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Title: An Outback Marriage: A Story of Australian Life
Author: Paterson, A. B. (Andrew Barton), 1864-1941
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "An Outback Marriage: A Story of Australian Life" ***

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AN OUTBACK MARRIAGE

By Andrew Barton Paterson

Author Of "The Man From Snowy River," And "Rio Grande's Last Race"



CONTENTS



     I. In The Club
     II. A Dinner For Five
     III. In Push Society
     IV. The Old Station
     V. The Coming Of The Heiress
     VI. A Coach Accident
     VII. Mr. Blake's Relations
     VIII. At The Homestead
     IX. Some Visitors
     X. A Lawyer In The Bush
     XI. A Walk In The Moonlight
     XII. Mr. Blake Breaks His Engagement
     XIII. The Rivals
     XIV. Red Mack And His Sheep Dogs
     XV. A Proposal And Its Results
     XVI. The Road To No Man's Land
     XVII. Considine
     XVIII. The Wild Cattle
     XIX. A Chance Encounter
     XX. A Consultation At Kiley's
     XXI. No Compromise
     XXII. A Nurse And Her Assistant
     XXIII. Hugh Goes In Search
     XXIV. The Second Search For Considine
     XXV. In The Buffalo Camp
     XXVI. The Saving Of Considine
     XXVII. The Real Certificate
     XXVIII. A Legal Battle
     XXIX. Races And A Win



CHAPTER I. IN THE CLUB.


It was a summer's evening in Sydney, and the north-east wind that comes
down from New Guinea and the tropical islands over leagues of warm sea,
brought on its wings a heavy depressing moisture. In the streets people
walked listlessly, perspired, mopped themselves, and abused their
much-vaunted climate. Everyone who could manage it was out of town,
either on the heights of Moss Vale or the Blue Mountains, escaping from
the Inferno of Sydney.

In the Cassowary Club, weary, pallid waiters brought iced drinks to such
of the members as were condemned to spend the summer in town. The
gong had sounded, and in ones and twos members shuffled out of the
smoking-room, and went in to dinner. At last only three were left
talking at the far end of the big, empty smoking-room, like three small
stage conspirators at the end of a very large robbers' cavern.

One was a short, fat, red-faced man, who looked like a combination of
sea-captain and merchant, and who was the local representative of a big
English steamship company. His connection with the mercantile marine had
earned him his nickname of "The Bo'sun." By his side sat Pinnock, a
lean and bilious-looking solicitor; the third man was an English
globe-trotter, a colourless sort of person, of whom no one took any
particular notice until they learnt that he was the eldest son of a big
Scotch whisky manufacturer, and had £10,000 a year of his own. Then they
suddenly discovered that he was a much smarter fellow than he looked.
The three were evidently waiting for somebody. The "Bo'sun" had a
grievance, and was relieving his mind by speech. He walked up and down
between the smoking-room chairs, brandishing a telegram as he talked,
while the attorney and the globe-trotter lay back on the lounge and
admired his energy.

"I call it a shame," he said, facing round on them suddenly; "I could
have got up to Moss Vale for a day or two, and now old Grant of Kuryong
wires me to meet and entertain a new chum. Just listen to this: 'Young
Carew, friend of mine, on Carthaginia. Will you meet him and show him
round; oblige me--W. G. Grant.' I met the old fellow once or twice at
dinner, when he was in town for the sheep sales, and on the strength of
that he foists an unknown callow new chum on to me. People are always
doing that kind of thing."

"Leave his friend alone, then," said Pinnock; "don't have anything to
do with him. I know his sort--Government House young man the first week,
Coffee Palace at two shillings a night the second week, boiler on the
wharf the third week, Central Police Court the fourth week, and then
exit so far as all decent people are concerned."

The Bo'sun stuffed the telegram into his pocket and sat down.

"Oh, I don't suppose he'll be so bad," he said. "I've asked him here
to-night to see what he's like, and if he's no good I'll drop him. It's
the principle I object to. Country people are always at this sort of
thing. They'd ask me to meet an Alderney bull and entertain him till
they send for him. What am I to do with an unknown new chum? I'd sooner
have an Alderney bull--he'd be easier to arrange for. He'd stop where he
was put, anyhow."

Here Gillespie, the globe-trotter, cut into the conversation. "I knew
a Jim Carew in England," he said, "and if this is the same man you
will have no trouble taking care of him. He was a great man at his
'Varsity--triple blue, or something of the sort. He can row and run and
fight and play football, and all that kind of thing. Very quiet-spoken
sort of chap--rather pretends to be a simple sort of Johnny, don't
you know, but he's a regular demon, I believe. Got into a row at a
music-hall one night, and threw the chucker-out in among a lot of
valuable pot plants, and irretrievably ruined him."

"Nice sort of man," said the Bo'sun. "I've seen plenty of his sort,
worse luck; he'll be borrowing fivers after the first week. I'll put him
on to you fellows."

The globe-trotter smiled a sickly smile, and changed the subject.
"What's old Grant like--the man he's going to? Squatter man, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, and one of the real old sort, too," interposed Pinnock,
"perfect gentleman, you know, but apt to make himself deuced unpleasant
if everything doesn't go exactly to suit him; sort of chap who thinks
that everyone who doesn't agree with him ought to be put to death at
once. He had a row with his shearers one year, and offered Jack Delaney
a new Purdey gun if he'd fire the first two charges into the shearers'
camp at night."

"Ha!" said Gillespie. "That's his sort, eh? Well, if this Carew is the
Carew I mean, he and the old fellow will be well met. They'll about do
for each other in the first week or two."

"No great loss, either," said the Bo'sun. "Anyhow I've asked this new
chum to dinner to-night, and Charlie Gordon's coming too. He was in my
office to-day, but hadn't heard of the new chum. Gordon's a member now."

"What's he like?" said Gillespie. "Anything like the gentleman that
wanted the shearers killed?"

"Oh, no; a good fellow," said the Bo'sun, taking a sip of sherry. "He
manages stations for Grant, and the old man has kept him out on the
back-stations nearly all his life. He was out in the Gulf-country in the
early days--got starved out in droughts, swept away in floods, lost in
the bush, speared by blacks, and all that sort of thing, in the days
when men camped under bushes and didn't wear shirts. Gone a bit queer in
the head, I think, but a good chap for all that."

"How did this Grant make all his money" asked Gillespie. "He's awfully
well off, isn't he? Stations everywhere? Is he any relation to Gordon?"

"No; old Gordon--Charlie's father--used to have the money. He had a lot
of stations in the old days, and employed Grant as a manager. Grant was
a new chum Scotchman with no money, but a demon for hard work, and the
most headstrong, bad-tempered man that ever lived--hard to hold at any
time. After he'd worked for Gordon for awhile he went to the diggings
and made a huge pile; and when old Gordon got a bit short of cash he
took Grant into partnership."

"It must have been funny for a man to have his old manager as a
partner!"

"It wasn't at all funny for Gordon," said the lawyer, grimly. "Anything
but funny. They each had stations of their own outside the partnership,
and all Gordon's stations went wrong, and Grant's went right. It never
seemed to rain on Gordon's stations, while Grant's had floods. So Gordon
got short of money again and borrowed from Grant, and when he was really
in a fix Grant closed on him and sold him out for good and all."

"What an old screw! What did he do that for?"

"Just pure obstinacy--Gordon had contradicted him or something, so he
sold him up just to show which was right."

"And what did Gordon do after he was sold up?"

"Died, and didn't leave a penny. So then Bully Grant wheeled round and
gave Gordon's widow a station to live on, and fixed the two sons up
managing his stations. Goodness knows how much he's worth now. Doesn't
even know it himself."

"And has he no children? Was he ever married?"

The lawyer lit a cigarette and puffed at it.

"He went to England and got married; there's a daughter. The wife's
dead; the daughter is in England still--never been out here. There's
a story that before he made his money he married a bush girl up on the
station, but no one believes that. The daughter in England will get
everything when he dies. A chance for you, Gillespie. Go home and marry
her--she'll be worth nearly a million of money."

"I'll think about it," said the globe-trotter.

As he spoke a buttony boy came up to the Bo'sun.

"Gentleman to see you, sir," he said. "Mr. Carew, sir."

The Bo'sun hurried off to bring in his guest, while Pinnock called after
him--"Mind your eye, Bo'sun. Be civil to him. See that he doesn't kill a
waiter or two on the way up. Not but what he'd be welcome to do it, for
all the good they are here," he added, gloomily, taking another sip of
his sherry and bitters; and before he had finished it the Bo'sun and his
guest entered the room.

They had expected to see a Hercules, a fiery-faced, fierce-eyed man.
This was merely a broad-shouldered, well-built, well-groomed youth,
about twenty-three years of age; his face was square and rather stolid,
clean-shaven, brown-complexioned, with honest eyes and a firm-set
mouth. As he stood at the door he adopted the wooden expression that
a University man always wears in the presence of strangers. He said
nothing on being introduced to Pinnock; and when the globe-trotter came
up and claimed acquaintance, defining himself as "Gillespie of Balliol,"
the stranger said he didn't remember him, and regarded him with an
aspect of armed neutrality. After a sherry and bitters he thawed a
little, and the Bo'sun started to cross-examine him.

"Mr. Grant of Kuryong wired to me about you," he said. "I suppose you
came in the Carthaginia?"

"Yes," said the stranger, speaking in the regulation English University
voice, a little deeper than usual. "I left her at Adelaide. I'm out for
some bush experience, don't you know. I'll get you to tell me some place
to stop at till I leave, if you don't mind."

His manner was distinctly apologetic, and he seemed anxious to give as
little trouble as possible.

"Oh! you stop here," said the Bo'sun. "I'll have you made an honorary
member. They'll do you all right here."

"That's awfully good of you. Thanks very much indeed."

"Oh! not at all. You'll find the club not so bad, and a lot better than
where you're going with old Grant. He's a regular demon to make fellows
work. It's pretty rough on the stations sometimes."

"Ah! yes; awf'lly rough, I believe. Quite frightened me, what I heard of
it, don't you know. Still, I suppose one must expect to rough it a bit.
Eh, what!"

"Charlie Gordon will he here in a minute," said the Bo'sun. "He can tell
you all about it. Here he is now," he added, as the door swung open and
the long-waited-for guest entered the room.

The newcomer was unmistakably a man from Far Out; tall, wiry-framed, and
very dark, and so spare and lean of figure that he did not seem to
have an ounce of superfluous flesh anywhere. His face was as hard and
impassive as a Red Indian's, and looked almost black by contrast with
his white shirt-front. So did his hands. He had thin straight hair, high
cheek-bones, and a drooping black moustache. But the eyes were the most
remarkable feature. Very keen and piercing they were, deep-set in
the head; even when he was looking straight at anyone he seemed to be
peering into endless space through the man in front of him. Such eyes
men get from many years of staring over great stretches of sunlit plain
where no colour relieves the blinding glare--nothing but dull grey
clumps of saltbush and the dull green Mitchell grass.

His whole bearing spoke of infinite determination and self-reliance--the
square chin, the steadfast eyes, telling their tale as plainly as print.
In India he might have passed for an officer of native cavalry in
mufti; but when he spoke he used the curious nasal drawl of the far-out
bushman, the slow deliberate speech that comes to men who are used to
passing months with the same companions in the unhurried Australian
bush. Occasionally he lapsed into reveries, out of which he would come
with a start and break in on other people's conversation, talking them
down with a serene indifference to their feelings.

"Come out to old man Grant, have you?" he drawled to Carew, when the
ceremonies of introduction were over. "Well, I can do something better
for you than that. I want a mate for my next trip, and a rough lonely
hot trip it'll be. But don't you make any mistake. The roughest and
hottest I can show you will be child's play to having anything to do
with Grant. You come with me."

"Hadn't I better see Mr. Grant first?"

"No, he won't care. The old man doesn't take much notice of new
chums--he gets them out by the bushel. He might meet a man at dinner in
England and the man might say, "Grant, you've got some stations. I've
got a young fellow that's no use at home--or anywhere else for that
matter--can't you oblige me, and take him and keep him out of mischief
for a while?" And if the old man had had about a bottle of champagne,
he'd say, "Yes, I'll take him--for a premium," or if he'd had two
bottles, he'd say, "Send along your new chum--I'll make a man of him or
break his neck." And perhaps in the next steamer out the fellow comes,
and Grant just passes him on to me. Never looks at him, as likely as
not. Don't you bother your head about Grant--you come with me."

As he drawled out his last sentence, a move was made to dinner; so
the Englishman was spared the pain of making any comments on his own
unimportance in Mr. Grant's eyes, and they trooped into the dining-room
in silence.



CHAPTER II. A DINNER FOR FIVE.



A club dining-room in Australia is much like one in any other part of
the world. Even at the Antipodes--though the seasons are reversed, and
the foxes have wings--we still shun the club bore, and let him have
a table to himself; the head waiter usually looks a more important
personage than any of the members or guests; and men may be seen giving
each other dinners from much the same ignoble motives as those which
actuate their fellows elsewhere. In the Cassowary Club, on the night of
which we tell, the Bo'sun was giving his dinner of necessity to honour
the draft of hospitality drawn on him by Grant. At the next table a
young solicitor was entertaining his one wealthy client; near by a band
of haggard University professors were dining a wandering scientist, all
hair and spectacles--both guest and hosts drinking mineral waters
and such horrors; while beyond them a lot of racing men were swilling
champagne and eating and talking as heartily as so many navvies. A few
squatters, down from their stations, had fore-gathered at the centre
table, where each was trying to make out that he had had less rain than
the others. The Bo'sun and his guests were taken in hand by the head
waiter, who formerly had been at a London Club, and was laying himself
out to do his best; he had seen that Gillespie had "Wanderers' Club"
on his cards, and he knew, and thanked his stars that he did know, what
"Wanderers' Club" on a man's card meant. His fellow-waiters, to whom he
usually referred as "a lot of savages," were unfortunately in ignorance
of the social distinction implied by membership of such a club.

For a time there was nothing but the usual commonplace talk, while the
soup and fish were disposed of; when they reached the champagne and the
entrées, things become more homelike and conversation flowed. A bushman,
especially when primed with champagne, is always ready to give his
tongue a run--and when he has two open-mouthed new chums for audience,
as Gordon had, the only difficulty is to stop him before bed-time; for
long silent rides on the plain, and lonely camps at night, give him a
lot of enforced silence that he has to make up for later.

"Where are you from last, Gordon?" said the Bo'sun. "Haven't seen you in
town for a long time."

"I've been hunting wild geese," drawled the man from far back, screwing
up one eye and inspecting a glass of champagne, which he drank off at
a gulp. "That's what I do most of my time now. The old man--Grant, you
know--my boss--he's always hearing of mobs of cattle for sale, and
if I'm down in the south-west the mob is sure to be up in the far
north-east, but it's all one to him. He wires to me to go and inspect
them quick and lively before someone else gets them, and I ride and
drive and coach hundreds of miles to get at some flat-sided pike-horned
mob of brutes without enough fat on them to oil a man's hair with. I've
to go right away out back now and take over a place that the old man
advanced some money on. He was fool enough, or someone was fool enough
for him, to advance five thousand pounds on a block of new country with
five thousand cattle on it--book-muster, you know, and half the cattle
haven't been seen for years, and the other half are dead, I expect.
Anyhow, the man that borrowed the money is ruined, and I have to go up
and take over the station."

"What do you call a book-muster?" said the globe-trotter, who was
spending a month in the country, and would naturally write a book on it.

"Book-muster, book-muster? Why, a book-muster is something like
dead-reckoning on a ship. You know what dead-reckoning is, don't you?
If a captain can't see the sun he allows for how fast the ship is going,
and for the time run and the currents, and all that, and then reckons up
where he is. I travelled with a captain once, and so long as he stuck
to dead-reckoning he was all right. He made out we were off Cairns, and
that's just where we were; because we struck the Great Barrier Reef, and
became a total wreck ten minutes after. With the cattle it's just the
same. You'll reckon the cattle that you started with, add on each
year's calves, subtract all that you sell,--that is, if you ever do sell
any--and allow for deaths, and what the blacks spear and the thieves
steal. Then you work out the total, and you say, 'There ought to be five
thousand cattle on the place,' but you never get 'em. I've got to go
and find five thousand cattle in the worst bit of brigalow scrub in the
north."

"Where do you say this place is?" said Pinnock. "It's called No Man's
Land, and it's away out back near where the buffalo-shooters are. It'll
take about a month to get there. The old man's in a rare state of mind
at being let in. He's up at Kuryong now, driving my brother Hugh out of
his mind. Hugh would as soon have an attack of faceache as see old Bully
looming up the track. Every time he goes up he shifts every blessed
sheep out of every paddock, and knocks seven years' growth out of them
putting them through the yards; then he overhauls the store, and if
there's a box of matches short he'll keep Hugh up half the night to
account for it. He sacks all the good men and raises the wages of the
loafers, and then comes back to Sydney quite pleased; it's a little
holiday to him. You come along with me, Carew, and let old Bully alone.
What did you come out for? Colonial experience?"

An Englishman hates talking about himself, and Carew rather hesitated.
Then he came out with it awkwardly, like a man repeating a lesson.

"Did you ever meet a man named Considine out here?" he said.

"Lots of them," said Gordon promptly--"lots of them. Why, I had a man
named Considine working for me, and he thought he got bitten by a snake,
so his mates ran him twenty miles into Bourke between two horses to
keep him from going to sleep, giving him a nip of whisky every twenty
minutes; and when he got to Bourke he wasn't bitten at all, but he died
of alcoholic poisoning. What about this Considine, anyhow? What do you
want him for?"

The Englishman felt like dropping the subject altogether, not feeling
quite sure that he was not being laughed at. However, he decided to go
through with it.

"It's rather a long story, but it boils down to this," he said. "I'm
looking for a Patrick Henry Considine, but I don't know what he's like.
I don't know whether there is such a chap, in fact, but if there is,
I've got to find him. A great-uncle of mine died out here a long while
ago, and we believe he left a son; and if there is such a son, it turns
out that he would be entitled to a heap of money. It has been heaping up
for years in Chancery, and all that sort of thing, you know," he
added, vaguely. "My people thought I might meet him out here, don't you
know--and he could go home and get all the cash, you see. They've been
advertising for him."

"And what good will it do you," drawled Gordon, "supposing you do find
him? Where do you come in?"

"Oh, it doesn't do me much good, except that if there is such a Johnny,
and he dies without making a will, then the money would all come to
my people. But if there isn't, it all goes to another branch of the
family."

Gordon thought the matter over for a while. "What you want," he said,
"is to find this man, and to find him dead. If we come across him away
in the back country, we'll soon arrange his death for you, if you make
it worth while. Nasty gun accident, or something like that, you know."

"I wouldn't like anyone to shoot him," said the Englishman.

"Well, you come with me, and we'll find him," said Gordon.

By this time dinner was over. The waiters began to turn out the lights
on the vacant tables; and, as the party rose it was arranged nem. con.,
and with much enthusiasm, that Carew should accompany Gordon on his trip
to No Man's Land, and that Gordon should, by all means in his power, aid
and abet Carew in his search for Considine.

Then, all talking together, and somewhat loudly, they strutted into the
smoking-room.



CHAPTER III. IN PUSH SOCIETY.



The passing of the evening afterwards is the only true test of a
dinner's success. Many a good dinner, enlivened with wine and made
brilliant with repartee, has died out in gloom. The guests have all
said their best things during the meal, and nothing is left but to smoke
moodily and look at the clock. Our heroes were not of that mettle. They
meant to have some sort of fun, and the various amusements of Sydney
were canvassed. It was unanimously voted too hot for the theatres, ditto
for billiards. There were no supporters for a proposal to stop in
the smoking-room and drink, and gambling in the card-rooms had no
attractions on such a night. At last Gordon hit off a scent. "What do
you say," he drawled, "if we go and have a look at a dancing saloon--one
of these larrikin dancing saloons?"

"I'd like it awfully," said one Englishman.

"Most interesting" said the other. "I've heard such a lot about the
Australian larrikin. What they call a basher in England, isn't it? eh,
what? Sort of rough that lays for you with a pal and robs you, eh?"

The Bo'sun rang for cigars and liqueurs, and then answered the question.
"Pretty much the same as a basher," he said, "but with a lot more
science and dog-cunning about him. They go in gangs, and if you hit one
of the gang, all the rest will 'deal with you,' as they call it. If they
have to wait a year to get you, they'll wait, and get you alone some
night or other and set on to you. They jump on a man if they get him
down, too. Oh, they're regular beauties."

"Rather roughish sort of Johnnies, eh?" said the Englishman. "But we
might go and see the dancing--no harm in that."

Pinnock said he had to go back to his office; the globe-trotter didn't
care about going out at night; and the Bo'sun tried to laugh the
thing off. "You don't catch me going," he said. "There's nothing to be
seen--just a lot of flash young rowdies dancing. You'll gape at them,
and they'll gape at you, and you'll feel rather a pair of fools, and
you'll come away. Better stop and have a rubber."

"If you dance with any of their women, you get her particular fancy-man
on to you, don't you?" asked Gordon. "It's years since I was at that
sort of place myself."

The Bo'sun, who knew nothing about it, assumed the Sir Oracle at once.

"I don't suppose their women would dance with you if you paid 'em five
shillings a step," he said. "There'd certainly be a fight if they did.
Are you fond of fighting, Carew?"

"Not a bit," replied that worthy. "Never fight if you can help it. No
chap with any sense ever does."

"That's like me," said Gordon. "I'd sooner run a mile than fight,
any time. I'm like a rat if I'm cornered, but it takes a man with a
stockwhip to corner me. I never start fighting till I'm done running.
But we needn't get into a row. I vote we go. Will you come, Carew?"

"Oh, yes; I'd like to," said the Englishman. "I don't suppose we need
get into a fight."

So, after many jeers from the Bo'sun, and promises to come back and
tell him all about it, Carew and Gordon sallied forth, a pair of men as
capable of looking after themselves as one would meet in a day's march.
Stepping into the street they called a cab.

"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman.

"Nearest dancing saloon," said Gordon, briefly.

"Nearest darncin' saloon," said the cabman. "There ain't no parties
to-night, sir; it's too 'ot."

"We're not expecting to drop into a ballroom without being asked, thank
you," said Gordon. "We want to go to one of those saloons where you pay
a shilling to go in. Some place where the larrikins go."

"Ho! is that it, sir?" said the cabman, with a grin. "Well, I'll take
you to a noo place, most selectest place I know. Git up, 'orse." And
off they rattled through the quiet streets, turning corners and crossing
tramlines every fifty yards apparently, and bumping against each other
in the most fraternal manner.

Soon the cab pulled up in a narrow, ill-lit street, at the open door of
a dingy house. Instructing the cabman to wait, they hustled upstairs,
to be confronted at the top by a man who took a shilling from each, and
then was not sure whether he would admit them. He didn't seem to like
their form exactly, and muttered something to a by-stander as they went
in. They saw a long, low room, brilliantly lighted by flaring gas jets.
Down one side, on wooden forms, was seated a row of flashily-dressed
girls--larrikin-esses on their native heath, barmaids from cheap,
disreputable hotels, shop girls, factory girls--all sharp-faced and
pert, young in years, but old in knowledge of evil. The demon of
mischief peeped out of their quick-moving, restless eyes. They had
elaborate fringes, and their short dresses exhibited well-turned ankles
and legs.

A large notice on the wall stated that "Gentlemen must not dance with
nails in their boots. Gentlemen must not dance together."

"That blocks us," said Gordon, pointing to the notice. "Can't dance
together, no matter how much we want to. Look at these fellows here."

Opposite the women sat or lounged a score or two of youths--wiry,
hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable
man amongst them. They were all clothed in "push" evening dress--black
bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white
shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat.
Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with
all sorts of colours down the sides. They looked "varminty" enough for
anything; but the shifty eyes, low foreheads, and evil faces gave our
two heroes a sense of disgust. The Englishman thought that all the
stories he had heard of the Australian larrikin must be exaggerated,
and that any man who was at all athletic could easily hold his own among
such a poor-looking lot. The whole spectacle was disappointing. The most
elaborately decorous order prevailed; no excitement or rough play was
noticeable, and their expedition seemed likely to be a failure.

The bushman stared down the room with far-seeing eyes, apparently
looking at nothing, and contemplated the whole show with bored
indifference.

"Nothing very dazzling about this," he said. "I'm afraid we can't show
you anything very exciting here. Better go back to the club, eh?"

Just then the band (piano and violin) struck up a slow, laboured waltz,
"Bid me Good-bye and go," and each black-coated male, with languid
self-possession, strolled across the room, seized a lady by the arm,
jerked her to her feet without saying a syllable, and commenced to dance
in slow, convulsive movements, making a great many revolutions for very
little progress. Two or three girls were left sitting, as their partners
were talking in a little knot at the far end of the room; one among
them was conspicuously pretty, and she began to ogle Carew in a very
pronounced way.

"There's one hasn't got a partner," said Gordon. "Good-looking Tottie,
too. Go and ask her to dance. See what she says."

The Englishman hesitated for a second. "I don't like asking a perfect
stranger to dance," he said.

"Go on," said Gordon, "it's all right. She'll like it."

Carew drew down his cuffs, squared his shoulders, assumed his most
absolutely stolid drawing-room manner, and walked across the room, a
gleaming vision of splendour in his immaculate evening dress.

"May I--er--have the pleasure of this dance?" he said, with elaborate
politeness.

The girl giggled a little, but said nothing, then rose and took his arm.

As she did so, a youth among the talkers at the other end of the room
looked round, and stared for a second. Then he moistened his fingers
with his tongue, smoothed the hair on his temples, and with elbows held
out from his sides, shoulders hunched up, and under-jaw stuck well out,
bore down on Carew and the girl, who were getting under way when he came
up. Taking not the slightest notice of Carew, he touched the girl on the
shoulder with a sharp peremptory tap, and brought their dance to a stop.

"'Ere," he said, in commanding tones. "'Oo are you darncin' with?"

"I'm darncin' with 'im," answered the girl, pertly, indicating the
Englishman with a jerk of her head.

"Ho, you're darncin' with 'im, are you? 'E brought you 'ere, p'r'aps?"

"No, he didn't," she said.

"No," said he. "You know well enough 'e didn't."

While this conversation was going on, the English-man maintained an
attitude of dignified reserve, leaving it to the lady to decide who
was to be the favoured man. At last he felt it was hardly right for
an Oxford man, and a triple blue at that, to be discussed in this
contemptuous way by a larrikin and his "donah," so he broke into the
discussion, perhaps a little abruptly, but using his most polished
style.

"I--ah--asked this lady to dance, and if she--er--will do me the
honour," he said, "I--"

"Oh! you arst 'er to darnce? And what right 'ad you to arst 'er to
darnce, you lop-eared rabbit?" interrupted the larrikin, raising his
voice as he warmed to his subject. "I brought 'er 'ere. I paid the
shillin'. Now then, you take your 'ook," he went on, pointing sternly
to the door, and talking as he would to a disobedient dog. "Go on, now.
Take your 'ook."

The Englishman said nothing, but his jaw set ominously. The girl
giggled, delighted at being the centre of so much observation. The band
stopped playing, and the dancers crowded round. Word was passed down
that it was a "toff darncin' with Nugget's donah," and from various
parts of the room black-coated duplicates of Nugget hurried swiftly to
the scene.

The doorkeeper turned to Gordon. "You 'd best get your mate out o'
this," he said. "These are the Rocks Push, and they'll deal with him all
right."

"Deal with him, will they?" said Gordon, looking at the gesticulating
Nugget. "They'll bite off more than they can chew if they interfere with
him. This is just his form, a row like this. He's a bit of a champion in
a rough-and-tumble, I believe."

"Is he?" said the doorkeeper, sardonically. "Well, look 'ere, now, you
take it from me, if there's a row Nugget will spread him out as flat as
a newspaper. They've all been in the ring in their time, these coves.
There's Nugget, and Ginger, and Brummy--all red 'ot. You get him away!"

Meanwhile the Englishman's ire was gradually rising. He was past the
stage of considering whether it was worth while to have a fight over
a factory girl in a shilling dancing saloon, and the desire for battle
blazed up in his eyes. He turned and confronted Nugget.

"You go about your business," he said, dropping all the laboured
politeness out of his tones. "If she likes to dance--"

He got no further. A shrill whistle rang through the room; a voice
shouted, "Don't 'it 'im; 'ook 'im!" His arms were seized from behind and
pinioned to his sides. The lights were turned out. Somebody in front
hit him a terrific crack in the eye at the same moment that someone
else administered a violent kick from the rear. He was propelled by an
invisible force to the head of the stairs, and then--whizz! down he went
in one prodigious leap, clear from the top to the first landing.

Here, in pitch-darkness, he grappled one of his assailants. For a few
seconds they swayed and struggled, and then rolled down the rest of the
stairs, over and over each other, grappling and clawing, each trying
to tear the other's shirt off. When they rolled into the street, Carew
discovered that he had hold of Charlie Gordon.

They sat up and looked at each other. Then they made a simultaneous rush
for the stairs, but the street door was slammed in their faces. They
kicked it violently, but without result, except that a mob of faces
looked out of the first-floor window and hooted, and a bucket of
water was emptied over them. A crowd collected as if by magic, and the
spectacle of two gentlemen in evening dress trying to kick in the door
of a shilling dancing saloon afforded it unmitigated delight.

"'Ere's two toffs got done in all right," said one.

"What O! Won't she darnce with you?" said another; and somebody from the
back threw banana peel at them.

Charlie recovered his wits first. The Englishman was fairly berserk with
rage, and glared round on the bystanders as if he contemplated a rush
among them. The cabman put an end to the performance. He was tranquil
and unemotional, and he soothed them down and coaxed them into the cab.
The band in the room above resumed the dreamy waltz music of "Bid me
Good-bye and go!" and they went.

Carew subsided into the corner, breathing hard and feeling his eye.
Charlie leant forward and peered out into the darkness. They were nearly
at the club before they spoke. Then he said, "Well, I'm blessed! We made
a nice mess of that, didn't we?"

"I'd like to have got one fair crack at some of 'em," said the
Englishman, with heartfelt earnestness. "Couldn't we go back now?"

"No what's the good? We'd never get in. Let the thing alone. We needn't
say anything about it. If once it gets known that we were chucked out,
we'll never hear the last of it. Are you marked at all?"

"Got an awful swipe in the eye," replied the other briefly.

"I've got a cut lip, and my head nearly screwed off. You did that. I'll
know the place again. Some day we'll get a few of the right sort to come
with us, and we'll just go there quietly, as if we didn't mean anything,
and then, all of a sudden, we'll turn in and break the whole place up!
Come and have a drink now."

They had a silent drink in the deserted club. The mind of each was
filled with a sickening sense of defeat, and without much conversation
they retired to bed. They thanked heaven that the Bo'sun, Pinnock, and
Gillespie had disappeared.

Even then Fate hadn't quite finished with the bushman. A newly-joined
member of the club, he had lived a life in which he had to shift for
himself, and the ways of luxury were new to him. Consequently, when he
awoke next morning and saw a man moving with cat-like tread about his
room, absolutely taking the money out of his clothes before his very
eyes, he sprang out of bed with a bound and half-throttled the robber.
Then, of course, it turned out that it was only the bedroom waiter, who
was taking his clothes away to brush them. This contretemps, on top of
the overnight mishap, made him determined to get away from town with
all speed. When he looked in the glass, he found his lip so much swelled
that his moustache stuck out in front like the bowsprit of a ship. At
breakfast he joined the Englishman, who had an eye with as many colours
as an opal, not to mention a tired look and dusty boots.

"Are you only just up?" asked Charlie, as they contemplated each other.

Carew had resumed his mantle of stolidity, but he coloured a little at
the question. "I've been out for a bit of a walk round town," he said.
"Fact is," he added in a sudden burst of confidence, "I've been all
over town lookin' for that place where we were last night. Couldn't find
anything like it at all."

Charlie laughed at his earnestness. "Oh, bother the place," he said. "If
you had found it, there wouldn't have been any of them there. Now, about
ourselves--we can't show out like this. We'd better be off to-day, and
no one need know anything about it. Besides, I half-killed a waiter
this morning. I thought he was some chap stealing my money, when he only
wanted to take my clothes away to brush 'em. Sooner we're out of town
the better. I'll wire to the old man that I've taken you with me."

So saying, they settled down to breakfast, and by tacit agreement
avoided the club for the rest of the day.

Before leaving, Charlie had to call and interview Pinnock, and left
Carew waiting outside while he went in. He didn't want to parade their
injuries, and knew that Carew's eye would excite remark; but by keeping
his upper lip well drawn over his teeth, he hoped his own trouble would
escape notice.

"Seems a harmless sort of chap, that new chum," said Pinnock.

"He'll do all right," said Charlie casually. "I've met his sort before.
He's not such a fool as he lets on to be. Shouldn't wonder if he killed
somebody before he gets back here, anyhow."

"How did you get on at the dancing saloon?" asked Pinnock.

"Oh, slow enough. Nothing worth seeing. Good-bye."

They sneaked on board the steamer without meeting the Bo'sun or anybody,
and before evening were well on their way to No Man's Land.



CHAPTER IV. THE OLD STATION.



There are few countries in the world with such varieties of climate
as Australia, and though some stations are out in the great, red-hot,
frying wastes of the Never-Never, others are up in the hills where a hot
night is a thing unknown, where snow falls occasionally, and where it is
no uncommon thing to spend a summer's evening by the side of a roaring
fire. In the matter of improvements, too, stations vary greatly. Some
are in a wilderness, with fittings to match; others have telephones
between homestead and out-stations, the jackeroos dress for dinner, and
the station hands are cowed into touching their hats and saying "Sir."
Also stations are of all sizes, and the man who is considered quite a
big squatter in the settled districts is thought small potatoes by the
magnate "out back," who shears a hundred and fifty thousand sheep, and
has an overdraft like the National Debt.

Kuryong was a hill-country station of about sixty thousand acres all
told; but they were good acres, as no one knew better than old Bully
Grant, the owner, of whose history and disposition we heard something
from Pinnock at the club. It was a highly improved place, with a fine
homestead--thanks to Bully Grant's money, for in the old days it had
been a very different sort of place--and its history is typical of the
history of hundreds of others.

When Andrew Gordon first bought it, it was held under lease from
the Crown, and there were no improvements to speak of. The station
homestead, so lovingly descanted upon in the advertisement, consisted
of a two-roomed slab hut; the woolshed, where the sheep were shorn, was
made of gumtree trunks roofed with bark. The wool went down to Sydney,
and station supplies came back, in huge waggons drawn by eighteen or
twenty bullocks, that travelled nine miles a day on a journey of three
hundred miles. There were no neighbours except at the township of
Kiley's Crossing, which consisted of two public-houses and a store.
It was a rough life for the young squatter, and evidently he found it
lonely; for on a visit to Sydney he fell in love with and married
a dainty girl of French descent. Refined, well-educated, and
fragile-looking, she seemed about the last person in the world to take
out to a slab-hut homestead as a squatter's wife. But there is an old
saying that blood will tell; and with all the courage of her Huguenot
ancestry she faced the roughness and discomforts of bush life. On
her arrival at the station the old two-roomed hut was plastered and
whitewashed, additional rooms were built, and quite a neat little home
was the result. Seasons were good, and the young squatter might have
gone on shearing sheep and selling fat stock till the end of his life
but for the advent of free selection in 1861.

In that year the Legislature threw open all leasehold lands to the
public for purchase on easy terms and conditions. The idea was to settle
an industrious peasantry on lands hitherto leased in large blocks to the
squatters. This brought down a flood of settlement on Kuryong. At the
top end of the station there was a chain of mountains, and the country
was rugged and patchy--rich valleys alternating with ragged hills. Here
and there about the run were little patches of specially good land,
which were soon snapped up. The pioneers of these small settlers were
old Morgan Donohoe and his wife, who had built the hotel at Kiley's
Crossing; and, on their reports, all their friends and relatives, as
they came out of the "ould country," worked their way to Kuryong, and
built little bits of slab and bark homesteads in among the mountains.
The rougher the country, the better they liked it. They were a
horse-thieving, sheep-stealing breed, and the talents which had made
them poachers in the old country soon made them champion bushmen in
their new surroundings. The leader of these mountain settlers was one
Doyle, a gigantic Irishman, who had got a grant of a few hundred acres
in the mountains, and had taken to himself a Scotch wife from among the
free immigrants. The story ran that he was too busy to go to town, but
asked a friend to go and pick a wife for him, "a fine shtrappin' woman,
wid a good brisket on her."

The Doyles were large, slow, heavy men, with an instinct for the
management of cattle; they were easily distinguished from the Donohoes,
who were little red-whiskered men, enterprising and quick-witted, and
ready to do anything in the world for a good horse. Other strangers
and outlanders came to settle in the district, but from the original
settlement up to the date of our story the two great families of the
Doyles and the Donohoes governed the neighbourhood, and the headquarters
of the clans was at Donohoe's "Shamrock Hotel," at Kiley's Crossing.
Here they used to rendezvous when they went away down to the plains
country each year for the shearing; for they added to their resources by
travelling about the country shearing, droving, fencing, tanksinking,
or doing any other job that offered itself, but always returned to their
mountain fastnesses ready for any bit of work "on the cross" (i.e.,
unlawful) that might turn up. When times got hard they had a handy knack
of finding horses that nobody had lost, shearing sheep they did not own,
and branding and selling other people's calves.

When they stole stock, they moved them on through the mountains
as quickly as possible, always having a brother or uncle, or a
cousin--Terry or Timothy or Martin or Patsy--who had a holding "beyant."
By these means they could shift stolen stock across the great range, and
dispose of them among the peaceable folk who dwelt in the good country
on the other side, whose stock they stole in return. Many a good horse
and fat beast had made the stealthy mountain journey, lying hidden in
gaps and gullies when pursuit grew hot, and being moved on as things
quieted down.

Another striking feature was the way in which they got themselves mixed
up with each other. Their names were so tangled up that no one could
keep tally of them. There was a Red Mick Donohoe (son of the old
publican), and his cousin Black Mick Donohoe, and Red Mick's son Mick,
and Black Mick's son Mick, and Red Mick's son Pat, and Black Mick's son
Pat; and there was Gammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the lame leg), and
Scrammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the injured arm), and Bosthoon Doyle
and Omadhaun Doyle--a Bosthoon being a man who never had any great
amount of sense to speak of, while an Omadhaun is a man who began life
with some sense, but lost most of it on his journey. It was a common
saying in the country-side that if you met a man on the mountains you
should say, "Good-day, Doyle," and if he replied, "That's not my name,"
you should at once say, "Well, I meant no offence, Mr. Donohoe."

One could generally pick which was which of the original stock, but
when they came to intermarry there was no telling t'other from which.
Startling likenesses cropped up among the relatives, and it was widely
rumoured that one Doyle who was known to be in jail, and who was
vaguely spoken of by the clan as being "away," was in fact serving an
accumulation of sentences for himself and other members of the family,
whose sins he had for a consideration taken on himself.

With such neighbours as these fighting him for every block of land,
Andrew Gordon soon came to the end of his resources, and it was then
that he had to take in his old manager as a partner. Before Bully Grant
had been in the firm long, he had secured nearly all the good land, and
the industrious yeomanry that the Land Act was supposed to create were
hiding away up the gullies on miserable little patches of bad land,
stealing sheep for a living. Bully fought them stoutly, impounded their
sheep and cattle, and prosecuted trespassers and thieves; and, his luck
being wonderful, he soon added to the enormous fortune he had made in
mining, while Andrew Gordon died impoverished. When he died, old Bully
gave the management of the stations to his sons, and contented himself
with finding fault. But one dimly-remembered episode in his career was
talked of by the old hands around Kiley's Hotel, long after Grant had
become a wealthy man, and had gone for long trips to England.

Grant, in spite of the judgment and sagacity on which he prided himself,
had at various times in his career made mistakes--mistakes in station
management, mistakes about stock, mistakes about men, and last, but not
least, mistakes about women; and it was to one of these mistakes that
the gossips referred.

When he was a young man working as Mr. Gordon's manager, and living with
the horse-breaker and the ration-carrier on the out-station at Kuryong
(in those days a wild, half-civilised place), he had for neighbours Red
Mick's father and mother, the original Mr. and Mrs. Donohoe, and their
family. Their eldest daughter, Peggy--"Carrotty Peg," her relations
called her--was at that time a fine, strapping, bush girl, and the
only unmarried white woman anywhere near the station. She was as
fair-complexioned as Red Mick himself, with a magnificent head of red
hair, and the bust and limbs of a young Amazon.

This young woman, as she grew up, attracted the attention of Billy
the Bully, and they used to meet a good deal out in the bush. On such
occasions, he would possibly be occupied in the inspiriting task of
dragging a dead sheep after his horse, to make a trail to lead the wild
dogs up to some poisoned meat; while the lady, clad in light and airy
garments, with a huge white sunbonnet for head-gear, would be riding
straddle-legged in search of strayed cows. When Grant left the station,
and went away to make his fortune in mining, it was, perhaps, just a
coincidence that this magnificent young creature grew tired of the old
place and "cleared out," too. She certainly went away and disappeared so
utterly that even her own people did not know what had become of her;
to the younger generation her very existence was only a vague tradition.
But it was whispered here and muttered there among the Doyles and the
Donohoes and their friends and relations, that old Billy the Bully, on
one of his visits to the interior, had been married to this undesirable
lady by a duly accredited parson, in the presence of responsible
witnesses; and that, when everyone had their own, Carrotty Peg, if
alive, would be the lady of Kuryong. However, she had never come back
to prove it, and no one cared about asking her alleged husband any
unpleasant questions.

So much for the history of its owners; now to describe the homestead
itself. It had originally consisted of the two-roomed slab hut, which
had been added to from time to time. Kitchen, outhouses, bachelors'
quarters, saddle-rooms, and store-rooms had been built on in a kind of
straggling quadrangle, with many corners and unexpected doorways and
passages; and it is reported that a swagman once got his dole of rations
at the kitchen, went away, and after turning two or three corners,
got so tangled up that when Fate led him back to the kitchen he didn't
recognise it, and asked for rations over again, in the firm belief that
he was at a different part of the house.

The original building was still the principal living-room, but the house
had grown till it contained about twenty rooms. The slab walls had been
plastered and whitewashed, and a wide verandah ran all along the front.
Round the house were acres of garden, with great clumps of willows and
acacias, where the magpies sat in the heat of the day and sang to one
another in their sweet, low warble.

The house stood on a spur running from the hills. Looking down the river
from it, one saw level flats waving with long grasses, in which the
solemn cattle waded knee-deep. Here and there clumps of willows and
stately poplars waved in the breeze. In the clear, dry air all colours
were startlingly vivid, and round the nearer foothills wonderful lights
and shadows played and shifted, while sometimes a white fleece of mist
would drift slowly across a distant hill, like a film of snowy lace on
the face of a beautiful woman. Away behind the foothills were the grand
old mountains, with their snow-clad tops gleaming in the sun.

The garden was almost as lacking in design as the house. There were
acres of fruit trees, with prairie grass growing at their roots, trees
whereon grew luscious peaches and juicy egg-plums; long vistas of
grapevines, with little turnings and alleys, regular lovers' walks,
where the scent of honeysuckle intoxicated the senses. At the foot of
the garden was the river, a beautiful stream, fed by the mountain-snow,
and rushing joyously over clear gravel beds, whose million-tinted
pebbles dashed in the sunlight like so many opals.

In some parts of Australia it is difficult to tell summer from winter;
but up in this mountain-country each season had its own attractions.
In the spring the flats were green with lush grass, speckled with
buttercups and bachelors' buttons, and the willows put out their new
leaves, and all manner of shy dry-scented bush flowers bloomed on the
ranges; and the air was full of the song of birds and the calling of
animals. Then came summer, when never a cloud decked the arch of blue
sky, and all animated nature drew into the shade of big trees until the
evening breeze sprang up, bringing sweet scents of the dry grass and
ripening grain. In autumn, the leaves of the English trees turned all
tints of yellow and crimson, and the grass in the paddocks went brown;
and the big bullock teams worked from dawn till dark, hauling in their
loads of hay from the cultivation paddocks.

But most beautiful of all was winter, when logs blazed in the huge
fireplaces, and frosts made the ground crisp, and the stock, long-haired
and shaggy, came snuffling round the stables, picking up odds and ends
of straw; when the grey, snow-clad mountains looked but a stone's throw
away in the intensely clear air, and the wind brought a colour to the
cheeks and a tingling to the blood that made life worth living.

Such was Kuryong homestead, where lived Charlie Gordon's mother and his
brother Hugh, with a lot of children left by another brother who, like
many others, had gone up to Queensland to make his fortune, and had left
his bones there instead; and to look after these young folk there was a
governess, Miss Harriott.



CHAPTER V. THE COMING OF THE HEIRESS.



The spring--the glorious hill-country spring--was down on Kuryong.
All the flats along Kiley's River were knee-deep in green grass. The
wattle-trees were out in golden bloom, and the snow-water from the
mountains set the river running white with foam, fighting its way over
bars of granite into big pools where the platypus dived, and the wild
ducks--busy with the cares of nesting--just settled occasionally to
snatch a hasty meal and then hurried off, with a whistle of strong
wings, back to their little ones. The breeze brought down from the
hills a scent of grass and bush flowers. There was life and movement
everywhere. The little foals raced and played all day in the sunshine
round their big sleepy mothers; the cattle bellowed to each other from
hill to hill; even those miserable brutes, the sheep, frisked in
an ungainly way when anything startled them. At all the little
mountain-farms and holdings young Doyles and Donohoes were catching
their horses, lean after the winter's starvation, and loading the
pack-saddles for their five-months' trip out to the borders of
Queensland, from shearing-shed to shearing-shed, A couple of months
before they started, they would write to the squatters for whom they had
worked on previous shearings--such quaint, ill-spelled letters--asking
that a pen might be kept for them. Great shearers they were, too, for
the mountain air bred hardy men, and while they were at it they worked
feverishly, bending themselves nearly double over the sheep, and making
the shears fly till the sweat ran down their foreheads and dripped on
the ground; and they peeled the yellow wool off sheep after sheep as an
expert cook peels an apple. In the settled districts such as Kuryong,
where the flocks were small, they were made to shear carefully; but away
out on the Queensland side, on a station with two hundred thousand
sheep to get through, they rushed the wool off savagely. He was a poor
specimen of the clan who couldn't shear his hundred and twenty sheep
between bell and bell; and the price was a pound a hundred, with plenty
of stations wanting shearers, so they made good cheques in those days.

One glorious spring morning, Hugh Gordon was sitting in his
office--every squatter and station-manager has an office--waiting with
considerable impatience the coming of the weekly mail. The office looked
like a blend of stationer's shop, tobacconist's store, and saddlery
warehouse. A row of pigeon-holes along the walls was filled with
letters and papers; the rafters were hung with saddles and harness; a
tobacco-cutter and a jar of tobacco stood on the table, side by side
with some formidable-looking knives, used for cutting the sheep's feet
when they became diseased; whips and guns stood in every corner; nails
and saws filled up a lot of boxes on the table, and a few samples
of wool hung from a rope that was stretched across the room. The
mantelpiece was occupied by bottles of horse-medicine and boxes
of cartridges; an elderly white cockatoo, chained by the leg to a
galvanised iron perch, sunned himself by the door, and at intervals gave
an exhibition of his latest accomplishment, in which he imitated the
yowl of a trodden-on cat much better than the cat could have done it
himself.

The air was heavy with scent. All round the great quadrangle of the
house acacia trees were in bloom, and the bees were working busily among
the mignonette and roses in front of the office door.

Hugh Gordon was a lithe, wiry young Australian with intensely sunburnt
face and hands, and a drooping black moustache; a man with a healthy,
breezy outdoor appearance, but the face of an artist, a dreamer, and a
thinker, rather than that of a practical man. His brother Charlie
and he, though very much alike in face, were quite different types of
manhood. Charlie, from his earliest school-days, had never read a book
except under compulsion, had never stayed indoors when he could possibly
get out, had never obeyed an unwelcome order when by force or fraud he
could avoid doing so, and had never written a letter in his life when
a telegram would do. He took the world as it came, having no particular
amount of imagination, and never worried himself. Hugh, on the other
hand, was inclined to meet trouble half-way, and to make troubles where
none existed, which is the worst misfortune that a man can be afflicted
with.

Hugh walked to the door and gazed out over the garden and homestead,
down the long stretch of green paddocks where fat cattle were standing
under the trees, too well fed to bother themselves with looking for
grass. He looked beyond all this to the long drab-coloured stretch of
road that led to Kiley's, watching for the mailboy's arrival. The mail
was late, for the melting snow had flooded the mountain creeks, and Hugh
knew it was quite likely that little Patsy Donohoe, the mail-boy, had
been blocked at Donohoe's Hotel for two days, unable to cross Kiley's
River. This had happened often, and on various occasions when Patsy had
crossed, he, pony and all, had been swept down quite a quarter of a
mile in the ice-cold water before they could reach land. But that was an
ordinary matter in the spring, and it was a point of honour with Patsy
and all his breed not to let the elements beat them in carrying out
the mail contract, which they tendered for every year, and in which no
outsider would have dared to compete.

At last Hugh's vigil was rewarded by the appearance of a small and
wild-looking boy, mounted on a large and wild-looking horse. The boy
was about twelve years of age, and had just ridden a half-broken horse a
forty-mile journey--for of such is the youth of Australia. Patsy was
wet and dirty, and the big leather mail-bag that he handed over had
evidently been under water.

"We had to swim, Mr. Hugh," the boy said triumphantly, "and this great,
clumsy cow" (the child referred to his horse), "he reared over on me in
the water, twyst, but I stuck to him. My oath!"

Hugh laughed. "I expect Kiley's River will get you yet, Patsy," he said.
"Go in now to the kitchen and get dry by the fire. I'll lend you a horse
to get back on to-morrow. You can camp here till then, there's no hurry
back."

The boy let his horse go loose, dismissing it with a parting whack on
the rump with the bridle, and swaggered inside, carrying his saddle, to
show his wet clothes and recount his deeds to the admiring cook. Patsy
was not one to hide his light under a bushel.

Hugh carried the bag into the office, and shook out the letters and
papers on the table. Everything was permeated with a smell of wet
leather, and some of the newspapers were rather pulpy. After sending out
everybody else's mail he turned to examine his own. Out of the mass of
letters, agents' circulars, notices of sheep for sale, catalogues of
city firms, and circulars from pastoral societies, he picked a letter
addressed to himself in the scrawling fist of William Grant. He opened
it, expecting to find in it the usual Commination Service on things
in general, but as he read on, a vivid surprise spread over his face.
Leaving the other letters and papers unopened, he walked to the door
and looked out into the courtyard, where Stuffer, the youngest of his
nephews, who was too small to be allowed to join in the field sports of
the others, was playing at being a railway train. He had travelled in
a train once, and now passed Hugh's door under easy steam, working his
arms and legs like piston-rods, and giving piercing imitations of a
steam-whistle at intervals.

"Stuffer," said Hugh, "do you know where your grandmother is?"

"No" said the Stuffer laconically. "I don't Choo, choo, choo, Whee-aw!"

"Well, look here," said Hugh, "you just railway-train yourself round
the house till you find her, and let me know where she is. I want to see
her. Off you go now."

The Stuffer steamed himself out with the action of an engine drawing a
long train of cars, and disappeared round the corner of the house.

Before long he was back, drew himself up alongside an imaginary
platform, intimated that his grandmother was in the verandah, and then
proceeded to let the steam hiss out of his safety-valve.

Hugh walked across the quadrangle, under the acacia tree, heavy with
blossoms, in which a myriad bees were droning at their work, and through
the house on to the front verandah, which looked over the wide sweep of
river-flat. Here he found his mother and Miss Harriott, the governess,
peeling apples for dumplings--great rosy-checked, solid-fleshed apples,
that the hill-country turns out in perfection. The old lady was slight
in figure, with a refined face, and a carriage erect in spite of her
years. Miss Harriott was of a languid Spanish type, with black eyes and
strongly-marked eyebrows. She had a petite, but well-rounded figure,
with curiously small hands and feet. Though only about twenty-four years
of age she had the sedate and unemotional look that one sees in doctors
and nurses---people who have looked on death and birth, and sorrow and
affliction. For Ellen Harriott had done her three years' course as a
nurse; she had a natural faculty for the business, and was in great
request among the wild folk of the mountains, who looked upon her (and
perhaps rightly) as quite equal to the Tarrong doctor in any emergency.
She knew them all, for she had lived nearly all her life at Kuryong.
When the family moved there from the back country a tutor was needed for
the boys, and an old broken-down gentleman accepted the billet at low
pay, on condition that he was allowed to bring his little daughter with
him. When he died, the daughter still stayed on, and was made governess
to the new generation of young folk. She was a queer, self-contained
girl, saying little; and as Hugh walked in, she looked up at him, and
wondered what new trouble was bringing him to his mother with the open
letter in his hand.

"Mother," said Hugh, "I have had a most extraordinary letter."

"From Mr. Grant?" said the old lady, "What does he say?"

She saw by her son's face that there was something more than usual
in the wind, but one who had lived her life, from fortune to poverty,
through strife and trial, was prepared to take things much more easily
than Hugh.

"Is it anything very serious?"

"His daughter's coming out to live here."

"What?"

"Yes, here's the letter. It only came this morning. Patsy was late, the
river is up. I'll read it to you."

Seating himself at the table, Hugh spread out the letter, and read it:--

Dear Gordon,

The last lot of wethers, though they topped the market, only realised
10/-. I think you would show better judgment in keeping these sheep back
a little. Don't rely upon Satton's advice. He is generally wrong, and is
always most wrong when he is most sure he is right.

My daughter has arrived from England, and will at once go up to the
station. I have written to your mother on the subject. My daughter
will represent me in everything, so I wish her to learn a little about
stations. Send to meet her at the train on Wednesday next.

                       Yours truly,
                                         W. G. GRANT.

"Wednesday next!" said Hugh, "that letter is three days delayed. Patsy
couldn't cross the river. She'll be there before we can possibly get
down. If no one meets her I wonder if she'll have pluck enough to get
into the coach and come on to Donohoe's."

"I don't envy her the trip, if she does," said Miss Harriott. "The
coach-drive over those roads will seem awful to an English girl."

"I'll have to go down at once, anyhow," said Hugh, "and meet her on the
road somewhere. If she is at the railway, I can get there in two days.
Have you a letter, Mother?"

"Yes," said the old lady, "but I won't show it to you now. You shall see
it some other time."

"Well, I'll set about making a start," said Hugh. "What trap had I
better take?"

"You'd better take the big waggonette," said the old lady, in her soft
voice. "A young girl just out from England is sure to have a great deal
of luggage, you know. I wonder if she is anything like Mr. Grant. I hope
her temper is a little bit better."

"You'd better come down with me, Miss Harriott, to meet her," said Hugh.
"I don't suppose your luggage would be a load there and back, anyhow."

"What about crossing the river?" said the old lady.

"Oh, we'll get across somehow," said Hugh, "will you come?"

"I think I'll wait," said the young lady meditatively, "She'll be tired
from travelling and looking after her luggage, and she had better meet
the family one at a time. You go and meet her, and your mother and I
will get her room ready. Does the letter say any more about her?"

"No, that's all," said Hugh. "Well, I'll send the boy to run in the
horses. I'll take four horses in the big waggonette; I expect she'll be
waiting at Donohoe's--that is, if she left the railway-station in the
coach--if she is at Donohoe's I'll be back before dark."

With this he went back to the office, and his mother and Miss Harriott
went their separate ways to prepare for the comfort of the heiress.
To Ellen Harriott the arrival was a new excitement, a change in the
monotony of bush life; but to the old lady and Hugh it meant a great
deal more. It meant that they would be no longer master and mistress of
the big station on which they had lived so long, and which was now so
much under their control that it seemed almost like their own.

Everything depended on what the girl was like. They had never even
seen a photograph of her, and awaited her coming in a state of nervous
expectancy. All over the district they had been practically considered
owners of the big station; Hugh had taken on and dismissed employees at
his will, had controlled the buying and selling of thousands of sheep
and cattle, and now this strange girl was to come in with absolute power
over them. They would be servants and dependants on the station, which
had once belonged to them.

After Hugh had gone, the old lady sat back in her armchair and read over
again her letter from Mr. Grant; and, lest it should be thought that
that gentleman had only one side to his character, it is as well for the
reader to know what was in the letter. It ran as follows:--

Dear Mrs. Gordon,

I am writing to you about a most important matter. Colonel Selwyn is
dead, and my daughter has come out from England. I don't know anyone to
take charge of her except yourself. I am an old man now, and set in my
ways, and this girl is really all I have to live for. Looking back on my
life, I see where I have been a fool; and perhaps the good fortune that
has followed me has been more luck than anything else. Your husband was
a smarter man than I am, and he came to grief, though I will say that I
always warned him against that Western place.

Do you remember the old days when we had the two little homesteads, and
I used to ride down from the out-station of a Saturday and spend Sunday
with you and Andrew, and talk over the fortunes we were going to make?
If I had met a woman like you in those days I might have been a better
man. As it was, I made a fool of myself. But that's all past praying
for.

Now about my girl. If you will take her, and make her as good a woman as
yourself, or as near it as you can, you will earn my undying thanks.
As to money matters, when I die she will of course have a great deal of
money, so that it is well she should begin now to learn how to use it;
I have, therefore, given her full power to draw all money that may be
required. I may tell you that I intend to leave your boys enough to
start them in life, and they will have a first-class chance to get on.
I am sending Charlie out to the West, to take over a block which those
fools, Sutton and Co., got me to advance money on, and on which the man
cannot pay his interest. He will be away for some time.

Meanwhile, dear Mrs. Gordon, for the sake of old times, do what you can
for the girl. I expect she has been brought up with English ideas. I
can't get her to say much to me, which I daresay is my own fault. After
she has been with you for a bit, I will come up and stay for a time at
the station.

                      Yours very truly,
                                            W. G. GRANT.

Reading this letter called back the whole panorama of the past--the
old days when she and her husband were struggling in the rough, hard,
pioneering life, and the blacks were thick round the station; the birth
of her children, and the ups and downs of her husband's fortunes; then
the burial of her husband out on the sandhills, and her flight to this
haven of rest at Kuryong. Though she had lost interest in things for
herself, she felt keenly for her children, and was sick at heart when
she thought what this girl, who was to wield such power over them, might
turn out to be. But she hoped that Grant's daughter, whatever else she
might be, would at any rate be a genuine, straight-forward girl; and
filled with this hope, she sat down to answer him:

"Dear Mr. Grant," she wrote, "I have received your letter. Hugh has
gone down to meet your daughter, but the mails were delayed owing to the
river being up, and he may not get to the railway station as soon as she
arrives. I will do what I can for her, and I thank you for what you say
you will do for my boys. I will let you know the moment she arrives. I
wish you would come up and live on the station for a time. It would be
better for you than life in the club, without a friend to care for you.
If ever you feel inclined to stay here for a time, I hope you will at
once let me know. With thanks and best wishes,

                    Yours truly,
                                    ANNETTE GORDON."



CHAPTER VI. A COACH ACCIDENT.



The coach from Tarrong railway station to Emu Flat, and then on to
Donohoe's Hotel, ran twice a week. Pat Donohoe was mailman, contractor
and driver, and his admirers said that Pat could hit his five horses
in more places at once than any other man on the face of the earth. His
coach was horsed by the neighbouring squatters, through whose stations
the road ran; and any horse that developed homicidal tendencies, or
exhibited a disinclination to work, was at once handed over to the
mailman to be licked into shape. The result was that, as a rule, Pat
was driving teams composed of animals that would do anything but go
straight, but under his handling they were generally persuaded, after a
day or two, to settle down to their work.

On the day when Hugh and Mrs. Gordon read Mr. Grant's letter at Kuryong,
the train deposited at Tarrong a self-reliant young lady of about
twenty, accompanied by nearly a truck-full of luggage--solid leather
portmanteaux, canvas-covered bags, iron boxes, and so on--which produced
a great sensation among the rustics. She was handsome enough to be
called a beauty, and everything about her spoke of exuberant health and
vitality. Her figure was supple, and she had the clear pink and white
complexion which belongs to cold climates.

She seemed accustomed to being waited on, and watched without emotion
the guard and the solitary railway official--porter, station-master,
telegraph-operator and lantern-man, all rolled into one--haul her
hundredweights of luggage out of the train. Then she told the perspiring
station-master, etc., to please have the luggage sent to the hotel, and
marched over to that building in quite an assured way, carrying a small
handbag. Three commercial travellers, who had come up by the same train,
followed her off the platform, and the most gallant of the three winked
at his friends, and then stepped up and offered to carry her bag. The
young lady gave him a pleasant smile, and handed him the bag;
together they crossed the street, while the other commercials marched
disconsolately behind. At the door of the hotel she took the bag from
her cavalier, and there and then, in broad Australian daylight, rewarded
him with twopence--a disaster which caused him to apply to his firm
for transfer to some foreign country at once. She marched into the bar,
where Dan, the landlord's son, was sweeping, while Mrs. Connellan,
the landlady, was wiping glasses in the midst of a stale fragrance of
overnight beer and tobacco-smoke.

"I am going to Kuryong," said the young lady, "and I expected to meet
Mr. Gordon here. Is he here?"

Mrs. Connellan looked at her open-eyed. Such an apparition was not often
seen in Tarrong. Mr. and Mrs. Connellan had only just "taken the pub.",
and what with trying to keep Connellan sober and refusing drinks to
tramps, loafers, and black-fellows, Mrs. Connellan was pretty well worn
out. As for making the hotel pay, that idea had been given up long
ago. It was against Mrs. Connellan's instincts of hospitality to charge
anyone for a meal or a bed, and when any great rush of bar trade took
place it generally turned out to be "Connellan's shout," so the hotel
was not exactly a goldmine. In fact, Mrs. Connellan had decided that
the less business she did, the more money she would make; and she rather
preferred that people should not stop at her hotel. This girl looked as
if she would give trouble; might even expect clean beds and clean sheets
when there were none within the hotel, and might object to fleas, of
which there were plenty. So the landlady pulled herself together, and
decided to speed the parting guest as speedily as possible.

"Mr. Gordon couldn't git in," she said. "The cricks (creeks) is all up.
The coach is going down to Kiley's Crossing to-day. You had better go
with that."

"How soon does the coach start?"

"In an hour or two. As soon as Pat Donohoe, the mailman, has got a horse
shod. Come in and have a wash, and fix yourself up till breakfast is
ready Where's your bag?"

"My luggage is at the railway-station."

"I'll send Dan over for it. Dan, Dan, Dan!"

"'Ello," said Dan's voice, from the passage, where, with the wild-eyed
servant-girl, he had been taking stock of the new arrival.

"Go over to the station and git this lady's bag. Is there much to
carry?"

"There are only four portmanteaux and three bags, and two boxes and a
hat-box, and a roll of rugs; and please be careful of the hat-box."

"You'd better git the barrer, Dan."

"Better git the bloomin' bullock-dray," growled Dan, quite keen to see
this aggregation of luggage; and foreseeing something to talk about
for the next three months. "She must ha' come up to start a store, I
reckon," said Dan; and off he went to struggle with boxes for the next
half-hour or so.

Over Mary Grant's experiences at the Tarrong Hotel we will not linger.
The dirty water, peopled by wriggling animalculae, that she poured out
of the bedroom jug; the damp, cloudy, unhealthy-smelling towel on which
she dried her face; the broken window through which she could hear
herself being discussed by loafers in the yard; all these things are
matters of course in bush townships, for the Australian, having a
soul above details, does not shine at hotel-keeping. The breakfast was
enlivened by snatches of song from the big, good-natured bush-girl who
waited at table, and who "fancied" her voice somewhat, and marched into
the breakfast-room singing in an ear-splitting Soprano:

"It's a vilet from me"--

(spoken.) "What you'll have, there's chops, steaks, and bacon and
eggs"--"Chops, please."

(singer continues.) "Sainted mother's"--

(spoken.) "Tea or coffee"--"Tea, please."

(singer finishes.)--"grave."

While she ate, Miss Grant had an uneasy feeling that she was being
stared at; all the female staff and hangers-on of the place having
gathered round the door to peer in at her and to appraise to the
last farthing her hat, her tailor-made gown, and her solid English
walking-shoes, and to indulge in wild speculation as to who or what she
could be. A Kickapoo Indian in full war-paint, arriving suddenly in a
little English village, could not have created more excitement than she
did at Tarrong. After breakfast she walked out on the verandah that ran
round the little one-story weatherboard hotel, and looked down the
mile and a-half of road, with little galvanised-iron-roofed cottages at
intervals of a quarter of a mile or so, that constituted the township.
She watched Conroy, the policeman, resplendent in breeches and polished
boots, swagger out from the court-house yard, leading his horse to
water. The town was waking to its daily routine; Garry, the butcher,
took down the clumsy board that passed for a window-shutter, and
McDermott, the carter, passed the hotel, riding a huge rough-coated
draught-horse, bare-backed. Everyone gave him a "Mornin', Billy!" as
he passed, and he returned the greeting as he did every morning of his
life. A few children loitered past to the little school-house, staring
at her as though she were some animal.

She was in a hurry to get away--English people always are--but in the
bright lexicon of the bush there is no such word as hurry. Tracey, the
blacksmith, had not by any means finished shoeing the coach-horse yet.
So Mrs. Connellan made an attempt to find out who she was, and why she
was going to Kuryong.

"You'll have a nice trip in the coach," she said. "Lier (lawyer) Blake's
going down. He's a nice feller."

"Yes?"

"Father Kelly, too. He's good company."

"Yes?"

"Are you staying long at Kuryong?"

"Some time, I expect."

"Are you going to teach the children?"

"No, I'm going to live there. My father owns Kuryong. My father is Mr.
Grant."

Mrs. Connellan was simply staggered at this colossal treasure-trove,
this majestic piece of gossip that had fallen on her like rain from
Heaven. Mr. Grant's daughter! Going out to Kuryong! What a piece of
news! Hardly knowing what she did, she shuffled out of the room, and
interrupted the singing waitress who was wiping plates, and had just got
back to "It's a vilet" when Mrs. Connellan burst in on her.

"Maggie! Maggie! Do you know who that is? Grant's daughter! The one that
used to be in England. She must be going to Kuryong to live, with all
that luggage. What'll the Gordons say? The old lady won't like it, will
she? This'll be a bit of news, won't it?" And she went off to tell the
cook, while Maggie darted to the door to meet Dan, and tell him.

Dan told the station-master when he went back for the next load, and
when he had finished carting the luggage he got on a horse and went
round telling everybody in the little town. The station-master told the
ganger of the four navvies who went by on their trolly down the line to
work. At the end of their four-mile length they told the ration-carrier
of Eubindal station, who happened to call in at their camp for a drink
of tea. He hurried off to the head-station with the news, and on his
way told three teamsters, an inspector of selections, and a black boy
belonging to Mylong station, whom he happened to meet on the road. Each
of them told everybody that they met, pulling up and standing in their
stirrups to discuss the matter in all its bearings, in the leisurely
style of the bush; and wondering what she had come out for, whether the
Gordons would get the sack from Kuryong, whether she would marry Hugh
Gordon, whether she was engaged already, whether she was good-looking,
how much money she had, and how much old Grant would leave her. In
fact, before twenty-four hours were over, all the district knew of her
arrival; which possibly explains how news travels in Africa among the
Kaffirs, who are supposed to have a signalling system that no one
has yet fathomed; but the way it gets round in Australia is just as
wonderful as among the Kaffirs, in fact, for speed and thoroughness of
information we should be inclined to think that our coloured brethren
run a bad second.

At last, however, Tracey had finished shoeing the coach-horse, and Miss
Grant, with part of her luggage, took a seat on the coach behind five of
Donohoe's worst horses, next to a well-dressed, powerfully-built man of
about five-and-twenty. He looked and talked like a gentleman, and she
heard the coachman address him as "Mr. Blake." She and he shared the
box-seat with the driver, and just at the last moment the local priest
hurried up and climbed on the coach. In some unaccountable way he had
missed hearing who the young lady was, and for a time he could only look
at her back-hair and wonder.

It was not long before, in the free and easy Australian style, the
passengers began to talk to each other as the coach bumped along its
monotonous road--up one hill, through an avenue of dusty, tired-looking
gum-trees, down the other side through a similar avenue, up another hill
precisely the same as the last, and so on.

Blake was the first to make advances. "Not much to be seen on this sort
of journey, Miss Grant," he said.

The young lady looked at him with serious eyes. "No," she said, "we've
only seen two houses since we left the town. All the rest of the country
seems to be a wilderness."

Here the priest broke in. He was a broth of a boy from Maynooth, just
the man to handle the Doyle and Donohoe congregation.

"It's the big stations is the roon of the country," he said. "How is
the country to go ahead at all wid all the good land locked up? There's
Kuryong on ahead here would support two hundthred fam'lies, and what
does it employ now? Half a dozen shepherds, widout a rag to their back."

"I am going to Kuryong," said the girl; and the priest was silent.

By four in the afternoon they reached Kiley's River, running yellow and
froth-covered with melting snow. The coachman pulled his horses up on
the bank, and took a good, long look at the bearings. As they waited,
the Kuryong vehicle came down on the other side of the river.

"There's Mr. Gordon," said the coachman. "I don't think he'll try it. I
reckon it's a trifle deep for me. Do you want to get across particular,
Mr. Blake?"

"Yes, very particularly, Pat. I've told Martin Donohoe to meet me down
here with some witnesses in a cattle-stealing case."

"What about you, Father Kelly?"

"I'm go'n on to Tim Murphy's dyin' bed. Put 'em into the wather, they'll
take it aisy."

The driver turned to the third passenger. "It's a bit dangerous-like,
Miss. If you like to get out, it's up to you to say so. The coach might
wash over. There's a settler's place up the river a mile. You can go and
stay there till the river goes down, and Mr. Gordon 'll come and meet
you."

"Thanks, I'll go on," said the lady.

Preparations for crossing the river were soon made. Anything that would
spoil by getting wet, or that would float out of the coach, was lifted
up and packed on the roof. The passengers stood up on the seats.
Then Pat Donohoe put the whip on his leaders, and calling to his two
wheelers, old-seasoned veterans, he put them at it.

Snorting and trembling, the leaders picked their way into the yellow
water, the coach bumping over the rubble of the crossing-place. Hugh
Gordon, watching from the far-side of the river, saw the coach dip
and rock and plunge over the boulders. On it came till the water was
actually lapping into the body of the coach, roaring and swirling round
the horses' legs, up to their flanks and bellies, while the driver
called out to them and kept them straight with voice and reins. Every
spring he had a similar crossing, and he knew almost to an inch at what
height it was safe to go into the river. But this time, as ill-luck
would have it, the off-side leader was a young, vicious, thorough-bred
colt, who had been handed over to him to be cured of a propensity for
striking people with his fore-feet. As the horses worked their way into
the river, the colt, with the courage of his breeding, pulled manfully,
and breasted the current fearlessly. But suddenly a floating log drifted
down, and struck him on the front legs. In an instant he reared up, and
threw himself heavily sideways against his mate, bringing him to his
knees; then the two of them, floundering and scrambling, were borne away
with the current, dragging the coach after them. In a few yards they
were off the causeway; the coach, striking deep water, settled like a
boat, and turned over on its side, with the leaders swimming for their
lives. As for the wheelers, they were pulled down with the vehicle, and
were almost drowning in their harness.

Cool as a cucumber, Blake had turned to the girl. "Can you swim?" he
said. And she answered him as cooly, "Yes, a little."

"Well, put your hands on my shoulders, and leave everything to me." Just
then the coach settled over with one final surge, and they were in the
water.

Away they went with the roaring current, the girl clinging fast to his
shoulders, while he gave his whole attention to dodging the stumps and
snags that were showing their formidable teeth above water. For a while
she was able to hold on. Then, with a sickening sense of helplessness,
she felt herself torn from him, and whirled away like a leaf. The rank
smell of the muddy water was in her nostrils, the fear of death in her
heart. She struggled to keep afloat. Suddenly a blood-streaked face
appeared, and Blake, bleeding from a cut on the forehead, caught her
with a strong grip and drew her to him. A few more seconds of whirling
chaos, and she felt land under her feet, and Blake half-carrying her to
the bank. They had been swept on to one of the many sand-banks which ran
out into the stream, and were safe.

Half-hysterical, she sat down on a huge log, and waited while Blake ran
up-stream to give help to the coachman. While the two had been battling
in the water, the priest had stayed with the coachman to cut the horses
free, till at last all four got clear of the wreck, and swam ashore.
Then the men followed them, drifting down the current and fighting their
way to shore at about the same place.

Hugh Gordon drove the waggonette down to pick up the party when they
landed. The scene on the bank would have made a good picture. The
horses, dripping with water and shaking with cold, were snorting and
staring, while the coachman was trying to fix up some gear out of the
wreck, so that he could ride one of them. The priest, his broad Irish
face ornamented by a black clay pipe, was tramping up and down in his
wet clothes. Blake was helping Miss Grant to wring the water out of her
clothes, and she was somewhat incoherently trying to thank him. As Hugh
drove up, Blake looked up and caught his eye, and there flashed between
the two men an unmistakable look of hostility. Then Hugh jumped from the
waggonette, and walked up to Miss Grant, holding out his hand.

"I'm Hugh Gordon," he said. "We only got your father's letter to-day, or
I would have been down to meet you. I hope you are not hurt. Jump into
the trap, and I'll run down to the Donohoes', and get you some dry
things." Then, turning to Blake, he said somewhat stiffly, "Will you get
in, Mr. Blake?"

"Thanks," said Blake, equally stiffly, "I can ride one of the mail
horses. It's no distance. I wont trouble you."

But the girl turned and put her hand into Blake's, and spoke with the
air of a queen.

"I am very much obliged to you--more than I can tell you. You have saved
my life. If ever I can do anything to repay you I will."

"Oh, nonsense," said Blake, "that's nothing. It was only a matter of
dodging the stumps. You'd better get on now to Donohoe's Hotel, and get
Mrs. Donohoe to find some dry things for you."

The mere fact of his refusing a lift showed that there was some
hostility between himself and Hugh Gordon; but the priest, who had
climbed into the Kuryong vehicle as a matter of course, settled the
matter off-hand.

"Get in the trap," he said. "Get in the trap, man. What's the use for
two of ye to ride the mail horses, and get your death o' cold? Get in
the trap!"

"Of course I'll give you a lift," said Hugh. "Jump in, and let us get
away before you all get colds. What will you do about the coach and the
luggage, Pat?"

"I'll borry them two old draught horses from Martin Donohoe, and they'll
haul it out. Bedad, some o' that luggage 'll be washed down to the
Murrumbidgee before night; but the most of it is strapped on. Push
along, Mr. Gordon, and tell Martin I'm coming."

With some reluctance Blake got into the waggonette; before long they
were at Donohoe's Hotel, and Mary Grant was soon rigged out in an outfit
from Mrs. Donohoe's best clothes--a pale-green linsey bodice and purple
skirt--everything, including Mrs. Donohoe's boots, being about four
sizes too big. But she looked by no means an unattractive little figure,
with her brown eyes and healthy colour showing above the shapeless
garments.

She came into the little sitting-room laughing at the figure she cut,
sat down, and drank scalding tea, and ate Mrs. Donohoe's cakes, while
talking with Father Kelly and Blake over the great adventure.

When she was ready to start she got into the waggonette alongside Hugh,
and waved good-bye to the priest and Blake and Mrs. Donohoe, as
though they were old friends. She had had her first touch of colonial
experience.



CHAPTER VII. MR. BLAKE'S RELATIONS.



As soon as Hugh got his team swinging along at a steady ten miles an
hour on the mountain road, Mary Grant opened the conversation.

"Mr. Gordon," she said, "who is Mr. Blake?"

"He's the lawyer from Tarrong."

"Yes, I know. Mrs. Connellan called him the 'lier.' But I thought you
didn't seem to like him. Isn't he nice?"

"I suppose so. His father was a gentleman--the police magistrate up
here."

"Then, why don't you like him? Is there anything wrong about him?"

Hugh straightened his leaders and steadied the vehicle over a little
gully.

"There's nothing wrong about him," he said, "only--his mother was one
of the Donohoes--not a lady, you know--and he always goes with those
people; and, of course, that means he doesn't go much with us."

"Why not?"

"Well, you see, they're selectors, and they look on the station people
as--well, rather against them, you know--sort of enemies--and he has
never come to the station. But there is no reason why he shouldn't."

"He saved my life," said Mary Grant.

"Certainly he did," said Hugh. "I'll say that for Blake, he fears
nothing. One of the pluckiest men alive. And how did you feel? Were you
much frightened?"

"Yes, horribly. I have often wondered whether I should be brave, you
know, and now I don't think I am. Not the least bit. But Mr. Blake
seemed so strong--directly he caught hold of me I felt quite safe,
somehow. If you don't mind, I would like to ask him out to the station."

"Certainly, Miss Grant. My mother will only be too glad. She was sorry
that we did not get down to meet you. The letter was delayed."

Mary Grant laughed as she looked down at Mrs. Donohoe's clothes. "What a
sight I am!" she said.

"But, after all, it's Australia, isn't it? And I have had such
adventures already! You know you will have to show me all about the
station and the sheep and cattle. Will you do that?"

Hugh thought there was nothing in the world he would like better, but
contented himself with a formal offer to teach her the noble art of
squatting.

"You must begin at once and tell me things. What estate are we on now?"
she asked.

"This is your father's station. All you can see around belongs to him;
but after the next gate we come on some land held by selectors."

"Who are they?"

"Well," said Hugh, a little awkwardly, "they are relations of Mr.
Blake's. You'll see what an Australian farmer's homestead is like."

They drove through a rickety wire-and-sapling gate and across about a
mile of bush, and suddenly came on a little slab house nestling under
the side of a hill. At the back were the stockyards and the killing-pen,
where a contrivance for raising dead cattle--called a gallows--waved its
arms to the sky. In front of the house there was rather a nice little
garden. At the back were a lot of dilapidated sheds, leaning in all
directions. A mob of sheep was penned in a yard outside one of the
sheds; and in the garden an old woman, white-haired and wrinkled, with
a very short dress showing a lot of dirty stocking and slipshod
elastic-sided boot, was bending over a spade, digging potatoes.

The old woman straightened herself as they drove up.

"Good daah to you, Misther Gordon," she said. "Good daah to you, Miss."

"Good day, Mrs. Doyle," said Hugh. "Hard work that, this weather. How's
all the family?"

"Mag--Marg'rut, I mane--she's inside. That's her playin' the pianny. She
just got it up from Sydney."

"And where's Peter?"

"Peter's shearin' the sheep. He's in that shed there beyant. He's the
only shearer we have, so we tell him he's the ringer of the shed. He
works terr'ble hard, does Peter. He's not--" and the old woman dropped
her voice--"he's not all there in the head, is Peter, you know."

"And where's Mick?"

"Mick, bad scran to him! He's bought a jumpin' haarse (horse), and he's
gone to hell leppin! Down at one of the shows he is, some place. He has
too much sense to work, has Mick. Won't you come in and have a cup of
tay?"

"No, we must get on, thank you," and Hugh and Mary drove off, watched
by the old lady and the lanky-legged, shock-headed youth--Peter
himself--who came to the door of the big shed to stare at them.

As they drove off Hugh was silent, wondering what effect the sight of
the selectors might have had on Miss Grant.

She seemed to read his thoughts, and after a little while she spoke.

"So those are Mr. Blake's poor relations, are they? Well, that is not
his fault. My father was poor once, just as poor as those people are.
And Mr. Blake saved my life."

Hugh felt that she was half-consciously putting him in the wrong for
having more or less disapproved of Mr. Blake; so he kept silence.

As the team bore them along at a flying trot, they climbed higher
and higher up the range; at last, as they rounded a shoulder of the
hillside, the whole valley of Kiley's River lay beneath them, stretching
away to the far blue foothills. Beyond again was a great mountain, its
top streaked with snow. At their feet was a gorgeous scheme of colour,
greens and greys of the grass, bright tints of willow and poplar, and
the speckled forms of the cattle, so far down that they looked like
pigmy stock feeding in fairy paddocks. Across the valley there came now
and again, softened by distance, the song of the river; and up in
the river-bend, on a spur of the hills, were white walls rising from
clustered greenery.

"How beautiful!" said the girl, half standing up in the waggonette, "and
is that--"

"That's Kuryong, Miss Grant. Your home station."



CHAPTER VIII. AT THE HOMESTEAD.



Miss Grant's arrival at Kuryong homestead caused great excitement among
the inhabitants. Mrs. Gordon received her in a motherly way, trying hard
not to feel that a new mistress had come into the house; she was anxious
to see whether the girl exhibited any signs of her father's fiery temper
and imperious disposition. The two servant-girls at the homestead--great
herculean, good-natured bush-girls, daughters of a boundary-rider, whose
highest ideal of style and refinement was Kuryong drawing-room--breathed
hard and stared round-eyed, like wild fillies, at the unconscious
intruder. The station-hands--Joe, the wood-and-water boy, old Alfred the
groom, Bill the horse-team driver, and Harry Warden the married man, who
helped with sheep, mended fences, and did station-work in general--all
watched for a sight of her. They exchanged opinions about her over their
smoke at night by the huge open fireplace in the men's hut, where
they sat in a semicircle, toasting their shins at the blaze till their
trousers smoked again, each man with a pipe of black tobacco going full
swing from tea till bedtime. But the person who felt the most intense
excitement over the arrival of the heiress was Miss Harriott.

For all her nurse's experience, Ellen Harriott was not a woman of the
world. Except for the period of her hospital training, she had passed
all her life shut up among the mountains. Her dream-world was mostly
constructed out of high-class novels, and she united a shrewd wit and a
clever brain to a dense ignorance of the real world, that left her like
a ship without a rudder. She was, like most bush-reared girls, a great
visionary--many a castle-in-the-air had she built while taking her daily
walk by the river under the drooping willows. The visions, curiously
enough, always took the direction of magnificence. She pictured herself
as a leader of society, covered with diamonds, standing at the head of
a broad marble staircase and receiving Counts by the dozen (vide Ouida's
novels, read by stealth); or else as a rich man's wife who dispensed
hospitality regally, and was presented at Court, and set the fashion
in dress and jewels. At the back of all her dreams there was always
a man--a girl's picture is never complete without a man--a strong,
masterful man, whose will should crush down opposition, and whose
abilities should make his name--and incidentally her name--famous all
over the world. She herself, of course, was always the foremost figure,
the handsomest woman, the best-dressed, the most admired; for Ellen
Harriott, though only a girl, and a friendless governess at Kuryong,
was not inclined to put herself second to anyone. Having learnt from
her father's papers that he was of an old family, she considered herself
anybody's equal. Her brain held a crazy enough jumble of ideas, no
doubt; but given a strong imagination, no experience, and omnivorous
reading, a young girl's mind is exactly the place where fantastic ideas
will breed and multiply. She went about with Mrs. Gordon to the small
festivities of the district, and was welcomed everywhere, and deferred
to by the local settlers; she had yet to know what a snub meant; so
the world to her seemed a very easy sort of place to get along in. The
coming of the heiress was as light over a trackless ocean. Here was
someone who had seen, known, and done all the things which she herself
wished to see, know, and do; someone who had travelled on the Continent,
tobogganed in Switzerland, ridden in Rotten Row, voyaged in private
yachts, hunted in the shires; here was the world at last come to her
door--the world of which she had read so much and knew so little.

On the second morning after Miss Grant's arrival, that young lady turned
up at breakfast in a tailor-made suit with short skirt and heavy boots,
and announced her intention of "walking round the estate;" but as
Kuryong--though only a small station, as stations go--was, roughly, ten
miles square, this project had to be abandoned. Then she asked Hugh if
he would have the servants mustered. He told her that the two servants
were in the kitchen, but it turned out that she wanted to interview all
the station hands, and it had to be explained that the horse-driver was
six miles out on the run with his team, drawing in a load of bark to
roof the hay shed, and that Harry Warden was down at the drafting yards,
putting in a new trough to hold an arsenical solution, through which the
sheep had to tramp to cure their feet; and that everybody else was away
out on some business or other. But the young lady stuck to her point,
and had the groom and the wood-and-water boy paraded, they being the
only two available. The groom was an English importation, and earned
her approval by standing in a rigid and deferential attitude, and saying
"Yes, Miss," and "No, Miss," when spoken to; but the wood-and-water boy
stood with his arms akimbo and his mouth open, and when she asked him
how he liked being on the station he said, "Oh, it's not too bad,"
accompanying his remark with a sickly grin that nearly earned him
summary dismissal.

The young lady returned to the house in rather a sharp temper, and found
Hugh standing by a cart, which had just got back with her shipwrecked
luggage.

"Well, Miss Grant," he said, "the things are pretty right. The water
went down in an hour or so, and the luggage on the top only got a little
wetting--just a wave now and again. How have you been getting on?"

"Not at all well," she laughed. "I don't understand the people here.
I will get you to take me round before I do another thing. It is so
different from England. Are you sure my clothes are all right?"

"I can't be sure, of course, but you can unpack them as soon as you
like."

It was not long before the various boxes were opened. Ellen Harriott
was called in to assist, and the two girls had a real good afternoon,
looking at and talking over clothes and jewellery. The things had come
fairly well out of the coach disaster. When an English firm makes a
water-tight cover for a bag or box, it is water-tight; even the waters
of Kiley's River had swept over the canvas of Miss Grant's luggage in
vain. And when the sacred boxes were opened, what a treasure-trove was
unveiled!

The noblest study of mankind is man, but the most fascinating study of
womankind is another woman's wardrobe, and the Australian girl found
something to marvel at in the quality of the visitor's apparel.
Dainty shoes, tailor-made jackets, fashionable short riding-habits,
mannish-looking riding-boots, silk undergarments, beautiful jewellery,
all were taken out of their packages and duly admired. As each
successive treasure was produced, Ellen Harriott's eyes grew rounder
with astonishment; and when, out of a travelling bag, there appeared
a complete dressing-table outfit of silverware--silver-backed
hair-brushes, silver manicure set, silver handglass, and so forth--she
drew a long breath of wonder and admiration.

It was her first sight of the vanities of the world, the things that she
had only dreamed of. The outfit was not anything extraordinary from an
English point of view, but to the bush-bred girl it was a revelation.

"What beautiful things!" she said. "Now, when you go visiting to a
country-house in England, do you always take things like these, all
these riding-boots and things?"

"Oh, yes. You wouldn't ride without them."

"And do you take a maid to look after them?"

"Well, you must have a maid."

"And when you travel on the Continent, do you take a maid?"

"I always took one."

"What is Paris like? Isn't it just a dream? Did you go to the
opera?--Have you been on the Riviera?--Oh, do tell me about those
places--is it like you read about in books?--all beautiful, well-dressed
women and men with nothing to do--and did you go to Monte Carlo?"

This was all poured out in a rush of words; but in Mary's experience the
Continent was merely a place where the Continentals got the better of
the English, and she said so.

"Travelling is so mixed up with discomfort, that it loses half its
plumage," she said. "I'll tell you all I can about Paris some other
time. Now you tell me," she went on, folding carefully a silk blouse and
putting it in a drawer, "are there any neighbours here? Will anyone come
to call?"

"I'm afraid you'll find it very dull here," said Ellen. "There are no
neighbours at all except Poss and Binjie, two young fellows on the next
station. The people in town are just the publicans and the storekeeper,
and all the selectors around us are a very wild lot. Very few strangers
come that we can have in the house. They are nearly all cattle and sheep
buyers, and they are either too nervous to say a word, or they talk
horses. They always come just after mealtime, too, and we have to get
everything laid on the table again--sometimes we have ten meals a day in
this house. And the swagmen come all day long, and Mrs. Gordon or I have
to go and give them something to eat; there's plenty to do, always. So
you see, there are plenty of strangers, but no neighbours."

"What about Mr. Blake?" said Miss Grant. "Isn't he a neighbour?"

It would have needed a much quicker eye than Mary's to catch the
half-involuntary movement Ellen Harriott made when Blake's name was
mentioned. She flashed a look of enquiry at the heiress that seemed to
say, "What interest do you take in Mr. Blake? What is he to you?"

Then the long eyelashes shut down over the dark eyes again, and with an
air of indifference she said--

"Oh Mr. Blake? Of course I know him. I dance with him sometimes at the
show balls, and all that. I have been out for a ride with him, too. I
think he's nice, but Hugh and Mrs. Gordon won't ask him here because he
belongs to the selectors, and his mother was a Miss Donohoe. He takes
up their cases--and wins them, too. But he never comes here. He always
stays down at the hotel when he comes out this way."

"I intend to ask him here," said Miss Grant. "He saved my life."

Again the long eyelashes dropped so as to hide the sparkle of the eyes.

"Of course, if you like to ask him--"

"Do you think he'd come?"

"Yes, I'm sure he would. If you like to write and ask him, Peter could
ride down to Donohoe's to-day with a note."

From which it would seem that one, at any rate, of the Kuryong household
was not wholly indifferent to Mr. Blake.



CHAPTER IX. SOME VISITORS.



After breakfast next morning Mary decided to spend the day in the
company of the children, who were having holidays.

"Just as well for you to learn the house firsts" said Hugh, "before you
tackle the property. The youngsters know where everything is--within
four miles, anyhow."

Two little girls were impressed, and were told to take Miss Grant round
and show her the way about the place; and they set off together in the
bright morning sunlight, on a trip of exploration.

Now, no true Australian, young or old, ever takes any trouble or
undergoes any exertion or goes anywhere without an object in view. So
the children considered it the height of stupidity to walk simply for
the sake of walking, and kept asking where they were to walk to.

"What shall we see if we go along this road?" asked Miss Grant, pointing
with her dainty parasol along the wheel-track that meandered across the
open flat and lost itself in the timber.

"Nothing," said both children together.

"Then, what is there up that way?" she asked, waving her hand up towards
the foothills and the blue mountains. "There must be some pretty flowers
to look at up there?"

"No, there isn't," said the children.

"Well, let us go into the woods and see if we can't find something," she
said determinedly; and with her reluctant guides she set off, trudging
across the open forest through an interminable vista of gum trees.

After a while one of the girls said, "Hello, there's Poss!"

Miss Grant looked up, and saw through the trees a large and very
frightened bay horse, with a white face. On further inspection, a youth
of about eighteen or twenty was noticed on the horse's back, but he
seemed so much a part of the animal that one might easily overlook him
at a first glance. The horse had stopped at the sight of them, and was
visibly affected with terror.

They advanced slowly, and the animal began snorting and sidling away
among the timber, its rider meanwhile urging it forward. Then Emily
cried,

"Hello, Poss!" and the horse gave a snort, wheeled round, jumped a huge
fallen tree, and fled through the timber like a wild thing, with its
rider still apparently glued to its back. In half a second they were out
of sight.

"Who is it? and why does he go away?" asked Miss Grant.

"That's Poss," said Emily carelessly. "He and Binjie live over at
Dunderalligo. He often comes here. They and their father live over there
That's a colt he's breaking in. He's very nice. So is Binjie."

"Well, here he comes again," said Miss Grant, as the horseman
reappeared, riding slowly round them in ever-lessening circles; the colt
meanwhile eyeing them with every aspect of intense dislike and hatred,
and snorting between whiles like a locomotive.

Emily waited till the rider came fairly close, and said, "Poss, this is
Miss Grant."

The rider blushed, and lifted his hand to his hat. Fatal error! For the
hundredth-part of a second the horse seemed to cower under him as if
about to sink to the ground, then tucked his head in between his front
legs, and his tail in between the hind ones, forming himself into a kind
of circle, and began a series of gigantic bounds at the rate of about a
hundred to the minute; while in the air above him his rider described
a catherine wheel before he came to earth, landing on his head at Miss
Grant's feet. The horse was soon out of sight, making bounds that would
have cleared a house if one had been in the way. The rider got up,
pulled his hat from over his eyes, brushed some mud off his clothes, and
came up to shake hands as if nothing had happened; his motto apparently
being toujours la politesse.

"My word, can't he buck, Poss!" said the child. "He chucked you all
right, didn't he?"

"He got a mean advantage," said the young fellow, in a slow drawl.
"Makes me look a fair chump, doesn't it, getting chucked before a lady?
I'll take it out of him when I get on him again. How d' you do?"

"I'm very well, thank you," said Miss Grant. "I hope you are not hurt.
What a nasty beast! I wonder you aren't afraid to ride him."

"I ain't afraid of him, the cow! He can't sling me fair work, not the
best day ever he saw. He can't buck," he added, in tones of the deepest
contempt, "and he won't try when I've got a fair hold of him; only goes
at it underhanded. It's up to me to give him a hidin' next time I ride
him, I promise you."

"Where will he go to?" said Miss Grant, looking for the vanished steed.
"Won't he run away?"

"He can't get out of the paddick," drawled the youth. "Let's go up to
the house, and get one of the boys to run him in. He had a go-in this
morning with me--the bit came out of his mouth somehow, and he did get
to work proper. He went round and round the paddick at home, with me on
him, buckin' like a brumby. Binjie had to come out with another horse
and run me back into the yard. He's a pretty clever colt, too. The
timber is tremendous thick in that paddick, and he never hit me against
anything. Binjie reckons any other colt'd have killed me. Come on up to
the house, or he'll have my saddle smashed before I get him."

As they hurried home, Miss Grant had a good look at the stranger--a
pleasant, brown-skinned brown-handed youth, with the down of a black
moustache growing on his upper lip. His frank and open face was easy to
read. He looked with boyish admiration at Miss Grant, who immediately
stooped to conquer, and began an animated conversation about nothing in
particular--a conversation which was broken in upon by one of the girls.

"Where is Binjie?" she asked. "Isn't he coming over?"

"Not he," said the youth, with an air of great certainty. We're busy
over at our place, I tell you. The water is all gone in the nine-mile
paddick. Binj an me and Andy Kelly had to muster all the sheep and shift
'em across to the home paddick. Binj is musterin' away there now. I
just rode over to see Hugh about some of your sheep that's in the river
paddick."

"Won't Binjie be over, then?" persisted Emily.

"No, of course he won't. Don't I tell you he's got three days' work
musterin' there? I must be off at daylight to-morrow, home again, or the
old man'll know the reason why."

By this time they had reached the homestead, and Poss went off with the
children to the stables. Here he secured the "knockabout" horse, always
kept saddled and bridled about the station for generally-useful work,
and set off at a swinging canter up the paddock after his own steed.
Miss Grant went in and found Mrs. Gordon at her jam-making.

"Well, and have you found anything to amuse you?" asked the old lady in
her soft, even voice.

"Oh, I've had quite a lot of experiences; and I went for a walk and met
Poss. Who is Poss?"

The old lady laughed as she gave the jam a stir. "He's a young Hunter,"
she said. "Was Binjie there?"

"No; and he isn't coming either; he has work to do. I learnt that much.
But who is Poss? and who is Binjie? I'm greatly taken with Poss."

"He's a nice-looking young fellow, isn't he? His father has a small
station away among the hills, and Poss and Binjie help him on it. Those
are only nick-names, of course. Poss's name is Arthur, and Binjie's is
George, I think. They're nice young fellows, but very bushified; they
have lived here all their lives. Their father--well, he isn't very
steady; and they like to get over here when they can, and each tries to
come without the other knowing it. Binjie will be here before long, I
expect. They're great admirers of Miss Harriott, both of them, and they
come over on all sorts of ridiculous pretexts. Poor fellows, it must
be very dull for them over there. Fancy, week after week without seeing
anyone but their father, the station-hands, and the sheep! Now that
you're here, I expect they'll come more than ever."

As she spoke, the tramp of a horse's hoofs was heard in the yard and,
looking out, Miss Grant saw a duplicate of Poss dismounting from a
duplicate of Poss's horse. And Mrs. Gordon, looking over her shoulder,
said, "Here's Binjie. I thought he'd be here before long."

"Why do they call him Binjie?" asked Miss Grant, watching the new
arrival tying up his horse. "What does it mean?"

"It's a blackfellow's word, meaning stomach," said the old lady. "He
used to be very fat, and the name stuck to him. Good day, Binjie!"

"Good day, Mrs. Gordon. Hugh at home?"

"No, he won't be back till dark," said the old lady. "Won't you let your
horse go?"

"Well, I don't know if I can," replied the new arrival thoughtfully.
"I've left Poss at home clearing the sheep out of that big paddock at
the Crossing. There's five thousand sheep, and no water there; I'll have
to go back and help him. I only came over to tell Hugh there were some
of his weaners in the river paddock. I must go straight back, or Poss'll
make a row. We've a lot of work to do."

"I think Poss is here," said Mrs. Gordon.

"Poss is here, is he? Well, if that don't beat everything! And when we
started to muster that paddock I went to the top, and he went the other
way, and he reckoned to be at it all day. He's a nice fellow, he is! I
wonder what the old man'll say?"

"Oh, I expect he won't mind very much. This is Mr. George Hunter, Miss
Grant."

Binjie extended much the same greeting as Poss had done; and by
dinner-time that evening--or, as it is always called in the bush,
tea-time--they had all made each other's acquaintance, and both the
youths were worshipping at the new shrine.

At tea the talk flowed freely, and the two bush boys, shy at first,
began to expand as Mary Grant talked to them. Put a pretty girl and a
young and impressionable bushman together, and in the twinkling of an
eye you have a Sir Galahad ready to do anything for the service of his
lady.

Lightheartedly they consented to stay the night, in the hope of seeing
Hugh, to deliver their message about the weaners--they seemed to have
satisfactorily arranged the question of mustering. And when Miss Grant
said, "Won't your sheep be dying of thirst in that paddock, where there
is no water?" both brothers replied, "Oh, we'll be off at crack of dawn
in the morning and fix 'em up all right."

"They always say that," said the old lady, "and generally stay three
days. I expect they'll make it four, now that you're here."



CHAPTER X. A LAWYER IN THE BUSH.



Gavan Blake, attorney and solicitor, sat in his office at Tarrong,
opening his morning's letters. The office was in a small weatherboard
cottage in the "main street" of Tarrong (at any rate it might fairly
claim to be the main street, as it was the only street that had any
houses in it). The front room, where he sat, was fitted up with a table
and a set of pigeon-holes full of dusty papers, a leather couch, a small
fire-proof safe, and a book-case containing about equal proportions of
law-books and novels. A few maps of Tarrong township and neighbouring
stations hung on the walls. The wooden partition of the house only ran
up to the rafters, and over it could plainly be heard his housekeeper
scrubbing his bedroom. Across the little passage was his sitting-room,
furnished in the style of most bachelors' rooms, an important item of
furniture being a cupboard where whisky was always to be found. At the
back of the main cottage were servants' quarters and kitchen. Behind
the house, on a spare allotment, were two or three loose-boxes for
racehorses, a saddle-room and a groom's room. This was the whole
establishment. A woman came in every day to do up his rooms from the
hotel, where he had his meals. It was an inexpensive mode of life, but
one that conduced to the drinking of a good many whiskies-and-sodas
at the hotel with clients and casual callers, and to a good deal of
card-playing and late hours. The racehorses, too, like most racehorses,
ate up more money than they earned. So that Mr. Gavan Blake, though a
clever man, with a good practice, always seemed to find himself hard up.

It was so on this particular morning. Every letter that he opened seemed
to have some reference to money. One, from the local storekeeper, was
a pretentious account embracing all sorts of items--ammunition,
stationery, saddlery and station supplies (the latter being on account
of a small station that Blake had taken over for a bad debt, which
seemed likely to turn out an equally bad asset). Station supplies, even
for bad stations, run into a lot of money, and the store account
was approaching a hundred pounds. Then there was a letter from a
horse-trainer in Sydney to whom he had sent a racehorse, and though this
animal had done such brilliant gallops that the trainer had three times
telegraphed him that a race was a certainty--once he went so far as to
say that the horse could stop to throw a somersault and still win the
race--on each occasion it had always come in among the ruck; and every
time forty or fifty pounds of Blake's money had been lost in betting.
For Blake was a confirmed gambler, a heavy card-player and backer of
horses, and he had the contempt for other people's skill and opinions
which seems an inevitable ingredient in the character of brilliant men
of a certain type.

He was a man of splendid presence, with strong features and clear
blue-grey eyes--the type of face that is seen on the Bench and among the
Queen's Counsel in the English Courts. He was quick-witted, eloquent,
and logical of mind. Among the Doyles and Donohoes he was little short
of a king. Wild, uneducated, and suspicious, they believed in him
implicitly. They swore exactly the things that he told them to swear,
spoke or were silent according as he ordered, and trusted him with
secrets which they would not entrust to their own brothers. In that
district he wielded a power greater than the law.

On this particular day, after opening the trainer's letter asking for
cheque to pay training expenses (£50), and one from a client, saying "I
got your note, and will pay you when I get the wool money," he came upon
a letter that startled him. It was written in an old-fashioned, lady's
hand, angular and spidery. It ran--

Kuryong Station, Monday.

Dear Mr. Blake,

Miss Grant tells me that she owes her life to your bravery in saving her
from the coach accident. It would give me great pleasure if you would
come and stay here next Saturday, as I suppose you will be passing down
this way to the Court at Ballarook. With best wishes,

                       Yours truly,
                                    ANNETTE GORDON.

Blake put the letter down and walked about his office for a while in
thought. "Invited to the old station?" he mused. "I must go, of course,
Too good a chance to miss."

"Might have written herself!" he muttered, as he turned the letter over
to see if by chance Miss Grant had written a line anywhere; then, laying
it on one side, he took up carelessly a square business-like envelope,
addressed to him in a scrawly, illiterate fist. The letter that he took
out of it was a strange jewel to repose in so rude a casket. It also
was from Kuryong--from Ellen Harriott, who had taken the precaution of
addressing it in a feigned hand so that the postmaster and postmistress
at Kiley's Crossing, who handled all station letters, would not know
that she was corresponding with Blake. The letter was a great contrast
to Mrs. Gordon's. It was a girl's love letter, a gushing, impulsive
thing, full of vows and endearments; but the only part of it with which
we are concerned ran in this way:--

And so the heiress has arrived at last--and you saved her life! When
you swam with her, didn't you feel that you had the weight of a hundred
thousand sovereigns on your back? For oh, Gavan dear, she is nice, but
she is very stolid! And so you saved her--what luck for you! But you
always have luck, don't you? And don't you think that my love is the
best bit of luck you have ever had! Everyone says you are making a
fortune--hurry up and make it, for I am so anxious to get away out of
this place, and we can have our trip round the world together.

And now I am waiting for next Saturday. Fancy having you in the house
all day long and in the evening! We must slip away somewhere for just a
little while, so that we can have each other all to ourselves. Hugh is
still worrying about some sheep that he thinks are stolen. He is always
worrying about something or other, and now that she has come I suppose
he will be worse than ever. Now goodnight, dearest...

Blake read the letter, and threw it down carelessly on the table; then,
leaning back in his chair, cut up a pipeful of tobacco. He thought
over his position with Ellen Harriott. There was a secret understanding
between them, a sort of informal affair born of moonlight rides and
country dances. He had never actually asked her to marry him, but he had
kissed her as he had kissed scores of others, and the girl had at once
taken it for granted that they were to be engaged. It had not
seemed such a bad thing for him at the time. He was fond of her in a
ballroom-and-moonlight-ride kind of way, but there it stopped. Still, it
was not a bad match for him. The girl was a lady, with friends all over
the district. He was rather near the border-line of respectability,
and to marry her would have procured him a position that he had little
chance of reaching otherwise. He had let things drift on, and the girl,
with her fanciful ideas, was, of course, only too ready to fall in with
the suggestion of secrecy; it seemed such a precious secret to her.
So now he was engaged while still up to his neck in debt; but worse
remained behind. In his business he had sums of money for investments
and for settlements of cases passing through his hands; and from time
to time he had, when hard pushed, used his clients' money to pay his own
debts. Beginning with small sums, he had muddled along, meaning to make
all straight out of the first big case he had; and each time he had a
big case the money seemed to be all spent before he earned it. He was
not exactly bankrupt, for he was owed a great deal of money, enough
perhaps to put him straight if he could get it in; but the mountain folk
expected long credit and large reductions, and it was pretty certain
that he would never get even half of what he was owed. Therefore, he
went about his business with a sort of sword of Damocles hanging over
his head--and now the heiress had come, and he had saved her life!

His musings were cut short by a tap at the door; a long, gawky youth,
with a budding moustache, entered and slouched over to a chair. He was
young Isaacstein, son of the Tarrong storekeeper, a would-be sportsman,
would-be gambler, would-be lady-killer, would-be everything, who only
succeeded in making himself a cheap bar-room loafer; but he was quite
satisfied that he was the right thing.

"What's doing, Gav?" he said. "Who's the letter from?"

"Oh, business--business" said Gavan Blake.

"What's doing with you?"

"Doing! By Gad, I'm broke. The old man won't give me a copper. What
about Saturday? Are you going to the Court at Ballarook?"

"Yes. I've got a couple of cases there. And I've just got a letter from
Mrs. Gordon, asking me to stay the night at Kuryong."

"Ho! My oath! Stop at Kuryong, eh? That's cause you saved the heiress?
Well, go in and win. You won't know us when you marry the owner of
Kuryong. What's she like, Gav? Pretty girl, ain't she? Has she any
sense?"

"Much as you have," growled Blake.

"Oh, don't get nasty. Only I thought you were a bit shook on the
governess there--what about that darnce at the Show ball, eh? I say, you
couldn't lend us a tenner till Saturday?"

"No, I could not--" And this was the literal truth, for Gavan Blake
had run himself right out of money, and was living on credit--not an
enviable position at any time, and one doubly insupportable to a man
of his temperament. And again his thoughts went back to the girl he
had saved, and he pondered how different things might have been--might,
perhaps, still be.



CHAPTER XI. A WALK IN THE MOONLIGHT.



The Court at Ballarook was over, and Gavan Blake turned his horses'
heads in a direction he had never taken before--along the road to
Kuryong. As he drove along, his thoughts were anything but pleasant.
Behind him always stalked the grim spectre of detection and arrest; and,
even should a lucky windfall help to pay his debts, he could not save
the money either to buy a practice in Sydney or to maintain himself
while he was building one up. He thought of the pitiful smallness of his
chances at Tarrong, and then of Ellen Harriott. What should he do about
her? Well, sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof. He would play
for his own hand throughout. With which reflection he drove into the
Kuryong yard.

When he drove up, the family had gathered round the fire in the quaint,
old-fashioned, low-ceiled sitting-room; for the evenings were
still chilly. The children were gravely and quietly sharpening
terrific-looking knives on small stones; the old lady had some
needlework; while Mary and Ellen and Poss and Binjie talked about
horses, that being practically the only subject open to the two boys.

After a time Mrs. Gordon said, "Won't you sing something?" and Mary sat
down to the piano and sang to them. Such singing no one there had ever
heard before. Her deep contralto voice was powerful, flexible, and
obviously well-trained; besides which she had the great natural gift
of putting "feeling" into her singing. The children sat spellbound. The
station-hands and house-servants, who had been playing the concertina
and yarning on the wood-heap at the back of the kitchen, stole down to
the corner of the house to listen; in the stillness that wonderful voice
floated out into the night. So it chanced that Gavan Blake, arriving,
heard the singing, stole softly to the door, and looked in, listening
for a while, before anyone saw him.

The picture he saw was for ever photographed on his mind. He saw the
quiet comfort and luxury--for after Tarrong it was luxury to him--of the
station drawing-room; caught the scent of the flowers and the glorious
tones of that beautiful voice; and, as he watched the sweet face of
the singer, and listened to the words of the song, a sudden fierce
determination rose in his mind. He would devote all his energies to
winning Mary Grant for his wife; combative and self-confident as he was
by nature, he felt no dismay at the difficulties in his way. He had been
on a borderline long enough. Here was his chance to rise at a bound, and
he determined to succeed if success were humanly possible.

As the song came to an end, he walked into the drawing-room and shook
hands all round, Mary being particularly warm in her welcome.

"You are very late," said the old lady. "Was there much of a Court at
Ballarook?"

"Only the usual troubles. You know what those courts are. By the way,
Miss Grant, I came over the famous crossing-place where we got turned
out, and nearly had another swim for it. Martin Donohoe and his wife
haven't yet finished talking about how wet you looked."

"I'm sure I haven't finished thinking about it. I don't suppose you had
to swim with anyone on your back this time?"

"No such luck, I'm sorry to say."

"It was very lucky, indeed--that you were there," put in Miss Harriott.
"You are really quite the district hero, Mr. Blake. You will have to
save somebody next, Hugh."

"My word," said Poss, "I've seen Hugh swim in to fetch a sheep, let
alone a lady. You remember, Hugh, the time those old ewes got swept down
and one of 'em was caught on the head of a tree, and you went in--"

"Oh, never mind about that," said Hugh. "Did Pat Donohoe lose anything
out of the coach?"

"Only a side of bacon and a bottle of whisky. The whisky was for old Ned
the 'possum trapper, and they say that Ned walked fourteen miles down
the river in hopes that it might have come ashore. Ned reckons he has
never done any tracking, but if he could track anything it would be
whisky."

"What about going out after 'possums down the garden?" said Binjie.
"Now, you youngsters, where are your 'possum dogs? I think they ought to
get some in the garden."

Everyone seemed to welcome the idea. There had been a sort of stiffness
in the talk, and Gavan Blake felt that a walk in the moonlight might
give him a chance to make himself a little more at home with Mary Grant,
while Ellen Harriott had her own reasons for wanting to get him outside.
With laughter and haste they all put on hats and coats, for it had
turned bitterly cold; then with ear-piercing whistles the children
summoned their 'possuming dogs, who were dreaming happy hours away
in all sorts of odd nooks, in chimney-corners, under the table in
the kitchen, under the bunks in the men's hut, anywhere warm and
undisturbed. But at the whistles each dog dashed out from his nook,
tearing over everything in front of him in his haste not to be left
behind; and in three seconds half a dozen of them were whining and
jumping round the children, waiting for orders which way to go.

A majestic wave of the hand, and the order "Go and find him!" from the
eldest of the children, sent a hurricane of dogs yapping with excitement
off to the creek, and the hunters followed at a brisk run. Gavan Blake
and Mary Grant trotted along together in the bright moonlight. Just in
front were Ellen and Hugh, he laughing at the excitement of the dogs and
children, she looking over her shoulder and hoping to hear what Blake
was saying to the heiress. As a matter of fact, he was making the most
of his chances, and before long they were getting on capitally. Mary
found herself laying aside her slow English way, and laughing and joking
with the rest. There is something intoxicating in moonlight at any time;
and what with the moon and the climate, and the breeze whistling through
the gum-boughs, it was no wonder that even the staidly-reared English
girl felt a thrill of excitement, a stirring of the primeval instincts
that civilization and cultivation had not quite been able to choke.

"When you go back to England, Miss Grant," said Blake, "you will be able
to tell them that you have hunted 'possums, anyhow. That will sound like
the real bush, won't it?"

"Yes. And I can say I have been upset in a river and nearly drowned,
too. I'm becoming quite an experienced person. But what makes you think
I shall go back to England?"

"I thought you would be sure to go back."

"Oh, no. We have no friends in England at all. My mother's people are
nearly all living in India, and father wouldn't live in England. He
hates it."

"And do you like Australia?"

"I've only seen about a week of it. Do you know, it seems to me a more
serious life than in England. Look at Mrs. Gordon, what a lot of people
she has dependent on her. The station-hands and their wives, all come to
her. In England she might visit them and give them tracts and blankets,
but here what they want is advice and help in all sorts of things. You
know what I mean?"

"Yes. She is a fine old lady, isn't she? A real character. You will be
sure to like her."

"Yes. I think I shall be very happy here. Father is anxious I should
like this place, as he may come up here to live, and I'm sure I shall
like it. You see, there is work to do here. Miss Harriott and Mrs.
Gordon are at work from daylight till dark; what with the children, the
house, the store and visitors, there really isn't time to feel lonely.
Don't you think people are much happier when they have a lot to do? Do
you live--"

"I live in two rooms and get my meals at an hotel, Miss Grant. I have
never had any home life. I never knew what it meant till now."

"You must come out again when you are down this way. The--what's that?"

A dog barked furiously in the distance, and the others rushed to join
him from all directions, yelping and squealing with excitement. The
whole party set off at a run, amid cheers and laughter.

"What is it, what is it?" said Mary.

"One of the dogs has found a 'possum up a tree, and the children will
try to get him down. Come on! Mind where you go. The black shadows are
very hard to judge, and sometimes a log or a bush is hidden in them.
There goes Poss over a log," he added, in explanation of a terrific
crash and a shout of laughter from the others. "What is it, Emily?" he
asked as one of the children ran past.

"It's Thomas Carlyle has found one," she said, "and he never barks when
the 'possums are up big trees. He knows we can't get them then, so he
only looks in the saplings. The other dogs find them in the big trees,
but that's no good."

A sharp run brought the party to the foot of a small tree, surrounded by
a circle of dogs, all sitting on their tails and staring with whimpers
of anxiety up to the topmost branches, where a small furry animal
was perched. Mary Grant, under Blake's directions, got the animal
silhouetted against the moon, and saw clearly enough the sharp nose,
round ears, plump body, and prehensile tail of the unfortunate creature
who, as Poss said, looked as if he were wishing for a pair of wings.

Blake turned to Mary. "Do you want to stop and see it killed?" he said.
"It's rather a murderous business. The 'possum has no chance. One of
the boys will go up the tree and shake the branch till the 'possum falls
off, and when it falls the dogs will kill it."

"No, I don't think I would like to see it. I have seen so many things
killed since I came here. Let us walk back towards the house."

"I'll tell Gordon. Gordon," he said, "Miss Grant doesn't care to see the
massacre. We will walk back towards the house."

Ellen Harriott made a sudden step forward. "I will go back too," she
said.

"Why, Miss Harriott!" said Poss in astonishment, "You've seen lots of
'em killed. Native cats, too. Watch me knock him out of that with a
stick."

"No, no, I'll go back, too. I don't feel like killing anything to-night.
You come back too, Hugh."

So the four walked back together, and as Blake had monopolised Mary
on the way out, she now put herself beside Hugh, and the others walked
behind. Hugh and Mary soon began to talk, but the other pair walked
in silence for a while. Then Ellen Harriott said in a low voice, "Go a
little slower, Gavan. Let them get away." As they passed under the dense
shadows of a huge wild-apple tree, Ellen stopped and, turning to Blake,
held up her face to be kissed.

"Gavan, Gavan!" she said. "I was wondering when I would ever get a
chance to speak to you. To think of you being here in the same house
with me! It's too wonderful, isn't it?"

Gavan Blake kissed her. It was almost an effort to him at first, as his
mind and heart were on fire with the thoughts of the other girl.

"My darling, my darling!" she said. "All the while you were walking with
that girl, I knew you were dying to come and kiss me!" For such is the
faith of women.

They stopped for a little while, and then moved on after the others,
pausing now and again in the shadows. The girl poured out all her
artless tale--how she had been awake night after night, waiting for the
day he should come. Then she told him how the heiress had praised his
pluck and strength. "And oh! Gavan, I was so proud, I could have hugged
her!"

Thus she rattled on, while he, because it was his nature found it no
trouble to reply in kind, with a good imitation of sincerity. On such a
night, with such a girl clinging to him, it would have been a very poor
specimen of a man who could not have trumped up a sort of enthusiasm.
But in his heart he was cursing his luck that just as chance had thrown
the heiress in his way, and put her under an obligation to him, he was
held to his old bargain--the bargain that he had made for position's
sake, and which he would now have liked to break for the same reason.

It would be wearisome to record their talk, all the way up to the house.
The girl--impetuous, hot-blooded, excitable--poured out her love-talk
like a bird singing. Happiness complete was hers for the time; but
Gavan's heart was not in the wooing, and he listened and was silent.

Hugh and Mary, walking on ahead, knew nothing of the love scenes just
behind them. They talked of many things, of the moonlight and the river
and the scent of the flowers, but all the time Hugh felt diffident and
tongue-tied. He had not the glib tongue of Gavan Blake, and he felt
little at ease talking common-places. Mary Grant thought he must be
worried over something, and, with her usual directness, went to the
point.

"You are worrying over something," she said. "What is it?"

"Oh, no; nothing."

"It is not because I asked Mr. Blake here, is it?"

"Oh no! Goodness, no! Why, he is fifty times better than most of the
people that come here. It just happens we had never asked him before. I
think he is a very nice fellow."

"I'm glad of that. I have asked him to come out again. He seems to know
Miss Harriott quite well, though he doesn't know your mother."

"Yes, he met Miss Harriott at some of the race-balls, I think. She is a
queer girl, full of fancies."

"She seems a very quiet sort of girl to me," said Miss Grant. But if she
could have known what was going on about two hundred yards behind her,
she might have altered her opinion.



CHAPTER XII. MR. BLAKE BREAKS HIS ENGAGEMENT.



On Monday, Hugh, Poss, and Binjie had to go out to an outlying paddock
to draft a lot of station-sheep from a mob of travelling-sheep. As this
meant a long, hard job, the three breakfasted by candlelight--a good old
fashion, this, but rather forgotten lately--and Blake also turned out
for early breakfast, as he wanted to get his drive to Tarrong over while
the weather was cool. Of the women-folk, Ellen alone was up, boiling
eggs, and making tea on a spirit-lamp; laughing and chattering
meanwhile, and keeping them all amused; while outside in the frosty
dawn, the stable boy shivered as he tightened the girths round the ribs
of three very touchy horses. Poss and Binjie were each riding a station
horse to "take the flashness out of him," and Binjie's horse tried to
buck him off, but might as well have tried to shed his own skin; so he
bolted instead, and disappeared with a snort and a rattle of hoofs over
the hill. The others followed, with their horses very much inclined to
go through the same performance.

After they had gone, Ellen Harriott and Blake were left alone in the
breakfast-room. Outside, the heedless horse-boy was harnessing Blake's
ponies; but inside no one but themselves was awake, and as he finished
his breakfast, Ellen stepped up to the table and blew out the two
candles, leaving the room in semi-darkness. She caught his hand, and he
drew her to him. It was what she had been waiting for all night. She had
pictured a parting, which was to be such sweet sorrow. Blake had also
pictured it to himself, but in quite a different way.

He was determined to make an end of his engagement (or entanglement,
whichever it could be called), and yet when the chance came he almost
put it off; but the thought of what exposure and disgrace would mean, if
his affairs were investigated, drove him on.

He stroked her hair for a while in silence, and then, with a laugh,
said, "We'll have to give up this sort of thing, you know; it'll be
getting you talked about, and that'll never do."

She hardly knew what he meant. Having lived so long in a fool's
paradise, she could not realise that her world was coming down about her
ears.

"We'll have to be proper in future," he said. "I've had the most
fiendish run of bad luck lately, and it's just as well there never was
any engagement between us. It would have had to come to nothing."

She drew back, and looked at him with frightened eyes. He had great
power over her--this big, masterful man, whom she had looked upon as her
lover; and she could not believe that a little trouble about money could
really make any difference to him. She believed him able to overcome any
such difficulty as that of earning a living for her and himself.

"But, Gavan," she said, "what have I done?"

"Done, little girl? you've done nothing. It's all my fault. I've lost
heart over things lately, and it will only harm you if we keep up this
pretence of being engaged. Nothing can come of it."

"Why not? Why can't we wait?"

"Wait! To be stuck in Tarrong all my life among these people, and up
to my neck in debt! No, little woman, as soon as ever I can get things
squared up, I'm off out of this, and I dare say we'll never see each
other again. I've made a mess of things here, and I'm off somewhere
else."

It seemed almost incredible to her that a man could so throw up the
fight; and then a thought flashed into her mind.

"It is not because Miss Grant has come that you do this?"

He laughed with a well-simulated indifference.

"Miss Grant!" he said, "I have only seen her twice--that day on the
coach and last night."

She seemed to study the question, still holding his hands, and looking
up into his face. The light in the room was stronger, and there were
sounds as if some of the household were stirring.

"So we must say 'Good-bye!'" she said, "just because you are short of
money. Gavan, I would have thought more of you, had you told me you were
tired of me and were going in for the other girl. I think I could have
respected you at any rate; but to sneak out on the story of not being
able to afford it--"

His face darkened, and he began to speak, but she stopped him, and went
on in a passionless sort of voice. "Some one is coming," she said, "and
we must say good-bye; and since you wish it, it is Good-bye.' But
I'm not a child, to change my fancies in a day, so I won't promise to
forget. And I think you have treated me very badly, so neither will
I promise to forgive. I had set my heart on you, Gavan. You seemed to
me--but there, it's no use talking. I suppose I should be meek and mild,
and--"

"But, Ellen--"

"No, don't interrupt me. It is the last talk together we shall have. I
suppose I can go governessing, or nursing, to the end of the chapter. It
seems a dreary outlook, doesn't it? Now go, and remember that I do not
forgive easily. I had built such castles, Gavan, and now--" She slipped
quietly from the room, and was gone.

Gavan Blake drove home, feeling a trifle uneasy. He had expected some
sort of outburst, but the curious way in which she had taken it rather
non-plussed him.

"She won't stick a knife in herself, I suppose," he mused. "Just like
her to do something unusual. Anyway, she has too much pride to talk
about it--and the affair had to come to an end sooner or later."

And feeling that if not "on with the new love," he was, at any rate,
satisfactorily "off with the old," Blake drove his spanking ponies off
to Tarrong, while Ellen Harriott went about her household work with
a face as inscrutable and calm as though no stone had ruffled the
mill-pond of her existence.



CHAPTER XIII. THE RIVALS.



For the next couple of weeks, affairs at Kuryong flowed on in usual
station style. A saddle-horse was brought in for Miss Grant, and out of
her numerous boxes that young lady produced a Bond Street outfit that
fairly silenced criticism. She rode well too, having been taught in
England, and she, Poss, Binjie and Hugh had some great scampers after
kangaroos, half-wild horses, or anything else that would get up and run
in front of them. She was always so fresh, cheerful, and ready for any
excitement that the two boys became infatuated in four days, and had to
be hunted home on the fifth, or they would have both proposed. Some days
she spent at the homestead housekeeping, cooking, and giving out rations
to swagmen--the wild, half-crazed travellers who came in at sundown for
the dole of flour, tea and sugar, which was theirs by bush custom. Some
days she spent with the children, and with them learnt a lot of bush
life. It being holiday-time, they practically ran wild all over the
place, spending whole days in long tramps to remote parts in pursuit
of game. They had no "play," as that term is known to English children.
They didn't play at being hunters. They were hunters in real earnest,
and their habits and customs had come to resemble very closely those of
savage tribes that live by the chase.

With them Mary had numberless new experiences. She got accustomed to
seeing the boys climb big trees by cutting steps in the bark with a
tomahawk, going out on the most giddy heights after birds' nests, or
dragging the opossum from his sleeping-place in a hollow limb. She
learned to hold a frenzied fox-terrier at the mouth of a hollow log,
ready to pounce on the kangaroo-rat which had taken refuge there, and
which flashed out as if shot from a catapult on being poked from the
other end with a long stick. She learned to mark the hiding-place of the
young wild-ducks that scuttled and dived, and hid themselves with such
super-natural cunning in the reedy pools. She saw the native companions,
those great, solemn, grey birds, go through their fantastic and
intricate dances, forming squares, pirouetting, advancing, and
retreating with the solemnity of professional dancing-masters. She
lay on the river-bank with the children, gun in hand, breathless with
excitement, waiting for the rising of the duck-billed platypus--that
quaint combination of fish, flesh and fowl--as he dived in the quiet
waters, a train of small bubbles marking his track. She fished in deep
pools for the great, sleepy, hundred-pound cod-fish that sucked down
bait and hook, holus-bolus, and then were hauled in with hardly any
resistance, and lived for days contentedly, tethered to the bank by a
line through their gills.

In these amusements time passed pleasantly enough, and by the time
school-work was resumed Mary Grant had become one of the family.

Of Hugh she at first saw little. His work took him out on the run all
day long, looking after sheep in the paddocks, or perhaps toiling
day after day in the great, dusty drafting-yards. In the cool of the
afternoon the two girls would often canter over the four miles or so of
timbered country to the yards, and wait till Hugh had finished his day's
work. As a rule, Poss or Binjie, perhaps both, were in attendance
to escort Miss Harriott, with the result that Hugh and Mary found
themselves paired off to ride home together. Before long he found
himself looking forward to these rides with more anxiety than he cared
to acknowledge, and in a very short time he was head over ears in love
with her.

Any man, being much alone with any woman in a country house, will fall
in love with her; but a man such as Hugh Gordon, ardent, imaginative,
and very young, meeting every day a woman as beautiful as Mary Grant,
was bound to fall a victim. He soon became her absolute worshipper. All
day long, in the lonely rides through the bush, in the hot and dusty
hours at the sheep-yards, through the pleasant, lazy canter home in the
cool of the evening, his fancies were full of her--her beauty and her
charm. It was happiness enough for him to be near her, to feel the soft
touch of her hand, to catch the faint scent that seemed to linger in
her hair. After the day's work they would stroll together about the
wonderful old garden, and watch the sunlight die away on the western
hills, and the long strings of wild fowl hurrying down the river to
their nightly haunts. Sometimes he would manage to get home for lunch,
and afterwards, on the pretext of showing her the run, would saddle
a horse for her, and off they would go for a long ride through the
mountains. Or there were sheep to inspect, or fences to look at--an
excuse for an excursion was never lacking.

For the present he made no sign; he was quite contented to act as
confidant and adviser, and many a long talk they had together over the
various troubles that beset the manager of a station.

It would hardly be supposed that a girl could give much advice on such
matters, and at first her total ignorance of the various difficulties
amused him; but when she came to understand them better, her cool
common-sense compelled his admiration. His temperament was nervous and
excitable, and he let things fret him. She took everything in a cheery
spirit, and laughed him out of his worries. One would not expect to
find many troubles in rearing sheep and selling their wool; but the
management of any big station is a heavy task, and Kuryong would have
driven Job mad.

The sheep themselves, to begin with, seem always in league against their
owners. Merinos, though apparently estimable animals, are in reality
dangerous monomaniacs, whose sole desire is to ruin the man that owns
them. Their object is to die, and to do so with as much trouble to their
owners as they possibly can. They die in the droughts when the grass,
roasted to a dull white by the sun, comes out by the roots and blows
about the bare paddocks; they die in the wet, when the long grass in
the sodden gullies breeds "fluke" and "bottle" and all sorts of hideous
complaints. They get burnt in bush fires from sheer malice, refusing to
run in any given direction, but charging round and round in a ring
till they are calcined. They get drowned by refusing to leave flooded
country, though hunted with frenzied earnestness.

It was not the sheep so much as the neighbours whose depredations were
drawing lines on Hugh Gordon's face. "I wouldn't care," he confided to
Miss Grant, "if they only took a beast or two. But the sheep are going
by hundreds. We mustered five hundred short in one paddock this month.
And there isn't a Doyle or a Donohoe cow but has three calves at least,
and two of each three belong to us."

He dared not prosecute them. No local jury would convict in face of the
hostility that would be aroused. They had made "alibis" a special study;
the very judges were staggered by the calmness and plausibility with
which they got themselves out of difficulties.

A big station with a lot of hostile neighbours is like a whale with
the killers round it; it is open to attack on all sides, and cannot
retaliate. A match dropped carelessly in a patch of grass sets miles of
country in a blaze. Hugh, as he missed the stock, and saw fences cut
and grass burnt, could only grind his teeth and hope that a lucky chance
would put some of the enemy in his power. To Mary it seemed incredible
that in the nineteenth century people should be able to steal sheep
without suffering for it; and Hugh soon saw that she was a true daughter
of William Grant, as far as fighting was concerned. She listened with
set teeth to all stories of depredation and trespass, and they talked
over many a plan together. But though they became quite friendly their
intimacy seemed to make no progress. To her he was rather the employee
than the friend. In fact he did not get on half so far as did Gavan
Blake, who came up to Kuryong occasionally, and made himself so
agreeable that already his name was being coupled with that of the
heiress. Ellen Harriott always spoke to Blake when he came to the
station, and gave no sign of jealousy at his attentions to Mary Grant;
but she was waiting and watching, as one who has been a nurse learns
to do. And things were in this state when an unexpected event put an
altogether different complexion on affairs.



CHAPTER XIV. RED MICK AND HIS SHEEP DOGS.



When Hugh came home one day with his face, as usual, full of trouble,
Mary began to laugh him out of it.

"Well, Mr. Hugh, which is it to-day--the Doyles or the Donohoes? Have
they been stealing sheep or breaking gates?"

"Oh, it's all very well for you to laugh," he said; "you don't
understand. Some of that gang up the river went into the stud paddock
yesterday to cut down a tree for a bee's nest, and left the tree
burning; might have set the whole run--forty thousand acres of dry
grass--in a blaze. Then they drove their dray against the gate, knocking
it sideways, and a lot of the stud sheep got out into the other paddock,
and I'll have to be off at day-break to-morrow to get 'em back."

"Why don't you summon the wretches, and have them put in gaol, or go and
break their gates, and cut down their trees?" she said, with a cheerful
ignorance of details.

"I daren't--simply daren't. If I summoned one of them, I'd never have
dry grass but there'd be fires. I'd never have fat sheep but there'd be
dogs among 'em. They ride all over the run; but if a bird belonging
to the station flew over one of their selections they'd summon me for
trespass. There's no end to the injury a spiteful neighbour can do you
in this sort of country. And your father would blame me."

"Why?"

"Oh, it's part of the management of a station to get on with your
neighbours. Never quarrel if you can help it. But since shearing
troubles started we have no friends at all."

"Well," she said, "I should like to have a look at those desperate
neighbours I hear so much about. Red Mick Donohoe rode past the other
day on such a beautiful horse, and he opened the gate for us, and asked
if he might come down to hear me sing. Think of that, now."

"Very well," he said. "We'll go for a ride up that way to-morrow
afternoon. We might find Red Mick killing some of our sheep, and you
can go into the box as the lady detective. If you'll only sing him into
gaol, the station will pay you at the same rate as Patti gets!"

Next afternoon they cantered away up the river towards the mountains.
Poss and Binjie had long ago laid their dearest possessions at her feet,
begging her to ride them--horses so precious that it had hitherto been
deemed sacrilege to put a side-saddle on them. She had the divine gift
of "hands," and all manner of excitable, pulling horses went quietly and
smoothly under her management. Her English training had taught her to
ride over jumps, and she was very anxious to have a try at post-and-rail
fences.

After much pressing, Hugh had this day allowed her to try Obadiah,
Binjie's celebrated show jumper, an animal that could be trusted to jump
anything he could see over; so during their ride to the habitat of the
Donohoes they left the regular track, and followed one of the fences for
a mile or two, looking for a suitable place to try the horse. No good
place offered itself, as the timber was thick, and the country so rugged
that she would have had to ride at a stiff post-and-rail either up or
down a steep slope. Loitering along, far off the track, they crossed a
little ridge where stringybark trees, with an undergrowth of bushes and
saplings, formed a regular thicket.

Suddenly Hugh gave a whistle of surprise, and jumped from his horse.

"Hold this horse a minute, please," he said. "There has been a mob of
sheep driven here."

"Whereabouts?" said she, staring round her.

"All about here," he said, pointing to the ground. "Don't you see the
tracks? Hundreds of 'em. But I can't see what they were up to. There's
no place they could get 'em out without cutting the wires, and the
fence is sound enough. Good heavens, I see it now! Well, that's smart he
continued, leaning against a post and giving it a shake.

"What have they done I don't understand. How have they got the sheep
through without breaking the fence?"

"They've dug up four or five posts," he said, kicking over some red
earth with his foot, "laid that piece of fence flat on the ground,
driven the sheep over it, and then put the fence up again. No wonder
we are missing sheep! Two or three hundred have gone out here! Here's a
chance at last--the chance I've been waiting for all these years! What a
lucky thing we came here! And now, Miss Grant," he said, remounting, "we
won't have any jumping to-day. I'll have to follow these tracks till I
come on the sheep somewhere, if it's in Red Mick Donohoe's own yard. Do
you think you can find your way back to the homestead?"

"What for?"

"To tell them to send Poss and Binjie after me. I don't expect they've
gone home yet. I want a witness with me when I catch Red Mick with these
sheep, or else fifty of his clan will swear that he has been in bed for
six weeks, or something like that."

"Then," she said firmly, gathering up the reins in her daintily gloved
hands as she spoke, "I'm going with you. I'm just as good a witness as
Poss or Binjie."

"No, no, no," said Hugh, "that won't do. There may be a row. It's a
rough sort of place, and a rough lot of people. Now look here, Miss
Grant, oblige me and go home. The horse will take you straight back."

Her eyes glowed with excitement. "Please let me come," she said. "You
don't know how much I want to come. I'll do whatever you tell me!"

He argued and expostulated and entreated. He knew well enough there
was a good deal of risk in the matter, and he tried hard to make her go
back. But she was determined to go with him, and the argument ended in
the only possible manner--she went. She promised to do exactly what she
was told, to keep out of the way if so ordered, and, above all, not to
speak except when spoken to.

So off they went through the scrub on the track of the sheep, plain as
print to the young bushman, though invisible to his companion. They rode
at a walk for the most part, for fear of being heard. Now and again,
when they could see for a good distance ahead, they let the horses
canter; Hugh riding in front, she, like a damosel of old, in assumed
submission a few lengths behind, and thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

Of course she could not keep silence long, and after a while she drew
alongside, and whispered, "Do you think we shall catch them?"

"I hope so. But it's a very curious thing; there has been a dog after
these sheep--see, there's his track," pointing to foot-prints plainly
marked in wet sand--"but no track of man or horse to be seen. By Jove,
look there!"

They had come to the crest of a small hill, and were looking down a
long valley. To right and left of them towered the blue, rugged peaks;
straight in front the valley opened out, and they got a fairly clear
view for a mile or more. About half a mile ahead, travelling in a
compact mass down the valley, was a mob of some two or three hundred
sheep. At their heels trotted two sheep-dogs of the small wiry breed
common in the mountains. Hugh looked about to see who was in charge
of them; but no one was visible. The dogs were taking the sheep along
without word or sign from anyone, hurrying them at a good sharp pace,
each keeping on his own flank of the mob, or occasionally dropping
behind to hurry up the laggards.

It was a marvellous exhibition of sagacity. They came to a place where
it was necessary to turn sharply to the right to cross a small creek;
one of the dogs shot forward, and sent the leading sheep scurrying down
the bank, while the other fell back a few yards and prevented the mob
turning back. After a moment's hesitation the sheep plunged into the
shallow water, splashed across the creek, and set off again in their
compact march down the valley, urged and directed by their silent
custodians--who paused to lap a few mouthfuls of water, and then hurried
on with an air of importance.

"Look at that," said Hugh, in open admiration. "Isn't that wonderful?
Those are Red Mick's dogs. I knew they were good dogs, but this is
simply marvellous, isn't it? What are we to do now? If I take the sheep
from them they'll run home, and I can't prosecute Red Mick because they
picked up a mob of sheep."

"Oh, but he must be near them somewhere," said Mary, to whom the whole
affair appeared uncanny. "They wouldn't drive sheep by themselves,
surely?"

"Oh, of course, he started them. Once he got the sheep out of the
paddock, he started the dogs for home, and rode off. You see his plan.
If anyone finds the dogs with them, of course he had nothing to do with
it. Sheep-dogs will often go into a paddock, and bring a mob of sheep
up to the yard on their own account. It's an instinct with them. Look
at those two now, forcing the sheep over that bad crossing. Isn't it
wonderful?"

"Well," she said, triumphantly, "what about the fence? They couldn't dig
up that."

"Oh, Red Mick did; but who's to prove it? He'll swear he never was near
the fence, and that his dogs picked up these sheep and brought them home
on their own account. The jury would find that I dug up my own fence,
and they'd acquit Red Mick, and give him a testimonial. No, I'll tell
you what we'll do. We'll cut across the range, and sneak up as near Red
Mick's as we can. Then we'll hide and watch his house; and when the
dogs come up, if he takes the sheep from them, or starts to drive them
anywhere, we've got him. Once he takes charge of those sheep he's done.
Of course there may be a bit of trouble when we spring up and accuse
him. Are you afraid?"

"No," she replied. "I'm not afraid--with you. I like it. Come on."

No sooner said than done. They set their horses in motion, and went at a
steady trot for a mile or so, crossing the valley at right angles, over
a sharp rise and down a small hill, till Hugh again pulled up.

"There's Red Mick's homestead," he said, pointing to a speck far away
down a gully. "The sheep will come up the creek, because it is the
smoothest track. Now, we must tie our horses up here, sneak down the
creek bed, and get as near the house as we can."

They tied their horses up in a clump of trees, and made the rest of the
journey on foot, hurrying silently for half a mile down the bed of the
creek, hidden by its steep banks. Here and there, to escape observation,
they had to walk in the water, and Hugh, looking round, saw his
companion wading after him, with face firm-set and eyes ablaze. It was a
man-hunt, the most exciting of all hunting.

He laughed silently at the girl's flushed and excited face. As he
reached out to help her over some fallen timber, she took his hand with
a firm grip that set his nerves tingling. They pushed on until almost
abreast of Red Mick's dwelling; then Hugh, standing on a projecting
stump, peered over the high bank to see how the land lay, while his
companion sat down and watched his movements with wide open eyes.

He saw the cottage drowsing in the bright afternoon sunlight. It was a
picturesque little building, made of heavy red-gum slabs, with a bark
roof; the windows were merely square holes cut in the slabs, fitted with
heavy wooden covers that now hung open, giving a view of the interior.
In one room could be seen a rough dresser covered with plates and
dishes, and a saddle hung from a tie-beam; in the other there was a
rough plank bed with blue blankets. The door was shut, and there was no
sign of life about the place. There was no garden in front of the house,
merely the bare earth and a dust-heap where ashes were thrown out, on
which a few hens were enjoying the afternoon sun and fluffing the dust
over themselves.

At the back was a fair-sized garden, with fine, healthy-looking trees;
and about a quarter of a mile away was the straggling collection of
bark-roofed sheds and corkscrew-looking fences that served Red Mick as
shearing-sheds for his sheep, and drafting and branding-yards for his
cattle and horses. After a hurried survey Hugh dropped lightly down
into shelter, and whispered, "There's no one moving at all. There's a
newly-fallen tree about a hundred yards down the creek; we'll get among
its branches and watch."

They crept along the creek until opposite the fallen tree; there Hugh
scaled the bank and pulled Mary up after him. Silent as shadows, they
stole through a little patch of young timber, and ensconced themselves
among the fragrant branches. The grass was long where the tree had
fallen, and this, with the green boughs, made a splendid couch and
hiding-place.

They settled close together and peered out like squirrels, first up at
the house, then down the valley for the arrival of the sheep. Both were
shaking with excitement--she at the unwonted sensation of attacking
a criminal in his lair, and he with anxiety lest some unlucky chance
should bring his plan to nought, and make him a failure in the eyes of
the woman he loved.

"There is no one about," he whispered. "I expect Red Mick has told the
family to keep indoors, so that they can swear they saw nothing. You
aren't afraid, are you?"

She pressed his arm in answer, gave a low laugh, and pointed down the
flat. There, far away among the trees, they saw the white phalanx of
the approaching sheep, and the little lean dogs hunting them straight
towards the house.

Still no sign from Red Mick. No one stirred about the place; the fowls
still fluttered in the dust, and a dissipated looking pet cockatoo,
perched on the wood-heap repeated several times in a drowsy tone,
"Good-bye, Cockie! Good-bye, Cockie!" Then the door opened, and Red Mick
stepped out.

He was the acknowledged leader of the Doyle-Donohoe faction in all
matters of cunning, and in all raids on other folks' stock; and not only
did he plan the raids, but took a leading part in executing them. He was
the finest and most fearless bush rider in the district, and could track
like a black fellow. If he left a strange camp at sundown, and rode
about the bush all night, he could at any time go back straight across
country to his starting point, or to any place he had visited during his
wanderings. Such bushmanship is a gift, and not to be learnt. If once
he saw a horse, he would know it again for the rest of his life--fat or
lean, sick or well. Which is also a gift.

In appearance he was a tall, lanky, large-handed, slab-sided cornstalk,
about thirty-five years of age, with a huge red beard that nearly
covered his face, and a brick-dust complexion variegated with large
freckles. His legs were long and straight; he wore tight-fitting white
moleskin trousers, a coloured Crimean shirt, and a battered felt hat.

Miss Grant felt almost sorry for this big, simple-looking bushman, who
came strolling past their hiding-place, his eyes fixed on the sheep,
and his hands mechanically occupied in cutting up tobacco. Behind him
gambolled a half-grown collie pup, evidently a relative of the dogs in
charge of the sheep.

They brought the sheep up to a little corner of land formed by a
sharp bend of the creek, then stopped, squatting on their haunches as
sentinels, and the sheep, fatigued with their long, fast run, settled in
under the trees to get out of the sun. Behind the sheep, Hugh caught a
glimpse of two horsemen coming slowly up the road towards the house.

"Look! Here's Mick's nephews," he whispered, "come to take the sheep
away. By George, we'll bag the whole lot! Sit quiet: don't make a
sound."

The crisis approached. Miss Grant, with strained attention, saw Red Mick
strike a match, and light his pipe. Strolling on towards the sheep, he
passed about thirty yards from where they lay hidden. Already she was
thinking how exciting it would be when they rose out of the bushes, and
faced him in quite the best "We are Hawkshaw, the detective" style.

But they had to reckon with one thing they had overlooked, and that was
the collie pup. That budding genius, blundering along after his master,
suddenly stopped, turned towards the fallen tree, and sniffed the air.
Then he ran a few steps towards them, and stopped, his ears pricked and
his eyes fixed on the tree; barked sharply, drew back a pace or two,
bristled up the hair on his neck, and growled.

Red Mick turned round; "'Ello, pup," he drawled, "what's up?"

The puppy came forward again, quite close to the tree this time, and
barked sharply. "Good pup," said Mick, "fitch him out, pup!--What is
it--native cat? Goo for 'im!"

Thus encouraged, the puppy darted forward barking, and Red Mick stopped
leisurely, picked up a large stone, and sent it crashing among the
branches. It passed between Hugh and Miss Grant, and came near enough to
stunning one or other of them. They jumped to their feet hurriedly, and
without dignity climbed out of the branches, and advanced on Red Mick,
while the puppy ran yelping behind his master.

It is only reasonable to suppose that Mick was somewhat astonished at
the apparition. He could scarcely have expected his shot to disturb two
such fine birds from such an extraordinary nest; but before they had
extricated themselves from the branches his face had assumed the stolid,
cow-like, unintelligent look which had so often baffled judges and Crown
Prosecutors. He was bland and child-like as Bret Harte's Chinee.

He spoke as if he were quite accustomed to unearthing young couples out
of trees. His voice had a sort of "I quite understand how it is" tone,
and he spoke cheerfully.

"Good-day, Misther Hugh! Where's your horses? Have you had a fall?"

"Fall! No!" snapped Hugh, whose temper was gradually rising as the
absurdity of the situation dawned on him. "We haven't had a fall. We ran
the tracks of a lot of our sheep from the big paddock, and here they are
now. I'd like to know what this means?"

"Is thim your sheep?" said the bland Mick, surprised. "I wuz wondherin'
whose sheep they wuz, comin' up the flat. I knew they wuzn't travellin'
sheep, 'cause of gettin' no notice, an me bein' laid up in the house
this two days--"

"Oh, that's all very fine, Mick Donohoe?" said the young man angrily.
"Your own dogs have brought them here."

Red Mick laughed gaily. "Ah, thim dogs is always yardin' up things. They
never see a mob of sheep, but they'll start to dhrive 'em some place.
When I was travellin' down the Darlin', goin' through Dunloe Station,
in one paddock I missed th' old slut, and when I see her again, she had
gethered fifteen thousand sheep, and was bringin' 'em after me. But,
Lord bless your heart, Mr. Hugh," he added with a comforting smile, "she
wouldn't hurt a hair of a sheep's head, nor the young dog ayther. Them
sheep'll be all right. Sorra sheep ever she bit in her life. I wonder
where they gethered them?"

"I'll tell you where they gathered them," said Hugh. "The fence of our
paddock was dug up, and the sheep were run out, and then the fence was
put up again. That's how they gathered them."

"The fence wuz dug up! Ah, look at that now. Terrible, ain't it. An'
who done it, do ye think? Some of them carriers, I expect, puttin' their
horses in unbeknownst to you. I'll bet 'twas them done it. Or, perhaps,"
he added, with an evident desire to assist in solving the difficulty,
"perhaps the wind blew it down."

"What!" said Hugh scornfully. "Wind blow down a fence! What next!"

"Well it does blow terrible hard sometimes in these parts," said
Red Mick, shaking his head dolefully; "look at me crop of onions I
planted--the wind blew 'em out of the ground, and hung 'em on the fence.
But wait now, till we have a look at these sheep."

"No, we won't wait," said Hugh angrily. "We will be off home now, and
send a man for them. And I advise you to be very careful, Mick Donohoe,
for I have my own idea who dug up that fence."

"Well, you don't suppose that I done it, do you?" said Red Mick.
"I've been in the house this three days. Besides, I wouldn't steal my
brother-in-law's sheep, anyhow. Won't ye come up, and have a dhrink of
tea now, you and the lady? It's terrible hot."

"No, thank you," said Hugh stiffly. "Come along, Miss Grant." And they
marched off towards the horses.

"It beats all who could have took them posts down, doesn't it?" said
Mick. "I'd offer a reward, if I was you. Them fellows about here would
steal the eyes out of your head. Good day to ye, Mr. Hugh."

And the cockatoo added, "Good-bye, Cockie," in a sepulchral voice, as
they trudged off, smitten hip and thigh.

Hugh was suffering intensely at his defeat, and when Mary Grant said,
"I suppose you will have him put in gaol at once?" he muttered that he
would have to think it over. "It wouldn't do to prosecute him and fail,
and we have no proof that he dug up the fence."

"But why did he say that the sheep belonged to his brother-in-law?"

Hugh started. "Did he say that? Well, he--he must have wanted to make
out that he did not know whose sheep they were" but he thought to
himself, "Is Red Mick going to bring up that old scandal?"

Mick, as he watched them go, winked twice to himself, and then stooped
and patted the head of the collie pup. The other dogs, in answer to
a silent wave of his hand, had slunk off quietly. The riders had
disappeared. It had been a narrow escape, and Red Mick knew it; and even
as things had turned out, there was still ample chance of a conviction.

On the way back to the homestead Hugh began to talk of the chance of a
conviction, and the delight it would be to give Mick seven years, but
his ideas were disturbed by thoughts of Mick's face as he said, "Why
should I steal my brother-in-law's sheep?" He looked at the girl
alongside him, and prayed that the old story might never be resurrected.



CHAPTER XV. A PROPOSAL AND ITS RESULTS.



The question whether Mick Donohoe should be prosecuted was not likely
to be prejudiced by his claim of kinship. Billy the Bully would as soon
prosecute his own brother-in-law as anybody else--sooner, in fact. So
Hugh, having reached home very crest-fallen and angry, wrote a full
account of the affair in his report of the station work, and asked
whether he should lay an information.

Grant's reply was brief and to the point; he seldom wrote letters,
always telegraphing when possible. On this occasion the telegram said,
"Prosecute at once; offer reward informers;" which, leaking out (as
telegrams frequently did at the local office) put Red Mick considerably
on the qui vive. The old man actually paid him the compliment of writing
a letter about him later on, saying that it would be a good thing to
prosecute--it would give Red Mick a good scare, even if it didn't get
him into gaol. Circumstances, no doubt, justified a prosecution, and it
was hard to see bow Mick could make a counter-move.

But that gentleman was not without resource; an anonymous letter
arrived for Hugh by the mailboy, a dirty, scrawled epistle, unsigned and
undated, running as follows:--

"Mr. Gordon i herd you was gone to summons Michael Donohoe for sheep
stealing. You better bewar there is some seen you and that girl in the
bush you will get a grate shown up and her two."

This precious epistle was signed "A Friend," and on first reading it
Hugh laughed heartily; but the more he thought it over the less he liked
it. It was all very well to put Red Mick in the dock, but it was evident
that part of the defence would be, "How came you to be under the boughs
of a fallen tree with an attractive young woman when Red Mick's dogs
came up with the sheep?" At the very least they would look ridiculous;
and the unknown correspondent who promised them a "grate shown up" would
probably take care that the story was as highly-coloured as possible. He
shuddered to think what the Donohoes would say, and heartily wished he
had let Red Mick alone.

He fretted for some hours, and then decided to talk it over with the
girl herself. He did not care to let Red Mick think that the anonymous
letter had stopped the prosecution; at the same time, he was determined
to do nothing that would cause Miss Grant the least annoyance. He opened
the discussion that evening while strolling about the garden.

"About this business of Red Mick's," he said. "I am rather worried."

"Why?"

"Well, the trouble is this: I've got an anonymous letter from Red Mick
or some of his people, saying that they are going to give you and me a
great showing-up about being hidden in the tree together."

"What can they say?" she asked, uncomprehendingly.

"Well, of course, they will talk about our being in the tree
together--and--all that kind of thing, you know. They will make things
as unpleasant for us as they can. They may want you to give evidence,
and all that sort of thing--and I thought, perhaps you mightn't like
it."

She froze into dignity at once. "I certainly shouldn't like it," she
said. "About being in the tree, that does not matter, of course, but I
hope you will keep my name out of the affair altogether. I must ask you
to do that for me."

Then he rushed on his fate. Many a time he had pictured how he would
wait till they were alone together in the garden on some glorious
moonlit night, and he would take her hand, and tell her how much he
loved her; and now, seeing the girl standing before him flushed with
insulted dignity, he suddenly found himself gasping out, in what seemed
somebody's else's voice, "Couldn't we--look here, Miss Grant, won't you
be engaged to me? Then it won't matter what they say."

He tried to take her hand, but she drew back, white to the lips.

"No, no; let me go; let me go," she said. Then the colour came back to
her face, and she drew herself up, and spoke slowly and cuttingly:

"I thank you very much for what you have just said. But I really think
that I shall be able to put up with anything these people may choose to
say about me. It won't hurt me, and I shouldn't like you to sacrifice
yourself to save me from the talk of such people. Let us go back to the
house, please."

He stared helplessly at her, and could not find his voice for a moment.
At last he blurted out:

"It's not because of that. I don't care about them any more than you do.
Don't think it's that, Miss Grant. Why--"

"Let us go back to the house, please," she said quietly, "and don't say
anything more about it. And whatever happens, I must ask you to keep my
name out of the affair altogether. You'll do that, won't you? Let us go
back now, if you don't mind."

They walked back in silence. He looked at her once or twice, but her
face was stern and rigid, and she would not give him even one glance.
At the door she gave him her hand, with a matter-of-fact "I will say
good-night now," and disappeared into her room, where she threw herself
on the bed and sobbed bitterly; for the truth was that she was very,
very fond of him. She, too, had built her little castles in the air as
to what she would say and do when he put the momentous question.
Girls do foresee these things, somehow; although they do pretend to be
astonished when the time arrives.

She had pictured him saying all sorts of endearing things, and making
all sorts of loving protestations; and now it had come to this--she had
been asked as if it were merely a matter of avoiding scandal. It was too
great a shock. She lay silently crying, while Hugh, his castles in the
air having crumbled around him, was trying in a dazed way to frame a
letter to Mr. Grant.

His thoughts were anything but pleasant. What a fool he had been,
talking to her like that! Making it look as if he had only proposed to
her because he ought to protect her good name! Why hadn't he spoken to
her before--in the tree, on the ride home, any other time? Why hadn't he
spoken differently? To him the refusal seemed the end of all things.
He thought of asking Mr. Grant to give him the management of the most
out-back place he had, so that he could go away and bury himself. He
even thought of resigning his position altogether and going to the
goldfields. Red Mick and his delinquencies seemed but small matters now;
and, after what had passed, he must, of course, see that Miss Grant was
not dragged into the business. So he sat down and began to write.

The letter took a good deal of thinking over. It had got about the
station that Red Mick had at last been caught in flagrante delicto;
the house-cook had told the cook at the men's hut, and he had told the
mailman, who stopped on the road to tell the teamsters ploughing along
with their huge waggons to Kiley's Crossing; they told the publican at
Kiley's, and he told everybody he saw. The children made a sort of play
out of it, the eldest boy personating Red Mick, while two of the younger
ones hid in a fallen tree, and were routed out by Thomas Carlyle. The
station-hands were all excitement; the prospect of a big law-case was
a real godsend to them. To drop the matter would be equivalent to a
confession of defeat, but, after what had passed, Hugh had no option.
So he told Mr. Grant that, on thinking it over, he did not consider it
advisable to go on with the case against Red Mick; Miss Grant would have
to go into the box to give evidence, which would be very unpleasant for
her.

Poor Hugh! He was too honourable to give any false reason, and too shy
to tell the whole truth. If he had said that there was no hope of a
conviction, it would have been all right. But consideration for the
feelings of anyone, even his own daughter, was to Billy the Bully quite
incomprehensible, and he wrote back, on a letter-card, "Go on with the
prosecution."

This put Hugh in a frightful dilemma. He had no trouble whatever in
making up his mind to disobey the order, as he was bound to stand by his
promise to Miss Grant. But what answer should he send to her father? He
was in a reckless mood, but he knew well enough that Grant would order
him off the place, neck and crop, if he dared to disobey; and he owed
it to his mother and sister to avoid such a thing. The more he looked at
the position of affairs, the less he liked it. He wrote a dozen letters,
and tore them up again.

He thought of making Red Mick a sporting offer of, say, a couple of
hundred pounds, to disappear altogether--Mick could have arranged
that easily enough. Then he thought of going down to see Mr. Grant
to explain; but the more he thought of that the less he liked it. He
worried and worried over it, and when he went to bed lay awake thinking
about it. He fell into dozes, and dreamt that Mr. Grant had turned him
off the place, and had made Red Mick manager, and that Miss Grant was
going to marry Red Mick; then he woke with a start, and heard through
the darkness the rapid hoof-beats of a horse ridden at speed up the road
from Kiley's, and the barking of dogs that announced the arrival of a
stranger.

He went out and found in the yard one of the telegraph operators from
Kiley's, on a smoking horse. "Very important telegram, Mr. Gordon," he
said. "I borrowed the horse, and brought it over as fast as I could."

Hugh opened the envelope hurriedly. The operator struck a match and held
it up while he read. The message was from the secretary of Grant's club,
and ran as follows:

"William Grant died suddenly this morning. Pinnock taking charge of
affairs; am making arrangements funeral. Better come down at once."

Her father dead! The question of Red Mick and his prosecution became
at once a matter of no moment. How absurd his worry and vexation now
seemed. On the other hand, what new complications might arise? All
these years the Gordons had lived on the assumption that Mr. Grant would
provide for them, without having any promise or agreement from him; and,
owing to the old man's violent temper, they had been in daily risk of
being ordered off the place. They had got used to this as people get
used to living on the side of a volcano. But now--?

Her father dead! He could not bear to see her grief, and the thought of
it made him determined to get away as quickly as possible. Quietly he
awoke his mother, and told her what had happened, and by dawn was well
on his way to Tarrong to catch the train to Sydney.



CHAPTER XVI. THE ROAD TO NO MAN'S LAND.



Now we must follow for a time the adventures of Charlie Gordon and the
new chum, whom we left just starting out for 'far back', Charlie to take
over a cattle-station for Old Man Grant, and Carew to search for Patrick
Henry Considine. After a short sea-journey they took train to a dusty
back-blocks township, where Gordon picked up one of the many outfits
which he had scattered over the country, and which in this case
consisted of a vehicle, a dozen or so of horses, and a black boy named
Frying Pan.

Thy drove four horses in a low, American-made buggy, and travelled
about fifty miles a day. Frying Pan was invaluable. He seemed to have
a natural affinity for horses. He could catch them anywhere, and track
them if they got lost. Carew tried to talk to him, but could get little
out of him, for he knew only the pidgin English, which is in use in
those parts, and said "No more" to nearly every question. He rode
along behind the loose horses, apparently quite satisfied with his own
company. Every now and then he came alongside the vehicle, and said
"Terbacker." Charlie threw him a stick of the blackest, rankest tobacco
known to the trade, and off he went again.

Once they saw him get off his horse near a lagoon, plunge his arm into a
hole, and pull out a mud-turtle, an evil-smelling beast; this he carried
for several miles over his shoulder, holding its head, and letting the
body swing at the end of the long neck--a proceeding which must have
caused the turtle intense suffering. After a while his horse shied, and
he dropped the turtle on the ground with a dull thud.

"Aren't you going to pick him up again?" cried Carew.

"No more," replied Frying Pan, carelessly. Then he grinned, and
volunteered a remark. "Make that feller plenty tired walk home again,"
he said. And this was his only conversation during a two-hundred-mile
journey.

At night they usually managed to reach a station, where the man in
charge would greet them effusively, and beg them to turn their horses
out and stay a week--or a year or two, just as long as they liked. They
met all sorts at these stations, from English swells to bushmen of the
roughest. Sometimes they camped out, putting hobbles on the horses, and
spreading their blankets under the buggy on a bed of long grass gathered
by Frying Pan.

As they got further out, the road became less and less defined, stations
fewer, and everything rougher. They left the sheep-country behind them
and got out into cattle-land, where "runs" are measured by the hundred
square miles, and every man is a law unto himself. They left their buggy
after a time, and pushed on with pack-horses; and after travelling about
two hundred miles, came to the outer edge of the settled district, where
they stayed with two young Englishmen, who were living under a dray, and
building their cattle-yards themselves--the yards being a necessity,
and the house, which was to come afterwards, a luxury. The diet was
monotonous--meat "ad libitum," damper and tea. They had neighbours
within sixty miles, and got letters once in two months by riding that
distance. "Stay here a while," they said to the travellers, "and take up
some of the country near by."

"We're to take over the country Redman took up," said Charlie. "It joins
you doesn't it?"

"Yes. See those far blue ranges? Well, we run to them on this side, and
Redman's block runs to them on the other."

"Don't your cattle make out that way?" asked Charlie.

"No fear," replied he, laughing. "We've some good boundary riders out
there."

"What do you mean?"

"The wild blacks," answered the Englishman. "They're bad out on those
hills. You'll find yourselves in a nice shop when you take that block
over. There's a pretty fair humpy to live in, that's one thing. What do
you call the place?"

"No Man's Land."

"Good name, too," said the other. "It's not fit for any man. I wish
you'd stop with us a while, but I suppose we'll see you coming back."

"I suppose so," said Charlie. "We won't be there longer than we can
help. Who's on the block now? Redman sold his rights in it after he'd
mortgaged it to my uncle."

"There's old Paddy Keogh there now--greatest old character in the North.
Lives there with his blacks and a Chinaman. Regular oldest-inhabitant
sort of chap. Would have gone with Noah in the Ark, but he swore so
badly they wouldn't have him on board. You'll find him great fun."

"I suppose he'll give us possession all right. We don't want any
trouble."

"He'd fire at you just as soon as look at you, I think," said the other.
"But I don't fancy he wants to stay there much. It's not the first time
he's been broke, so I don't expect he'll take it very hard. Well, if you
won't stay, good-bye and good luck! Give my best wishes to old Paddy."

They resumed the weary journey, and after another two days' riding
sighted away over the plain a small iron house, gleaming in the setting
sun. "Here we are!" said Charlie. "That's No Man's Land."

The arrival was not inspiriting. They rode their tired horses up to the
low-roofed galvanised-iron house, that looked like a huge kerosene-tin
laid on its side, with a hole cut for a door and two holes for windows.
There was no garden and no fenced yard. It was stuck down in the middle
of the wilderness, glaring forlornly out of its windows at a wide
expanse of dry grass and dull-green bushes. Behind it was a small
duplicate, which served as kitchen and store. A huge buffalo-head was
nailed to a tree near by. In front was a rail on which were spread
riding-saddles, pack-saddles, hobbles, surcingles, pannikins, bridles,
empty bags, and all manner of horse-gear; and roundabout were a litter
of chips, an assortment of empty tins, bits of bullock-hide, empty
cartridge-cases, and the bare skulls of three or four bullocks, with
neat bullet-holes between the eyes.

Amidst this congenial debris roamed a herd of gaunt pigs, fierce-eyed,
quarrelsome pigs, that prowled restlessly about, and ever and again
returned disconsolately to the stinking carcasses of some large birds
of prey that had been thrown out in the sun. They were flat-sided,
long-legged, long-nosed, and had large bristling manes--showed, in fact,
every sign of reverting to the type of the original pig that yachted
with Noah. Living with them, in a state of armed neutrality, were three
or four savage-looking cattle dogs, who honoured the strangers with deep
growls, not condescending to bark.

Charlie pulled up in front of the house, and cooeed. A Chinaman put his
head out of the kitchen door, smiled blandly, said "'Ello!" and retired.
Gordon and Carew unsaddled the horses, put the hobbles on, and carried
all the gear into the house. By this time the Chinee had donned a dirty
calico jacket, and began in silence to put some knives, forks, and
pannikins on the table.

"Where's the old man?" roared Charlie, as if he thought the Chinee were
deaf.

"No more," he replied.

"Don't understand any English, eh?"

"No more," said he.

Just then a tramping of hoofs was heard; and looking out of the back
door they saw, about two hundred yards away, a large horse-yard, over
which hung a cloud of dust. Under the dust were signs of a struggle.

"He's in the yard," said Charlie. "Let's go up."

The cloud of dust shifted from place to place, and out of it came a
medley of weird oaths, the dull thudding of a waddy, and the heavy
breathing of men and animals in combat. Suddenly a lithe, sinewy black
boy, dressed in a short blue shirt, bounded like a squirrel to the top
of the fence and perched there; and through the mist they saw a very
tall old man, holding on like grim death to the end of a long rope, and
being hauled about the yard in great jumps by a half-grown steer. Behind
the steer another black boy dodged in and out, welting and prodding it
from time to time with a bamboo pole. Maddened by the blows, the steer
would dash forward and narrowly miss impaling the man on his horns;
then, taking advantage of his impetus, the old man would try to haul him
into a smaller yard. Every time he got to the gate the steer yanked him
out again by a series of backward springs that would have hauled along
a dromedary, and the struggle began all over again. The black boy on
the fence dropped down with the agility of a panther, took up the rope
behind the old man, and pulled for all he was worth.

"Hit him there, Billy! Whack him! Come on, you son of a cow! I'll pull
you in if I have to pull your head off. Come on, now!" And once more the
struggle raged furiously.

Charlie clambered up on the fence and sat there for a moment. The
old man saw him, but evinced no surprise. He just said, "Here, Mister
Who-ever-you-are, kitch hold of that rope." Their united forces were
too much for the steer, and he was hauled in by main strength under a
fusillade of bamboo on his stern. Once in the small yard, he abandoned
the struggle, and charged wildly at his captors. The old man slipped
nimbly to one side, Gordon darted up the nearest fence, while Carew and
the black boy got tangled up with the rope.

In the sauve qui peut which ensued, Carew pushed the black down on the
ground right in front of the steer, which immediately fell over him,
and tangled him up more than ever. Then it turned on him with a roar of
rage, butted him violently, rolled him over and over in the dirt, knelt
on him, bellowed in his ear, and slobbered on him. It looked as if the
boy must be killed. His mate dashed in with a bamboo, and welted and
whacked away without making any impression, till the animal of its own
accord withdrew gloomily to a corner of the yard, dragging the rope
after it. Carew watched the prostrate boy in agonised suspense, hardly
daring to hope that he was alive. With a gasp of satisfaction he saw him
rise to his feet, rub some of the dirt off his face, and look round at
the steer. Then he gave his shirt a shake and began to brush himself
with his hands, saying in an indignant tone, "Flamin' bullock! Spoil my
new chirt!"

Now all hands seized the rope again; in a trice the bullock was hauled
up against the fence, thrown to the ground, and held there while the old
man sawed off the point of one horn, which was growing into the animal's
eye. When the job was done he straightened himself up, and through the
covering grime and dust they had a good look at him.

He had a long, red nose, a pair of bright hazel eyes, and a bushy,
grizzled beard and moustache hiding all the lower part of his face. On
his head was a shapeless felt hat, from which a string passed under his
nose. His arms were hairy and baboon-like; his long thin legs seemed
intended by Nature to fit the sides of a horse. He wore tweed pants,
green with age, and strapped on the inside with a lighter-coloured and
newer material; also a very dirty coloured cotton shirt, open in front,
and showing a large expanse of hairy chest. His voice was husky from
much swearing at profligate cattle, and there was a curious nasal twang
in his tone, a sort of affectation of Americanism that was a departure
from the ordinary bush drawl.

Charlie introduced himself. "My name's Gordon," he said, "and this is a
friend of mine. We've come to take this block over."

"You're welcome to it, Mister," said the old man promptly. "It's about
broke me, and if you don't look out it'll break you. Any man that gits
this place will hump his swag from it in five years, mark me! Come on
down to the house," he continued, picking up the rope and other gear
lying about the fence. "Now, you boys, let that steer out, and then go
and help the gins bring the cattle in. Look lively now, you tallow-faced
crawlers. Come on, Mister. Did you bring any square-face with you?"

"We brought a drop o' rum," replied Charlie.

"Ha! That'll do. That's the real Mackay," said the veteran, slouching
along at a perceptibly quicker gait.

"But, look, see here now, Mister!" he continued, anxiously, "you didn't
let Ah Loy get hold of it, did you? He's a real terror, that Chow of
mine. Did you see him when you came in?"

"Yes, we saw him. He couldn't speak any English, seemingly."

"That's him," said the old man. "That's him! He don't savvy much
English. He knows all he wants, though. He can lower the rum with any
Christian ever I see. It don't do to let him get his hands on a bottle
of anythink in the spirit line. It'll come back half-empty. Now then,
cook," he roared, seating himself at the rough slab table, and drumming
on it with a knife, "let's have some grub, quick, and you'll get a nip
of rum. This new boss b'long you, you savvy. All about station b'long
him. I go buffalo-shooting. Me stony broke. Poor fellow me! Been fifteen
years in this God-forgotten country, too," he said reminiscently,
placing his elbows on the table, and gazing at the wall in front of
him. "Fifteen years livin' mostly with the blacks and the Chineyman, and
livin' like a black or a Chineyman, too. And what have I got to show for
it? I've got to hump my bluey out of this, and take to the road like any
other broken-down old swagman."

"It's a bit rough," said Charlie. "How did you come to grief?"

"Oh, I came out here with a big mob of cattle," said the old man,
filling his pipe, as Ah Loy placed some tin plates, a tin dish, and a
bottle of Worcester sauce on the table, and withdrew to the kitchen for
the provender. "I lived here, and I spent nothing, and I let 'em breed.
I just looked on, and let 'em breed. Oh, there was no waste about my
management. I hadn't an overseer at two pounds ten a week, to boss a lot
of flash stockmen at two pounds. I jest got my own two gins and three
good black boys, and I watched them cattle like a blessed father. I
never saw a stranger's face from year's end to year's end. I rode all
over the face of the earth, keepin' track of 'em. I kep' the wild blacks
from scarin' 'em to death, and spearin' of 'em, as is their nature to,
and I got speared myself in one or two little shootin' excursions I
had."

"Shooting the blacks?" interpolated Gordon.

"Somethin' like that, Mister. I did let off a rifle a few times, and I
dessay one or two poor, ignorant black feller-countrymen that had been
fun' my cattle as full of spears as so many hedgehogs--I dessay they got
in the road of a bullet or two. They're always gettin' in the road of
things. But we don't talk of shootin' blacks nowadays These parts is too
civilised--it's risky. Anyhow, I made them blacks let my cattle alone.
And I slaved like a driven nigger, day in and day out, brandin' calves
all day long in the dust, with the sun that hot, the brandin' iron 'ud
mark without puttin' it in the fire at all. And then down comes the
tick, and kills my cattle by the hundred, dyin' and perishin' all over
the place. And what lived through it I couldn't sell anywhere, because
they won't let tick-infested cattle go south, and the Dutch won't let us
ship 'em north to Java, the wretches! And then Mr. Grant's debt was over
everything; and at last I had to chuck it up. That's how I got broke,
Mister. I hope you'll have better luck."

While he was delivering this harangue, Carew had been taking notes of
the establishment. There was just a rough table, three boxes to sit on,
a meat safe, a few buckets, and a rough set of shelves, supporting a
dipper and a few tin plates, and tins of jam, while in the corner
stood some rifles and a double-barrelled gun. Saddlery of all sorts was
scattered about the floor promiscuously.

Certainly the owner of No Man's Land had not lived luxuriously. A low
galvanised-iron partition divided the house into two rooms, and through
the doorway could be seen a rough bunk made of bags stretched on
saplings.

As the old man finished speaking, Ah Loy brought in the evening
meal--about a dozen beautifully tender roast ducks in a large tin dish,
a tin plate full of light, delicately-browned cakes of the sort known
as "puftalooners," and a huge billy of tea. There were no vegetables;
pepper and salt were in plenty, and Worcester sauce. They ate silently,
as hungry men do, while the pigs and cattle-dogs marched in at the
open-door, and hustled each other for the scraps that were thrown to
them.

"How is it the pigs have no tails?" asked Carew.

"Bit off, Mister. The dogs bit them off. They've got the ears pretty
well chawed off 'em too."

Just then a pig and a dog made a simultaneous rush for a bone, and the
pig secured it. The dog, by way of revenge, fastened on to the pig, and
made him squeal like a locomotive engine whistling. The old man kicked
at large under the table, and restored order.

"You ain't eatin', Mister," he said, forking a duck on to Carew's plate
with his own fork. "These ducks is all right. They're thick on the
lagoon. The Chow only had two cartridges, but he got about a dozen.
He lays down and fires along the water, and they're floatin' very near
solid on it. But here's the cattle comin' up."

Looking out of the door, they saw about two hundred cattle coming in
a long, stringing mob up the plain, driven by four black figures on
horse-back. As they drew near the yards, several cattle seemed inclined
to bolt away; but the sharp fusillade of terrific whips kept them up to
the mark, and, after a sudden halt for a few minutes, the mob streamed
in through the gates. A number of rails were put in the posts, and
made fast with pegs. The riders then remounted, and came cantering and
laughing down to the homestead. All four were aboriginals, two were the
boys that had been seen at the yard. The two new boys were dressed
in moleskins, cotton shirts, and soft felt hats, and each had a gaudy
handkerchief tied round his throat.

One was light, wiry, and graceful as a gazelle--a very handsome boy,
the embodiment of lightness and activity. The other was short and squat,
with a broad face. Both grinned light-heartedly as they rode up, let
their horses go, and carried their saddles on to the verandah, without
bothering about the strangers.

"Those are nice-looking boys," said Carew. "I mean the two new boys just
coming in."

"New boys!" said the old man. "Them! They're my two gins. And see here,
Mister, you'll have to keep off hangin' round them while you're camped
here. I can't stand anyone interferin' with them. If you kick my dorg,
or go after my gin, then you rouse all the monkey in me. Those two do
all my cattle work. Come here, Maggie," he called, and the slight "boy"
walked over with a graceful, easy swing.

"This is new feller?" he said, introducing Carew, who bowed gracefully.
"He b'long Sydney. You think him plenty nice feller, eh?"

"Yowi," said the girl laughing. "He nice feller. You got 'em matches?"
she said, beaming on Carew, and pulling a black pipe out of her
trousers' pocket. "Big fool that Lucy, drop 'em matches."

Carew handed over his match-box in speechless amazement.

"They've been out all day with the cattle," said the old man. "I've got
a lot of wild cattle in that there mob. I go out with a few quiet ones
in the moonlight, and when the wild cattle come out of the scrubs to
look at 'em we rush the whole lot out into the plain. Great hands these
gins are--just as good as the boys."

"Good Lord!" said Carew, looking at the two little figures, who had now
a couple of ducks each, a puftalooner or two, and a big pannikin of
tea, and were sitting on the edge of the verandah eating away with great
enjoyment; "what have they been doing with the cattle to-day?"

"Minding them lest the wild ones should clear out. They dropped their
matches somehow; that's what fetched 'em home early. They'll have to
sleep on the verandah to-night. We'll make that their boodore, as they
say in France."

The dark was now falling; the sunlight had left long, faint, crimson
streaks in the sky. The air was perceptibly cooler, and flights of
waterfowl hurried overhead, making their way to the river. The Chinaman
lighted a slush-lamp, by whose flickering light Charlie produced from
his swag a small bundle of papers, and threw them on the table.

"We might as well get our business over, Keogh," he said. "I've got the
paper here for you to sign, making over your interest in the block and
the cattle, and all that."

He pored over the document, muttering as he read it. "Your name'll have
to be filled in, and there's a blank for the name of the person it's
transferred to."

"That'll be Mr. Grant's name," suggested Carew.

"I don't know so much about that," said Charlie. "I don't think, if a
man has a mortgage over a place, that he can take it in his own name.
That fool Pinnock didn't tell me. He was too anxious to know how we got
on with the larrikins to give me any useful information. Anyhow, I'll
fill in my own name--for all the block is worth I ain't likely to steal
it. I can transfer it to Mr. Grant afterwards."

"I don't care," said the old man indifferently, "I'll transfer my
interest to anyone you like. I'm done with it. I'm signing away fifteen
of the best years of my life. But my name ain't Keogh, you know, though
I always went by that. My father died when I was a kiddy, and my mother
married again, so I got called by my stepfather's name all my life. This
is my right name, and it's a poor man's name to-day." And as the two men
bent over him in the light of the flickering slush-lamp, he wrote, with
stiff, uncertain fingers, "Patrick Henry Considine."



CHAPTER XVII. CONSIDINE.



For a few seconds no one spoke. Carew and Gordon stared at the
signature, and then looked at each other. The newly-found Considine
looked at his autograph in a critical way, as if not quite sure he had
spelled it right, and then stood up, handing the deed to Gordon.

"There y'are," he said. "There's my right, title and intrust in all this
here block of land, and all the stock what's on it; and if you're ever
short of a man to look after the place in the wet season I'll take the
job. I might be glad of it."

"I think it's quite likely you won't want any job from me," said
Charlie. "I'll be asking you for a job yet. Are you sure that's your
right name? What was your father?"

"My name? O' course it's my name. My father was billiard-marker at
Casey's Hotel, Dandaloo," said the old man with conscious pride. "A
swell he had been, but the boose done him up, like many a better man.
He used to write to people over in England for money, but they never giv
him any."

"Where did he write to?" asked Carew, looking at the uncouth figure with
intense interest. "Do you know what people he wrote to?"

"Yairs. He wrote to William Considine. That was his father's name. His
father never sent any money, though. Told him to go to hell, I reckon."

"What was your father's name?"

"William Patrick Considine."

Carew dashed out to his saddle, hurriedly unstrapped a valise, and
brought in a small packet of papers.

"Here you are," he said, opening one, and showing it to Gordon.
"Those are the names, Patrick Henry Considine, son of William Patrick
Considine. Entitled under his grandfather's will--by Jove, do you know
there's a lot of money waiting for you in England?"

"There's what?"

"A lot of money left you. In England. Any amount of it. If you are the
right man, you're rich, don't you know. Quite a wealthy man."

"How much money d'you say, Mister?"

"Oh, a great deal. Thousands and thousands. Your grandfather left it. No
one knew for certain where you were, or if you were alive."

"I'm alive all right, I believe," said Considine, staring hard at them.
"But look, Mister--you aren't trying to take the loan of me? Is this
straight?"

"Yes, it's straight," said Charlie. "You'll have to go to England
to make your claim good, I expect. It's straight enough. That's what
brought Mr. Carew out here, to try and find you."

For some time the bushman smoked in silence, looking at each man in
turn, perhaps expecting them to laugh. He muttered once or twice to
himself under his breath. Then he turned on Gordon again.

"Now, look here, Mr. Gordon, is this square? Because, if it ain't, it'll
be a poor joke for some of you!"

"Man alive, why should we want to fool you? What good could it do us?
It's all right."

"Well, if it's all right, we'll all have a drink on it. Here, Maggie,
Lucy, Billy, come here. Get it pannikin. You won't mind me treatin' 'em
with your rum, I suppose, Mister?" he said, turning to Gordon. "I don't
come in for a fortune every day, you know, and there ain't a drop of
lush in the place, only yours."

"Fire away," said Charlie.

"Come on, Lucy. Come on, Maggie. Where's Ah Loy? Watch their faces,
Mister, it's as good as a play. Now then, ladies, I bin poor fella longa
teatime, now rich feller longa bedtime. You savvy?"

The gins grinned uncomprehendingly, but held out their pannikins, and
into each he poured a three-finger nip of raw overproof rum that would
have burnt the palate of Satan himself. They swallowed it neat, in two
or three quick gulps. The tears sprang to their eyes, and they contorted
their faces into all sorts of shapes; but they disdained to take water
after it.

"My word, that strong feller, eh?" said Considine. "Burn your mouth, I
think it. Now then, Ah Loy, how much you wantee? That plenty, eh?"

Ah Loy peered into the tin pannikin with a dejected air, and turned it
on one side to show that there wasn't much in it.

"Here y'are, then," said his boss. "Have a bit more. We don't come in
for a fortune every day. Watch him take it, Mister."

Ah Loy put the fiery spirit to his lips, and began to drink in slow
sips, as a connoisseur sips port wine.

"Good heavens," said Carew, "it'll burn the teeth out of his head."

The Chinee sipped away, pausing to let the delicate fluid roll well into
the tender part of his mouth and throat.

"Welly stlong!" he said at last; but he finished the lot. The two black
boys had their share, and retired again to their camp. Then the three
white men sat out in front of the house on some logs, smoking, and
looking at the blazing stars.

Considine had fifty questions to ask, and the more Carew tried, the more
helpless it was to explain things to him.

"D'you say there's a house left me with this here money?"

"Yes," replied Carew. "Beautiful old place. Old oaks, and all that sort
of thing. You'll like it, I'm sure. Used to be a pack of hounds there."

"Ha!" said Considine with contempt. "I don't think much of this huntin'
they have in England. Why, I knew a chap that couldn't ride in timber a
little, and he went to England and hunted, and d'you know what he said?
He said he could have rode in front of the dogs all the way, if he'd
have liked. But the owner of the dogs asked him not to, so he didn't."

"I suppose I could take Maggie and Lucy there," he went on, looking
doubtfully at his hearers. "They wouldn't mind a chap havin' a couple
of black lady friends, would they? Yer see, they've stuck with me well,
those two gins, and I wouldn't like to leave 'em behind. They'd get into
bad hands. They're two as good handy gins as there is in the world.
That little fat one--you start her out with a bridle and enough tobacker
after lost horses, and she'll foller 'em till she gets 'em, if it takes
a week. Camps out at night anywhere she can get water, and gets her own
grub--lizards and young birds, and things like that. There ain't her
equal as a horse-hunter in Australia. Maggie ain't a bad gin after
horses, but if she don't find 'em first day, she won't camp out--she
gets frightened. I'd like to take 'em with me, yer know."

As he spoke the two moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted little figures
passed in front of the hut. "There they go," he said. "Two real good
gins. Now, as man to man, you wouldn't arst me to turn them loose, would
you?"

Carew looked rather embarrassed, and smoked some time before answering.

"Well, of course," he said at last, "they'd put up with a good deal from
you, bein' an Australian, don't you know. Fashion just now to make a
lot of fuss over Australian chappies, whatever they do. But two black
women--rather a large order. You might get married over there, and then
these two black ladies--"

He was interrupted by a startled exclamation from Considine. "Married!"
he said. "Married! I forgot all about my wife. I am married!"

"What!" said Charlie. "Are you married?"

"Yairs. Married. Yairs! Should just think I was."

"Not to a lubra, I suppose?"

"Lubra, no! A hot-tempered faggot of a woman I met at Pike's pub. I
lived with her three weeks and left her there. I haven't seen her this
six years."

"Did you and she have some er--differences, then?" said Carew.

"Differences? No I We had fights--plenty fights. You see, it was this
way. I hadn't long got these two gins; and just before the rains the
wild geese come down in thousands to breed, and the blacks all clear out
and camp by the lagoons, and kill geese and eat eggs and young ones all
day long, till they near bust. It's the same every year--when the wild
geese come the blacks have got to go, and it's no use talkin'. So I was
slavin' away here--out all day on the run with the cattle--and one night
I comes home after being out three days, and there at the foot of the
bunk was the two gins' trousers and shirts, folded up; they'd run away
with the others.

"So I goes after 'em down the river to the lagoons, and there was
hundreds of blacks; but these two beauties had heard me coming, and was
planted in the reeds, and the other blacks, of course, they says, "No
more" when I arst them. So there I was, lonely. Only me and the Chinaman
here for two months, 'cause his gin had gone too. So one day I ketches
the horses, and off I goes, and travels for days, till I makes Pike's
pub, and there was this woman.

"It seems from what I heard afterwards that she'd just cleared out from
some fellow she'd been livin' with for years--had a quarrel with him.
Anyhow, I hadn't seen a white woman for years, and she was a fine
lump of a woman, and I got on a bit of a spree for a week or so, you
know--half-tight all the time; and it seems some sort of a parson--a
mish'nary to the blacks--chanced along and married us. She had her lines
and everything all right, but I don't remember much about it. So then
I'm living with her for a bit; but I don't like her goin's on, and I
takes the whip to her once, and she gets snake-headed to me, and takes
up an axe; and then one day comes a black from this place and he says to
me, he says, "Old man," he says, "Maggie and Lucy come back." So then I
says to my wife, "I'm off back to the run," I says, "and it's sorry I am
that ever I married you." And she says, "Well, I'm not goin' out to yer
old run, to get eat up with musketeers." So says I, "Please yourself
about that, you faggot," I says, "but I'm off." So off I cleared, and I
never seen her from that day till this. I married her under the name of
Keogh, though. Will that make any difference?"

This legal problem kept them occupied for some time; and, after much
discussion, it was decided that a marriage under a false name could
hardly be valid.

Then weariness, the weariness of open-air, travelling, and hard work,
settled down on them, and they made for the house. On the verandah the
two gins lay sleeping, their figures dimly outlined under mosquito nets;
the dogs crouched about in all sorts of attitudes. Considine turned in
all standing in the big rough bunk, while Carew and Gordon stretched
their blankets on the hard earth floor, made a pillow of their clothes,
and lay down to sleep, after fixing mosquito nets. Gordon slept as soon
as he touched the blankets, but Carew tumbled and tossed. The ground was
deadly hard. During the journey Frying Pan had got grass for their beds;
here he had not been told to get it, and it would have looked effeminate
to ask for grass when no one else seemed to want it. The old man heard
him stirring and rolling, and sat up in his bunk. "What's up, Mister?"
he said kindly. "D'you find it a hard camp?"

"Not too easy," said the Englishman. "Always seems to be a deuced hard
place just under your hip, don't you know?"

"I'll put you right in a brace of shakes," said Considine. "I've got the
very thing to make a soft bed. Half a minute now, and I'll get it for
you."

He went out to the back of the house, and returned with a dry white
bullock-hide, as rigid as a sheet of iron. This he threw down at Carew's
feet.

"Here y'are, Mister; put that under you for a hipper, and you'll be all
right."

Carew found the hide nearly as hard as the bare floor, but he uttered
profuse thanks, and said it was quite comfortable; to which the old man
replied that he was sure it must be, and then threw himself back on his
bunk and began snoring at once. But Carew lay long awake.



CHAPTER XVIII. THE WILD CATTLE.



Carew awoke next morning to find that it was broad daylight, and the
horses had been run in, caught, and saddled, all ready for a start to
the run. Breakfast was soon disposed of, and the cavalcade set
out. Naturally, the old man had heaps of questions to ask about his
inheritance, and made the Englishman ride alongside while he questioned
him.

"If I go to England after this money, Mister, I suppose they won't
be handin' me out ten years for perjury, same as they done for Roger
Tichborne, eh? I won't have no law case, will I?"

"Shouldn't think so. You've been advertised for all over the place, I
believe."

"Ha! Well, now they've got me they mightn't like me, don't you see? I
never took no stock in them unclaimed-money fakes. I never see any money
goin' beggin' yet, long as I've lived, but what some chap had his hands
on it quick enough. But I s'pose it's all right."

"It's me wife I'm troublin' about. I'm no dandy, Goodness knows, but if
people'll let me alone I'll let them alone, and I don't interfere with
anyone. But if old Peg turns up she'll want to be right in front of
the percession. If she follows me, I'll realise everything by public
auction, unreserved sale, for spot cash, and I'll sneak back here to a
place I knows of, where there's no trooper can find me. I ain't goin'
halves with that woman, I tell you. She wouldn't stick to me if I was
poor, and I ain't goin' to take her up again now. You'd better come back
with me, Mister, and show me the way round a bit."

"There's a mob of cattle, Gordon." he went on, changing the subject
quickly; "let's ride up here, while the boys bring 'em into camp." And
off they went at a carter, leaving the question of his social prospects
in abeyance for the time being.

The ceremony of taking delivery lasted some days, Considine's signature
to the deed of transfer being only the first step. This long document,
prepared in Sydney, kept them going in literature for about a week; and
they were delighted to find that, through the carelessness of a clerk,
in one part of the deed there figured "one bull of mixed sexes and
various ages."

They rode out, day after day, through interminable stretches of dull
timbered country, or over blazing plains waving with long grass. Here
they came on mobs of half-wild cattle, all bearing the same brand,
a huge RL5. These were not mustered into a yard or counted, except
roughly. Gordon was not completing a purchase, but simply taking over
what were there--many or few; good or bad, he could only take what he
found.

Miles and miles they rode, always in the blazing heat, camping for a
couple of hours in the middle of the day. To the Englishman it seemed
always the merest chance that they found the cattle, and accident
that they got home again. At rare intervals they came upon substantial
mustering-yards, where the calves were brought for branding; near these
a rough hut had been constructed, so that they could camp there at
night, instead of returning to the head station.

They always slept out of doors. In the intense heat it was no hardship,
and the huts, as a rule, fairly jumped with fleas. Once they camped
alongside a big lagoon, on whose surface were huge pink and blue
water-lilies and rushes, and vast flocks of wild fowl. After the
stretches of blazing plain and dull timber this glimpse of water was
inexpressibly refreshing.

On their way back they struck new country, great stretches of almost
impenetrable scrub, tropical jungle, and belts of bamboo. In this cover
wild cattle evidently abounded, for they frequently heard the bellow of
the bulls.

"There should be a terrible lot of wild cattle here," said Charlie.
"Don't you ever get any out of the scrubs?"

"Oh, yes, we moonlight for 'em." said Considine. "We take coachers out.
We have a very fair coaching mob. Some of our coachers are as quick as
racehorses, and they'll hustle wild cattle away from the scrub just as
if they understood."

"What do you mean by coachers?" asked Carew. "Not cattle that go in
carts, eh?"

"Carts, no. The way we get wild cattle here-abouts is to take out a
mob of quiet cattle, what we call coachers, and let 'em feed in the
moonlight alongside the scrub, while we wait back out o' the road and
watch 'em. When the wild cattle come out, they run over to see the
coachers, and we dash up and cut 'em off from the scrub, and hustle 'em
together into the open. It's good sport, Mister. We might try a dash at
it, if you like, before we go back; it's moonlight now."

"Let's have a try to-night" said Gordon. "Are your coachers handy?"

"Yairs. They feed near the house. I'll send 'em on with the gins
to-night."

When they got back that evening, Carew was so dead-tired that he wished
the wild cattle expedition at Jericho. But Considine and Charlie were in
great form, directing, arguing, and planning the expedition. One of
the black boys rode out, and returned driving a big mob of horses that
dashed into the yard at full gallop. The gins and the black boys caught
fresh mounts out of these and started away, driving some fifty head of
cattle selected from a mob that made their headquarters within a few
miles of the house. Most of them were old stagers, and strung away in
the evening quite tranquilly, while the blacks, always smoking, rode
listlessly after. Considine produced two stockwhips, and gave one to
Charlie.

"No good givin' you one. Mister," he said to Carew. "You'd hang yourself
with it most likely. I've got a rare good horse for you--old Smoked
Beef. He'd moonlight cattle by himself, I believe. You'd better have a
pistol, though."

"What for?" asked Carew, as Considine produced three very heavy navy
revolvers and a bag of cartridges.

"To shoot any beast that won't stay with the mob. Some of 'em won't be
stopped. They have to go. Well, if one goes, the rest keep trying to
follow, and no forty men will hold 'em. You just keep your eyes open,
and if a beast breaks out in spite of the whips, you shoot him if the
blacks tell you. See?"

"Where am I to shoot him?"

"Shoot him any place. In the earhole, or the shoulder, or the ribs, or
the flank. Any place at all. Shoot him all over if you like. One or two
bullets don't hurt a beast. It takes a lead-mine to kill some of 'em."

"Do the blacks shoot?" asked Charlie.

"No, I don't never trust no blacks with firearms. One boy knifes well,
though. Races alongside and knifes 'em."

This seemed a fairly difficult performance; while the Englishman was
wondering how it would be carried out, they made a start. They rode mile
after mile in the yellow moonlight, until they discerned a mob of cattle
feeding placidly near some big scrub. They whistled to the blacks,
and all rode away down wind to a spot on the edge of the plain, a
considerable distance from the cattle.

Here they dismounted and waited, Considine and Charlie talking
occasionally in low tones, while the blacks sat silent, holding their
horses. Carew lay down on the long dry grass and gazed away over the
plain. His horse stood over him with head down, apparently sleeping.
Far away under the moon, in vague patches of light and shade, the cattle
were feeding. Hours seemed to pass, and Carew almost fell asleep.

Suddenly a long-drawn bellow, the angry challenge of a bull, broke the
silence. A mob of wild cattle were evidently coming along the edge of
the scrub, and had caught scent of the strangers. Again the bull roared;
there is no animal on earth with so emphatically warlike a note as
the wild bull when advancing to meet a strange mob. The quiet cattle
answered with plaintive, long-drawn lowings, and the din became general
as the two lots met.

"Let 'em get well mixed up," said Considine quietly, tightening his
girths, and swinging into the saddle. Everyone followed his example.
Carew was shaking with excitement. Angry bellowing now arose from the
cattle, which were apparently horning one another--such being their
manner of greeting.

Considine said, "There's a big lot there. Hope to blazes we can hold
'em. Are you ready, Mister?"

"Yes, I'm ready," replied Carew.

"Come on, then. We'll sneak up slowly at first, but once I start
galloping let your horse go as fast as he likes, and trust him
altogether. Don't pull him at all, or he'll break your neck."

They started slowly in Indian file, keeping well in the shadow of the
scrub. The horses picked their way through the outlying saplings and
bushes, until suddenly Considine bent forward on his horse's neck, and
said, "Come on!"

What a ride that was! The inexperienced reader is apt to imagine that
because a plain is level, it is smooth, but no greater fallacy exists.
The surface of a plain is always bad galloping. The rain washes away the
soil from between the tussocks, which stand up like miniature mountains;
the heat cracks the ground till it opens in crevices, sometimes a foot
wide and a yard or two deep; fallen saplings lie hidden in the shadows
to trip the horse, while the stumps stand up to cripple him, and over
all is the long grass hiding all perils, and making the horse risk his
own neck and his master's at every stride.

They flew along in the moonlight, Considine leading, Charlie next, then
the two black boys, and then Carew, with a black gin on each side
of him, racing in grim silence. The horses blundered and "peeked,"
stumbled, picked themselves up again, always seeming to have a leg to
spare. Now and again a stump or a gaping crack in the ground would flash
into view under their very nose, but they cleared everything--stumps,
tussocks, gaps, and saplings.

In less time than it takes to write, they were between the mob and the
scrub; at once a fusillade of whips rang out, and the men started to
ride round the cattle in Indian file. The wild ones were well mixed
up with the tame, and hardly knew which way to turn. Carew, cantering
round, caught glimpses of them rushing hither and thither--small, wiry
cattle for the most part, with big ears and sharp, spear-pointed
horns. Of these there were fifty or sixty, as near as Considine could
judge--three or four bulls, a crowd of cows and calves and half-grown
animals, and a few old bullocks that had left the station mobs and
thrown in their lot with the wild ones.

By degrees, as the horses went round them, the cattle began to "ring,"
forming themselves into a compact mass, those on the outside running
round and round. All the time the whips were going, and the shrill
cries of the blacks rang out, "Whoa back! Whoa back, there! Whoa!" as an
animal attempted to break from the mob. They were gradually forcing the
beasts away from the scrub, when suddenly, in spite of the gins' shrill
cries, some of the leaders broke out and set off up the plain; with the
rush of a cavalry charge the rest were after them, racing at full speed
parallel with the edge of the scrub, and always trying to make over
towards it.

Old Considine met this new development with Napoleonic quickness. He
and the others formed a line parallel with the course of the cattle,
and raced along between them and the timber, keeping up an incessant
fusillade with their whips, while the old man's voice rang out loudly in
directions to the blacks behind.

"Keep the coachers with 'em! Flog 'em along! Cut the hides off 'em!"

In the first rush the quiet cattle had dropped to the rear, but the
blacks set about them with their whips; and, as they were experienced
coachers, and had been flogged and hustled along in similar rushes so
often that they knew at once what was wanted, they settled down to race
just as fast as the wild ones. As the swaying, bellowing mass swept
along in the moonlight, crashing and trampling through the light
outlying timber, some of the coachers were seen working their way to the
lead, and the wild cattle having no settled plan, followed them blindly.
Considine, on his black horse, was close up by the wing of the mob, and
the others rode in line behind him, always keeping between the cattle
and the scrub.

"Crack your whips!" he yelled. "Crack your whips! Keep 'em off the
scrub! Go on, Billy, drive that horse along and get to the lead!"

Like a flash one of the black boys darted out of the line, galloped to
the head of the cattle, and rode there, pursued by the flying mob, the
cracks of his heavy stockwhip sounding above the roar of hoofs and the
bellowing of the cattle. Soon they steadied a little, and gradually
sobered down till they stopped and began to "ring" again.

"That was pretty pure, eh, Mister?" roared Considine to Carew. "Ain't it
a caution the way the coachers race with 'em? That old bald-face coacher
is worth two men and a boy in a dash like this."

Suddenly an old bull, the patriarch of the wild herd, made towards one
of the gins, whose shrill yells and whip-cracking failed to turn him.
Considine dashed to her assistance, swinging his whip round his head.

"Whoa back, there! Whoa back, will you!" he shouted. The bull paused
irresolute for a second, and half-turned back to the mob, but the sight
or scent of his native scrub decided him. Dropping his head, he charged
straight at Considine. So sudden was the attack that the stock-horse had
barely time to spring aside; but, quick as it was, Considine's revolver
was quicker. The bull passed--bang! went the revolver, and bang! bang!
bang! again, as the horse raced alongside, Considine leaning over and
firing into the bull's ribs at very short range.

The other cattle, dazed by the firing, did not attempt to follow, and
at the fourth shot the bull wheeled to charge. He stood a moment in the
moonlight, bold and defiant, then staggered a little and looked round as
though to say, "What have you done to me?" Bang went the revolver again;
the animal lurched, plunged forward, sank on his knees, and fell over on
his side, dead.

"There, you swab," said the old man, "that'll larn you to break another
time." Then he took once more his place in the patrol round the mob.
They circled and eddied and pushed, always staring angrily at the
riders. Suddenly a big, red bullock gave a snort of defiance, and came
out straight towards Carew. He stopped once, shook his head ominously,
and came on again. One of the gins dashed up with the whip; but the
bullock had evidently decided to take all chances, and advanced on his
foes at a trot.

"Choot him, that feller!" screamed the gin to Carew. "You choot him! He
bin yan away! No more stop! Choot him!"

Carew lugged out his revolver, and tried to pull his horse to a
standstill, but the wary old veteran knew better than to be caught
standing by a charging bullock; just as Carew fired, he plunged forward,
with the result that the bullet went over the mob altogether, and very
nearly winged Charlie, who was riding on the far side. Then the bullock
charged in earnest; and Carew's horse, seeing that if he wished to save
human life he must take matters into his own hands, made a bolt for it.
Carew half-turned in the saddle, and fired twice, only making the black
boys on the far side cower down on their horses' necks. Then the horse
took complete charge, and made off for the scrub with the bullock after
him, and every animal in the mob after the bullock.

Nothing in the world could have stopped them. Considine and Charlie
raced in front, alongside Carew, cracking their whips and shouting; the
blacks flogged the coachers up with the wild cattle; but they held on
their way, plunged with a mighty crash into the thick timber, and were
lost. No horseman could ride a hundred yards in that timber at night.
Coachers and all were gone together, and the dispirited hunters gathered
at the edge of the scrub and looked at each other.

"Well, Mister, you couldn't stop him," said the old man.

"I'm afraid I made--rather a mess of things, don't you know," said the
Englishman. "I thought I hit him the second time, too. Seemed to be
straight at him."

"I think you done very well to miss us! I heard one bullet whiz past me
like a scorpyun. Well, it can't be helped. Those old coachers will all
battle their way home again before long. Gordon, I vote we go home.
They're your cattle now, and you'll have to come out again after 'em
some day, and do a little more shootin'. Get a suit of armour on you
first, though."

As they jogged home through the bright moonlight, they heard loud
laughter from the blacks, and Carew, looking back, found the fat gin
giving a dramatic rehearsal of his exploits. She dashed her horse along
at a great pace, fell on his neck, clutched wildly at the reins, then
suddenly turned in her saddle, and pretended to fire point-blank at the
other blacks, who all dodged the bullet. Then she fell on the horse's
neck again, and so on ad lib.

This made the Englishman very morose. He was quite glad when Charlie
said he had seen enough of the cattle, and they would all start next
day for civilisation--Charlie to resume the management of Mr. Grant's
stations, Carew to go with him as "colonial experiencer," and Considine
to start for England to look after his inheritance.



CHAPTER XIX. A CHANCE ENCOUNTER.



The black boys went in with them to Pike's store to take back supplies
on the pack-horse. They travelled over the same country that they had
seen coming up; the men at the stations greeted them with the same
hospitality. Nothing was said about Considine's good fortune. It was
thought wise to be silent, as he didn't know how soon his wife might
hear of it.

They left the gins at the blacks' camp, which they chanced on by a
riverside. The camp was a primitive affair, a few rude shelters made by
bending bamboo sticks together and covering them with strips of paper
bark. Here the sable wariors sat and smoked all day long, tobacco being
their only civilised possession. Carew was very anxious to look at them,
a development of curiosity that Considine could not understand.

"Most uninteresting devils, I call 'em," he said. "They're stark naked,
and they have nothing. What is there to look at?"

Having parted with Maggie and Lucy, they pushed onwards, the old man
beguiling the time with disquisitions on the horse-hunting capabilities
of his gins, whom he seemed really sorry to leave. As they got near
Pike's, he became more restless than ever.

"See here, Mister," he said at last, "my wife's here, I expect, and if
she gets wind of this, I'll never get rid of her. The only thing to do
is to slip away without her knowing, and she might never hear of it. I
won't go into the place at all. I'll go on and camp down the creek, and
get the coach there after it leaves the town, and she'll never know."

The town of "Pike's" consisted of a hotel, a store, a post-office, a
private residence, and coach-stables; these were all combined in one
establishment, so the town couldn't be said to be scattered. Pike
himself was landlord of the "pub," keeper of the store, officer in
charge of the post-office, owner of the private residence, holder of the
mail contract, and proprietor of the coach-stables. Behind him was only
wilderness and "new" country.

Nobody ever saw him at home. Either he was on the road with a
bullock-team, bringing up supplies for the hotel and store, or he was
droving cattle down on a six months' journey to market; or he was
away looking at new country, or taking supplies out to men on the
half-provisioned stations of the "outer-back;" or else he was off to
some new mining camp or opal-field, to sell a dray-load of goods at
famine prices.

When Charlie and Carew rode up to the store they did not see Pike,
nor did they expect to see him. By some mysterious Providence they
had arrived the very day the coach started on its monthly trip down to
Barcoo; and in front of the hotel were congregated quite a number of
people--Pike's wife and his half-wild children, a handful of bushmen,
station hands, opal miners, and what-not, and last, but not least, a fat
lady of about forty summers, with flaring red hair.

She was a fine "lump" of a woman, with broad shoulders, and nearly the
same breadth all the way down to her feet. She wore a rusty black dress,
which fitted perilously tight to her arms and bust; on her head was
a lopsided, dismantled black bonnet with a feather--a bonnet that had
evidently been put away in a drawer and forgotten for years. Any want of
colour or style in her dress was amply made up for by the fact that she
positively glowed with opals. Her huge, thick fingers twinkled with opal
rings; from each of her ears there dangled an opal earring the size of
a form; her old dress was secured round her thick, muscular neck by a
brooch that looked like an opal quarry, and whenever she turned to the
sun she flashed out rays like a lighthouse.

Her face was fat and red, full of a sort of good-humoured ferocity; she
moved like a queen among the bystanders, and shook hands gravely with
each and all of them. She was hot, but very dignified. Evidently she was
preparing to start in the coach, for she packed into the vehicle with
jealous care a large carpet-bag of garish colouring that seemed to
harmonise well with the opals. While she was packing this away, Charlie
and Carew went into the store, and bought such supplies as were needed
for the establishment at No Man's Land. Gordon took the opportunity
to ask the shock-headed old storekeeper, Pike's deputy, some questions
about the lady, who was still scintillating between the coach and the
house, carrying various small articles each trip.

"Don't yer know 'er?" said the man, in much the same tone that Bret
Harte's hero must have used when he was so taken aback to find that a
stranger--

                    "Didn't know Flynn,--
                    Flynn of Virginia."

"Don't yer know 'er?" he repeated, pausing in his task of scooping
some black cockroachy sugar from the bottom of a bin. "That's the Hopal
Queen! She's hoff South, she is. Yer'll be going in the coach, will
yer?"

"Yes," said Charlie. "We're going in the coach. There's no extra fare
for travelling with such a swell, is there? Where on earth did she get
all those opals?"

"Ho, blokes gives 'em to 'er, passin' back from the hopal fields. In the
rough, yer know! Hopal in the rough, well, it's 'ard to tell what it'll
turn out, and they'll give 'er a 'unk as sometimes turns out a fair
dazzler. She's a hay-one judge of it in the rough, too. If she buys a
bit of hopal, yer bet yer life it ain't a bad bit when it's cut. What
about these 'ere stores? Goin' to take 'em with yer?"

"No," said Charlie. "The black boy is here for them. He's going to take
them back with him."

"What, Keogh's black boy! Well, I don't know as Pike'll stand old Paddy
Keogh any longer. Paddy's 'ad a dorg tied hup 'ere" (i.e., an account
outstanding) "this two years, and last time Pike was 'ome 'e was
reck'nin' it was about hup to Keogh to pay something."

"They're not for Keogh," said Charlie. "They're for me. I've taken
Keogh's block over."

The old man looked at him dubiously.

"Well, but y'aint goin' to tie hup no dorg on us for 'em, are yer? I
s'pose it's all right, though?"

"Right, yes," said Gordon. "It's for Mr. Grant, Old Man Grant,--you've
heard of Grant of Kuryong?"

"Never 'eard of him," said the aged man, "but it makes no hodds. Pay
when yer like. Yer'd better git on the coach, for I see the Hopal
Queen's ready for a start. Yer'll know her all right before long, I bet.
Some of the fellers from round about 'as come in to give her a send-off
like. There's the coach ready; yer'd better git aboard, and yer'll hear
the-the send-off like. Young Stacy out there reckons 'e's going to make
a speech."

Charlie and Carew climbed upon the coach. The fat lady kissed Pike's
wife and children with great solemnity. "Good-bye, Alice! Good-bye,
Nora darlin'," she said. Then she marched in a stately way towards the
vehicle, with the children forming a bodyguard round her. A group of
men hung about uneasily, looked sheepish, and waved large, helpless red
hands, till a young fellow about seven feet high--who looked more uneasy
and had even larger hands than the rest--was hustled forward, and began
to mutter something that nobody could hear.

"Speak up, George," said a friend. The young man raised his voice to a
shout, and said--

"And so I propose three cheers and long life to the Hopal Queen!"

As he spoke he ran two or three paces forward towards a stump, meaning,
no doubt, to get on it and lead the cheering; but, just as he was going
to jump, a wretched little mongrel that had been in and out among the
people's feet made a dash at him, fixed its teeth in the calf of his
leg, and ran away howling at its own temerity. The young giant rushed
after it, but the Opal Queen interposed.

"George," she said, "don't ye dare go for to kick my dog!"

"Well, what did he bite me for, then?" said the giant, speaking out now
in a voice that could be heard half a mile off. "What did he bite me
for?"

"Never mind, George! Don't ye go for to kick him, that's all."

The Opal Queen, snorting like a grampus, climbed into the coach;
the driver cracked his whip, and off they went, leaving the audience
spellbound, and the gigantic young man rubbing his leg. Soon Pike's
faded away in the distance. As the coach jolted along, Carew and Charlie
on the box seat occasionally peered in at the large swaying figure,
half-hidden in the dust.

About two miles out of town Considine, with all his earthly belongings
in a small valise, stopped the coach and got on board, sitting in front
with them.

"Have a look inside," said Charlie. "There's a woman in there looks
rather like--the lady you were talking about."

Considine looked in. Then he sank back in his seat, with a white face.
"By Heavens!" he said, "it's my wife."

"This is funny," said Charlie. "Wonder what she's after. She must have
heard, somehow. She'll never lose sight of you, now, Considine."

Here the driver struck into the conversation. "See her inside?" he said,
indicating the inside passenger with a nod of his head. "She's off to
Sydney, full rip. She reckons her husband's dead, and she's came in for
a fortune."

"Oh, she reckons he's dead, does she?" said Charlie carelessly. "Didn't
know she had a husband."

"Ho yes," said the driver. "She came up here passin' by the name of
Keogh, but it seems that ain't her husband's name at all."

"Oh, indeed! Do you happen to have heard what her husband's name is? And
when did he die?"

"I never heard the noo husband's name," replied the driver. "Keogh was
her name. I dessay if I arst her she'd tell me. Shall I arst her?" "No,"
said Considine firmly. "Don't annoy her at all. Leave well alone, young
feller. What odds is it to you how many husbands the poor woman has
had?"

"No," said the driver dispassionately. "It's no odds to me, nor yet
to you, I don't suppose. She's in for a real big thing, I believe. A
telegram came to the telegraph station after I left last trip, and young
Jack Sheehan, he brought it on after me--rode a hundred miles pretty
well, to ketch me up. He reckoned she was coming in for a hundred
thousand pounds. I wouldn't mind marryin' her meself, if it's true;
plenty worse-looking sorts than her about. What do you think, eh,
Mister?" addressing Considine.

"Marry her, and be blowed," said that worthy, sociably; and the driver
stiffened and refused to talk further on the subject.

Meanwhile the three discussed the matter in low tones. It was
practically impossible that anyone could have heard of the identity of
Keogh with the missing Considine. How then had the story got about that
her husband was dead, and that she had come into money? She must
have seen Considine get on the coach, but she had made no sign. Their
astonishment was deeper than ever when the coach stopped for a midday
halt. It was quite impossible for Considine to conceal himself. The
house, where the coach changed horses, was a galvanised-iron, one-roomed
edifice in the middle of a glaring expanse of treeless plain, in which
a quail could scarcely have hidden successfully. It was clear that
Considine and his wife would have to come face to face.

Carew and Charlie looked expectantly at each other, and clambered
down quickly when the coach stopped. Considine descended more slowly;
straightening his figure and looking fixedly before him, he marched up
to the door of the change-house.

His wife got leisurely out of the coach, put on her bonnet, and walked
straight over to him; then she looked him full in the face for at least
three seconds, and passed by without a sign of recognition.

The three men looked at each other.

"Well, this bangs all," said Considine. "She knew me all right. Why
didn't she speak? She's afraid I'll clear out, and she's shammin' not to
know me, so's she'll have me arrested as soon as she sights a bobby. I
know her. Perhaps I'd better offer her something to go back and leave me
alone, hey?"

This was vetoed by a majority of two to one, and once more the coach
started. They plodded away on the weary, dusty journey, until the iron
roofs and walls of Barcoo gleamed like a mirage in the distance, and
the coach rolled up to the hotel. A telegraph official came lounging
forward.

"Anyone here the name of Charles Gordon?" he said.

"That's me," said Charlie.

"Telegram for you," he said. "It's been all over the country after you."

Gordon tore it open, read it, and stood spellbound. Then he silently
handed it to Carew. It was several weeks old, and was from Pinnock, the
solicitor. It read as follows--"William Grant died suddenly yesterday.
Will made years ago leaves everything to his wife. Reported that he
married Margaret Donohoe, and that she is still alive. Am making all
inquiries. Wire me anything you know."

Charlie's face never changed a muscle.

"That's lively!" he said. "He never married that woman; and, if he did,
she died long ago."

As he spoke, the lady passenger, having had some talk with the hotel
people, came over to him with a beaming smile. "And ye're Charlie
Gordon," she said with a mellifluous mixture of brogue and bush-drawl.
"An' ye don't know me now, a little bit? Ye were a little felly when we
last met. I'm Peggy Donohoe that was--Peggy Grant now, since I married
poor dear Grant that's dead. And, sure, rest his sowl!"--here she
sniffed a little--"though he treated me cruel bad, so he did! Ye'll
remember me brother Mick--Mick with the red hair?"

"Yes," said Charlie, slowly and deliberately, "I remember him well; and
you too. And look here, Peggy Donohoe--or Peggy Keogh, whichever you
call yourself--you and Red Mick will have the most uphill fight you ever
fought before you get one sixpence of William Grant's money. Why, your
real husband is here on the coach with us!"

He turned and pulled Considine forward, and once more husband and wife
stood face to face. Considine, alias Keogh, smiled in a sickly way,
tried to meet his wife's eyes, and failed altogether. She regarded him
with a bold, unwinking stare.

"Him!" she said. "Him me husban'! This old crockerdile? I never seen him
before in me life."

A look of hopeless perplexity settled on Considine's features for a
moment, and then a ray of intelligence seemed to break in on him. She
repeated her statement.

"I never seen this man before in me life. Did I? Speak up, now, and say,
did I?"

Considine hesitated for a moment in visible distress. Then, pulling
himself together, and looking boldly from one to the other, he replied--

"Now that you mention it, ma'am, I don't think as ever you did. I must
ha' made some mistake."

He walked rapidly away, leaving Gordon and Peggy face to face.

"There y'are," she said, "what did I tell ye? Husban'? He's no husban'
o' mine. Ye're makin' a mistake, Charlie."

Charlie looked after the retreating bushman, and back at the good lady
who was beaming at him.

"Don't call me Charlie," he said. "That old man has come in for a whole
lot of money in England. His name is Considine, and he pretends he isn't
your husband so that he can get the money and leave you out of it. Don't
you be a fool. It's a lot better for you to stick to him than to try for
William Grant's money. Mr. Carew and I can prove he said you were his
wife."

"Och, look at that now! Said I was his wife! And his name was Considine,
the lyin' old vaggybond. His name's not Considine, and I'm not his wife,
nor never was. Grant was my husban', and I'll prove it in a coort of
law, so I will!" Her voice began to rise like a south-easterly gale, and
Charlie beat a retreat. He went to look for the old man, but could not
find him anywhere.

Talking the matter over with Carew he got no satisfaction from the
wisdom of that Solon. "Deuced awkward thing, don't you know," was his
only comment.

Things were even more awkward when the coach drew up to start, and no
sign of the old man could be found. He had strolled off to the back of
the hotel, and vanished as absolutely as if the earth had swallowed him.

The Chinese cook was severely cross-questioned, but relapsed into
idiotic smiles and plentiful "No savee's". A blackfellow, loafing about
the back of the hotel, was asked if he had seen a tall, thin old man
with a beard going down the street. He said, "Yowi, he bin go longa
other pub;" but as, on further questioning, he modified his statement by
asserting that the man he saw was young, short and very fat, no heed was
paid to his evidence--it being the habit of blacks to give any answer
that they think will please the questioner.

"He'll play us some dog's trick, that old fellow," said Charlie. "I
can't wait here looking for him, though. I'll find him when I want him
if he's above ground. Now let's go on. Can't keep the coach waiting for
ever while we unearth him. Let's get aboard."

Just as the coach was about to start a drover came out of the bar of
the hotel, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He stared vacantly
about him, first up the street and then down, looked hard at a post in
front of the hotel, then stared up and down the street again. At last he
walked over, and, addressing the passengers in a body, said, "Did any of
you's see e'er a horse anywheres? I left my prad here, and he's gorn."

A bystander, languidly cutting up a pipeful of tobacco, jerked his elbow
down the road.

"That old bloke took 'im," he said. "Old bloke that come in the coach.
While yous was all talking in the pub, he sneaks out here and nabs that
'orse, and away like a rabbit. See that dust on the plain? That's 'im."

The drover looked helplessly out over the stretch of plain. He seemed
quite incapable of grappling with the problem.

"Took my horse, did he? Well, I'm blowed! By Cripes!"

He had another good stare over the plain, and back at the party.

"My oath!" he added.

Then the natural stoicism of the bushman came to his aid, and he said,
in a resigned tone,

"Oh, well, anyways, I s'pose--s'pose he must have been in a hurry to go
somewheres. I s'pose he'll fetch him back some time or other."

Gordon leant down from the box of the coach.

"You tell him," he said, "when he does fetch him back, that if I'd had
a rifle, and had seen him sneaking off like that he'd have wanted an
ambulance before he got much farther. Tell him I'll find him if I have
to hunt him to death. Tell him that, will you?"

"All right, Mister!" said the drover, obligingly, "I'll tell him!"

The horses plunged into their collars; off went the coach into long
stretches of dusty road, with the fat red lady inside, and our two
friends outside. And in course of time they found themselves once more
in Sydney, where they took the earliest opportunity to call on Pinnock,
and hold a council of war against Peggy.



CHAPTER XX. A CONSULTATION AT KILEY'S.



Within twenty-four hours after Peggy got back to her old home, it was
known all over the mountains that she meant business, and would make
a claim on William Grant's estate. Rumour, of course, supplied all the
needful details. It was said, and even sworn to, that Peggy had her
marriage lines put by in a big iron box, ready to be produced at the
proper time. Other authorities knew for a fact that she had no proofs,
but that the family at Kuryong were going to give her any sum from a
thousand pounds to a million, to cancel her claim and save exposure.

As a matter of fact, none of those who talked knew anything whatever.
Peggy confided in no one but Red Mick, and that worthy had had enough
legal experience of a rough and ready sort to know that things must be
kept quiet till the proper time. But by way of getting ready for action
Red Mick and his sister one fine morning rode up to Gavan Blake's office
to consult him as to what they should do.

Blake was not at all surprised to see them. He, of course, had heard all
the rumours that were afloat, and knew that if Peggy brought forward any
claim he would be asked to act for her professionally. He had not quite
decided whether he would act or not. In his hard commonsense mind he
saw next to no possibility of Peggy having a bonâ fide case. He did not
suppose for a moment that William Grant would have run his neck into
a bigamy noose; and it would put the young lawyer in a very awkward
position with Mary Grant if, after saving her life and posing as her
friend, he carried on a blackmailing suit against her. At the same time,
he felt that it could do no harm to either side to investigate Peggy's
case; there might be awkward things that he could help to suppress. So
with expectancy and not a little amusement he saw his clients ride up
and tie their horses to the fence outside his office, and watched Peggy
straighten her ruffled plumage before entering.

They came in at the door with a seriousness worthy of the occasion.
Peggy heaved a subdued sigh and settled in a chair. Red Mick opened the
conversation.

"Mornin' to you, Gavan," he said.

By virtue of his relationship Mick was privileged to call his brilliant
nephew by his Christian name. To the rest of the clans Gavan was Mr.
Blake.

"Good-morning, Mick. Good-morning, Peggy. Have you had any rain?"

In the bush no one would think of introducing discussion without a
remark about the weather.

"Jist a few drops," said Red Mick gloomily. "Do us no good at all.
Things is looking terrible bad, so they are. But we want to see
ye--" and here he dropped his voice, rose, and cautiously closed the
door--"Peggy here, Mrs. Grant, d'ye see,"--Mick got the name out without
an effort--"she wants to see ye about making a claim on the estate. 'Tis
time she done somethin'. All these years left to shift for herself--"

Here Blake broke in on him. He meant to probe Peggy's case thoroughly,
and knew that it would be no easy matter to get at the truth while she
had Red Mick alongside to prompt her. He had not dealt with the mountain
folk for nothing, and handled his clients in a way that would astonish a
more conservative practitioner.

"Mick," he said, "You go over to Isaacstein's store and wait till I send
for you."

"I want Mick to be wid me," began Peggy.

Blake blazed up. He knew that he must keep his ascendancy over these
wild people by force of determination.

"You heard what I said," he thundered, turning fiercely on Peggy. "You
want this and you want that! It's not what you want, it's what I want!
You do what you're told. If you don't--I won't help you. Mick, you go
over to the store, and wait till I send for you." And Mick shambled off.

Peggy, still inclined to be defiant, settled herself in her chair. She
had battled in North Queensland so long that she neither feared nor
respected anybody; but her native shrewdness told her she had all to
gain and nothing to lose by doing what her lawyer advised.

"Now, Peggy," he said, "do you want to make a claim against William
Grant's estate?"

"Yis."

"On the ground that you're his widow?"

"Yis. I'll tell yer--"

"No, you won't tell me anything. I'll tell you. If you are to have any
hope of succeeding in this case, you must furnish me with the name of
the priest or parson who married you, the place where you were married,
and the date. It must be a real priest or parson, a real place, and
a real date. It's no use coming along with a story of a marriage by
a parson and you've forgotten his name, at a place you can't remember
where it was, and a date that's slipped your memory. You must have a
story to tell, and it must hold water. Now, can you tell such a story?
Have you got any proofs at all?"

Peggy shifted about uneasily.

"Can I see Mick?" she said.

"No, you can not. You must out with it here and now. Listen to me,
Peggy," he went on, sinking his voice suddenly and looking hard at her.
"I've got to know all about this. It's no use keeping anything back.
Were you ever married to William Grant?"

Peggy dropped her voice too.

"Yis. I was married twenty-five years ago at a place called Pike's pub,
out in the Never-never country."

"Who read the service, parson or priest?"

"Neither. A mish'nary. Mish'nary to the blacks."

"Is he alive?"

"No, he died out there. He was sick then, wid the Queensland fever."

"What was his name?"

"Mr. Nettleship."

"Was the marriage ever registered?"

"Sorra one of me knows. He giv us each a bit of paper--our marriage
lines. 'Twas written in pencil. He had no ink in the place, and he had
no books wid him. He tore the sheet of paper and give us each half, wid
the writing on it; his horses got stole and he had to camp there. He
stayed round wid Pike and the blacks till he died."

"And where is the certificate? Have you lost it?"

"I sint mine down to Mick to keep for me--jist a bit of paper written in
pencil it was--and it got lost some ways; but I have a copy of it I med
at the time."

"Where is the copy now?"

"At Mick's place."

"You must tell Mick to bring it in. Now where is this place, Pike's?"

"Out this side of the opal-fields. It's wild and rough now, but what it
was then--well 'twas more like a black's camp nor a white man's place at
all."

Blake thought the story had gone far enough. He did not believe a word
of it. "Look here, Peggy," he said, "You have given the place, the date,
the name of the parson, and everything. Now you know that if you are
telling a lie it will be easily found out. They will soon find out if
there was such a missionary, and if he was up there at the time, and
if Mr. Grant was up there; and if you are caught out in a lie it may go
hard with you. Have you any witnesses?"

"Martin Doyle was there, Black Martin's son."

"What! Martin Doyle that's out at the nine-mile?"

"Yis. He was up driving the buggy and horses for Grant. He can swear to
the wedding.

"He can."

"Yis."

Blake sat back in his chair and looked at her. "Do you mean to tell
me," he said, "that you can show me a certificate and a witness to your
marriage with William Grant?"

Peggy looked doggedly down at the floor and said, in the tones of one
who is repeating the burial service or some other solemn function, "I
can prove the marriage."

Blake was puzzled. He had known the mountain folk all his life, and
knew that for uneducated people--or perhaps because they were uneducated
people--they were surprisingly clever liars. But he never dreamt that
any of them could hoodwink him; so he put Peggy once more through
the whole story,--made her describe all her actions on the day of the
wedding, where she stood, where the witness stood, what the parson said,
what her husband said. He went through the whole thing, and could see
no flaw in it. He knew that Peggy would not scruple to lie to him; but,
with the contempt of a clever man, he felt satisfied that he could soon
upset any concocted story. This story seemed to hold water, and the
more he cross-examined her the more sure he was that there was something
genuine about it; at the same time, he was sure that it was not all
genuine. Then a thought occurred to him.

"Would you settle this case if they offered you something?" he said.

"I'll do whatever you say," said Peggy, rising. "'Tis for you to say
what I ought to do. 'Tis not for the like of me, that is no scholar."

"Leave it to me," said Blake. "I'll do what is best for you. Send Martin
Doyle in to see me, Martin that was the witness. And about this copy
of the certificate, tell Mick to bring it in here. Now you go home, and
don't you say to one living soul one word of what has passed in here.
Tell them you are going on with the case, but don't say any more, or you
may land yourself in gaol. Do you hear me?"

And the cowed and flustered Peggy hurried away to join her brother, who
was far too wise to ask questions.

"Least said soonest mended," he said, when told that Blake required
silence.

After his clients had gone, Gavan Blake sat for half an hour almost
dazed. If Peggy's story was true, then Mary Grant was an outcast instead
of a great heiress. And while he had become genuinely fond of her (which
he never was of Ellen Harriott), he had no idea of asking her to share
his debts with him. He puzzled over the affair for a long time, and at
last his clear brain saw a way out of all difficulties. He would go over
to the old station, put the whole case before Mary Grant, and induce her
for peace' sake to give Peggy money to withdraw her claim. Out of this
money he himself would keep enough to pay all his pressing debts. He
would be that much to the good whatever happened, and afterwards would
have an added claim on Mary Grant's sympathies for having relieved her
of a vast lawsuit in which her fortune, and even her very name, were
involved.

This plan seemed to him the best for all parties--for himself
especially, which was the most important thing. If he could get a large
sum to settle the case, he could make Peggy give him a big share for his
trouble, and then at last be free from the haunting fear of exposure and
ruin. He felt sure that he was doing quite right in advising Mary Grant
to pay.

Again and again he ran over Peggy's case in his mind, and could see no
flaw in it. In the old days haphazard marriages were rather the rule
than the exception, and such things as registers were never heard of
in far-out parts. His trained mind, going through the various questions
that a cross-examiner would ask, and supplying the requisite answers,
decided that, though it might seem a trifle improbable, there was
nothing contradictory about Peggy's story. A jury would sympathise
with her, and the decisions of the Courts all leaned towards presuming
marriage where certain circumstances existed. By settling the case he
would do Mary Grant a real kindness. And afterwards--well, she would
probably be as grateful as when he had saved her life. He saw himself
the hero of the hour: ever prompt to decide, he saddled a horse, and at
once rode off to Kuryong to put the matter before her.



CHAPTER XXI. NO COMPROMISE.



While Gavan Blake was conferring with his clients, a very different sort
of conference was being held at Kuryong. The return of Charlie Gordon,
accompanied by Carew, had been voted by common consent an occasion for
holiday; and although, according to theory, a bush holiday is invariably
spent in kangaroo-hunting, yet the fact is that men who are in the
saddle from daylight to dark, from week-end to week-end, generally spend
a holiday resting legs that are cramped from the saddle, and arms
that ache from lifting sheep over hurdles or swinging the gates of
drafting-yards.

Thus it was that, on the holiday at Kuryong, the Bachelors'
Quarters--two large dormitory-like rooms that opened into one
another--were full of athletic male figures sprawling on the beds,
smoking black pipes all day, and yarning interminably. The main topic
of conversation was Peggy's claim against the estate. They had all heard
the rumours that were going round; each had quietly been trying to
find out what Peggy had to go on, and this pow-wow was utilised for
the purpose of comparing notes. They had one advantage over Gavan
Blake--they knew all about Considine, which Blake did not.

On one bed lay Pinnock, who had come up to make arrangements for
carrying on the station till the will was proved. On another bed
sprawled Carew, who, by virtue of his trip out back, was looked upon as
a bit of an oracle by Poss and Binjie, who had never been further than
the mountains. Poss and Binjie had dragged an old couch out of the next
room and were stretched on that, listening to the talk, and occasionally
throwing in a word of such wisdom as they had. Hugh sat in an armchair
by the window, smoking and dreaming.

Poss's voice cut knife-like through a cloud of tobacco smoke. He spoke
as one on the defensive.

"Well, I believe there's something in it, anyhow. Briney Donohoe told
me--"

Charlie Cordon's cold drawl interrupted the youth. "It's all rot," he
said. "Briney Donohoe told you--what does he know about it? You two boys
and Hugh have been stuck at home here so long, you believe anything. I
tell you, they'll do nothing. It's all talk, just to make themselves
big people. They have nothing to do just now, so it comes in handy as an
excuse to ride from one selection to another all day long and leave our
gates open. We have Peggy's measure, haven't we, Carew? That long-lost
relation of yours, old Considine!"

"I wish you did have him," said the lawyer. "He might come in very
handy. With a big property like this to go for, they are nearly sure to
have a try at it."

Poss took heart at finding himself supported by this new champion.
"Yes," he said. "Red Mick and Peggy are down at Gavan Blake's to-day.
I saw their horses hanging up outside as I came through. And Briney
Donohoe told me--"

"What do you think, Carew?" said Charlie, cutting Briney Donohoe off
again. "Don't you think that old fellow was telling the truth when he
said he married Peggy?"

"Sure he was," said the Englishman. "Never saw a fellow in such a funk
in my life."

"What about Peggy?" said Pinnock. "How did she take it?"

"Bold as brass! I thought she was going to kiss Charlie there, when she
found out who he was."

Pinnock laughed. "Funny thing," he said, "a woman like Peggy having the
chance to choose between two fortunes. Pity we couldn't induce her to
take the old bushman and be done with it. How much money has he come
into, Carew?"

"Oh, plenty of money. But of course there's an old place to keep up, and
the death duties are very heavy. Very expensive thing having money left
you in England, you know."

Charlie Gordon turned to Pinnock. "What you ought to do," he said (the
far-out man who has to shift for himself is always quite sure he can
settle all difficulties better than those whose profession it is), "what
you ought to do," he repeated, "is to send someone to Peggy and tell her
not to be such a fool. Tell her to stick to old Considine. That's what
you ought to do."

"Well, suppose you go and do it. You know the lady better than anyone
here, seemingly. But if she has been to see Blake, I expect the fat's in
the fire by this time."

"I don't think much of Blake takin' up the case," said Binjie, "after
the old lady asked him here. It's doing the black-snake act, I call it.
I don't suppose he'll come here any more after this."

Hugh still sat looking out of the window, smoking silently. "Here comes
Blake now, anyhow," he said. "He's just coming up the flat."

"Wants to see me, I expect," said Pinnock. "We'll know all about it now.
Must have heard I was here, and is come to declare war or sue for peace.
Someone had better go and meet him, I suppose."

"Dashed if I'll go," said Poss. "I don't care about a chap that doesn't
act white. I saw Red Mick's and Peggy's horses at his office to-day, and
now he comes up here as bold as brass."

"Let him go round to the front," said Hugh, "and then he can ask the
servants for whoever he wants. If we go out and meet him, we'll have to
ask him to stay."

The approach to houses in the bush is generally by way of the yard where
the horses arrive, and it is very unusual for anyone, except a stranger
making a formal visit, to be allowed to find their way round to the
front.

Blake rode up and gave his horse to the horse-boy. "Put him in the
stable for a while," he said. "I may want him again." Then he went round
to the front door and asked for Mrs. Gordon.

"I have come to see Miss Grant on very important business," he said when
the old lady came in. "Would you ask her if she would see me?"

The old lady was in a quandary. She had heard all the rumours that were
going about, but she knew that they had been kept from Mary Grant,
and she thought that if Blake meant to talk business he might shock or
startle the girl terribly.

"Mr. Pinnock the lawyer is here," she said. "Perhaps you had better see
him. Miss Grant does not know--"

"I am come as a friend of Miss Grant's, Mrs. Gordon," he said. "But, if
Mr. Pinnock is here, perhaps it would be better for me to see him first.
Shall I wait for him here?"

"If you will go into the office I will send him in there," and the old
lady withdrew to talk of commonplace matters with Mary, all the time
feeling that a great crisis was at hand.

Soon the two lawyers faced one another over the office table, and Blake
got to business at once.

"Mr. Pinnock," he said, "I am asked to act for Margaret Donohoe, or
Margaret Grant as she claims to be; and I want you to believe that I am
seriously telling you what I believe to be the truth, when I say that
Miss Grant had better settle this case."

"Why should she pay one penny? What proofs have you? It looks to me,
with all respect to you, Mr. Blake, like an ordinary case of blackmail."

"If it were blackmail," said Blake quietly, "do you think that I would
be here, giving you particulars of the case? I tell you, man, I am ready
now to give you all particulars, and you can soon see whether to advise
a settlement or not."

"Fire away, then," said Pinnock. "It will take a lot to convince me,
though, and so I tell you."

Blake gave him the particulars gleaned from Peggy. "I have examined and
cross-examined and re-cross-examined her, and I can't shake her story."

Pinnock listened with an immovable face, but his mind was working
like lightning. As the name of the missionary and Pike's Hotel were
mentioned, he remembered that he had seen these very names on the butts
of Grant's cheque-books. Getting Blake to excuse him for a moment, he
hurried to his room and pulled out a bundle of cheque-butts. The best
diary of many a man is found in his cheque-butts. There he saw on the
very date mentioned by Blake, cheques drawn to "Self and P.", also one
drawn to "Pike accommodation," and one simply to the name of Nettleship
for five pounds. Of course it was quite possible that the latter was
only a donation to charity, such as old Bully was occasionally very
free with; but, taken together, the whole lot made Blake's story look
unpleasantly probable. Pinnock whistled to himself as he tied the bundle
up again. "Case of settle or be sorry," he said to himself. "I wonder
how much will settle it?"

When he faced Blake again, he had pulled the mask of professional
stolidity over his features; also he lied boldly.

"I can see nothing to corroborate this story," he said; "but it may
be that Miss Grant would rather pay a few pounds than have the
unpleasantness of a trial. I will get her in and ask her if you like,
but I don't think it will lead to anything."

They were holding their conference in the office. Outside, the station
was dozing in the sun. The house dog slept in the yard, and a stray wild
pigeon had come down into the quadrangle, and was picking at some grain
that was spilt there. From the garden came the shouts of the children
and the happy laughter of Mary Grant.

"There she is now," said Pinnock. "Hadn't I better get her to come in
and get the thing over?"

He went out, and came back very soon. "Mrs. Gordon and Miss Grant are
coming," he said. "She said she would like Mrs. Gordon to be with her."

Before long they came in and sat down. Mary Grant had no idea what she
was wanted for. She greeted Blake with a glad smile, and waited to hear
what Pinnock had to say. It did not take the lawyer long to put the
story before her: but it was some time before she could understand
it. Nothing so tragic had ever entered her life before, and she seemed
almost stunned.

Mrs. Gordon moved to her side and took her hand.

"It is very terrible for you--for us all, dear," she said. "You must
listen to what Mr. Pinnock says, and make up your mind. He can advise
you best what to do."

Again Pinnock went through the case. As a full understanding broke in on
her, she drew herself up; the look of distress and perplexity left her
face, and her eyes were full of scorn and anger.

"Hello, what's coming now?" thought Pinnock. "I hope she says nothing
rash."

She tried to speak once or twice, but the words seemed to choke her.

"What do you advise me to do, Mr. Pinnock?" she said, turning to him
suddenly.

"I advise you to give me power to act for you in the matter as I think
best," said Pinnock, who saw that matters were likely to slip beyond his
control. "From what Mr. Blake tells me, I daresay this woman can give
you a lot of trouble and annoyance. Whatever you pay her, you won't miss
the money. You will save the family here from being turned out; you will
avoid scandal; and if there should be any foundation for Mr. Blake's
story, it may mean that if you don't settle you lose everything."

From him Mary Grant turned to the old lady.

"Mrs. Gordon," she said, "do you advise me to pay this money?"

"My dear, I don't advise at all. Don't consider us in the matter at all.
It is for you to say."

"Then I will pay nothing. It is a cruel, infamous, wicked slander. These
poor, ignorant people don't know what they are doing. Sooner than pay
one penny in compromise, I will walk off this station a pauper. God will
not let such villainy win. Mrs. Gordon, surely you don't think that I
ought to blacken my father's and mother's name by paying money to keep
this claim quiet?"

Here Pinnock broke in on her speech. "But if they should manage to
produce evidence--"

"Let them produce it, and let the judge believe it if he likes. You and
I and everybody know that it is a lie; even if they win the case, it is
still a lie. I will pay nothing--not one halfpenny. My mother's name
is more than all the money in the world, and I will not blacken it by
compromises. Mr. Pinnock, the case is to be fought out, and if we lose
we shall still know that justice is on our side; but if we pay money--"

Mrs. Gordon took her hand, and lifted it to her lips.

"I think you are quite right, my dear. You put us all to shame for even
thinking of it."

"I am very sorry, Mr. Blake," the girl went on, "very sorry indeed that
you should have come here on such an errand. You saved my life, and if I
could pay you for that I would; but this offer is an insult, and I hope
that you will never come here again. Whether I am turned out of the old
station or not, I hope that you will never come here again." And with
that the two ladies walked out, leaving the lawyers looking at each
other.

"I am afraid, Mr. Blake" said Pinnock at last, "that we have lost any
hope we might ever have had of settling this case."

But Blake, as he rode homewards, felt that he had lost for ever a much
higher hope. He had played for a high stake on two chances. One of them
had failed him. There remained only the chance of pulling Peggy's
case through; and he swore that if hard work, skill, and utter
unscrupulousness could win that case, it should be won.



CHAPTER XXII. A NURSE AND HER ASSISTANT.



While they were waiting for the great case to come on a sort of
depression seemed to spread itself over the station. The owner was
mostly shut up in her room with her thoughts; the old lady was trying to
comfort her, and Ellen Harriott, with sorrow always at her heart, went
about the household work like an automaton. No wonder that as soon as
breakfast was over all the men cleared out to work on the run. But one
day it so happened that Carew did not go out with the others. The young
Englishman was a poor correspondent, and had promised himself a whole
quiet day to be spent in explaining by letter to his people at home the
mysterious circumstances under which he had found and lost Patrick Henry
Considine. Ellen Harriott found him in the office manfully wrestling
with some extra long words, and stopped for a few minutes' talk. She had
a liking for the young Englishman, and any talk was better than to be
left alone with her thoughts.

"These are bad times for the old station, Mr. Carew," she said. "We
don't know what is going to happen next."

Carew was not going to haul down the flag just yet. "I believe
everything 'll come all right in the long run, don't you know," he said.
"Never give up first hit, you know; see it out--eh, what?"

"I want to get away out of this for a while," she said. "I am run down.
I think the bush monotony tells on women. I don't want anyone to fall
sick, but I do wish I could get a little nursing to do again--just for a
change. I would nurse Red Mick himself."

Is there anything in telepathy? Do coming events sometimes send warnings
on ahead? Certain it is that, even as she spoke, a rider on a sweating
horse was seen coming at full speed up the flat; he put his horse over
the sliprails that led into the house paddock without any hesitation,
and came on at a swinging gallop.

"What is this?" said Ellen Harriott, "more trouble? It is only trouble
that comes so fast. Why, it is one of Red Mick's nephews!" By this
time the rider was up to them; without dismounting he called out Miss!
Please, Miss! There's been an accident. My uncle got run agin a tree and
he's all smashed in the head. I'm off to the Doctor now; I'll get the
Doctor here by to-morrow night, and would you go out and do aught
you can for Mick? There's no one out there but old Granny, and she's
helpless like. Will you go?"

"Is he much hurt?"

"I'm afraid he's killed, Miss. I found him, He'd been out all night
and the side of his head all busted. After a dingo he was--I seen the
tracks. Coming back from Gavan Blake's he must 'a' seen the dorg off the
track, and the colt he was on was orkard like and must have hit him agen
a tree. The colt kem home with the saddle under his belly, and I run the
tracks back till I found him. Will you go out, Miss?"

"Yes," said Ellen, "I will go. And you hurry on now, and get the Doctor.
Tell the Doctor I've gone out there." Like an arrow from the bow the
young fellow sent his big thoroughbred horse across the paddocks, making
a bee line over fences and everything for Tarrong, while Ellen Harriott
hurried in to pack up a few things.

"Can I help you at all?" said Carew, following her into the house. I'd
like to be some use, don't you know; but in this country I seem to be so
dashed useless.

"You will be a lot of use if you will come out with me. I shall want
someone to drive the trap out, and I may want help with the patient. You
are big and strong.

"Yes, and it's about the first time my strength has even been of any use
to anybody. I will go and get the trap ready while you dress."

Hurriedly they packed food and blankets into the light buggy, and set
off. Miss Harriott knew the tracks well, and the buggy fairly flew along
till they came up the flat to Red Mick's. As they drew near the hut a
noise of talking and crying came through the open door.

"What's up now?" said Carew. "Crowd of people there."

"No"--Ellen Harriott listened for a second. "No," she said, "he is
delirious. That is the old woman crying. Hurry up, Mr. Carew--take the
horse out of the buggy and put him in the stable, and then come in as
quickly as you can. I may want help."

Leaving Carew to unharness the horse, she went inside. In the inner
roomy on a bunk, lay Red Mick. Eye, nose, forehead, and mouth were all
one unrecognisable lump, while fragments of bark and splinters still
stuck to the skin. In the corner sat the old mother, crying feebly.
Disregarding the old woman, Ellen made a swift examination of Mick's
injuries, but as soon as he felt her touch on his face he sprang to his
feet and struck at her.

Just as he did so, Carew rushed in and threw his arms round the madman.
In that grip even Red Mick had no power to move.

"Just hold him quiet," said Ellen, "till I have a look"--and she rapidly
ran her fingers over the wound. "Very bad. I think there must be a bit
of the skull pressing on the brain. We can't do much till the Doctor
comes. I think he will be quiet now. Will you make a fire and boil some
water, so that I can clean and dress the wound That will ease him a
little. And get the blankets in; we can make up some sort of place on
the floor to sleep. One of us will have to watch all night. Cranny, you
must go to bed, do you hear? Come and sit by Mick till I put Granny to
bed."

By degrees they got things shipshape--put the old woman to bed, and
cleaned and dressed Mick's wounds. Then they settled down for the long
night in the sick-room. A strange sick-room it was; but many a hospital
is less healthy. Through wide cracks between the slabs there came in the
cool, fresh air that in itself is worth more than all the medicines
in the pharmacopoeia. The patient had sunk into an uneasy slumber when
Ellen made her dispositions for the night.

"You go and lie down now," she said, "in the other room, on the sofa. I
will call you if I want you. Get all the sleep you can, and in a couple
of hours you can take my place. He may talk, but don't let that disturb
you. I will call out loud enough if I want you."

"Mind you do," said the Englishman. "I sleep like a blessed top, you
know. Sleep anywhere. Well, good-night for the present. He looks a
little better since you washed him, doesn't he?"

He threw himself on the couch in the inner room, and before long a
titanic snore showed that he had not over-rated his sleeping powers.

Ellen Harriott sat by Red Mick's bedside and thought over the events of
the last few weeks. As she thought she half-dozed, but woke with a start
to find her patient broad awake again and trying to get at something
that was under his bunk. Quietly she drew him back, for his struggles
with Carew had left him weak as a child.

He looked at her with crazed eyes.

"The paper," he said, "for the love of God, the paper. I have to take it
to Gavan. 'Twill win the case. The paper."

She tried to pacify him, but nothing would do but that she should get
the mysterious paper. At last, to humour him, she dived under the bunk
and found an iron camp-oven, and in it a single envelope. Just to see
what was exciting him she opened the envelope, and found a crumpled
piece of paper which she read over to herself. It was the original
certificate of the marriage between Patrick Henry Keogh and Margaret
Donohoe; if Ellen had only known it, she held in her hand the evidence
to sweep away all her friend's troubles. It so happened, however, that
it conveyed nothing to her mind. She had heard much about Considine, but
not a word about Keogh, and the name "Margaret Donohoe" did not strike
her half-asleep mind as referring to Peggy. She put the paper away again
in the camp-oven; then, feeling weary, she awoke Carew and lay down on
the couch while he watched the patient.

Next morning the Doctor arrived with a trail of Red Mick's relations
after him; among them they arranged to take him into Tarrong to be
operated on, and Ellen Harriott and Carew drove back to Kuryong feeling
as if they had known each other all their lives.

As they drove along she wondered idly which of Red Mick's innumerable
relatives the paper referred to, and why Mick was so anxious about it;
but by the time they arrived at home the matter passed from her
mind, except that she remembered well enough what was written on the
odd-looking little scrap.

"I will give you a certificate as a competent wardsman if ever you want
one," she said to Carew as he helped her out of the buggy. "I don't know
what I'd have done without you."

"You'd have managed somehow, I'll bet," he said, looking at the
confident face before him. "Quite a bit of fun, wasn't it? I hope we
have a few more excursions together."

And she felt that she rather hoped so, too.



CHAPTER XXIII. HUGH GOES IN SEARCH.



Who does not remember the first exciting news of the great Grant v.
Grant will case? The leading Q.C.'s. watched eagerly for briefs; juniors
who held even the smallest briefs in connection with it patronised
their fellows, and explained to them intricate legal dodges which they
themselves had thought out and "pumped into" their learned leaders.
"Took me a doose of a time to get him to see it, but I think he has got
it at last," they used to say. The case looked like lasting for years,
for there would be appeals and counter-appeals, references, inquiries
and what not; and in getting ready for the first fight the lawyers on
each side worked like beavers.

Blake let it be known among the clans that he was going to fight the
case for Peggy, and that there was going to be a lawsuit such as the
most veteran campaigner of them all had never even dimly imagined--a
lawsuit with the happiness of a beautiful woman and the disposal of a
vast fortune at stake. Word was carried from selection to selection,
across trackless mountain-passes, and over dangerous river crossings,
until even Larry, the outermost Donohoe, heard the news in his rocky
fastness, miscalled a grazing lease, away in the gullies under the
shadows of Black Andrew mountain. By some mysterious means it even
reached Briney Doyle, who was camped out near the foothills of
Kosciusko, running wild horses into trap-yards. This occupation had
taken such hold on him that he had become as wild as the horses he
pursued, and it was popularly supposed that the other Doyles had to go
out with horses to run him in whenever they wanted him.

Peggy brought in the copy of her marriage certificate, an old and faded
piece of paper which ran--"This is to certify that I, Thomas Nettleship,
duly ordained clergyman of the Church of England, have this day
solemnized a marriage between William Grant, Bachelor, and Margaret
Donohoe, Spinster."

The name of Pike's Hotel and the date were nearly illegible, but there
the document was; and though it was not the original certificate, it
was pretty clear that Peggy could never have invented it. Its production
made a great impression. It certainly went far to convince Blake.

He had cross-examined all the witnesses, had checked their accounts by
each other, had followed William Grant's career at that time, had got on
to the history of the bush missionary; and everything fitted in. Martin
Doyle--Black Martin's son Martin--was letter-perfect in his part. Peggy
could give the details of the ceremony with unfaltering accuracy fifty
times a day if need be, and never contradict herself. So at last he gave
up trying to find holes in the case, and determined to go in and win.

On the other side there was trouble in the camp--no witnesses could be
found, except Martin Doyle, and he was ready to swear to the wedding. At
last it became evident that the only chance of overthrowing Peggy's case
was to find Considine; but the earth seemed to have swallowed him up.

The influence of the Chief of Police was brought to bear, and many a
weary mile did the troopers of the Outer Back ride in search of the
missing man. One of them followed a Considine about two hundred
miles across country, and embodied the story of his wanderings in a
villainously written report; brief and uncouth as the narrative was,
it was in itself an outline picture of bush life. From shearers' hut to
artesian borers' camp, from artesian well to the opal-fields, from the
opal-fields to a gold-rush, from the gold-rush to a mail-coach stable,
he pursued this Considine, only to find that, in the words of the
report, "the individual was not the same."

Things looked hopeless for Mary Grant, when help came from an unexpected
quarter. A letter written in a rugged, forcible fist, arrived for
Charlie Gordon from a young fellow named Redshaw, once a station-hand on
Kuryong, who had gone out to the back-country and was rather a celebrity
in his way. His father was a pensioner at the old station, and Redshaw
junior, who was known as Flash Jack, evidently kept in touch with things
at Kuryong. He wrote

Dear Sir,

I hear from Gannon the trooper that you want to find Keogh. When he left
the coach that time, he went back to the station and got his horses, and
cleared out, and he is now hiding in Reeves's buffalo camp at the back
of Port Faraway. If I hear any more will let you know.

J. REDSHAW, alas 'Flash Jack.'

"What's all this?" said Pinnock, when Charlie and Carew brought him the
letter. "Who is J. Redshaw, and why does he sign "alas Flash Jack?"

"He means Alias, don't you see? Alias Flash Jack. He is a man we used
to have on the station, and his father used to work for us--I expect he
wants to do us a good turn."

"It will be a good turn in earnest, if he puts you in the way of finding
Considine," said the lawyer. "You will have to send Hugh up. The old
man knows you and Carew, and if he saw you coming he would take to the
woods, as the Yankees say. Even when you do get him the case isn't
over, because the jury will side with Peggy. They'll sympathise with
her efforts to prove herself an honest woman. It isn't marrying too much
that will get her into trouble--it's the other thing. But we have the
date and place of her alleged marriage with William Grant; and if this
old Considine can prove, by documents, mind you, not by his own simple
word--because it's a hundred to one the jury wouldn't believe him--I
say, if he can prove that she married him on that very day and at that
very place, then she's beaten. No one on earth could swallow the story
of her marrying two different people on the same day."

"Hugh can go," said Charlie. "He'll have to do his best this time. It
all depends on getting hold of this Considine, eh? Well, Hugh 'll have
to get him. If he fails he needn't show his face amongst us any more."

Mary Grant was called in and told the great news, and then Pinnock
started out to find Hugh. But before the lawyer could see him, Mary met
him in the garden.

Hugh did not see that he could be of any use in the case, and wanted to
be quit of Kuryong for good. Seeing Mary day after day, he had become
more and more miserable as the days went by. He determined at last to go
away altogether, and, when once he had made up his mind, only waited for
a chance to tell her that he was going. The chance came as she left the
office after consulting with Pinnock.

"Miss Grant," he said, "if you don't mind, I think I will resign my
management of this station. I will make a start for myself or get a job
somewhere else. You will easily get someone to take my place."

She looked at him keenly for a while.

"I didn't expect this of you," she said, bitterly. "The rats leave the
sinking ship. Is that it?"

His face flushed a dull red. "You know better than that," he said. "I
would stop if I could be of any use, but what is there I can do?"

"Why do you want to leave?"

"I want to get away from here--I want to get out of the hills for
awhile."

Mary knew, as well as if he had told her, that what he wanted was to go
where he could forget her and see whether absence would break the chain;
and triumph lit up her eyes, for it was pleasant even in the midst
of her troubles to know that he still cared. Then she came to a swift
decision.

"Will you do something for me away from the hills, then?" she said.

"Where?"

"Up North. I want some one to find that man Considine that your brother
and Mr. Carew met. You know how important it is to me. Will you do it
for me?"

Hugh would have jumped at the chance to risk his life for her lightest
wish.

"I will go anywhere and do my best to find anyone you want," he said;
"When do you want me to start?"

"See Mr. Pinnock and your brother about that. They will tell you all
about it; and if you do manage to find this man, why, you can talk about
leaving after that if you want to. Will you go for me?"

"Yes. I will go, Miss Grant; and I will never come back till I find this
man--if he is alive."

She laid her hand on his arm.

"I know you will do all you can," she said, "but in any case, whether
you find him or not--come back again!"



CHAPTER XXIV. THE SECOND SEARCH FOR CONSIDINE.



Before leaving Hugh was fully instructed what to do if he compassed the
second finding of Considine. He was to travel under another name,
for fear that his own would get about, and cause the fugitive to make
another hurried disappearance.

He took a subpoena to serve on the old man as a last resource.

Charlie was emphatic. "Go up and get hold of the old vagrant, and find
out all about it. Don't make a mess of it, whatever you do. Remember the
old lady, and Miss Grant, and the youngsters, and all of us depend on
you in this business. Don't come back beaten. Don't let anything stop
you. Get him drunk or get him sober--friendly or fighting--but get the
truth, and get the proofs of it. Choke it out of the old hound somehow."

Hugh said that he would, and departed, weighed down by responsibility,
to execute his difficult mission. He had to go into an untravelled
country to get the truth out of a man who did not want to tell it; and
the time allowed was short, as the case could not be postponed much
longer.

He travelled by sea to Port Faraway, a tropical sweltering township by
the Northern seas of Australia, and when he reached it felt like one of
the heroes in Tennyson's Lotus Eaters--he had come "into a land wherein
it seemed always afternoon."

Reeves, the buffalo shooter, was a well-known man, but to find his camp
was another matter. No one seemed to have energy enough to take much
interest in the quest.

Hugh interviewed a leading citizen at the hotel, and got very little
satisfaction. He said, "I want to get out to Reeves's camp. Do you know
where it is, and how one gets there?"

"Well," said the leading citizen, putting his feet up on the arms of his
long chair and gasping for air, "Le's see! Reeves's camp--ah! Where is
he camped now?"

"I don't know," said Hugh. "I wish I did. That's what I want to find
out."

"Hopkins'd know. Hopkins, the storekeeper. He sends out the supplies.
Did you ask him?"

"No," said Hugh. "I didn't. I'll go and ask him now."

"Too hot to bustle round now," said the leading citizen, lighting his
pipe. "What'll you have to drink? Have some square; it's the best drink
here."

Hugh thought it well to fall in with the customs of the inhabitants,
so he had a stiff gin-and-water at nine in the morning, a thing he had
never done, or even seen done, in his life before. Then he went over in
the blazing sunlight to the storekeeper, and asked whether he knew where
Reeves' camp was.

"That I don't," said the storekeeper. "I send out what they want by
a Malay who sails a one-masted craft round the coast, and goes up the
river to their camp, and brings the hides back. They send a blackfellow
to let me know when they want any stuff, and where to send it."

"Perhaps I could go out with the next lot of stuff," said Hugh. "When
will they want it, do you think?"

"Well, they mightn't want any more. They might go on now till the wet
season, and then they'll come in."

"When is the wet season, then?"

"Oh, a couple of months, likely. Perhaps three months. Perhaps there
won't be none at all to speak of. What'll you have?"

"Oh, I have just had a drink, thanks. Fact is, I'm a bit anxious to get
out to this camp. It's a bit important. You don't know where they are
for certain?"

"Lord knows! Anywhere! Might be on one river, might be on another.
They'll come in in the wet season. Better have a drink, anyhow. You must
have something. What'll it be--square? Beer? Can't stand beer in this
climate, myself."

"Oh, well," said Hugh desperately, "I'll have another square. Make it a
light one. Do you think I can get anyone who knows where they are camped
to go out with me?"

"Tommy Prince'd know, I expect. He was out in that country before. But
he's gone with a bullock-team, drawing quartz to the new battery at the
Oriental. At least I saw him start out three weeks ago. Said he was in
a hurry, too, as the battery couldn't start until he got the quartz
hauled."

"Perhaps he didn't start," said Hugh; "perhaps he put it off till after
the wet season?"

"Well," said the storekeeper, meditatively, "he might, but I don't think
he would. There's no one else, that I know of, can find them for you.
Lord knows where they are. They camp in one place till the buffalo are
all shot, and then they shift to new ground. Perhaps ten miles, perhaps
thirty. Have another drink? What'll you have?"

"No, not any more, thanks. About this Tommy Prince, now; if I can find
him he might tell me where to go. Where can I find him?"

"Down at the Margaret is where he camps, but I think he's gone to the
Oriental by this time--sure to be. That's about forty miles down past
the Margaret. There was a fellow came in from the Margaret for supplies,
and he'll be going back to-morrow--if he can find his pack-horses."

"And supposing he can't?"

"Well, then, he'll go out next week, I expect, unless he gets on the
drink. He's a terrible chap to drink."

"And if he starts to drink, when will he go?"

"Lord knows. They'll have to send in after him. His mates'll be pretty
near starved by now, anyhow. He's been in town, foolin' round that
girl at the Royal this three weeks. He'll give you a lift out to the
Margaret--that's forty miles."

"What is there out at the Margaret when I get there? Is it a town, or a
station, or a mine? What is it?"

"Oh, it's not so bad. There's a store there, and a few mines scattered
about. Mostly Chinese mines. The storekeeper there's a great soaker,
nearly always on the drink. Name's Sampson. He'll tell you where to find
Tommy Prince. Prince and his mates have a claim twelve miles out from
there, and if Tommy ain't gone to the Oriental, he might go down with
you."

"Supposing Tommy's at his claim, twelve miles out," said Hugh, "how can
I get out?"

"I dunno," said the storekeeper, who was getting tired of talking so
long without a drink. "I dunno how you'll get out there. Better have a
drink--what'll you have?"

Hugh walked out of the store in despair. He found himself engaged in
what appeared to be an endless chase after a phantom Considine, and the
difficulties in his way semed insuperable. Yet how could he go back and
tell them all at home that he had failed? What would they think of him?
The thought made him miserable; and he determined, if he failed, never
to go back to the old station at all.

So he returned to his hotel, packed his valise, and set out to look
for the pack-horse man. He found him fairly sober; soon bargained to be
allowed to ride one of the horses, and in due course was deposited
at the Margaret--a city consisting of one galvanised-iron building,
apparently unoccupied. His friend dismounted and had a drink with him
out of his flask. They kicked at the door unavailingly; then his mate
went on into the indefinite, leaving him face to face with general
desolation.

The Margaret store was the only feature in the landscape--a small
building with a heap of empty bottles in the immediate foreground, and
all round it the grim bush, a vista of weird twisted trees and dull
grey earth with scanty grass. At the back were a well, a windlass, and a
trough for water, round which about a hundred goats were encamped. Hugh
sat and smoked, and looked at the prospect. By-and-by out of the bush
came two men, a Chinaman and a white man. The Chinaman was like all
Chinamen; the white man was a fiery, red-faced, red-bearded, red-nosed
little fellow. The Chinee was dragging a goat along by the horns, the
goat hanging back and protesting loudly in semi-human screams; every now
and again a black mongrel dog would make sudden fiendish dashes at the
captive, and fasten its teeth in its neck. This made it bellow louder;
but the Chinaman, with the impassibility of his race, dragged goat, dog,
and all along, without the slightest show of interest.

The white man trudged ahead, staring fixedly in front; when they reached
the store he stared at Hugh as if he were the Bunyip, but said no word.
Then he unlocked the door, went in, and came out with a large knife,
with which he proceeded to murder the goat scientifically. The Chinee
meanwhile bailed up the rest of the animals, and caught and milked a
couple of "nannies," while a patriarchal old "billy" walked fragrantly
round the yard, uttering hoarse "buukhs" of defiance.

It was a truly pastoral scene, but Hugh took little interest in it. He
was engrossed with the task of getting out to the buffalo camp,
finding Considine, and making him come forward and save the family. He
approached the white, or rather red man, who cocked a suspicious eye at
him, and went on tearing the hide off the goat. Hugh noticed that his
hand trembled a good deal, and that a sort of foam gathered on his lips
as he worked.

"Good day," said Hugh.

The man glared at him, but said nothing.

"My name is Lambton," said Hugh. "I want to go out to the buffalo camp.
I want to find Tommy Prince, to see if he can go out with me. Do you
know where he is?"

The man put the blade of the butcher's knife between his teeth, and
stared again at Hugh, apparently having some difficulty in focussing
him. Then his lips moved, and he was evidently trying to frame speech.
He said, "Boo, Boo, Boo," for a few seconds; then he pulled himself
together, and said,

"Wha' you want?"

"I want to get to the buffalo camp," said Hugh. "You know Reeves's
camp."

Here a twig fell to the ground just behind the man; he gave one
blood-curdling yell, dropped the knife, and rushed past Hugh, screaming
out, "Save me! Save me! They're after me! Look at 'em; look at 'em!" His
hair stood perfectly erect with fright, and, as he ran, he glanced over
his shoulder with frightened eyes. He didn't get far. In his panic he
ran straight towards the well, banged his head against the windlass, and
went thundering down the twenty or thirty feet of shaft souse into the
water at the bottom, where he splashed and shrieked like a fiend, the
noise reverberating up the long shaft.

Hugh and the Chinaman ran to the well-top, Hugh cursing under his
breath. Every possible obstacle that could arise had arisen to block
his journey; every man that could have helped him was away, or dead, or
otherwise missing; and now, to crown all, after getting thus far, he had
apparently struck a prize lunatic, and would have to stay in that awful
desolation, perhaps for a week, with him and a Chinaman. Perhaps he
would have to give evidence on the lunatic's dead body, and even be
accused of causing his death. All these thoughts flashed through his
mind as he ran to the well-head. From the noise he made the man was
evidently not dead yet, and, looking down, he saw his eyes glaring up as
he splashed in the water.

"What's up with him?" roared Hugh to the Chinaman.

"Him, dlink, dlink--all-a-time dlink, him catchee hollows."

They had started to lower the bucket, when suddenly the yells ceased,
a loud bubbling was heard, and looking down they saw only a dim, round
object above the water. Without an instant's delay Hugh put his foot in
the bucket and signed to the Chinee to lower him. Swiftly and silently
he descended the well, jumped out of the bucket, and grabbed the
floating body of the drunkard with one hand, holding on to the rope with
the other. The man had collapsed, and was as limp as a rag. Hugh made
the rope fast under his armpits, and gave the old mining cry, "On top
there, haul away."

Heavily the windlass creaked. Mightily the Chinee strained. The
unconscious figure was drawn out of the water and up the shaft, inch by
inch. The weight of a man in wet clothes is considerably more than that
of a bucket of water, and it seemed a certainty that either the old
windlass would break or the Chinaman's arms give out. Slowly, slowly,
the limp wet figure ascended the shaft, while Hugh supported himself in
the water, by gripping the logs at the side of the well, praying that
the tackle would hold. The creaking of the windlass ceased, and the
ascending body stopped--evidently the Chinee was pausing to get his
breath.

"Go on!" screamed Hugh. "Keep at it, John! Don't let it beat you! Wind
away!"

Faintly came the gasped reply, "No can! No more can do!"

He lowered himself in the water as far as he could, to deaden the blow
in case of the fellow falling back on him, and screamed encouragement,
threats, and promises up the well. Suddenly from above came a new voice
altogether, a white man's voice.

"Right oh, boss! We've got him."

The windlass recommenced its creaking, and the figure at the end of the
rope continued its slow, upward journey. Hugh saw the body hauled slowly
to the top and grabbed by a strong hand; then it disappeared, and the
sunlight once more streamed, uninterrupted, down the shaft. The bucket
came down again, and Hugh clutched it and yelled out, "Haul away!" He
could hear the men grunting above as they turned the handle.

When he had been hauled about fifteen feet there was a crack; the old
windlass had collapsed, and he went souse, feet first, into the water.
He sank till he touched the bottom, then rose gasping to the surface.
A head appeared, framed in the circle of the well, and a slow, drawling
colonial voice said:

"Gord! boss, are you hurt? The windlass is broke."

"No, I'm not hurt. Can't you fix that windlass?" roared Hugh.

"No!" came the answer sepulchrally down the well. "She's cooked."

"Well, hold on," said Hugh. "I believe I can get up." He braced his feet
against one side of the well, and his shoulders against the other, and
so, working them alternately, he raised himself inch by inch. It is a
feat that requires a good man to perform, and the strain was very great.
Grimly he kept at it, and drew nearer and nearer to the top. Then, at
last, a hand seized him; half-sick with over-exertion, he struggled out
and fell gasping to the ground. For a minute or two the universe was
turning round with him. The Chinee and the strange white man moved in a
kind of flicker, unreal as the figures in a cinematograph. Then all was
blank for a while.

When he came to, he was lying by the well with a bag under his head, and
the strange white man was trying to pour some spirits down his throat.

"I'm--all right--thanks!" gasped Hugh.

"By Gord, Mister, it's lucky I happened to come along," said the
stranger. "You an' Sampson'd ha' both been drownded. That Chow couldn't
haul him up. Dead beat the Chow was when I came. I jis' come ridin' up,
thinkin' to get a few pound of onions to take out to the camp, and I
see the Chow a-haulin' and a-haulin' at that windlass like as if he
was tryin' to pull the bottom out of the well. I rides up and sings out
"What ho! Chaney, what yer got?" And he says, "Ketch hold," he says,
and that was all he could say; he was fair beat. And then I heard you
singing out, and I says to meself, "Is the whole popperlation of the
Northern Territory down this here well? How many more is there, Chancy?"
I says. And then bung goes the old windlass, and lucky it ketched in
the top of the well; if it had fell down on the top of you, it'd ha'
stiffened you all right. And how you got up that well beats me. By
Cripes, it does."

"How's the--man that--was down with me?" said Hugh slowly.

"What, Sampson? 'E's all right. Couldn't kill'm with a meat-axe. He
must ha' swallowed very near all the water in that well. Me an' the Chow
emptied very near two buckets out of him. He's dead to the world jes'
now. How do you feel, boss?"

"I'll be all right in a minute," said Hugh. "What's your name?"

"I'm Tommy Prince," said the stranger. "I jist kem in from my camp
to-day for them onions."

Hugh drew a long breath. The luck had turned at last.



CHAPTER XXV. IN THE BUFFALO CAMP.



"You're just the man I was looking for," said Hugh, taking in the
stranger with his eyes. "I want to get out to Reeves's buffalo camp, and
I hear you're the only man who knows that country at all. Can you get
time to come down with me? I'll make it worth your while."

He waited for the reply with a beating heart. If this man failed him he
saw nothing for it but to go back. The stranger lit his pipe with the
leisurely movements of a man who had never been in a real hurry in his
life.

Then he spoke slowly.

"Well, it's this way, boss, you see. I'm just startin' off in no end
of a hurry to go and take a team of bullocks to the Oriental to draw
quartz."

"Can't you put it off for a while?" said Hugh. "It's getting near the
wet season."

"Well, I'd like to go with you, boss, but I couldn't chuck 'em over--not
rightly I couldn't." He stroked his beard and relapsed into thought.

"Let's go in and get a drink," said Hugh. "I suppose there is some
square-face inside."

The square-face settled it. They had one drink, and the stranger began
to think less of the needs of the Oriental. They had another, and he
said he didn't suppose it'd matter much if the Oriental had to wait a
bit for their stone, and the bullocks were all over the bush and very
poor, and by the time he got them together the wet season would be on.
They had a third, and he said that the Oriental had been hanging on
for six months, and it wouldn't hurt it to hang on for seven, and he
wouldn't see a man like Hugh stuck.

So the shareholders in that valuable concern, the Oriental Mine, were
kept in pleasing suspense for some months longer, while the mine-manager
(whose salary was going on all the time) did nothing but smoke, and
write reports to the effect that "a very valuable body of stone was at
grass, awaiting cartage to the battery, when a splendid crushing was a
certainty." Meanwhile Tommy Prince was gaily journeying with Hugh down
to the buffalo camp.

Prince, a typical moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted,
cabbage-tree-hatted bushman, soon fixed up all details. He annexed the
horses belonging to the store, sagely remarking that, as Hugh had saved
their owner's life, he could afford to let him have a few horses. He
also helped himself to pack-saddles, camping gear, supplies, and all
sorts of odds and ends--not forgetting a couple of gallons of
rum, mosquito-nets made of cheese cloth, blankets, and a rifle and
cartridges. They fitted out the expedition in fine style, while
unconscious Sampson slept the sleep of the half-drowned. The placid
Chinese cook fried great lumps of goat for them to eat, heedless of all
things except his opium-pipe, to which he had recourse in the evening,
the curious dreamy odour of the opium blending strangely with the
aromatic scent of the bush.

At daylight they started, and for three days rode through the
wilderness, camping out at night, while the horses with bells and
hobbles grazed round the camp. Tommy Prince steered a course by
instinct, guided as unerringly as the Israelites by their pillar of
fire.

By miles of trackless, worthless wilderness, by rolling open plains,
by rocky ranges and stony passes, they pushed out and ever further out,
till at last, one day, Tommy said, "They ought to be hereabouts, some
place." So saying, he dropped a lighted match into a big patch of grass,
and in a few seconds a line of fire half a mile wide was roaring across
the plain; above it rose smoke as of a burning city.

"They'll see that," said Tommy, "without the buff'loes have got 'em."
So they camped for the day under a huge banyan-fig tree and awaited
developments. About evening, away on the horizon, there arose an
answering cloud of smoke, connecting earth and sky, like a waterspout.

"That's them," said Tommy. They climbed once more into their saddles,
and set out. Just as the sun was setting, they saw a singular procession
coming towards them. In front rode two small, wiry, hard-featured,
inexpressibly dirty men on big well-formed horses. They wore dungaree
trousers, which had once been blue, but were now begrimed and
bloodstained to a dull neutral colour. Their shirts--once coloured, but
now nearly black--were worn outside the trousers, like a countryman's
smock frock, and were drawn in at the waist by broad leathern belts full
of cartridges. Their faces were half-hidden by stubbly beards, and their
bright alert eyes looked out from under the brims of two as dilapidated
felt hats as ever graced head of man. Each carried a carbine between
thigh and saddle. These were the buffalo shooters.

Behind them rode an elderly, grizzled man, whom Hugh had no difficulty
in recognising as Keogh, or Considine. Following him were some seven
or eight packhorses, all heavily laden with hides. And behind the
packhorses rode three or four naked blacks and a Chinaman.

Hugh's guide at once made himself welcome in his happy-go-lucky style.
He introduced Hugh as Mr. Lambton, from New South Wales. The buffalo
shooters made him welcome after the fashion of their kind; but Considine
was obviously uneasy, and avoided him, riding with Tommy Prince for a
while, and evidently trying to find out what Hugh had come for.

That night, when they got to the buffalo shooters' camp, Hugh opened
fire on Considine. The veteran was in a cheerful mood after his meal,
and Hugh wanted to start diplomatically, thinking he might persuade him.
If that failed he would give him the summons; but he would start with
the suaviter in modo. When it came to the point, however, he forgot his
diplomacy, and plunged straight into trouble.

"I'll tell you what I've come up here for, Considine," he said. "My
name's Hugh Gordon, and I want to find out something about your marriage
with Peggy Donohoe."

"Well, if that's what you come for, Mister," said the veteran, pulling a
firestick out of the fire, and slowly lighting his pipe, "if that's what
you come for"--puff, puff, puff--"you've come on a wild goose chase. I
never knew no Peggy Donohoe in my life. My wife"--puff--"was a small,
dark woman, named Smith."

"I thought you told my brother that you married Peggy Donohoe."

"So I might have told him," assented the veteran. "Quite likely I did,
but I must ha' made a mistake. A man might easy make a mistake over a
thing like that. What odds is it to you who I married, anyhow?"

"What odds? Why look here, Considine, it means that my old mother will
be turned out of her home. That's some odds to me, isn't it?"

"Yairs, that's right enough, Mister," said the courteous Considine;
"it's lots of odds to you, but what I ask you is--what odds is it to me?
Why should I go and saddle myself with a she-devil just when I'm coming
into a bit of money? I'd walk miles to do her a bad turn."

"Well, if you want to do her a bad turn, come down and block her getting
Mr. Grant's estate."

"Yes, an' put her on to meself What next? I tell you, Mister, straight,
I wouldn't have that woman tied to me for all the money in China. That
English bloke said there was a big fortune for me in England. Well, if I
have to take Peggy Donohoe with it, it can stay. I'll live here with the
blacks and the buffalo shooters, and I'll get my livin' for meself, same
as I got it all my life; but take on Peggy again I will not. Now, that's
Domino--that's the dead finish. I won't go with you, and I won't give
you no information. And I'm sorry too, 'cause you seem a good sort of a
young feller--but I won't do anything that'll mix me up with Peggy any
more."

Hugh ground his teeth with mortification. Then he played his next card.

"There's a man they call Flash Jack--do you know him?"

"Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't," said the sage in a surly tone.

"Well, he told me to ask you to help us. He said to tell you that he
particularly wanted you to give evidence if you can."

"Want'll be his master, then," snarled the old man.

"He said he would put the police on to a job about some cattle at
Cross-roads," said Hugh.

The rage fairly flashed out of Considine's eyes.

"He said that, did he?" he yelled. "The rotten informer! Well, you tell
Flash Jack from me that where he can put me away for one thing I can put
him away for half-a-dozen; and if I go into gaol for a five-stretch he
goes in for ten. I ain't afraid of Flash Jack, nor you either. See that,
now!"

Hugh felt that his mission had failed. He pulled out the summons as a
last resource, and passed it to the old man.

"What's this?" he said.

"Summons to give evidence," said Hugh.

"Victoria by the Grace of God," read the old man, by the flickering
firelight. "Victoria by the Grace of God, eh? Well, see here," he
continued, solemnly putting the summons in the fire and watching it
blaze, "if Victoria by the Grace of God wants me, she can send for
me--send a coach and six for Patrick Henry Considine, late Patrick Henry
Keogh! And then I mightn't go! There'll be only one thing make me go
where I don't want to go, and that's a policeman at each elbow and
another shovin' behind. I'd sooner do a five-stretch than take Peggy
back again. And that's the beginning and the end and the middle of it.
And now I'll wish you good night."



CHAPTER XXVI. THE SAVING OF CONSIDINE.



At grey dawn all the camp was astir. Hugh looked from under his
mosquito-net, and saw old Considine over the fire, earnestly frying a
large hunk of buffalo meat. He was without a trouble in the world as he
turned the hissing steak in the pan. Two black gins in brief garments--a
loin cloth and a villainously dirty pyjama-jacket each--were sitting
near him, languidly killing the mosquitoes which settled on their bare
legs. These were Maggie and Lucy, but they had degenerated with their
surroundings. Tommy Prince was oiling a carbine, and one of the shooters
was washing his face at a basin formed by scratching a small hole in the
ground and pressing a square of canvas into the depression.

The Chinese skinner was sitting on a log, rubbing a huge butcher's knife
on a sharpening stone. Away up the plain the horses, about thirty or
forty in number, were slowly trooping into camp, hunted by a couple
of blackfellows, naked except for little grass armlets worn above the
elbow, and sticks stuck through their noses. When the horses reached the
camp they formed a squadron under the shade of some trees, and pushed
and shoved and circled about, trying to keep the flies off themselves
and each other.

Hugh walked over to Tommy Prince at his rifle-oiling, and watched him
for a while. That worthy, who was evidently a true sportsman at heart,
was liberally baptising with Rangoon oil an old and much rusted Martini
carbine, whose ejector refused to work. Every now and then, when he
thought he had got it ship-shape, Tommy would put in a fresh cartridge,
hold the carbine tightly to his shoulder, shut his eyes, and fire
it into space. The rusty old weapon kicked frightfully, after each
discharge the ejector jammed, and Tommy ruefully poked the exploded
cartridge out with a rod and poured on more oil.

"Blast the carbine!" said Tommy. "It kicks upwards like; it's kicking my
nose all skewwhiff."

"Don't put it to your shoulder, you fool," said one of the shooters;
"it'll kick your head off. Hold it out in one hand."

"Then it'll kick my arm off," said Tommy.

"No, it won't; you won t feel it at all," said the shooter. "Your arm
will give to the recoil. Blaze away!"

"What are you up to with the carbine?" said Hugh.

"I'm going to have a blaze at some of these 'ere buff'loes," said Tommy
gaily. "Bill's lent me a horse. They's got a rifle for you, and one
for the old man. "We'll give them buff'loes hell to-day. Five
rifles--they'll think the French is after them." "Well, but I want
to get back," said Hugh. "We mustn't waste any time. What about the
store-keeper's horses?"

"Ho! it'd never do to take them straight back again," said Tommy. "Never
do. They must have a spell. Besides, what's the hurry?"

And Hugh, recognising that for all the good he could do he might just as
well not hurry back again, resigned himself to the inevitable, picked up
his bridle, went into the shuffling herd of horses, and caught the one
pointed out to him. It was a big, raw-boned, ragged-hipped bay, a horse
that would have been a gentleman under any other conditions, but from
long buffalo-hunting had become a careless-going, loose-jointed ruffian,
taking his life in his hands every day. He bit savagely at Hugh as he
saddled him, and altogether proclaimed himself devoid of self-respect
and the finer instincts.

Breakfast was despatched almost in silence. The shooters knew vaguely
that Hugh's visit was in some way connected with Considine, and that
Considine had refused to do what Hugh wanted. But the hospitality of the
buffalo camp is as the hospitality of the Arabs of old--the stranger is
made welcome whatever his business, and may come and go unquestioned.

Hugh had little desire to talk on the subject of his visit, and
Considine maintained a dogged silence. Tommy Prince alone chatted away
affably between large mouthfuls of buffalo beef, damper, and tea, airing
his views on all subjects, but principally on the fair sex. Meanwhile
the blacks were catching the pack-horses, and sharpening their skinning
knives. The two horses used by the shooters were brought over to the
camp fire and given a small feed each of much-prized maize and oats and
bran, that had been brought round in the lugger from Port Faraway
with the camp supplies, landed on the river-bank twelve miles off, and
fetched in on pack-horses.

"A little more beef, Mister? No? Well, all aboard for the Buffalo
Brigade! That's your rifle by the tree. Put this cartridge-belt on and
buckle it real tight; if you leave it loose, when you start to gallop it
will shake up and down, and shake the soul out of you. Come, Paddy, what
are you riding?"

"I'm going to ride the boco."

[Footnote: One-eyed horse.]

"I wouldn't if I was you. He's all right to race up to a buffalo, but
that blind eye of his'll fetch him to grief some day. Ride the old
grey."

"No fear," said the old man obstinately, "the boco's one eye's worth any
horse's two. Me an' the boco will be near the lead when the whips are
crackin', take it from me."

"Come along, then!"

Hugh clambered on to his raw-boned steed, known as "Close Up," because
he would go so close to the buffaloes, and the procession started. The
five white men rode ahead, all smoking with great enjoyment. Hugh was
beside one of the shooters, and opened conference with him.

"I've heard a lot about this business," said Hugh, "but never hoped to
see it. What are these Australian buffaloes? I thought they were just
humped cattle like those little Brahmin cattle."

"People reckon they're the Indian buffalo," said the bushman. "They were
fetched here about fifty years ago from Java--just a few pair, and they
were let go and went wild, and now they're all over the face of the
earth about here. We've shot six hundred of 'em--just the two rifles--in
six months. It's not play, I tell you, to shoot and skin six hundred and
cure their hides in that time. We'll get a thousand this season."

"Good Lord," said Hugh. "Won't they be shot out?"

"Not they. There's about eight thousand of 'em shot every year for their
hides, and it's just like the ordinary increase of a big cattle station.
They're all over these plains, and for miles and miles away down the
coast, and in the jungles there's thousands of 'em. There's jungles here
that are a hundred miles round, and no animal but a buffalo will go into
'em. The blacks say that inside them there's big patches of clear plain,
with grass and water, where there's buffaloes as thick as bees; but you
can't get at 'em."

"How do you shoot 'em?" said Hugh.

"Race right up alongside 'em, and put the carbine out with one hand, and
shoot downwards into the loin. That's the only way to drop 'em. You can
shoot bullets into 'em by the hatful everywhere else, and they just
turn and charge; and while you are dodging round, first you huntin' the
buffalo, and then the buffalo huntin' you, the rest of the mob are out
of sight. You must go right up alongside, close enough to touch 'em with
the barrel, and fire down--so." He illustrated with the carbine as he
spoke. "And whatever you do, don't pull your horse about; he knows
the game, if you don't. Never stop your horse near a wounded buffalo,
either. They make a rush as sudden as lightnin'. They look clumsy and
big; but, my oath, a wounded one can hop along something wonderful!
They'll surprise you for pace any time; but most of all when they're
wounded."

"Do they always come at you when they're wounded?" said Hugh.

"Always," said the shooter, "and very often when they're not wounded
they'll turn and charge if you've run 'em a long way. You want to look
out, I tell you. They'll wheel very sudden, and if they ketch your horse
they'll grind him into pulp. Ben, my mate here, had a horse killed under
him last week--horse we gave five and twenty quid for, and that's a
long shot for a buffalo horse. I believe in Injia they shoot 'em off
elephants, but that's 'cause they won't come out in the open like they
do here. There's hundreds of toffs in England and Injia'd give their
ears for a day after these, you know. Hello! Look! See there!"

Far away out on the plain Hugh saw fifteen or twenty bluish-grey mounds
in a line rising above the grass; it was a herd of buffalo feeding.
The animals never lifted their heads, and were curiously like a lot of
railway trucks covered with grey tarpaulin. It was impossible to tell
which was head and which was tail. A short halt was made while girths
were tightened, cartridges slipped into place, and hats jammed on; they
all mounted and rode slowly towards the herd, which was at least half a
mile off, and still feeding steadily. Everyone kept his horse in hand,
ready for a dash the moment the mob lifted their heads.

"How fast will they go?" whispered Hugh to the nearest shooter.

"Fast as blazes. You've no idea how fast they are. They're the biggest
take-in there is. When they lift their heads they'll stare for half a
minute, and then they'll run. The moment they start, off you go. Watch
'em! There's one sees us! Keep steady yet--don't rush till they start."

One of the blue mounds lifted a huge black-muzzled head, decorated with
an enormous pair of sickle-shaped horns that stretched right back to
the shoulders. He stared with great sullen eyes and trotted a few paces
towards them; one after another, the rest lifted their heads and stared
too. Closer drew the horsemen at their steady, silent jog, the horses
pricking their ears and getting on their toes as race-horses do at the
start of a race.

"Be ready," said the shooter. "Now!"

The mob, with one impulse, wheeled, and set off at a heavy lumbering
gallop, and the horses dashed in full gallop after them. It was a ride
worth a year of a man's life. Every man sat down to his work like a
jockey finishing a race, and the big stock horses went through the long
grass like hawks swooping down on a flock of pigeons. The men carried
their carbines loaded, holding them straight up over the shoulder so as
to lessen the jerking of the wrist caused by the gallop.

The surface of the plain was level enough, but frightfully bad going;
the sun had baked the black soil till great gaping cracks, a couple of
feet wide and ten feet deep, were opened in the ground. The buffaloes
had wallowed in the wet season and made round well-like holes that were
now hard, dry pitfalls. Here and there a treacherous, slimy watercourse
wound its slinking way along, making a bog in which a horse would sink
to his shoulders; and over all these traps and pitfalls the long waving
jungle-grass drew a veil. Every now and then belts of small bamboo were
crossed, into which the horses dashed blindly, forcing their way through
by their weight. When they started the buffaloes had a lead of a quarter
of a mile, and judging by their slogging, laboured gallop, it looked as
though the horses would run into them in half a mile; but on that ground
the buffaloes could go nearly as fast as the horses, and it was only
after a mile and a quarter of hard riding that they closed in on the
mob, which at once split into several detachments. A magnificent old
bull, whose horns measured ten feet from tip to tip, dashed away to the
right with six or seven cows lumbering after him. Hugh and one of the
shooters followed this lot. Another mob went away to the left, pursued
by the other shooter and Considine; while one old cow, having had enough
running, suddenly wheeled in her tracks, and charged straight at Tommy
Prince, whose horse at once whipped round and carried his rider, with
the old cow at his tail, into a clump of bamboos. Hugh followed his
mate as hard as he could, both horses feeling the pace, and pecking and
blundering every now and again in the broken ground. Once Hugh saw
a buffalo-wallow suddenly appear right under his horse's nose, and
half-flinched, expecting a certain fall; but old "Close Up" strode over
it, apparently having a leg to spare for emergencies of the sort.

Just ahead of him the shooter, sitting down in his saddle, lifted his
horse with a drive of the spurs, and came right alongside the hindmost
animal, a fat blue cow, which at once swerved at right angles; but the
horse followed her every movement, and drew up till horse and buffalo
were racing side by side. Then without fuss or hurry, up went the elbow
of the rider and bang! the buffalo fell as if paralysed, shot through
the lions. The horse swung away from the falling animal as it crashed
to the ground; and the shooter, still going at full gallop, methodically
ejected the used cartridge and put in another without losing his place
at the tail of the flying mob. The noise of the carbine made the mob
divide, and Hugh found himself going full speed after three that came
his way. Wild with excitement, he drove Close Up after the nearest, and
made ready to fire at the right moment. The long gallop had winded him;
his arm was almost numbed with the strain of carrying the carbine, which
now seemed to weigh a ton.

Close Up, true to his name, made a dash at the nearest buffalo, and got
close enough in all conscience; but what with the jerking to and fro of
the gallop, and the rolling gait and sudden swerves of the buffalo, and
the occasional blunderings of the horse in broken ground, Hugh never
seemed to have the carbine pointed right. Close Up, finding it did
not go off when he expected, began to slacken pace and gallop in an
undecided way. It sounds easy enough to gallop up to an animal which you
can beat for pace, but anyone who has ever tried to lay a whip on the
back of a bullock knows it is not so easy as it looks to get more than
one or two clips home. Hugh found the buffalo holding its own for pace,
and every time he drew up it dodged before he could make sure of hitting
the loin. Cover seemed to be getting very near. At last he leaned out as
far as he could, held the rifle in one hand, and took a "speculator" at
the flying buffalo. He hit it somewhere, but hadn't time to see where;
for, with a snort like a grampus, the beast wheeled in its tracks and
charged so suddenly that old Close Up only just dodged it by a yard or
two. It rushed him for a couple of hundred yards, and then stopped. Hugh
managed to eject the cartridge and load, and then cantered after the
animal, which had started again at a sullen trot, with the blood pouring
from its flank. As he galloped up to administer the "coup de grace,"
meaning to make no mistake about hitting the loin this time, the buffalo
suddenly wheeled and charged him again, and Close Up executed another
hurried retreat. For a while they took it up and down--first buffalo
hunting man, then man hunting buffalo--while Hugh fired whenever he had
the chance, without seeming to discompose the brute at all. At last a
lucky shot struck some vital spot inside; the beast stopped, staggered,
and fell dead without a sound. Hugh looked round. He was alone; his mate
was just visible far away over the plain, still following at full speed
a blue mound that struggled doggedly on towards the timber. The grey
horse drew up to his quarry, the man leant forward, there was a sudden
spurt of white smoke, and the animal fell as if struck by lightning.
It was very pretty to watch, and looked as simple as shelling peas. The
shooter rode over to Hugh, and congratulated him on his first kill.

"I got all that mob that came our way," he said, "seven of 'em. Yours
makes eight. There's Ben after some still, and there's Tommy Prince back
at the bamboos firing at something. Firing this way, too, damn him! Look
at Ben!"

Far away on the plain, like puppets in the distance, went the swiftly
gliding figures of man and horse. In front of them dimly-seen objects
tore through the grass; every now and again out went an arm, there was
a spurt of smoke, and another buffalo fell. The blacks and the Chinaman
were away behind, gathered in a cluster, skinning the first beast
killed, while the pack-horses cropped the grass and bit at the flies.
Considine was nowhere to be seen.

"Let's go back and see what Tommy is up to," said the shooter. "He's a
hard case, is Tommy. If there's any trouble about he'll get into it,
or get somebody else into it. He'll wing one of us in a minute, the way
he's blazing. What's he firing at?"

Suddenly the festive Tommy was seen to dash hurriedly out of the patch
of bamboo, with the old original buffalo cow so close to his horse's
tail that, if the horse stumbled, the cow had him at her mercy.

"She'll have 'im!" yelled the shooter. "Good cow! Can't she steam? Come
on, and let's see the fun!"

For a while it looked any odds on the cow; then she slackened pace,
wheeled round, and bolted back to the bamboos. They found Tommy very
excited. He had used about eighteen cartridges, and had nothing to show
for it.

"That's the most underhand cow ever I seen!" said Tommy. "She runs into
them there bamboos and pretends she's going to run right clean through
to Queensland, and when I go in after her, she wheels round and hunts
me for my life. Near had me twice, she did. Every time I fire the old
carbine, it jams, and I have to get the rod to it. Gimme your rifle,
Walter, and I'll go in and finish her."

"She must have a lead mine in her already," said the shooter. "Mind she
don't ketch you, Tommy."

Tommy went in, but couldn't find a sign of the cow. While they were
talking she had slipped along the belt of bamboos, and was then, no
doubt, waiting for a chance to rush somebody. As no one cared to chance
riding on to her in that jungle, she escaped with the honours of war.
The other shooter came up, having shot nine, and reported that Considine
had had a fall; his horse, not being used to the country, had plunged up
to his shoulders in a concealed buffalo-wallow, and turned right over on
him. Luckily, the buffalo he was after was well ahead, and did not turn
to charge him, but he was very much shaken; when he came up, however,
he insisted on going on. They set to work to find the rest of the dead
buffaloes--no easy matter in that long grass--and all hands commenced
skinning. This job kept them till noonday, when they camped under some
trees for their midday meal, hobbling the horses. Then they rested for
an hour or two, packed the hides on the pack-horses (and heavily loaded
they were, each hide weighing about a hundredweight), and went back to
the hunt, scanning the plain carefully.

They were all riding together through a belt of timber, the blacks
and the Chinaman being well up with the pack-horses, when suddenly the
blacks burst out with great excitement.

"Buff'lo! Buff'lo!"

Sure enough, a huge blue bull--a regular old patriarch, that had
evidently been hunted out of a herd, and was camping by himself in the
timber--made a rush out of some thick trees, and set off towards a dense
jungle, that could be seen half a mile or so away. Hugh and Considine
were nearest him, each with his rifle ready, and started after him
together, full gallop through the timber. The old man was evidently
anxious to make up for his morning's failure, and to take Hugh down
a peg, for he set a fearful pace through the trees, grazing one and
gliding under the boughs of another as only a trained bush-rider can.
Hugh, coming from the mountains, was no duffer in timbered country
either, and the two of them went at a merry pace for a while. The bull
was puzzled by having two pursuers, and often in swerving from one or
the other would hit a tree with his huge horns, and fairly bounce off
it. He never attempted to turn, but kept straight on, and they drew on
to him in silence, almost side by side, riding jealously for the first
shot. Considine was on the wrong side, and had to use the carbine on the
near side of his horse; but he was undeniably a good rider, and laughed
grimly as he got first alongside, and, leaning over, prepared to fire.
Then a strange thing happened. Before he could fire, the buffalo bull
tripped on a stump and fell on his knees, causing Considine's horse
to shoot almost past him. As the bull rose again, he sprang savagely
sideways, bringing his huge head up from beneath, and fairly impaled the
horse on his horn. It gave a terrible scream, and reared over.

The old man never lost his nerve. Almost as he fell he fired down into
the buffalo's shoulder, but the bullet had no effect. Man and horse were
fetched smashing to the ground, the man pinned under the horse's body.
The bull hesitated a second before hurling himself upon the two; and in
that second Hugh jumped from his horse, ran up, stood over the fallen
man, holding out the rifle like a pistol with the muzzle an inch off the
bull's head, and fired. A buffalo's skull is an inch and a half thick,
solid bone, as hard as granite; but a Martini carbine, sighted for a
thousand yards, will pierce it like paper at short range. The smoke had
not cleared away when the huge beast fell to the ground within two feet
of his intended victims. Hugh pulled Considine from under the horse.
The unfortunate beast struggled to his feet, with blood gushing from a
terrible wound in the belly, ran fifty yards, and fell dead.

The old man looked round him in silence. "Serve me damn well right," he
said at last. "I ought to have got the other side of the buffalo!"

Not another word did he say, as he transferred his saddle to one of the
blacks' horses. But in the camp, that night, the old man came over to
Hugh holding a paper in his hand.

"I've got something for you," he said. "Here's the certificate of my
weddin' with Peggy Donohoe. The parson gev us each one. That ought to do
you, oughtn't it? I'll come down with you, as soon as you like, and
give all the evidence you want. I'll chance how I get on with Peg. I'll
divorce her, or poison her, or get shut of her somehow. But after what
you done to-day I'm on Grant's side, I am."

And off he stalked to bed, while Hugh talked long with Tommy Prince and
the buffalo-shooters of the best way to get down to the wire and send
the news of his success. He went to bed the happiest man south of
the line; and next day, saying good-bye to his hospitable friends, he
started off with Considine and Tommy on the road to the telegraph, and
thence to civilisation.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE REAL CERTIFICATE.



As the day of the great case approached Blake got more and more restless
and irritable. He had heard of Hugh's going away to look for a witness;
but Peggy and Red Mick, in their ignorance, had thought it best to keep
all knowledge of the Considine flaw from their lawyer--a mistake that
wiser people than they sometimes make. Blake suspected nothing. He had
more than once seen Mary Grant and Ellen Harriott in Tarrong, but he was
again an outcast, relegated to the society of such as Isaacstein.

Well, he would see it out, and would yet make these people glad to crawl
to him. Ellen Harriott he never spoke to. However the case went and
whoever won, she could be of no use to him, so he decided to include her
among his enemies; and though she went deathly white when she saw him
she made no sign of recognition. There was one thing, however, which he
had to do before taking the case into Court, and that was to secure a
fair share of the spoil for himself. He had no intention of slaving at
the case, perhaps for years, for what he would get as costs. So, a week
or two before the case was due to come on, he sent for Peggy and Red
Mick.

It was a hot summer day when Peggy came in. Out of doors there was a
blinding glare, and the heat had drawn the scent out of the unseasoned
pine with which Tarrong was mostly built, till the air was filled with
a sort of incense. Peggy came in hot and short-tempered. The strain was
beginning to tell on her nerves, and, from a remark or two she let fall,
Blake saw that she might be inclined to give trouble if not promptly
brought into subjection.

"I've sent for you," he said.

"Yis, and the fust thing--"

He interrupted her sharply.

"The first thing is, how much am I going to get out of this case if I
win it That is the first thing. You don't suppose I am going to spend
time and money and fight this case through all the Courts in the land,
and get nothing out of it, do you? How much am I to get? We'll settle
that before we go any further."

"Well, I'll ask Mick."

"You'll ask nobody. Mick isn't Grant's widow, and you are of age,
goodness knows. How much?"

"How much d'ye want?"

"I want one-third of what you get. That'll leave you nearly a million of
money. There will be well over a million to divide. There will be a big
lawsuit, and lots of appeals, and if I am to see it through it will cost
a great lot of money; so if I win I mean to make it pay me. That's my
figure. One-third. Take it or leave it."

Peggy wriggled about, but knew that she would have to give in. It was
a reasonable proposal, as things stood; but she did not like the way in
which she had been bullied. She looked at Blake queerly.

"If we have to give ye a third, ye may as well know all about it. Ye'll
be a partner like."

Blake stared at her. He could not guess what she was driving at. Peggy
slowly drew out of a handbag a faded piece of paper and handed it to him
without a word. It was the original marriage certificate, the same that
Ellen Harriott had seen at Red Mick's. He unfolded it and spread it out
on the table.

"What's this?"

"Read it."

"I certify that I, Thomas Nettleship," he mumbled through the formula,
then, sharply "What's this name doing here? Who is Patrick Henry Keogh?
Is there such a person?"

"Yis," said Peggy, boiling up. "A long slab-sided useless feller. He's
gone to live wid the blacks. He'll never come back no more. Most like
he's dead by this time, speared or the like of that!"

For a few seconds Blake, the cool, audacious gambler, was dazed, in
spite of his natural self-confidence. He saw how he had been duped.
Peggy had married this other man, whoever he was, and had used the facts
of the real marriage to give her the details for her imaginary one,
while in copying the certificate she had, with considerable foresight,
filled in Grant's name instead of that of Keogh.

All Blake's castles in the air, his schemes for revenge, his hopes of
wealth, had vanished at one fell swoop. "Patrick Henry Keogh" seemed to
grin up at him out of the paper. His case had crumbled about his ears;
his defeat would be known all over the district, and nothing could much
longer stave off the inevitable exposure of his misappropriations. But
he was a fighter all over, and he still saw a chance to pull things
through.

He wasted no words on Peggy. "Go and get Mick to come here," he said,
and Mick, still somewhat lopsided about the face from his accident, was
soon in the room.

"Mick," said Blake, "your sister has told me something very important
that ought to have been told me before. It's no good crying over spilt
milk. There's still a chance. If Peggy and Martin tell the same story
they told me at first, they will win the case. This Keogh must be dead,
or too frightened to show up. If you stick to your story you will win.
It's a million of money. Will you chance it?"

"What about the sertiffykit?" said Mick.

"Leave that to me," said Blake. "I'll see to that. I suppose no one
knows the rights of this but you and Peggy!"

"Never a soul."

"Well, it's a million of money. Will you chance it?"

Mick and his sister rose. "We'll go on wid the case," said Mick. "But
supposin' Keogh turns up--"

"You've got to take chances in this life," said Blake, "if you're after
a million that doesn't belong to you. Will you chance it? Share and
share alike?"

"A million," said Mick. "Of course we'll go on wid the case. I daresay
William Grant took the name of Keogh that day he was married," and with
this ingenious suggestion Mick took his sister home, leaving Blake alone
in the office.

After his clients were gone Blake looked at the certificate for a long
time, asking himself, "Shall I take the risk or not?" He was about to do
a criminal act, and though it was not his first, he flinched every time
he crossed the border-line. He lifted his hand, and hesitated; then he
remembered his dismissal from Kuryong, and caught sight of a dunning
letter lying on his table. That decided him. The risk was worth taking.
The danger was great, but the stake was worth it. He took an eraser,
made a few swift light strokes on the paper over the almost illegible
writing, and "Patrick Henry Keogh" disappeared; on the space that it had
occupied he wrote "William Grant," in faint strokes of a pencil. He had
crossed the border-line of crime once more.



CHAPTER XXVIII. A LEGAL BATTLE.



And now, after hauling the reader pretty well all over Australia--from
mountain-station to out-back holding, from cattle-camp to buffalo
run--we must ask him to take a seat in the Supreme Court at Sydney, to
hear the trial of the "great Grant Will Case."

Gavan Blake had made no effort towards compromise. He knew the risk
he was running, but he had determined to see it through. The love, the
ambition, the hope that had once possessed him had turned to a grim
desperate hatred, and he would risk everything rather than withdraw the
case. He kept Red Mick and Peggy up to the mark with assurances that
she was certain to win. Neither he nor they knew that Considine had been
found. Even the most respectable solicitors sometimes display acuteness,
and the old man's return had been kept secret by Pinnock, so that public
opinion anticipated Peggy's victory.

At last came the day of trial. Every seat in the Court was filled, and
a mass of the unwashed hung over the gallery rail, gazing at the show
provided for their entertainment. Mary Grant and Mrs. Gordon went into
Court at the suggestion of their leading Counsel, Bouncer, Q.C., who was
nothing if not theatrical. He wanted them there to see the overthrow of
the enemy, and to lend point to his invective against the intruders who
were trying to take away their birthright. A small army of Doyles and
Donohoes, who had come down for the case, were hanging about dressed in
outlandish garments, trying to look as if they would not tell a lie for
untold gold. The managing clerks were in and out like little dogs at a
fair, hunting up witnesses, scanning the jury list, arranging papers for
production, and keeping a wary eye on the enemy. Punctually as the
clock struck ten, the Judge strutted into Court with as much pomp as a
man-of-war sailing into a small port; depositing himself on the Bench,
he glared round for a few seconds, and said to the associate, "Call the
first case," in a matter-of-fact tone, just as if he did not know what
the first case was going to be. A little rustle went round the Court as
people settled themselves down for the battle.

The case for Peggy was set forth by the great Jewish barrister,
Manasseh, Q.C. He was famous for his skill in enlisting the sympathies
of the jury from the outset. He drew a moving picture of the sorrows of
Peggy, disowned by her husband's relatives and the case proceeded so far
that he had put the marriage certificate in evidence when Blake, who had
been away for a few minutes rushed into Court and touched Manasseh on
the shoulder, bringing him to an abrupt stop.

Manasseh asked the Judge to excuse him for a moment while he conferred
with his juniors and Blake. After a short but excited conference he rose
again and--but first we must hear what had happened outside.

While all concerned were in Court listening to Manasseh, Considine had
been smuggled into the witnesses' room and, being bored and worried,
had strayed into the verandah of the Court buildings. He had been
hauled into consultations with barristers, and examined and badgered and
worried to death. The hard Sydney pavements had made his feet sore.
The city ways were not his ways, and the mere mental effort of catching
trains and omnibuses, and keeping appointments, and having fixed
meal-times, was inexpressibly wearing to a man who had never been tied
to time in his life.

And what a dismal prospect he had before him! To go over to England and
take up a position for which he was wholly unfitted, without a friend
who would understand his ideas, and in whom he could confide. Then his
thoughts turned to Peggy--Peggy, square-built, determined, masterful,
capable; just the very person to grapple with difficulties; a woman
whose nerve a regiment of duchesses would fail to shake. He thought of
her many abilities, and admitted to himself that after all was said and
done, if he had only been able to gratify her wishes (and they did not
seem so extravagant now) she would have been a perfect helpmate for him.
His mind went back to the weird honeymoon at Pike's pub., to the little
earthen-floored dining-room, with walls of sacking and a slab table,
over which Peggy presided with such force of character. He thought
of the two bushmen whom Peggy had nursed through the fever with rough
tenderness; and then, turning suddenly, he found Peggy standing at his
elbow.

For a second neither spoke. Then Considine said, with an air of forced
jauntiness, "Well, Peggy, you won't be comin' to England with me, then?"

"Haven't been asked," said Peggy.

"I heard you was goin' to settle at Kiley's Crossin', lending money to
the cockatoos."

Peggy looked at him with a meaning glance.

"Ye should know me better nor that, Paddy," she said.

This cleared the way tremendously. The gaunt bushman hitched himself
a little nearer, and spoke in an insinuating way. "I'm pretty tired of
this case meself, I dunno how you feel about it."

"Tired!" said Peggy. "I'm wore out. Fair wore out," and she heaved a
sigh like an elephant.

That sigh did for old Considine. Hurriedly he unburdened his mind.

"Well, look'ee here, Peggy--I've got whips of stuff now, and I've got
to go to England for it. You come along o' me again, and we'll knock all
this business on the head. Let the Gordons alone--they're decent young
fellows, the both of 'em--and come along o' me to England. That young
English feller reckons we'd be as good as the Prince of Wales, very
near. Will you come, Peggy?"

It is the characteristic of great minds to think quickly, and act
promptly. Peggy did both.

"Mick!" she said, calling to her brother in a sharp, authoritative
voice: "Mick! I've been talking to Paddy here, and we've reckoned we've
had enough of this fooling, and we're off to England. You go in and tell
old Fuzzy-Head" (she meant the Judge) "that I'm tired of this case, and
I ain't goin' on wid it. Come on, Paddy, will we go and get some tea?"

"Yes, and there's some tremenjus fine opals in a shop down this way I'll
buy you!" said Considine, as they started to walk away from the Court.

At that moment Blake came out of Court, saw them, and stepped in front
of Peggy.

"Who is this man?" he said.

Peggy had never quite forgiven his domineering at Tarrong, and turned on
him with a snap.

"This is my 'usband," she said, "Mr. Patrick Henery Considine. Him whose
name is put down as Keogh on the marriage stiffykit I give you."

Then Blake knew that he had played and lost--lost hopelessly,
irretrievably. But there was yet something to do to secure his own
safety. He rushed back into Court, and whispered a few words to
Manasseh; and Manasseh, after the short conference we mentioned some
pages back, rose and informed the Court that his client withdrew her
claim. Now, while Blake was out of Court, Mr. Bouncer, Mary's counsel,
had got from the Judge's Associate the certificate that had been put in
evidence. Ellen Harriott, sitting with Mary and Mrs. Gordon behind him,
gave a little cry of surprise when she saw the paper. She touched Mr.
Bouncer on the shoulder, and for a few seconds they held an excited
dialogue in whispers.

So Mr. Bouncer rose as Manasseh sat down, with a smile of satisfaction
on his face.

"I must object to any withdrawal, your Honor," he said. "My client's
vast interests are still liable to be assailed by any claimant. I wish
your Honor to insist that the case be heard. A claim has been made here
of a most dastardly nature, and I submit that your Honor will not allow
the claimants to withdraw without some investigation. I will ask your
Honor to put Gavan Blake in the box."

Mr. Manasseh objected. He said that there was no longer any case before
the Court; and Gavan Blake, white to the lips, waited for the Judge's
decision. As he waited, he looked round and caught the eye of Ellen
Harriott. Cool, untroubled, the heavy-lidded eyes met his, and he saw no
hope there. She had neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Now, it so happened that the Judge felt rather baulked at the sudden
collapse of the big case, in which he had intended to play a star part.

"Why do you want to put plaintiff's attorney in the box, Mr. Bouncer?"
he said.

"I want to examine him as to how and when the name of William Grant got
on that certificate. I have evidence to prove that the name on it, only
a few months ago, was that of Patrick Keogh."

"Ha, hum!" said the little Judge. "I don't see--eh--um--that I can
decide anything--ah--whatever. Case is withdrawn. Ha, hum. But in the
interests of justice, and seeing--seeing, I say," he went on, warming
to his work as the question laid itself open before him, "that there is
serious suspicion of fraud and forgery, it would be wrong on my part to
allow the case to close without some investigation in the interests
of justice. As to Mr. Manasseh's objection, that the Court is functus
officio so far as this case is concerned, I uphold that contention;
but, in exercise of the power that the Court holds over its officers, I
consider that I have the power--and that I should exercise the power--of
putting the solicitor in the box to explain how this document came into
its present state. Let Mr. Blake go into the box."

But while the little Judge was delivering his well-rounded sentences,
Blake had slipped out of Court and made off to his lodgings. He had
failed in everything. He might perhaps keep out of gaol; but the blow to
his reputation was fatal. He had played for a big stake and lost, and he
saw before him only drudgery and lifelong shame.

He had reached his lodgings, half-turned at the door, and saw behind him
the Court tipstaff, who had been sent after him.

"The Judge wants you back at the Court, Mr. Blake," said the tipstaff.

"All right. Wait till I run up to my room for some papers. I'll be down
in a minute," and he ran upstairs.

The tipstaff waited cheerfully enough, until he heard the crack of a
revolver-shot echo through the passages of the big boarding-house. Then
he rushed upstairs--to find that Gavan Blake had gone before another
Court than the one that was waiting for him so anxiously.



CHAPTER XXIX. RACES AND A WIN.



After the great case was over life at Kuryong went on its old round.
Mary Grant, now undisputed owner, took up the reins of government, and
Hugh was kept there always on one pretext or another.

Considine and his wife stayed a while in the district before starting
for England, and were on the best of terms with the folk at the
homestead, Peggy's daring attempt to seize the estate having been
forgiven for her husband's sake.

Mary seemed to take a delicious pleasure in making Hugh come to her
for orders and consultations. She signed without question anything that
Charlie put before her, but Hugh was constantly called in to explain
all sorts of things. The position was difficult in the extreme, although
Peggy tried to give Hugh good advice.

"Sure, the girl's fond of you, Mr. Hugh!" she said, "Why don't you ask
her to marry you? See what a good thing it'd be? She's only waitin' to
be asked."

"I'll manage my own affairs, thank you," said Hugh. "It isn't likely I'm
going to ask her now, when I haven't got a penny." He was as miserable
as a man could well be, and was on the point of leaving the station and
going back to the buffalo camp in search of solitude, when an unexpected
incident suddenly brought matters to a climax. A year had slipped by
since William Grant's death, and the glorious Spring came round again;
the river was bank-high with the melting of the mountain-snows, the
English fruit-trees were all blossoming, and the willows a-bud. One day
the mailman left a large handbill, anouncing the Spring race-meeting at
Kiley's, a festival sacred, as a rule, to the Doyles and the Donohoes,
at which no outsider had any earthly chance of winning a race.

In William Grant's time the handbill would have soon reached the
fire-place; he did not countenance running station horses at the local
meetings. Under the new owner things were different. Charlie Gordon was
spoiling for a chance to run Revoke, a back-block purchase, against the
locals, and suggested it in an off-hand sort of way while reading the
circular. Hugh opposed the notion altogether. His opposition apparently
made Miss Grant determined to go on with the scheme, and she gave
Charlie carte blanche in the matter.

When race-day arrived, there was quite a merry party at the homestead.
Carew was making himself very attentive to Ellen Harriott, Mary was
flirting very openly with Charlie Gordon, to Hugh's intense misery; and
it was whispered about the station that the younger brother would be
deposed in favour of the elder.

Hugh did not want to go to the races, but Mary asked him so directly
that he had no option.

It was a typical Australian Spring day. The sky was blue, the air was
fresh, the breeze made great, long, rippling waves in the grass, and
every soul in the place--Mary in particular--seemed determined to enjoy
it to the utmost.

Revoke, the station champion, came in first in his race, and was
promptly disqualified for short weight, but Mary didn't care.

"What is the use of worrying over it?" she said. "It doesn't really
matter."

"I have been done," said the bushman. "Red Mick lent me the lead-cloth,
and helped me saddle up, and I believe he took some lead out while we
were saddling. It never dropped out. That I'm sure of."

"Oh, never mind, Mr. Gordon! Forget it! There's your brother, Hugh,
thinks we ought not to have come, and now you are turning sulky. Why do
all you Australian people amuse yourselves so sadly?"

"I don't know what you mean by sadly," said Charlie, huffed. "I think
you ladies had better go home soon. Things are likely to be a bit lively
later on. They have got a door off its hinges and laid on the ground,
and a fiddler playing jigs, and the men and women are dancing each other
down; it won't be long till there'll be a fight, and somebody will get
stretched out."

Sure enough, they could see an excited crowd of people gathered round
a fiddler, who was playing away for dear life, and the yells and whoops
told them that partisanship was running high. All the young "bloods"
of the ranges were there in their very best finery--cabbage-tree hat
(well-tilted back, and secured by a string under the nose), gaudy cotton
shirt, and tweed trousers of loud pattern, secured round the waist by
flaring red or green sashes. In this garb such as fancied themselves as
dancers were taking their turns on the door. They began by ambling with
a sort of strutting walk once or twice round the circumscribed platform;
then, with head well back and eyes closed, dashed into the steps of the
dance, each introducing varied steps and innovations of his own, which,
if intricate and neatly executed, were greeted with great applause. So
it happened that after Jerry the Swell, the recognised champion of
the Doyles, had gone off with an extremely self-satisfied air, some
adherents of young Red Mick, the opposition champion, took occasion to
criticise Jerry's performance. "Darnce!" they said. "Jerry the Swell,
darnce! Why, we've got an old poley cow would darnce him blind! Haven't
we, Mick?"

"Yairs," said young Mick, with withering emphasis. "Darnce! He can't
darnce. I'll run, darnce, jump, or fight any man in the district for two
quid."

Before the challenge could be accepted there was an unexpected
interruption. Hugh had put the big trotting mare in the light trap for
Miss Harriott and Mary to drive home. "Gentle Annie" was used to racing,
and Hugh warned the girls to be careful in starting her, as she would
probably be excited by the crowd, and then turned back to pack up the
racing gear and start the four-in-hand with the children. As they were
putting the racing saddle, bridles, and other gear into the vehicle,
Charlie, who had been fuming ever since his defeat, caught sight of
the missing lead-bag. He picked it up without a word, and with a
fierce gleam in his eye, started over to the group of dancers, followed
hurriedly by Carew. Just as young Mick was repeating his challenge to
run, jump, dance, or fight anybody in the district, Gordon threw the
lead-bag, weighing about six pounds, full in Red Mick's face.

"There's your lead, you thief!" he said. "Dance on that!"

Red Mick staggered back a pace or two, picked up an empty bottle from
the ground, and made a dash at Gordon. The latter let out a vicious
drive with his left that caught Mick under the ear and sent him down
like a bullock. In a second the whole crowd surged together in one
confused melée, everybody hitting at everybody amid a Babel of shouts
and curses. The combat swayed out on to the race-course, where half a
dozen men fell over the ropes and pulled as many more down with them,
and those that were down fought on the ground, while the others walked
on them and fought over their heads. Carew, who was quite in his
element, hit every head he saw, and knocked his knuckles to pieces on
Black Andy Kelly's teeth. The fight he put up, and the terrific force of
his hitting, are traditions among the mountain men to this day. Charlie
Gordon was simply mad with the lust of fighting, and was locked in a
death-grip with Red Mick; they swayed and struggled on the ground, while
the crowd punched at them indiscriminately. In the middle of all this
business, the two ladies and Alick, the eldest of the children, had
started Gentle Annie for home, straight down the centre of the course.
The big mare, hearing the yelling, and recognising that she was once
more on a race-track, suddenly caught hold of the bit, and came sweeping
up the straight full-stretch, her great legs flying to and fro like
pistons. Alick, who was sitting bodkin between the ladies, simply
remarked, "Let her head go!" as she went thundering into the crowd,
hurling Doyles and Donohoes into the air, trampling Kellys under
foot--and so out the other side, and away at a 2.30 gait for at least
half a mile before the terrified girls could pull her up, and come back
to see what damage had been done.

That ended the fight. The course was covered with wounded and disabled
men. Some had been struck by the mare's hoofs; others had been run over
by the wheels; and a great demand for whisky set in, under cover of
which Gordon and Carew retired to the four-in-hand.

No one was seriously hurt, except "Omadhaun" Doyle, who had been
struck on the head by the big mare's hoof. He lay very still, breathing
stertorously, and Jerry the Swell took the trouble to come over to
the four-in-hand, and inform them that he thought "Omadhaun" had got
percussion of the brain, and that things looked very "omnibus" for him.
However, as soon as he could swallow whisky he was pronounced out of
danger, and the Kuryong party was allowed to depart in peace for home,
glad enough to get away. But the two girls were afraid to drive the big
mare, as she was thoroughly roused after her dash in among the Doyles
and Donohoes, and was inclined to show a lot of temper. A hurried
consultation was held, with the result that Ellen Harriott and Alick
were received into the four-in-hand, while Hugh was entrusted with the
task of driving his employer home in the sulky.

Now, a sulky is a vehicle built to accommodate two people only, and
those two people have to sit fairly close together. For a few miles they
spun along in silence, Hugh being well occupied with steadying the
mare. From time to time he looked out of the corner of his eye at his
companion; she looked steadily, almost stolidly, in front of her. Then
she began to tap on the floor of the sulky with her foot. At last she
turned on him.

"Well, we didn't win," she said. "I suppose you are glad."

"Why should I be glad, Miss Grant?"

"Oh! you said we oughn't to go and race among those people. And you were
right. It served them just right that the mare ran over them. I hope
that none of them are going to die."

"They wouldn't be much missed," said Hugh wearily. "They have started
stealing the sheep again."

"Can't you catch them?" she said, with pretended asperity. "If you went
out and hid in a fallen tree, don't you think you could catch them?"

Hugh looked at her to see if she were in earnest, but she looked
straight in front again and said nothing, still keeping up the slight
tapping of her foot. He flushed a little, and spoke very quietly.

"I think I'll have to resign from your employment, Miss Grant. I don't
care about stopping any longer; and I will go out back and take up one
of those twenty-thousand-acre leases in Queensland. You might put Poss
or Binjie on in my place. They would be glad of a billet, and they might
catch Red Mick for you."

"Do you really want to go?" she said, looking straight at him for the
first time. "Why do you want to go?"

"Why?" he burst out. "Because I can't bear being with you and near you
all day long, when I care for you, and you don't care for me. I can't
eat, or sleep, or rest here now, and it's time I was away. You might
give me a good character as a station-manager," he went on grimly,
"even though I can't catch Red Mick for you. I'll get you to make out my
cheque, and then I'll be off up North."

She was looking down now. The sun had gone, and the stars were peeping
out, and in the dusk he could catch no glimpse of her face. There was
silence for a few moments, then he went on talking, half to himself.
"It's best for me, anyhow. It's time I made a start for myself. I
couldn't stay on here as manager all my life."

Then she spoke, very low and quietly.

"You wouldn't care to stay on--for anything else, then?"

"How do you mean for anything else, Miss Grant? You don't want me for
anything except as manager, do you?"

"Well," she said, "you haven't asked me yet whether I do or not!"





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