voice--a shriek--a fearful call!
    A long loud shriek--and silence--did they hear
    That frantic echo burst the sleeping ear?"

    BYRON.


At a certain spot on the Darling Downs approaching towards their
northern extremity, and where the country divides the eastern from the
western water-sheds, a party was encamped for the night round their
fire; on which preparations were being made by a civilized black for the
evening meal of white men, who lay stretched on the ground in the full
enjoyment of their "doodeens." The culinary operator was Joey, and the
recumbent beings were his master and the shepherds, who had progressed
thus far with a flock of sheep, on their way from New England to Fern
Vale.

The weather that had spread devastation over the face of the country,
was equally fatal in its effects to the flock of our hero. He had
attempted to force their march so as to reach his destination before
their entire destruction, but was at last constrained to halt in a
state, both to man and beast, of perfect exhaustion. He had been the
more anxious to reach his own station as he was aware that, after the
long and severe drought the district had been visited with, a flood
might be expected as the inevitable consequence; and that if he were
caught in it the strong probability was that he would lose the remaining
half of his flock. Further progression, however, for his exhausted
sheep, he saw was, at least for a time, perfectly hopeless; and he felt
his only alternative was to wait for the rain, which from the
portensions of the sky, was not far distant. Therefore a rude hut, or
arborous shelter of boughs and saplings, was erected to shield him and
his companions from the rays of the sun, and they waited with what
patience they could assume for the pluvial blessing so much prayed for
all over the country.

Here then the party was located, anxiously waiting for the advent of the
propitious event that would admit of their progression; and, on the
evening we have discovered them to the reader, they were dragging out in
listless idleness the remainder of an intolerably hot day, too much
enervated to indulge in any exertion or conversation. While John
Ferguson, who was possibly even more taciturn than his companions, was
absorbed in his own gloomy thoughts, occasioned by the inauspicious
result of his journey, he with his colleagues was suddenly aroused from
his lethargy by a most unearthly sound in the close proximity of their
camp. He instantly started to his feet, and was greeted with a burst of
demoniacal laughter that made his very blood curdle in his veins.

Before him stood a being evidently human, but no more like his first
prototype than Gabriel to Lucifer; a man wild and dishevelled in
appearance; his eyes like balls of fire; and his face and other parts of
his body, perceptible from his all but state of nudity, cut and
bleeding. In the fitful light of the camp fire he had more the
appearance of one of the eliminated shades of Hades than an habitant of
this world. The startled and affrighted quartette, who had been
interrupted by his unexpected appearance, gazed on the object with
wonder, commiseration, and alarm; for his condition was speedily made
palpable by his wild gesticulations and incoherent utterance. He was
mad, and in that most to be deplored state of madness--delirium
tremens.

John Ferguson advanced a few steps towards the man with the object of
leading him to their temporary abode; but the maniac warned him off by
a wave of the hand, and darted off again into the settling obscurity
with the fleetness of an arrow. No human creature in such a condition
could be permitted thus to rush to inevitable death by observers with
any spark of Christian charity. John Ferguson and his companions felt
this, and notwithstanding the darkness of the night, and the
interminable nature of the bush around them, they instantly pursued the
fugitive, being guided in his track by his fearful cries and yells.

The chase was tedious, and but for an accident might have been
fruitless. The unnatural stimulus of madness lends powerful aid to the
cartilaginous anatomy of its victims; so that, notwithstanding the
evident fatigue that this wretched inebriate had sustained, his crural
muscles performed their functions with even more force and facility than
those of his athletic pursuers; and he continued to keep considerably in
advance of them. But his course was providentially checked by a fall,
that not only stopped him in his headlong career of destruction, but
extinguished the treacherous spark that had stimulated his system, and
then left him prostrate and perfectly paralysed. When his pursuers came
up, and by the light of a "firestick" gazed upon him, they found him
writhing in agony on the ground, foaming at the mouth, gnashing his
teeth, and actually biting the very dust in the intensity of his
suffering. Nature could not long stand so fearful a tax as this without
speedily succumbing. Reason had already been hurled from her throne by
the arrogated sway of the incensed devils of debauch, and strength and
consciousness had been expatriated by the usurpation; while life was all
but extinguished. In this state he was borne by his rescuers back to
their camp, and tended with every care they could devise; but when he
awoke to consciousness, it was only to add the horrors of a raging fever
to those of dementation; the more fearful on account of the inability
of his attendants to afford him any assistance.

To truthfully describe his appearance, or his sufferings, as he lay
rending the air with his fearful and impious imprecations, would not
only be beyond our powers of portrayal, but would have none other effect
than to sicken and disgust our readers. Nevertheless we feel
constrained, fain as we would draw a veil over the scene, to continue
our description for the furtherance of temperance and morality. The man
remained for fully twenty-four hours in the state we have mentioned;
when the exacerbation of his malady threatened to terminate his
existence. No hope of relief could be entertained, for none was
procurable in such a situation; even had the exhausted travellers been
capable of seeking it. So that the wretched being's doom seemed
inevitably sealed.

At this moment the Fern Vale party were startled by the sudden
appearance of two others, who came seeking their comrade, and bore in
their countenances almost as indelible a stamp of dissipation as that on
the visage of the dying madman. From these new comers John learnt that
the three had been travelling in company of a bullock dray, and being
unable to proceed on their journey, through the loss of the greater
portion of the team, they had all been engaged in a social wassail on
some grog they had had in charge; and for a considerable period had all
been more or less drunk. Their companion had been in a fit of delirium
tremens for days; and while in a state of madness had suddenly gone,
they knew not, nor at the time cared not, whither. But finding he did
not return as they had anticipated even their besotted natures began to
take alarm for his safety, and had induced them to go in search of him.

The two men now stood by the prostrate and paralysed form of their late
robust companion, on whom, blunted and debased as were their own
feelings, they could not gaze without emotions; and as they witnessed
the glaring blood-shot eyes, rotating in their sunken and discoloured
sockets, the pendent jaw which left the parched tongue protruding from
the open mouth, the colourless emaciated cheeks which contrasted
fearfully with the sore and livid lips, the generally wasted frame, the
shaking though powerless hands imploring with the looks of distracted
vision, and the ineffectual attempts to articulate the cravings for that
very poison which was fast hastening a commingling of his putrid carcass
with its native dust, their hearts sickened within them. They, however,
knew the purport of his signs; and subdued as they were by the presence
of the destroying angel, and chastened by the momentary visitations of
compunction, their devotion to their idol, and their belief in its
efficacies were such, that, even in the face of death, they exorcised
their destroying spirit. Before their motion could be anticipated, or
prevented by John Ferguson, one of the dying man's companions drew a
bottle from his bosom, and applied it to the lips of the sufferer.

The taste of the exhilarating poison effected a transitory release of
the bonds of death's victim. His hands clasped with a convulsive grasp
the endeared destroyer of his life; and as the spirit flowed into the
celiac channel of his wasted system, its consuming fire mantled his
cheek with an unnatural erubescence, shot from his lustrous eyes, and
imparted vigour to his inert frame. If the men's action had been noticed
in time John would have no doubt prevented the drink being given, though
it would have signified little; for no power on earth could have saved
the victim, while possibly the draught of spirits which he had taken
ameliorated his departing agonies. Be that as it may he had hardly
swallowed it than fresh strength seemed to have been imparted to his
frame. He then started to his feet, waved the bottle above his head with
a fiendish laugh, and fell to the ground a corpse.

Can mortals ever be rescued from the fearful infatuation of drink? Can
rational and sentient beings ever be brought to an abhorrence of that
vile and bestial vice that equally destroys the intellect and degrades
the body? or will reason ever inculcate in the mind of man the virtue of
temperance, so as to use without abusing the gifts of a bountiful
providence? Let an incorrigible drunkard stand before such a scene as we
have attempted to describe, and for five minutes witness the agonies and
death of a fellow inebriate; let his soul commune with the tortured
spirit of the wretched victim of intemperance; let him witness the
horrors of delirium tremens, that tear to pieces both body and life, and
consigns them to the lowest depths of perdition; let him not only
witness but feel the hell that burns up the very soul of the blind
votaries of Bacchus; and let him witness the last struggle, the tortuous
departure of the spirit, accompanied with the blasphemous ribaldry of
the vile worm that, while insinuating its eliminated spirit before the
judgment-seat of its Maker, dares to utter its arrogant defiance to the
august and omnipotent Creator. Let him see this; tell him this is the
consequence of intemperance possibly only indulged in moderately at an
early stage, but growing by degrees as evil does grow, like the
gathering avalanche accumulating in its downward progress until it
reaches its final descent amidst universal destruction. Tell him also
that a similar fate awaits every drunkard, and tell him, if he turns not
away from his course of vileness, such will be his; then, if his
conscience does not lead him to penitence through such a lesson, no
human effort can save him.

The state of the weather, the mortification of the body, and its
consequent immediate decomposition, made it imperative that no time
should be lost in the interment of the corpse. The funeral obsequies
were speedily performed, with little more ceremony than what would
attend the burying of an animal, while nothing marked the spot where
lay the bones that would in all probability be soon forgotten. The two
men then took their departure, and we doubt not would soon return to
their carouse; such is the quickness with which man forgets the
visitations of the warning hand of God.

A few days after the event we have just narrated the rain that had been
so long threatening at last appeared with one of those terrific
thunder-storms which the colonies are in the summer visited with; and
speedily the whole surface of the country became deluged. The arid and
thirsty soil drank in the moisture, and almost spontaneously shot forth
its herbage. The flock was then enabled to luxuriate on the tender
grasses and, notwithstanding the deluging rains, to pursue its journey
with more comfort than it had experienced for some considerable time
previously.

For a week the rain continued with unabating violence when John Ferguson
and his flock struck the course of the Gibson river near Brompton. The
river was "bank high" at the time, rolling its swollen volume on in
sullen impetuosity; while the ground around was so saturated and swampy
that the travelling of the sheep was exceedingly tedious; and their
owner began to feel anxious lest their course should be altogether
impeded. He, however, managed to push on past Brompton, when the weather
happily moderated; and though still overcast, and rainy-looking, the
actual fall of water ceased. The respite was made good use of by John
Ferguson, who pushed on as rapidly as he could, and he arrived at the
Wombi without any interruption; but there he met with a check he had
little anticipated. He fully expected the bridge would be level with the
water or even covered, and thought that he might have to wait for the
river to fall; but the volume of water had considerably subsided and
left no trace of the structure he and his neighbours had erected. It had
in fact been washed away by the flood, and he was made painfully aware
that the only course open to him was to wait until the swollen current
became sufficiently reduced to make it practicable to swim over his
sheep. With that object he camped his party and flock on the bank of the
Wombi.

For some days they waited in this position; but the river,
notwithstanding that the rain had ceased, fell very slowly; while the
surrounding gloominess plainly indicated an additional visitation of wet
as not far distant. In conjunction with this the sheep began to show
signs of foot-rot; and John, becoming anxious to get them home,
considered it better under the circumstances to attempt a passage of the
river at once. Acting on this decision he removed the flock to the old
crossing-place and attempted the transit.

Two of his men had, by the aid of a horse, swam the river, and a large
number of the sheep had either crossed or were struggling in the
current, when a noise was heard that struck our hero with dismay. The
distant roll of thunder, combined with the roar of battle, would convey
but an imperfect idea of its nature. Distinct and more distinctly came
the sound and, while the darkened atmosphere lent its gloom to the
mighty convulsion that seemed to rend the earth, the cause of the noise
seemed to approach nearer and nearer. Though John had never seen the
sudden rising of a river he had heard of such phenomena, and guessed
that the sound that he then heard was the harbinger of such an event. He
therefore used all his exertions, with those of Joey and the white man
that had remained with him on the upper bank of the Wombi, to prevent
the remainder of the sheep from following their fellows into the water.
They were with difficulty diverted from the stream; and those that had
already crossed, being driven by the men as far as possible from the
influence of the tide, John waited with an intense anxiety to watch the
fate of those that would of a certainty be overtaken by the current.

The flood was in the Gibson river, and its cause can be easily explained
in a few words. Towards its source the rain had been continuous, and the
water-holes and surcharged swamps being filled to repletion, had burst
their bounds and added their immense volumes to the already swollen
stream. This imparted a force and impetuosity even greater than the
current had previously possessed, and forced the water in one immense
body down its course. On and on it swept like the monstrous rolling
surge of the ocean, carrying to inevitable ruin everything that it
overtook in its passage. John stood on an elevation sufficiently high to
enable him to watch the progress of the destructive fluid; and, with his
gaze alternately directed to it and his sheep still swimming in the
stream at his feet, he calculated their chances of reaching the bank in
safety. For this, however, he had little time, for the progress of the
flood was quicker than that of his thoughts; and the sudden rise in the
Gibson, as the deluge approached, caused a similar one in the Wombi. As
the main body in the river swept past, it flooded the minor stream with
its back current, sending the reversed tide, seething and swelling, up
its narrow channel, and carrying with it some hundreds of the swimming
sheep, most of which were drowned in their vain struggles with the
element.

Unfortunate as this was John gave vent to no vain regrets, but at once
decided how he would act. He knew that the brunt of the flood was over,
and that the water would speedily fall in the river. He therefore
determined to camp where he was for the night, and in the morning to
send on the portion of his flock on the opposite side of the river,
while he waited with the remainder until the flood should have so far
receded as to permit his crossing them with safety. He communicated his
plans to both sections of his party, while Joey lit a fire and prepared
a camp.

Towards midnight, when everything was hushed in the nocturnal stillness,
Joey came softly to his master, who was stretched in his blanket before
the fire on the damp ground, and awoke him from his sleep. John, when he
was aroused, instantly started up in the full expectation of some fresh
misfortune, and hastily demanded of Joey what was the matter.

"You no hear, massa?" replied Joey; "you listen. The black fellows come
back again and make great noise."

John listened attentively for some moments, and unmistakably
distinguished the sounds of blacks' voices, though what was the purport
of the noise he could not conjecture. It was evident to him they had
returned to the neighbourhood and, from the sounds he heard, in
considerable numbers. But where could they be camped? he asked himself;
surely not at their old ground in the scrub, he thought; for the noise
plainly indicated a closer proximity. In fact, it sounded to him as if
it emanated from somewhere about Strawberry Hill, if not from that very
place. Then John's thoughts led him to make the enquiry what could bring
them across the Gibson; if they had any object in visiting Strawberry
Hill; and if so, what that object could be? His thoughts, once led into
such a channel, were not long in picturing a gloomy catalogue of
probable causes. A remembrance of Rainsfield's cruelties was too
indelibly impressed upon his mind to be forgotten, and the scene he had
witnessed at the blacks' camp on the night previous to their departure
was instantly conjured up in all its horrors. Though the disappearance
of the blacks for months had momentarily dimmed his memory to the pangs
he then witnessed and felt, they were instantly remembered when his mind
reverted to the subject; and he vividly recollected the ebullition of
evil passions that had been kindled in the breasts of some of the
survivors and relatives of the victims. In his fancy he heard anew the
threat of revenge that was uttered against Rainsfield; and he began to
entertain the belief that the blacks were at the station of Strawberry
Hill, and had come there for the purpose of wreaking vengeance on their
destroyer and his family at a time when they would imagine their
visitation least expected.

At the same time, however, he could not bring his mind to imagine that
the blacks would be bold enough to attack the whole station, being
confident the knowledge of the superior prowess of the whites would
deter them, besides their dread of fire-arms, which, they would know at
least all the men on the station would possess. He had no doubt, either,
but that Rainsfield, having incurred the enmity of the aborigines, would
take every precaution against surprisal, and believed that he could,
with the assistance of one or two of his men, preserve himself against
the assaults of a hundred of the blacks. But still John Ferguson could
not divest his mind of some degree of apprehension, which
(notwithstanding his endeavours to calm the perturbation his train of
thoughts had led him to experience) still lingered there, and dark
forebodings disturbed his brain.

"Where are they, do you think, Joey?" he enquired, as if he wanted
corroboration of his own senses.

"Strawberry Hill, I believe, massa," was the reply.

"I am afraid so, too," said John; "and I fear they are up to no good. If
they were only going to rob the store they would never make so much
noise over it."

"No, massa, they not go to rob the store," said Joey; "they be frighted
to do that again, I believe; taltoe (food) kill too many black fellow
that time when they steal 'em ration; they be going to kill now, I
believe."

"That's what I've been thinking too, Joey," replied his master; "but
they wouldn't have any chance if the white fellows had guns."

"I don't know, massa," replied the black boy; "p'rhaps no, p'rhaps
yes--black fellows be very frightened of guns; but the Nungar black
fellows, you pidner (know), very wild and budgery belonging to fight
(good at fighting), and bael they lik'em (hate) Mr. Rainsfield; so I
believe they will try very hard to kill him."

"I've no doubt they will," replied his master, "if they can get a mark
at him; but if he keeps himself and his men within the house they will
be able to fire away at the blacks without giving them a chance at
themselves."

"White fellows all sit down liket huts," said Joey, by which he meant to
imply that the men in all probability would be in their own huts,
removed from the house of the station; "and," he continued, "bael Misser
Rainsfield fight 'em all round big fellow humpie; and black fellow, when
he find 'em bael come out, he gett'um firestick, and mak'em humpie one
fellow-corbon fire;" which may be rendered into our vernacular by
saying, that Rainsfield would be unable of himself to protect all parts
of the dwelling; while the blacks would unhouse him by setting on fire
the building, which it must be remembered was of wood.

John mused a few minutes in a reverie, in which his feelings sustained a
violent convulsion. That love preserved a prominent position we have no
doubt; and, also, that apprehension for the safety of the object of that
love maintained a lively agitation in his mind. We fear we must not
attribute his sympathy and anxiety for the family to a general
friendship alone, but to the additional stimulus of a more inspiring
feeling. However, we will not arrogate to ourselves the censorship of
his motives, but simply confine ourselves to a recordance of events.

"Joey, get my horse and saddle him," said John, turning to the boy, who
was standing with his body bent in an attitude to catch the floating
sound of the blacks' voices.

Joey turned his eyes, looking surprised at his master; and though he did
not actually ask him the nature of the work he intended to require of
his horse, his manner and hesitation made that inquiry; and his master
devising its meaning voluntarily made the explanation.

"I will go over at once to Strawberry Hill, Joey," he said, "and see
what the blacks are doing; for I cannot bear this suspense, and I fear
the morrow will disclose some fearful work."

"Bael you cross the river, masser," cried the boy; "too much water sit
down. Bael you swim, masser? More liket be drowned."

"Don't make yourself uneasy, Joey," replied his master, "my horse has
taken me over worse floods than that; it is only back water from the
Gibson, and there is very little current."

"But oh! massa, bael you go! supposing you cross river, and supposing
black fellows fight with Misser Rainsfield, what you can do? bael you
got 'um gun or pistol, and black fellow have plenty spear; so you do
nothing, and black fellow only kill you."

"No fear, Joey," said John. "The blacks would have no object in killing
me; and if they are congregated at Strawberry Hill, to commit some
outrage as I suspect, I may be enabled to effect some good by inducing
them to abandon their scheme; or, at least, I can afford some assistance
to the family they are attacking."

"Oh no, massa! I tell you no," exclaimed the poor faithful attendant.
"These black fellows kill any white fellow now; bael they care for you
now; they come to kill Misser Rainsfield; and Misser Rainsfield's
friends liket help him they kill them too. Bael you go! Budgery massa!"
exclaimed the attached creature, as he threw himself down on the ground
before his master, and clung to his feet.

The expression and evidence of so much attachment in the poor boy
sensibly affected the kind nature of John Ferguson; and he was moved to
see so much genuine warmth and affection in one of a race which was
looked upon as incapable of such emotions--a race which is deemed by
professed judges of their nature to be destitute of all human virtue; to
be the lowest in the social scale; incapable of the inculcation of
civilisation, morality, and religion; to be only a stage above the brute
creation, and to be segregated by an insuperable barrier from all
sentient creatures. Could you, oh, self-sufficient philosopher (who
enunciate these doctrines), only present yourself before these two, and
penetrate with a visual percipiency the heart that beats in the breast
of that poor, prostrate black, thou wouldst surely be brought to
acknowledge the existence of that germ that was implanted in our first
parents by the omnipotent Creator. Thou wouldst also be brought to
acknowledge, unless prejudice blinded thine intellect, that, degraded as
that race which thou contemnest undoubtedly is, much of the weight of
that degradation has been the burdening of thine own countrymen. Say not
that, by the immutable decrees of Providence, the black races are
destined to disappear before the white, and to succumb their savage
natures and existence to advancing civilisation. Such may, or may not,
be so; but in either case how can you relieve yourself of the obligation
imposed upon you by the Supreme Being to ameliorate the condition of
that unfortunate people of whom you first rob their inheritance and then
sweep from the face of the earth, by instilling into their
unsophisticated natures all the vices incidental to yours; without
attempting their regeneration, or even an ethic inculcation.

John looked upon his faithful attendant as he implored him not to
venture either near the blacks or across the swollen river before him;
and he felt a pleasurable sensation, akin to gratitude, towards the poor
creature. It is true he had himself almost reared the poor boy, who had
been always near him; but the idea of so much attachment being in the
nature of the black had never occurred to him; and its discovery
therefore caused him astonishment.

"I must go, Joey," he said, "I have no fear for danger to myself; and if
anything should happen this night to the family at Strawberry Hill, and
I remained here, I shall ever accuse myself as being, by my selfish
neglect, accessary to their fate."

"Will massa let me go with him?" enquired the boy.

"No, Joey," replied his master; "I wish you to stop here with the
shepherd and sheep, until the water falls sufficiently to enable you to
cross with them; but get me my horse, I must lose no time;" saying which
he turned away to seek the shepherd, who was watching the flock, to give
him directions, while Joey performed the necessary services for the
horse.

The black boy went down with his master to the edge of the river, in
vain entreating to be permitted to accompany him, and stood on the
brink of the water as John plunged his horse into the dark rolling
stream. The night was black and cloudy and the opposite bank was hardly
discernible in the gloom; while the opaque waters rolled their disturbed
body in their sullen course. As John had said the river was not swift,
but it was deep and treacherous. Its tide, though swollen by the immense
volume in the Gibson, ran only slowly; but it was filled with eddies
caused by the stoppage of its own natural current. Its passage was
therefore more dangerous than perhaps it would have been had it been
running with the velocity of its parent stream.

As John entered the water the noble animal that carried him, guessing
the nature of the work that was expected of him, courageously breasted
the current, and swam for the opposite bank. For some minutes he could
have been seen speeding his course, with precision for his desired goal;
when anon he would be drawn into the vortex of one of those whirlpools
in which the stream then abounded, and from which his persevering beast
would extricate himself, and again struggle on his course. The horse and
rider had nearly reached the other side, and were almost lost to Joey's
sight in the obscurity, when suddenly both man and beast were entirely
submerged; and the next instant the animal's feet were plainly
discernible above water, in a state of violent agitation.

With one bound the black boy sprang into the water, and swam vigorously
for the spot where his master had disappeared; but his anxieties were
relieved by John's reappearance, and seeing him strike out for the bank
in company with his horse. Joey did not return when he perceived that
his master was safe, but pursued his course. Long and arduous was his
struggle, and he had enough to do to preserve himself from the eddies
and floating masses that were rotating in the pools, or that were
descending the stream. But he succeeded in crossing it without any
mishap, and he presented himself to his master as the latter was about
to mount his horse after his own dangerous passage.

"What, Joey!" exclaimed John as he witnessed the boy before him, "what
on earth has possessed you to risk your life in crossing the river by
yourself, and after my telling you I wanted you to stay with the sheep?"

"Oh! massa," replied the boy, "me thinkum you be drowned, when me been
seeum you capsized; bael me help coming after you to see you all right."

"Well, I suppose I must not be angry with you Joey," said his master.

"Oh no, massa!" replied the black, "but that very ugly capsize, how 'em
happen?"

"A log that was floating in one of the pools," said John, "turned the
horse over and me with him; but I kept hold of the bridle and reached
the shore safe enough, with only the addition of a little extra wetting.
But I can't stop now, Joey, I must not lose any more time, and you will
have to get back again as soon as you can; for that man you have left
on the other side will not be able to watch and 'shepherd' the sheep all
by himself. You can get your own horse that the two fellows crossed with
yesterday to take you back."

"But, massa, you let me come now with you? and I be over the river all
right liket morning."

"Well, come if you will," said his master, "you can follow me;" and he
dashed spurs into his horse and rode off.

Joey thus obtaining the permission he sought wasn't long in getting his
horse saddled, and he galloping after his master whom he overtook on the
road; as, notwithstanding his impatient haste, John was unable, owing to
the fatigue his horse had already endured in the water, to keep in
advance of the fresher steed of his black boy.

The two horsemen for some minutes rode rapidly side by side; and, as
they approached Strawberry Hill, they every moment became more
conscious, not only of the proximity of the blacks, but of their either
meditating, or actually perpetrating some diabolical work. These kept up
a chorus of voices which formed a perfect Babel of discord, resounding
through the still night, and reverberating among the vaulted and
umbrageous canopy of the bush like the conclaves of assembled
pandemonium. Anon this was succeeded by frantic yells that curdled the
very blood in John Ferguson's veins; and then shriek after shriek
pierced the air, telling too plainly the nature of the savages' work.

What further stimulus could John have had for his fears? Here was a
realization of his most direful dread. The very echo of the woods
proclaimed the fate of his friends; and possibly that being whom he
loved most on earth was by that wail numbered among the dead; her lovely
features defaced by the brutality of fiendish savages; and her fair form
mutilated and possibly dishonoured. The thought was too harrowing; it
deprived him of all consideration for his own person; the idea of his
own saftey never entered his mind, and unarmed and defenceless as he
was, he dashed the spurs again and again into the side of his steed, and
galloped madly until he reached the scene of horror. He sprang from his
horse, as the panting animal halted before the house, which was now
still and apparently desolate; while the retreating forms of the blacks
might have been seen by other eyes than John Ferguson's.



CHAPTER X.

    "Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes,
    His mansion, and his titles in a place
    From whence himself does fly?"

    MACBETH, _Act 4, Sc. 2_.


When Rainsfield parted from Jemmy Davies he retraced his steps to his
own house, which he reached as the first rays of the morning sun
irradiated the eastern sky; and, flinging himself upon a sofa in the
sitting-room, he sought a few hours' rest. Sleep we cannot call it for
it was more of the nature of a waking dream than refreshing slumbers;
and, after enduring two or three hours of increasing restlessness, he
sprang from his couch, and, while it was yet early morn, strolled forth
to refresh his fevered brain.

His reflections were of no enviable kind. That the object the blacks had
in returning to the neighbourhood was, as Jemmy Davies had warned him,
he had no doubt; for, however much he was disinclined to credit the
disinterestedness of Jemmy, and his good feeling towards himself, he
could not imagine any motive that could influence the black in
acquainting him of a plot if no plot existed. Rainsfield had no faith in
one of their colour, believing sincerity a virtue incompatible with
their nature; but at the same time he fully credited the information of
Jemmy, especially after the evidently hostile preparations he had
witnessed. He was also perfectly aware that he might expect the
animosity of the blacks while they remained in the neighbourhood; and
though he had flattered himself upon their former disappearance that he
had been for ever relieved from the annoyance of their proximity, he now
found he had exorcised the demon which threatened his destruction.

What their mode of procedure would be he could hardly conjecture,
though he had doubted not, from what he had witnessed at the camp, that
they had not only concerted measures, but that their plans would be on
somewhat an extensive scale. Their primary object, he believed, would be
his life; but personally he had a supreme contempt for the whole race,
and flattered himself that, with a little caution, he was a match,
numerically speaking, against extreme odds. He believed, as in fact
experience had demonstrated, their cowardice was one of their inherent
characteristics, and that, with decision on his part, and a chastisement
by a few examples, he would avert the threatened danger. He imagined
that their tactics would be a perpetual ambuscade, never dreaming that
they would so far venture on the offensive as to assume the aggressive
overtly, but would rather attempt a surprisal; in which case he
determined, as soon as his opponents showed themselves, to take upon
himself the offensive. As the harass, however, of a perpetual watch
would not only inconvenience him, but weaken his already too small
force, he bethought him to acquaint his neighbours of his position, and
beg their assistance. His first care, then, was to apprise all his men
on the station of the intention of the blacks, and to provide them with
fire-arms, so far as his stock admitted, charging them to use every
vigilance to prevent the approach of any of the aborigines, and to shoot
them if they came within range of their guns.

On the evening of that day, acting under the advice of Jemmy Davies, Mr.
Rainsfield posted himself, and two of his men, in the bush near the
house, where he expected the blacks would be lurking if they visited the
station at all; and not long after night-fall he became sensible of the
stealthy approach of some of the natives. Rainsfield and his men had
secreted themselves so as to elude even the keen vision of the
aborigines, at the same time that they themselves could discern, as
plainly as was practicable in the darkness, the crouching forms of the
reconnoiterers. The party in espionage watched their victims until they
approached sufficiently near to enable them to distinguish their dusky
outlines, and then they simultaneously discharged the contents of their
three pieces into their very midst.

The report was instantly followed by more than one yell, and at least
one body was heard to fall heavily to the ground, when the next moment a
shower of spears rattled amongst the trees and bushes where the party
lay concealed. Rainsfield and his men remained perfectly motionless, not
daring to venture another shot; for they knew well that every native had
already shielded himself behind some tree, and was watching for a
repetition of the fire to guide them whence to aim their own missiles.
By remaining in his quiescence Rainsfield was aware he was safe; for he
knew the blacks would not trust themselves to a closer investigation of
the quarter from whence emanated their destruction. Of the two watching
parties the blacks were the first to withdraw, after discharging
another random volley of spears, and taking with them their dead or
wounded. When Rainsfield was convinced of their departure he came out
from his hiding-place, and returned to the station much pleased with his
adventure, and, arguing from the nature of the reception the blacks had
met with, that they would considerably cool in their ardour for any
further visitation of his premises.

The other inmates of Strawberry Hill were too much occupied with their
attention to Eleanor, and too much engrossed by their anxieties for her
welfare to be conscious of the occurrence we have lately described; for
when the doctor arrived with William from Alma she was in an exceedingly
dangerous state, and it was not until the day following the encounter
that the son of Galen considered himself warranted in taking his
departure, and leaving his patient to the care of her own friends.
Eleanor's state was still precarious, and though the fever was
sufficiently subdued to relieve her friends of alarm, her nervous
system had received a tremendous shock. Added to her corporeal
sufferings she had to endure mental agonies of a far more acute
description, which kept her prostrate, dispirited, and almost
unconscious, while her friends ministered with affectionate hands to her
every want. Days thus passed over with only shadows of improvement; and
William, who at first returned home leaving his sister at Strawberry
Hill, came back and brought her away from the bedside of her friend.

As Mr. Rainsfield had anticipated, the blacks entered no further
appearance after their first night of reconnoitering; and, though the
watchfulness of himself and his men was unabated, he began to entertain
less fears of their carrying out or even attempting their premeditated
design. All the men on the station were now well armed, and were quite
capable, acting in unison, of repelling the attack of a whole host of
natives should they make the attempt. At least so thought Rainsfield
and his _employés_; for their first success, and the subsequent
respectful distance that the blacks had maintained, engendered a sense
of security in their minds.

How many has this very feeling ruined, and will continue to ruin for
succeeding ages, who can tell? "A sea of troubles" is incidental to our
existence, and the dark prognostic that rises on our mental horizon,
heralding the approach of some destructive blast, is too often unheeded
by us until it has swept over our devoted heads. While the necessary
precautions to avert the coming danger have been either neglected or
postponed under the impression of false security we have fallen victims
to our own procrastination; and as the withering blast howls in its fury
as it settles its incubus form upon our spirits, we mourn our own
inertness, when timely exertion would have saved us from the calamity.
We will not say this was exactly the case with Mr. Rainsfield, though
after a few days of unceasing watchfulness without any other
molestation taking place, he began to relax in his vigilance, and was
imitated by his servants. He already looked upon the blacks as cowed and
vanquished, and entertained very little apprehension of another
visitation, though at the same time he was not altogether at ease
considering that they still remained in his vicinity with the avowed
purpose of attacking the station.

The idea had struck him that he could report to the authorities the
attack already made by construing what might have been an intention into
an act itself, as also the determination of the blacks to renew it, and
their location in his neighbourhood in a hostile and warlike spirit. He
would then be enabled to claim the protection of the police; but, what
would be more to his purpose, he would be enabled to obtain a warrant
for the apprehension of the ringleaders of the perpetrated and intended
breach of the peace. Armed with such a document he could make use of it
to visit their camp; while he was aware, from his knowledge of the
blacks, that the only result of the farce would be a rupture with them,
but by its means he would gain the opportunity he desired, viz., of
driving them from the country.

That such a farce as the administration of justice, or rather the
enforcement of the law, in one proscribed form on the savage should be
permitted to exist is deeply to be deplored. To punish the ignorant
aboriginal for the sins we have either taught or compelled him to
commit, without his having any knowledge of their nature, is
sufficiently iniquitous to require no comment; and to expect him to
conform to laws of which he has no conception, and which are contrary to
his natural instincts, is equally absurd and unjust. But such is the
case: the aboriginal is supposed to be a British subject in all but the
privileges pertaining to those favoured individuals; and if he commits
any act contrary to the code of our justiciary he is made amenable to
our laws and judged accordingly. Mr. Rainsfield was as well aware of
this as any one, but it mattered not to him. All he desired was to
possess some recognised authority for his molestation of the natives,
while he was nominally in the performance of a duty, though in reality
shielding himself under the protection of the law in the committal of an
unjustifiable aggression. That he would receive an order to obtain the
assistance of the native police he had no doubt, though he did have
misgivings as to their services being forthcoming. He little cared,
however, if they were so; in fact, it would suit his views better than
if they accompanied him, as he would prefer not to be annoyed with the
supervision of police, even though troopers, and they only blacks. He
could obtain sympathy, he thought, from his friends, and collect a small
body of volunteers that would aid him in his operations far more
effectually than police. Thus he hatched a scheme that had for its
object a trap in which to catch the unwary blacks; so that, by some
show of resistance, he would be warranted in taking the law into his own
hands in self-defence for himself and his friends and to enter upon
their crusade of extermination. Such was the offspring of Rainsfield's
mind: a laudable undertaking worthy of the cool-blooded monsters of
antiquity.

The rains, of which we spoke in the last chapter, had by this time set
in, and Rainsfield watched the rising of the Gibson river with some
degree of satisfaction. Knowing the blacks to be encamped on the other
side, he looked upon a flood as an insuperable barrier to their advance,
and an impregnable circumvallation to his own station; therefore he had
no fears of an attack while the water maintained its height, and he
determined to choose that opportunity for carrying out the preliminaries
of his plot.

He explained so much of his plans as he thought necessary to his wife,
including, of course, his object in leaving her, and attempted to allay
her fears, if she had had any, by assuring her that it was impossible
for the blacks to cross the river in its then state, while long before
the flood settled he would collect such assistance as would not only
protect them from any attack but enable him to drive their annoyance to
a safe distance. Mrs. Rainsfield, however, entertained no fears,
notwithstanding the monitory aspect of affairs around her. She had long
accustomed herself to look upon her husband's operations against the
unfortunate natives as not only harsh but cruel and unjust; and she
lamented his proneness to seize upon every opportunity of treating them
with severity. Believing them to be ill-used, and at the same time
inoffensive, she saw no cause for fear, and therefore did not
participate in her husband's alarm and felt no uneasiness in his
meditated absence.

Mr. Rainsfield, though he thought very little, if any, danger was to be
apprehended, deemed it expedient for his wife and family's safety to use
some precaution, and therefore for their protection requested Mr.
Billing to take up his abode in the house. He gave him strict
injunctions to keep the place well secured against the possibility of
any ingress, and himself always in possession of a relay of arms, which
he was to use without any hesitation if a black presented himself within
range of his fire. Giving similar instruction to the remainder of his
men he took his departure.

His first step was to proceed to Alma and make a declaration before a
bench of magistrates to the effect that the blacks had already made an
attack upon his premises, and were still in considerable force in his
neighbourhood, to the imminent peril of his life and property; and that
the said party was headed by a half-civilized black named Barwang. Upon
making this affidavit he at once obtained what he desired, viz., a
warrant for the apprehension of the ringleader, Barwang, and all others
who might either commit or incite other of Her Majesty's subjects to
commit a breach of the peace. He also procured the promise of
assistance from what portion of the native police could be collected,
who would be stationed at Strawberry Hill for his protection, until such
time as the blacks should be quieted. Succeeding thus far he then
proceeded to Brompton to enlist the services of Bob Smithers, knowing
well that few arguments would suffice to induce him to engage in a work
which was exactly to his tastes. He found him at home, and, after the
ordinary greetings had been passed, and Bob's asking him what brought
him from home, he entered upon the subject of his mission by replying:
"I want your aid, Smithers, to chastise those infernal blacks, for they
are at me again. I have beaten them off once, but I believe they are
only now prevented from attacking me in full force by their inability to
cross the Gibson from their camp. See here I have got a warrant for the
apprehension of their chief, so that will be sufficient authority for us
to carry out our own plans."

"All right, old boy," exclaimed Bob, as he gave his friend a proof of
his exuberance and readiness to join him by administering a playful poke
in the ribs; "I'm your man. I am fully convinced we shall never live in
peace until those d--d blacks are exterminated. Nothing would give me
greater pleasure than to shoot every mother's son of the dogs; so, by
Jove! you may depend upon my lending you a hand."

"I do not believe, either," said Rainsfield, "that we shall ever enjoy
any degree of quietude until we have suppressed the wretches. It is no
use our looking to government for protection; we must take the
administration of the law into our own hands and punish them ourselves.
But to effect this we ought to make it a common cause, and all work in
unison for our mutual protection."

"Just so!" said Smithers; "I perfectly agree with you."

"I've long thought of the plan," continued Rainsfield, "to form
ourselves into a confederation for that purpose; but owing to the
absence of the blacks for some months past I have allowed it to escape
my memory. Now, however, I think, is a time that some such measure
should be adopted, for if these depredations are not speedily checked
the blacks may be going to such extremes that our position in the
country will become untenable."

"I am quite of your way of thinking," said Smithers, "and so I know are
many others. I am confident Graham would assist you in a minute, and so
would Brown, and many others round us. I'll tell you what; if you like
I'll just go round to a few of them and bring them over to your place,
so that if you return home now, and keep the black scoundrels in check
for a day or two, until I get my forces collected, we will give them a
lesson which they will not forget in a hurry; that is, if any of them
survive to have any recollection."

Diabolical as was the intention implied in this threat it fully
accorded with Rainsfield's own desire and determination, and he readily
fell into the views of his colleague, who at once started on his
recruiting expedition, while Rainsfield, in high fettle, the following
morning took his ride home. On this journey we will leave him for the
present while we glance at the events in progress at another scene of
our narrative.



CHAPTER XI.

    "Friend of the brave! in peril's darkest hour,
    Intrepid virtue looks to thee for power."

    CAMPBELL.

    "She only left of all the harmless train,
    The sad historian of the pensive plain."

    GOLDSMITH.


Everything went smoothly at Strawberry Hill for two days after the
departure of Mr. Rainsfield; but the night of the third was that which
was destined to bring with it a scene of horror, which happily has never
had its equal in the Australian colonies since the first settler
penetrated into its unknown wilds. The blacks had now remained some time
dormant; for since their first visit, owing to the warm reception they
had then met with, they had not ventured to repeat it. Towards the
evening in question, however, they might have been seen swimming, one by
one, the swollen current of the Gibson, until a considerable body had
congregated on the bank opposite to their camp.

We will not presume to judge their motives, or profess conversance with
the impulses that influenced their movements. Possibly their instincts
might have taught them that the time for a most successful attack was
when the difficulties of approach rendered their coming least expected;
or it might have been that they were possessed of the knowledge of their
enemy's absence from home, and were determined to wreak their vengeance
on those belonging to him when they had not to fear his presence. That
Rainsfield was feared by them there was no doubt; his very name struck
terror into their souls, and none but the very boldest of them would
confront him, even in the consciousness of vastly superior force. It
was therefore quite possible they were acquainted with his absence, and
intended to take advantage of the occurrence to pay their premeditated
visit to the station; or their choice of this period might have been the
result of a fortuitous circumstance. Nevertheless be either as it may
the flooded river did not prove the barrier Rainsfield had calculated it
would, for the blacks crossed it with apparent ease and, as we have
said, collected themselves on the bank on the Strawberry Hill side.
Their evident intention being to proceed direct to the station when they
thought the inmates would have retired to rest.

A little before midnight the murderous crew spread themselves over the
station; and simultaneously commenced their work of destruction by
entering the huts, and butchering all they could surprise in their
sleep. The first of their victims was a woman, the wife of a shepherd.
Hearing the unusual barking of the dogs she incautiously rose to
ascertain the cause without disturbing her husband, whose period of
sleep she considered valuable. The poor woman appeared at the door of
her hut with a child in her arms, too good a mark for the spears of the
savages; for in their thirst for blood they had no respect for either
sex or age but buried more than one of their weapons in the poor
creature's bosom. She fell across the threshold pierced to the heart and
in the agonies of death, with merely a sufficiency of the vital spark
remaining to utter a faint cry and clasp instinctively her babe to her
breast. As the infant's eyes turned in wonder on the ruthless savages
one of them seized the little innocent by the legs, tore it from its
mother's embrace and dashed out its brains; while his compeers rushed
into the interior of the hut, and, almost before the sleeping man could
sufficiently collect his senses to comprehend the nature of his
position, his spirit had joined those of his wife and child. The other
huts were in likewise visited, and those of the inmates who were not
successful in effecting an escape were similarly massacred.

These proceedings had been gone about by no means noiselessly, so that
the family at the house had become aware of the presence of the savages,
though they could not conjecture the extent or the nature of the
outrages they had committed. Those of the men who had escaped from the
murderous hands of the aborigines deemed it safer to seek shelter in the
bush than to venture to the house, or even remain near the station. So
that, beyond the painful evidence of her ears, Mrs. Rainsfield could
ascertain no knowledge of what was going on. When she first heard the
noise that had heralded the visitation she hastily threw on some
clothing and emerged from her room; and, speedily becoming alive to the
imminence of the danger, she for the first time deplored the absence of
her husband. Mrs. Billing had removed with her youngest child to be near
her better half while he remained at the house, but the rest of her
family she had left at her own cottage; and having also been disturbed
by the uproar she wrought herself into a perfect fever of anxiety for
their safety. She fancied she heard every moment their dying screams as
they were being seized by the ruthless hand of some infernal savage; and
in her agony she fancied she could distinguish above the noise of the
now unrestrained articulation of the blacks their little voices calling
upon her for help, and she entreated to be allowed to rush at once to
their rescue.

Her husband, however, was more rational, and pointed out to her that
that would, in all probability, only incur instant death to herself and
afford no relief to her children. He suggested that they should wait,
and see what the blacks proposed doing next; and as in all probability
it would be to attack the house, he remarked that their suspense would
be of short duration. He then bethought him of his fire-arms, which he
got in readiness for instant use, while he provided pistols to the
females. His next care was to barricade all the apertures through which
the blacks could effect an entrance, while Mrs. Rainsfield crept softly
to the bedside of Eleanor to ascertain if she had been disturbed by the
noise. By the time these arrangements were completed, and the family
assembled in conclave in the sitting-room, the blacks had collected
before the house and became clamorous for admittance.

Mr. Billing, though not blessed with too great a share of physical
courage, had, nevertheless, in the moment of danger, a sufficient
perception of the line of conduct necessary for the defence of himself
and those under his protection. Notwithstanding that the gun he then
held in his hand was in all probability the first that he ever had in
his possession with the intent of putting it to use, he handled it as if
it were an old and friendly companion, and proposed that he and his two
female colleagues should fire simultaneously on the savages, so as to
give them the idea that the house was well defended. His suggestion,
however, was overruled by Mrs. Rainsfield, who at once expressed her
disapprobation of such a course; being convinced, as she said, that the
blacks could not force the building, and even if they did that they
would have no cause to commit any violence to any of the inmates. While
if they found that they could not gain admittance they would depart at
most, perhaps, with robbing the store. This belief was far from
according with Mr. Billing's opinion, but he was constrained to assent
to the will of the lady; and they all, with a breathless silence,
continued to watch the movements of their assailants.

The blacks finding they were unmolested, and seeing no opposition
offered to them, and no signs of life about the house, became bolder and
attempted to force some of the doors and windows; while the affrighted
party sat in a state of fearful anxiety, and, though unseen themselves,
they could plainly distinguish the forms of the aborigines trying the
window of the room in which they were. Mr. Billing at this moment
placed the muzzle of his gun close to the glass of the window, that was
left visible through a crevice in the barricade, and had he fired would
have assuredly sent one savage to his account in the other world. Would
that he had; for in all probability it would have driven the blacks to a
distance from the house, and possibly saved us from the task of
narrating this fearful tragedy. But his eagerness to fire was restrained
by Mrs. Rainsfield, and the moment was lost; for the blacks, finding
their efforts to gain an ingress unavailing, gave up the fruitless
attempt, and withdrew to some short distance to hold converse on their
proceedings.

Mrs. Rainsfield at once began to congratulate herself and her friends
that they had retired as she had anticipated, leaving them nothing more
to fear; and at that moment hearing the faint voice of Eleanor calling
to her she hastened to account for the disturbance about the house and
appease her alarm. Eleanor was in a state of considerable agitation,
having been aroused from her fitful slumbers by the noise of the blacks,
and being still very low in strength and spirits, and excessively
nervous, her alarm and agitation threatened to bring on fever again. It
was only with considerable difficulty that Mrs. Rainsfield could
persuade her she had no cause to fear. She told her that the blacks had
already taken their departure from the house, and would in all
probability by that time have left the station; and she entreated her
not to give herself any uneasiness, but to be still for a few minutes,
and then she would return to her bedside and sit with her for the
remainder of the night.

With these assurances, Eleanor was constrained to be pacified, and so
Mrs. Rainsfield returned to the sitting-room, where she found Mrs.
Billing wringing her hands and crying in an agony of grief. Mr. Billing
was more calm, but not less apprehensive of danger or death. He drew the
lady of the house to the crevice of the window to gaze upon the scene
without, while she uttered a cry of surprise and terror, as her startled
vision took in the tableau there displayed. Before the house stood a
group of the assailants in all the hideousness of barbarity, paint, and
savage nudity. They had possessed themselves of "fire sticks," which
acted as torches, at the same time that they served to exhibit their
bodies in all their diabolical repulsiveness; and their intentions were
too plainly indicated in their jestures. To say that they looked like a
band of incarnate fiends would be to convey but a poor impression of the
horrors of their appearance, as the fitful light reflected their hideous
forms; exhibiting them in, if possible, a more fearful aspect than their
stern realities; and giving them the appearance as the beholders thought
(and as was, alas! but too true) of being besmeared with blood. It is
not to be wondered at that at such a sight the hearts of two frail
women, and even that of a man, should have quailed; and if not before
despair certainly did then seize upon the spirits of those present.

The object of the villains had by this time become perfectly apparent,
and though neither of the trio dared to breathe their individual
suspicions they were unanimous in the one belief that the lighted
torches were intended to fire the premises; and thus either drive them
from their shelter or bury them in the ruins. They therefore saw that
only two courses were open to them; either to arm themselves and defend
the house until the last, or to throw it open to the savages and try and
pacify them with any _douceur_ the wretches might covet. That there was
extreme danger in thus throwing themselves upon the mercy of fiends they
were perfectly aware; and any one better acquainted with the black's
character would have considered it absolute madness and voluntarily
seeking for a death more horrible than that which would await them in a
defensive perseverance. But the exercise of calm judgment and reason
could hardly be expected from two agitated and terrified women, and one
man whose nature was made of very little sterner stuff than theirs.

Mrs. Rainsfield was the first that broke the painful silence that
ensued, and addressing Mr. Billing, said: "I think we had better open
the door at once, or they will set fire to the house, and we will be
burnt alive. If they determine to kill us we can but meet our death with
firmness; while there is a possibility of their sparing us if we satisfy
their cupidity by allowing them to plunder the place. Will you open the
door, Mr. Billing, and attempt the work of conciliation?"

Mr. Billing silently obeyed this behest, and addressed himself to the
blacks, who were at this time standing immediately before the house
preparing to apply the fire. They instantly desisted from their
incendiary work when they saw signs of capitulation, and directed their
gaze to the doorway. By the light of their own "fire sticks" they could
distinguish Mr. Billing, who stood there with the women at his back
perfectly unarmed; having left his gun by Mrs. Rainsfield's desire in
the room they had vacated so as to give the savages, as she imagined, no
cause for offence by appearing to offer any resistance. When the blacks
satisfied themselves that they had nothing to fear they burst out into a
loud laugh of derision, and crowded towards the defenceless garrison in
a menacing and mocking attitude. What were the feelings of the trio at
this moment it would be difficult even to conjecture. With Mrs. Billing,
however, those of the mother overcame all personal and selfish
considerations, and she darted from the house to ascertain the fate of
her children. That action may be said to have decided the doom of the
whole party; for though possibly even under other circumstances the
blacks might not have spared those whom they had got into their power,
and the strong probability is that they would not, yet the sudden
movement of Mrs. Billing cost her her life, and gave the savages the
stimulus to commence the further shedding of blood.

Mrs. Billing had not proceeded many steps before she uttered a loud
shriek and fell prostrate to the earth with a spear piercing her back
and protruding its point from her breast. Her husband witnessing the
deed, eliminated from his bosom all feelings save those of devotion and
sympathy for his wife, rushed to clasp her in his arms and met a similar
fate. The climax of this fearful tragedy was nearly attained. Mrs.
Rainsfield fled from the open doorway, where she had been the spectator
of this connubial sacrifice, and sought momentary refuge with her
children in her room. Just as the blacks entered the house the servants,
who had by this time been aroused to a sense of their danger, opened a
door which led from the kitchen into the hall. But perceiving the
murderous assailants pouring in they left the door wide open as they had
flung it and made a hasty exit by another passage into the obscurity of
the night, and beat a precipitate retreat to the bush. In their flight
they were followed by a few of the savages who had perceived them; but
who shortly tired of a chase in which fear lent wings to the pursued.
They returned to aid their colleagues in forcing an entrance into the
room of Mrs. Rainsfield and commenced their work there of insatiable
cruelty with hideous and diabolical evidences of satisfaction.

The atrocities of these fiends were more like the evil machinations of
devils than the actions of human beings. But to enumerate all the
horrors, and to paint the scene with sufficiently forcible life-like
delineation, would be beyond the capabilities of our pen, and would only
sicken our readers by the perusal. Therefore we will merely say that
they first murdered the children before the eyes of their mother, while
they sported with the agonising despair of their victim, and then
despatched the lady; brutally mangling her body in their inordinate lust
for blood.

Eleanor had remained spell-bound during the perpetration of those
horrors, which she had animation sufficient to discern were being
enacted in the house; but without either enough strength to move, or
power of utterance to give vent to the fearful sensations that preyed
upon her mind. Alarm we cannot call it: such a feeling sinks into
insignificance compared with the mental anguish she then endured; being
conscious, from the heart-rending cries that struck her ear, that her
dearest earthly friends were meeting with a death too horrible to
contemplate, and not knowing how speedily a similar fate awaited
herself. She lay thus in a sort of trance, or tremulous expectancy, for
some considerable time, while she could hear the work of destruction
going on all around; to which work the savages had taken when they had
completed their murders. But still they had not visited her, and she
continued to lie, the prey to the most fearful mental agonies.

Sounds of rapidly approaching horsemen were then heard, and the blacks
began to leave the scene of their bloody desolation for fear of the
retribution which they expected from the approaching rescue. To Eleanor,
though she was nigher to death than a sublinary existence, the sound was
joyous; and she began to entertain hope that the relief would prove
opportune for the saving of her friends, as she felt it already was for
the rescue of herself. But oh! how unaccountable are the decrees of
Providence. At the very moment when she imagined the house was vacated
by the murderers the door of her room opened, and a hideous black
monster literally besmeared with blood burst in, and with uplifted arm
and bloody weapon, rushed to extinguish in her soul the flickering spark
of life. The black was followed by another, also with a hand elevated
and grasping a tomahawk. But the sight was more than Eleanor's shattered
nerves could bear; and starting into a sitting posture on her bed, her
tongue was loosened; she gave one piercing shriek, and sank back
senseless half leaning over the edge of her couch. The fate, however,
she had expected she did not meet with; for, instead of the glancing
steel of the second black being imbrued with her blood, it was buried in
the brain of the first, who sank to the floor a corpse.

The cause of Eleanor's escape we may here explain to the reader. The
frame of the door to her room was placed in immediate contiguity to that
of the one which opened into the kitchen; and by some strange design of
the builder this latter was made to open out into the hall. Thus when
the servants opened it, and left it so, the fortuitous circumstance of
its irregularity proved Eleanor's preservation; for when thrown back it
entirely concealed the entrance to her room, and eluded almost
completely the vigilance of the murderers. It was, as we have seen, just
as they were retreating from the place that one of the stragglers
accidentally discovered it; and, thinking that the spot had not been
visited by either himself or his compeers, he entered to satisfy his
curiosity by a hasty visit; which would assuredly have terminated the
existence of Eleanor but for the timely blow dealt him by his fellow.

This extraordinary internecine action may also require some elucidation;
and we will dispel the mystery by an explanation. Barwang and his party
upon their first visit to Strawberry Hill, when they met with their
repulse, became convinced that their movements had been betrayed by one
of their tribe, and they doubted not but that the betrayal emanated from
Jemmy Davies. They therefore kept a watch upon him lest he should again
carry information to Mr. Rainsfield, and preserved their own councils
from his knowledge; so that, until they had actually started on their
expedition, he was quite ignorant of their plans. When an opportunity
offered, however, he followed them on their track up to the house; and,
though he did not venture into the building, he kept hovering about in
the hope that he might be able to render some assistance to the family.
But not until the approaching sounds of horses' feet drew off the masses
of the tribe did he deem it safe for his own security to enter. He did
so; and, as he passed into the hall, he saw one of his countrymen
opening the door of a room and stand for a moment in the aperture gazing
fixedly in one direction. The glance of this savage's eye, as his own
keen vision caught the momentary flash, told Jemmy Davies that vengeance
gleamed from the other's orb, and in an instant he sprang after him, and
saved an innocent life by the sacrifice of one worse than worthless and
infamous. When he was convinced the house was empty of his countrymen,
and being aware that if he were caught in the place by any white man the
colour of his skin would be the warrant for his instant death, he took a
hasty survey of the fearful scene of blood that was visible even in the
partial darkness, and left the house by the back as two horsemen,
riding rapidly up to the front, leapt from their saddles and rushed in.
These two, as may be conjectured, were John Ferguson and Joey.

Fearful as John had been of the nature of events he believed were
transpiring the sight that met his gaze as he entered the dwelling
struck him dumb with horror, and perfectly sick at heart, and paralysed
at the bloody disclosure. The whole floor of the house was slippery with
the gore of the murdered victims as it had been carried about by the
feet of the murderers. He hastily struck a light from the materials he
had about him; and, with the pulsations of his heart almost audible,
made a survey of the habitation. The first things that he noticed were
the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Billing, which had been dragged by the
savages into the hall, possibly with the intention of consuming the
whole in flames after they had finished their work; and then in the
sitting-room he saw the signs of the barricade that had been hastily
thrown up before the window. From that he hastened to the one which had
in life been occupied by the amiable lady that had been mistress of the
place, and there he witnessed the mangled remains of herself and her
family. As he gazed upon the hardly to be recognised features of that
friend who had so often greeted him with the cordial grasp of friendship
he could not restrain the tears that in a flood coursed their way down
his cheeks. Continuing his melancholy search he next entered the room of
Eleanor, and almost stumbled over the carcass of the black who lay in
the middle of the floor weltering in his blood. This sight caused him no
little surprise; especially, when with a sad foreboding he approached
the couch of that being he adored above all mundane objects, to find her
pendent form though insensible was scathless. But it was not a moment to
indulge in conjectures; he had discovered his idol in the midst of death
still living. So placing the unconscious creature on the bed, and
enveloping her in the clothes, he snatched her in his arms; and
pressing her to his breast bore off the precious load.

With the assistance of his attendant he mounted his horse; and
despatching Joey instantly with injunctions to fly, if possible, to Alma
for the doctor and bring him to Fern Vale, he turned his own horse's
head homewards, and proceeded as fast as the animal with his additional
burden could travel.

Bright and beautiful the morning dawned as he rode towards his home; but
serene as were the sublimities of nature their contemplation had no
place in his mind. All his thoughts were centred in the inaminate form
encircled by his arms. Thus he rode unconscious to all around, and would
have so ridden to the end of his journey had not a faint sigh struck his
ear; and he instantly stopped his horse to enable him to enjoy the sight
of returning vitality to his much loved Eleanor. He gently removed the
covering that he had placed over her face, when her melancholy eyes for
a moment rested upon his. It was only for a moment, however, for they
were instantly secluded from the light by the closing lids; and,
considering it better not to agitate her with conversation, and
satisfied for the time with the assurance of his hearing and vision, he
impressed one rapturous kiss on her fair forehead, again covered her
face from the morning air, and proceeded on his way.



CHAPTER XII.

                  "All those rivers
    That fed her veins with warm and crimson streams
    Frozen and dried up; if these be signs of death,
    Then is she dead.... But I will be true
    E'en to her dust and ashes."

    DECKER.


Mr. Rainsfield pursued his way homewards little anticipating the sight
that awaited him on his arrival; but, owing to the heavy state of the
roads from the saturation of the ground, he was only enabled to travel
slowly. Consequently he perceived the flood coming down the Gibson long
before he reached the crossing-place of the Wombi; and, knowing that
there would be no use attempting a passage there, since the bridge had
been swept away, he at once struck off for the Dingo Plains to get over
by the upper crossing-place. By making this detour it was near morning
before he approached the station.

Upon his reaching home he at once went to the stable and attended to his
horse, the first consideration of a bushman, and then bent his steps to
the house, feeling an unaccountable sensation of awe, which the
pervading solitude and death-like stillness inspired him with. This
feeling he was ashamed to indulge in, and tried to banish it from his
mind and deceive his conscience by attempting to whistle a lively air,
while he submitted his right boot to a playful castigation with his
riding-whip. All these stratagems, however, proved futile: a gloom had
settled upon him which he could not shake off, and he hastened his steps
to his dwelling with his heart in a perturbation that gave place to the
most fearful apprehensions as he perceived the house open to free
ingress. The truth at once burst upon him with overwhelming force, and
he rushed like one demented into the room where he had expected to meet
the embrace of his wife, but only to witness her mutilated remains
surrounded by those of her children. He gazed upon their forms for some
minutes in the uncertain light with a sad, though calm and almost
stoical cast of countenance; and then, kneeling by the side of his
wife's body, he parted her clotted hair from off her brow, which he
stooped down and kissed, and, while dashing a scalding tear from his
eye, thus apostrophised the fane of the departed spirit:

"And was it for this I left you, my darling Mary, to seek for you
protection, and obtain assistance to drive the disturbers of our
happiness from the land? Oh! that I could but have foreseen this, to
have either preserved you and our poor little innocents, or perished
while I shielded your heart with my breast. Curses on my cruel fate, and
the blinding fancies of security which led me away from your side. Oh,
Mary, Mary! more dear to me than life, to have lost you thus, butchered!
by a set of ruthless savages, consumes my very heart. But you shall be
revenged. By heaven! you shall." And, springing to his feet with
clenched fists, and gazing into space as the whole expression of his
countenance changed, he continued:

"What is life to me now, deprived of all the ties that bound me to this
earth? It shall be devoted to the cause of vengeance; and here, Mary! in
the presence of your spirit, and in the sight of my Maker, I swear to be
revenged upon all the blacks in this country; never shall one cross my
path alive. I'll spare neither their old nor their young. I'll hunt them
from their dens, like the vermin that they are. They shall be made to
bite the dust. Their bodies shall rot, and their bones bleach in the
sun. Never shall they rest until they are wholly exterminated, or my
strength and life fail me; and I swear that so long as one black remains
of all their race my vengeance shall not be satisfied. Hear me, Mary!
while I pray to God for the strength of Hercules, and the age of
Methuselah, that I may be a terror to their species, and they may learn
to curse the day when first they tasted the blood of mine. And oh, Mary!
if thou seest me from the portals of that abode where the eternal dwell,
look down upon me and commend my work, help my weak arm; encourage my
drooping spirit; be a light to beacon my path in the remainder of my
gloomy passage through this world; and let not the cup of vengeance be
removed from the lips of thy foul murderers until they have tasted of
the very dregs. So now, my angel wife! my once fond and loving but now
lost wife! sacrificed through thy husband's folly and neglect, if
vengeance is sweet to thee thy spirit shall be appeased; for henceforth
my name shall be one to strike dismay into the souls of blacks
throughout the land. So help me God!"

Having uttered this fearful oath, and calling down the aid of his Maker
to assist him in its performance, Rainsfield left the room and the house
a broken-hearted man; re-saddled his horse, which he mounted, and went
he knew not whither. His state was truly piteous; his better and softer
nature was in perpetual warfare with his fiendish feelings, which
prompted nothing but a thirst for vengeance. The memory of his wife, and
the sudden shock occasioned by her loss and fearful death, had at first
subdued the evil passions of the mortal; and he had gazed upon the
placid features of the corpse with a calm and settled grief. But as he
awoke to a plainer perception of the horrors of the event, and what must
have been the sufferings of his defenceless family, with the brutality
of their hellish assailants, all softer feelings evanished before the
sterner one revenge; which in the one moment of decision he determined
should be the sole object of his future life. In this frame of mind he
left his home, that had so lately been smiling and happy but now
gloomy, bloody, and to be shunned; for he felt to dwell under that roof
again was impossible. His home for the future would be under the canopy
of heaven, and his life that of the avenger. Thus he left the house,
misfortune having so overcome his reason that he had no idea of further
inspection of the building, possibly believing that all had met with the
same fate, not even to glance into the room of Eleanor; and he wandered
forth absorbed in grief, without any definite notion of where he was to
go, or how he was to dispose of the bodies.

Towards noon of the following day he entered the township of Alma, and
his horse stopping instinctively before the door of the "Woolpack" inn,
he alighted; and allowed the animal to be taken from him while he
mechanically entered the house. The news of the massacre had already
spread through the country, while the thousand tongues of mercurial
gossip had imparted to the original tragedy as many phases of horror as
imagination could possibly invent. The fearful occurrence had arrested
the attention, and absorbed all the interest of the residents of Alma;
and they were in several knots in deep and earnest conclave, discussing
the bloody event, as they saw the chief sufferer approaching their town.

The loudest declamation, and the deepest uttered anathemas against the
natives, were in an instant checked. The earnestly asseverated opinion,
that the lives of the settlers would be perpetually in danger, unless
the blacks were speedily exterminated,--the noisy declaration of some
bold patriot, as he expressed his determination to declare eternal
warfare against the savages, and even to enter upon the crusade
single-handed if no one would lend him aid; with the faint voice of some
more philanthropic polemic, who attempted to check the stream of
exuberant passion, by palliating without defending (on the plea of
retribution) the horrible murder,--were all hushed, and gave place to a
heartfelt though silent sympathy as Mr. Rainsfield rode into the town.
And even after he was lost to their vision, by ensconsure in the
"Woolpack," their conversations were resumed in a lower cadence, lest
(even at a distance at which their most stentorian utterances could
hardly have been distinguishable) the nature of their conversation
should strike his ear and recall the subject of his grief.

The news had reached them that morning by Joey when he arrived
post-haste for the doctor. He had been fortunate in finding the resident
son of Galen at home; and, obeying the injunctions of his master, had
delivered his message, and returned with him immediately. Short as had
been his stay it was quite long enough to enable the inhabitants to
elicit from him the facts of which the reader is acquainted. They learnt
with some degree of satisfaction that one of the family still retained
life, and would possibly be able, at some time, to recount the
circumstances of the massacre. Thus, in the presence of so much to
engender the feeling of compassion, a morbid curiosity to learn all the
details of horror seized upon the minds of the good people of Alma. But
such is the nature of man; selfishness reigns supreme, and shines forth
in all his motions and actions.

When Joey returned with the doctor he deviated from the beaten track, to
cross the Wombi by the upper fords; thinking that his companion might
object to the more dangerous one of the lower. Rainsfield, on the
contrary, in his journey, never dreaming of dangers or difficulties, had
taken the lower; hence the parties had missed one another. This caused
the gossips of Alma to wonder greatly what had brought him away from his
house; especially as they had heard that he had been absent at the time
of the outrage, and must have since visited the scene, and met the
doctor and messenger on the road. But they were unacquainted with the
circumstance that had prevented the meeting, and they were destined, at
least at that time, to remain in ignorance; for the landlord of the inn
to whom they had recourse, rough and unfeeling as he appeared, had too
much respect for the grief of his visitor to attempt obtaining any
information from him.

The landlord, without enquiring from him if he would take any meal,
prepared the table for a repast, and placed on it some edibles, with a
bottle of brandy and some water. Then, without uttering a syllable, he
left the room and the sorrow-stricken man to an uninterrupted solitude.
Rainsfield sat for some time gazing fixedly on the viands before him
without attempting or desiring to partake of them; retaining an
unaltered position on each occasion that he was surveyed by the
sympathising host through the key-hole of the door. In this state he
might have remained, until exhausted nature had induced a return to
consciousness, had not his attention been attracted by the arrival of an
extensive cavalcade at the door of the inn. Glancing his eye languidly
over the features of the riders as they were dismounting he instantly
recognised amongst the group the person and voice of Bob Smithers; and
the object of the party was at once made apparent.

New life was at once infused into his veins; the blood once more mantled
his cheek, and fire was imparted to his eye, as he, with compressed lip
and determined visage, leapt from his seat and strode to the doorway.

"Show those gentlemen in here, landlord," he said, addressing that
individual, as he was ushering the newly-arrived travellers into a
separate room.

"I thought, sir, you would prefer to be alone," replied the landlord,
"so I was going to let you have the parlour to yourself."

"Never mind, let them come in here," replied Rainsfield.

The party by this time had entered the room they were shown to, so the
landlord turned to them, and said:

"If you would like to step into the other room, gents, you will find it
more comfortable; there is only one other gent there, perhaps you know
him," he continued in an under tone, "it is Mr. Rainsfield."

A low murmur ran through the party at the mention of the name, though it
was unheard by Rainsfield himself, he having turned again into the
parlour. The name of Rainsfield was repeated by them all in a tone of
voice that unmistakeably indicated a sorrowful compassion. They were all
squatters in the district and friends of Smithers, who had collected
them to go to the assistance of their neighbour for his protection
against the aborigines. They had heard as they came along the fearful
news of the massacre, and had accelerated their speed to arrive on the
scene of action as soon as possible, in the hope of finding some of the
family living, or being in time to afford some assistance, either in the
preservation of their lives, the protection of their property, or the
chastisement of their murderers.

Smithers instantly proposed to join Mr. Rainsfield, and at once
adjourned to the other room, followed by his companions; and, as he
entered and advanced with extended hand, but without venturing to speak,
Rainsfield grasped the proffered token of friendship, while he said:
"Too late, Smithers! too late! except for revenge, and that is all I
hope to live for."

"And in which we can now only serve you," replied his companion. "But we
will organize some plan of operation; we count fifteen now, and are
sufficient to be irresistible to the whole tribe of blacks. In the
meantime let the landlord prepare dinner, and then we will discuss
matters quietly. I think you know all our friends here?"

The form of introduction being gone through where the parties were not
acquainted, and the shaking of hands where they were, the necessary
instructions were given to the landlord to prepare something for the
company, and they fell into a desultory conversation previous to
entering upon their plans. It is not our intention to weary the reader
with a verbose report of the initiatory proceedings of the party, and
will therefore merely state that they formed themselves into a mutual
protection society, with the professed object of combining to repel the
encroachments of the blacks, though in reality to hunt them down like
dogs. For the furtherance of this scheme they bound themselves by
stringent oaths to let none escape them, but to kill all they should
come across. Each individual swore to take active part in the process of
destruction so as to make all equally implicated. They vowed, by the
most solemn obligations, never to make any disclosure that would
criminate any of the society; while, before any neophyte could be
admitted within the periphery of their mysterious bonds, it was
determined he should be subjected to an ordeal that would protect the
members from the possibility of any disclosure that would cause their
amenability to the law.

In the course of conversation with the landlord Smithers learnt that one
of the family (which his informant could not tell him) was still living,
and that a messenger, supposed from Fern Vale, had come over that
morning for the doctor. Smithers communicated this to Rainsfield, who
then remembered for the first time that he had not visited the room of
Eleanor, and therefore inferred that it must be she, he having had too
clear a demonstration of the total absence of life in the bodies of his
wife and children. This he mentioned to Smithers, and they both agreed
that Eleanor must have been discovered by some of the Fergusons, who had
removed her to their own house, and sent for the doctor. They therefore
determined to adhere to their original plan of starting early on the
following morning, after taking a night's rest where they were, it being
needed by most of the party as well as by their horses.

On the following morning they were early on the road, so that few saw
them leave the township. But though nothing had been said by any of the
Society respecting the object of their journey it was pretty shrewdly
guessed at, if not positively known, by most of the inhabitants; and it
was evident to them no body of men, armed with rifles and revolvers,
could be travelling to the scene of a murderous outrage with any
peaceable intent. The sympathies, however, of most went with them; and
even though some of their number had been disposed in simple argument to
feel for the blacks, none dared to incur public opprobrium by making any
representations of the supposed hostilities to official quarters. The
Society itself proceeded on its way very quietly, its members being
mostly absorbed in sketching out, mentally, plans of the campaign on
which they were entering, so that the journey was almost entirely
performed in silence.

When they reached the station its appearance was quite desolate; no
signs of life were perceptible, and the stillness of death spread
around its influence, which was sensibly felt by all. The house was
closed to all ingress, and on the door was nailed a card bearing the
words: "Let Mr. Rainsfield proceed to Fern Vale the instant on his
arrival." Rainsfield read the sentence, and at once guessed the import;
he perceived that when the murder had been discovered by the Fergusons
they had removed the bodies thither, if possible, to await his arrival
before interment; and he determined to go on at once, though, before
departing, he desired once more to gaze upon the rooms through which the
steps of his wife and the merry voices of his children had so lately
resounded, but which were now tenantless, desolate, and bloody. An
entrance was effected by a back window, and the party admitted; when
great was the surprise of Mr. Rainsfield to find no sign or vestige of
the fearful crime that had there so lately been committed. He read in
all this the kind hand of his neighbours, and his heart smote him in the
midst of his grief for the manner in which he had behaved to young
Ferguson. To his friends he pointed out with a melancholy precision the
spots where he had found the various bodies, described their position
and their mutilated condition, and then wandered through the rooms with
an abstracted air conjuring in his imagination the scenes that were
passed, never more to return, and peopling them in his fancy with those
loved forms whose spirits had fled to the source from whence they
sprang.

His friends did not attempt to interrupt the gratification of this
melancholy pleasure, but allowed him to be the first to propose a
retreat, which, when he did, they were ready to agree to. The whole
party then left the house to proceed to Fern Vale; and while they are on
the road we will precede them and take a momentary glance at the doings
there, both at the exact period of our narrative and also
retrospectively for a few hours.

John Ferguson, when he bore the all but lifeless body of Eleanor into
his own house, arrested the volatile reception of his sister with an
expression of countenance that betokened deep sorrow. To the poor girl
the look was unaccountable; she had only risen the instant her brother
had arrived, and had heard nothing of his approach; consequently she was
a little surprised at his presence. But when she was about to rush into
his embrace his manner appalled her, while she was equally surprised at
the singular burden he carried in his arms, for in the manner in which
he had enveloped the body of Eleanor the form was undefinable. John,
however, saved his sister the necessity of any questioning, by saying:

"Don't ask me any questions at present that will require any explanation
of the cause of my unexpected appearance with this almost lifeless form.
Lead the way to your room, Kate, for I must place it under your charge;
and I can assure you it requires your tenderest care. I have already
sent for a doctor, and expect him here in the course of the day."

The astonished girl preceded her brother to her room, and, as John laid
his burden gently on his sister's bed, he uncovered the face and
disclosed to the vision of Kate the pallid features of the unconscious
Eleanor.

"Oh, John! dear John! tell me what is the meaning of this! what fearful
thing has happened?" Kate passionately exclaimed.

"A dreadful event, Kate, as you may imagine," replied her brother, "by
my bearing that dear creature in such a state, and bringing her here to
be ministered to by you. She is now destitute of friends; but I cannot
tell you more at present, your nerves could not sustain the recital of
the horrors of the tale. I know that I need not ask you to bestow upon
Eleanor your utmost attention and most affectionate sympathy; but I must
caution you, should she return to consciousness, to make no allusion to
the circumstances of her misfortune; nor do you attempt to elicit
anything from her; rather try to soothe and calm her troubled spirit."

"Oh, poor dear Eleanor! what cruel fate has put you in this awful
predicament?" cried Kate, when she burst into tears and buried her face
in the clothes by the side of her friend.

In the meantime John left the room, and, proceeding to the kitchen, he
requested their female servant to go to the assistance of her mistress.
Here he found the servants who had escaped from the massacre at
Strawberry Hill relating to the astonished and horrified listeners as
much of the fearful outrage as they had witnessed, and what they
imagined to be the conclusion. But their narrative, though dreadful, was
not a tithe of the reality. He next sought his brother, to whom he
related the sad events, and commissioned him to break the tale to Kate
in as mild a way as possible. Then he informed him that he had left the
sheep at the Wombi and suggested that he and some of the men should go
over and assist the fellows that were with them, as they would
necessarily be short-handed, especially for the portion of the flock
that had not crossed the river. He then hastily partook of some
refreshment, and taking a few of his own men, and the servants and those
who had escaped from Strawberry Hill, he returned to that station to
remove, if possible, the signs of the outrage, and bring the bodies of
the victims to his own place; so that if Rainsfield should have heard of
the circumstance before his arrival he would not be maddened by a sight
of the murderous destruction.

The house was speedily cleansed of all vestiges of blood. Similar stains
were removed from the corpses. The house was arranged in order, and
closed up, and the party left it as John affixed to the door the card we
have already noticed. The cavalcade moved slowly from the deserted
mansion, and, as it proceeded on its way with its load of inert
mortality, it was overtaken by the doctor and Joey from Alma. To the
latter, in a few words, he gave directions, and left him to follow with
the bodies, while he and the doctor pushed on.

In the meantime Eleanor had at frequent intervals opened her eyes and
gazed vacantly on all the objects around her, including even the face of
her friend, whom she never for an instant appeared to recognise. To
Kate's tender soothing attempts she took no heed; but on each occasion,
with a faint sigh and shudder, relapsed into her former torpor. This
state continued until the arrival of the doctor, who, though he did not
express his fears, entertained serious apprehensions for her life; and
afterwards communicated to John his alarm, that, though her corporeal
system might recover, the shock to her nerves had been so great that he
feared her mind might give way and either become impaired or totally
demented. He recommended her room to be kept dark, and as cool and as
quiet as possible; and during her waking intervals, her mind to be as
much diverted as could be. He then prescribed certain medicines, amongst
them powerful soporifics, and Joey was instantly despatched, upon his
arrival, to Alma to get them compounded, while the doctor remained by
the patient to watch her malady.

On the following day Rainsfield presented himself at Fern Vale. Smithers
could not be persuaded to approach the house; therefore he and his
friends encamped themselves on the creek to wait until their companion's
return. As Rainsfield approached the house he was met at the door by
John Ferguson; and, as he felt the warm pressure of the young man's
hand, it was only with an effort he prevented the tears from oozing from
his eyes. John led him to the room where lay his family; and, leaving
him for a few moments to his own silent meditations over their lifeless
forms, walked out on the verandah, from whence he saw the party that had
accompanied the bereaved man. He was for a minute wondering who they
could be, and why they did not come up to the house, when he felt the
touch of Mr. Rainsfield on his arm, who said to him:

"How much I owe you for this kindness my heart is too full to explain
even if my words could utter it. But believe me so long as I live it
shall be gratefully remembered. I had seen them a few hours before in
all the horrors of their death. It was a sight to dry up the fountains
of a kindly nature in any heart, and made me swear to live a life of
perpetual vengeance."

"Ah, my dear sir," exclaimed John, "it is ever difficult to meet with
resignation the chastisements of an all-wise Providence; but we should
learn to look upon all His dispensations as tending to a beneficial
end."

"I'll not pretend to argue with you," replied the other; "but my nature
and feelings will not admit the embrace of such an immaculate creed. I
must be avenged!"

John, in the then state of his companion's mind, did not attempt to
impress the precept as he believed the thirst for vengeance would
slacken as the poignancy of his grief wore off.

"And Eleanor," said Rainsfield; "what is her fate?"

A shade came over John's brow as he replied: "It is not yet decided. She
is in a most dangerous state, and the doctor is now here attending her.
He considers her case so precarious that he is remaining for some days
to be constantly near in his watch for the turning-point which shall
decide between life and death. I will ascertain if she can be seen;" and
John left the spot.

Upon his return he led the way to her room; and, as Rainsfield followed
him, he asked, "Why didn't you bring your friends up with you to the
house?"

"They preferred stopping at a distance and awaiting my return," he
replied.

"But you are not going to leave us immediately," exclaimed John;
"and they cannot think of camping out there while we can make some sort
of a shake-down here."

"I fear the presence of some of them at least would be objectionable to
you," replied Rainsfield; "and I have no doubt they would prefer to
remain where they are."

"Nonsense," cried John; "I could not think of permitting such a thing.
May I ask who are those who would not accept of what hospitality I can
offer them?"

"Smithers, Graham, and Brown," replied Rainsfield.

John ushered Rainsfield into the room where Eleanor lay still and
motionless in a bed, at the side of which sat her watchful friend and
nurse, who rose and left her seat as Rainsfield approached. He stood
silently looking on the placid features of his cousin, which, but for
the gentle heaving of the snowy linen that covered her breast, would
have appeared as if inexorable death had already left the impress of his
hand.

In the meantime John walked down to where the party of gentlemen lay
stretched on the ground; and, addressing those whom he knew in a manner
as if nothing had ever happened to mar the good feeling and fellowship
that should have existed between them, invited the party up to the
house. He prevented any refusal from Smithers (who could not dissemble
his shame and mortification) by taking him cordially by the hand, and
requesting that he would not give him the pain of a refusal, and of
seeing him encamped with his friends within sight of his windows. He
stated the accommodation he could afford them was not very commodious,
but he would consider it unsocial if they did not accept it. The
consequence of this appeal was that within a few minutes their horses
were running in an adjoining paddock and they were all walking up
together to the Fergusons' domicile.

The next day was devoted to the interment of the earthly remains of the
victims of the Strawberry Hill massacre; and, as that beautifully
sublime and solemn ritual of the Anglican Church was read by one of the
party over the bodies they were lowering respectively in their rough and
hastily-constructed encasements into that lodgment where the grim tyrant
retains his grasp until the last trumpet shall summon the dead from the
caverns of the earth; and, as the heavy clod resounded with a hollow
dullness on the lids of the coffins, more than one eye was moistened,
and more than one tear rolled its course down the cheek of some of the
strongest minded of the manly group. The grave was speedily filled in,
and the party returned to the house to partake of a repast; after which
they took their departure.



CHAPTER XIII.

    "O! pardon me thou bleeding piece of Earth
    That I am meek and gentle with these butchers."

          JULIUS CÆSAR, _Act 3, Sc. 1_.


When "the Society" left Fern Vale they jaunted leisurely on for a short
distance, when they were overtaken by Sawyer and his son-in-law, the
notable Captain Jones, who made up to Mr. Rainsfield and told him they
had come out to join his party against the blacks. Though these
volunteers were not exactly the sort of men "the Society" would have
desired to enroll they were determined looking characters, and had the
appearance of those, who, if they could be trusted, could be made
serviceable in any desperate act. Therefore their aid was accepted, and
they were forthwith admitted into the confidence of the brethren. Such
is the influence of either perpetrated or contemplated crime that it
breaks down all social demarcation and collects in the bonds of unity
and friendship the most heterogeneous natures of man.

The cavalcade had proceeded about half-way towards Strawberry Hill when
some distance in advance of them a bullock crossed the road followed by
a black on horseback at a hard gallop. Both animals Rainsfield at once
recognised as his own; and, dashing spurs into his horse, he joined in
the chase, followed by the remainder of the party, with the intention of
sending one of his family's destroyers to a last account. The bullock
ran with his head carried low and his tail erect at a speed which for
some time kept him considerably in advance of his pursuer; but after a
while his pace relaxed and the superior mettle of the horse soon brought
him alongside the bovine fugitive. As the animals ran side by side the
rider seized the uplifted tail of the bullock in a firm grasp, while he
stimulated his horse to additional exertion, and with the application of
very little force he tilted the beast over its own head, and it fell
with its own velocity, breaking its neck.

The black was quite conscious all this time that he was the object of
pursuit; so giving a glance at his fallen prey to ascertain if his work
had been effectual, and another behind him to see if his pursuers were
in an unpleasant proximity, he continued his career through the bush
until he arrived at the banks of the river Gibson. Into it he plunged
without hesitation, and slipping from his saddle, as the horse entered
the water, he held on by the bridle and stirrup, and swam by the
animal's side. The black kept his eye upon the bank he had just left
until he saw approaching through the bush a number of horsemen; who, as
they reached the edge of river, presented their guns and fired. The
next moment the horse rolled over in the stream, dyeing the water with
his blood, and floated lifeless down the current.

Nothing was visible, however, of the black. He had sunk ere their pieces
were discharged; and the party knowing that he was untouched for some
minutes watched vigilantly for his reappearance, but in vain. Barwang
(for they had discovered it was he) did not show himself above the
surface of the water; and they thinking that he was floating down
concealed in some way with the carcass of the horse, followed it to
watch. It at the same time occurred to them that he might have dived and
was swimming for the other bank, assisting himself in eluding them by
first floating some distance down the river. They had thus gone down the
bank some two or three hundred yards, when they heard a loud hoarse
laugh from behind them; and, turning to the direction whence the sound
proceeded, they saw on the opposite side, some distance above where they
stood, him for whose reappearance they were watching. Barwang had
escaped them by swimming against the current and not with it as they had
anticipated he would; and once safely on the margin of the stream he
felt he was secure, and stood pointing at his pursuers in derision and
defiance. A dozen pieces were instantly pointed at him by the
disappointed party; but he with another loud laugh darted into the scrub
and, before the report of their guns was heard, was evanescent.

The chagrined company then proceeded to Strawberry Hill, where
Rainsfield proposed to lodge them; and where they would fix upon their
future plans of action.

That night the Society sat in grave debate, and various were the schemes
proposed to effect visitation on the blacks of an exterminating
retribution. The members at length became weary of making propositions
that met with no support from the body, and were beginning to be silent
when Dr. Graham renewed the energies of the meeting by remarking:

"I'll tell you what it is all you fellows! you'd better 'keep your eyes
on the picture.'"

All the eyes of the assemblage if not kept on the imaginary picture that
haunted the brain of this disciple of Æsculapius were at least kept
attentively fixed on the features of the speaker, who continued. "See
here! what is the good of the whole of us sitting here and looking at
one another? There won't be a black in that scrub to-morrow; so if we
don't go at them at once, they'll escape us as that scoundrel did
to-day. They will be sure to know what we are here for, and will make
themselves scarce at once; and if we once let them slip us we need never
expect to get at them again for they are sure to take up their abode
among the hills, gullies, or scrubs, where we could not follow them."

"But is the river crossable?" asked one.

"Rainsfield will tell you," replied the Doctor.

"I have not been at the ford for some time," said Rainsfield, "and do
not remember the usual depth of water. But the river has now gone down
considerably, and I have no doubt it can be crossed; at any rate it
shall soon be ascertained for I will do it myself this night in your
presence so that you can judge by my success or failure."

"Right," said Graham. "Then we all try it together, and that too as you
say this very night. At once! say I. I go; so let who likes follow me:"
and he started from his seat.

The movement then became general, and in a short time the whole
cavalcade were again on the move in the direction of the crossing-place
near which Barwang had escaped them. About an hour afterwards the party
were mustering in a state of saturation upon the edge of the scrub,
after having passed through the still swollen stream, which they had had
to swim. They noiselessly dismounted from their horses, arranged
themselves on the bank of the river, fastened their steeds to adjacent
trees, and then threaded the scrub under the guidance of Rainsfield, to
the camp of the blacks; which they speedily distinguished by the glare
of the fires. The party then halted and arranged to divide themselves
into two companies, one to advance from the spot where they then stood,
while the other made a detour so as to encompass the camp. Then upon a
given signal, they were to fire alternately into the midst of the
blacks, and so long as any of the unfortunate wretches remained
stationary to continue reloading and firing; but to close in upon them
with revolvers if the victims showed any disposition to break through
the compass of their rifles.

They then advanced, and as quickly as possible encircled the unconscious
aborigines, who lay, some in their gunyahs, and some stretched round the
fires. All were in a deep sleep, into which they appeared to have fallen
in a state of inert satiety, as was evident from the scattered remains
of roasted meat that strewed the ground around them. Not a sound was to
be heard in the whole camp except the sonorous breathing of the supine
gorgers; for even those watchful monitors, the dogs, had benefited by
this rare occasion, by indulging in a glut that inoculated them with the
same somnolent ineptitude.

In a few moments after the Society had spread itself in the array of
attack a low whistle was heard; when, almost simultaneously, eight
flashes describing a semicircle on one side of the camp momentarily lit
the dark avenues of the bush. They were instantly followed by a report,
whose echoes mingled with the shrieks and dying groans of the wounded,
and in an instant the unscathed portion of the prostrate forms stood
erect; while the gunyahs disgorged their living inmates, called forth in
their consternation and half unconscious lethargy, to offer marks for
their concealed executioners. Other eight shots then told their
murdering effects upon the huddled mass of the blacks, who remained in a
perfect state of bewilderment hardly knowing which way to turn. Many
rushed in the direction opposite to that whence the last fire had
emanated, but only to fall by the shots of the first division of the
Society, who, having thrown themselves down to avoid the chance of their
colleagues' fire, had reloaded, and were ready for action. Again and
again was this manoeuvre repeated, and discharge followed discharge.
The carnage had commenced, and many of the blacks sought a temporary
shelter in their gunyahs, while the majority, not knowing what to do,
remained in the open area, to be shot down by the rifles of the whites;
who, when they tired of reloading their pieces, closed in upon the camp,
and setting fire to their bark gunyahs drove the poor wretches from
their retreat, and butchered them indiscriminately with their revolvers.

One of the assailants, however, while dealing destruction around him,
was active in searching for one above all others of the blacks he prayed
to find. That searcher was Rainsfield, and the object of his concern we
need hardly say, was Barwang. Rainsfield had scanned the features of
every black, as he buried a ball in each victim's heart; but without
recognising the monster for whose blood he thirsted, and without which
he would never be appeased. He searched long, but in vain. The fiendish
leader of the tribe he could not discover; and he began to entertain
fears that the wretch's cunning had enabled him to elude his grasp.
Almost worn out with his work of death he was about relinquishing the
search in despair when he spied a dark form creeping from a heap of
bodies, and crawling away in the direction of the adjacent scrub. The
fitful glare of a fire fell upon the features of the crouching form and
disclosed the furtive glance of Barwang to the eyes of him who longed in
his very soul for the meeting.

The recognition was instantaneous on both sides, and at the same moment
that Rainsfield sprang forward and fired at the black the other leaped
from the ground and in an instant, poising a spear in his hand, buried
it in the body of his antagonist. Rainsfield tore the weapon from his
breast, and seeing that the black was not killed by the shot he had
fired at him, and it being the last he had, without time to reload, he
drew his knife and sprang upon his enemy. The struggle was fierce,
though short, for both the athletes were powerful men, and were
determined upon each other's death, even if they perished themselves
while effecting it. The black caught the right arm of his opponent as it
descended with the weapon that was intended to terminate his existence,
and with the other hand he seized the throat of Rainsfield, into which
he buried his fingers like the talons of an eagle.

Rainsfield taxed his strength to the utmost to disengage the hand from
his throat, and save himself from strangulation while he effected the
death of the black. Each strained and struggled as they, locked in each
other's grasp, panted to eliminate the spirit from each other's bodies.
After some time they stopped to gain breath, while they for a few
moments silently eyed one another with looks of vengeance and rage. The
conflict, however, was speedily renewed with fearful energy. Every nerve
was strained to the utmost tension in both frames; when, in a moment,
the black made several rapid lunges, battering with his hard cranium the
breast of his foe; at the same time that Rainsfield managed to bury the
knife up to its handle in the neck of Barwang. The loss of blood arising
from the previous wounds, and these excessive strainings and shocks,
soon produced their effects. Exhaustion speedily ensued; and the two
belligerents, still firmly knitted in a death grasp, sank to the ground
never again to rise in life.

In the meantime the work of destruction progressed all around with
unabated activity until no living black remained on whom to wreak a
vengeance. Nearly the whole tribe had been sacrificed, for few escaped
into the bush among the general slaughter. When the members of the
Society contemplated the result of their labours they felt perfectly
satisfied with the extent of their reparation, and surveyed the scene
with a complacency ill befitting the work. How little did they remember
that a work similar to this in result had been the cause of the reprisal
that had brought desolation to the Rainsfield family! and less did they
consider that they were incurring the displeasure of an indignant Maker.
No! they thought not of the judgments of Divine wrath: the victims, in
their imaginations, were only blacks, whose extermination was an
ordination of Providence, and an advantage to civilisation. Besides
which they looked upon the slaughter they had been engaged in as a just
punishment to the savages for their perfidious treachery in the murder
which they, the Society, were unable to prevent, but which they could,
and did avenge. By this sort of reasoning they quieted their
consciences, if any had been disturbed, and attempted to justify
themselves in the eyes of their God.

The forensic vision was that which most troubled them, for they knew, in
the eye of the law of their country, they were guilty of an act which,
if discovered, would cost them an atonement by the surrender of their
lives. But they were aware that, with the exception of their own
members, none could criminate them; while the probability of such an
event occurring was very remote, for all were equally implicated. While,
at the same time, the distance they were removed from the seat of
government, and the ineffectual means supplied for the protection of the
settlers in the border districts, would partly justify them in being
armed in the present affray; and the magistrates of the territory being
all of their own body, and consequently sympathising with their
movements, they experienced very little apprehension of danger.

We may here remark that this is not the only case in the land where
similar influences have actuated the settlers to take summary vengeance
on the blacks, for reprisals and peccadillos in themselves
insignificant. Hundreds, ah! we may say thousands, have been shot with
perfect impunity; and we hesitate not to say thousands more will
continue to meet the same sad fate, until the last of the race shall
have vanished from this terrestrial sphere. Yet we firmly believe their
blood will sink into the soil, and at a future age, when the people have
long since become extinct, will it cry aloud for vengeance; and woe to
the land if the great Governor of the universe should listen to that
cry.

The party when about to leave the ground suddenly missed their companion
Rainsfield, and, thinking that he might still be engaged on some
operations of retribution in another part of the camp, called him aloud
by name; but without meeting with any response. They waited impatiently
for his return but after a time finding he did not return they commenced
a search in the neighbourhood of the camp, at the same time that they
made the bush resound with their cooeys to attract him if he had
strayed. Still to no purpose were their calls, for no responsive cry
echoed to them; and not until they returned to the camp weary and
dispirited as the first coruscations from the solar rays darted their
luminous salutations over the eastern horizon did they discover his body
with that of his last antagonist. His position, and the spear wound in
his body, sufficiently explained his fate; and silently and sorrowfully
he was removed, and carried by them to where their horses were secured.
They then recrossed the river on their way back to Strawberry Hill,
which had now become destitute of an owner.

Shortly after their passage of the stream the cavalcade was met by John
Ferguson, who had heard the firing, and guessing its import had ridden
over for the purpose of inspecting the scene and satisfying himself upon
the nature and extent of the slaughter he knew must have taken place.
But when he saw the returning party he rode up to them and addressing
himself to Doctor Graham, who happened to be riding a little in advance,
he said:

"May I be permitted to enquire the nature of the firing which was
carried on in the scrub last night?"

"Oh, certainly, sir," replied the Doctor, "you are permitted to ask
whatever you like, for this is a free country. If you want to know the
cause of the reports you heard last night I may inform you for your
satisfaction that our friend Rainsfield had a warrant for the
apprehension of Barwang, and that he attempted to put it in force, while
we volunteered to assist and protect him. As might have been imagined we
were attacked by the villains, and had to fire upon them for our own
defence. In the affray we lost our friend Rainsfield, for he was killed
by the wretch he was attempting to secure, and who at the same time met
with his deserts."

"Rainsfield is dead, did you say?" enquired John in hurried tones; "is
life perfectly extinct?"

"Yes, dead!" replied the other, "as any herring. Go look at him
yourself;" and he pointed behind him to where followed a horse with the
body thrown across the saddle. "You can see there for yourself, where
you may keep your eye on the picture."

John silently surveyed the pale, discoloured, and distorted features
which he had seen only a few hours before in life and perfect health,
and with a deep drawn sigh, as he turned away, he muttered: "Poor
fellow! such a terrible doom."

The company then proceeded to the house of the Fergusons, when the
melancholy obsequies of the previous day were repeated; after which the
Society broke up, having ensured themselves against further
interruptions from the blacks by the success of their first onslaught;
and, although they arranged to be ready upon any emergency, they had no
anticipation of any future necessity.

We must now in the course of our narrative precipitate our readers over
a period of some six months after the events we have just related, which
interval was passed with the occurrence of few circumstances worth
detailing. Tom Rainsfield had been hastily recalled from town, but had
not arrived until after the final scene of the tragedy had been enacted.
The horrors of the events came upon him with such a shock, and so
subdued his spirit, that it was some time before he could school himself
to comprehend their full extent; and not until some weeks had elapsed
could he bring his mind to the level of mundane matters, and then only
with a melancholy feeling did he set to work to put the station in
order.



CHAPTER XIV.

    "In smoothest terms his speech he wove,
    Of endless friendship, faith, and love;
    She listened with a blush and sigh,
    His suit was warm, his hopes were high."

    SIR WALTER SCOTT.


On a beautifully mild afternoon in that loveliest of Australian seasons,
the transition between winter and summer, there reclined in an easy
chair, on the verandah of the Fern Vale cottage, a young girl whose pale
though handsome features seemed to be invested with an angelic air as
they were contrasted with the deep mourning in which she was attired. We
need hardly explain to the reader that this was Eleanor Rainsfield. At
one side of her sat our hero, attempting to relieve the weary hours of
the invalid by some light and amusing reading, and on the other side sat
his sister, who, while she was listening to her brother, was engaged in
some of that description of work which constitutes at the same time
young ladies' toil and amusement.

During Eleanor's gradual return to convalescence John Ferguson had been
assiduous in his endeavours to keep her mind diverted from the
contemplation of her grief; and, forgetful of all his past resolutions
to think of her only as a seraph exalted above his possession, their
constant contiguity, if possible, more than ever made havoc in his
heart, immersed him more than ever deeper in the sea of love, and made
him yield a willing sacrifice to the ecstatic delirium of his dream.

The attention of the trio, at the moment we have visited them, was
suddenly attracted by the sounds of an approaching horseman, and looking
up they perceived Bob Smithers riding wildly towards the house. Eleanor
instantly rose from her chair; and, leaning upon Kate, entered the
sitting-room, while she said to John: "I expect the object of Mr.
Smithers' visit is an interview with me, and if he desires it I will see
him." Then addressing her friend, she said: "Leave me, dearest Kate, for
the few minutes he is here. I don't expect he will stay long."

In another instant Smithers pulled up before the house; and, throwing
his bridle over the fence, he strode up to John, who was waiting for him
with a welcome and an extended hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Smithers?" he said. "It is some time since you
honoured us with a visit. I hope you're well."

"I wish to see Miss Rainsfield," replied Smithers, without heeding the
proffered hand or the inquiry after his health.

John felt rather chagrined at the want of civility on the part of his
guest; and, pointing to the half-opened window of the room in which
Smithers could find the lady he desired to see, he turned upon his heel
and walked out of hearing.

What was the nature of John's thoughts that this visit of Smithers gave
rise to we will not attempt to divine, though we may safely assume they
were of no pleasing nature from the cloud that came over his countenance
as he left the house. And yet a gleam of hope would at intervals attempt
to break through the gloom. As he stood leaning over the fence in front
of the house, thus ruminating over the circumstance and its
contingencies, he was startled by the precipitate approach of Smithers,
who, clenching his fist and shaking it at him in a menacing attitude,
exclaimed: "This is your work; but, by G--, you shall repent of ever
having interfered in my private affairs." After the delivery of this
minatory declaration the infuriated individual mounted his horse and
galloped from the station.

John remained for a few minutes musing upon the strange address he had
just heard until a faint appreciation of the cause flashed across his
mind, and, his heart beating with salient palpitations, he entered the
house to solve the mystery. With this intent he walked into the
sitting-room, but found it empty. Eleanor had retired, and he was about
to leave it again in search of his sister when his eye rested on an open
note lying on the floor. The superscription, he perceived, was--"To Mr.
Robert Smithers;" and in its caligraphy he at once detected the tracing
of Eleanor's hand, and saw a solution of the mystery even before he
glanced at the epistle's contents. If his heart beat quickly with
pleasing apprehensions before his curiosity prompted him to pick up and
read the note its proper functions were almost destroyed by the violent
palpitations as his eyes devoured the following lines:--

     DEAR SIR,--I hardly know how to break to you the subject on
     which I wish to address you. When I say it is with regard to
     our engagement you will understand what I mean, more especially
     when I tell you that I think, for both of our sakes, it were
     wise to annul it. To recount to you all the causes that have
     actuated me in the establishment of this desire would only be
     to reiterate all your various acts of contumely to myself and
     friends, and to relate all my daily sufferings. I will not say
     that I never loved you. When I was induced to consent to become
     your wife I would have endeavoured to have placed my whole
     heart at your disposal; but your conduct has not only been such
     as to estrange from you the most forgiving nature, but towards
     me it has been absolutely cruel.

     I say this not to stigmatize you for your ill-treatment of me,
     but to endeavour to show you that you can entertain no regard
     for me; and, in the absence of all mutual affection, such an
     union as ours would only entail misery on both of us. You will
     therefore perceive that it will be better for us to forget the
     relationship that has existed, and remain independent of one
     another.

     I bear you no ill-will, and desire to maintain a friendship
     for yourself and your kind relatives; but beyond the light of a
     friend I never can consent to regard you. So there will be no
     use of your attempting to alter my determination; it is already
     fixed.--Yours truly,

    ELEANOR RAINSFIELD.

John's astonishment when he read this was only equalled by his raptures;
and it was not until he had twice re-read the note that he could
withdraw his eyes from feasting on the blissful lines. "She has then
discarded Smithers," he said to himself, "and there is hope for me." If
there needed but one rivet to clench the fetters that bound the captive
heart of our hero it was now fastened. He gave himself up like a
voluptuary to the indulgence of his greatest earthly pleasure, the
dissipation of love's charm, and the realization of his fondest hopes
and wildest dreams; and, in the delirium of delight, his spirit ascended
in imagination into the seventh heaven. He was, however, speedily
brought to a recollection of his existence in this terraqueous globe by
his sister shaking his arm while she exclaimed:

"Why, what is making you so absent, John? I have spoken to you four
times, and you have taken no notice of me."

"Have you, Kate?" replied John. "Well, I did not hear you, for I was
thinking when you addressed me."

"That was evident," replied the girl. "But tell me, John, what could
have brought that man Smithers here? He has terribly upset poor Eleanor,
and she has been obliged to go and lie down. I quite hate that horrid
fellow, and wish he would never show his face here again."

"I don't think it is very probable he ever will again, Kate," replied
her brother.

"Well, I hope not. But what letter is that you have got in your hand?"
said the girl as she glanced over the epistle that hung listlessly in
the hand of her musing brother, who had attempted to conceal it, but
not before Kate had spied the address. "Oh, show me the letter, John,
dear John!" she continued. "I see it is addressed to that man, and from
Eleanor I am sure; so it will explain all about it. Do show it to me."

Her brother put it into her hands, and she read it with unqualified
delight. Then looking up into his face, she exclaimed: "I am so
delighted, John;" and, throwing her arms around her brother's neck, she
kissed him in the exuberance of her joy, after which she bounded from
the room, retaining possession of the cherished note.

For the remainder of that day Eleanor confined herself to her room, but
on the following forenoon she came out, with her pale, marble features,
looking in John's eyes more lovely than ever. They were presently seated
together, as was their wont, in the shade of the verandah; but somehow,
on this occasion, the reading was not prosecuted with such spirit as
usual, nor listened to with the accustomed interest, while the
conversation was equally vapid. Eleanor and John thus sat for some time
alone, Kate being absent on her household duties, and William out on the
station, without hardly uttering a word, until John, mustering
sufficient courage to enter upon the subject that wholly engrossed his
mind, without any preface, said:

"I picked up a letter of yours in the room yesterday, Eleanor, after Mr.
Smithers' departure."

A deep crimson mantled the cheek of his pale companion as she replied:
"I know it John; Kate has told me all."

John gazed upon the features of the dear girl at his side, and met her
eyes as they were raised from her lap to rest upon his face. He
rapturously exclaimed: "Dear Eleanor if I could but tell you how dearly
I love you I--" But he proceeded no further; a glance from the lustrous
orbs of his companion had penetrated his heart, and he was silenced. Was
it in fear? No! he had understood the glance, and comprehended its
hidden secret. He was silenced, but it was to impress a virgin kiss
upon the lips of his fair enslaver; and there for a little let us leave
them in the full enjoyment of inamoratos' bliss.

We have said that John interpreted by a look the secret of Eleanor's
heart; and let not loves' sceptics think such is only a figure of our
imagination. Such glances have been read from the earliest eras of the
world, and will continue to be so to the latest. Lovers' eyes are to
each other like telegraph-dials, and reflect in their own mysterious
characters the messages from the heart as the electric needle indicates
the wishes of some unforeseen communicant. Their flashes are
instantaneous, and they impress upon the hearts' tablets of their
correspondents, with unmistakeable accuracy, the sentiments of the
inosculated spirits. Theirs is a language secret and unknown but to the
souls communicating, and unmeaning and unnoticeable to mortals, until
made neophytes to the creed of Cupid.

John and Eleanor for some time enjoyed uninterruptedly the commune of
their plighted hearts, each discovering in the other a reciprocity which
heightened the ardour and enhanced the raptures of their own loves.
Their tongues were no longer tied. John was all volubility and
animation; while the colour that the excitement of her affection called
forth irradiated the cheeks of Eleanor, and imparted to her features a
loveliness that John gazed upon with ecstacy. Their privacy, however,
was at length broken in upon by William, who bounded into their presence
in a state of high glee, while he exclaimed:

"I've got some news to astonish you. Our friend Captain Jones has
bolted, and has swindled his much-respected father-in-law to the tune of
about five hundred pounds."

"Bolted, has he!" exclaimed John; "what is that for?"

"Simply because it has pleased the gentleman on two previous occasions
to enter the matrimonial state, and that both better halves, and sundry
little pledges, are all living to attest to his identity. One of his
former helpmates," continued William, "traced him to his late retreat,
and claimed him as her lawful spouse; and he, thinking, I suppose, a
_dénoûment_ would be rather unpleasant, has deemed it expedient to
abscond."

"And will the poor girl he last married have no redress?" asked Eleanor.

"Very little, I fear," replied John.

"I expect from what I have heard," continued William, "that old Sawyer
intends to keep it as dark as possible. From Jones' bigamy the quondam
Mrs. Jones becomes again Miss Mary Ann Sawyer, and he purposes looking
out for another match for her."

"But she surely," said Eleanor, "would not lend herself to so base a
deception and gross impropriety."

"I am not so sure of that," said William.

"I suppose," remarked John, "if they can't punish the _soi disant_
Captain Jones they think the wisest thing they can do is to make the
best of it by keeping it as quiet as possible; and I have no doubt they
will find many a swain who will not scruple to offer the lady a name."

"Well that is dreadful!" exclaimed Eleanor.

"So it is," replied John, "but it is partly their own fault. They were
so blinded by the notion of getting a gentleman to marry their daughter
that they took no trouble to investigate the man's character, or even to
ascertain anything about him; consequently they fell into the trap of a
base scoundrel."



CONCLUSION.

    "I have done: pray be not angry
    That shall I wish you well: may heaven divert,
    All harms that threaten you; full blessings crown
    Your marriage."

    SHIRLEY.


We must again hurry our readers over another period of some three
months, and request them to accompany us for a few minutes up the bank
of the creek flowing through Fern Vale. At a pretty little secluded spot
overhung by the bright acacia two grassy mounds, encompassed by a neat
white fence and adorned with two white slabs of wood, pointed themselves
out as the graves of the sufferers in the Strawberry Hill massacre.

Leaning over the railing of one of these enclosures was a young man, who
might have been recognised as Tom Rainsfield, and at his side, encircled
by his arm, our friend Kate Ferguson. After some few moments of silence
Tom pressed to his heart the willing form of the lovely girl that graced
his side, and said:

"Dearest Kate, why not let us be married at the same time as John and
Eleanor? Strawberry Hill is all ready for a mistress, and I am sure the
very trees about the place are impatient to have domesticated amongst
them the sweet successor of that good and amiable creature who lies
beneath that sod. We could not have a better opportunity than John's
marriage, for we could all go to New England together, and the double
ceremony could be performed at the same time."

"But that is so soon, Tom," replied Kate.

"It cannot be too soon, my dear," exclaimed the advocate for despatch;
"why postpone our happiness?"

"Poor Will will be so lonely with John and Eleanor going away," said
Kate, "if I leave him too. We ought to delay it until they return."

"What for twelve months, Kate!" cried Tom. "It would drive me wild. I
could not wait more than one at the very outside, and if you say another
word of opposition I will run away with you. So now, dearest, let it be
settled; we must be married next month altogether."

No further objection was urged by the fair polemic, and a mutual
inosculation sealed the compact.

About a month from this date a traveller approaching Acacia creek might,
from the joyous appearance of every face he saw, have been sensible of
the existence of some happy occasion; and, if he had but stepped into
the house and seen those who sat around the breakfast table, he would
have been aware that the festivities were occasioned by a matrimonial
ceremony; and, upon the slightest scrutiny, he would have discovered
that two young couples had been bound by the Gordian knot.

The first move that was made after the despatch of the formal meal was
the departure of John Ferguson and his now blooming bride. He led her to
the arms of his mother; and, as the good lady embraced her sweet
daughter-in-law, tears of joy coursed down her benign and matronly
cheeks, and, imprinting another kiss on the lips of her son's choice,
she bestowed her parting blessing. The rest of the leave-taking was soon
effected and the young couple mounted their horses and rode away.

We may remark for the information of our readers that it was John's
intention to proceed to Brisbane and Sydney, there to spend the
honeymoon, and afterwards to take a trip "home;" by which term he knew
old England though he had never seen it, nor had any ties of
consanguinity to bind him to it. They were to return to the colony in
about twelve months; after which Tom Rainsfield had promised a similar
journey to Kate. In the meantime, however, Tom and his wife intended to
take up their abode at Strawberry Hill, and thither they started almost
immediately after John and Eleanor. As they left the paternal roof of
the Fergusons a similar commingling of tears was effected between Kate
and her mother as was witnessed upon the previous departure. Mr.
Ferguson warmly grasped the hand of his son-in-law, while Mr. Wigton
informed Tom that he had made up his mind to spend a short time with his
friend William, to relieve his solitude and endeavour to persuade him to
follow the example of his brother, and afford him, Mr. Wigton, the
pleasure of tying another knot in the family. He would also, he said,
while he was in the neighbourhood, avail himself of the opportunity of
visiting his friends at Strawberry Hill.

William promised to confer the happiness on Mr. Wigton of being fettered
by his medium whenever it was his determination to be so foolish as to
enter the married state: but affirmed for the present he had no
intention of following in the steps of his brother and friend, and had
not the most remote idea of assuming a marital character.

Tom laughed at William's little sally, and gave him one of those jocose
applications of the extended thumb to his ribs which in concomitant
natures are thought so amiably vivacious and funny; and then turning to
Mr. Wigton, expressed the delight he would feel at his making Strawberry
Hill his home. Amidst the congratulations of his friends, Tom now led
his bride to the door, and safely depositing her in her saddle, waved
the last adieu as they cantered off.


THE END.


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