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Title: Pals - Young Australians in Sport and Adventure
Author: Bowes, Joseph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pals - Young Australians in Sport and Adventure" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



        *[Frontispiece: With incredible difficulty Yellow Billy
        managed to  pass his whip thong twice round the brute’s
             neck—*_*See p.*_* 188.  (missing from book)]*



                                  PALS

                           YOUNG AUSTRALIANS
                         IN SPORT AND ADVENTURE


                                   BY

                              JOSEPH BOWES



              _WITH EIGHT FULL-PAGE COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS
                          BY JOHN MACFARLANE_



                          LONDON: JAMES GLASS
                           28 NEWGATE STREET
                                  1910



                               *CONTENTS*


CHAP.

      I. By Way of Introduction
     II. The Bushrangers
    III. A Desperate Encounter
     IV. The Great Match
      V. The Big Flood
     VI. On the Face of the Waters
    VII. The Death of the Forest Monarch
   VIII. What the Tree held
     IX. The Rescue
      X. The Return
     XI. The Breaking Up
    XII. Down the River
   XIII. Off for the Holidays
    XIV. Christmas Fun and Frolic
     XV. A Bush Ride and its Consequences
    XVI. The Dingo Raid
   XVII. Dingo *v.* Emu: A Fight to a Finish
  XVIII. The Chase and its Sequel
    XIX. Concerning Wild Horses
     XX. The Brumby Hunt
    XXI. The Warrigal’s Strategy
   XXII. How Yellow Billy broke the Warrigal
  XXIII. A Day’s Shoot
   XXIV. The Corrobberie
    XXV. In the Bushrangers’ Caves
   XXVI. The Explorers
  XXVII. A Respite
 XXVIII. The Camp by the Sea
   XXIX. At the Mercy of the Sea-Tiger
    XXX. In and About the Camp
   XXXI. Off to the Gold Diggings
  XXXII. How they struck Gold
 XXXIII. Bullion and Bushranger



                        *LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS*


With incredible difficulty Yellow Billy managed to pass his whip thong
twice round the brute’s neck (missing from book) . . . _Frontispiece_

Suddenly the Forest Monarch topples, lurches, staggers and falls with a
mighty crash

The neighbours saw, far out on the wild, wreckage-strewn waters, a tiny
boat with four slight figures

The emu failed to elude the panther-like spring

Retreating one moment and advancing the following, uttering war-cries

The huge brute lashed the water into foam, and swam round and round in a
circle

"We’ve struck it rich, I do believe," cried the stockman

Behind the lantern came a voice that more than the lantern, or even
pistol, cowed them: "*Stop!  Hands up!*" (missing from book)



    The grey gums by the lonely creek
      The star-crowned height,
    The wind-swept plain, the dim blue peak,
      The cold white light,
    The solitude spread near and far
    Around the camp-fire’s tiny star,
    The horse-bell’s melody remote,
    The curlew’s melancholy note,
      Across the night.

    GEORGE ESSEX EVANS



                                 *PALS*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                        *BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION*


"Happy season of virtuous youth, when shame is still an impassable
barrier, and the sacred air cities of hope have not shrunk into the mean
clay hamlets of reality; and man by his nature is yet infinite and
free."—CARLYLE.


"Comin’ over to-night, Tom?"

"By jings!  I’d like to, Joe, but dad said this morning he was going to
shell corn to-night.  You know what that means.  What’s on?"

"Oh!  Sandy’s stayin’ in for the night; so I thought of gettin’ Jimmy
Flynn an’ Yellow Billy so’s we could have bushrangers, an’ stick up the
coach by moonlight.  If they can’t come, Sandy an’ I’ll go ’possumin’ in
the slaughter-house paddock."

"I say! what a jolly lark the bushranging’d be.  How’d you manage it,
Joe?"

"We’ve planned that out all right.  We’d get Jimmy Flynn’s billy-goat
cart an’ the billies.  He’d be mailman, an’ it’d be gold-escort day.
Yellow Billy’d be the trooper; he’s got a pistol, you know.  He’d ride
the roan steer he’s broken in.  Then you, Sandy, an’ I’d be Ben Bolt’s
gang.  We’d do a plant in a lonely spot along the road an’ surprise ’em.
I’d tackle Billy, you’d look after Jimmy, Sandy ’d collar the mailbags
and gold boxes, and then scoot with the loot.  I think it’d be better to
shoot Billy, so’s to make it a bit more real; that’s what Ben Bolt’d
do."

"But, Joe, where’d we get the guns?"

"I’d get father’s.  You’d have to make believe with a nulla-nulla.  We
could stick a boomerang in our belts, it’d look like pistols in the
dark."

"But I say, Joe, ole chap, you wouldn’t really shoot Billy?" said Tom in
a tone that savoured both of fear and scepticism.

"You’re a precious muff, Hawkins!  I was just kidding you.  No, you
stupid, it’s all gammon.  The noise the powder ’ll make ’ll scare the
seven senses outer Billy."

"By golly! it’ll be crummie enough.  Put it off till to-morrow, Joe, an’
I’ll come."

"Can’t be done, my boy.  Sandy’ll not be here, for one thing.  Besides,
I have to pull father down to Yallaroi Bend to-morrow.  It’s his service
night there.  Sorry you can’t come, Tom.  We’ll have to do our best
without you."

"Oh Moses! to think that I can’t join!" groaned Tom. "Look here, Joe,
I—I’ll do a sneak.  I’ll be here somehow, you may bet your Sunday
breeks," continued the eager lad, as he stepped into the little
"flat-bottom" boat which had brought him over.

"Joe!" he shouted when he had rowed some distance from the shore.  "I’ll
give a cooee if I can get, an’ two cooees if the way’s blocked.  So
don’t start till you hear."

"Right-o!"

The place where these boys lived, moved, and had their being was a
district famed for its fertility, on one of the northern rivers in New
South Wales.

The river itself had many of the elements of nobility and beauty as,
taking its rise in the snowy heights of the New England ranges, it clove
its way eastward, finally debouching into the blue waters of the
Pacific.  The river-flats formed magnificent stretches of arable lands;
too rich, indeed, for such cereals as wheat and oats, for their rank
growth rendered them liable to the fatal rust.

Here, however, was the home of the maize, the pumpkin, the sweet potato,
the orange, the lemon, the plantain.  Here too, the natural sequence, in
a way, of the prolific corn and the multitudinous pumpkin, were reared
and flourished the unromantic pig.

Fed on pumpkins, with skim milk for beverage, topped off with corn, the
Australian grunter—whether as delicious, crisp bacon, or posing as
aristocratic ham—produces flesh with a flavour fit to set before a king.

Away from the river-flats the land becomes undulating and ridgy, and
well grassed for cattle runs.  In the scrub belts, running back from the
river and its affluents into the hilly country, are to be found valuable
timbers, hard and soft; especially that forest noble, the red cedar.

Cattle runs of large extent exist in the back-blocks, formed in the
early days by that class of men to whom Australia owes so much; the men
who to-day are vilified by those not worthy to black their boots: the
hardy, adventurous, courageous, indomitable pioneer, who more often than
not laid down his life and his fortune in the interest of Colonial
expansion and occupation.

At intervals along the river-banks are small settlements, dignified by
the name of townships.  Tareela, the principal village, skirted both
sides of the river, and was connected by a ferry.  Here were located the
Government offices for the district, together with the stores, hotels,
school, etc.

Joe Blain, the minister’s son, was the leader of the village lads.  He
had two pals, who were inseparable from him: Sandy M’Intyre, the
squatter’s son, whose father owned Bullaroi, a cattle station situated a
few miles from the town, and Tom Hawkins, a farmer’s son, the youngest
of the trio.  These boys gave tone and direction to the fun and frolic
of the settlement.  Of them it is sufficient to say at present that they
were not pedestal lads.

At this time a noted bushranger and his mate were raiding the
settlements.  All police pursuit was futile, owing to the
resourcefulness of the ’rangers.  They had a keen knowledge of the open
country and the mountain ranges.  Furthermore, they were generally
mounted on blood horses, usually "borrowed" from the surrounding station
studs.

These men had many sympathisers among the lawlessly inclined, and,
strange to say, among law-abiding settlers. The "bush-telegraph" was an
institution in those days. Certain friends of the ’rangers kept them
posted up in the movements of the police, sometimes by word of mouth, at
others by writings on paper or bark, which were deposited in rock
crevices or in tree hollows, known only to the initiated.  Sometimes a
young lad, or even a girl, would ride scores of miles across country to
give them warning.

The police were not wanting in bush lore or courage, and in the end
invariably ran their quarry to earth.  But an outlaw often had a long
career in crime, owing to the aid given, ere he was trapped.  Thanks to
closer settlement, the advance of education, and the general use of the
electric telegraph, bushranging has become a matter of history.  The
species is now to be found only in the stage melodrama, the itinerating
waxwork show, or embalmed in literature.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                           *"THE BUSHRANGERS*


"_Poins_: Tut! our horses they shall not see.  I’ll tie them in the
wood; our visors we will change after we leave them; and, sirrah, I have
cases of buckram for the nonce to immask our noted outward garments.

"_Prince_: But I doubt they will be too hard for us."

SHAKESPEARE, Henry IV.


After leaving Tom Hawkins, or, to put it more correctly, after Tom had
paddled away in his punt, Joe Blain proceeded to look up Jimmy Flynn,
the blacksmith’s apprentice, and Yellow Billy, a half-caste youth, whose
father followed the occupation of a timber-getter in the ranges.  Yellow
Billy was generally employed as yard boy at the Travellers’ Best Inn,
and a rough time he often had, especially when the timber-getters were
dissolving their hard-earned gold in alcohol.

One of Billy’s duties was to milk the cows and tend the calves.  Among
the latter was a yearling steer, which he broke in and rode on the
quiet.  Many an hour’s frolic the boys had in the moonlight in riding
the steer.  This animal had a good slice of the rogue in its
composition, with a propensity for buck-jumping.  When in a certain mood
it would be as stubborn as a donkey and as savage as a mule.

After standing, say for some minutes, never budging, in spite of
thwackings and tail-twistings, it would suddenly take to buck-jumping.
Oh, my, couldn’t it buck!  Woe betide the unlucky rider when it was in
this mood.  Torn from his hold—a rope round its brisket—one moment
behold him sprawling over its back, the next whirling through space,
finally deposited with more force than elegance on the turf.  All this,
however, was great fun for the boys, who encouraged the brute in its
bucking moods, each mounting in turns, to lie prone sooner or later on
mother earth, amid the uproarious laughter of his fellows.

Billy was the exception.  He was a born rider.  Unable to shift him from
its back, the brute became quite docile in his hands, and kept its
tricks for the others.

Jimmy and Billy were ready and willing to fill their parts in the bill.
The former, at "knock off," went out to the town common to round his
goats, and Billy promised to be ready, "steered," so to speak, by the
time appointed.

The road fixed upon was the track that led out from the township to a
large sawmill, distant about six miles.  It was a solitary road, passing
through a scrub-belt, crossing several minor creeks, threading its way
over a rocky ridge, winding through a rather wild defile, and ending at
the mill; the sort of place, indeed, to present numerous opportunities
for the criminal enterprise on hand.  A spot where one could get "nice
and creepy," as Joe said to Yellow Billy, much to that young man’s
disquiet.

The plan of campaign was simple enough.  Joe, Tom, and Sandy were to set
out as soon as possible after sundown and choose their spot for attack;
while Jimmy was to drive the Royal Billy-goat Mailcart, with Trooper
Yellow Billy a little in advance, as per custom.

The embryo bushrangers, unfortunately, had only one horse between them;
the one Sandy rode to school.  Mr. Blain’s horse, on which the boys
counted, was being used by the minister to take him to a moonlight
service some distance out from the river.  It was settled, therefore,
that the three boys should bestride Sandy’s stout cob, which was well
able to carry these juvenile desperadoes.

"Mother!" shouted Joe, as he strode into the house in the late
afternoon, from the wood-pile, where he had been chopping the next day’s
supply, "we’re going to have grand fun to-night."

"What sort of fun, my son?"

"Bushranging along the sawmill road.  Can I go mother?  We’ve got such a
grand plot."

"Well, I don’t mind; but don’t be out late."

"S’pose I can have the gun?"

"The g-u-n!"

"Yes, mother.  No need to fear.  It’s all play."

"Well, don’t load it."

"Only with powder to make a bang."

"I don’t like the idea, my boy.  Gun accidents often happen in play.
You remember Jim Andrews——"

"Oh yes, mother, but that’s different!  It was loaded."

In the end, owing to the boy’s importunity, Mrs. Blain reluctantly
consented.

Early tea being duly dispatched, the boys made the necessary
preparations for their dark deed.  Joe produced a pair of knee-boots,
the some time property of his father.  He made them fit by sticking rags
into the toes. He thrust his trousers’ legs into the boot-tops, and
wound a red scarf round his waist, through which he stuck a boomerang
and nulla-nulla.  A ’possum-skin cap adorned his head.  His final act
was to fasten on a corn-tassel moustache, and to strap his gun across
his back.  The broad effect of the costume was to make this youthful
outlaw a cross, as it were, between Robinson Crusoe and a Greek brigand.

Indeed he quite terrified his two sisters, as he suddenly entered the
sitting-room to the accompaniment of a blood-curdling yell.  This the
girls match with a shriek that wakes up the sleeping baby, bringing the
mother in with a rush.

For a moment Mrs. Blain, seeing Joe in the half-light, thought some
ruffian had entered.

"It’s very thoughtless and wrong of you, Joe, to frighten your sisters.
I—I—I’m quite angry with you——"

"Very sorry, mater," said Joe, with a serio-comic air.  "I only meant to
give them a start."

The girls, however, began to laugh, Joe looked such an oddity.  They
turned the tables on him by quizzing him most unmercifully.  At last our
young hero was very glad to beat a retreat to the backyard, where he
found Sandy busy in saddling the horse.

Joe’s confederate had roughened himself as much as circumstances
permitted.  In lieu of a skin cap he tied a big handkerchief round his
hat, and stuck a couple of turkey-tail feathers through it.  He had
manufactured a brace of pistols out of short lengths of bamboo, with
corn-cobs, stuck in bored holes at an angle, to form the stocks. These,
with a boomerang and nulla-nulla slung at either side, and a short spear
fixed in his belt at the back and standing over his head, made him in
appearance more like a red Indian than a Colonial free-booter.

"All ready, Hawkeye?"

"Yes, ole pal.  The mustang is waiting, and the brave will vault into
the saddle at Thundercloud’s word of command," answered Hawkeye in
bastard Cooperese. Fenimore of that ilk was Sandy’s favourite author.

"Hast thou heard the signal of Red Murphy?" said Joe, falling into the
strain of speech.

"No, Thundercloud.  No sound from our brither of the hither shore hath
been borne on the wings of the wind across the——"

"Oh, stow that rot, Sand—Hawkeye!  I wonder?——"

"Yon’s the cry of the chiel," broke in the would-be brave, as at that
moment the cooee of Tom Hawkins, alias Red Murphy, rose in the still
air, faint from the distance, but distinct.

"A single cooee!  Rippin! he’s comin’.  Let’s mount and wait at the
landing."

Hardly had the boys reached the river-bank ere Red Murphy appeared,
attired much as the others, with the addition of an old blunderbuss
belonging to his father.

"It’s all right, boys!  Hurroar!  Dad broke the handle of the
corn-sheller this evening, and sent me over with it to the blacksmith’s.
I’m to wait till it’s mended. Wait a jiff an’ I’ll be with you," cried
he, as he ran to the smithy, returning as fast as his legs could bring
him, with the news that the broken handle could not be repaired under
three hours owing to other urgent work.

Joe rapidly detailed the plan, informing Tom, at the same time, that his
name and character were to be that of Red Murphy, one of the
blood-thirstiest and most rapacious cut-throats in the Colonies.



                             *CHAPTER III*

                        *A DESPERATE ENCOUNTER*


"_Falstaff_: I am a rogue if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of
them two hours together.  I have ’scaped by miracle. I am eight times
thrust through the doublet; four through the hose; my buckler cut
through; my sword hacked like a handsaw _ecce signum_. I never dealt
better since I was a man; all would not do."—SHAKESPEARE, _Henry IV_.


Joe had barely made his explanations before the rumbling of the
approaching cart was heard.  It was the Royal Mail starting on its
adventurous trip.

"Time to be off, pals!" cried the leader.  "Now then, Hawkeye, whip ’em
up."

Off started the trio, Thundercloud, Hawkeye, and Red Murphy; each
delivering a blood-curdling yell which rang up and down the street, as
they passed through it at a smart canter.  It had never fallen to the
lot of horse, before, to bear upon its back at the same time three such
ferocious outlaws, bent on so diabolical an errand. Behind them, and at
a slower pace, came the Royal Mail goatcart, drawn by four strong
billies, skilfully driven by coachman Jimmy, and attended by Trooper
Billy astride his cud-chewing steed.

After leaving the township the road skirted the river for a mile or so,
then, crossing a plank bridge, bore away to the hills.  The silver moon
shone from the clear sky through the pure air, making the tree shadows
as they lay across the road to resemble fallen timber.  The nocturnal
’possum, having ventured to the ground to feed upon the tender grass,
scudded up the trees, frightened by the rumbling vehicle and the baaing
steeds.  The thud of paddy-melon[#] and wallaby could be distinctly
heard, as they smote the earth in their jumping movements; while from
the heights of some lofty tree the mopoke[#] tolled his mournful cry.


[#] "Paddy-melon," a small marsupial or pouch-bearing mammal.

[#] "Mopoke," the Australian crested goat-sucker.


The coach had now passed the three-mile creek, and still there was no
sound of disturbing element.  The coachman and trooper, having
intelligence to the effect that the ’rangers were "out," and had
threatened to "stick" up the gold-escort, were on the _qui vive_.  They
surmised that the attack would come in the scrub-belt, and about the
spot where the creek intersected.  Here the tall, overhanging trees,
interlaced as they were with a thick vinous growth, effectually barred
the moon’s rays.

It was the ideal spot for ambush, and the hearts of the boys beat
faster, and a nervous apprehension amounting to fear seized them, as
they passed among the shadows. Everything had a distorted appearance,
and again and again they trembled, as it were, on the verge of attack.
They had chatted freely until the darkness of the scrub closed in upon
them.  Under its oppression, and by reason of the dread uncertainty,
what had before seemed to be only a prime lark now presented itself as a
grim reality.

They drove on slowly now, conversing only in whispers, for the night
silences, the deepening shadows, and the unseen before them, all
contributed to the mental mood which affected the boys.  The creek banks
and bed, save for a solitary moon-ray which silvered the rippling water,
were enwrapped in thick darkness.  Pulling up at the brink, the boys
held a short conversation.

"Goin’ ter cross, Jimmy?"

"I—I—s’pose so, Billy.  Measly black ahead, ain’t it?"

"You’re not frightened, are you?"

"Wot! me?  No fear!  Y’are yourself!"

"I like that!  Wot’s to be frightened of?"

Yet the boys, if truth be told, were a good deal alarmed by the unwonted
darkness and stillness.

"Well, s’pose we’d better be gettin’ on.  Don’t care how soon we git
outer this hole.  You cross ahead, Billy, an’ do a bit o’ scoutin’.
I’ll wait here till you git up the bank on the other side."

Yellow Billy didn’t like the prospect, and would have proposed turning
back, but was afraid of being called a coward.  Therefore, despite an
apprehension of the darkness, accentuated by his aboriginal strain, and
very much against his will, the half-caste plunged down the creek bed,
and mounted the other side without let or hindrance, greatly to his
surprise and relief.

But where are the ’rangers?

Of them the darkness gave no token and the silence is unbroken.  Jimmy
had some difficulty in getting his leaders to tackle the creek.  It was
only after he left the cart, seized their heads, and half-dragged them
into the water that he effected his purpose.  The scrub thinned out
shortly after passing the creek, and the spirits of the boys rose with
the increasing moonlight.

"They missed a grand charnce at the crick, Billy!"

"By dad, they did that!  I wonder where they are. P’raps they’ve given
us the slip."

The road took a sudden turn just here, leading over a rocky ridge.  At a
farther sharp turn, under the lee of a bank, a big log lay across the
road.

"Hello, here’s a go, Jimmy!  You’ll have to drive round.  No! you can’t
do that.  Wait a moment an’ I’ll——"

"Bail up!"

The cry, crisp and startling, rang out, as three figures darted from the
shadow of a huge tree which stood near. Thundercloud, the leader of the
band of bushrangers, pointed his gun at the driver.  Hawkeye made a dash
at the trooper, while Red Murphy seized hold of the leading billies.

"Hands up!" cried Thundercloud in the highest style of bushranging.
"Your money or your life!"

Trooper Billy was not disposed to yield without a struggle, and at the
first cry he whipped out his pistol, firing at his aggressor point
blank, missing the leader but hitting his confederate, Hawkeye, who
tumbled down with a loud squeal, as unlike an Indian war-whoop as it is
possible to imagine.  Simultaneously, Thundercloud discharged his gun at
Jimmy the coachman, who, instead of putting his hands up at the
challenge, began to lash the billies, and had just turned them off the
log, when—pop, crash! went the two weapons.

And now the unforeseen occurred.  The steer and the billies bolted!
Down the ridge and along the road they dashed at breakneck speed; the
steer roaring and kicking, the four strong billies baaing, and neither
driver nor rider could control the brutes.  Away they scurried along the
rough bush-track, the cart bumping and rocking over the ruts; every jump
of the trap bringing a fresh bleat from the fear-stricken goats.

After racing along for nearly a mile and finding his steed unmanageable,
getting frightened too, Yellow Billy slipped over the stern, and by good
luck dropped upon his feet.  It was different with Jimmy, who gallantly
hung on to the billies.  The creek was what he most feared, and it was
very close now.  He had, however, got a pull on the beasts, and they
were slackening a little, but, as ill-luck would have it, on going down
a gully one of the wheels caught a tree root, and in a jiffy capsized
the cart, sending the driver head over heels into a clump of bracken.

The incident gave fresh impetus to the runaways, who rushed on baaing;
dashing at length down the steep incline of the creek, the cart righted
itself as it tumbled adown the gradient.  They tore over the stream and
up the bank, finally leaving the track, and getting boxed up in the
scrub.

After lying in a stunned condition for a few minutes, Jimmy scrambled
up.  But the moment he put his weight on his right foot he let out a
yell, caused by the terrific pain that shot through his ankle.  It was
unbearable, and he tumbled down in an almost fainting condition.

Meanwhile the outlaws stood aghast at the unexpected and startling turn
of events.  Thundercloud was the first to recover his speech.

"Great Cæsar! who would have dreamt of a bolt? Just listen to the
brutes!" as the animals tore along, baaing and roaring in a way possible
only to frightened billies and calves.

"I—I—didn’t know he’d loaded his pistol.  I—I—I thought for sure I was a
goon coon," gasped Hawkeye, who, after lying for a minute under the
impression that he was mortally wounded, got up, rubbing his face and
head, half terrified as his hands became wet with flowing blood, and
only reassured after Joe had declared that the blood was from his nose.
As a matter of fact, he had sustained a smart blow upon his prominent
feature with the pistol wad; his cheeks, also, were scorched with the
powder flare.

Red Murphy, who had just grasped the billies’ heads when the guns were
fired, was thrown down in their mad rush, and had his shins severely
barked on the rocky ground.

"Drat the brutes!  Oh, I say, here’s a go!  Listen to the beggars!
Ain’t they footin’ it?"

"To horse! to horse, pals!" cried Thundercloud, making hasty strides to
a patch of scrub where they had tied up the horse.  In a few seconds the
three were mounted and away with a swinging canter, adding their yells
to the cries of the beasts.  They were soon up to the spot where Jimmy
had come to grief, when, thundering down the gully, the horse made a shy
at the prostrate coachman, shooting off Thundercloud and Red Murphy.
They scrambled up quickly, none the worse for their spill. Hawkeye
immediately reined in his steed and rejoined his dismounted companions.

The boys were greatly concerned to find Jimmy in this condition.  The
affair began to assume a serious aspect. They were no longer outlaws and
police: they were pals, and Jimmy was suffering intense pain from his
sprained ankle.  After a short consultation the boy was placed on the
horse, which was led by Sandy.  The others followed behind, making a
somewhat mournful spectacle.  In due course they reached the goatcart,
now in possession of Yellow Billy, who had disentangled the team and was
waiting for the others to come along.  The steer meanwhile continued his
career at headlong speed, until he pulled up at the milking yards in an
exhausted condition. Mrs. Blain, as the hours sped by, began to get
concerned at the non-return of the boys.  Concern deepened into anxiety.
She became a prey to evil imaginings, as do all our dear mothers.  They
are lost! ... Some dreadful accident has happened! ... That gun! ...
Their legs, arms, necks, are broken!  And so on and on, running over the
whole gamut of catastrophy.

She goes out to scan the streets, and listens with strained ears for
some enheartening sound of footsteps. Lights are out in the village.
Even the dogs are sleeping. No shuffle of advancing feet; no rattle of
wheels as they grind in the ruts: no sound, indeed, is borne upon the
night wind save the mystic noises of the flowing river, which fill the
air with a deep undertone.  Above this, at intervals, come the splashing
sounds of the jumping fish; the smooth splash of the falling mullet, the
tail flutter of the rising perch.  The wood-duck’s soft quack-quack, and
the red-bill’s chuckle, are to be heard as they move among the sedges.
No landward sound!

Stay! a dark shadow swiftly steals along the earth like a spirit of evil
omen, and passes through the house, across the street, as it strikes the
walls.  While from above comes a wail as that of a lost soul.

The poor woman quivers and shivers at the unwonted sight and sound.  She
knows not that the apparition is the shadow of a black swan, which is
sailing high up in the heavens; it crosses the moon, and utters its
melancholy note as it wings its flight to the feeding grounds.  The
mother is now on the outskirts of the town, under the shadows of the
trees.  Every leaf is a tongue; every tongue whispers—Something! which
dries the throat and fills the ears with heart-thumps.  "Why did I? ...
That gun! ... What will father? ... Why don’t they come? ... Which
track? ... Hark!  Yes, ’tis the galloping hoofs ... Oh, God! it is the
steer! ... Riderless! ... This way, then....  On, on, on! ... At last!
..."

"Cheer up, mother ... no harm done ... Jimmy had a bit of a buster an’
sprained his ankle....  Scold us, mother, but—don’t cry!"

The hour is verging on midnight as five weary lads, four billies, one
horse, and one thankful woman straggled into the silent township.  All
romance, for the moment, had gone out of bushranging.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                           *THE GREAT MATCH*


    "God bless the grilling days of cricket!
    They’re gone but I shall bless them ever,
    For good it is to guard a wicket
    By sudden wrist and big endeavour."
      NORMAN GALE.

    "There’s a breathless hush in the close to night,
    Ten to make and the match to win,
    A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
    An hour to play and the last man in."
      HENRY NEWBOLT.


"Hawkins, stand out!"

"Please, sir, I wasn’t doin’ nothin’!"

"No, you wasn’t doin’ nothin’, but you have been talking all morning,
you tiresome boy!  Write out ’disobedient’ three hundred times after
school."

The fact is, Tom was relating the bushranging episode to a schoolmate,
and, like Tom Sawyer, he "laid over" considerably in his recital.  While
in the act of enlarging he was brought to book in this peremptory
fashion by the master, and had to do penance with as little relish as
most boys.

"Sorry you can’t come out and play, Tom," said Joe Blain, poking his
head into the empty schoolhouse after dismissal.

"It’s a beastly shame!  What are you fellows up to?"

"Goin’ to practise for the Dingdongla match.  After that we’ll have a
swim."

"Oh, rot it!" grunted the chagrined prisoner.

"Say, Tom, don’t forget to come along to-night an’ help pick the team."

"I’ll be there, never fret."

"Well, so-long.  Wire in, and keep your pecker up."

Dingdongla was an up-river settlement; Tareela a down-river town.  The
latter named was the older and more substantial place, being the
headquarters of the shipping.  As a consequence it was instinct with the
superior air generally to be met with in places of metropolitan
pretensions.  In schools, too, the down-river town had the advantage.
Its school building was of sawn timber, with a shingle roof.
Furthermore, it possessed two teachers, and pine desks.  While, on the
other hand, the up-river academy was constructed of roughly adzed slabs
and a bark roof.

For the Dingdonglas to be thrashed in cricket by the Tareelians was not
considered to be a disgrace.  _Per contra_, their victory was a splendid
achievement, and a great humiliation to their opponents.  The latter was
fairly beaten by the former last season, and naught would restore their
prestige save the administration of an unmitigated licking.  So, at
least, thought the match Committee, as they conned names, and analysed
the merits of the candidates on the name list.

Needless to say, Joe, Tom, and Sandy headed the list of certainties.
Yellow Billy came next; for though a very irregular attendant at school,
he was a tremendous swiper when he got his eye in.  Billy had dragged
more than one match out of the fire.


Saturday morning broke fair.  Shortly after an early breakfast a
cavalcade of about twenty youthful horsemen, followed by two teachers in
a gig, were scampering along the bush road to Dingdongla, distant about
nine miles up the river.  Oh, the merry, merry days of youth!  Those are
the days of the superlative mood.

It was a merry, roaring, romping, racing crowd of youngsters that tore
along the bush track.  They jumped fallen timber and gullies; chased the
flying marsupial; and spurted in couples for short lengths.  There were
minor accidents, ’tis true.  Pincher Putnan’s horse, in a fit of
pig-jumping, broke a girth, sending Pincher and saddle to mother earth.
Yellow Billy’s half-broken brumby fairly bolted in a race, cleared off
the road, and rushed through a belt of timber at breakneck speed,
towards his native haunts in the Nulla ranges.  It was only the superb
horsemanship of the half-caste that saved him from being dashed against
the trees in the headlong flight.

In due time Dingdongla is reached.  The horses are turned out in a maize
stubble paddock, where is a fine picking, and the boys stroll on to the
ground to have a look at the pitch.

"Whatyer think of the pitch, Joe?"

"You’ll have to keep your eye skinned for shooters Rody.  The ball’ll
keep very low.  Must keep a straight bat and forward play."

The stumps, like much of the material, were home-made. The Dingdonglas
had only one "spring handle"; the others were chopped out of beech
boards.  The Tareelians were not much better off for material.  They, it
is true, had two "spring handles,"—more or less battered,—and could
boast a pair of wicket gloves, but for the rest were like their
opponents, sans leggings and gloves. That, however, was a small item;
for every boy who possessed boots doffed them, rolling his trouser legs
to the knees and his shirt sleeves to the elbows.

"Got all your men, Wilson?" said Joe to the Dingdonglas’ captain.

"Yes, they’re all here.  May as well toss for innin’s, Joe."

"Right you are," responds Joe, ejecting a jet of saliva on a piece of
flat wood.  "Shall I toss, or you?"

"You toss, Joe."

"Call you!" cried Blain, tossing the board with a twirl skywards.  "Wet
or dry?"

"Wet!" called Wilson, as the wood spun in the air.

"Dry!" exclaimed Joe, as it lay on the ground with its dry side
uppermost.  "We’ve won, and go in."

"Tom," said he a moment later, "you and Yellow Billy go in first, an’
you take the strike."

The batsmen were soon in their places, and the Dingdongs in the field.
The innings opened fairly well for the Tareelians.  Yellow Billy got
quickly to work, and laid on the wood to some purpose; Tom playing
carefully the while.

Facing the Dingdonglas’ swift bowler, after a smart short-hit run Billy
sent a well-pitched ball for four, a rattling, straight-hit drive.  But
in trying to repeat the stroke off the next ball he misjudged, and,
skying the sphere, was easily caught.

"One wicket for twenty!" of which the half-caste contributed fifteen.

After this the troubles of the batsmen set in.  The Dingdongs were
strong in bowling talent, and possessed a local Spofforth, whose
lightning deliveries shot and kicked in a marvellous fashion.  Joe,
going in fifth man, stayed the "rot" for a while, but was foolishly run
out by his mate.

The Tareelians were all out in an hour for the small total of
forty-seven.  If the down-river boys were despondent over this score,
the up-rivers were correspondingly jubilant.  Going to the wickets with
plenty of confidence, they rattled up ninety-nine before the last wicket
fell; the captain carrying out his bat for a well-earned forty-two.

Adjournment for lunch was now made.  We call it lunch by courtesy.  It
was a big bush feed.  This repast was served in the schoolhouse, the
rough desks being converted into tables, which were literally covered
with good things.

The Dingdonglas’ mothers were determined that, whoever won, the boys of
both sides should have a rippin’ feed. A stuffed sucking-pig, whose
savoury odour filled the room, lay at one end.  Roast wild duck and a
cold pigeon-pie balanced it at the other.  An immense round of spiced
beef, standing in the centre of the long table, seemed to say: "You may
cut and come again."  Potatoes and pumpkins smoked in big tin bowls, and
all the available space was filled with cakes, puddings, and pies.
Needless to say, the onslaught was terrific. They were all sloggers at
tuck.  Meats, puddings, cakes, tea, and ginger-beer disappeared like
magic.

All good things mundane, however, come to an end; especially when the
good thing happens to be a dinner. And now, after divers whisperings and
nudgings, up stood Captain Joe, amid the cheers of his side.

Joe was silent a moment, nervously looking up and down the board, and
heartily wishing himself at the bottom of the deep blue sea.  "Mr.
Chairman" (addressing the local schoolmaster), "I—we—that is—us fellows
from Tareela asked me to tell you—I mean to say, that—that—that—a—it
gives us much pleasure—er—er—oh, hang it all!—I—I mean—er—this is the
jolliest blow in the way of tuck we’ve ever had."  Joe subsided to the
rattle of the knives on the bare board.  As soon as the noise ceased,
Tom Hawkins jumped up and called: "Three cheers for the Dingdonglas!"
which were heartily given.

Half an hour’s lounge, and the battle began afresh.

"We’ve got fifty-two to wipe out before we start even, boys.  We can do
it, and score plenty more to win the game, if we keep our heads.
Anyway, we must have a big try.  Billy an’ I’ll go in first; Tom next,
and then Pincher.  The order of the rest of you depends on the way
things turn out."

"Look here, Billy," continued the captain, as the two batsmen walked to
the wickets.  "They’ve got two slashing bowlers, but if we can manage to
knock ’em out they’ve no one else of much account.  Get your eye well in
before you do any slogging."

"All right, Joe!  Do me best."

"Your best means steady play and a big score.  I’ll take the strike."

If Joe was nervous in public speech it was not observable in action.  He
played Ginger Smith’s fast deliveries with confidence, punishing the
loose balls and blocking the straight ones.  Billy, too, was playing
with unwonted caution, and the score, though slowly, was surely mounting
up; until after half an hour’s play it stood at twenty-five, with no
wickets down.  There were no boundaries, and every hit was run out.

"Oh, glory, what a swipe!"

Yellow Billy had got hold of one of Ginger’s leg balls with a mighty
lunge.  The ball seemed as if it would go on for ever, and finally
rolled into a gutter.  They ran six for it.

There was great cheering among the Tareelians. Mr. Simpson, who umpired,
forgot for a moment his impartial office.  Flinging his hat into the
air, he cried, "Bravo, Billy!"

"Thirty-one an’ none out.  Only twenty-one to get level!"

The boys were now scoring faster; singles, twos, threes were coming with
great rapidity.  Joe made his first four, a sweet, square cut.

"Forty-nine an’ no wickets down!"

Joe faced the new bowler.  The local demon had begun to bowl wildly, and
was relieved.

"They’ll never bowl them!" cried young Ben Wilde, as Joe took block for
the new-comer—a lad with a reputation for slow left-hand twisters.  The
first ball was pitched on the leg stump; just the ball for Joe’s
favourite leg glance.

It went for two.

"Only one to make us even!" shouted Tom to his captain.  The second ball
was pitched in exactly the same spot, and Joe proceeded to treat it in
the same fashion.  The sphere, however, had a little more twist on it
than its predecessor, and, breaking on to the left bail, flicked it off.

There was a great chorus of disappointment among the Tareelians, and
hearty cheers from their opponents, as the captain’s wicket fell.  His
twenty-one, got by true cricket, was worth twice that number by reason
of the spirit of confidence he had infused.

Billy and Tom carried the score to seventy-three, when the latter was
caught for ten.  Pincher fell a victim to a very simple ball from an
under-hand lob bowler, after making seven.  Sandy gave the bowlers some
trouble, and got into double figures before he retired.  All this while
Billy was scoring well, and, when Sandy’s wicket fell, had made fifty
runs.  All the boys scored less or more; and when the innings closed had
compiled a total of one hundred and thirty-seven, of which Billy made
seventy-one and not out.  This was a grand achievement, and the
half-caste was carried off the ground amid great applause.

This left the Dingdongs eighty-six runs to win, which they failed to do
by seventeen runs, Sleepy Sam stumping no less than three off young
Ben’s slow lobs.

There was great cheering as the victorious cricketers rode in the dusk
of the evening through the main street of Tareela, after a grand day’s
fun.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                            *THE BIG FLOOD*


    "The day is cold and dark and dreary;
    It rains, and the wind is never weary;
    The vine still clings to the mouldering wall;
    But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
      And the day is dark and dreary."
        LONGFELLOW.


Drip, drip, drip!

Croak, croak, c-r-o-a-k!

Quack-quack, quack-quack!

"Heigho!" grunted Tom Hawkins, as he turned over sleepily in bed.  "Is
it ever goin’ to stop rainin’?"

For some days a steady rain had been falling, soaking the ground.  Every
gully was a rivulet, and every depression a lake.

"Tom!" cried a feminine voice from an interior room. "Get up!"

"Bother those frogs an’ ducks!" muttered the lad, full of sleep in the
grey of the early morning.  "Like ter choke ’em! waking fler——"

"Tom!" cried a masculine voice, as a hand rattled the door of the lad’s
bedroom, and a boot gave a drum-like accompaniment on the lower panel.
"Git up this minit an’ run the cows in, or I’ll——"

But Tom had jumped out of bed as nimbly as one of the frogs, between
whose croak and his father’s bass voice he seemed unable, in his sleepy
condition, to discriminate.

"All right, father!  I’m dressing," shouted Tom, as the word "dowsing"
fell on his ear.  There had been times in master Tom’s past when a
sudden application of cold water was deemed necessary to expedite his
slow movements.

"Dad’s too mighty smart!  Thought I’d nick him with that button,"
growled Tom, as he stuck his legs into his pants; said button being an
iron tee snip, fastened so as to act as a bolt.

"Jemima!  ain’t it dark!  Must be very early," muttered the reluctant
boy, as he strove to lace his boots. "Drat it!  Shan’t wear ’em; too
wet."

"My crikey!" cried he as he stood outside.  "Must have been rainin’ cats
an’ dogs, an’ lakes an’ seas."

His moleskins were rolled up to his thighs, while a cornsack, hooded at
the bottom, and stuck on to his head like a nun’s veil, gave him fair
protection from the driving showers.

"I wonder if it’s goin’ to be a flood?"  The thought was not unpleasant
to the lad.  It produced, indeed, a certain exaltation of spirits,
forcibly expressed in Tom’s vernacular by, "Ge-willikins! but won’t we
have fun!"

Heavily laden clouds, in interminable succession, were drifting from the
sea, forming, as they swung overhead in batches, an endless series of
smart showers.  It had been an exceptionally wet week, and for the
preceding twenty-four hours had rained without ceasing.

The cows depastured in a paddock that ran back from a creek to the
timbered country.  The creek itself was bank high and running strongly.
It was only by climbing along the branches of a dead limb, which spanned
the water, that Tom managed to reach the kine.

It was no small task to get them to face the stream. Small as was the
creek in width, it was deep enough to make a swim, and the roaring,
turbid, and muddy stream frightened the creatures.  But for the fact
that the calves were in a pen at the milking yard all Tom’s efforts
would have been futile.  Their mooing and baaing, however, made a loud
appeal to the maternal breast. Finally, when the old red poley, the
mother of twins, made a plunge, the rest followed.

During the morning the river rose steadily, and large quantities of
drift-wood passed down the stream.  With the rubbish was a good deal of
heavy timber, and—what Tom had predicted—pumpkins.  This was an
indication that the river up-stream had overflowed its banks in places,
and was sweeping the low-lying farm lands.  Tom spent the morning in
fishing out the floating vegetables that came within reach of his hooked
pole.  Meanwhile the rain continued, and looked as though it might last
for forty days and nights.

"I’ll pull over to the township this afternoon," remarked Mr. Hawkins at
the midday meal.  "I’m anxious about this rise.  Looks as if we’re goin’
to have an old man flood.  Might get some information about the state of
things up-river.  If I leave it till to-morrow ’twill be a tough job
gettin’ acrost, as the timber’s comin’ down pretty thick now, an’ll be
worse by an’ by."

"Be sure’n bring tea and flour back with you.  No knowing how long the
rise’ll last."

"Can I go with you, father?"

"Yes; I’ll require you to steer.  It’ll be a pretty stiff job, I
reckon."

The crossing was not without peril.  The current ran fierce and strong.
The landing-place on the other side was protected, in a measure, by a
headland up-stream. Out from the influence of that, however, the boatmen
felt the full force of the current.  The water seethed and foamed.  The
violence of its rush created great whirlpools, which accentuated the
difficulty of keeping the boat’s head up-stream.  Logs and driftwood
patches had to be dodged, and, what with fighting the current and
outflanking the timber, by the time the river was crossed the boat had
drifted quite half a mile down-stream.  On gaining the other side they
found a shore eddy, in which they were able to paddle up-stream with
ease, until they came to a point of land about two hundred yards below
the town wharf.  As they lost the eddy here, and would have to encounter
the full force of the flood when round the point, Mr. Hawkins wisely
determined to tie up the boat in the slack water.

When Hawkins arrived at the store, where many of the townsfolk had
congregated, he was informed that news had been brought down by the
mailman that morning to the effect that heavy rains were falling at the
head of the river, and that when the New England waters came down in
full force the river might rise to the "high flood" marks.

Cooees could now be heard from the settlers in the low-lying portions,
adjacent to the township.  They proceeded from those who had neglected
to move before being surrounded, and who were without boats.  The police
were busily engaged in rescuing families by boat. Many townsfolk were
engaged on the same merciful errand.

All through the day the waters, fed by the flooded creeks, continued to
rise, and as evening approached anxiety deepened.  Things were so
serious that Mr. Hawkins, whose farm, be it said, was situated on
comparatively low-lying lands, acting upon the advice of his friends,
returned home almost at once.  After hoisting the most valuable of his
possessions to the rafters, and securing them there, he returned to the
township with his family; gaining it as dusk was deepening into dark.
The family was distributed among neighbours, Tom and one of his sisters
being quartered at Mr. Blain’s.

A group of men and boys throughout the day had lined the bank of the
river, in the vicinity of the Government wharf, which was submerged.
They were engaged in gauging its rate of advance by pine laths scaled to
inches.

Towards evening the wind, veering from east to south-east, increased in
violence.  Laden with torrential showers, it smote the earth in great
gusts, streaming through roofs and walls, and taxing the ingenuity of
housekeepers to find dry spots for beds.

The wind and flood waters, travelling in opposite directions, conflicted
with great violence.  The roaring, boastful wind, as it lashed the
racing, defiant waters into angry waves, and the universe-filling sounds
of the seething, surging flood-waters, as they wrestled with and
overbore all opposing forces, made storm music, compared with which the
artifices of man touch the infinitely puny.  Darkness and the blinding
rain had driven most of the river watchers indoors.  A few, however,
braved the elements, among them the minister and the lads.

Whatever effect the flood may have had on others, the dominant feeling
in Mr. Blain’s mind was that of solicitude. As the rain continued, deep
concern merged into alarm. There were few on the river who knew as
intimately as he the general havoc of a flood.  The executive head of
the Flood-relief Committee for many years, he had been the chief
instrument in administering doles to flood victims.  In many cases the
utmost relief was as a drop of succour in the ocean of need.

"If the rise continues for another twenty-four hours, as it is doing
now, it will beat the ’sixty-four flood, and, if so, God help our
down-river friends," remarked the minister after examining Joe’s gauge
by the aid of a lantern.

The ’64 flood was the highest known to white men up to the present.  The
settlers still retained a vivid recollection of its disastrous effects.
Luckily, the township covered a piece of high ground, and though the low
parts were covered in a moderate flood, the higher portions were some
feet above the highest flood-mark.  It was in the farming settlements
that danger lurked.

"If this yere flood beats ’sixty-four, it’ll be as you say, Parson;
good-bye to many up-river an’ down-river folk."

Mr. Blain’s words had impressed both men and boys. Suddenly Joe, who was
in the midst of the group, sang out lustily—

"Hurrah! wind’s changed!"

"What’s that?" shouted back Mr. Blain excitedly.

"Don’t you feel it?" cried the boy, as he swung his arms windmill
fashion.

"Yes; thank God!  The lad’s right," continued he. "The wind’s chopping.
Don’t you feel it, men? Ah! there’s a decided puff from the north-east."

"Take my word for it," said the ferryman, an old sailor, "the wind’ll be
blowing west afore morning."

"Pray God it may!" ejaculated the minister, and many a silent prayer was
uttered.

"Now, boys, let us return home.  We can do no good standing here.  We’ll
come back in an hour or so."

"Listen!" exclaimed Tom, as the boys splashed through the water on their
way home.  Laying his hand on Joe’s shoulder, he cried, "Do you hear
that?"

"Don’t hear anything but the roar of the river," replied Joe, as he
stood in a listening attitude.  "What was it?"

"Hark! there it is again.  A cooee.  Seems to come from up the river,
near the Bend.  Some un’s in trouble."

"Now, boys, make haste and get in out of the rain," cried Mr. Blain, who
had hurried along.

"Some one’s crying out for help at the Bend," shouted Joe.

The minister paused on hearing this.  A moment later the cry came out of
the night: faint, because of the distance and the turmoil of sounds, yet
clear and convincing.

"Great God! some poor soul in dire straits, and no help possible before
morning!"

It would have been worse than madness to attempt any rescue till
daylight.  To traverse the flood, even in daytime, anywhere near the
Bend, were a hazardous experiment, owing to the enormous vortices caused
by the current striking a high bluff on the near side, at the elbow.
The waters whirled like a merry-go-round under full steam, and boiled
with an upward heave, in a fashion similar to the mud springs of
Tiketere.  None but the stoutest boat and most experienced rowers could
dodge these seething cauldrons, which caught into their cold and cruel
embrace trees, fencing, stock; anything material, in fact.  The heaviest
logs and tree-lengths were as wisps of straw under the influence of the
mighty suction.  To attempt the traverse at night were as foolhardy and
impossible as that of shooting Niagara in an open boat.

A little group stood with the Blains, listening to the weird cry.

"Who d’yer think it c’d be, sir?" said one of the men, turning to the
minister.

"Not any of the Bend families.  We had word this afternoon saying that
they had retreated to the high land before the waters reached them.  God
help the poor soul, whoever it is, for vain is the help of man!"

Throughout the live-long night the cry went up at intervals, like that
of the minute-gun of a distressed vessel.  Shortly before daybreak it
ceased.

No man or woman in the township slept that night. A strict watch was
kept on the river, so as to be ready for any emergency.  The waters
continued to advance, but at a much slower rate.  Men and women
cudgelled their brains to individualise the wailing cry.  Most were
agreed that it was a woman’s cry, though some held it to be that of a
child.  Sometimes the voice was ghoulish, and made the flesh to creep
and the heart to flutter. Then an intensely human note would prevail,
full of anguish and terror, and women wept and stopped their ears, while
strong men choked in the throat.

They would go out at intervals and send back a heartening cry; it was
all that could be done.  There were many others throughout that fearful
night who were engulfed in the flood, in various parts of the river,
and, swan-like, wailed their death-song in the wild waste.

Shortly after midnight the rain ceased, and the wind, which had been
chopping and changing for the past few hours, settled finally in the
west.  This proved a conspicuous advantage.  It no longer checked the
flood-waters as when in the east, and there was now good hope that they
would recede ere long, as the rise was almost imperceptible.

[Illustration: "Suddenly the Forest Monarch topples, lurches, staggers
and falls with mighty crash."—_See p._ 43.]

When day had dawned a wild, weird scene was revealed. The town had
become an island.  On all sides the flood-waters stretched out, covering
gardens and farms, and completely blotting out the fair landscape.  On
the riverside the turgid stream tore along in its hurry, bearing on its
dirty, foam-crested bosom, as its spoils, the household gods, farm
stock, and produce of many a settler. Horses, cattle, pigs, goats, dogs,
fowls: these, swept off by the encroaching waters, and carried over
fences into the stream, struggled, vainly for the most part, in the
rapid, death-dealing current.  Haystacks, barns, wood-frame buildings
intact, floated in the torrential waters, sooner or later crashing into
the great trees that bore down-stream, making utter shipwreck.



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                      *ON THE FACE OF THE WATERS*


"The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their
voice; the floods lift up their waves."—Ps. xciii. 3.


"Where’s the dad, girls?" shouted Joe Blain early in the morning, after
the events recorded in the previous chapter, dashing into the room as he
yelled.

"Here!" came a voice from the back verandah. Running to the spot
indicated by the monosyllable, the lad in breathless accents delivered
himself to his paternal relative in this fashion—

"Please, dad, can Tom, Billy, Jimmy, and I have the boat to paddle out
on the back-water?"

"Um—er—well, as long as you keep in the slack water I suppose you may;
but be very careful, my boy."

"Yes, dad; we’ll be careful enough.  It’s all slack water you know,
’cept where the river water comes in; but that’s a long way up, an’
we’ll be paddlin’ mostly about this end of the slack."

An explanation is needed here in order that the reader may intelligently
follow the course of events (some of them dramatic enough, and even
tragic) which transpired in the course of this eventful cruise.

It has already been stated that the flood waters so surrounded Tareela
as to convert the township into an island.  It was so practically.
Accurately speaking it formed a peninsula, with the narrowest of necks.
On the river side there was a broad expanse of boiling, foaming,
hurrying waters, narrowing here and there, where the banks rose above
their usual height, but stretching far and wide where the river-flats
intervened; sometimes touching the horizon, as it were.  On the other
side lay a body of water, as far removed from motion as the tumultuous
stream was instinct with it.  There it lay, a wide extent of placid,
coffee-coloured water, broken at its surface by fence tops, belts of
trees, and partially submerged houses.  This great stretch was almost
currentless, and the débris that floated on its bosom appeared
stationary; though, as a matter of fact, there was a slight outward
drift.

The secret of its placidity lay in the fact that the river waters, when
they reached a certain height, backed up a blind gully that ran almost
parallel with the stream for some distance, then swerved from the river,
and widened out till it became a depression of considerable magnitude.
This, in turn, merged into a swamp, contiguous to the township on its
western side.  Low-lying and occupied lands surrounded the swamp for
some distance.  The town end of these flats, which the river water
backing up through the gully had submerged, making a long reach of
stagnant waters, formed the area of the boys’ row.

The minister’s boat was a light yet staunchly built vessel, and belonged
to the skiff variety.  Her capabilities were to be put to the utmost
test.  Several of the town boats were moving on the face of the still
waters, their occupants busily engaged in capturing the flotsam.  The
owners of houses, in particular, were anxiously conning their submerged
property, or gathering together floating domestic articles.  In this way
a good deal of house property was recovered.

The boys found enjoyment in the novelty of the cruise. They pulled two
oars, taking turns at the rowing.  Of the non-rowers, one acted as
steersman and the other as bowman for the capture of the flood spoils.
Several melons and pumpkins were picked up, but they were not troubling
about these.  For one reason, they did not want to be encumbered with
spoil of that kind, and for another they were keen on pulling about the
flooded houses. Their chief and most interesting rescue was a cat and
two kittens, which had found an ark of refuge on a barn door.

"I say, boys, we’ll have a go at these oranges," said Joe, who was
steering, as they were passing a small orangery which was half
submerged.  This proposal received hearty and unanimous assent.
Accordingly Joe selected the most promising tree, and deftly ran
alongside its outer branches.

"Look out for snakes!" cried he.

There was abundant cause for warning, for each tree contained a number
of serpents, some of which are very deadly.  These reptiles were flooded
out of their holes in the ground, and from hollow logs and stumps, and
made for the trees or any floating timber that offered refuge.
Fortunately the snakes were more or less benumbed with the cold,
consequently they were the reverse of lively. Had it been otherwise, to
have made fast to the tree would have been foolhardy to a degree.

Agreeably to Joe’s warning, every eye was skinned and on the look out.
Indeed, the tree was fairly swarming with snakes of many sorts and
sizes; though for the most part they consisted of "tree" and "carpet"
varieties; one of the latter, lying across the top, being fully ten feet
in length.  These two mentioned varieties are not venomous. The farmers,
for the most part, look with a friendly eye upon the carpet species; so
called by reason of its tawny and black markings.  The carpet snake in
summer time is the best of all mousers and ratters.  It winds its
sinuous way into places impossible to even puss or terrier; and is
always a welcome visitor to settlers’ barns.  There it becomes a pet,
and will live on terms of friendship with its primal foe.

There were snakes of a very different order in the orange tree.  Among
them the "tiger," most aggressive and poisonous of all the genus.  There
were also specimens of the black and the brown snakes.  All these are
cobras, and therefore very deadly.

The snakes, as related, were all more or less torpid with cold, and not
pugnaciously inclined.  The boys, however, were very careful not to
disturb them.  There was plenty of golden fruit upon the tree, and it
was in prime condition.  The fruit was neatly cut off the stems by
strokes of the paddle blade.  When a sufficient quantity was thus
plucked, and lay bobbing in the water, they were poked out from the tree
by the same means, and secured.  The boat lay off a little distance from
the tree while the crew indulged in a feed of the luscious fruit.  A
visit was then paid to a plantain grove, and a quantity, both of green
and ripe fruit, was secured.

"Where away now, Joe?" said Tom Hawkins, who was crouched in the bow.

"I vote," replied the one addressed, who in this, as in everything else,
was leader of the band,—"I vote we pull up opposite Commodore Hill and
have a look at the river."  The boy forgot for the moment the promise
made to his father to keep mainly about the town end of the back-water.

Commodore Hill was well up the river, and on the other side.  The
flooded gully by which the water obtained entrance, it has been
explained, ran parallel with the river for some distance; in some places
being not more than a few yards therefrom.  The boys were curious to see
the river stretch above the Bend; also to note the numbers of
flooded-out settlers who might be camped in that vicinity.  Accordingly
the boat’s bow is turned, and her course shaped in that direction.  By
this time the river had fallen several feet, and, as a consequence,
there was an outward drift of the slack waters, making a gentle current.

"’Member, Joe, what your dad said about takin’ the boat into the
stream."

"Think I’ve forgot, stupid!"

"Thought I’d remind you, anyhow," replied the bowman.  As a matter of
fact, Tom had an uneasy feeling that his mate would not be content when
they got to the mouth to remain there without having a dash at the
stream.

"Listen to me; I ain’t goin’ to run any risks.  We won’t go to the mouth
entrance.  What we’ll do is this: work up to the swamp end, have a look
round, and come back again."

With this defined object in view the boat continued its voyage, helped
by the current, which, the farther up they proceeded, became stronger,
as was to be expected.

But one thing had happened of which the boys were in entire ignorance.
And this particular happening was to produce startling and unexpected
effects.  At a certain spot in the gully, and at a point where it began
to deviate from the general stream, there was a branch gully, which bore
inwards to within a few yards of the river’s brink.  When the water was
at its highest in the river, that in the lagoon was much higher at this
point, inasmuch as the back-water was at the same level as at the
entrance, some two miles higher up; the difference in height being the
river’s fall in that distance.  Roughly speaking, the water there was
about ten feet higher than that in the river.

The rush of the stream on the river side had caused the bank to give way
about this point during the night, and the lagoon, or back-waters,
forced themselves into the river through the new channel, which widened
considerably as a consequence.  On nearing this place the boys became
conscious of a quickening of the current.

"My golly, Joe! this big current," said Yellow Billy, who, with Jimmy,
was at the oars.  "Must be goin’ twenty mile."

"Twenty mile! you goose.  We’re goin’ six or seven and that’s mighty
fast."

"I say, Joe," called Jimmy a second later, the boys having ceased
rowing, for there was no further need, "bes’ run her ashore, or we’ll be
carried out.  By gosh, she’s tearing away!"

"All right, mates, keep cool.  There’s the old mahogany ahead, we’ll tie
up there; we’ll be there in a minute."

Yes, the boys would need all their coolness, for Joe was reckoning
without up-to-date knowledge, and that made all the difference in the
world.  Rounding a clump of trees at this moment, or ever they were
aware the boat fairly sucked into the channel of furiously rushing and
tumultuously heaping waters that were finding their level by the newly
made short-cut.

"Oh! oh!  I—I say!" shouted Tom.  "We’re being swept into the river!
Back water!"

Joe, quicker than the others, had hit the situation, and turned the
boat’s nose to a clump of bushes, but before the rowers could pick up
their oars to help him the boat had swept past.  Tom, it is true, made a
frantic grasp at the bough, but the way on the boat was so strong that
the branch, when the full force of the current bore on her at her
momentary check, snapped like a pipe-stem, and the little craft was fair
in the turgid stream, which had now the velocity of a water-race.  The
incident of the half-arrest, however, had turned her head up-stream,
which was a providential thing.  The river break-away was at most three
hundred yards away.  To turn the boat into the perpendicular sides of
the channel was to court destruction; for, be it said, the maddened
waters had excavated the banks until they rose sheer from the water’s
edge.

The necessities of the case came like an inspiration to Joe.  The boat
was drifting, as we have said, stern first, the advantage of which will
be seen.  Save Joe, whom the sense of responsibility braced to immediate
action, the boys were speechless with consternation. One look at their
blanched faces was sufficient.  They were certainly alive to the dangers
of the situation.

"Pull, boys! pull with all your might!  We’ll keep her head up.  This’ll
check her speed a bit.  It’ll give her steerage way too, and save her
gettin’ broadside on."

The pullers put every ounce of strength into their strokes, and this was
very helpful.  The final rush into the cross-current was a most critical
moment, and might easily have resulted in disaster.  This was averted
only by Joe’s coolness and dexterity.

"Oars out!" cried he as the boat swept into the angry and turbulent
river.  Save for shipping some water, and drenching the crew with spray,
the little craft weathered the river plunge.  An involuntary "Oh!" came
from the boys as the boat shot the rapids and soused into the river.
Immediately she came under the influence of two currents; that going
outward from the chute, and the swift down-river stream.

This effect was to take them instantly well out toward the centre of the
flood, with a strong drift which carried the boat into the vicinity of
the Bend.  The river bend gave the current a direction which set across
to the other side.  This diagonal movement was accelerated by the chute
waters, which retained their impetus, in a measure, for a considerable
distance.

Downward then, and cross-wise to the northern bank, the frail craft
sped, the sport and play of the watery element.  Dangers stood, or
rather, drifted thick around the adventurers.  Picture for a moment a
tiny vessel, some fifteen feet over all, whose timbers are of the
proverbial egg-shell thickness, shot into an angry, bubbling cauldron,
whose tumultuous waters heaved and swirled, hissed and roared, in
inarticulate sound and motion.

That, in itself, were an experience of sufficient magnitude to quicken
the blood, test the nerves, and try the courage of the hardiest
waterman.  Add to the perils of that situation a thousand floating
dangers, any one of which might crush that tiny, drifting cockle-shell
out of existence, and you have the position which faced and surrounded
the affrighted lads on the demon-ridden waters.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                   *THE DEATH OF THE FOREST MONARCH*


    "There’s the white-box and pine on the ridges afar,
    Where the iron-bark, blue-gum, and peppermint are;
    There’s many another, but dearest to me,
    And king of them all is the stringy-bark tree."
      HENRY LAWSON.


As several years had intervened between the present and the last flood
of considerable dimension, every creek, gully, and river-flat of the
upper reaches were contributing their quota of fallen timber, which in
the interval had encumbered the earth.  In addition, the flood-waters
had torn many a giant eucalyptus, roots and all, from its earthhold, and
had borne it on its heaving and rebellious bosom, a mere plaything of
its vengeful humour.

Up to the present a monarch of the forest, whose rugged bole bears
indubitable evidence of its antiquity, stands skywards with its head in
the clouds.  The Philistines are upon it.  Its innumerable roots,
lateral and vertical, hold with frantic clutch to mother earth, as it
grimly wrestles with its Gargantuan foe.  But the earth, which for years
innumerable has mothered the forest lord, furnishing his daily portion
of meat and drink, nourishing and cherishing him till he bulks in girth
and height as Saul among the prophets, proving faithful in every tussle
with wind and flood heretofore, now turns traitor.  The soil dissolves
in the swirling waters as they ravish the earth.  Above and underneath
the roots it melts, and is carried away in the thickening stream.  The
hold of the old monarch is weakening.  His limbs are trembling.  His
strong body, that has withstood the pressure of a thousand fights with
the hereditary foe, vibrates and sways now, as his remorseless
antagonist grips him in cruel embrace.

His old comrades higher up, who have fallen earlier in this battle of
giants, come drifting along, battered and torn; veritable shipwrecks,
dismantled and broken.  One floating leviathan, flood-driven, sweeps
onward full upon his writhing form ... a violent shock and shudder that
runs from root to topmost leaf ... a last wrestle, strong, heroic, and
pitiful! ... Then, betrayed and spent, under the last straw, as it were,
of the fateful impact of his wrecked mate—now converted into a
battering-ram—the grand old hero-king yields.  His foe has sought and
found, like one in the olden time, his vulnerability in his heel.
Overborne at last, but not yet broken, he shakes his lofty head in the
quiver of mortal spasm.  Suddenly he topples, lurches, staggers, and
falls with a mighty crash, which is, indeed, a resounding death-cry.
Striking the enemy with a last, concentrated, savage blow, he splits her
bosom, and sends great spurts of her muddy blood, spray-like, a hundred
feet in air.  But the wound heals as speedily as delivered, and from
thence he passes quickly, in company with his defeated brothers, an
inert mass of strewn wreckage, to form, farther down upon the skurrying
waters, a floating barricade of death-dealing timbers.  And so on and
on, till the blue sea is reached, where it is heaved to and fro, a
rudderless hulk upon the bosom of the ocean; until it is stranded at
last as flotsam and jetsam upon the beach.


By skilful manipulation of oars and rudder the boys managed to evade the
timber masses.  The numerous whirlpools constituted a great danger.
Once or twice they were almost sucked under as they circled in a vortex.
Their position was extremely perilous.  The greatest danger lay from
contact with the isolated logs and tree-trunks that sped down with great
velocity, appearing and disappearing in the vicious eddies, rotating
with the swirling stream, and popping up porpoise-like in unexpected
quarters.  On one occasion, in dodging a mass of driftwood, they ran
right on to a big tree.  Fortunately the tree was sinking at the time of
impact under the influence of an under-current, and, at Joe’s sharp
command, the rowers rushed the boat across the submerged tree-bole.
Scarcely had they crossed the line ere the submarine monster rolled
upward, till at least half its length was out of the water.  It was a
narrow squeak. To have been caught on its rising movement would have
meant utter shipwreck.

It has been stated that owing to the river bend, and from other causes,
the current set diagonally across to the other side.  Drawing thus
towards the farther shore, the boat’s crew neared a timbered point,
below which the water expanded over the low-lying country for miles. So
far only the thickly fringed timber belts could be seen.  It was
questionable if they could find any dry earth.  In all likelihood,
however, even should there not be any landing-place, they would find
protection from the current behind the thick wood.  As they got close in
to the scrubby portion the boys saw, to their great disappointment, that
the land was still submerged.  They had hoped to find a patch of earth.
All they can do now is to shelter behind the timber.

"Pull, boys, pull hard!" cried Joe, the while he turned the boat’s nose
towards a rear clump.  His quick eye discerned an eddy formed by a point
higher up.  Rowing into this, the boat was eased in its downward track,
and after getting well in behind the clump they were able to make
headway against the stream, finally fastening to a big she-oak almost in
still water.  Here they were out of the tract of the current and the
perils of the driftwood.

What a relief to the half-dazed and frightened boys!

Captain Joe, be it said, though fearful enough while in the roaring
waters, kept all his wits about him.  Often as his heart jumped into his
mouth he as quickly swallowed it again.  More than once his
resourcefulness saved the boat from certain disaster.

"Thank God!" exclaimed he, as Tom tied the painter to a strong limb, and
the boat rode easy.

"It was a touch and go, lads.  Don’t cry, Jimmy!" as that lad, yielding
to a feeling of reaction, burst into tears. Tom was not much better, and
furtively wiped his eyes under the pretence of blowing his nose.  In a
few minutes the boys were themselves again.  The roar and rush of the
waters filled their oars and souls as they lay at anchor. So deafening
were the sounds that it was only by shouting they could hear one
another.

Stretching inland, and reaching to the distant hills, nothing was to be
seen but a waste of waters, with here and there a bushy hillock, a
miniature island.  What remained of the settlers’ houses looked like so
many Noah’s arks.  Moving figures could be seen on one which lay a long
way off.  They were the unfortunate owners, who, by delaying their
retreat until too late, were driven on to the very ridge pole for
safety.  Fortunately they were in still water; so at least it seemed
from the distance; consequently their position was not alarming. Tree
marks showed the river to be falling at a fairly rapid rate.

"Now then, boys, let’s hold a council of war!"

"Wot’s that, Joe?"

"It’s what they say in soldiering when the generals get into a fix,"
chipped in Tom.

"Oh, gollies! let us get home as quick as possible.  If we don’t they’ll
think we’re drownded an’——"

"Look here, Jimmy, stow that rot!  If we start talking in that fashion,
we’ll get unnerved.  Billy, you first!  Tell us what you think about the
situation."

"Long’s we’re here we’re safe.  There’s a ’possum in the spout above us.
I’ll climb up and get ’im for tucka."

"We can’t cook ’possum in the boat, Billy.  No dry wood; no matches.
You’re right enough about safety, though.  These trees have borne the
brunt of the flood stream at its highest, and things are getting easier.
Jimmy, what do you think of it?"

"I—I—I dunno.  Oh, my poor m-other!" cried Jimmy, whose emotions again
overpowered him.

"Didn’t I tell you to stow that water-cart business? Dry up, or I’ll
jolly well tan your hide for you, you soft milksop!"

Joe’s severity was partly assumed.  He was fighting himself about home
thoughts.  He knew the folly of giving way at this crisis to such a
natural sentiment.

"You, Tom!  You’ve a notion, I’m sure," said Joe to his chum.

"My opinion, chaps, is that we ought to be very thankful for bein’ where
we are, an’ stay here a bit anyways. It’d be madness to attempt to
recross the river.  What’s to prevent us pullin’ over there?" pointing
to a hillock nearly a mile away inland.

"Tom’s right, boys.  We must make up our minds, hard as it is, to camp
on this side to-day.  It’d be easy enough to do as Tom says, row over to
that island. Supposin’, though, the water went down a lot during the
night; we might have to drag the boat over a lot of mud to get to the
river-bank to-morrow.  Bes’ stay where we——"

"S-s-h!  Listen a moment, Joe," interjected Tom from the bow of the
boat.  "What noise’s that?"

"Don’t hear anythin’ ’cept the river.  What sort o’ noise, Tom?"

"I heered it, Joe," said Yellow Billy.  "Bear cryin’, I bin thinkin’.
Heer it now."

All the boys could hear the sounds now, faint enough, yet distinct above
the flood roar.

"Bear, I ’speck!  Have a good look round, boys."

All eyes were bent in the direction of the sound.  They scanned the
trees for that strange, pouch-bearing—half bear, half sloth—animal
called the native bear.  Strictly speaking, it is neither bear nor
sloth, being a perfectly harmless, tailless marsupial of the koala
genus.  Its cry is intensely, and often pathetically, human.

For some time the search was unrewarded; while ever and anon a cry,
strangely like an infant’s wail, came to the ears of the searchers.

"P’r’aps, after all, it’s only the wind in the river oaks; or is it a——"

"Look, boys!  look, look!" cried Tom excitedly.  "What’s that over at
the edge of the timber, up there in a fork?"

"Whereaway, Tom?"

"See the clump beyond the back-water, out in the stream?"

"M—y-e-s, I see.  Why, yes, my word!  I do believe it’s a——"



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                          *WHAT THE TREE HELD*


    "Thereafter grew the wind; and chafing deaths
    In distant waters, sent a troubled cry
    Across the slumbrous forest; and the chill
    Of coming rain was on the sleeper’s brow."
      HENRY KENDALL.


"James!" exclaimed Mrs. Blain to her husband during this eventful
morning, "it’s dinner-time and those lads are not back.  I hope nothing
has happened."

"What do you expect could have happened, you dear old fidget?  I’m going
to the post, however, and I’ll have a look round."

Could Mr. Blain have beheld the lads at this particular time, the calm
of his deep nature would have been broken up in a fashion rare to his
experience; for at this moment the boat and its occupants are being
borne on the rapids, presently to be flung upon the riotous and
foam-crested waves of the river.

In moving along the street the minister met several persons who had been
out on the back-water during the morning.  All had seen the boys at one
time or another. One of the latest in, who had been farther up than most
of the others, had passed the boys on his return not long before.  They
were then heading up the swamp way.

"Don’t fear, Mr. Blain, the boys know how to take care of themselves.
Dinner’s calling ’em loudly enough by this time, I wager ye."

Dinner-time came and went, but no boys.  As the afternoon wore on the
mother’s fears deepened until they became well-nigh unendurable.  The
minister, rowed by two of the neighbours, set out to find the truants
and fetch them back.

"Don’t lose faith, dear!  They’re up to some prank, the thoughtless
scamps!  I’ll fetch them home none the worse, to laugh at your fears."


Following Tom’s index-finger, the boys fastened their eyes upon a clump
of river oaks that stood on the edge of the woods.

High up in a fork of one of the largest trees, they could see what
looked at first like a huge bundle of clothes fluttering in the wind.
After a short while the bundle seemed to take a somewhat definite shape.

"What in the name of goodness is it all?  Seems like a lot of old
clothes jammed in the tree forks.  Are you sure that the squall, or
squeak, or squeal, or whatever it was, came from that direction?"

"Yes, I think so," replied Tom.  "Listen, there it’s again!"  A thin,
treble cry rose faintly above the din of the flood waters.

"See a woman’s foot!"

The speaker was the half-caste, whose eyesight, owing to his half-wild
nature, was much keener than his fellows’.

"A woman’s foot, Billy!  What do you mean?  You don’t mean to say
really, that——!"

"See hand too!  Look along bark.  See fingers!"

Thus directed, the three boys looked, and saw, though but indistinctly,
what appeared to be a hand grasping the tree-trunk, a foot, also, was
revealed at intervals by the fluttering garment.

After a short, staring silence, a flood of mental light broke upon Joe.
"I see now.  Why, it’s the poor soul we heard cooeeing last night!"

Yes, there had been plenty of speculation in the village as to who it
could be, and exactly where the voice came from.  None of those who
heard the piteous wail that was borne across the floods in the black and
wild darkness of that night would forget it for many a long day to come.

The mystery is now solved.  The boys are horror-stricken at the sight
and its sequent thought.  They are now convinced that a woman is fixed
in the tree.  Without reasoning the matter out, they identify her as the
one whose cry over night produced such a sensation in the township, and
to locate which the police boat with a strong crew had started out at
daybreak, but without success.

_Is she alive or dead_?  The strange cry did not seem to be that of a
woman.  There was something so eerie, so shocking in the thought, that
the lads were fear-possessed for some moments.  Joe, as usual, recovered
himself first.

"It’s a woman sure enough!  It’s a human being, at any rate.  An’, boys,
we’ve got to rescue her if she is alive. The cry can only come from her,
I’m sure, so that there must be some life left still.  How to do it I
can’t just see at this moment.  We must think a bit."

Think a bit they did.  Camped as they were at the lower end of the
timber, it would be a matter of comparative ease to work up through the
trees in the slack water, till they arrived opposite to the clump that
stood out in the stream.  There the real difficulties would begin.  The
rush of waters was still so strong, and the space for the play of the
boat so small, that it became evident the rescue would be accompanied by
some alarming risks.

One of two things must be done: either wait until the waters receded
sufficiently to enable the rescuers to wade to the clump, or make an
immediate dash.

"How long d’you think it’d be before we could wade across, Joe?"

"Dunno, Billy.  Beckon there’s eight or nine foot of water out there.
Might be less.  At any rate it’d be hours."

"Hours!" cried Tom.  "An’ s’posin’ that poor creature’s still alive?"

"That settles it!" exclaimed Joe, rising in his seat in excitement.
"Boys, what’s to be done must be done quickly."

Seemingly all were agreed.  At least no objection was offered to this
proposal, or, rather, mandate.  So it was resolved, after some
cogitation, to pull the boat through the timber to a point some distance
higher up than the isolated clump.  From thence the course would be
outwards until the river current was met; an estimated distance of a
hundred yards.  The boat was to be headed against the current when in
the stream influence.  A vigorous row would be necessary to neutralise
the current, to be modified so as to allow the craft to drift slowly
down-stream.  Then, when opposite the clump, a dash for the tree whereon
the unfortunate woman was lying was to be made.

Inasmuch as this tree was almost in the centre of the group, and the
stream still ran with violence, it was easy to see that without skilful
management, and some luck, the boat might be stove in against a
tree-bole; or, worse still, might be impaled upon a submerged snag.  Any
accident, such as missing way at a critical moment, or the snapping of
an oar blade, might be fraught with the most disastrous consequences.

During the short conference Jimmy Flynn had kept silence.  Towards the
end, as Joe set forth the attendant dangers, he became considerably
perturbed.  After sundry wrigglings and contortions, rubbing of hands
and licking of lips, these visual twistings found voice.

"I say, Joe! don’t—er—yer think that—er—we’d better wait a bit?"

"Why?" chorused the boys.

"Oh—I—I dunno.  Well—er—p’raps some other boat’ll come over from the
township d’reckly an’—an’——"

"And s’pose no boat comes along?"

"Well, then, I—I—er—vote—that we—er——"

"By jing!  Jimmy," interposed Tom, with a jeer, "who’d ’a’ thought you’d
’a’ showed the white feather!"

"White feather yourself, Hawkins!" returned the fearful but now angry
boy.

"Jimmy!" broke in Yellow Billy unexpectedly, for as a rule the
half-caste was taciturn—the taciturnity of modesty in his case.  Billy,
while carrying some of the defects of aboriginal descent, was a
kind-hearted and easily contented lad.  "Jimmy!" said he, in a soft,
quiet tone, "s’pose your mother was over there?"

Jimmy Flynn, who was sitting with a sullen, hang-dog expression,
quivered as though he had received an electric shock.  There was within
him a consciousness of the truth of Tom’s term.  He was a coward, and
the very notion of it angered him, and at the same time made him
resentful.  He shrank from the undertaking.  None of the boys were in
love with it, for that matter.  Jimmy only, among the four, allowed his
fear to overmaster him.

These few words of Billy, uttered in a quiet, even tone, went straight
to the boy’s heart.  His sullen brows lifted. The angry resentment which
had disfigured his face vanished.  Straightening his bent figure, he
seized the oar lying by his side.  Then, squaring his shoulders, as he
inclined forward to grip the water, he said quietly, "Let her go."

Immediately on releasing the boat Joe steered her in a semicircular
course, keeping out back where the standing timber was thinnest.  The
boys pulled slowly, for there was always the danger of snags.  They were
in fairly slack water, and so had no need to exert themselves; besides
which, it were wise to husband their strength for the supreme moment.

Tom and Jimmy, both expert oarsmen, were the rowers. Yellow Billy was
stationed in the bow, with instructions to keep a keen look out for
snags.  He was armed with a stout pole in order that he might fend the
boat on any critical occasion, or when the rudder might be inoperative.
It formed a very useful instrument in Billy’s practised hands, and
enabled him to ward off the craft from many dangers that did not appear
until the boat was almost upon them.  As it was there were several
ominous scrapes, as the boat rasped over submerged branches. Fortunately
they reached the point determined upon without any accident.

They paused here a moment before leaving the slack water for the swiftly
running stream.

"Now, boys," said Joe, after a brief survey, "sit steady, and pull for
all you’re worth.  Mind you, no flurry. Keep an even stroke.  Got the
painter coiled, Billy?"

"All right, Joe."

"Pull then, boys, and stick to it like grim death to a diseased nigger."

The boat having got good way on, Joe headed her out a little, when she
immediately encountered the current.

"Lay to it, my lads, lay to it!"

The boys "lay to" with such vigour that the rapid current was
counterbalanced, and she hung in the stream, neither making headway nor
drifting.

"Easy a little, my hearties!  We must let her drift down gradually.
Mustn’t let her get out of hand, though."

In swinging the boat into the channel Joe kept her nose up-stream, and
as near the slack water as possible. The boys easing a trifle at Joe’s
command, the current became the stronger of the two forces, and the
little craft drifted slowly.  Blain eagerly scanned the clump for an
opening.  This cluster, it may be remarked, was about two hundred yards
long and fifty or so wide.  In some parts the timber was thickly
scattered, in others the trees were bunched together.

The boat is now about fifty yards above the tree containing the supposed
woman.

"That’s right, chaps, keep up as you’re doin’!  We must drift very
slowly lest we miss the chance of popping in.  It’s too thick to venture
in here.  It’s thinnin’ out, though," exclaimed Joe, as the boat neared
the point abreast the tree.

"Here’s an opening, I do believe.  Be ready, Billy! Pull, lads! pull,
pull!  Look out all!"

The boat lay anglewise, so that the current worked upon her quarter.
Seeing a fair opening, Joe urged the rowers to do their utmost.  So hard
did they pull that the current, playing upon her quarter as she hung a
few minutes stationary, forced her through the gap and towards the tree.
The manoeuvre was splendidly executed. The boat was now within five
yards or so of the tree, the boys putting every ounce of strength into
their strokes. A minute or less now and they will either be fast to the
tree or drifting down on to a solid block of timber just below.

Yellow Billy, who had crouched in the bow, now rose up quietly, rope in
hand, ready to act promptly in the decisive moment.  By good fortune a
limb projected about five feet above the water, and branched out some
distance from the tree.  Joe worked the boat straight up-stream, and
then called on the rowers to ease the barest trifle.  The craft swung
very slowly down, until she was fairly under the limb.

"Sling the painter over the branch an’ make fast, Billy!" cried Joe, as
the stern drifted under.  "Pull now, you beggars, a last spurt!"

Billy whipped the rope round the limb, and made fast in a flash; the
rowers, by a few desperate strokes, keeping the boat stationary.

"Hold her there a second.  Let the loop lie loose an’ edge it to the
trunk, Billy!"

Joe thus worked the boat over until she was just at the rear of the
tree.

"Ease her off gently now, boys.  Steady still!  A wrench might snap the
painter."

The boys accordingly eased off gradually, and finally stopped.

"Two of you come aft, it’ll ease the strain."

This done, the boat, which by burying her nose deep in the water was
straining heavily on the rope, trimmed herself, and offered but the
minimum resistance to the racing waters.

The tree-bole, which presented a somewhat broad surface, divided the
waters, creating a narrow zone of neutral water in its wake.  In this
eddying area the boat rode securely, making it an easy matter for the
bowman to keep her nose up against the tree.

And now each boy bent an upward glance to the fork.



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                              *THE RESCUE*


    "Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
    Death closes all: but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods."
      TENNYSON’S _Ulysses_.


Fortunately the she-oak was one of the largest of its kind, and forked
out into four branches twenty feet or so from the ground.  This formed a
rough cage, in which one could be held very securely if not comfortably.

In this fork, partially covered with a blanket, was huddled the form of
a human creature, presumably a woman; one hand stretched along the trunk
as in a painful grip, the legs hanging loosely.  There was no movement
of limb or body.  What if she were dead?

A sudden chill accompanied this thought.  The situation was decidedly
uncanny, and bred awesome, not to say fearsome, feelings.

Four boys in a boat!  Out on the flood-wastes, and in a particularly
perilous position!  The insistent noises of the rushing tide; the hollow
moan of the wind in the foliage of the she-oaks; shut out from all help;
missed now at home, and _that thing above_!

All these combined to create a creeping chill in each boy, which in a
manner half-paralysed them.

Joe, as usual, recovered more quickly than the others. Gazing at the
object above awhile, and then examining the trunk of the tree with his
eyes, he broke the spell of silence.

"Take my place, Tom.  Some un’s got to go at once to that poor soul
aloft.  Pray God we’re in time to save her. Keep her up tight against
the trunk, Jimmy, an’ I’ll swing on to the limb."

Suiting his action to the word, Joe clambered on to the limb, and from
thence proceeded to climb the tree.

The woman was fixed at the junction of the forks, and her feet and legs
hung loosely down on each side of a minor fork.  One arm, as before
described, was wound round the main limb, while the other firmly grasped
her breast.  Her head was supported in the V of a branch.

On mounting to the spot, Joe raised himself higher by grasping two of
the tree-forks, and, twisting his legs round the trunk, steadied himself
while he gazed into the face of the dead.  It was the first time in his
life that he had looked upon death.  The set expression that met his
gaze, so full of anguish, so pitifully pleading, fairly shocked him out
of his self-possession.  Little wonder at his turning sick and faint.
He clutched the branch frantically as he swayed a moment, and beads of
cold sweat stood thick upon his forehead.  Indeed, so near fainting was
he that his sight began to fade, and the whole world receded from him.
Strange noises buzzed in his ears.  Bringing all the reserve forces of
his will to the front, he was beginning to gain the ascendency over his
weakness, when a strange cry startled him into full consciousness.

"Why! she’s not dead after all, thank God!"  The thought of life made
all the difference to Joe.  In a moment his vision is as clear as ever,
and his spirits rise high at the sounds of life.  "Yes, see!" whispered
the lad, "there’s a movement of the breast.  Hurrah, boys!"

cried he to his comrades, looking down and waving with one hand at the
same time.  "She’s not dead after all!"

The boys at this set up a hearty shout indicative of their relief and
joy.

"Oh yes!" he muttered reassuringly to himself as he took the second
look, "the poor creature’s alive.  Her eyes are half open.  Her chest is
heaving.  Wake up, ma’am!  Rescue is at hand.  Me an’ the boys in the
boat below are goin’ to take you down an’ row you across to the
township."

The woman made no response to this appeal and plan of salvation.  "Is
she really alive?"  The eyes are half closed and seemingly peering; the
form is rigid, the face immobile.  There was naught of that expression
in this countenance that Joe, from hearsay, was wont to associate with
death—the peace that passeth understanding.  Yet as the lad gazed at
this apparently inanimate object there was a movement of the body.  The
blanket, bunched into many folds across the breast, stirred visibly.

Again that eerie, inarticulate cry!

Disengaging one hand from the tree, the boy stretched it forth to the
woman’s breast, which, covered as it was with the clothes, had all the
seeming of life and movement.

Joe was in the very act of removing a fold of the blanket, when
suddenly, and without the slightest warning, there rose up into the
lad’s face an angry, hissing, venomous snake, the deadliest of its kind.
Its beady eyes glittered; its forked tongue shot in and out with
inconceivable rapidity; its sibilant hiss was accompanied with a musky
odour, sickening in the extreme; its head and body for half its length
were erect, and bent forward from the neck, vibrating and swaying in a
rhythmic movement.  The reptile was within striking distance.  In
another second that almost invisible death-stroke will be dealt;
invisible, that is, by reason of its lightning-like speed.

But this deadly intention is defeated by an involuntary movement on
Joe’s part.  This young man, for the briefest of brief moments, clung to
the tree with a rigid grasp; eyes staring in amazement and terror, with
mouth wide open in automatic gape.  Any attempt to defend himself were
useless in the most absolute sense of that term.  In another tick,
before he can move a hand, these poison fangs will be deep buried in his
horror-stricken face, so temptingly near.  The only hope for the lad lay
in doing a disappearing trick.  And this happened.  Had it been
premeditated, however swiftly, the time taken to make up his mind, and
to telegraph the resolution formed in the brain to the nerve cells and
muscles, would have been sufficient for the lightning stroke to fall.

What really happened was this: the apparition of the red-bellied, black
snake simply petrified Joe.  An awful, blood-curdling, hair-raising,
galvanic shock of abject terror, contradictory as it may seem, paralysed
the lad. Simultaneously with that he is falling through space, an inert
mass, to be soused into the water with a splash that sent the spray
flying over the boat’s crew.

At the moment of the splash, Joe’s mind, will, and nerve were restored
to their normal activity.  The instinct of self-preservation, so strong
in all healthy natures, especially boys’, did for the lad in an
infinitesimal fraction of time as much and as effectively as though he
had taken, say, half an hour to plan his procedure.

He had, however, in escaping Scylla fallen into Charybdis.  As soon as
Joe reached the water he made for the boat.  Fortunately he did not fall
into it, or this story might never have been told.  He fell into the
stream, some two or three yards away from the skiff. Quickly as he was
carried down-stream he managed by violent efforts to reach the boat at
the stern.  Tom clutched him frantically by the shirt collar, enabling
the swimmer to get his hands on the gunwale.  Joe, thus helped,
clambered into the boat or ever the boat’s crew had recovered from their
consternation.

"Oh, Moses!" exclaimed, or rather gasped, he, "that—was—a go.  Whew!"

"My goodness!  How’d yer come to fall kersplosh like that?"

"Why!" pointing up.  "See! there’s the beast.  See him crawling out
there?"

The boys, looking up, descried the snake winding its sinuous way along a
lateral bough that grew up above the forks.  The disturbed and excited
snake, having reached the limb, wound its course till it reached a clump
of bushy branches on the limb’s extremity.  On this it coiled itself,
save the head and neck, which stood erect in vigilant attitude.

"Oh, crikey! was that _there_ on—in the body’s—the woman’s body?"

"Yes, Jimmy; right in the blanket on her breast. ’Twas that brute moving
under the blanket that I thought was _her_ breathing.  Oh, my!" again
exclaimed the youth, with a shudder, as he thought of the imminence of
the danger which confronted him a moment before.

"Is—it—her—dead, Joe?" asked Tom after an interval of silence.

"No doubt of it, boys."

"Wonder if the snake bit her?"

"May have.  Anyway the poor thing is dead all right."

"What’s bes’ thing to do now?"

"W-e-ll, I d-o-n’t know——"

Again that shrill wailing cry!

"_Can’t_ be the woman!" said Joe excitedly.  "Why, she’s as dead as a
herrin’!"

"I have it, boys!" shouted Tom, as he jumped up excitedly and cut a
caper.  "It’s the darned ole cat!"

A look of great relief passed over each countenance at the thought.

Tom, meanwhile, lifted up the locker lid, disclosing the rescued cat,
which, together with her two bairns, were stowed in the locker shortly
after being saved from the flood.  The animals were snuggled together on
a cornsack, and looked the very picture of contentment. The kittens were
dining baby fashion, and the mother’s purr declared the very excess of
maternal rapture.

On seeing the boys, pussy gave a low, affectionate miaow, and made a
sympathetic movement of the tail, as if to say: "Thank you a thousand
times, young gentlemen, for the good deed which we never, never shall
forget."  And then, motherlike, proceeded to "lick" her offspring.

"It’s not the cat, Tom."

"Well, what on earth, water, or air is it?"

The mystery is insoluble.  As the boys look down upon the happy and
contented felines, they one and all reject Tom’s confident affirmation
of a moment before. If not the cat, what then?

Again the tiny, shrill cry arose, but not from the cat’s mouth.  It came
from the tree above, and as the startled youths looked up they saw the
overhanging end of the blanket agitated.

"Why, why—the poor thing must really be alive after all, chaps.  There’s
something more up there than I’ve discovered; so here’s up again!"

Acting on this impulse, Joe again ascended the tree. Those below watched
intently, their feelings strained to the utmost tension.  As soon as our
hero got to his former position in the forks, he received another shock.
It was sudden as the other, but not so disastrous.  An inarticulate and
involuntary cry brought fresh alarm to his pals, who all the while were
staring up, too frightened to ask any questions.  The boy, despite the
second shock, still clung to the tree.  The woman was dead beyond all
doubt, but death is counterbalanced by life.  A brief and astonished
survey, and the boy leans over the limb and speaks quietly to those
below—

"The woman’s dead, boys, but _there’s a baby here_.  It’s tied to her
breast.  It’s alive!"

Just then, as if to demonstrate the truthfulness of the statement, the
babe lifted up its voice once more in a feeble cry.  The scene in that
tree Joe never will forget; the like he will not see again though he
rival Methuselah in age.  The only thing he can yet see is a little hand
and arm, which have wriggled from the covering.  Moving cautiously along
the branch to the converging point, leaning on one fork, and placing his
feet against another so as to stiffen himself, the boy was able to use
his two hands.  He first, and not without an inward tremor, removed the
dead hand which lay upon the blanket, the stiffened fingers still
clutching the clothes and holding them to the breast.  The last thought
and the last act of the exhausted and dying woman was to succour and to
defend her little one.

Straightening the arm so that it lay by her side, Joe opened the blanket
from where the little hand stuck up.  There, on the breast of the dead,
she lay, a sweet-faced baby girl!  The little one’s face was puckered
up, ’tis true, and there were tears upon her pale cheeks. The cries and
tears were not the symbols of pain, they were those of hunger.  Joe
could plainly see that all the mother’s thoughts were for the child.  It
was snugly folded in the blanket end; then tied to her waist by a
handkerchief passed round the body.  The remainder of the blanket was
then arranged so as to thoroughly protect the child from the inclement
weather.

Untying the handkerchief, the lad folded it in a peculiar fashion like
as he had seen the black gins do. Carefully lifting the babe, he laid it
in the widest part, made it secure to the body under the arms, and
placed it on his back, bringing the ends of the wrapper together. round
his neck.

This done, he prepared for the descent.  It was easily accomplished,
even with the incumbrance of the child. Landing safely in the boat,
which was kept well up to the tree, Joe placed her in the stern on the
locker seat, where the little one lay squirming and crying piteously.

The news of the baby variously affected the boys. Jimmy Flynn, whose
baby sister had died a few months before, looked very tenderly upon this
nameless waif.

"Make a place on the floor for it, Joe," said he.  "It’ll lie there more
comfortably, an’ it’ll be more like a cradle."

The advice was good.  The coats, which the boys shed soon as they
entered upon the expedition in the morning, made a soft bed for the
little one.  The wee mite was evidently about nine months old.  For all
its adventure and exposure it seemed to have suffered little, and now in
its cry is only voicing the pleadings of its empty stomach.  It was
adequately, though very plainly dressed, and through all the rain of the
preceding night had kept dry.  Fortunately, too, the snake which had
been curled up in one of the blanket folds had not come into actual
contact with the child.  There were only two things required to bring it
to a condition of happy contentment: nursing and feeding.

Capable as this quartet of Australian lads were in many ways, in this
they were novices.  So it was with a look of ashamed helplessness that
they gazed at the new passenger, as she lay in the bottom of the boat on
her back, kicking her heels in the air at a great rate, and doubling her
dimpled hands first into her eyes and then into her mouth.  The cry went
forth without ceasing, its only variation being the peculiar noise
caused by an intermittent sucking of her diminutive fists.

By a happy thought of Jimmy the hunger difficulty was overcome.  The
boys had picked up a fine lot of oranges, as well as some dozens of
plantains, in the back-water. After they had eaten a quantity they
stowed the balance away in the bow locker, and completely forgot them in
the exciting events which followed.  Jimmy suddenly remembered the
fruit.  Selecting a fine specimen, he quickly peeled and quartered it.
Then, seeding some of the quarters, he put one in baby’s fist, guiding
the same to her mouth.  The sweet, juicy orange was simply nectar to the
famished child.  It sucked as only a hunger-bitten baby can.  The boys
were highly amused at the way in which she mouthed the skin, and the
difficulty Jimmy encountered in unlocking her little fingers order to
substitute a full for an empty quarter.  It indeed a happy solution; an
admirable recipe for tears and squalls.  As long as baby had an orange
quarter it was peaceful.  After a little while Jimmy took the little one
on his knee, giving furtive glances towards the others as he did so.
The boys, however, under all the sad circumstances forebore to chaff.
Substituting, at length, a ripe plantain for an orange section, the babe
was taken to the seventh heaven of gastronomic bliss.

[Illustration: "The neighbours saw, far out on the wild, wreckage-strewn
waters, a tiny boat with four slight figures."—_See p._ 69]

And the while above them in the she-oak, whose thread-like leaves make
mournful music to the wind, lies the mother who has sacrificed her life
for that of the babe. There is no doubt of this.  The poor woman must
have been exposed to the winds and waves long before she reached the
tree refuge.  How she got there was never known.  She had almost denuded
herself to protect the babe.  Little wonder that at some moment of that
awful night vigil the vital spark should have quitted its terror-haunted
tenement.



                              *CHAPTER X*

                              *THE RETURN*


    "See the conquering hero comes!
    Sound the trumpet, beat the drums."


After baby’s hunger was satisfied the boys’ attention was given to their
immediate surroundings.

"What are we goin’ to do about _her_?" asked Tom, pointing upward as he
spoke.

"It’s simply impossible for us to do anything.  If she were alive we
would take any risk.  But as things are it is beyond our power to shift
the body, it is jammed so tightly.  The only thing left for us to do is
to inform the police when we get to the other side."

"What’ll we do now, Joe?"

"Get back to our former anchorage first.  River’s goin’ down pretty
fast, I reckon; and it’ll be all dry about here before morning if it
recedes at the same rate.  The current is not nearly so strong as it was
when we came over, and that will make it easier for us to get out of the
clump. There’s no need for us to go back by the same course. We can take
a slant across to that red gum, and when we’re there we’re out of the
stream."

The exit from the cluster of trees was very well managed, and in a few
minutes from the time of casting adrift from the she-oak the boat was
out of the clump and across the narrow stream into the slack water.
They continued on to their former camping place, and hitched on to the
tree.

This gallant attempt at rescue, though not accomplishing what was in the
minds of the boys, was not altogether a failure.  Indeed, it was the
reverse of that. Though but little time is consumed in reading the
account of this episode, it covered a goodly portion of the day.  By the
time the boys had made fast to their former anchorage, the slanting
sun-rays proclaimed the advance of eventide.

"Let’s have a confab, chaps, on what’s best to be done. I don’t s’pose
any of us is wanting to stick here all night. What d’you say, Tom?"

"I say pull over to the hillock on the other side of the slack.  See!
the water’s retreated from the high ground. We could camp there, I dare
say, easy enough, and get home early to-morrow morning.  I don’t think
we ought to tackle the river to-night.  I bet you it’d be a measly,
tricky trip.  So I vote to do as I said."

"What d’you say, Billy?"

"I say same as Tom.  Plenty dry land over there. Might get matches in
that house behind the hill.  I’ll pull ’possum outa spout, an’ we’ll
roast ’im an’ make bully feed."

Billy, as indeed were all the boys, was beginning to feel desperately
hungry.

"What have you got to say, Jimmy?"

Jimmy Flynn, who had been gazing wistfully across the flood waters,
turned round slowly as Joe put the question to him.  "Oh, Joe! can’t we
get home to-night? The river isn’t so bad as when we crost up at the
Bend. There’s not nearly so much timber goin’ down now.  ’Sides, it’s
easier crossing down here to what it was above.  I give a straight vote
for—home!"

"Bravo!  Well done, Jimmy!  You’re a brick.  It’s just the word, an’
we’re the coves to do it.  It’s my vote too, my hearties.  We’ve half an
hour of sun left: say an hour before it’s right dark.  I reckon ’twill
be about two mile an’ a half from here to Tareela.  It won’t be near as
difficult as up by the Bend.  Yes, we’ll do it, boys; an’ the sooner the
better.  Then there’s the blessed little baby, you know!  Some of us
would have to mind her in the night, an’ what about your beauty sleep
then?  I reckon the kiddie would be too much for the whole boilin’ of
us.  And I’ve a notion that too much fruit’ll be worse for her than none
at all.  S’pose she gets the jim-jams! And, lastly, as father says when
he’s preaching, what about the old folks at home?"

There was no need to say anything further.

"I’m game, for one," said Tom.

"I’m game, for two," said Billy.

"I’m game, for three," said Jimmy.

"Put me down for the fourth," said Joe.

"Now, boys, that’s settled.  We’ll tackle the river straight away; for
better or for worse, as dad says in the marriage ceremony.  And I say,
chaps, let’s ask God to help us."

Though there was no audible form of expression, the spirit of prayer was
in each boy’s heart.  He who sat above the floods heard and answered.

"Billy and Jimmy are to take the oars.  We want the best men at the
paddles.  Now then, Tom, let the painter go an’ keep the pole handy for
driftwood."

The painter is slipped, and the boat’s head is turned riverwards.  She
is soon out of the slack, and feels the full force of the flood.  The
starting-point was nearly a mile and a half above the township, so that
there was a liberal margin for drift.  The river was quite a mile wide.
There was still a quantity of driftwood, and many difficulties beset
them which made delicate steering and skilful management incumbent.
When they had travelled about half the distance, Tom, who was eagerly
conning the other shore, gave a shout, pointing at the same time to a
headland above the village.

"Some ’un’s waving!  See ’em, over there!"

Mrs. Blain was the first to spy the advancing boat. The boys’ mothers
had been trapsing the lagoon shore and river-side for hours, in a
semi-demented manner.  The minister and the others had returned after a
fruitless errand.  The police, with a strong crew in the Government
whale-boat, were scouring the shores in the vicinity of the Bend, and
had not returned.  The disappearance of the boys had seemed most
mysterious until the break-away was discovered.  Then the accident as it
really happened was immediately conjectured.  The profoundest sensation
was created in the village, for the boys were dearly loved by all.

The feelings of the poor parents may be but faintly imagined.  Great was
the relief, therefore, when Mrs. Blain, whose eyes were devouring the
flood waters in her frantic eagerness to discover some hopeful sign,
suddenly screamed out in an alarming manner, gesticulating wildly as she
did so, and acting to outward seeming in a frenzied fashion.  Other
searchers, scattered along the river-bank, hearing the piercing cry, and
seeing the untoward gestures of the joy-possessed woman, came running
towards her, thinking for the moment that she had lost her reason.

"See, see!" screamed she, pointing to a distant spot on the waters.
"They’re saved, they’re saved!  God be praised, our lovely boys are
returning all safe; yes, one, two, three, four—the darlings."

Looking in the direction indicated, the neighbours saw, far out on the
wild, impetuous, wreckage-strewn waters, a tiny boat with four slight
figures running the blockade; threading their course between the
thousand objects which intervene and threaten destruction.

The good news is now shouted from end to end of the township, and in a
few minutes the river-bank is lined with exultant and yet anxious
spectators.  For the joy of the discovery of the lads is almost quenched
at times by sights of the perils of the passage.

The mothers of Joe, Tom, and Jimmy are grouped together, wrought up to
such a pitch of anxiety as to be well-nigh silent.  They noted every
danger and counted every oar-stroke.  The gallant rowers lifted their
blades in the twilight, as the last rays sparkled on the flowing waters.
Beyond a landward look the boys had no time to bestow upon the excited
spectators.  Eye and mind, in close conjunction, are continuously
engaged in evading danger and maintaining the boat’s position.

"We’ll make the point," exclaimed Joe, after an interval of silence.
"We’ll make the point, all right. Keep her steady, lads," turning the
boat’s nose, as he spoke, well up stream, at an angle inclining
shorewards. "Now, pull like a prize crew for five minutes an’ we’re
there.  We’re out of the driftwood as it is."

The rowers needed no further stimulus.  They bent to the oars like old
salts.

"Capital! just the stroke!  Keep it up!  Hear ’em cheering!"

The cheering spurred on the boys, and in less than five minutes they
landed in the midst of a wildly excited and loud-cheering crowd.  And
wasn’t there a hugging and kissing, and hand-shaking and back-slapping!

Just as the women were up to their necks in it, to use a homely figure,
some one happened to glance at the boat. The glance extorted a scream.

"A baby, a darling baby!  See, see, see! a little baby in the boat!"

A moment’s dazed surprise, and every one crowded to the boat.  Joe, who
had not moved far from the boat’s nose, and who only waited for the
violence of the welcome to abate a little that he might call attention
to the precious freight, waved the jostling crowd back, and in a few
words related the incident of the rescue.

A great wave of feeling passed over the crowd as he spoke.  The women
wept copiously as the scene was conjured us, and strong men
unconsciously shed briny tears as the story reached its culminating
point of the discovery of the helpless and orphaned babe, bound to the
dead breast of her who had thus made the great sacrifice of motherhood.

While Joe was reciting the story of the rescue, Jimmy Flynn held on to
his mother’s arm and whispered excitedly into her ear.  The narrator had
hardly finished ere Mrs. Flynn stepped forward to his side and faced the
crowd. Ordinarily, this woman was undemonstrative and shy. Now she is
unconscious of any timidity.  The moment was an inspired one; to produce
which Jimmy’s whisperings had played an important part.

"Mr. Blain, and friends all, give me the darling baby. It’ll take the
place of the one God took from me last month.  The clothes’ll fit——"

The bereft mother could get no further.  Any woman who has lost a child
will tell you why.

"My friends, you all know Mrs. Flynn, as I know her. If it were a matter
of choosing between you, I should still say that no one in the town is
better fitted for the sacred duty of mothering this little flood-driven
stranger. None of us can say to whom the child belongs; whether there is
a father or near relations.  But until it is claimed by those who can
prove the right to do so, the very best of all possible arrangements,
and one I regard as providential, will be for Mrs. Flynn to take this
baby to nourish and cherish it."

The murmurs of assent were unanimous.  Joe, without any more delay,
stepped into the boat, and, picking up the child—which all this time
looked round, wondering in its baby way at this ado—put the little one
into its foster-mother’s hands.

The river baby was evidently delighted beyond measure to receive a warm
motherly embrace; judging, at any rate, by the way it gooed and crowed.

As soon as she could get through the admiring throng, Mrs. Flynn
hastened home, and before long the baby, washed and dressed anew, was
filling its "little Mary" with sweet new milk.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                           *THE BREAKING-UP*


    "With trumping horn and juvenile huzzas,
    At going home to spend their Christmas days,
    And changing Learning’s pains for Pleasure’s toys."
      TOM HOOD.


Out through the gateway of the National School, on one sultry afternoon
in late December, tumbled a pack of noisy boys and scarcely less noisy
girls; the while they kicked up a fine dust, yelling in an uproarious
fashion.  Were you, a stranger, to ask the cause of this demonstration
of voice and capering limbs, you would be answered by a score of voices
in rousing chorus—

    "Hip, hip, hurray for Christmas Day!
    School’s broke up, hip, hip, hurray!"


However strongly one might be disposed to question the quality of the
couplet as he listened to the trumpetings of this cluster of children,
he would cheerfully admit the gusto of the proceedings as the juveniles
issued pell-mell.

If truth be told, the master was no less pleased than the youngsters
when the actual moment of dismissal came. Like all schools, this
particular one was infected for weeks previously with a spirit of
restlessness, which made it well-nigh impossible to secure the undivided
attention of the children.  There was no disposition for serious study,
and Simpson, who was a wise teacher, attempted no coercive measures.
Natural history was presented in its most attractive forms.  Grammar and
arithmetic were for the most part tabooed, and instead of puzzling
refractory brains with arithmetical and grammatical abstractions, the
children lived in the jungles of India, crossed Sahara, took a trip to
the Booties, wandered into Arctic circles, or, what was equally
exciting, made transcontinental trips in company with Sturt, Burke and
Wills, Leichhardt, and other great Australian explorers.

Many were the schemes unfolded and plans laid by the boys during the
last schooldays.  The holidays would not be an undiluted playtime to any
one of the boys.  Many of the lads would work hard on the farms; their
parents, bearing in mind the old adage of Satan and idle hands, will
take good care to anticipate the sinister designs of that interfering
old gentleman.  The wood pile stood as an unfailing object of labour.
Sheds were awaiting the whitewash brush.  Fowl houses loomed expectant.
Fences demanded attention.  These, and many other duties about house and
farm, were put off till the "holidays."

There were other anticipations, however, far more highly coloured and
bewitching than these.  Charm the schoolboy never so wisely, his
thoughts, with a dogged obstinacy or triumphant breakaway, return to the
delectable things of the groves, streams, mountains, and plains.  Horse,
gun, dog, rod, bat, duck, quail, pigeon; perch, bream, mullet; kangaroo,
wallaby, dingo, brumby, scrubber!  These are the sources and instruments
of pleasure; things that people the imagination, and make an earthly
paradise.

Sobering down, after an unusual indulgence in larks to mark the
auspicious event, Joe, Tom, and Sandy, separating from the others,
sauntered to the slip-rail entrance of the school horse-paddock.  Joe
and Tom, at the express request of Mrs. M’Intyre, are to spend the
holidays with Sandy on the station.  Here all kinds of fun and alluring
adventure are promised the lads.  How well that promise was redeemed let
the sequel bear witness.

"Now then, you fellows, don’t forget that you are to be at Bullaroi on
the morning of Christmas Eve without fail."

"I say, ole boss, what does eve mean?"

"Eve!  Why, a—er—short for evening, I s’pose.  What makes you ask, Joe?"

"Well, if Christmas Eve is evening, how can we be there in the
mornin’?—you savee?"

"You’re mighty smart, Blain, but did you ever know an evening that
didn’t have a morning to it?"

"Oh—ah—yes, I see.  We’re to come out on the morning of the evening.
Sure it’s an Irishie ye ought to be instead of a Scotchie."

"Scotchie or no Scotchie," replied Sandy, who was the essence of
good-humour, "ye’re not to be later than ten o’clock of the forenoon of
the day before Christmas. There!  Will that fit you, you pumpkin-headed
son of a bald-bellied turnip?"

"Thanks, M’Intyre; I’m sure my father’ll be delighted when I tell him
the respectful titles you’ve given him," returned Joe, with mock
sarcasm.

"He’ll no dispute the title of his son’s head, anyhow," flung back the
Scotch lad, as, bridle in hand, he strolled on to round up his steed.

This parthian shot nettled Joe, but the answer he would have given
remained unuttered, for at this moment his eldest sister appeared and
beckoned to him in an emphatic manner, at the same time calling upon him
to hurry.  So, contenting himself with levelling Midshipman Easy’s
masonic sign at the retreating lad, he hurried along towards his sister.

"Father wants you to go down the river with him in the boat."

"Where’s it to?"

"Down to Beacon Point.  Tom Tyler’s had a bad accident, and they’ve sent
for the doctor; but he’s away. He was called out to a bad case at Dingo
Creek head station, and is not expected to be back till midday
to-morrow.  So they’ve asked father to go down, and you’ve to hurry
along.  Father’s waiting down at the boat for you."

Mr. Blain was waiting at the boat with everything that was required for
the trip.  As soon as the lad was in, he pushed off, and, taking the
stern oar, with Joe at the bow, father and son started on their
twelve-mile pull.

In answer to the boy’s question the minister gave some details of the
accident, and, further, informed the lad that it was his intention to
call at Mrs. Robinson’s, distant about five miles from Tareela.

They had now settled down to a steady stroke, and as the sun was on its
westering wheel, and the sting out of its slanting rays, the row became
enjoyable.  Mr. Blain was a sort of newsletter to the settlers, and in
his trips up-stream and down-stream was frequently hailed and made the
target of questioning from the riverbank.

Robinsons’ was reached a little before sunset, where they were made
abundantly welcome.  Some years previously Mr. Robinson met his death by
one of those accidents all too common in new settlements.  Felling scrub
timber is a risky performance.  It so happened that in felling a stout
fig tree, Robinson failed to notice some lawyer vines that, hanging from
the high branches, had attached themselves to the bare limbs of an
adjacent dead tree.

Standing at the base and watching the toppling fig tree, as it slowly
swayed preparatory to its final crash, he was unaware that the
cable-like vines were retarding its progress.  Gathering way, however,
the falling tree brought a strain upon the vine, and tore away a heavy
limb of the dead tree.  This falling upon the axe-man, killed him
instantly.

The widow was blest with a family of boys and girls who were true grit.
Misfortune breaks some people—it makes others.  The latter was the truth
in this case.

In all the trying times Mrs. Robinson underwent, the minister was her
friend and counsellor.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                            *DOWN THE RIVER*


    "When the full moon flirts with the perigee tide,
    On a track of silver away we ride,—
    Oh, glorious times we have together,
    My boat and I in the summer weather."
      ELLA WHEELER WILCOX.


The boat was sighted from Robinsons’ some time before its nose grated on
the shingle at the landing-place.

Isaac, the younger son, a giant in stature and a prime favourite with
Joe, was at the landing-stage.  Seizing the bow what time it touched
land, he half lifted, half dragged the boat two-thirds of her length out
of the water, and made her fast to an old stump.

"Mother’s so glad you’ve come, sir.  She wants to talk with you about
that boy of Maguire’s, who’s bin givin’ us a lot of trouble."

"Won’t be able to stay long, Ike.  We’ve got to be at Beacon Point to
night.  We just put in for a cup of tea and a bite.  Mother’s inside, I
suppose?  I’ll go in and have a chat with her."

"You’ll find her in the kitchen, sir.  When we saw you roundin’
Piccaniny Point we knew you’d be here for tea, and mother’s lookin’
after things."

"I hope she won’t go to any trouble.  A mouthful is all we want."

"Well, you know mother, sir.  She feels that nothin’ is near good
enough."

"Any pancakes for tea, Ike?"

"Pancakes!  Why, of course.  That’s what mother’s makin’ now.  She knew
that’d be the first thing you’d be askin’ fur, Joe."

"Rather, Ike!" said Joe, pursing his mouth and drawing in his breath
with the peculiar, half-whistling, unwriteable sound which boys
instinctively make when visions of goodies arise.  More especially when
such goodies come within measurable distance of consumption.

Master Joe had a healthy boy’s appetite.  The rowing exercise gave
additional spice to his hunger.  Pancake was at that moment the gate of
entry to the boy’s very material heaven.

"Tea won’t be ready fur a few minutes, Joe.  Let’s go down to the barn.
I was just goin’ to rub some more mixture inter the skins when I seen
your boat roundin’ the point.  Sorry you’re goin’ on, my son.  When I
seen you on the river I ses to meself, ses I, ’By George!  Joey an’ I’ll
have a great night at the ’possums.’  I wish to goodness you’d been
stayin’.  There’ll be a grand moon ter night, an it’s very temptin’."

"By gum, ain’t it just!  It’d be simply, rippin’. ’Member last time I
was down?  That was a grand bit of sport we had.  Forty-seven was it, or
forty-nine?  I know it took a dashed long time to skin ’em."

"Forty-seven it was.  We’d do over fifty to-night."

"Well, as mother says, ’What can’t be cured must be endured.’  By dad!
that’s a grand wallaby skin!  Where’d you get it?"

"Got it larst night."  Ike had the Colonial drawl to perfection.  "I was
up at the top end of the scrub cultivation paddick, mooseying around
after some cockatoos that’d bin skinnin’ the corn.  It was just about
dusk, an’ I was waitin’ in the corner for the cockies, as I knew they’d
soon be leavin’ fur their roosts, an’ my bes’ charnse at ’em was on the
wing.  They’re so ’tarnal cute, yer know, yer carn’t git ’em on the
corn."

"I know.  Didn’t I try my best to stalk ’em the last time I was down,
Ike!  I got three altogether, you ’member, an’ you said it’d be a crest
apiece to take home to the girls."

"Waal, as I was sayin’, I’d sarcumvented the ole boss cockie, which was
keeping watch in the dead gum-tree that stood in the middle of the
patch, an’ was posted in the middle of the corner expectin’ them ter fly
over every minit.  But ole Pincher, who was chevyin’ about, starts this
ere boss outer the pumpkin vines; they’re death on pumpkins, yer know.
The dorg made a dash at ’im, an’, by jings! he did streak.  Greased
lightnin’ wasn’t in it with ’im.  I tried to draw a bead on ’im, but,
what with the dusk an’ the bushes an’ stumps, I couldn’t get a good
line.  I banged away one barril, but was yards off, I reckon.

"Pincher, he disappeared in a brace of shakes, an’ I made sure the
vermin ud get through a ’ole in the fence. I was makin’ for ’ome, ’cause
the cockies, yer know, ’ad all gone.  All of a suddent I heers a yelp,
an’ knew ole Pinch ’ad somehow ’eaded ’im.  Reckon ’e missed the ’ole,
or the dorg’d never got near ’im.  Anyhow, ’e was a-streakin’ a bit now,
an’ Pinch at ’is ’eels.  He was makin’ fur the maize agen.  I lined ’im
this time all right, though it was a longish shot; about sixty-five I
reckon; an’ dropped ’im clean at the very edge."

"It’s a prime pelt, anyway."

"Yaas, ’e was a grand ole buck fur a wally; about the biggest I’ve got
this season."

"How many skins have you taken, Ike?"

"Two more’n I’d ’ave six dozen."

"Gettin’ a good price for ’em?"

"Waal, Jack Croft, ’e offered me nine shillin’ a dozen fur ’em.  There
are about twenty kangaroos among ’em. Jack reckoned it was a stiff
price, an’ ’e sed ’e’d not offer anythin’ near it but fur the kangaroo
skins, which ’e ’ad a fancy fur."

"Old Jack can put it on, you know."

"Oh, I know Jack all right!  Me an’ ’im’s ’ad dealin’ afore.  Jacky’s
not too bad, but ’e knows ’ow to draw the long bow.  Anyway, ole Eb
Dowse’s boat’ll be along nex’ week.  He’s sent word ter say as ’e’d do a
deal with me fur ’em."

"Better wait an’ see what Eb’ll shell out for ’em, Ike, I reckon.
German Harry, up the river, says he can always knock a shillin’ a dozen
more out of Eb than Jack."

"I ain’t hurryin’, Joe."

Just then the welcome supper cooee reached their ears. The boys lost no
time in getting to the supper-table. Joe instinctively eyed the
contents.  Cold streaky bacon; a big dish of fried pumpkin and potatoes;
a mountain of home-made bread, sliced; a basin of prime butter; Cape
gooseberry jam galore, and amber-tinted honey in the comb.  What more
could any hungry lad desire?

Mary Robinson, a great tease, caught Joe’s glance, and said, with an
amused smile, "No pancakes to-night, Joe."

Joe was abashed for the fraction of a second.  Quickly rallying, he
laughingly said, "Tell another, Mary, while your mouth’s hot."

"Very well, my boy!  If you don’t believe me ask our black tom-cat.  He
chased a mouse into the batter and upset the bowl; so there!"

"Mary, Mary!" remonstrated Mrs. Robinson.  "There’s only a grain of
truth in the pound of fiction she’s giving you, Joe.  The cat, it is
true, did chase a mouse; but it did not jump into the batter, nor was
the bowl upset.  The pancakes are cooked, with currans in ’em; just the
sort you like; and they’re keeping hot by the fire."

"Thanks awfully, Mrs. Robinson; I believe _you_ anyway. As for Mary,
she’s like Sandy M’Intyre’s old, toothless sheep-dog."

"How’s that, Joe?" interjected Ike.

"Bark’s worse than her bite."

"My stars! what originality, what refinement! Sandy’s razor is not in it
with master Joe Blain for sharpness.  I’ll remember this, though, the
next time you ask me to go out to the scrub with you for passion fruit.
Anyhow, there’s no resemblance between you and Sandy’s wonderful
barker."

"_Indeed!_"

"No; your bark’s noisy enough, but your bite’s a hundred times
worse—especially when pancakes are about."

With this "Roland" Mary ran out to the kitchen to get the teapot.

Joe made a royal repast, topping off with the hot pancakes at a rate
which caused his father to dryly remark: "Too much pancake won’t help
the boat along, my boy."

Tea finished, the visitors prepare to continue their voyage.  With Ike’s
powerful assistance the boat is shoved into the water, and her nose
pointed down-stream. In due time Beacon Point is reached.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                        *OFF FOR THE HOLIDAYS!*


"Boyhood is the natural time for abundant play and laughter, without
which rarely does high health touch young cheeks with its rose-bloom, or
knit bones strongly for the fighting and the toiling that awaits
them."—JOSEPH H. FLETCHER.


"Now then, Norah, look slippy with breakfast!  It’s half-past six, an’
Sandy’s to be here at seven.  Said he’d leave the station at five with
the spare horse for me."

"Begorrah! at the rate breakfast’s cookin’ it’ll be midnight before it’s
ready.  ’Tis the bastliest wood that niwer was."

"Time the fish was fryin’, Norah."

"Fish, bedad!  For two pins ye wuddent have anny fish.  The thrubble
Oi’ve had wid thim!  Phwat for did youse lave thim in the bag all night?
If ye’d put thim out on the dish, ye spalpeen, Oi’d have seen thim and
claned thim long ba-fore Oi wint to bed.  ’Sted of which it’s tuk me two
morchial hours to scale the brutes, they was that dry and hard.  Be
Saint Pathrick, they scales was loike porky-pine’s pricklies!"

"Sorry, Norah; my fault as usual," remarked Joe good-humouredly.
"Father called out to turn the horse from the lucerne just as I reached
the back door.  So I threw the bag down on the steps to chase the moke,
an’ clean forgot ’em when I came back."

"Well, Oi’ll forgive ye wanst more, which makes about a million
tousandth toime; but, moind ye, ’tis——"

"All serene, Norah!  Oh, I say, Norry, I’d nearly forgotten it!  Paddy
Lacey asked me yesterday to tell you that they want you to go to the
Hibernian picnic on Boxing Day.  They’ve chartered the _Firefly_, an’
are goin’ down to the Bar."

"God’s truth! ’tis only gammoning me ye are, Masther Joe.  It’s a young
thrick ye be, indade, with yure Hayburnion picnacs."

"It’s as true as true, Norah.  No make-up this time. An’ oh!  I say,
d’you know what Jimmy Flynn tole Tom Hawkins?"

"Nawthin’ good, bedad!"

"Ain’t it!  Well, opinions differ.  At any rate he was goin’ to set a
line on Friday night, an’ as he was roundin’ the point he hears
somewheres ahead of him a noise between a smack an’ a crack.  Then comes
a bit of a squeal, an’ a woman’s voice sings out: ’Don’t, stop it!’
Then there was another smack-crack, an’ just as he got round the corner
he sees a couple, for all the world like you and Paddy, sittin’ on a
log. No, ’twas Paddy that was on the log, an’ you were on Paddy’s——"

"Ye loi-in spalpeen!  Oi’ll pull yure tongue from betune yure teeth,"
screamed Norah, as, blushing furiously, she chased the nimble Joe out of
the kitchen right into the arms of Sandy M’Intyre, as he was coming up
the back doorstep.

"Hello, Sandy!"

"Hello, Joe!  What’s row inside?  Norah givin’ you the rounds of the
kitchen as usual, eh?"

"Only jiggin’ her about Paddy Lacey, an’ got her _paddy_ up a bit.
You’re up to time, Sandy, ole man.  By jing! I see you’ve brought Curlew
in.  Am I to ride him?  My word! it is good of your governor to let me.
I thought you’d a brought the piebald."

"So I intended, but he was limpin’ when he was run into the stockyard;
so father says, ’Take Curlew.’"

Curlew was Mr. M’Intyre’s favourite horse, and Joe was highly honoured
in being allowed to ride this mettlesome but lovely paced steed.

Just then breakfast appeared.  After a substantial meal Joe brought out
his father’s valise and strapped it to the saddle.

"All ready, Sandy?  Good-bye, mother.  Good-bye, father.  Good-bye,
girls!"

And so, with kisses and cautions from the family, the boys mounted their
steeds and cantered down the street to the punt, on their way to
Bullaroi, as Mr. M’Intyre’s station was called.

Across the river the boys were joined by Tom Hawkins, who was to
accompany them.  Tom, who was mounted on a brisk pony, greeted them with
a cheery cry as the punt reached the shore.  A jollier trio of young
Australians could not be found than this chattering, capering band, who
on that brilliant morning raced along the bush track.

Plans of fun and frolic were projected during the ride, including
astounding adventures that would have taken half a year to carry out.
In anticipation the lads were already having tip-top fun.  Tom’s riotous
imagination, especially, made the spoils of the gun, the rod, and the
chase to assume brobdingnagian proportions.

In due course they pulled up at the slip-rails marking the Bullaroi
boundary line.  Thence to the white gate seen in the distance, and which
fronted the homestead, a mad race ensued.  In this Curlew was first, the
rest nowhere.  Indeed, Curlew became so excited by the gallop and the
shrill shoutings of the riders that Joe, who had made no attempt to pull
him till the horse was almost on the gate, found it impossible to stop
his steed, which was full of running.  Before the boy fully realised it,
Curlew was soaring through the air, clearing the gate by at least a
couple of feet.  Joe, parting from the "pigskin," was sailing through
space on his own account, leaving a foot or two between his sit-down and
the saddle seat.

Joe, though a fair rider, was not a practised steeple-chaser.  He was
not a horseman, as were Sandy and Tom, who were to the manner born.
Little wonder, then, that his heart rose with the horse and his rider,
and for some brief moments palpitated furiously in his mouth.  That
mysterious and natural law of the universe called gravitation was on
hand, however, and saved the situation.

Curlew’s hoofs struck the ground on the descending curve as lightly as a
cat.  Joe’s legs, which in this aerial flight had assumed the shape of
an inverted V, came plop into the saddle at the right moment.  But his
body was thrown forward, his hands clutching frantically at the horse’s
neck and mane.  In this condition, unable to recover his equilibrium,
with but the loss of his hat, the rider is carried over the intervening
distance to the stables, amid loud laughter from the station people, who
had been attracted by the shouting of the boys.

Sandy cleared the gate in pursuit of Joe, but failed to catch him.  Tom
was obliged to haul up and open the gates, as the jump was too high for
his pony.  Thus the rider of Curlew came in a winner, and all three
dismounted amid laughter and teasings.

"Weel, Joseph, my lad," said Mr. M’Intyre, who possessed a pawky humour,
"Johnny Gilpin couldna hae done the trick better.  You kep’ up wi’
Curlew, anyway. I thocht he was goin’ to leave ye behind.  Ma certie
it’s deeficult to say which is the winner, you or the horse. We’ll juist
ca’ it neck an’ neck."

"Take no heed to him, Joe," said Mrs. M’Intyre.  She saw through the
lad’s apparent good-humour a sense of humiliation at his unhorsemanlike
entry.  "You did well to stick to him, not knowing his intention.  But
come away in, boys; ye’ll be ready for something to eat after that ride.
We’re right glad to see you.  Sandy was so excited last night at the
prospect of your coming that I am sure he didn’t sleep a wink.  Why, he
had the horses saddled at dawn, and was off without a bite if I hadn’t
stopped him and made him drink a cup of coffee."

The day was a busy one on the station.  Every one was engaged in
finishing off jobs and cleaning up.  For during Christmas week, and
until after New Year’s Day, only that which was absolutely necessary in
the way of work was expected.

During the previous week drafting and mustering had been the all
absorbing work on the run.  That finished, and a mob of "fats"
despatched overland to Maitland to catch the Christmas market, the last
few days were occupied in culling "boilers" and in branding calves. On
this particular day all the available hands were engaged in tidying up;
the whitewash bucket being in great request.

Willy and Jacky, the aboriginal boys, together with an Irish
lad,—Norah’s brother, in fact,—were enrolled as whitewash artists.
Their special work consisted in converting dingy looking hen-roosts,
dog-kennels, pigsties, milking sheds, and the like into a brilliant
white.  Meanwhile two of the men, with rough brooms made of stiff
brushes, were sweeping the ground within a fair radius of the house.

Inside, the housework was prosecuted with great vigour. Two gins were
set to work with the scrubbing brush; while in the kitchen, where Mrs.
Mac and the two elder daughters were domiciled, Christmas cooking went
on apace.  There was, indeed, such a weighing of flour and raisins, such
a slicing of candied peel, such a dressing of flesh and fowl as to make
Ah Fat, the cook, fairly amazed, and to wonder how in the name of
Confucius the oven was to stand the cooking strain that was being
brought upon it.  While from the kitchen an odoriferous perfume was
wafted across the yard, assaulting all noses, and breeding high
anticipation, most pleasurable from the standpoint of creature comforts.

Mr. M’Intyre, no patron of idleness either in man or boy, took the lads
early in the day into the harness room, and set them to the task of
cleaning the saddle and harness ware.  Saddles, girths, bridles, various
sets of light and heavy harness, required attention.  All leather was to
be well cleaned and oiled, stirrups and bits to be burnished, and broken
straps to be repaired.

The pals threw themselves, _con amore_, into the work. It was hard to
say which moved the more briskly, tongues or hands.  The afternoon was
well advanced before the last piece of steel and electro silver was
polished, the last girth and surcingle refitted, and the whole placed on
their respective brackets.  This task finished, the boys felt that they
had earned the promised reward—a glorious swim. Within a couple of hours
of sunset the whole of the outside work was accomplished, and, for the
time being, each employé was a free agent.

The homestead faced a large affluent of the river, which was known as
Crocodile Creek.  Why the creek was so named was a sort of a mystery.
No species of the saurian tribe was ever known to infest its waters.
The name may have been given to it through some fancied resemblance in
its course to the aforesaid reptile.

Crocodile Creek formed a fine frontage to Bullaroi run, being distant
from the homestead about a quarter of a mile.  Immediately opposite, the
creek widened out into a fine sheet of water some three miles long, and
varying in width from one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards.  There
was a particular spot which stood about seven or eight feet above the
water.  Here Mr. M’Intyre had a spring-board constructed.  The water was
fully twelve feet deep at the jump off, and, added to other advantages,
formed an ideal spot for bathing purposes.

Having finished their allotted tasks, the lads came bounding out of the
harness-room and across the yard to the house, shouting, as they
capered, "Who’s for a swim?"  The stockmen certainly looked, and no
doubt felt, that the one thing above all others necessary for their ease
and comfort after the stable and the house-yard cleaning operations was
a plunge into the cool, sweet waters of the creek.  If they were
semi-black by reason of their employment, it was no less true that the
black boys, Willy and Jacky, were semi-white.

Dennis Kineavy, the Irish lad, was the "broth of a bhoy," and all three
were cram full of impishness.  No sooner were the finishing touches of
whitewash decoration given, than Denny, sneaking up behind Willy and
Jacky, who stood off a little from the hen-roost admiring their artistic
handicraft—with capacious brush well charged with the sediment of his
bucket—smote them in quick succession across the bare shoulders and
breech, and then, with an Irish yell, darted round the stable.

Surprised for the moment, but nothing loath, the black boys snatched
their buckets, wielded their brushes, and, shouting their native
war-cry, dashed off in hot pursuit; Denny dodged them successfully for a
while, but was at length outflanked, and then ensued a battle royal
which only ceased when the supplies of ammunition (whitewash) were
exhausted.

It was at the tail-end of the fray that Sandy and his mates came racing
along with the cry of, "Swim O!  Swim O!"

Boys and men, black and white, were all ready and willing, nay, eager,
for a jolly bogey.[#]  There was a rush by the whites for towels; then,
in quick procession, the motley band made for the water.


[#] "Bogey," native name for bathe.


After a plunge and a short swim to get rid of the dust and muck, an
impromptu carnival was arranged.  First of all came the long dive.  This
meant a run along the spring-board and a dive straight out.  The diver
in each case, when reaching the surface, had to tread water, keeping as
nearly as possible to the spot of emergence.

Tom Hawkins led off, the others followed in order at twenty seconds’
interval.  The blacks, by reason of their native abilities in this
direction, were made to do the dive with arms interlocked, Siamese twin
fashion.  The darkies were the whippers-in of this diving procession.
Tom, who led off, faltered in his stride when leaving the spring-board.
He rose to the surface at about thirty feet from the bank.  Joe, who
followed, dived a good ten feet farther out than Tom.  Sandy, however,
when he shot up through the water, was fully fifty feet from the shore.
Both of the stockmen beat Joe, but were behind Sandy.

Then came the blacks, side by side.  With an even, measured, and springy
stride they raced down the board, which was wide enough to admit of this
manoeuvre.  They took the water without a splash, like a pair of frogs,
leaving scarce a ripple.  It was naturally thought that by being coupled
in this way matters would be evened.  It was the general opinion that
they would fail to reach Sandy’s limit, and probably not get beyond
Joe’s.  The boys eagerly awaited their reappearance, watching the water
closely for some sign.  After what appeared to be an interminable period
they were startled by a double cooee, and, lo! the twins, so to speak,
had risen at least twenty feet beyond Sandy, or seventy feet from the
shore.

Somersault diving followed the long distance trial. In thia Harry the
stockman, who had been a circus rider and acrobat in his youthful days,
outshone all the others.

Then came the exciting game of "catch the devil."  Willy was chosen
devil.  It was his business to dive off the spring-board and run the
gauntlet, the others being scattered in the water.  To catch the
aboriginal seemed a comparatively easy matter, all things considered.
He was, however, a superb swimmer and trickster, diving and dodging like
a cormorant.  A dozen times surrounded, he marvellously eluded his
pursuers.  The game was at its height, and there was no knowing how long
the "devil" would remain at large, when the station bell rang out a
lusty summons to supper.

This brought the carnival to an instant conclusion. And now each swimmer
scrambled for the shore, and soon the whole company, with clean bodies
and healthy appetites, were hieing along the track.  When the boys
reached home they found a new arrival in the person of a young
Englishman.  This gentleman was out on a business tour, and, being
anxious to see something of station life, was recommended to Mr.
M’Intyre by a mutual friend. Mrs. M’Intyre’s hospitality was proverbial,
and Neville, for such was the "new chum’s" name, was heartily made
welcome.

The day had been a long one, and, supper ended, the boys were quite
resigned to go to bed, or at least to the bedroom.  The noises
therefrom, after their retirement, were very suggestive of prime larks,
and continued long after lights were out.  The pals were domiciled, to
their great delight, in a big spare room, which contained a double bed
and a single one.  Joe and Tom shared the former, while Sandy camped on
the latter, which was, indeed, his stretcher brought in for the
occasion.

Silence reigned supreme at length within, and without was broken only by
the hoarse croaking of the frogs, an occasional call from a night owl,
and the weird wail of the curlew.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                       *CHRISTMAS FUN AND FROLIC*


    "It was the time when geese despond
      And turkeys make their wills;
    The time when Christians to a man
      Forgive each other’s bills.
    It was the time when Christmas glee
      The heart of childhood fills."
        BRUNTON STEPHENS.


Daylight had barely broken.  The only stir in the household is that
produced by Joe, whose slumber had been disturbed by the persistent
crawling of flies across his face.

There are three things in animated nature which run each other very
closely for the supremacy in downright tenacity to purposeful
cussedness.  Pig, Hen, Fly—these three!  And of the three, the cussedest
and most exasperatingly tenacious to its rooted purpose of squeezing in
between one’s eyelids, sinking a well in the corner of one’s eye, or
climbing the inside walls of one’s nose, is the Australian species of
the common house-fly.

It is possible at times to circumvent the "gintilman wot pays the rint,"
and persuade him to return through the same hole in the fence which gave
him escape, by appearing to be anxious to drive him out on to the plain.
That is pig strategy; or rather, strategy with a pig.  He is beaten, so
to speak, by the law of contrairy.  When all resources fail in
persuading the hen that the flour-bin, or the linen basket, is not
specially constructed to suit her convenience in the daily duty of egg
producing, one can at the last resort requisition the services of Madame
la Guillotine.

But neither strategy nor tactics, neither force nor fraud, avail
anything when the early fly, with recruited energies and fiendish
intent, starts on her mission of seeking whom and what she may annoy.
She—it is quite safe to put the insect in the feminine gender—can be
neither coaxed, persuaded, shoo’d, deceived, frightened, nor driven from
her prey.  The fly always wins—in the end.

Driven from Blanket Bay on this eventful Christinas morning by the
incorrigible fly, Joe proceeded at once to reverse the Golden Rule, and
promptly made war upon his mates on that morning which, of all the days
in the year, makes for peace and goodwill among men.

Tom had sought refuge from the fly in the bed-clothes, and muffled nasal
monotones made a sonorous chorale. On the other hand, Sandy, impervious
to all impious fly assaults, lay on his back, mouth wide open, breathing
heavily and steadily.  Sandy was of the pachydermatous order.  Neither
mosquito nor fly troubled him.  The flies evidently found his eyes to be
a dry patch, while they were unable to obtain a permanent foothold at
his nostrils owing to the intermittent, horse-like snorts which blew
them as from the mouth of a blunderbuss.  But they heavily fringed his
mouth, eating with manifest relish their bacilli breakfast.

In a jiffy the bed-clothes are whipped off the slumbering lads, and in
less than no time the latter, pillows in hand, make common cause against
the aggressor.  Joe puts up a gallant fight, but the odds are too much
for him; he is driven into a corner at last and unmercifully pelted.

This prelude to the day’s enjoyment concluded, the pals jump into their
clothes and proceed to execute the second item on the day’s programme,
namely, a horseback scamper through the bush before breakfast.

Oh, the glory of it!  Out from the confines of four walls into the open
spaces of the world when night is merging into day; to move in the dawn
of a new day; to stand enwrapped in its pearl-grey mantle ere the
mounting sun has turned its soft shades to rosy brilliance; to inhale
the spicy breeze which, during the night watches, having extracted the
perfumes of the forest flowers, comes heavily freighted o’er gully and
range, and diffuses the sweet odours as the reward of the early riser.
And then—to watch the daily miracle of sunrise!

    "See! the dapple-grey coursers of the morn
    Beat up the light with their bright silver hoofs
      And chase it through the sky."


Sandy, on old Rufus, kept for that work, soon rounds-up and yards
several steeds from the horse-paddock. From these three are picked and
saddled; and ere the rising sun has walked "o’er the dew of yon high
eastern hills," the lads are scampering through bush and brake, o’er
dale and hill.  They chivy the silent kangaroo through the lush grass;
have a glorious burst after a belated dingo; rouse screaming parrots and
paroquets from their matutinal meal off the honey blossoms of box and
apple trees; pulling up at last on the summit of a dome-shaped, treeless
hill, from whence, with the bloom of the morning still upon it, the
landscape extends in a vast stretch of undulation, broken at irregular
intervals by silver ribbons of creek and river.

Belts of scrub and forest, rich pasturages and arable lands, are dotted
here and there, with minute spots from which rise slender threads of
smoke indicating settlers’ houses; while away in the background are the
purple hills and the blue mountains.

Boys are not usually considered to be impressionable creatures on the
æsthetic side of things.  Herein we wrong them.  They may not
attitudinise, nor spout poetry when under the supreme touches of nature,
for the boy is too natural to be theatrical.  But, without doubt, the
morning and evening glories of dear old mother earth do touch their
sense of beauty; and though these impressions may seem to be effaced by
other and more sordid things, nevertheless they linger through the long
years, called up from time to time in sweet association with days that
are no more.

The lads, while they rested their steeds, stood in silent and wondering
gaze, broken at last by Tom, who, pointing across the intervening spaces
to the broadest of the many silver threads, exclaimed, "Tender’s
Tareela!"  Many miles away, as the crow flies, lay the river village, a
small cluster of dots, a few of which glistened in the sunlight.  These
shining spots indicated the "superior" houses that sported corrugated
iron roofs, new in those days.  For the most part the "roof-trees" were
shingle or bark.

And now, homeward bound, the horsemen slither down the hillside, plunge
into a pine scrub, to emerge therefrom on the border of a small plain,
and chase a mob of brumbies grazing thereon.  They, with snorting
nostrils and waving manes, headed by a notorious grey stallion—of whom
more anon—dash up a ravine into the fastnesses of the scrub, and, though
followed some distance by the reckless riders, vanish from sight with a
celerity possible only to wild bush-horses.

Skirting now the banks of the Crocodile, they disturb flocks of teal,
widgeon, water-hen, and other aquatic birds.  At length they give a view
halloo, for the old homestead is in sight.  This scares a flock of
cockatoos that are camping in the river gums, after an early morning’s
poaching expedition to the adjacent maize-fields, and brings out the
station dogs with a babble of barking, as they pound up the track with a
final spurt.

"Breakfast ready, Ah Fat?" sings out Sandy, as the boys come rushing
into the kitchen from the stables.

"Leddy?  Tes, allee globble upee!  Missee say no kleep anyling for bad
boy.  Lockee allee glub."  Ah Fat’s twinkling, humorous eyes redeemed
his hatchet face and stolid countenance.

"It’s all right, fellows.  He’s only pokin’ borak at us," said Sandy,
giving the Celestial a familiar slap.  "Come along, I’m as hungry as a
hunter.  They’ve only started, I know."

The family were seated, heads were bent, and Mr. M’Intyre was saying the
long Scotch grace, when the boys burst into the room with a fine
clatter.  The rude intrusion brought a severe remonstrance from that
gentleman when the exercise was concluded. Mrs. M’Intyre—always ready to
defend the boys and to champion them, to condone their faults and to
extol their virtues, in which she was wise or otherwise, as the reader
may decide—broke in with a Christmas greeting. For a minute there was a
fusillade of "Merry Christmas to you and many of them!"

"Now, boys, take your seats before breakfast’s cold."

On proceeding to their places the boys stood stock still, for there,
resting against their respective chairs, stood three brand-new,
double-barrel shot-guns.

"Weel, bairns!" exclaimed Mr. M’Intyre, with quiet amusement, surveying
the amazed boys as they gazed at the weapons.  "What are ye frichtened
at?  Is it snakes y’re lukin’ upon?  Why dinna ye sit doon to yure
food?"

"Oh, father! mother!" cried Sandy at last, picking up his gun, pleasure
beaming from his face.  "This is what Harry meant when he said last
night he’d brought out a parcel from the town that’d come by steamer."
Then with a rush, Joe and Tom at his heels, he danced round the abashed
Scotchman, and gave him a hug, repeating the dose with interest on Mrs.
M’Intyre.  It was hard for the boys to settle down to breakfast and
dislodge their eyes from the weapons.  What their souls coveted most was
a gun.  The clamant claims of hunger, however, are not to be
disregarded; so, stacking their guns in a corner, the boys did ample
justice to a generous meal.

"Did you have a pleasant ride this morning, boys?" inquired Mrs.
M’Intyre.  "You’ve not been out on the run before, Tom, have you?"

"No, ma’am.  We’d a good time, though!"

"How far did you go, Sandy?"

"To the top of Bald Hummock, mother."

"Splendid view from the top, is it not, Joe?"

"Not bad, Mrs. M’Intyre."

"That’s a negative descreeption o’ ane o’ the graundest sichts the hale
deestric’ can boast," said Mr. M’Intyre, with emphasis.

Joe became conscious of the banality.

"An’ why did ye no’ tak’ Mr. Neville wi’ you, boys? Ye did wrang no’ to
invite him to ride wi’ you.  I think ye owe him an apologee, Saundy."

"I’m very sorry," said the lad, turning in some confusion to Mr.
Neville.  "If I’d thought——"

"Oh, I shouldn’t have dreamed of going out at such an early hour, my
lad," replied Neville loftily.  He had a somewhat affected accent and a
superior air.  "I nevvah exert myself before breakfast.  Besides, I am
not sure that I should find a safe escort in a parcel of—er—schoolboys.
With the young ladies, now," he continued, fixing his monocle and
bestowing a patronising stare upon Sandy’s sisters, Maggie and Jessie,
"I—I—should be delighted to go for a bush ride, as I think these
equestrian expeditions are called in Awestralia, in the cool of the
afternoon."

"We don’t call them even bush rides out here, Mr. Neville," answered
Jessie saucily.  She resented patronage.  "We call ’em spins.  Boys, I
vote we all go for a spin this afternoon.  Let’s ride as far as Ben
Bolt’s cave. It’ll be something interesting to show Mr. Neville. Ben
Bolt’s a famous bushranger hereabouts, you know, and the cave is a
favourite rendezvous for his gang, as well as a safe hiding-place.  At
least, it was so until a few months ago, when the police and black
trackers discovered it, and nearly nabbed him.  Fancy having a
bushranger’s camp on the Bullaroi boundary!  But Ben never uses it now.
So let’s ride out to it.  Are you game, boys?"

"Game!" snorted Sandy.  "What’s to be game about? The main thing is,
will Mr. Neville care for an eighteen-mile spin?  If not, we could go
for a short ride down the Crocodile."

"Please don’t question my ability, boy!" retorted the new chum, who
resented the implication contained in Sandy’s remark.  "I find,"
continued he, addressing his host, "you good people out heah seem to
think that Awestralia is the only place where horseback riding is
indulged in——"

"We ride steers also, an’ billies too," slyly interjected Joe, with a
wink at the girls.

"And we read that they ride donkeys and—er—hobby-horses in England,"
chipped in Jessie, whose eyes sparkled with mischief.

"Good for you, ole Jess!  Let ’em bring out their English fox-hunters
an’ steeple-chasers that they brag so much about, and we’ll give ’em a
dingo run, or a go at cutting out scrubbers,[#] an’ see how they’d be
with their pretty coats an’ breeches, at the tail of the hunt!"


[#] Wild, unbranded cattle, frequenting scrub country,


"Are ye addressing the English nation or oor guest, Saundy?"

M’Intyre could be caustic when he willed.  He had no liking for
Australian blow, and hit at it as he would hit at a snake, whenever
occasion arose.  He now turned the laugh against his son, Jess laughing
loudest of all.

"It’s settled, then, that we ride out to the cave this afternoon?" said
Maggie, with an inquiring eye on Neville.

"I’m shore ’twill be a pleasant jaunt, Miss M’Intyre," replied the
Englishman.  "I shall have pleasure in acting as your escort.  But
this—er—famous—er—notorious—er—highwayman, is it—er—safe?  I mean—er—I’m
thinking of the—er—ladies, you know."

"What’s to be afraid of?" quoth Jessie.  To her, risk meant spice, an
added zest.  Her whole heart went out to the life of the open air and
the pleasures of the chase. Her greatest delight was in a mad scamper
through the bush behind the dogs, in the kangaroo hunt.

"Don’t be alarmed, Mr. Neville; Mag and I’ll protect you should
the—er—famous—notorious—bushranger—highwayman turn up," went on the
audacious minx.  "I’d dearly love to see Ben Bolt.  I think he’s a lot
better than many who run him down.  Oh my! wouldn’t it be fun if we
surprised him in the cave?  I’d——"

"Stop, Jess; cease your blether!" said Mr. M’Intyre sternly.  "The mon
may no’ be as black as he’s pented, but he’s no’ an honest mon.
Misguided he may be to an extent, and no’ a’thegither answerable for
some of the steps in his doonward career, but a creeminal for a’ that,
whom the country were weel rid o’.  But as for the reesk, there’s na
reesk in ridin’ to the cave.  The Sub-Inspector telt me a few days ago
that Ben Bolt’s gone o’er the border.  News is to hand to the effect
that he stuck up a Chinaman on the Brisbane road.  So the cave’s safe
enough."

"That’s settled, then," broke in Maggie.  "If we leave here about four
o’clock ’twill be early enough, and will give us plenty of time to get
back by dark."

"Maidie, my pet," said Mrs. M’Intyre to her little three-year-old, a
dainty, precocious miss, "what are you staring at?  It’s rude to stare
at any one like that."

"Oh, muzzer!" exclaimed the child, turning her bright eyes mother-wards
for a moment and then fixing them with a fascinated gaze upon the
Englishman.

"What is it that interests you, little girl?" remarked Neville in a
patronising tone.  "Is it the colour of my tie?"

Maidie shook her curly head, and, without removing her eyes from Mr.
Neville’s face, leaned towards Jessie, who sat next to her, and
whispered, "The genkilmun’s got somesin’ on his fevvers."

Suspended from the tip of one of Neville’s incipient moustaches was a
yellow string of egg-yolk.  Jess had observed this for some time, with a
tendency to hilarity whenever it caught her eye.  Maidie’s comical
description added fuel to the fire of the girl’s merriment, sending her
into convulsive laughter.  She answered looks of interrogation by
pointing to the dangling egg thread, and saying as well as circumstances
permitted, "Maidie says—ha—ha—ha!—that Mr. Fevv—he—he—he!—Mr. Neville’s
got egg on his—fev—feathers."  This explanatory and ludicrous mixture
created a general explosion among the young folk.  The situation,
however, was promptly ended by Mrs. M’Intyre, who discreetly rose on
seeing that the guest did not join in the general laugh.

There was nothing much for the men-folk to do; but the boys were burning
to try their new fowling-pieces, The squatter, seeing their intent,
directed them to use their skill on the cockatoos and king parrots that
were devastating the maize crop.

These birds, especially the former, proved wily customers, so that not
many opportunities offered for testing the guns.  Enough was done,
though, to prove that the guns were no "slouches," and great things were
predicted when the lads should "know" their respective weapons.

"Whatyer think of the new chum, Joe?" said Sandy to Blain, as they sat
on a log under a low-spreading wattle tree, on the look out for a flying
shot.

"Goes thirteen to the dozen, ole man, don’t he? Knows a lot more’n us,
he reckons, and can’t help showin’ it."

"Yes, he can’t stand us chaps at no price.  By George! Jess’s got his
measure, and Mag too, for that matter. They’ll take his nibs down a peg
or two before he goes, I bet tuppence."

"Little Maidie fitted him all right," chipped in Tom.
"Fevvers—ha—ha!—yes, goose feathers."

It was evident that the visitor was not in favour with the young people.
He had struck a false note.  No one can be quicker than boys to detect
superciliousness and to resent it.  The patronising air is to them the
unforgivable sin.  Henceforth Neville went by the name of "Fevvers"
among the boys, to the great amusement of the girls, who, unfortunately
for the Englishman, had assigned him a place in prig-dom.

Neville, it must be confessed, was a bit of a prig; but at heart he was
not at all a bad fellow, and there came a time not far ahead when
respect supplanted contempt in the pals, and the ridiculous nickname was
dropped; while he on his part discontinued the use of the irritating
comparison, "the way we do things in England," which at the beginning he
was for ever introducing.

The household was enjoying a siesta after the typical Christmas dinner
which was partaken of at midday.  Stillness reigned within the house,
save the cracking of house timbers under the influence of the heat.
This seductive calm and the sweet sleep of the girls was at length
rudely broken by Sandy, who in the exercise of a brother’s privilege
shook the door violently as he shouted, "Now then, lazies, get up and
dress!  It’s half-past three."

"Bother you, Sandy, you _are_ a nuisance!" sleepily complained Jessie.
"I—I—was having _such_ a lovely dream.  Neptune was just on the heels of
a blue flyer,[#] and I was galloping alongside him.  The chase led us to
Blind-fall Gully, and we three took the jump together, and were almost
landed on the other side when you thumped the door.  I thought at first
it was the thud of Kangie’s tail, but no! there she was flying
through——"


[#] Maiden kangaroo, a very fast runner.


"That comes of eating too much plum-duff an’ mince-pie, my girl.  But I
say, you two, look slippy, or you’ll be too late.  I told Jacky to
saddle Nigger for you, Jess. What’ll you take, Mag?  Rainbow or Sultan?
They’re both up."

"Don’t care, Sandy.  I’ll take Sultan, I think.  No, I’ll take Rainbow.
Wait a moment, p’r’aps——"

"Oh! stop your silly nonsense.  I’ll put the saddle on Sultan," shouted
the impatient boy, as he made off through the house to the stockyard.

"Say, Sandy!" cried out Jess, who was now wide awake.  "Have you roused
Mr.—er—Fevvers yet?"

"’Ssh! mother’ll hear you," exclaimed the boy warningly, as he returned
to the door.  "He didn’t have a snooze. Says it’s unbusinesslike to
sleep in the daytime.  Says they never do that in England.  England be
blowed, say I.  An’ whatyer think?  Harry offered him the loan of his
leggin’s, but he wouldn’t have ’em.  Says they smell of the stockyard,
ha—ha!  Says they don’t wear ’em in England.  Listen!  He’s got on a
pair of white duck britches, an’ my crikey! they won’t be white any
longer.  He asked Harry for his fourteen-foot stockwhip. Says he was
told an ’Awestralian’ horse would never budge without one.  Only dad was
there I’d ’a’ put his saddle on Dick Swiveller, an’ by jing! we’d ’a’
had some sport.  We’ll knock fun out of him as it is, I reckon. But look
alive, girls, or y’ll be left behind."



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                   *A BUSH RIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES*


    "Then hey for boot and horse, lad!
      And round the world away;
    Young blood will have its course, lad!
    And every dog his day."
        KINGSLEY.


The weather in Australia at Christmas is not ideal for riding parties.
Midsummer heat and dust, together with hordes of flies, largely
countervail the delights of the saddle.

The enthusiastic party that cantered along the tracks leading from the
Bullaroi homestead on this particular Christmas, with one exception,
made small bones about either dust or heat.  Neville, however, was
irritated by the dust which the horses’ feet knocked up.  Nor would he
seek alleviation as did the others by leaving the track at every
opportunity.  The victim of prejudice and conventionality, expressed in
terms of cussedness, he obstinately stuck to the dusty track.  The boys
and Jessie frisked here and there, making short cuts, jumping gullies
and logs, and generally enjoying themselves. They raised, it is true,
clouds of dust, to the annoyance of the new chum, as they pounded along
the track on their return to the others, after having forged ahead some
distance; behaving, in short, like gambolling dogs. Mag would have
dearly loved the frolic, but hospitality’s demands made it imperative
that she—the eldest—should partner the guest.

Neville was no rider.  His knowledge of the ways of the horse was of the
most elementary kind.  Had he had the common sense to have admitted that
palpable fact, many of his painful experiences, and indeed tortures,
would have been minimised, if not altogether avoided.

Like all inexperienced riders, he responded to every movement of the
horse.  He had no sense of balance. He held the reins shoulder high, and
was for ever jerking them.  When his body was not stiffly straight it
inclined forward.  The inevitable result was made abundantly manifest in
chafed limbs and aching bones.  With Neville, as with most new-chum
riders, the trousers legs _would_ work up from the bottom, displaying a
section of calf, to the great amusement of the boys, who baa’d most
vehemently at such times.

This, however, must be reckoned for grace in Neville: he made no
complaint, nor admitted any discomfort.  He was forward in his
criticisms of the boys’ style of riding: their seats were un-English and
cowboy.

No greater contrast between the riders could well be imagined than that
which the new chum and the pals presented.  Theirs was to the manner
born, to be confounded neither with cowboy nor military.  While there is
an utter absence of stiffness in the Australian style, there is at the
same time nothing bordering on the truculent as affected by the cowboy.
The movements are willowy and rhythmic.  Horse and man are one and
indivisible.  This means to both the minimum of work with the maximum of
ease.

How far removed from this attainment was poor Neville!  His figure was
of the ramrod pattern for the first few miles—ultra military, so to
speak.  His feet, well through the stirrups, inclined outwards at a
sharp angle; his left arm, held at right angle as rigid as a semaphore,
gripped the reins; while his right clutched the stockwhip with tenacious
grasp.  The steed, a fair pacer in experienced hands, in his became a
veritable jogger.  He rose and fell in springless fashion with every
motion of the horse.

It was not in Neville’s power to maintain that iron rigidity, and so he
gradually inclined forward.  His back became bowed, and his nose at
times was in imminent danger of the horse’s head.  His arms, too, hung
listlessly at either side, until at last his appearance resembled
nothing so much as a doubled-up Guy Fawkes perched on a rail.  Yet his
dogged spirit, essentially British, half courage, half cussedness, bore
him up.

Nearing the caves, the party, with the exception of Neville and his
companion, raced ahead, and by the time that the latter arrived were
cooling off beneath the shade of some coolibahs.

And now disaster of such a character as to shake from him the last
remains of superiority and propriety, overwhelming him in the depths of
humiliation, overtook poor Neville.  These mortifying results were
brought about by his attempted gallantry.

The selected camp, as related, was beneath the grateful shade of a
cluster of coolibah[#] trees that grew on the banks of a mountain
stream, close to the mouth of the caves.  Seeing that Maggie was about
to dismount unassisted, the youth exclaimed in eager tones, "Wait a
moment, Miss M’Intyre!" and so saying, threw himself from his horse in
order to do the gallant by helping his companion down, "as they do in
England."


[#] Water gum trees.


Sad to say, however, so cramped and stiff were his limbs, especially his
nether extremities, that the instant he touched ground his legs doubled
in a powerless condition, and he fell prone to the earth.
Unfortunately, the ground at the spot where he tumbled down began to
slope towards the creek.  In his frantic efforts to rise quickly to his
feet he overbalanced himself, and began to roll down the incline.  He
saved himself for a second, and the impending disaster might have been
averted but for the confounded stockwhip, which led to his undoing in a
most effectual way.  This weapon, which he still held in his clenched
right hand, got entangled with his legs by some means, lasso fashion,
bringing him smartly to the ground again in a fresh attempt to rise.
The sloping bank at this point became almost precipitous: with a rapid
turn over-and-over, he rolled down the steep gradient, crashed through
an undergrowth of bushes and bracken that fringed the perpendicular bank
of the creek, and shot out into its clear, deep waters.

This unrehearsed performance, taking less time to act than to relate,
brought a powerful shriek from Maggie, who, arrested in her intention to
dismount unaided by Neville’s proffered aid, beheld from her horse the
undignified collapse of her escort, with its quickly succeeding acts of
comedy and tragedy.

The others, who were witnesses of this performance, hugely enjoyed it,
giving a loud hurrah as the new chum splashed into the creek.  There was
one exception. Sandy, who was on his way to the creek with the billy
can, and who realised in a moment that the discomfited Englishman had
fallen into a deep pool,—the very spot where he had often fished for big
perch,—threw away the billy and rushed to the spot where the unfortunate
man had fallen in.  Only that day had Neville declared that "my water
exercises have been confined to the house bath."

Beyond the agitated surface there were no signs of their visitor in the
water.  Without pause, the lad took a header to the bottom, which was at
least ten feet from the top, discerned the sunken man kicking and
clawing, hauled him to the surface, and towed him to the bank. Here
willing hands were ready to grip the victim of this misadventure and
pull him to land.

As soon as he was dragged to safety, the cause of his abject
helplessness in the water was revealed.  The stockwhip had so encircled
his legs as to prevent the free use of them, besides which the shock of
the whole accident had to an extent numbed his senses.

In sooth he was a sorry sight as he lay on the turf. The immersion did
not cover more than half a minute; it was long enough, though, to take
him to the verge of unconsciousness and to fill his lungs and stomach
with water.  The boys speedily unwound the whip, and subjected Neville
to some rough but wholesome treatment, during which process the water
was rapidly ejected from his interior regions.

The girls, as soon as Neville was landed, discreetly withdrew.
Merriment had dissolved into pity.

"Poor Mr. Neville!  I’m _so_ sorry.  Isn’t it a shame, Mag?"

"Seems like a dream; it all happened so quickly and unexpectedly.  I’m
afraid father’ll be very angry about it. The poor fellow was going to be
so gallant, too.  ’Permit me to assist you,’ he said, and the next
moment——"

Here the whole scene comes up so vividly and comically that, strive as
she may, Maggie cannot withhold laughter of a somewhat hysterical kind.
And so, between laughter and tears, the two girls superintended the
billy-boiling and tea-making business.

Meanwhile the lads, stripping Neville under the lee of the bank, wrung
his clothes, and then re-dressed him, bringing him up to the fire little
the worse for his cold douche.  The girls quickly recognised the finer
qualities of Neville’s character, which broke through the crust of his
artificiality in the hour of adversity.

"I’m very sorry to have caused this trouble, Miss M’Intyre.  No one’s to
blame but myself.  Your brother and his mates have been exceedingly kind
to me.  Indeed, I owe a debt to your brother that I can never repay, for
without doubt he saved my life.  I was utterly helpless with that
wretched whip curled around me."

Indeed, it was true.  The accident might easily have had a fatal
termination, and the thought of it (for all that Neville cut such a
grotesque figure in his shrunken clothes) drove the last remains of
latent hilarity away. Maggie assured the forlorn-looking youth that no
thanks were due to any one; that all deplored the accident, and were
thankful that the finale inclined rather to the comic than the tragic.

"Take this pannikin of hot tea, Mr. Neville.  Father says that whisky’s
not in it with tea for recruiting one’s jaded energies."

As there was no need for starting on the return ride awhile, the three
boys, leaving the girls and Neville at the camp, proceeded to the caves.

The caves, three in number, were connected with one another by narrow
entrances.  The outermost one had an inlet through a narrow crevice.
This opening was concealed from the casual eye by a sentinel-like
boulder which stood directly opposite, and about eighteen inches in
advance of the wall of rock.  It was a squeeze for any one above the
average size to get through.

Before its occupation by the bushrangers the outer cave, by evident
signs, formed a favourite wallaby haunt.  These had been disturbed and
hunted by the bushrangers, who from time to time, according to police
report, used it as a hiding-place.  They had often lain there when the
district was filled with troopers. On one occasion, as was afterwards
known, Ben Bolt and his mate, a youth of eighteen years, lay concealed
for weeks.  The boy had been badly wounded in the thigh during a brush
with the police in the New England ranges.  Ben Bolt, who was
passionately attached to him, by incredible labour and consummate
skill—for the pursuing police were on their tracks all the time—brought
his wounded mate to the caves in order that he might lie in safety until
his sores were healed.

Sandy was the only one of the lads who knew anything about the caves.
In company with his father he had visited them a few weeks previously.
He therefore acted as a guide to the party.

The fissure, a mere crack in the limestone rock, extended in tortuous
fashion for some distance. Lengthening out and making a curve, it
suddenly broadened into a chamber of respectable dimensions. At the
entrance of the crevice Sandy had lit a candle, one being sufficient for
the cramped passage.  Before entering the cave proper, all three candles
brought for that purpose were lit.

The cave was bat-inhabited.  Large numbers of these uncanny creatures,
which were clinging to the roof and sides, disturbed and dazzled by the
light, flew about in aimless fashion, often striking the boys in their
uncertain flight.  Numbers of them fastened on to their clothes and
limbs with their claw-like pinions.

Joe and Tom, to whom this was a new experience, were uneasy and a good
bit scared.  Their nervousness increased when the fluttering nocturnals
more than once extinguished the lights.

"You must do as I do, boys!" sang out Sandy, who was in advance, as they
walked cautiously over the uneven and stone-littered floor.  Sandy had
removed his hat and held it over the candle.  This, while it darkened
all above, gave ample light on the floor space, and protected the candle
from the nocturnals. The others thereupon followed suit, and soon
reached the opening on the opposite side that led to the second chamber.

This narrow passage made a stiff ascent for some yards, inclining to the
left, and then extending like a funnel.  Sandy was proceeding very
cautiously, for the opening into the interior cave was made at about ten
feet from its floor.  A rough ladder of lawyer vines hung from the
opening in the wall to the basement.  Down this the boys speedily
slipped, and found themselves in a dome-like space, bigger by far than
any room, barn, or church that they had seen. The atmosphere was very
chill, and the continual drip of falling water made a monotonous sound.
A narrow, clear stream of running water flowed along one side,
disappearing in a floor crack near the far corner.

Contrary to what one would have expected, the lime crystals were few,
and for the most part small; not to be mentioned in the same breath with
the matchless statuary of the far-famed Jenolan Caves. On the ground,
however, were some interesting stalagmites, whose grotesque figures
highly amused the boys.  At the first sight, though, a fearsome feeling
possessed them.  They were children of the sun, and this new and cryptic
experience in the cold, dark, vaulted chamber quickened their pulses and
shortened their breaths.

Everything seemed to have a ghostly appearance to the pals.  It was a
fitting abode for spectral creatures, and they had a feeling that at any
moment such might appear.  This sensation, however, was of short
duration. A few minutes’ familiarity with their surroundings dissipated
it, and the lads moved freely in their investigations.

"Didn’t you say there was another cave adjoining this, Sandy?"

"Yes, I’ll show it to you in a few minutes."

While the question was being asked and answered, Sandy was peering into
a crevice immediately behind a huge stalagmite, and in a dark corner of
the cave.

"This looks as if it might open out somewhere, but the opening’s jammed
with a big limestone boulder."

"Let’s have a pull at it," said Tom, as he leaned forward to take hold
of a projecting point.

"No go, Tom.  Look at its weight!  See how tightly it’s wedged!  You’ll
never budge that.  It’ll need a crowbar to shift it.  Come along, boys,
and we’ll take a peep at the other cave, just to say we’ve seen it; then
we must make tracks back."

Sandy, however, bore in mind this sealed chamber which was destined
later to yield important and far-reaching results.  He made for a low,
narrow aperture in the wall, at a far corner, which opened directly into
a vault-like ceil—a small bedroom or pantry, as the case might be.

"Here’s where the rangers camped," said Sandy, when the boys had
struggled through.  "Here’s their beds, an’ there’s where they had their
fire."

A couple of sheets of stringy-bark, placed stretcher-fashion on crossed
sapling frames, formed the sleeping-bunks of the outlaws.  On these were
placed a quantity of bracken which made a comfortable resting-place for
men who more often than not slept upon the ground.

"I say, Sandy," remarked Joe, after standing a moment in deep thought,
"this is an all-right place for hidin’ in, but where’d they keep the
mokes?  That’s what beats me."

"It beats more’n you.  It beats father.  It beats the police.  Yes, they
can’t get a clue.  Must have had the horses handy, too; for when the
police got into the cave the time they tracked ’em here, the rangers
couldn’t have been gone more’n a few minutes, ’cause a fire was still
burning in Ben Bolt’s room, as they call it.  The bobbies have searched
inside and outside and all over the ridge for another opening, but can’t
find it."

"They’ve clean bunged the p’lice, the cute beggars!" exclaimed Tom, with
a grin.  "Wonder if they’ll ever come back again.  Ole Ben’s a game un.
They say he wears a reversible suit of different colours.  An’ sometimes
he straps up a leg an’ fastens a wooden peg on it an’ stumps along, led
by a dog on a string like a blind beggar."

"He’s always bluffin’ the police, anyway," said Joe. "The Sub-Inspector
was at our place about a month ago, telling father how he an’ the others
were fooled not so long ago."

"Tell us, Joe."

"Well, ’twas like this.  A bushman on a piebald horse rode up to the
police camp out Kean’s swamp way, bearing a note from Sub-Inspector
Garvie, ordering them to cross the ranges an’ get into Walcha secretly,
as he possessed reliable information to the effect that Ben Bolt
intended to stick up the bank two days later.

"It appears this same man called at the Sub’s quarters earlier in the
day, who was laid up with a sprained leg. This chap told how he’d been
in Ben Bolt’s company two nights previously.  The ranger and his
mate—the same boy as was wounded—came upon him as he lay by his fire in
the evening, and asked permission to camp alongside.  They pretended to
be stockmen in search of strayed heifers, and made out that they had
come across their tracks just at nightfall.  As it was a goodish way to
the station, they would be glad to sleep by his fire and get after the
cattle at dawn.

"The man said that as soon as he spotted ’em he knew ’em, but he was too
frightened to let on.  He gave ’em some grub, an’ then lay down in his
blanket.  As soon as they had scoffed the prog they lay down too, on the
off side of the fire.

"The man didn’t go to sleep, though he pretended to.  By an’ by the two
men began to talk in low tones. He could hear ’em, though, pretty well,
and found out that they were goin’ to stick up the Walcha bank.  The
date they named was four days from that night. Although the chap lay as
if he were dead he didn’t sleep a wink.  Just before daylight the coves
saddled their horses, which had been short-hobbled, and singing out,
’So-long,’ they galloped off.

"’And what prompted you to bring this information?’ said the Sub.

"’Well, if you cop the rangers,’ he answered, ’I shall expect something
substantial for supplying these particulars.’

"’As for that, you’ll get your share.  And now you can do something
further that’ll help you in the matter of reward.  Take this note to
Sergeant Henessey, who is camping with four police and a tracker in the
foothills, at the head of Kean’s swamp.’

"The Sub-Inspector, who had hastily written a note of instruction to the
Sergeant, handed it to the man, who said his name was Sam Kelly.  Sam
promised to deliver it by daybreak; which he did.  As soon as the
Sergeant read it, he roused up the men, and after a hasty meal it was
’Saddle up.’  A few minutes later the troopers were on their way to cop
the rangers.  Now listen: that very day, towards evening, the Port
Macquarie mail was stuck up!"

"My eye!" said Sandy, "weren’t the p’lice sold!  Fancy ole Ben goin’
into the lion’s den with his information an’ then takin’ the letter out
to the camp, an’ none of ’em cute enough to twig ’im!  He’s a downy cove
is Ben. Ain’t he, Joe?"

"They say," concluded Joe, "that the piebald he rode was his favourite
horse, the blood-bay he calls Samson."

"But how was it he turned him piebald?"

"_Painted patches of pipeclay on him!_"

"Now, then," exclaimed Sandy, pulling out his watch, "we’ve only a few
minutes left, an’ we mustn’t be late, as Mr. Neville won’t be able to
ride fast."

"Poor old Fevvers!" exclaimed Tom reminiscently. "This hasn’t been much
of a treat for him."



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                            *THE DINGO RAID*


    "What’s up, old horse?  Your ears you prick,
        And your eager eyeballs glisten.
    ’Tis the wild dog’s note, in the tea-tree thick,
        By the river to which you listen.

      *      *      *      *      *

    Let the dingo rest, ’tis all for the best;
        In this world there’s room enough
    For him and you and me and the rest,
        And the country is awful rough."
          ADAM LINDSAY GORDON.


"Here’s a fine how-d’ye-do!" exclaimed Mr. M’Intyre wrathfully, as he
strode into the house, one hot morning shortly after the events recorded
in the previous chapter. "Why sic rubbish were ever created passes
understanding!"

The irate squatter, contrary to his usual habit, clattered through the
hall and out on to the front verandah, slamming the door most vigorously
as he made his exit.

"Whatever’s stung dad this morning, Jess?" remarked Maggie to her
sister, as their excited parent made his noisy intrusion.

"Something bad, you may be sure, to cause dad to parade in that fashion.
I expect the blacks have been performing.  They madden father at times
by their ’want o’ intellect,’ as he calls it."

"I’ll—I’ll cut the livers out o’ them, the sneakin’ hounds!  Rot ’em,
I’ll pizen every faither’s son o’ the dirty vermin!"

"Oh, father!" cried Jessie, "you surely are not going to poison the poor
things?"

"Pizen ’em, that am I!  Pizen’s ower guid for them, thieving brutes that
they are!  ’Puir things,’ as you ca’ the wretches," continued he
sarcastically, "I’ll hae the life o’ the hale o’ them, if it tak’s a’
the pizen in Tareela!" barked the exasperated man.

"Then you’re no father of mine!" blazed out Jessie. "What have the poor
boys done that you should threaten such dreadful——"

"W-h-a-t!"

"Why, poor Willy and Jacky: what have they done that you should——"

"What on earth is the lassie haverin’ aboot?" roared Mr. M’Intyre to
Maggie.

"The blacks, father.  Didn’t you say that you were going to poison them?
But I don’t believe it for a——"

"The blacks!  Wha’s talkin’ o’ blacks?  It’s the reds, the blessed
dingoes, wha’ve been playin’ havoc wi’ the calves.  The blacks?  Ma
certie!" continued he, as the humour of the situation seized him,
forcing a smile. Turning to his daughter, he exclaimed, "Ye’re a fine
bairn, I maun say, to be accusin’ yer ain faither o’ _black_ murder!"

"Forgive me, dad!" cried the impulsive girl, as she threw her arms round
his neck; "I never thought of the dingoes.  I—I—I made sure the black
boys had been up to tricks, and never dreamed——"

"There, there, that’s enough, my lassie!  It’s a case of
’misunderconstumbling,’ as Denny Kineavy would say. But it’s enough to
make ane feel wild and gingery.  Eleeven fine yearlin’s killed!  It’s
the wantonness mair than the actual loss that vexes me: though the
latter is bad enough, for some o’ the best, of course, are sacrificeed
to their slaughterin’ instincts."

That evening, in conference with his chief stockman, Mr. M’Intyre laid
his plans for the extermination of the pack of dingoes which had just
given an exhibition of their destructive powers.  In this particular
instance the brutes had driven a number of yearling calves, weaners,
into a blind gully.  Having boxed them up in this _cul de sac_, the
rapacious dogs found them an easy prey.

The Australian wild dog is a combination of several very excellent
qualities—from the canine standpoint, that is.  He possesses more
sagacity than any other wild thing of the bush.  Keen of sight, quick at
scent, subtle of wit, noiseless in tread and bark, tenacious to rooted
purpose, he pursues and stalks his quarry, whether bird or beast, with
all the odds in his favour.

There he stands, this indigenous dog, with a great, broad forehead, his
eyes narrowing in sinister expression; well set in body, showing big
sinews and a good muscular development; strong jaws, with teeth like
ivory needles; white in paw and tail-tip, bright yellow everywhere else,
save the chocolate-coloured streak running along the spine from neck to
tail.  There he stands: but that is a figure of speech, for a more
restless animal than this same dog does not exist.

Australian cattle-dogs have a world reputation, and the very best are
they which by crossing inherit a strain of dingo nature.  That which
makes the dingo so hated by stock owners—who pursue him relentlessly—is
the killing lust which possesses him.  Were he to simply kill for food,
and be satisfied with a victim that would furnish enough for present
needs, settlers would be far more tolerant of him.  The plain truth
about him is that his predatory instinct is so strong as to practically
intoxicate him.  The sight of a flock of sheep or a bunch of calves
makes him "see red," and then he simply runs amok. One snap—he does not
bite in the ordinary sense—of his steel-like jaws is enough.  The
mouthful of flesh and muscle is torn out in an instant, and the victim
invariably dies of shock.  One dingo in a sheepfold will kill fifty
sheep in a few minutes.

These dogs are more troublesome in bad than in good seasons.  When the
cattle get low in condition and weak, they become a comparatively easy
prey, then the cunning of the dingoes becomes manifest.  They will
select their victim and drive it towards a water-hole or swamp.  In dry
times these are mere puddles and exceedingly boggy.  The object of the
canine drovers is to reduce the bullock to helplessness by bogging it.
The drive will sometimes take hours, and no experienced drover could do
the work more cleverly.  Finally, when their quarry is down in the mire
and practically helpless, he is tackled and bitten to death.  In good
seasons, when the cattle are strong, Mr. Dingo, save for an occasional
foray on the calves, has to content himself with his natural
diet—kangaroos, ’possums, and emus.

Fortunately, there was at the station at this time an eccentric bushman
who combined the work of horse-breaking and dingo-trapping.  Nosey
George was reputed to have a sense of smell equal to that of the dingo
itself. Certainly, his slouching gait made it often appear as if he were
"nosing" the tracks of the game.  But in truth he owed his prowess as a
trapper to a pair of eyes that knew no dimness.  At first sight of
Nosey, one saw nothing but his nose.  But when you noticed his eyes you
forgot the nose, and lived in the presence of a pair of eyes that
sparkled like diamonds, or as searchlights that permitted nothing to
escape their scrutiny.

Nosey’s feats of tracking were really marvellous.  On one occasion he
got on to the trail of a dingo bitch which had raided his hen-roost, and
followed it for twelve miles, mostly through scrubby and rocky country
that was criss-crossed with innumerable tracks of bush vermin. For all
that, this human sleuth-hound tracked Mrs. Dingo to a cave in the
mountains where she had five pups, and returned with six scalps.

The dingo trapper rode out early the next morning in company with Harry
the stockman and the boys to the scene of the slaughter, there to devise
means, for which he had received _carte blanche_ from Mr. M’Intyre, for
the capture of the raiders.

The weaners’ paddock was about three miles from the house, and had an
area of five thousand acres.  Most of the enclosure consisted of plain,
but a corner of it contained a belt of scrub; and it was in this corner,
where the weaners camped for warmth in the night-time, that the drive
and slaughter had been made.  The beasts, most of them, lay huddled,
showing evidence of mangling; others had struggled out of the gully into
the scrub. After gazing awhile at the slain, Tom Hawkins broke the
silence—

"I say, Nosey, ain’t this a go?  Poor brutes!"

"Here, you kid," cried the trapper, turning sharply on Tom, "who gave
you leave to call me names?  Like yer blessed cheek!  How’d yer like me
ter call yer monkey-face?  If yer had a decent nose, I’d tweak it fer
yer."

Nosey, who was very sensitive on this question of nickname, and had had
many a fight over the same, made such a menacing move towards Tom that
the lad shrank back in fear.

"That’ll do, George," said Sandy.  "Leave the boy alone.  He didn’t mean
anything.  It’s what everybody calls you."

"I’m not goin’ to let brats of boys miscall me, anyhow. Don’t know why
the boss sent you blokes, for all the good y’are!" growled the grumpy,
cross-grained, but not really bad-hearted old man.  "Youse better be
keepin’ quiet, anyways, till me an’ Harry has a look round."

"Let him be," whispered Harry.  "If you get his dander up he’s as likely
as not to chuck the whole blame thing.  He always jibs at that name;
carn’t stand it from kids nohow."

Nosey, or to be respectful, George, now proceeded to examine the
surroundings of the carcasses.  Bending forward until his protuberant
nose almost touched the earth, the trapper moved his eyes swiftly, now
concentrating on twig or grass-blades, now wildly roving and
all-comprehensive.  The rest of the party were following at his heels,
when he turned round and fiercely waved them back.

"All right, Nos—George!" sang out Joe.  "I see; you want to keep the
tracks clear.  We’ll stay here till you’ve finished."

Drawing on one side, the group watched the proceedings with great
interest.  The ground was hard and stony; quite unimpressionable and
barren of sign to the pals’ untutored sight, yet to this man of the
woods, who was ignorant of the alphabet, the rough earth surface was
all-revealing, and made known to him in unmistakable characters the
story of the attack.

Having at length concluded his investigations, the trapper straightened
his back and moved to where the others stood.  Producing his knife and a
plug of tobacco, he began to shred a pipeful, making no remark to the
expectant onlookers.

"Reckon we’ll have to drag it out o’ the old un," said Harry to Joe in a
low tone.  Then raising his voice, the stockman began to question the
man.

"Had a good look round, George?"

Nod.

"Ain’t missed anything worth seeing, I bet?"

Head-shake.

"Whatyer make of it?"

"Razorback pack," replied the old man of frugal speech, as he cleaned
out his pipe.

"Razorback pack?  You surely don’t mean it!  Why, that is a matter of
twelve mile or so!"

"Suppose it is; what of that?"

"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Harry dubiously, yet not wishful to offend the
old man’s susceptibilities.  "Of course you know best, George.  How many
of ’em do you consider they’d be?"

"Five dorgs an’ two bitches."

"Good gracious, Nosey!" cried Tom the unlucky, the next moment beating a
rapid retreat as the dog-trapper made a vicious dart at his caudal
appendage, finally coming to grief over a fallen log which lay in the
line of retreat.  The pursuing foe, even, had to stop and join in the
laugh raised at the ludicrous figure which Tom cut as he lay, head down,
heels up.

"Beg pardon, George!" he cried breathlessly the next moment, as he
recovered his original position.  "It slipped out, old fellow.  I—I
didn’t mean it."

"Come, now, George, that’s handsome.  You must accept the apology,"
interjected Joe.

The trapper nodded assent, and the incident passed.

"How _do_ you know what pack it is, George?  Blest if I can understand
how you find out all these things!  First you tell us the sex an’ then
where they come from."

"Tell it by their paws."

"By their paws!  How on earth can you tell they’ve come all the way from
Razorback by their paw marks? Mightn’t it be the turkey scrub lot?"

"It carn’t be, an’ isn’t, ’cause I knows the pack."

"How’s that?"

"Got two of the vermin in the traps six months ago over at the
mountains, an’ a cove wot got away left two toe nails of his near
hind-foot in the trap."

"Too fly for poison, eh?"

"’Twould be a waste of good strychnine over the rubbage," replied the
trapper, waxing more communicative. "They know a bait better than a
Christun. ’Sides, I tried them over at Razorback.  Got plenty o’ cats,
gohanners, an’ crows; an’, be gosh! laid out one of my own cattle
puppies, but ne’er a dingo."

"The traps’ll fetch ’em, won’t they, George?"

George returned no answer, but "smoled" a cryptic smile.  Mounting their
steeds, the party turned in the direction of home.  Mr. M’Intyre
received the trapper’s report without interruption, and then consulted
as to the best way to work their destruction.

"Hunting them is out of the question," said the squatter in reply to a
remark of his son that it would be grand sport hunting them.  "We’d only
ruin the horses in that country and miss most o’ the dingoes. Na! the
traps are the best an’ safest.  If ony ane can catch ’em in that
fashion, George is the mon.  I leave the hale matter in his hands.  He
kens best what to do to circumvent the brutes; so go your own way to
work, George.  What aboot traps?  Have ye enough?"

"Got seven or eight, dunno for sure.  Ought to have a dozen."

"Varra weel; ane o’ the laddies will ride to Tareela and get ither
fower."

Accordingly, Joe and Tom mounted their horses and rode into the store
for the additional traps.

A dog-trap, it should be explained, is simply an enlarged spring
rat-trap, with extra strong jaws and saw-like teeth.  These instruments
of capture weigh about ten pounds, and are planted in likely spots.  The
native dog is an exceedingly suspicious animal.  His reasoning faculty
is large.  A mere glance at his head will convince one as to his
capacity, and those who have had to do with him count him as the
slimmest of the slim. Hence, only by outmatching him in cunning may his
adversary succeed.  In this Nosey George was an adept, and Mr. M’Intyre
did not overstate the facts when he declared no one to be capable of
matching the dog-trapper in the art of setting lures.

The pals readily obtained leave to accompany the trapper next morning to
watch the proceedings, on the understanding that they were in no way to
interfere with him.  Each lad had a pair of traps slung across his
horse’s withers, and George carried the balance on the neck and croup of
his steed.  They made their way to the weaners’ paddock, and after a
brief inspection of the carrion the trapper declared that there had been
no return of the dogs.

"I didn’t expect them larst night," remarked George. "They’re like the
blacks, can eat enough at one meal to do ’em fur days.  A gorge is
Chrismus to ’em."

"What do you intend doing with the dead beasts, George?"

"Leave ’em be, o’ course.  They’ll help me more than anythin’ else.
Dogs’ll come again to get another feed or two; an’ as boss’s took the
weaners away to a safe paddock, they’ll go fur these dead uns like
winkie—likes ’em a bit high, in fact.  Supposin’ we burn these wretches,
the vermin’ll keep about their own haunts.  They’re out of their beat
when they come over here, while they knows every stick an’ stone of
their run.  Consequently, it gives me a better charnse with ’em on
unfamiliar ground."

So saying, the cunning hunter proceeded to carry out his plan.  The
dingo has a well-defined method of carving his veal, so to speak.  The
hide of the animal is not uniformly thick.  The softest and tenderest
part is that underneath and between the thighs.  The ravager, therefore,
attacks this tenderest and most susceptible part.  He tears a big hole
through the skin and into the flesh in a short time, and literally eats
his way into the body; until, when he and his fellow-feasters have
finally finished, and cleaned paws and jaws with that self-provided
serviette the tongue, nothing of the animal remains but the skin and
bones—always providing that no foe appears to stay proceedings against
the gourmands. This finish, of course, entails several feasts when the
course happens to be a bullock, or, as in the present case, toothsome
veal.

The trapper proceeded to lay a trap facing the torn portion of each
carcass—that, of course, being the place of attack on each occasion of
the canines’ visits.  After a careful consideration of the ground
surrounding each beast, he dug a hole in the earth and then placed a
trap in it.  He next produced some sheets of the inner bark of the ti
tree, which is as flexible as paper and softer. A sheet of this is laid
over the gaping jaws of the trap, which is, of course, properly set.
The "jaws" are now level with the ground.  Over this fine earth is
sprinkled until all appearance of the trap is hidden.  The superfluous
soil is now removed with care, and the surroundings are made to look as
natural as possible.  This in itself is a work of art; for the slightest
appearance of disturbance or make-up alarms the wary dingo, and
nullifies the trapper’s design.

There is one thing, however, that Nosey George had not reckoned upon
when starting his operations—the number of carcasses to be treated.  It
will be remembered that eleven animals were slaughtered in the dingo
raid. This would mean the use of eleven traps, were every animal to be
used as a lure.  But it is contrary to the design of the trapper to use
up all his traps in the vicinity of the beasts.  Some are to be set
along the line of approach.  A number of carcasses, therefore, must be
removed.  With the help of the boys, five of the beasts are dragged
about two hundred yards away, put in a heap, covered with dry wood, and
then burned.

This left the trapper with several traps to use in other directions.
Having laid six traps in the vicinity of the calves, he proceeded to
follow up the tracks of the dogs. The first gin was laid in a soft patch
of ground directly in their footmarks.  This he continued at intervals,
until the last one was placed at a spot about two miles distant.

"How many dingoes do you think you’ll nab, George?" exclaimed Tom, as
the party rode homewards in the late afternoon.

"Tell you when I visit the traps termorrer, boy."

"I say three," judged the judicious Joe.

"I say one," opined the cautious Sandy.

"I say the whole bloomin’ lot," loudly proclaimed the sanguine Tom.

"I say, wait," drily remarked the wise trapper.

The trapper’s prophecy was justified; for, on a visit to the traps in
the early morning by the expectant and impatient boys, in the company of
Nosey George, to the surprise and disgust of these same youngsters, not
a trap was sprung.

The trapper, who while examining the ground had maintained a sphinx-like
attitude, broke silence at length under a fusillade of questions.

"Yees want ter know, does youse, why it is no dog’s copp’d?  Simple
enough.  Dogs didn’t come."



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

               *DINGO *_*V.*_* EMU: A FIGHT TO A FINISH*


    "Afar I mark the emu’s run;
      The bustard slow, in motley clad;
    And, basking in his bath of sun,
      The brown snake on the cattle-pad,
        And the reddish black
        Of a dingo’s back
    As he loit’ring slinks on my horse’s track."
          GEORGE ESSEX EVANS.


The next morning’s visit told another tale.

The dingoes, having recovered from their surfeit, hunger-induced, made a
second nocturnal trip to the feeding-grounds.  Cunning and wary as they
habitually are, they fell, some of them at least, before the wiles of
the trapper.  Four of their number paid the death penalty.  Two female
dogs were caught in the traps set about the calves.  The trapped animals
had not moved any great space.

It should be said that the traps are not fastened to the spot whereon
they are laid; because, were they stationary, the dingo, especially the
dog dingo, in his frantic efforts to escape, and by reason of his great
strength, will frequently save his life at the expense of his paw.  That
dog, it is safe to say, will never be trapped again; as on the principle
of, once bitten twice shy, he will ever eschew the most deftly
constructed device of man.

[Illustration: "The emu failed to elude the panther-like spring."—_See
p._ 134.]

On the other hand, should there be no fastening, a strong dog will carry
a trap for miles, especially if caught by the hind-leg.  In order to
remedy this, a device, similar to that which sailors use, called a sea
anchor, is attached.  A block of wood not too heavy is tied to the trap
by a chain or a piece of wire.  This acts as a check to the animal,
besides leaving a broad trail that is easily followed up.

When the trapped dingoes were approached they set up a dismal howling,
which turned to a vigorous snapping with their teeth; the while they
tore the earth with their paws in vain efforts to escape.

"Put the poor wretches out of their pain," cried Sandy, after watching
the agonised efforts of the canines for a few seconds.

The trapper, armed with a heavy "nulla-nulla," dispatched the brutes,
and scalped them; for the district Stock Board, to induce their
extermination, gave £1 per scalp, and experienced trappers like Nosey
George did well at times.  They concluded that there was at the least
one other victim; for while the bitches were snapping and howling,
answering howls of rage and sympathy could be heard in the distance
along the trail.

The next act was to cremate the slain, which was speedily done.  After
this the group proceeded to follow the track along which the other
snares were secreted. The very first trap contained a dog.  It was set
in the centre of a soft depression, at the edge of the scrub belt on the
farther side.  The dog had dragged the trap about three hundred yards,
when the "anchor," fouling in some saplings, his retreat was stopped.
The beast was immediately brained and scalped, and the body flung into a
clump of bushes.

There was still another victim.  The farthest out trap was gone.
Nothing was to be seen but the trap-hole. George, however, was soon upon
the trail.  The country here was fairly open, and offered little
obstruction to the determined dog.  The track led on and on with little
deviation until a course of three miles or so had been traversed.  It
now curved outward and down toward a patch of scrub.  Nosey suddenly
stopped and pointed to the ground.

"What’s up, George?" exclaimed Joe, who stood nearest the trapper.

"Look an’ see fur y’reself."

Bending over, Joe saw in a sandy patch the deep impress of the toes of a
large bird.

"I can’t make it out.  What in thunder is it?  Far too big for a crow;
bigger even than an eagle or a bustard."

"As big as two eagles, young mutton-head," declared the old tough.
"Tell ’im, Sandy."

"Why, you greeney; that’s an emu track!"

"Emu!" shouted Joe in great excitement.  "It’s the first time I ever saw
an emu track.  What an enormous foot he must have."

"Ye’d know it, me boy, if ivver ye got a kick," grunted the trapper.
"I’ve seen them break a dog’s leg like a carrot."

"Blest if I don’t think he’s follerin’ up the dingo!" continued Joe.

"Just wot ’e _is_ a-doin’ of," answered the man.  "These ’ere emus is
more curious nor a woman."

Joe now remembered Sandy relating how his father used to lure the emu he
was stalking within shot of his fowling piece, by lying flat, and slowly
waving his handkerchief from the point of his ram-rod; or even doubling
his leg as he lay breast downward, and elevating his hat on the foot
thus raised.  With slow and hesitating yet irresistible steps,
fascinated by the mysterious object, or a victim to curiosity, the bird
would approach to its undoing.

This particular emu was no stranger to the dingoes, nor they to him.
Never before, though, had he beheld a dingo with such an appendage, or
in such difficulties. The unwonted appearance of the canine furnishes
the bird with an unusual sensation, and queries in rapid succession flit
through its brain.  "What on earth is the matter with the limping,
whimpering brute?  What is that object trailing behind the horrid
creature?  Let me draw near and behold this great sight!"  Fate has
delivered his old-time enemy into his hands.  That lolling, swollen
tongue, those blood-shot eyes, that painful whimper, the wild despairing
glances; all these loudly proclaim his downfall.  "Well, what matter!
He’s getting his punishment now.  What is there to prevent me wiping out
old scores?"

And so, with cautious yet confident step the huge bird, second in size
only to the ostrich, strode on at a short distance behind his enemy; and
in a few minutes both are swallowed up in the scrub.  The huntsmen
follow well on the heels of the animals.

"I wonder if the bird’s still following?" asked Tom.

"Soon see," answered the trapper, carefully examining the ground.  "Not
a quarter of an hour since he passed this spot: must be in the scrub
still."

A minute or so brought them to the edge of the scrub. Pushing along,
they were soon enwrapped in its gloom. Following the advice of George,
the boys tied their horses to saplings at the outskirts of the belt, and
proceeded on foot.  Suddenly the trapper, who was leading, stopped dead
in his tracks, and uttered a warning note in a low voice. Motioning the
pals to remain where they were, he noiselessly moved forward, and was
soon lost in the thick foliage ahead.

"Wonder why ole Nosey made us stay back?" muttered Tom, after the lads
had stood silently awhile.  "What can be in the air, now?"

"Hist!" exclaimed Sandy in a whisper; "he’s returning."

At this moment the trapper reappeared.

"Follow as quiet as mice, an’ ye’ll see summat like wot ye’ve ne’er seed
afore."  There was an unusual gleam in the man’s eye as he made this
deliverance.

Cautiously and silently the party moved Indian fashion through the wood.
After going in this way a hundred paces or so the hunter stopped again,
and beckoned the boys, indicating a stealthy approach.  Very gingerly
they trod until they were abreast the man.  Following his muttered
directions and example, they quietly parted the intervening brushwood.

It was an unique sight on which their eyes fastened; one they would not
readily forget.  Beyond them was a small natural clearing, such as often
occurs in the densest scrub.

It was circular in form, and about fifty yards in diameter.  Here,
almost in the centre of the clearing, the bird had bailed up the beast.
Curiosity in the emu had grown into anger, and was at a white heat,
judging from the manner in which it pirouetted and menaced the dog,
keeping up the while an incessant gabble.  The gabble, rightly
interpreted, declared that the time of vengeance was at hand.  The fates
were thanked for being so kind as to furnish this fitting opportunity
for paying off old scores: "Here, you sneaking thief and flying
murderer, stop!  It’s you and I for it now; so, off with your coat and
roll up your sleeves!"

Nor was Master Dingo disinclined to accept the challenge thrown down by
the strutting bird.  Weary as he was and full of pain, he was in no
humour to eat humble-pie, or to fly before another foe.  His warring
instincts rose to the gage of his hereditary enemy.  Many of his kind
were scarred with wounds from the terrible emu kick, or deep score made
by the horny toe of this formidable antagonist.

Nor could he retreat, if so inclined: behind him, to a certainty, was
the monstrous biped; far more to be feared than this animated piece of
impertinence, whose wicked eye squinted and winked in defiance.

Forgotten in a moment is all fear, whether of the visible bird or the
invisible pursuers.  Handicapped as he is, and goaded by his pain and
shameful condition, the dingo fires the first shot, as it were, by
making a sudden jump at the emu’s throat, narrowly missing it, and still
more narrowly missing the leg stroke of the bird as it made its
counter-stroke.

Both bird and beast are practised in all the arts and devices of animal
warfare.  Each knows the tactics of the other.  But for the disability
of the dog through the tenacious trap the chances would be in his
favour; but his exhaustion and encumbrance give the odds to the other.
Still, he makes a gallant fight, and the bird needs all its wits and
agility to escape his savage snaps, one of which, had he been able to
lay hold, would tear out the neck from throat to breast.

The combat was at its height between these gladiators when the pursuers
sighted them.  The boys hold their breath in fair amazement as they
eagerly watch the two figures in the sunlit arena struggling for the
mastery.  So engrossed are the combatants that the spectators may come
out into the open and surround them, for all the notice that will be
taken of them.  As it is, the boys’ astonishment is quickly transmuted
into animal excitement and battle-lust.  They take sides, and cheer, now
the beast and now the bird.

But the end comes quickly and tragically enough.  The pace of the
conflict tells terribly upon the dingo.  He is now weakening fast; can
hardly see, so bloodshot are his eyes.  Yes, he can hold out but little
longer.  Realising this, he fights purely on the defence for breath.
Then, concentrating all his energies in one last irresistible stroke, he
springs, arrow-like, and this time strikes fair on the bullseye—the neck
of his adversary.  The emu had failed to elude the panther-like spring.
But now the counter-stroke!

When the dingo’s fangs close vice-like upon the emu’s throat the bird’s
fate is irrevocably sealed.  The jugular vein is torn out with a
mouthful of flesh and muscle, and the skin is stripped to the bosom.
What time this savage and fatal stroke is given the vengeful bird, by
one terrific downward blow of its powerful leg and toes, disembowels the
hanging dog; and then with a lightning side-stroke, delivered full on
the forehead of the prone beast, smashes in its skull.  A vain attempt
to crow a note of victory; a few short, uncertain, rotatory movements,
life-blood gushing the while from its severed jugular, then a collapse,
falling across the body of its slain adversary!

Which of the two is the victor?

The surprise of the boys, at the sudden and bloody termination of the
fight, may be better imagined than described.  They stared aghast for
some moments at the spectacle, too dazed to move or speak.  Even the
hardened bushman, George, was moved.

"Well, of all the fights I ever seed, this licks creation; it’s better
nor cock-fightin’.  Be gosh, ’twas a grand fight to a finish!"

The trapper now busies himself with the scalping-knife, and, as the boys
stand around, a feeling of sadness rises within as they contemplate the
slain.

"Poor brutes!" said Sandy feelingly, "I’ve a notion, lads, that they
deserved a better fate."

"The boss wouldn’t agree to that as fur as the dorgs is concerned.  As
fer the emu, he’s neither good nor bad," grunted the old man.

"Well, after all," broke in Joe, "it’s their nature, as old Simpson is
always preaching to us in school.  They’re not to blame for following
their instincts.  By jings! there’s no coward’s blood in these poor
brutes,—they’re as brave as brave."

But such moralising was beyond Nosey George.

"Emus is sight enough in a way, an’ only eats grass an’ roots,—but
dingos! they’re vermin, an’ any death’s good enough fur them.  By the
hokey!" exclaimed he as he looked at the trap; "I’m blamed if here isn’t
the blessed paw!"

It was true.  The wretched beast’s foot was evidently so lacerated and
broken by its efforts to escape, and in dragging the trap, that when it
made the last and fatal spring the imprisoned paw parted from the leg in
the very act, and that severance enabled it to reach the emu’s neck.
Having secured the trap and the scalp, the group retraced their steps to
where they had hitched the horses.

The haul proved successful beyond measure.  To secure four dingoes in
one scoop was a great stroke of luck.  Not so much luck, on reflection,
as skilful management.  An amateur might have set a hundred traps with
seeming skill and not have bagged a dog.  No one save a trapper like
George could trap with any degree of certainty.

"I s’pose you’ll bag the balance to-night," remarked Tom to the trapper
when they had remounted.

"No jolly fear!  Never catch any more along this line."

"How’s that?"

"Why, d’yer think a dingo’s no sense?  Be gosh! all the calves in
creation wuddent tempt what’s left of the vermin to come along this
track again.  Wish we’d a’ got the old dog, though."

"What are you going to do next?" inquired Tom.

"Fust an’ foremost thing is to collect the traps, then we’ll burn the
weaners."

"Won’t you try for the other dogs?"

"My oath, won’t I?"

"Give us your programme, George, there’s a good fellow."

"I’ll try ’em about Razorback with the traps, as soon as they’ve
quietened down a bit.  They’ve been scared out of their precious wits by
this ’ere business."

In due time the party arrived at the homestead. Mr. M’Intyre expressed
his gratification at the result of the trapper’s work, and praised his
skill.  He further bade George continue his work until the beasts were
exterminated, promising him a liberal reward should he achieve this end.

The boys related with great gusto, to an almost incredulous household,
the particulars of the fight to a finish.

The trapper fixed his camp in the hills, and employed his best
endeavours to trap the remaining dingoes with but partial success,
securing one only.  The old dingo, which on a former occasion had left
two of his claws in a trap, and now had received this additional fright
through the ensnarement of his comrades, was not to be lured by any
device, however crafty.  George, who knew their run intimately,
surrounded them with traps.  ’Twas all in vain, set them never so
wisely.

This defiance and immunity irritated the old man beyond endurance, and
he swore by all the dignities to get their scalps, if it took him till
the crack of doom.

As he was camped on the ranges, in the vicinity of Razorback, his weekly
ration was taken out to him by the boys, who were keen on this matter.
They had been out twice with the rations, and now were being sent out
the third time.  What befel them on that trip will be related in the
next chapter.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                      *THE CHASE, AND ITS SEQUEL*


    "A southerly wind and a cloudy sky,
      Proclaim a hunting morn;
    Before the sun rises away we go,—
      The sleep of the sluggard we scorn."
        OLD SONG.


"Now then, sleepies,—up you get!" cried Sandy in the early morning, as
he performed his usual preliminary of whipping off the bed-clothes from
the sleepy-headed Joe and Tom.

"Sun’s laughing at you through the windows.  Come, Master Hawkins!"
cried he with a grin as he tumbled that grunting individual on to the
floor, piling the bed-clothes on top of him, and then seating himself on
the wriggling pile.  "If soft measures won’t avail I am prepared to
adopt severe ones."

Tom, now thoroughly aroused, and as peppery as you like, shouted and
yelled and writhed, getting his arm at last round his persecutor, the
laughing Sandy, and by a violent effort pulling him on to the broad of
his back, thus reversing their positions.

"You red-headed Scotchman, I’ll teach you meddle with—" pommel—"me
again"—pommel, pommel.

Here a cold douche arrested the uplifted arm of the irate Tom, and took
his breath for a moment, as it descended upon the prone bodies,
accompanied by sundry "ouchs" and shrill yells.  As the boys scrambled
to their feet they joined forces and rushed the dodging Joe, who, after
a few ineffectual dives, was caught and jolly well punched.

The usual early morning diversion ended, the lads, rosy with health and
brimming over with animal spirits—the essence of good nature for all
their rough play—dressed with haste and made for the stockyard, to pick
their steeds.

This occupied their time till the seven o’clock breakfast, after which
they secured from the storeman the rations for the trapper.

"Now Sandy, my boy, ye’ll no forget to tell George what I named at
breakfast."

"M-yes, about the dingoes, father?"

"No, stupid.  Didna I ask you to tell him that, dingoes or no dingoes,
he is to come next week at the latest, to handle the colts?"

"Oh yes, dad, I won’t forget.  I expect he’ll growl a bit, as he’s mad
on getting the dogs and the reward.  He’s quite cranky over it."

"He’ll come richt enough if ye gie him my order."

The trapper’s camp, as previously stated, was situated about eleven
miles from the homestead.  Four miles or so from home the track
roughened, and became what is known as broken country, all hills and
gullies, for the most part very rocky, and heavily wooded in places.

The boys’ progress was but slow, owing to the nature of the ground, and
it took them nearly three hours to reach the camp, which they found
unoccupied.  After cooeeing in vain for the absentee, they proceeded to
light a fire in order to boil the billy, spreading the substantial lunch
which Mrs. M’Intyre had furnished them.

"Bother old Nosey; wish he’d turn up!" exclaimed Sandy, when the boys
had finished their repast.  "We can’t go till he comes.  There’d be no
end of a row if we went home without delivering the message."

"Oh, he’ll be here before long," interjected Joe.  "I vote we do a camp
in the shade for an hour or two; it’s hot enough to fry a steak."

This was good advice, and the boys made themselves as comfortable as
circumstances permitted under the shade of the trees.  So the hours
passed without any sign of the trapper.

"Well, I declare," exclaimed Tom for the twentieth time in the course of
the last hour, "it’s too bad of Nosey. I’m full up of waitin’ here with
nothing to do.  Can’t you leave a message somehow for the ole cuss?"

"How is it to be done, Hawkins?"

"Oh bother! write a note, of course."

"Well, you are a greeney, Tom.  Where’s the pen, ink, and paper to come
from?"

"Why, hasn’t ole Nosey——?"

"Old Nosey, be hanged!  Of course he hasn’t, any more than he’s got a
dress suit and a toilet mirror."

"I’ve got a pencil," said Joe, feeling in his pocket.

"No good in the world; where’s the paper to come from; an’ supposin’ we
had pens, ink, paper, blotting-pads, writing desks, and whatever else
you like to name in the scribbling line, what good ’ud it all be?"

"Meaning——?"

"Meanin’ this, you dunderheads—it’s got to be read."

"Well?"

"Well!—of all the thick-heads, muddle-pates, soft-uns, hodges, and
idiots that ever I came across——!"

"Here, draw it mild, young porridge-pot.  There’s two to one against
you: mind that, you red herring!"

"I’ll _mind_ more than that, if I am the son of a Scot, which is no
great disgrace, after all," replied Sandy jeeringly. "But look here and
listen, chiels.  I’ll tell you a story—

"Once upon a time, when pigs were called swine an’ monkeys chewed
tobacco, there lived a bully English captain, the commander of a man o’
war.  This frigate, sailing up the channel on her return from foreign
parts, sighted a French ship, not more’n about twice her size. Instead
of closing with the Frenchy slap bang, an’ givin’ her what-for, she
turned tail an’ showed her a clean pair of heels.  This outrageous
proceeding on the part of a British sea-dog demanded instant
investigation, and so the jolly captain was promptly court-martialled.
After the case had been put by the prosecuting officer, and not denied
by the prisoner, he was asked by the president of the court why he did
not engage the enemy.  The captain, in reply, said that he had ten
reasons.  ’Name them,’ says the boss officer.  ’The first is: I had no
powder; it was all used up.’  ’Enuf sed,’ sings out the judge. ’We don’t
want the other nine.  You’re discharged, my man, without a stain on your
character.’"

"Oh, that’s all right for a yarn," cried Joe; "but I want to know what
it’s got to do with your father’s message to Nosey?"

"Just as much as it’s got to do with the grass of a duck in a forty-acre
paddock," jeered Sandy.

"It’s a story with a moral, boys; and as Captain Kettle—no, I mean
Cuttle, says in that book of Dickens, the moral of the story lies in the
application."

"Apply it, my wise man."

"Here then: old Nosey has ten reasons for not gettin’ a written
message."

"Name the first!"

"He can’t read."

"Now then, Joe," said Tom, turning to that worthy, "what’s the verdict
of the court?"

"I s’pose we’ll have to discharge the prisoner without a character,"
replied Joe with a wink.

"Blow these bally flies!" cried Tom, after an interval. "They’re here in
millions.  Faugh!—splutter—there’s one down my jolly throat.  Say, Joe,
what are you goin’ to do?"

"Boil the billy," replied that youth laconically.  "May as well do
something, an’ kill time."

So the hours sped until the sun was well on its descending curve in the
late afternoon.  Their patience was now thoroughly exhausted in waiting
for the trapper.  They canvassed the reasons for his non-appearance,
until they were mortally sick of discussing the subject.

"Tell you what, boys, message or no message, Nosey or no Nosey," cried
Sandy at last, "we must make tracks for home.  We are not to blame for
old George’s absence. They’ll be wondering what’s become of us.  It’ll
take us all our time to get there before dark as it is.  At the worst,
we’ll have to come out to-morrow."

It took but a few minutes after this to secure the horses, saddle them,
call the dog which had accompanied them to heel, and set out on the
return journey.

After jogging briskly for a couple of miles or so the cattle dog, a
strong wiry hound and a noted warrior among his species, began to sniff
about, uttering a series of low, short barks.

"Hello, Brindle, what’s up?  Got ’possum scent? Bandicoot, I ’spect.
Fetch him, boy!"

Just at this moment Brindle made a dash forward, what time a big
dog-dingo started out from under an old log a hundred yards or so ahead.
The route taken by the chase lay up a long gully.  This gully was, more
correctly speaking, a depression, lacking abrupt and precipitous sides,
and was comparatively free from rocks.

The boys hesitated a moment, but the temptation was too strong.  Joe,
clapping his spurs to his steed’s sides, started off with a clatter, the
others following pell-mell. The gully was long and winding, and to this,
for some reason, the dingo stuck.  The hunters now began to gain a
little on the beast, and were in full sight, the cattle dog just holding
his distance.  At length the gully petered out at the base of a ridge,
over which the quarry sped, the dog and boys in full chase.  The other
side of the ridge was more precipitous, and covered with bracken and
stunted bushes.  Down this the pursuit thundered, Joe in the lead and
well to the cattle dog’s heels: the dingo leading by not more than
seventy yards.  So absorbed was the boy in the hunt that he remained in
ignorance of a calamity that was even now happening to one of his mates.

Tom’s horse, in bounding down the ridge, and when close to the bottom,
put his foot in a wombat’s[#] hole that was hidden by bracken.  Over
came horse and rider, Tom striking the ground on head and shoulder,
while Sandy, who was about a length behind, narrowly averted collision
with the fallen steed and boy.  As quickly as possible he pulled up his
galloping animal, shouting out as he did so to Joe, who was too far away
and too much engrossed in the chase to hear the call.


[#] Wombat—-a burrowing marsupial.


Returning to the collapsed pair, Sandy jumped off and lifted Tom’s head,
for the lad lay stiff.  His appearance frightened the boy as he lay
still and death-like.  To his great joy, however, on feeling Tom’s
wrist, Sandy detected a feeble pulse-beat.  Laying his stricken mate
gently down in the bracken, he made a hasty examination of his head.  It
bore no trace of wound, save some gravel scratches and a nasty bruise
under the left eye.  The relieved boy hurried to the bottom of the
ridge, where by good hap was a rill of water.  Filling his hat he
returned and laved the brow and wrists of his companion.  After some
twenty minutes or so Tom began to stir, and quickly regained
consciousness.  No bones were broken, but the boy was badly shaken, and
all thoughts of further pursuit were out of the question.  The horse, by
a miracle, was without hurt.

"You’re a lucky beggar, Tom," said Sandy, after a few minutes.  "From
the way you crashed down I made sure every blessed bone in your body was
broken.  How do you feel now, ole boss?"

"Oh, I’m all right," replied Tom feebly.  "Shoulder’s the worst.  It’s
not dislocated, but it pains a lot.  Phew! but it does hurt when I move
it.  I expect it felt the full force of the tumble.  But—where’s Joe?"

"Joe’s ahead.  Goodness only knows where he’s got to by now.  He hasn’t
a ghost’s show of getting the dingo if he makes for the hills."

"I tell you what," continued the boy; "we’ll get off home as soon as you
feel fit.  It’s no use waiting for Joe. He can easily catch us.  You’ll
have to go slow, old man, you know."

This was true, for Tom’s shoulder was in an agony of ache, which the
movement of the horse, after they had mounted, intensified to an almost
unbearable degree.

It was long after dark ere the pair sighted the homestead lights.  They
had not been overtaken by Joe, much to their surprise.  They were met at
the slip-rails by Harry and Jacky, who had just been dispatched to look
for them, as the family were getting uneasy at their prolonged absence.
The men returned with the lads to the house.  Beyond a severe word to
Sandy for being tempted to pursue the impossible when on the homeward
track, the squatter justified their act of returning from the camp; also
in not waiting for Joe.

"I expect the rascal will turn up in a few minutes.  His horse would
soon be knocked up in that country, and he would therefore be unable to
catch you after he abandoned the dingo.  The cheek of you boys, to think
you could run it down in that country!"

The minutes sped without sight or sound of the huntsman. Anxiety
deepened in the women; the men, too, became uneasy.

"Some one ought to go after the lad," broke in the perturbed mother, at
length.  "The poor laddie must have met trouble.  His horse has knocked
up.  Perhaps he has lost himself.  Perhaps he——!"

"Perhaps nothing of the kind has happened, except that the horse may
have knocked up.  You women will always jump to the worst conclusions.
Willy, you and I’ll ride back a bit; come you too Sandy, if you’re not
too tired."

Mr. M’Intyre feared more than he showed.  It would be easy enough after
all, he reflected, for a boy who was ignorant of the lay of the country
and who had no experience in bush travelling, to lose his way.  He
determined, therefore, to take his son with him, so that he might lead
them to the spot where the accident occurred, if it were necessary.
Accordingly the three set off on the track.  Fortunately it was
moonlight and clear, so that they were able to make good headway through
the bush.


It is time, however, to return to Joe.  That ardent hunter had followed
the chase for some distance ere he missed his pals.  What with the
severity of the pace and the increasing roughness of the course, its
twistings and turnings, all his attention was focussed on the quarry. If
he did think at all of his companions, it was to picture them following
close behind.  But in the heat of the chase he had little thought for
others.  When it did dawn upon him that he had outdistanced his
companions, as happened eventually, he attributed little importance to
that.  They, no doubt, had good reason for slackening their pace.  His
horse, as he well knew, had a dash of speed denied to theirs.  Maybe
their steeds had caved in.  Anyhow, he was having a glorious time, and
"the finish" was touched with roseate hues to his imagination.

His horse was justifying the reputation given of him to Joe by Harry,
the stockman, one day when they were discussing the relative merits of
their mounts.

"For a hack," that worthy had remarked, "there’s nothing on the run
equal to the little thing you’re ridin’. With a light weight up like
yourself she can show a dash of foot an’ staying powers that’ll take a
tremendous lot of lickin’."

This was a just criticism, as events were proving. Still, the pace was
beginning to tell, and Joe was forced to ease the mare somewhat, even at
the risk of losing sight of the quarry.  The rough ridges, too, made the
going to be precarious.

Things were as bad with Master Dingo, however.  The pursuit was hot
enough to extend him to the fullest.  He was always in view, and could
not shake off the foe.  As long as he remained in sight it was
impossible to resort to any trick by which he might gain time or wind.
The ordinary pace of the dingo when on the chase may be described as a
lope.  This can be kept up the live-long day, and thus wear down the
fleetest victim.  To keep extended at full gallop in this unwonted
fashion is not at all to the dingo’s liking, and the sooner he can reach
the distant scrub, which is his objective, the better pleased he will
be.  The cattle dog, though not ordinarily a hunter, is strong and
tough, and possessed of a good pair of bellows.  He started the game
with the utmost alacrity, and now continues it with the greatest vim and
determination.

So the chase continues, and is now but little more than a mile from the
scrub belt which fringes the base of the hills.  To this ark of safety,
therefore, the dingo strains every muscle, and seizes every small
advantage which his instinct discerns.  No less strenuous is the cattle
dog. He has the staying powers of his class, and he too runs to win.  In
this way the pursued and pursuers hurry-skurry over bush and brake, over
stony ridges and across intersecting gullies.

Within half a mile of the scrub the country flattens out, and this gives
an advantage to the cattle dog, who closes up.  Joe’s horse is now in
distress.  The course has been long and rough, the pace severe, and the
grass-fed steed is weakening, can make no headway, is indeed losing in
the race.  The lad sees this, and chevies the dog on, for he can plainly
mark now that unless the chase be ended on this side of the scrub all
hope must be abandoned, Oh, to win!  A supremely glorious thing were he
to achieve the impossible!  There are chances.  Lots of things might
happen yet.  On, on, good doggie!  Catch him, Brindle!  Hurrah, Brindle
is closing; is surely creeping up!

They are now about three hundred yards from the timber belt, and the
dingo is slowly but surely being overhauled.  Visions of the scalp as a
proud trophy fill the boy’s imagination.  If only Brindle may seize his
victim and hold him till he rides up and gives the brute its quietus
with the stirrup iron!  Brindle is now not more than four lengths
behind, and the beasts are still a hundred yards from the scrub.

"On then, doggie: catch him: hold him!" shouts Joe across the widely
intervening distance.  The voice is borne faintly to the dog’s ears, and
nerves him to heroic effort in this the final stage of the struggle, the
last lap, so to speak.  Breath is too precious to be wasted in answering
cry, but the spurt of the hound speaks volumes: "I shall catch him,
master, never fear: I am gaining; but ’’twill be on the post."

Both dogs, wild and domestic, are stretched to their fullest extent.  It
is the crowning burst.  They are labouring heavily, staggering, and
rolling in their stride. The pace is slow but hard.  It is a question of
endurance. Every ounce of strength in each body is laid under
contribution.  Once within the scrub the chances in favour of the dingo
will immediately increase a hundredfold, for in doubling and dodging
through the densely timbered belts the native dog has no equal.

Only thirty yards now lie between the dingo and his salvation—the good
thick scrub that will swallow him up; but—the breath of the pursuer
blows hot upon him. Throwing his head over his shoulder for the fraction
of a second, the desperate beast sees that only by a miracle can he
escape.  The adversary is upon his quarters, and in another second the
brute’s fangs will be buried in his back.  It is a supreme moment.  Now
or never!  Making a super-canine effort, the fear-stricken thing draws
away from its enemy in the last dozen strides.  Saved, saved! Alas,
alas!  Right at the very fringe, and within a single step of safety, he
tumbles in a heap, and with a convulsive gasp rolls over and gives up
the ghost: the prolonged exertions have broken his heart.

You can work your will on the hunted one now, Brindle: no need to fear
the vicious snap that was reserved for you should the worst happen.  But
the dog’s instincts inform him that all power of resistance has gone
from that mute and still form; indeed, he has no strength to worry
should the call be made: the last spurt has left him without a vestige
of strength.  And so, when Joe appeared upon the scene a few minutes
later, it was to behold the motionless dingo, and by his side, with
lolling tongue and cavernous mouth, the panting and exhausted Brindle.

In a moment the boy has slid from his horse, and is dancing a grotesque
fandango, expressive of his unbounded joy.  But, when in a calmer moment
he understood the tragedy of it from the dingo’s side of things, a
feeling of compassion possessed him, yet joy persisted.  "He’s a noble
fellow, and has given me the grandest sport I’ve ever had.  I’m sorry,
and yet I’m glad," quoth the lad. "What’ll old Nosey say to this!  My
stars, ain’t the boys out of it!  Wonder where the poor beggars have got
to. Hope nothing’s happened to them.  Poor beast!" apostrophising the
dingo, "you made a royal struggle and deserved to escape, but the fates
were against you.  And you, good old Brindle; my word, you’ve covered
yourself with glory, sir!  Poor fellow, you are done up; can only blink
your pleasure; can’t wag even the tip of your tail. Good doggie, I’m
proud of you!"

"I’m blest if I don’t skin the dingo," exclaimed he, after a moment’s
pause.  "I’ll keep it as a trophy.  Something to look at in after years
when I’m a grey-beard," chuckled the youth.  So saying, he whipped out
his knife.  Joe had never before skinned a dingo, but as he had
performed that office on many a wallaby and ’possum he was fairly
expert, and in a few minutes had achieved his object.  Rolling the pelt
in the approved manner, the youth bound it with a stout piece of cord
which he extracted from his pocket, and fastened it to the saddle ring.

"Next thing’s to get some water.  My word!  I’m as dry as leather, an’
could drink a tank dry.  The animals, too, are clean done up, an’ I’ll
get nothing out of them unless they have water.  Good gracious! why—the
sun’s down, an’ it’ll soon be dark."

Not until this moment did the young hunter realise his position.  "Must
be miles and miles off the track," muttered he as he took a brief survey
of his surroundings. "I’ll have to make tracks with a vengeance!  Won’t
do to be nipped here.  Let’s see; yes, the way back is across that flat
for a certainty, and then over yon stony ridge. Beyond that we bend to
the right till we reach a rocky creek."  In this way the hunter strove
to recall the innumerable bends and curves taken in the chase.  "Ah,
here’s the moon rising: good old moon!"

Joe had plenty of heart, nerve, and resource.  His good spirits were
proverbial.  Yet the situation was not at all inviting.  Fourteen miles
or so from home on the eve of night.  A complete stranger to this rough
and trackless region, and his horse badly used up!  These were things
calculated to try the nerves and tax the courage of the benighted youth.

He made small bones of these, however, and started off at a slow pace on
his return.  The dog had recovered sufficiently to drag himself along at
the horse’s heels. The boy eagerly scanned the country for signs of
water for this would afford the greatest relief to man and beasts: all
of whom felt an intolerable thirst.  At last they dropped across a small
pool in a stony creek, to their great delight.

Both horse and dog drank as if they would never stop. This, the boy
felt, would be bad for the animals, and he sought to stay them.  He with
difficulty checked the horse, but the dog would not quit lapping until
he was as tight as the proverbial drum.  Joe himself drank sparingly,
and then moved onward.  The dog soon began to vomit, and appeared to be
on the verge of collapse. So after vain waiting and entreaty the lad was
forced to leave it behind, in the hope that it would recover during the
night, when he had small doubt as to its ability to find its way home.
The horse went easier, now that she had assuaged her thirst.  All light
had vanished save that of the moon, which shed an uncertain light,
making puzzling shadows on the rough ground.

"It’s time I was at the head of the long gully," muttered the lad.
"From there it’s only a mile or so to the home track.  Get up Jill, and
moosey along.  The other chaps are home by this time I expect, and
they’re wondering what’s become of me."

Strange to say, the long gully refused to appear, until it dawned on Joe
at last that he was off the track.  None but those who have experienced
it can understand the weird feeling that possesses one in the dawn of
that consciousness.  To be in the lonely Australian bush, where the
silence is an oppression, is something like being cast adrift in
mid-ocean on a raft, with nothing in sight save the wild waste of
waters.

That he had lost his bearings became increasingly evident to the
wanderer as he moved along.  He became a prey to disquieting qualms and
the creeping chill of apprehension.  Gruesome accounts of the fate of
lost travellers had often been related at the home fireside, and these
memories awoke in his mind.

"I’m off the track all right; still, I’m sure to cut across the
Razorback trail; it’ll lie over in that direction."  After a pause he
determined to adhere to the way that he had been pursuing for some
little while.  On then "breast forward."  There is no semblance of a
track, and presently the lad gets into very difficult country. It would
be bad enough to travel through in daylight, but now the trouble is
accentuated; yet the boy, with strong faith in his ultimate emergence
from this chaos, bravely faces the situation.  Up hill, down dale,
across gullies, forcing the patches of scrub, slithering down ridges,
going on hands and knees, ever and anon, to feel for the hoof-prints on
what appeared to be the longed-for track—an unceasing march goes on.

At last the mare, completely done up, comes to grief over a tree root,
and tumbles to mother earth.  The rider rises, unhurt; not so the mare,
who has strained her fetlock.  What is to be done now?  It is a serious
mischance, and the boy feels the gravity of the situation. The only
thing to be done is to relieve his steed of saddle and bridle, cache his
accoutrements, and trudge along on foot.

"Might have been worse," sighed the philosophic lad. "Poor Jill!  I
don’t like leaving you; but it won’t be for long, my beauty.  Your
master will send some one to look after you to-morrow.  To-morrow!—Why,
it must be past midnight now!  Good-bye, Jill."

On speeds the gallant youth, whistling and singing snatches as he tramps
the interminable bush.  "Might be worse," he reiterates in thought.
There’s a chill in the midnight air, and the walk will warm him nicely.
On, then, through the still hours!  Not even the hollow note of the
night-owl or the familiar thump made by the feeding marsupial breaks the
monotony of silence. No sound, indeed, save the crunching of the
traveller’s boots on the rough ground.  How long drawn out the day has
been.  It seems an eternity since he dowsed Tom and Sandy on the bedroom
floor.  Lucky beggars, they are snug and sound under the blankets,
dreaming the happy dreams of youth; while he, Joe Blain, is tramp,
tramp, tramping.  At length the thought of his comrades’ sweet repose
fills him with longing for rest and sleep.

"How long ago it is since I broke my fast?  Must be eight, ten, twelve
hours; yes, twelve mortal hours! Eat!  Oh, for a slice of damper and
salt junk!  That were a feed if you like.  Puddings, tarts, cakes!  Bah!
Gimme a slice (thick) of Nosey’s damper, an’ a slab of that corn-beef."

What a sinking seems to fill his being!  How heavy his boots have grown!
How steep those everlasting ridges have become!  How lovely to crouch
down on that patch of bracken—for five minutes only!  He must stop and
rest awhile; not to lie and sleep: just to get his wind and ease his
tired limbs.  Shall he——?  But no! he must first cut the track—then!
His limbs are trembling; he must not stand still, or he will fall.  On,
on—to the station track!  Onward, then, creeps the tottering, stumbling
lad.  Whistle and song have long ceased.  Fatigue reigns supreme, and
sheer weariness confuses his brain, and bears heavily on will.
Mechanically now, the dear lad staggers over the pathless waste.

But see!  Yes, there is a change.  What is that line ahead?  Is it on
the ground or in the air?  It rises and falls in the moonlight, but
still persists.  The ground, too, is getting smoother.  The ridges have
disappeared. Hurrah!  Is not this the end?  A few steps more now,
and—the station track!

On trudges the lost boy with rising hope.  But, alas! the line thickens,
darkens, deepens, until it stands out solid, an impregnable scrub.  How
weird it all is; how awful!  In a moment the benighted lad is stripped
of hope.  He is frightened beyond words.  With a momentary strength born
of despair the wretched youth coasts the dismal scrub, seeking an
opening in vain.  Suddenly he stumbles over a soft, dark mass, and falls
to the ground.  Putting out a hand instinctively, he touches the
substance.  Great Cæsar, it is the dingo!  Yes, it has happened to poor
Joe Blain as it has to many a one more experienced in the ways of the
bush—he has circled!

This shock is the last blow.  Nature is drained of her resources and can
hold out no longer.  The lad sinks back into a half-swoon, which
presently merges into a dreamless sleep.

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Joe, old fellow, wake up!  Wake up, I say; Joe—Joe—d’ye hear?"

"W-w-w-what is it?  Drat you, lemme lone.  ’Snot mornin’.  There’s
goo-good fler, so s-s-sleep——"

Joe Blain, eyes sealed, dead with sleep, rolls over on the ground, and
never was any creature more gently rocked in the arms of Morpheus than
he.

Another voice now breaks the silence, sharp and penetrating.

"Hi! hi! there, you sleepy lubber.  Are ye going to lie there all day?
Rouse up, laddie!"

This imperative speech was accompanied by vigorous shakings and
rollings.

"Well, well," grunted the half-awakened boy, "sounds like Mr. M’Intyre’s
voice.  Never knew him to come into the room be-before.  Wish they’d
leave us alone. Can’t open"—and the next moment Joe had relapsed into
sleep.  Only for a moment, though.  The next he was taken neck and crop,
lifted to his feet, and shaken violently, what time a voice rasped his
ear drum: "Wake up, wake up, ye young Rip Van Winkle!"

Opening his eyes, the dazed Joe starts at the unwonted scene.  He is not
in his bedroom, then!  What on earth has happened?  Who are these that
surround him? Why—he’s in the bush!  And then the truth dawns upon the
weary and weakened lad; he was really lost, and—thank God he is found!

He greets the squatter with a wan smile, and, with the grace
characteristic of the boy, begins to thank him. But Mr. M’Intyre,
patting him affectionately on the back while supporting him with his
arm, extracts the cork of a pocket flask with his teeth, and puts it to
the lad’s mouth.

"Tak’ a pu’ at this, ma laddie; it’ll revive ye wonderfu’."

The brandy worked wonders on the boy, so unaccustomed to it.

"We—we ran the dingo down, sir—Jill and Brin—why, here’s ole Brindle!
Left him at the water-hole; too sick to follow.  The horse too——"

"Horse’s all right, Joe.  We picked her up at the water-hole, where
we’ll leave her for a few days, as she’s limping badly.  Can you sit on
the saddle before me?"  Joe is sure he can, and no time is lost in
starting homewards.  M’Intyre, to whom the country was an open book,
knew a short cut that would take them home in ten miles.

During the ride Joe recited his experiences to the squatter, who in
return related how Willie had picked up the tracks, sighting first the
horse and then the dog, and followed the trail till they came upon the
sleeping lad.

It was a weary but not unhappy boy who reached the homestead at length.
The household, duly apprised by Willy, who had ridden on ahead, were in
readiness to cheer the conquering hero.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                        *CONCERNING WILD HORSES*


    "Now welcome, welcome, master mine,
      Thrice welcome to the noble chase:
    Nor earthly sport, nor sport divine,
      Can take such honourable place."
        _Ballad of the Wild Huntsmen._


"Where’s Floss and Jeannie, Harry?  Don’t see ’em in the yard this
morning."

"No, sir, they didn’t come in with the others."

"Hoo’s that, mon?"

"I harsk’d Jacky about ’em when he yarded the others, an’ he said they
wasn’t with the rest.  Too lazy, I bet, to look after ’em."

"But I dinna see Tallboy or Dolly, eyther," said the squatter as he
peered through the rails at the horses.

"I speck they’re with the mares down by the dam, or p’raps campin’ on
the box ridge."

"Weel, see that they’re no missed the morn.  Here you, Jacky," to the
black boy; "come along here."

"What’s matter, Boss?"

"What for you bin no yard all yarraman?"[#]


[#] Yarraman—native name for horse.


"Bail me see some, Boss."

"You bin getting lazy.  I’ll hae to gie you a taste o’ the stock whip."

"Me no ’fraid you, Boss," replied the black with a grin. "You not like
my ole boss, Cap’n White.  Him murry quick with whip.  Sandy bin tellin’
me you only gammon."

"See that you drive in every hoof to-morrow morning, or, Sandy or no
Sandy, ye’ll get a surprise, my boy."

"I cam across some brumby tracks yesterday aifternoon in the springers’
paddock," continued the squatter to Harry, the head stockman.  "Meant to
hae spoken aboot it afore."

"They’re a rare nuisance, they brutes!  There maun be a gap in the
dog-leg fence at the far side for ’em to ha’e got in.  You’d better tak’
Jacky and Denny at once, and mak’ the fence secure.  That pack o’
rubbage’ll be doing a lot o’ mischief among the springers wi’ their
galloping.  Ye’d better go across by the horse-paddock, an’ see if ye
can get a sicht o’ the mares.  It’s almost as near as the other track."

"All right, Boss.  Jacky, you go to Ah Fat an’ tell ’im to put up some
grub.  Git the billy an’ tots, an’ bring ’em along.  Tell Denny I want
’im.  He’s working in the garden."

"Oh, I say," bawling after the retreating boy; "tell Denny to git the
small cross-cut, an’ a couple o’ tommies, an’ a bit o’ wire to do the
mendin’ with.  Slither away, now, ye son of a black buck!"

In a few minutes the men are on their way through the horse-paddock to
the slip-rails in the far corner, to carry on the repairing work in the
springers’ enclosure.

It may be explained to the uninitiated that the horse-paddock is that
nearest the homestead, where the station horses in use are kept; a
larger or smaller mob according to requirements.  These are yarded at
daylight every morning.  When the horses required for the day’s work are
selected the balance are turned loose for the day. The springers’
paddock, reserved for the breeding cows, was a large one; one of the
best on the run, in fact. The men as they rode along kept a sharp
look-out for the missing steeds.  Separating as they neared the
dam—which was a large sheet of water backing up in the gullies for a
mile or so—they rode on either side, coming together at the box-tree
ridge where the slip-rails were located.  No sign of the horses!

"Strange, chaps!  Wonder where they can be.  Floss an’ Dolly are fair
terrors for hidin’.  But—hello! there’s the slip-rails down!"

Sure enough, the two topmost rails were down.  Who could have done it?

The mystery is soon solved; the ground on the outside being trampled
with horse hoofs.  It told its tale of cause and effect quickly enough
to these bushmen.

"The blessed brumbies hev got in an’ coaxed ’em out, sure enough.  It’s
the warrigal’s[#] mob for a quid.  Fifty of ’em, if there’s a hoof.

[#] Warrigal—wild, savage; applied indifferently by the natives to
animals and men.

"How d’yer think they horses got the rails down, Harry?"

The speaker was Denny Kineavy, who was a new chum at this kind of work.

"Why, it’s the ole warrigal’s work o’ course.  Trust ’im fur findin’ out
a way o’ gettin’ up a flirt with the ladies.  He’s the cutest cuss in
Australia, bar none.  Full o’ blood he is too.  New Warrior strain outer
a great arab mare of Kurnel Dumaresque.  I know ’im well, fur I was with
Captain White just after he’d bought both dam an’ foal from the ole
Kurnel; or rather, I should say, Dumaresque swopped ’em fur a stud
Hereford ’e was terribly struck on.

"Yes; he was allus a wild un.  My word, you should ’a’ seen ’im as a
yearling!  Allus leadin’ the other youngsters into mischief; breakin’
into the lucem paddocks, an’ chasin’ the dorgs till they was in mortial
terror of ’im; gettin’ mad fits among the horses; kickin’ an’ squealin’
an’ chiveyin’ em’, till one day the Captain gits in a towerin’ rage an’
says to me an’ one-eyed Bob, who was workin’ fur ’im then: ’Run in that
dad-busted, bloomin’ brute an’ fix ’im; it’s the only way ter take the
divvil outer ’im.’

"You see, ’e was a grand, upstandin’ beast as a colt, an’ the Captain
wunst thought to have ’im fur stud purposes, fur all ’e was a mix breed;
but ’e soon seed that was outer the question.

"Well, as I was sayin’, the Captain orders me an’ one-eyed Bob to yard
’im.  ’Twarn’t no easy job nuther, I tell you; for the brute soon
cottoned what we was up to.  At larst, after a lot of trouble, we yards
’im, and with ’im a couple o’ colts an’ a lot er fillies.  Bob threw the
lasso a dozen times afore ’e noosed ’im, cause ’e kept dodgin’ in an’
out among the fillies.  It was the deuce’s own job to separate ’em.

"At larst, I say, Bob fixed ’im, an’ didn’t ’e perform. Howe’er, Bob
’olds ’im, an’ I gits ’old of the slack to give a turn round the post,
so’s ter bring ’im up.  But all of a suddent ’e makes a mad rush at Bob,
sendin’ ’im sprawlin’ with three ribs broke; whisks the rope outer my
hands, an’ streaked fur the slip-rails—six on ’em there wor—an’ by
’evans! jumps like a cat at ’em; comin’ down with ’is belly on top,
smashin’ the rail, but fallin’ on the outside; never, of course,
breakin’ ’is bloomin’ neck—an’ galloped orf like mad.

"Must ’a’ bin red mad sure enuff, fur ’e broke through the wire fence
the Cap had round ’is ’orse-paddock; and that’s the larst we seen of ’im
fur months.

"Then one day I was on the out station, lookin’ after some steers, when
I come acrost ’im in a mob of brumbies he’d chummed up with.  ’E was
’aving a pretty rough time of it, I could see; fur there was a couple o’
stallions in the mob as wasn’t agreeable fur ’is company in the ’arem;
an that’s ’ow we come ter git ’im a few years after, I ’spect."

"Thin you did git hould iv th’ grey divvil?" exclaimed Denny.

"Yes; we got ’im all right.  But, look here, chaps, no time’s to be
lost.  These beggars may be still in the paddock.  If not, they’ve got
out the way they came in, an’ are ’eadin’ fur the ranges.  We’ll cut
across to the north end where the fence crosses Rocky Crick.  I ’spect
that’s where they’ve broken in.  It looked a bit shaky a fortni’t ago,
as I come by.  I don’t think they’ve got in at the dog-leg end, that the
Boss spoke about.  Anyhow, we’ll try the Crick fust."

A sharp ride of about four miles brought the men to the spot indicated
by Harry.  It was a rocky bit of country, and sure enough they found the
"shaky" post and rails lying on the ground.  The immediate cause of this
was a big limb of a dry stringy-bark tree, which had fallen upon the
weak spot and smashed it down.  The horse tracks about the spot showed
conclusively that the mob had gone in and out by this means.

According to Jacky, the black boy, the inward tracks were about three
days old; the outward, a few hours. Without doubt, the brumbies had
"nosed" the rails to which the mares had been attracted by their
neighings, early in the night.  Then in the dawning of the morning they
had moved out to one of their haunts in the ranges.

"The only thing now is to get back an’ tell the Boss. ’E’ll be mad when
he knows, you bet; thinks no end o’ Floss an’ Jeannie.  Put up the
rails, boys, quick an’ lively."  In a few minutes the men had fixed up
the broken panels securely, and then rode homewards.

"Saay, Harry, me bhoy, how’d yees yard th’ ould stag, as ye was sayin’
when ye was talkin’ forninst th’ slip-raales?

"Wasn’t an old stag then, an’ isn’t now, fur that matter, the brute’s in
’is prime yet.  Let’s see, ’e’s risin’ ’leven now, an’ we got ’im just
afore I left the Captain fur the Boss here.  Lemme think.  Yes, it’s
just over five year ago; he’d be about six, then.  Fur all his tricks,
the two stallions had driven ’im off their beat.  ’E’d got a couple o’
mares, though, an’ kep’ ’em in the range country on the out-station; but
it was all of an accident that we got ’im.

"One day me an’ the Captain was ridin’ through the run, havin’ a good
look at the stock; fur we had a notion of cuttin’ out a mob o’ fats.
Well, as I was sayin’, we was ridin’ along the back part of the run, an’
we came acrost a couple o’ brumbies, each with a foal.  ’Stead o’
scootin’, as they does in giniral, the mares galloped in a circle, but
didn’t clear.

"’It’s mighty strange,’ ses the Captain.  ’What are they ’angin’ about
fur, an’ where’s their mate?  Never seed ’em parted afore.’  ’It is
strange,’ ses I; ’an’ there’s only one thing to account fur it, an’ that
is the cove’s about sumwheres ’andy.’

"We moved on to a rocky gully that opens out on to a big plain.  At one
place a log fence runs acrost to keep the stock in.  Bymby we comes
plump onter it, an’, great gosh alive! if there weren’t the grey.  ’E
seed us as soon as we spotted ’im, an’ set up a great squealin’ an’
pawin’, but cuddn’t get away.  There ’e was, like a bandicoot in a
V-trap.  ’E was caught by the off hind-leg, between two big logs that
lay clost together.  ’E was jammed tight enough.  Wunder was ’e didn’t
break a leg.

"When the Cap saw the fix ’e was in, didn’t ’e just cuss fur joy.  Then
’e sends me back to the hut, about two mile away, fur ropes, an’ ole
Jack the keeper.  Well, I streaked fur the hut, you bet, an’ was there
less’n no time. Soon me an’ Jack, with two green ’ide lassoes an’ an
’emp one, also a axe, was on the spot.

"When the ’orse sees the ropes ’e yelled, an’ roared, an’ pawed, an’
snapped ’is teeth, fur all the world like a trapt dingo.  An’, wud you
believe it? _the blarmy mares hadn’t follered us up_!  There they was
just ahind us, whinneying and screamin’; their way o’ swearing an’
cussin’ I s’pose.  Wish-I-may-die if we didn’t have to put the stock
whip on ’em to roust ’em away.

"’How are yer goin’ ter manage ’im,’ ses I to the Cap when I comes up
with the things.

"’I’ll soon let yer see,’ ses ’e.  ’Fust of all we’ll pass a rope round
’is free ’ind-leg well up on to the shank. Then we’ll put another on the
front fetlock an’ acrost ’is flanks.’

"Well, it took us a goodish bit to fix ’im up.  I forgot ter say that we
tied the third rope round ’is neck, an’ that was no easy job, fur every
time the Cap threw the lasso he’d dodge it with ’is ’ed like a fightin’
kangaroo. But, ter make a long story short, when we’d roped ’im, we
levered one of the logs with saplin’s so’s ter git ’is other leg free.
Then, didn’t ’e play up!  But by the time we’d given ’im arf a dozen
falls, an’ two o’ them riglar croppers, ’e seed it was no use, throws up
the sponge, an’ comes along quietly.

"We didn’t give ’im any charnse, you bet, as ’e was such a sly demon.
So we got ’im ter the stockyard at the ’ead station, a matter o’
thirteen mile or so.  We put ’im in the crush fust, then got a ’evvy
’alter on ’im, an’ tied it to ’is front off leg so’s ’e cuddent jump; in
that way we fixed ’im fur the night.

"Early nex’ morning, just as I was thinkin’ o’ gittin’ up, there comes a
tremenjious ’ammerin’ an’ bangin’ at the door, shoutin’ out sumthin’ I
cuddent understand. I jumps up an’ opens the door, an’ there was ole
Jack singin’ out an’ makin’ a great fluster.

"’What in thunder’s the matter, Jack?’ ses I.

"’Warrigal’s gone!’ ses ’e, all tremblin’ like.  ’Cleared right out in
the night.’

"Off I rushes ter the yards, an’ sure enuff, the beast had cleared; yet
the rails was up.

"’’Ow the dickens ’e got out, Jack?’ ses I, lookin’ round.  Presently I
comes ter the slip-rails, an’ soon spots ’ow ’e done it.  I’m blest if
the ole cuss didn’t lay down ter it at the rails an’ ’riggled ’is way
out sideways.  You cud see the ground all tore up by ’is ’oofs as ’e
inched ’is way out.  There was a knot at the lower side o’ the rail, an’
it was covered with ’air an’ blood, which shows what a tight squeeze it
was."

"But ’ow the blazes did he gat out iv th’ pathock whin he was
knee-haltered?"

"Like enuff ’e worked ’is ’edstall off as ’e ’riggled through.  We
thought we’d made it tight enuff fur anythin’.  Anyways ’e cleared, an’,
what’s more, ’e an’ the mares moved off the run an’ wasn’t ’eard of fur
long, then ’e was found bossin’ a mob on Bullaroi."

By this time the men had reached the homestead. Leaving the others at
the stockyard, Harry proceeded to the house to break the bad news to the
owner.

The squatter was greatly put out by the turn the affair had taken.  Two
of the horses were brood mares on which he set a high value, and for
which he had given a big price.  They were full of breeding, having the
famed Gemma di Vergi strain on the sire’s side.  The occurrence was no
less than a calamity in more ways than one.

Their location was in difficult country, and with such a rogue as the
grey outlaw to lead and direct, the job of rescue seemed by no means
easy or certain.  Mr. M’Intyre, however, was determined to regain his
mares, and at the same time to capture or destroy that equine demon.
One thing in his favour was the fact that in midsummer there was a
scarcity of water in the ranges, and their run, for a while, at any
rate, must be in and about the foot-hills.

As was usual in those days, the neighbouring station-holders were
invited to join in the brumby hunt, which is, as a rule, the most
exciting, and, at times the most dangerous, sport that Australia can
furnish, keenly relished by bushmen.

The brumby is no more a native Australian horse than the mustang is a
native American horse; that is to say, it is not indigenous to the
country.  Brumbies are the descendants of imported horses which have
escaped into the bush and bred there.

When Australian settlements were confined to the barest fringe of the
continent, it was very common for stock, both horses and cattle, to
stray from the settled areas into the great wilderness beyond.

An historic illustration is to be found in the genesis of colonial
expansion.  When the first expedition sailed from England, not only were
officials, soldiers, and convicts shipped; but also an assortment of
domestic animals to furnish the requirements of the penal colony
proposed to be established on the shores of Botany Bay.

As the cattle in the new settlements increased, many beasts strayed
beyond the borders of the occupied country to the interior forests and
plains; and before very long "brumbies" (wild horses) and "scrubbers"
(wild cattle) covered large tracts, often to the great annoyance of the
advancing line of settlers.



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                           *THE BRUMBY HUNT*


    "Like a wintry shore that the waters ride o’er,
      All the lowlands are filling with sound;
    For swiftly we gain where the mobs of the plain
      Like a tempest are tearing the ground!
    And we’ll follow them hard to the rails of the yard,
      Over gulches and mountain-tops grey,
    Where the beat and the beat of our swift horses’ feet
      Will die with the echoes away."
        HENRY KENDALL.


"How many are coming to the hunt to-morrow, dad?"

"About a score all told, my son.  That is," continued the speaker
somewhat inconsequently, "if they a’ turn up."

"Gills coming, ain’t they?"

"Yes; the old man, son, and ane o’ the stockmen’ll be here this evening,
so as to be ready for the early stairt the morn’s morn.  That reminds
me, I’ve no telt your mother.  They’ll be here aboot supper-time."

"Captain White coming, I s’pose?"

"If he’s above ground.  We’d best coont ’em up. Get a bit o’ paper,
Saundy, and pit doon the names. Then we’ll ken for sure."

"Ready, father."

"Pit doon oor ain lot first.  Mysel’, you, Hairry, the blacks, Denny,
the bullock driver, the ration carrier, Redgate and Broon from the
oot-station, Joe, Tom, N-eville—I suppose.  Hoo mony’s that?"

"Thirteen."

"So mony’s that?  At that rate we’ll hae ower a score. Weel, that’s a’
the better.  Let’s see, noo: pit doun the Gill lot, that’s three more.
Then there’s Captain White. Old Dumaresque says he’ll be along, but I
dinna reckon on him, so you needna coont him in.  White’s going to bring
twa men wi’ him.  And, m-yes, there’s Davison o’ the bank, and Dickson
the lawyer.  Told ’em the other day I’d let ’em know.  They’ll need to
be here the nicht, too.  We’d better send Willy in wi’ a message at
once.  That’s a’ noo I think.  Hoo mony does that tot up?"

"Twenty-one not counting the Colonel."

"Weel, I hope they’ll turn up, that’s a’."

"I say, father, could Jimmy Flynn an’ Yellow Billy come?"

"Eh?  Weel, I—I dinna ken.  Can they ride?"

"Ride?  Listen to him!  Why, Yellow Billy’s the boss rider among the
boys.  You know his steer——"

"Ah weel," said Mr. M’Intyre laughingly, "we’ll hae ’em.  Send word by
the boy."

Accordingly, the invitation was taken to the four Tareelians.  Gill and
party turned up about dark, and shortly after them the town lot, all of
whom were welcomed by their hospitable host.

M’Intyre had made extensive preparations for the hunt.  There are
various methods for trapping wild horses.  The one in vogue at Bullaroi
and the surrounding stations was that called the "wing" trap.  This
consists, first of all, in determining the usual brumby run.  The next
work, and an important one, is the building of yards in a locality
specially selected, the object being to get as near as possible to the
natural line of the horses’ travel when stampeded.

The yards must be well constructed, with a high, strong fence, having an
open mouth so wide as to give the hunted steed no suspicion of running
into a trap.  The upper and nether lips of this mouth, after running
parallel a short distance, gradually converge to the throat, as it were,
finally meeting, and forming a cul-de-sac.

From the mouth extremity a vast roll of canvas, or, rather, calico
strips about six inches wide, is made fast to one of the fence
terminals, and from there, at a slight outward angle, is often taken for
miles, being secured at intervals to trees or stakes which are driven
into the ground.  The wing is fixed breast high.  This, to the
inexperienced, seems but a flimsy obstacle; but the calico barrier,
frail as it appears, acts as an effectual boundary. Brumbies are both
timid and suspicious, and very rarely charge a wing.  When driven on to
one they wheel either to right or left, with never a thought of breaking
through or jumping it.

The strategy of the "drive" is to station men at intervals from the
terminal point of the wing; each man is armed with a heavy stock whip, a
cruel enough weapon in the hands of an adept.  Others are left at the
trap-yard mouth on the outward side, concealed as a rule, and ready to
dart out and head the mob should it scent danger when nearing the
opening.  The remainder of the men proceed to locate and enflank the
mob, and drive them in the given direction.  This, often, is a very
difficult matter, and sometimes the best laid scheme is defeated by a
determined and irresistible rush of the mob in the teeth of their
assailants.

Premising the "round up" and drive to be successful as far as the wing,
the wing supports wheel them in the right direction; then close in and
pass to the outside to strengthen the flank men, who now form a parallel
line with the racing brumbies.  Thus, with the calico wing on one side,
a living, whip-cracking, yelling cordon on the other, and a harrying
force behind, the spectacle is as brilliant and as exciting as Australia
can furnish in the line of sport.


At sunrise, on a glorious morning in mid January, the Bullaroi party,
well mounted, wend their way to the appointed rendezvous, from whence
the amalgamated forces are to proceed to the brumby grounds.

The men and boys are variously mounted.  All the horses, however, are
used to stock work; some of them, within certain limits, being as
intelligent as the men who bestride them.  Many of them are what is
known as "camp horses"; that is, horses trained for mustering and
cutting out work on the cattle camp.  Quick to wheel, to dodge, to
out-manoeuvre the charging bullock, and even to divine the enemy’s
intention; skilful in wedging through a pack; ready to advance
backwards, so to speak, and to use heels when head and shoulders
unavail; needing scarce any control, and with a keen zest for the work,
the camp horse is an invaluable auxiliary on a cattle run.

Both M’Intyre and Gill were specially well mounted on favourites of the
above-named variety.  The price of each was regarded by its rider as
beyond rubies.  Both men were strong-boned, grizzled, and expert
bushmen, with not a superfluous ounce of flesh on their bodies. Neville
was of the company.  He had learned many things in the intervening days;
the first, and most essential, was that England could furnish no
precedent to Australia in things that are peculiar to station life. He
gradually dropped his pet phrase, "The way we do things in England."
The scales had fallen from his eyes concerning many things "Colonial."

Mr. M’Intyre, who liked him, paid him no little attention.  He rode out
on the run with him, giving common-sense hints in his dry way, from time
to time, which his guest was ready enough to take.  He learned to ride
fairly well, and, after many mortifying failures, could crack a stock
whip without entangling it in the horse’s legs.

Mr. M’Intyre was dubious about Neville going.  The Englishman, however,
was so set on joining the cavalcade that to object seemed discourtesy.
All hints of the danger attached to this expedition were scouted.  So,
on this eventful morning, mounted on his host’s favourite hack, Curlew,
the visitor formed one of the company.

The others need no description.  With spirits mounting high in
anticipation they pass over open plain, through brigalow scrub, along
box ridges, and across country on a ten-mile spin to a spot on Rocky
Creek called the Glen—a place already decided upon.  As there was no
knowing to what extent the powers of both men and horses would be tried
during the day, the journey was made at a moderate speed, so as to spare
them for the arduous task of the drive.

The pals, on this occasion six in number, were compelled to curb their
tendencies to fun and frolic; though there were some very tempting and
well-nigh irresistible inducements to spurts as the game rose or scudded
before them.  Inviting jumps, too, lured them; but high jump or low
jump, kangaroo or emu, charm they never so wisely, are resisted.

But their tongues are uncurbed.  How they did chatter, to be sure!  It
did the older members good to hear their gay and joyous prattle.  Their
views of life in general, and brumby hunting in particular, were novel
and unconventional. They settled everything touching the day’s
proceedings, from the place of the "find" to the number yarded.  All
that the warrigal might do, and all that they would positively do to
circumvent him, together with many other things, were discussed with the
self-confidence of youth.

In due time the Glen is reached, and the Bullaroi party find that they
are first upon the scene.

"Off saddles all o’ you.  Must ease the horses a’ we can.  Saundy, you
and the boys mak a fire and get the billy going.  Denny, bring the
tucker-bag from the pack-saddle.  Mr. Neville, what in the name of
common-sense are ye tying yure nag to that dead tree for?"

"What’s wrong with it, sir?"

"What’s richt wi’ it, mon?"

"I—I—don’t know what you mean."

"Boss means yer a fool ter tie the moke up in the blazing sun," said
Harry in an undertone, as he passed by the new chum.  "Put ’im under a
shade tree same as the rest of us."

"Beg pardon, yes—er—I see," answered he, mortified for a moment, as he
moved from the leafless trunk to a clump of currajongs, whose thick
foliage effectually screened the sun’s rays.

"Wot sort of a bloke’s that ’ere cove?" asked Jimmy Flynn of Tom
Hawkins.  "He’s a regular greeny, ain’t he?"

"Oh, a good enough sort!" replied Tom.  "He’s new, but he’s a learner.
He picks up pretty fast, considering. You should ’a’ seen him when he
came here first; my word, he was a greenhorn then!"

"Here’s the Captain, father!" sang out Sandy, as three men cantered up
the track.

"Guid-day, White!  Guid-day, men!  Glad to see you. Off saddle and join
us in a tot o’ tea and a bite."

"Good-day, M’Intyre!  By George! you’ve got quite a troop, man.  Day,
Dickson!  Day, Davidson!  What on earth do you townies think you’re
going to do?  Stand a good chance, Dickson, of cracking your skull and
spilling all that legal soph—I mean lore, that’s bottled up there.  Oh,
I say, Mac, old Dumaresque’s coming along," rattled on the Captain.

"I’ll believe it when I see him, no’ afore.  The auld boy’s better at
hame when this wark’s on."

"Well, all I know is that he sent me word last night by one of the men,
and cautioned me to be sure and tell you."

"If he comes he comes, and if he disna he’ll no’ be much missed.  Noo,
boys, bring in the tea!"

"By Jove!  M’Intyre, your wife’s a sensible woman: this is the sort of
grub to work on.  Last month I was over at the Glenormiston mustering.
De Little asked me to join him at midday after a heavy morning’s work,
and as I was as hungry as ten hunters I readily consented. What d’ye
think he produced from his tucker-bag? Some lettuce sandwiches, no less;
and cream puffs!  De Little’s as good as gold, you know, so I couldn’t
refuse to take some; but, I give you my word, I strolled over to his men
as soon as I could get away decently, and got a slice of beef and a
chunk of damper."

"Hoo’s De Little getting on?"

"Well, between you and me and the billy-can, he’s no more cut out for a
squatter than for an archangel. Pity he ever left London.  He’d be more
at home in Rotten Row.  Hello! here’s the old Colonel and two boys.
Seeing will dissipate even your scepticism, Mac."

Dumaresque was a choleric but plucky old superannuated Indian officer,
who on his retirement came over to Australia and purchased a small
cattle run, living bachelor fashion.  He was now quite old, yet fancied
himself equal to any toil.  To hint at his age infirmities was to raise
a very sirocco of indignant language.

"Hello, Cornel! wha’d ’a’ thocht that you——"

"Stop, M’Intyre, stop!  I know right well, sir, what you are going to
remark.  If you, sir, look upon a bit of a brumby hunt as an
extraordinary thing, let me inform you that to me ’tis but a trifle.
Why, man, when I was stationed on the northern frontier——"

"Yes, yes, Dumaresque," broke in the Captain, who knew the other’s
weakness, "we’re all delighted to see you.  Just in time for a pannikin
of tea and a mouthful. Here you, Dick, Tom, Harry, one of you, take the
Colonel’s horse."

A few minutes later the men filed out of the Glen, and proceeded along
the creek to a spur in the foot-hills. Then they left the water-shed,
crossing the spur, from which they continued up a grassy valley which
extended nearly three miles before it broadened out into an open plain,
lightly timbered at the upper or ridge side, but perfectly treeless at
its other extremity.

Two-thirds of the way up the valley, in a belt of box trees, was the
trap-yard.  The trap mouth, before described, extended across the belt
to the outermost verge.

After a short inspection of the yard the calico wing was fixed.  It was
attached to the terminal post of the yard mouth, nearest to the ridge
that skirted the valley on the top side.  From thence it was taken in a
straight line on the ridge side of the valley, until the plain was
reached.  From this point, inclining slighting outward and made fast at
short intervals, it extended right across the plain, ending in a clump
of iron-barks.

"Noo, men, ye’ll jist hae a wee bit grub and then we’ll stairt."

The meal was soon dispatched, and a short consultation ensued.  M’Intyre
apportioned the men their places.  Six, under Gill, were located in the
iron-bark clump.  Five others were sent back to the trap-yard, two miles
distant, to assigned duty there.  The remaining sixteen were to execute
the task of first "feeling" the enemy; then of outflanking them; and,
finally, directing the stampede.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*

                       *THE WARRIGAL’S STRATEGY*


    "Hast thou given the horse his might?
    Hast thou clothed his neck with the quivering mane?

      *      *      *      *      *

    The glory of his snorting is terrible.
    He paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength.
    He goeth out to meet the armed men.
    He mocketh at fear and is not dismayed.

      *      *      *      *      *

    He smelleth the battle afar off:
    The thunder of the captains, and the shouting."
        JOB.


"Noo, men, we’ll be on the move."

The leader sprang to his horse and directed him on to the plain.

"Where do you expect to pick ’em up, Mac?"

"Micht sicht them at ony minute, maybe no’ for hours; maybe no’ at a’,
Captain."

"Willy and Jacky, you gang on aheed and keep your een weel peeled for
signs.  No sae fast, lads; mustna spoil the sport at the stairt.  Let
the blacks get weel aheed. We maun sicht them afore they tak alairm, or
it’ll be a hopeless stern chase."

Joe, Tom, and Sandy, greatly to their delight, were with the "flying
column."  Yellow Billy was with the trap contingent, while Jimmy Flynn
was stationed with Mr. Gill in the iron-bark clump.  Neville, at his
earnest request, was given a place with Mr. M’Intyre.

As soon as he touched the myall country, the leader cautiously skirted
it, until the party were well out and away from the range of hills that
continued on the eastern side.  He then took an inward course, and made
a slant which carried them back to the foot-hills.

So far there was neither sight nor sound of the mob, nor were there any
indications of their presence at any recent date.  From the range base
another tack was taken, which brought them upon the edge of a scrub that
had wedged itself into the plain.  By this time the column had covered a
lot of ground.

"We’ll fringe the timber for a while, and then, if we’ve nae luck, we’ll
hae to divide; half to go into the ranges, and the other to keep richt
along the plain.  Keep weel in, lads, we’ll cut that pint," continued
the leader, as the men moved on through the outer fringe of scrub; while
out on the plain, which was dotted with rosewood and myall clumps, the
black boys moved with lithe and stealthy movements.

"Father, I hear a whistle!"

"Hist, men! quiet all o’ ye!"

"There it’s again!" exclaimed Sandy after a moment’s silence, as a low
whistle came from the plain.  "That’s Jacky’s whistle, dad, sure enough.
I’d know it among a thousand——"

"A’ richt, my boy.  Jacky’s got something.  We’ll move oot quietly and
see."

Wheeling to the right, the column soon arrived at the spot indicated by
Jacky’s whistle.  The black boy stood by the side of his horse, pointing
to some fresh droppings and to numerous hoof-tracks.

"What is it, Jacky?" exclaimed Mr. M’Intyre as the men rode up.

"Blendy brumby bin here, Boss, few minutes ago."

The tracks and signs were so fresh that, as the black said, it was only
the question of a few minutes since they occupied the spot.

"Most fortunate we’ve got ahint them.  They’re near by.  At ony moment
we micht sicht them.  Ye’ll fa’ into a doubble column, men.  Captain,
ye’ll tak seeven men and I’ll keep the ithers.  We’ll hae twa columns a
hunder yairds apairt."

In this fashion the men proceeded slowly, with a black boy ahead of each
column as a scout, and following the tracks of the brumbies.  As
predicted, in a few minutes Willy held up a warning hand.

The columns quickly closed up to the scouts, and their leaders saw,
through the willow-like branches of a myall clump, the long-sought-for
mob.  The horses were standing close together in an expectant attitude.
Their suspicions were aroused.  Though they had not scented the wind of
their pursuers, nevertheless, with that wonderful _something_ so common
in wild things, they _felt_ the enemy’s presence.

The intervening distance was about three hundred yards.  According to
arrangement, each column opened out at its head, with the object of
outflanking the horses. Silently the columns wheeled to the left and
right sharply, and then moved forward.  While in the act of executing
this tactic their presence was detected, and scanned in a moment.  Then,
with a snort, or rather a fusilade of snorts and neighs, heads erected,
manes and tails streaming, away flew the alarmed steeds; and in swift
pursuit, maintaining their formation, the men followed.

There was no intention of unduly alarming the brumbies, therefore all
shoutings and stock-whip crackings were restrained.  And now the hunters
begin to feel the ardour of the chase, both horses and men; for so eager
were the station horses to join in the hunt that the riders were obliged
to take a double pull on them.

Neville, in the excitement of the raid, forgot the orders, and broke his
line, making a rush for the tail of the flying mob.  The Captain,
however, nipped his intention in the bud with a few red-hot expletives,
ordering the Englishman back to his place in the line.

The brumbies, when started, were about eight miles from the wing, and
headed directly for it, going off from the jump with a fine burst.  The
wily warrigal, however, was not going to be run off his legs in a spurt;
in a short time the breakneck pace is moderated, and the straggling mob
close up.

The horsemen hung on the flanks of the galloping steeds, steadying into
an accommodating pace, and, as previously directed, making a semicircle,
whose points extended beyond the sides of the retreating animals.  The
station mares were in the mob, capering for the moment as wildly as any
in their company.  Tallboy lagged somewhat in the rear.  He had
evidently received scant courtesy from the brumbies.  It was observed
that his heart was not in this matter.  Had they wished, the horsemen
could easily have cut him out of the mob.

The flying steeds—about fifty, young and old—had covered about
two-thirds of the distance to the terminal point of the wing, and had
not once swerved from this direction.  The men were in high glee.  So
far it was nothing more than an exhilarating gallop, and they kept up
the formation beautifully.  The horses, too, although the day was very
hot, had not yet shown any sign of distress.  It was a different thing
with some of the hunted animals, however.  There were some very old
stock among the mares.  The pace and the heat combined were telling
heavily upon them, and they that rode could read.

One of these was a chronic "roarer," and her distressed gasps were
plainly heard above the thunder of the hoof. Two of the mares began to
lag in a palpable manner, despite the encouraging whinneying of the
stallion, as he turned from side to side with a troubled look.

They who belittle the intelligence of animals, and treat them as lacking
heart and soul, can have had little experience of their nature and ways.
The old sheik of the wilderness was full of concern for his many wives.
Love, despite all that the poets may say, is not blind; it is open-eyed
and alert.  Had he been alone the warrigal would have snorted at his
foes with the utmost disdain, and led them such a dance as not all their
imaginings had ever conceived.  But, alas! some at least of his faithful
ones would be overtaken; were even now in peril.  Desertion? Never!

Rescue! but how?  Yes; he will plan, he will outwit. He will use
strategy against strategy, and at once, by which he may draw these
merciless foes from the weaklings and give them an opportunity of
escape.

Quickening his pace, he raced along, closely followed by his
company—save some half-dozen of the more exhausted mares, who were now
widely separated from their mates. Then, wheeling sharply, the flying
squadron dashed across the plain towards the foot-hills in a furious
gallop.

Divining his altered tactics, the Captain and M’Intyre increased their
speed, taking no notice of the hindermost horses, and closely watching
the head and ruck of the flying squadron.

On, on! in mad gallop, whip and spur going freely now, sped the hunted
and the hunters; and as they suddenly dashed across the face of the
Captain’s column, it seemed as if nothing human could stay their flight.
The bold Captain and his men, however, nothing daunted nor surprised,
wheeled a little more to the left, having some advantage in being well
out, as well as being high up on the brumbies’ flanks.

"Now, boys," cried Captain White, "head ’em, rush ’em!"  Saying which,
he rode straight for the stallion’s head—who was leading—with four men
pounding at his heels.  It was a splendid attempt to head the mob, and
succeeded save with one exception.  That exception was the warrigal!

The bunch of men hurled themselves on the leader, and had he not swerved
there would have been a terrific impact, which might have spelled
disablement or death to more than one.  When a man’s blood is up in
riotous chase he joyously challenges death in ways that chill him to the
bone in cool blood.

The grey demon, however, swerved to the right with tremendous speed, and
the Captain crossed his course within a couple of feet of his stern; his
only revenge being a savage cut with his whip across the retreating
animal’s flanks.  But if the men’s rush failed with the leader, they
stopped the stampede of his immediate followers.

Floss and Jeannie, who were hard on the heels of the warrigal, were
intercepted and turned.  The stock whips, cracking like a blaze of
musketry, played upon the ruck of the confused animals in merciless
fashion, scoring their flanks and ribs.  In a few seconds they were
driven, pell-mell, back to the line of retreat.  In the meantime those
immediately behind the mob, and those on the right flank, kept the
balance going and together.  Thus the defeated ones regained their
fellows, discomforted, and not a little cowed, in their leaderless
condition.

And what of the warrigal?

To continue the chase of him were only to knock the horses up in
fruitless pursuit.  No! he must be abandoned.  With liberty uncurtailed
let him roam the wilds, fancy free.  The station runaways remain, as
well as others that will be of value and service.

So wisely reasoned man, but not so the warrigal. Foiled in his purpose,
regardless of his own pursuit, the great equine leader wheeled in a wide
circle, uttering the while shrill neighs to attract his consorts.  ’Tis
for naught, however, that he utters challenge to his enemies and appeal
to his mates.  The stockmen have ringed the mob, and now at a slower
pace they continue the drive; the men opening out, and keeping abreast
the leading horses.

And now the iron-bark clump is near at hand.  To this the enraged
stallion gallops.  The wing men, on the alert, watch this last
manoeuvre, and line out to intercept him should he make for the hills.
Such was not his intention, though; and their appearance only
accelerates the execution of his determination, which was simply to
regain his companions; this he did with a rush, no one saying nay.

M’Intyre and his men were careful not to push the driven beasts, but
were content to let them make the pace.  And now at a swinging
canter—old mares well up, despite all fatigue—-they struck the clump,
and passed the point to which the wing extended.  The wing men, joining
in the cavalcade by orders of their leader, pass to the right flank and
reinforce the drivers there.

They are now within half a mile of the trap.  At a preconcerted signal
the men close up, and amid an unceasing fusilade of stock-whip crackings
the beasts are hustled, the rear men flogging up the lagging ones.

The calico wing acts effectually on the one side, allowing a strong line
to form up on the other.  Barring accidents, the hunt is as good as
finished; for in a moment or two the horses will be entering the trap
mouth.

The outlaw is leading the mob in a direct line for the yard.  But, stay!
His keen eyes sight the fence.  _It is a trap_!  Past adventures flood
his recollection and shape judgment and determination.  Inside the trap,
death or slavery!  Outside, liberty!

Is it too late?  No!  By the ashes of his fathers he will elude his
would-be captors!  His faithful spouses, naught, alas! will save them.
Let those who dare follow him!  Away, then!

With a wild rush, when within some two hundred yards of the trap mouth,
he turns swiftly to the right at a tangent, so as to head his enemies
and cut away on the outside of the fence.

The gallant grey well deserves his freedom.  His courage, devotion, and
intelligence should surely prevail upon the men.  But the pursuers were
not indulging in any sentiment just then, and as soon as his last tactic
was revealed the race of interception was begun.  He might yet have
escaped, for he was full of running, but, alas! the unseen foe!

The five men detailed at the trap mouth, were grouped thereat, just
behind a cluster of silver wattles, ready for any emergency.  It seemed
to them that their services would not be required.

But, see! the warrigal!

There is no time to reason.  In a flash they streak out from cover and
ride straight at the flying barb.  Something must happen.  The fearful
impact, narrowly escaped but an hour ago, occurs.  There is no attempt
on either side to avoid the issue.  With a mighty bound and a savage
snap of his teeth the warrigal flings himself at the foremost, bringing
horse and rider down with a crash, both lying motionless upon the plain.

At the same moment, and scarce a length behind, came Yellow Billy.  His
attempt to head the runaway was blocked by the impact of the steeds.
Too near to swerve, his horse struck the leading beast on the
hind-quarters at the moment of the crash, adding to the confusion, and
coming down a cropper.

Staggered by the violent collision, the stallion is brought to a sudden
stop, but not to the ground.  And now an astounding thing happens.
Yellow Billy, while falling with his steed, to save himself from the
warrigal’s feet clutched frantically at that animal’s mane, and, by a
clever vault, to the amazement of his comrades, sprang upon the outlaw’s
back.

It would be hard to say if at that particular moment the horse himself
was cognisant of the act.  The pause covered but the fraction of a
second.  With a bound he leaped the fallen bodies, and, there being no
one in front to stay him, tore off in a direction that skirted the trap
fence.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                 *HOW YELLOW BILLY BROKE THE WARRIGAL*


"The snorting of his horses is heard from Dan: at the sound of the
neighing of his strong ones the whole land trembleth."—JEREMIAH.


The tragic ending of the last rush held all breaths for some brief
moments.  Such a contretemps had never happened before.  It beat all
previous experiences.  The vanishing horse and rider seemed a wild
fantasy of the brain, that passes like the breaking of a soap-bubble.
There, before their very eyes, lay the slain; the victims of the mad
charge.

Several of the men dash after the desperate horse and his acrobatic
rider.  Simultaneously, a small group of men—among the foremost is Mr.
Gill—rush to the fallen men and beasts.

Dick Gill, his son, who lies across his horse, was known as a fearless
and somewhat reckless rider.  At the critical moment, with the lust of
the chase upon him, the lad made a mad dash for the racing steed. To
swerve him he instinctively felt would be a vain attempt.  "I’ll ride
the beggar down!"  With naught of tremor, but with a disdainful scorn of
consequence, hawk-like he swooped upon his quarry.

But, as we have seen, the outlaw had his own resolves. These, alas! more
than defeat the object of the horseman. The warrigal’s last hope
trembled in the balance.  A narrow gap of open space, and—liberty!  This
way then, with slap-dash speed!


We have already related the countervailing efforts to stay that rush:
how that hidden horsemen flash from their ambush; how that one, a little
in advance, moved to the strike with tornado-like velocity.  Then Greek
met Greek.  Comes the inevitable, the sickening thud; and then—oblivion!
Come running men who lift young Dick with all the gentleness of women,
and bear him to the shade trees.

Yellow Billy’s horse lies stone dead with broken neck. Dick’s, with
broken back, vainly strives to rise.  Its great brown eyes look round
with painful entreaty that sends Harry silently to the camp for a rifle,
and then the handsome filly joins her companion in the happy hunting
grounds.

Meanwhile, under the shade trees, Dick Gill lies, the image of death.
An examination reveals a fractured forearm; while a blue-black bruise on
the right temple, as big as a crown-piece, attests the violence of the
blow.  The general verdict is that Dick, the life and soul of his
company, will never more crack joke, sing song, or join in the merry
chase; and so the conclusion is, dead, or as good as dead—a distinction
with a slight difference.

There were two, however, who clung to some shreds of hope; the father of
the boy and the Colonel: the latter with obstinacy and emphasis.

"I’ve seen ’em on the frontier far worse than your boy, Gill, and get
better.  The lad’s stunned with that dickens of a blow; but he’ll rally
directly and be as spry as ever."

"Poor Dick is alive yet; of that I feel sure, even though I cannot
detect any pulsation.  What the issue may be, Dumaresque, neither you
nor——"

"Tut, tut, man! he’s young, and as tough as leather. Neck’s all right.
Keep up heart, old man.  I’ll trot down to the yards and see what
they’re doing to the brumbies."

With that the old officer, whose words were braver than his heart,
strode to the yard, where all the others had congregated, save Joe and
Sandy, who were in the rear-guard when the accident happened; and who,
chilled at heart and filled with apprehension—all zest in sport
gone—remain by the side of their companion.

When the warrigal broke, the others of the mob were in full gallop,
being rushed by the men.  They are subjected to a battery of flogging
whips, and swept into the trap-yard; down the converging sides of this
they hustle, only to find an impasse.  There they huddle, a compact mass
of sweating, shivering, and cowed brutes.

The horsemen form a line across the way of retreat, until half a dozen
wires are stretched.  The rest is a matter of detail which expert
bushmen make small bones about.  When all is secure the men inside cut
out selected horses under the direction of Mr. M’Intyre, who, with those
not actively employed in the arena, occupies a place on the rails.  The
brumbies designed for use are thrown and branded, etc., then haltered
and made fast to the rails.  The station runaways were secured early in
the proceedings, which, from first to last, consume a couple of hours.
The final act is one of horse massacre; all the discarded stock are shot
down.  It is cold-blooded but necessary work, for brumbies are rightly
regarded as a pest on a run.

By this time the sun is well down in the west, and having finished their
work at the yards, the men repair to the camp for a bite and a drink.

To their great surprise and delight they find Dick Gill "nather dead nor
spachless," as Denny Kineavy put it.

While his father and the boys anxiously watched him, hoping against hope
for signs of life, the unconscious lad suddenly stretched his limbs and
opened his eyes, as one just awaking from a sound sleep.

The as-good-as-dead youth sat up in wonderment, falling back in pain and
weakness the next moment. A wave of joy surged through Gill’s heart at
this manifestation of life.  "God be thanked for His mercies!" he
exclaimed.  Putting an arm under the sick boy’s shoulders, and carefully
raising his head, he held the Colonel’s brandy flask to his lips.
"You’ve had a spill, that’s’ all.  A bit of a knock-out.  Your left arm
is broken, and there’s a nasty bruise on your forehead.  Sip a little of
this spirit; it’ll brace you up."

A pull at the flask revived the youth, and he pillowed his head on his
father’s arm, who laved the bruised head with cold water.  This greatly
helped in the work of restoration.  By the time the men had finished,
Dick was able to sit up, and expressed a desire to have a look at the
brumbies.  Beyond acute pain in head and arm the lad seemed but little
affected.  He enjoyed a feed with the men, and especially was he
grateful for a pannikin of tea.  Good billy tea is better for the tired
feeling than all the grog ever invented.

After a short consultation it was decided that Dick and his father, with
Sandy, should proceed to a selector’s house about three miles distant.
They would be sure to get the loan of Mrs. Mulvaney’s spring-cart, and
by that means reach Bullaroi.  This was carried out despite Dick’s
protests that he was fit to start on another brumby drive.

What of Yellow Billy and the bolting warrigal!  Have they been
forgotten?  Not by long chalks!

As soon as Mr. M’Intyre had selected the horses that were to be saved
and used, he left the other work to the Captain, and, accompanied by
Jacky, started off on the tracks of the outlaw.  Before long they met
some of the pursuers returning.  Their horses were knocked up, and they
had failed to trace the runaway.  "Deeficult as the country may be,"
mused Mr. M’Intyre, "Jacky’s equal to onything in the trackin’ line.
It’s only a maitter o’ time when we’ll run ’em doon."

There was much speculation at the camp over the fate of the half-caste.
It did not lean to pessimism, though jeremiads were uttered by some.
The pals, who knew Billy’s ability better than the others, had unlimited
faith in their mate.  Whatever happened to the steed, the boy would turn
up safe and sound.  The steer rider, in their opinion, could ride
bare-back the toughest outlaw that ever sniffed the wind.  "You’ll see,"
said Tom confidently to the Captain, "Billy’ll more’n hold his own."

"Didn’t youse tell us the other day thet at your gra-at
billy-horse-ma-ale-robbery, the steer slung the yallar bhoy——"

"Oh!" retorted Tom pettishly, "that was only——"

Just then the returning men rode up.  They had no good news to relate,
but said that by Mr. M’Intyre’s orders all were to proceed to the Glen,
and if the missing boy was not brought in before dark they were to
disperse. Let us now follow the fortunes, or misfortunes, of Billy.

As soon as he found himself astride the warrigal, the yellow boy held
fast with knees and hands, the stock whip over his shoulder trailing in
a long line behind the flying pair.  To stick on the racing horse was a
comparatively easy thing to Billy, unless, indeed, some fiendish trick
should unseat him.  But to guide the scurrying brute, unbitted,
unreined, were as impossible as to turn and check a Mont Blanc
avalanche.

The first instinct of the horse upon escaping from the trap-yard was to
dismount his rider by violent means, but there are eager pursuers on the
track—so away!

He rounds the trap fence, bolts down the grassy valley apace, twists up
a gully with a swerve that almosts unseats Billy, dashes into Glen
Creek, and mounts the bank to enter a defile.  The first shock over, the
half-caste begins to realise his position.  For a moment a pang of fear
seizes him, and some of the dread possibilities of the ride dawn upon
him.  This soon yields to a different sensation as they rush through
space.

There is that in the half-wild nature of the lad which goes out in
unconscious sympathy for the bestridden beast.  Despite the mutual
antagonism, which, after all, is not that of hate, there is in some way
a sense of kinship.  Wild answers to wild.  Man nature comes thus into
close gripping quarters with horse nature.  There is no intervening
saddle.  Flesh mates with flesh, and spirit answers to spirit.  Whose,
then, shall be the victory?  The strains of many generations of desert
lords is in the quadruped.  But what of the biped?  A curious admixture
of blood there!  On the white side are the well salted strains, which
hark away back to the old Vikings.  On the other and darker, the stream
points backwards to the misty past, when his ancestors, subtle and slim,
moved southward from the older civilisations of the north, and swarmed
the valleys of the Ganges and the Indus, fighting for a foothold.

Is not this a challenge to the latent forces in the wild blood of the
human?  It riots through the youth’s veins, giving vim and sparkle to
his courage.  Who shall win the lordship?  Away then, and away!—through
the mountain pines till clothes are mere shreds, and breast and thighs
are torn and blooded with innumerable scores; slithering down the gorges
to the accompaniment of rattling stones; jumping fallen timber, and
smashing through the undergrowth, till all pursuit has faded away—the
infuriated steed holds his course.  On, on! ever up to the inaccessible
heights.

But, has the half-breed been doing nothing save holding on, meanwhile?

With incredible difficulty, owing to the mad career of the horse over
the wilds, Yellow Billy has managed to pass his whip thong twice round
the brute’s neck.  This, knotted together, forms just the sort of
hold-fast the boy has been accustomed to on his steer rides.  The grip
gives him a great advantage.

But the horse is now scrambling up a gully, which becomes sharper and
steeper as he advances, merging into a deep gorge at last, with
precipitous sides and frowning, unscalable face.  A cul-de-sac, indeed!
Even this the indomitable warrigal essays.  Again and again does he rush
the battlements, and mount some distance; only to tumble back with
sobbing breath but dauntless energy.

Cannot Yellow Billy now dismount in safety?

As easily, oh, reader, as one might slip off a rocking-horse.

Why not, then, fling himself off; abandon the desperado, and be thankful
for life and limb?

What!  Billy show the white feather?  Billy throw away his chance of the
honour and glory of capture thus?  Not for all the wealth of Australia!
This is the most ecstatic moment of his existence.

Foiled in his attempt to scale the heights, Bucephalus begins to think
more seriously of the foe upon his back. Were he dislodged, what might
not become possible? Here then!

So began the battle royal between these well-mated antagonists, to be
fought to a finish, there, on that small patch of earth in the rocky
fastness; with none in the arena to interfere or to applaud.  None,
indeed, to witness, save the rock wallaby perched high on a beetling
crag, who may have moralised on the unwonted spectacle of the whirling
grey-and-brown mass of flesh and blood below.  Higher still, wheeling in
mid-air, is an eagle hawk, who keenly watches the solitary duel down
there, with unwinking eyes of insatiable greed; caring not a doit which
wins the mastership, so that the issue may provide a fit object for
tearing talons and lacerating beak.

But below there!

The warrigal, with bloodshot eyes flaming in rage and malice, ears set
back, head and neck well down between the forelegs, back arched like a
bent bow, bucks and squeals, kicks and twists.  Forward, backward,
sideward; round and round; up and down; now in the middle of the patch;
now trying to rub the boy against the rough sides of the rocky canon,
but all in vain.  Not even the young Mazeppa, lashed to the wild horse,
was more securely bound than was Billy to his steed.

There he is; Yellow Billy!  Behold him!

Grasping with both hands the encircling stock whip, head and shoulders
inclined backwards, his knees grip the horse’s sides like a vice.  The
horse’s hoarse neighs are answered with shrill shouts.  And so, amid
battle-cries, dust and flying pebbles, sweat and foam, with evolutions
to which those of the circus ring were flat and monotonous, the tug of
war for supremacy between man and beast goes on.

Presently, however, the bucking desperado moderates. There is a lull.
He shifts from side to side, making at the same time a slow gyral
movement.  Is this premonitory of collapse?  He is blowing like the
proverbial grampus, and ejecting steam from quivering nostrils like an
exhaust pipe.  The sweat flows from neck, belly, and flanks to the
ground in streams.  Spasmodic sobs like those of a broken-hearted child
send shudder after shudder through his whole frame.  See! his head is
hanging upon his breast; the symbol of despair.  Yes! he is done,
conquered!  He is broken.  Well done, Billy!  But the most dangerous
moment of Billy’s existence is at hand.

Suddenly rushing backwards, the demon rears and throws himself to the
ground, almost turning a complete somersault in the act.  Crash! down
come body and hoofs and—Billy.  The boy is taken unawares, and can do
little to avert the consequences of this trick.  Still, the little saves
him.  When, in the fraction of a second, he sees the inevitable, a
spasmodic jerk flings him just beyond the horse’s legs, which are
working like the arms of a windmill.  Scarce has the animal regained his
feet ere, with panther-like spring, the half-caste is reseated.  Again
the horse is down, but now he is weakening—is rapidly nearing the limit
of endurance. All the reserves have been called up.

Again, behold! a rapid change of tactics.  The outlaw whips round his
head with open mouth and snaps at the rider’s leg.  Again and again, on
both sides, and it is only by the utmost dexterity that the lad escapes.
This, more than anything else, begets fear; for Billy, like the horse,
is fast tiring.  With despair in his eyes the boy looks round him for
help, and catches sight of the whip handle, which is hanging, with some
two feet or more of thong, from where it is tied to the neck.  In a
trice his knife is out and the thong is severed near the knot.  This
end, coiled round his hand, becomes a weapon of offence. A loaded
stock-whip handle is as formidable as an Irishman’s shillelah.  And now
every snap is met with a cruel smack, and this not for long can even the
warrigal stand.  Yellow Billy does more, he rains blows upon the steed’s
shoulders and head with such severity as almost to paralyse the brute.
The end is coming fast now. Worn, blown, trembling with weakness, dazed,
the battle has indeed turned.

There is a point in horse-nature up to which no man may call himself
master.  In some animals it lies low down.  In others, the warrigal, to
wit, it is placed at the apex of his mettlesome temper.  Let that point
in mastery be taken by the adversary and all is yielded. That citadel
stormed, there is naught left but the white flag.  The independence once
surrendered is never regained.  In other words, once the complete
master, always the master.

See now the lord of the wilderness! the equine conjurer of tricks!
There he stands with shrunken form, drooping head, lack-lustrous eyes,
motionless and clinging tail, subservience incarnate: fit statue of
unconditional surrender!  The struggle has been gallant, heroic,
prolonged; the capitulation is complete.  A well planted blow, now,
between the ears, and that noble creature; that thing of bone and
muscle, of arching neck and glossy coat; that creature of will and
courage, which made him emperor among his kind by right of merit—with a
stride worthy the envy of Lucifer!  Just one blow in the right spot—he
staggers, trembles, and falls.

Yellow Billy is standing at the horse’s head.  ’Twas a glorious ride, a
royal fight, a grand victory.  Nothing is left now but—pity!  And so,
with soft and cheery word, rubbing the nostrils, wiping the drying
sweat, massaging the trembling limbs, the boy is mercifully engaged when
footsteps are heard, and in a moment the squatter, Jacky, and a couple
of men ride on to the battle-field.


Darkness is mantling the earth, and the men at the Glen camp have all
gone, save a few, including the boys and Neville, who are still
anxiously waiting.  The striking of iron on the flints of the creek-bed
breaks the dismal silence, as a group of horsemen steal out of the
surrounding gloom, and stand half-revealed in the light of the camp
fire.  Yellow Billy is perched on the croup behind one of the men,
while, with a stock whip converted into a halter, Jacky leads the bone
and soul sore warrigal, who, in this abject spectacle, drinks the cup of
humiliation to its bitterest dregs.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*

                            *A DAY’S SHOOT*


    "Alas! that, when the changing year
      Brings round the blessed day,
    The hearts of little native boys
      Wax keen to hunt and slay,
    As if the chime of Christmas time
      Were but a call to prey."
        BRUNTON STEPHENS.


"S-a-n-d-e-e!  S-a-n-d-e-e!"

"H-e-ll-o!  H-e-ll-o!"

"Where—are—you?"

"Down—here."

"Where’s here?"

"Find—out!"

"Where’s that horrid Sandy, Joe?" exclaimed Jessie M’Intyre to Joe
Blain, as she came out into the back yard, shortly after breakfast, one
fine morning a few days after the brumby hunt.

"Can’t split on me mates, Jess."

"You’re a nasty, good-for-nothing boy, Joe Blain: that’s what I think of
_you_, and I don’t care if you _do_ know it."

    "Tweedlum, tweedlum, tweedlum twee,
    The cat and the rat ran up the tree,"

quoth Joe, as he capered about just out of reach of the girl, who chased
him round the room with a broom.

It so happened that as Joe was dancing past the kitchen window, Ah Fat
the cook was in the very act of throwing out a dish of kitchen slops,
and the contents struck him fair on the head and shoulders.

This unintended but well-delivered blow came so swiftly and so
unexpectedly that for the moment Joe was stupefied, gasping and
spluttering between wind and water, so to speak.  He cut so ludicrous a
figure that Jessie had to fairly hold her sides with laughter. Meanwhile
the innocent Ah Fat stood gazing at the spectacle in amazement.

"Oh, Missee Joe, I welly solly.  Me neffer see you when me tlew um——"

"You jolly Chinaman!" cried Joe, in great wrath. "You—you—yellow joss!"

With that the irate boy jumped through the window and vigorously
assaulted the cook with hands and feet.

"Oh!—Missee Joe—welly solly.  O—h!  Oh, Clismus! O-u-c-h!"

At first genuine sorrow controlled the Celestial.  And indeed the onset
was so furious and determined that the Chinaman had enough to do in
fending blows, and was not a little alarmed.  But when Joe, in closing,
clutched him by the head, and essayed to unwind his pig-tail, alarm
yielded to horror at this unexpected indignity. An ominous glitter came
into his eye, and a string of curses in his native tongue flew from the
angry heathen.

The boy, having loosened the tail, wound a coil of it round his hand,
and began to give fierce tugs.  Passion in an Oriental may take any
turn.  A passion-fired Chinaman, however well-disposed and peaceably
inclined at other times, will wreak his vengeance regardless of moral
issues.  With a yell of mingled pain and rage the maddened man executed
a Chinese edition of Jiu-jitsu, sending his youthful antagonist whirling
through the air, to come down with a rattling bump that shook the breath
from his body.  Fortunately for Joe, the part of his anatomy which bore
the brunt of the contact was that least susceptible to damage.

This act would have been followed by one severer still had not Mrs.
M’Intyre at that moment run into the kitchen, and, seeing the fallen boy
at the mercy of the rage-possessed Chow, who was in the act of assault
and battery, made for the man with a shrill scream, and hauled him off
the prostrate lad.  All the while, John Chinaman was in a state of wild
excitability, sending forth a torrential stream of pidgin-English.

Joe tumbled to his feet none the worse for the bout save a bruise or
two.  The sight of Ah Fat with flowing pig-tail and grotesque
gesticulation sent the lad into fits of laughter.  This only the more
incensed his adversary, who made another effort to get at him, being
hardly prevented by Mrs. M’Intyre.  In this hilarity Joe was joined by
Jess, who had followed her mother and stood first in terror, but now
with hearty laughter.

"Joe Blain, get out of this kitchen this moment, you wicked boy!  Be
quiet, Ah Fat, or I’ll call for one of the men!  Stop laughing at once,
Jess, you bold hussy, or I’ll box your ears!"

Both Joe and Jess disappeared in a flash, and this had the effect of
calming the Chinaman, who told the tale to his mistress as well as his
perturbed condition and broken English would allow.

"Me thlo dirtee watah outa window.  Joee comin’ plast.  Me no see him.
Watah ’it ’im head and soljer. He jumpee tloo window, pullee hair, welly
angly.  Me get angly too, and thlo ’im down."

"Quite true," said Joe, who suddenly appeared at the window.  "It’s all
my fault.  He didn’t see me, I’m sure, when he pitched the stuff out.
My paddy got up, an’ I went for him like a terrier.  I think the
terrier’s got the worst of it, eh, Ah Fat?"

The quick acknowledgment of wrong produced an immediate effect on Ah
Fat.  There was a winning grace about Joe that few could withstand.
Hitherto he had been the cook’s favourite.  And now, no sooner did he
express his sorrow for the summary proceedings, and own his defeat, than
the mantling frown of anger on the Chinaman’s forehead vanished, and his
dingy and stolid countenance lit up with a smile.

"Me welly solly——"

"Oh, stow that!  No harm done.  I’m off to get rid of this muck," cried
Joe, as he disappeared from the window. A few moments later, Joe was in
the act of passing this same opening to convey a message to Sandy, who
was doing a job for his father in the carpenter’s room, at the rear of
the stables.

The act was observed by Ah Fat, who made a rapid move to the window.

"Hello, Joe!"

"Hello, Ah Fat!"

"Come here, Joe," said the Flowery-Lander, beckoning as he spoke.

"No more soap-suds, Ah Fat?"

"No mo dirtee watah," said he of the pig-tail grinningly.  "See a-here,
Joe"—displaying a jam pasty, hot from the oven.  "You takee dis plastee.
Stlawbelly jam, welly good."

"By Cæsar!  Ah Fat, you’re no end of a brick!" cried Joe, as he received
the peace-offering with eager hands and glistening eyes.

"Saundy, ye scoondrel!" shouted he a moment later, bursting in upon
Sandy, who was spoke-shaving a piece of timber designed for a swingle
bar.  "Didn’t you hear Jess call you a few minutes ago?"

"I did hear some sort of a cackling an’ flustration. What’s up?"

"We’ve got to go an’ shoot some ducks."

"That all?"

"That all, ye cauld-blooded Scotchman!"

"An’ when have we to go?"

"Now, at once, immediately, if not sooner, ye spalpeen."

"Ye’re an odd mixture of Scotch an’ Irish this morn, me hairy-breasted
hero, an’ a bad hand at either.  But why all the hurry about the ducks?"

"Your mother’s just got word to say some chaps are coming out from
Tareela to dinner this evening, an’ they’re sure to expect game."

"All serene.  Tom comin’?"

"No, he ain’t.  He’s out with Harry on the run. There’s only you an’ me
for’t."

"I’ll be with you in a jiff, my son.  Just finishing this bar."

"Where’ll we go for the birds, Sandy?"

"Up the creek, I s’pose.  Too far out to the swamp if it’s to-night they
want them.  There’s a mob o’ woods I’d like to get a smack at—the ones
we saw when we were fishin’."

"Jacky told me yesterday he saw ’em the other night roosting on the old
dead gum just at the junction of Mosquito Crick an’ the Crocodile.  How
far d’ye call that?"

"’Bout three mile."

"Your mother said we are to try and get some pigeons when we’re out."

"Used to be a lot o’ pigeons in the scrub; but the last time Dickson and
some other coves came out shooting, they went through the scrub, but
didn’t see a feather—so they said."

"No good goin’ there, then?"

"Well, I don’t know.  We can give it a try, I s’pose. What’s the time,
Joe?"

"Struck ten as I came along; so we’d bes’ be off in less’n no time,
sonny."

In a few minutes the boys were loaded up with guns, ammunition, sculls,
and the tucker bag.  They decided to take the skiff and try their luck
on the water, instead of stalking the game along the banks.

"Don’t be later than four o’clock.  Try and be back before, if
possible."

"All serene, mother; we’ll be back on time, luck or no luck."

"We’ll fetch you some shags anyhow for fish soup," yelled back Joe as
the lads walked briskly along.

Sandy took the oars at the start, Joe sitting in the stern with his
muzzle-loader.  Breech-loaders were at that time a rarity in Australia.
There were handicaps in shooting in those days of the muzzle-loader, the
powder-horn, and the shot belt, when compared with the modern
choke-bore, smokeless powder, etc.  But there were compensations. Men
were far more careful of their ammunition.  Loading itself was an art in
which the expert took considerable pride.  To every novice the formula
was carefully given by the senior—

    "Ram your powder well, but not your lead,
    If you want to kill dead."


But, beyond all other considerations, there was more of the element of
sport in it.  There was a greater call for skill.  The very limitations
of gunnery in those days put the game on a nearer footing of equality
with the hunter. There were greater chances for the quarry, and
therefore greater merit in the kill.  These are the days of machinery,
and even in gunnery there is a disposition to do the work by turning a
handle—"pumping the lead into ’em," as the moderns put it.

Sandy’s father was the possessor of a renowned Joe Manton, and many were
the tales told by the lad of his father’s prowess and the wonderful
distances at which this Joe Manton could kill.

The creek on both sides was lined for the most part with rushes, weeds,
and water-reeds, which afforded fine cover and food for the wild-fowl.
It was possible to pass within short distances of the ducks in the
rushes without being aware of their presence.

"Keep your eyes skinned along here, Joe," remarked Sandy, after rowing
some distance.  "Might start a brace at any time."

The words were hardly out of the boy’s mouth when a bird rose out of the
reeds with a great flutter.  Joe’s gun was up in a trice, and before it
had flown a dozen yards, it fell into the water with a splash.

"Good shot, Joe; but what’s the use of wasting powder and shot over a
red-bill?  Thought you knew a coot from a duck."

"Well—I—I’m blest!  If I’m not a dumplin’-headed, double-dyed duffer!
As if I hadn’t shot tons of ’em. Well, well, well!"

"It’s not well at all," answered Sandy with a grin, as the boat glided
past the beautiful glossy black and purple-hued bird, which, though
edible enough, generally ran to toughness, and was not classed as game.
Yet a plump red-bill that has fattened on the river-end patch of the
settlers’ maize is by no means to be despised.

Joe quietly reloaded, and was doubly on the _qui vive_ after the
misadventure.  He had his revenge before long, for on rounding the point
they ran into a mob of teal which were camping on a shady mud-beach.
The teal rose in a very alert fashion, flying back over the boat.
Quickly turning, Joe poured the contents of right and left barrels into
the retreating birds.  Three of them soused into the water, two of which
were stone-dead. The third, though badly wounded, was nevertheless
exceedingly agile in dodging the boat by diving.  After some trouble the
boys managed to secure it, and so a good start towards a full bag was
made.

Then their luck departed for a while.  Two or three pairs of black duck
rose, but out of range.

"Here, Sandy, let me take the oars and give you a spell," said Joe,
after proceeding about two miles from the landing.  The positions were
reversed, and the boat sped on its way to the junction.

"Pull easy, Joe," said Sandy, as that point came in sight.  "There’s a
chance of the wood-duck on the spit. We mustn’t miss this lot, anyway.
You’d best land me here, ole man, an’ I’ll stalk ’em."

Joe, whose back faced the spit, to coin an Irishism, turned round to
survey the birds, which clustered thickly on the spit-end.

"See ’em, Joe," said Sandy excitedly.  "It’s a grand mob.  If I don’t
knock half a dozen, you may——"

"Bag the whole bloomin’ lot if you like, Sandy M’Intyre," replied the
rower, who had been gazing intently on the birds, and now turned to his
mate with an amused smile.

"Why—why—whatcher mean?"

"Mean!  Mr. Alexander Duff M’Intyre, bushman, waterman, sportsman, and
naturalist by profession, but only a Scotch mixture of bat an’ mole for
all that! Why——"

"Do you mean to insinuate, Joe Blain, that yon’s not a mob of
wood-duck?"

"Yes; and ready to swear to it till all’s blue.  I _did_ think you knew
the difference between a duck of any sort and a plover!"

"You call ’em plov——?"

Here one of the birds stretched its neck, flapped its wings, gave a hop
and a short run, plover-ways, and finished with the typical harsh note.

"Great Donald! you’re right, man!" finished the boy, in a mortified tone
and with a considerable amount of disgust.

"Oh, well," he resumed, after a moment’s silence, "a few plover won’t
come amiss, especially if we don’t collar any more duck.  Like ’em
myself, grilled, as well as anything; they’ve such plump little breasts.
Pull on, Joe."

Joe made for the spit, coming in so quickly with a few quiet but
vigorous strokes that Sandy was able to get in a pot and a flying shot,
accounting for no fewer than five.

"I vote," exclaimed that youth, when they had bagged the plover, "that
we pull into the mouth of ’Skeeter Crick, tie up to the bank, an’ stalk
the crick for a mile or so; then we can cross over to the scrub by the
old tree. We’ll chance to get a pigeon or two, or I’m mistaken. P’r’aps
we’ll have better luck with the ducks on our way back.  Never saw ’em so
scarce on the Crocodile before."

Accordingly, they landed a hundred yards or so up the creek, assailed
the contents of the tucker bag, and then proceeded to skirt the right
bank, on the look out for duck.  A single bird, a very fine drake, fell
to Joe’s gun near the fallen log which bridged the narrow stream. This
crossed, the boys entered into a belt of virgin scrub that extended back
a mile or so from Crocodile Creek, abutting Mosquito Creek along its
breadth.

"We’d bes’ separate, Joe," said Sandy, when they had gone a little
distance into the jungle.  "You keep on a few hundred yards, and then
bear on the left towards the Crocodile.  I’ll make straight for there
from here.  It’ll be hard if we don’t account for a bird or two."

The scrub was very thick and interwoven in places. It contained a number
of native fig trees of great height and spread.  These trees were in
fruit, therefore there was a better chance of getting pigeon, some
varieties of which are exceedingly fond of the native fig.

The umbrageous trees formed a lofty canopy whose cool shades were very
agreeable after a couple of hours on the water under a January sun.  The
lawyer and other cane vines hung from the great trees in long festoons,
varying in thickness from ropes no thicker than one’s little finger to
the great cables extending downward from the huge limbs of the fig
trees.  Besides these growths were scrub bushes, many of which were
covered with blossom, and still others with berries, blue and red. There
were also spaces of bare ground, occupied only by giant fig and other
columnar trees.  These, by natural formation, made arched aisles, whose
loftiness, lights, distances, and vistas constituted a grandeur, and
even splendour, unapproached by any of the great cathedrals of earth.
These, however ancient, are but things of yesterday when compared with
nature’s porticoes, cloisters, and altar spaces.

The boys, however, took little heed of these things. They were in the
scrub neither for architectural nor devotional purposes.  Pigeons and
other scrub game alone had any attractions for them.

After separating they walked warily, listening with both ears and
scanning with both eyes.  Sounds there were in abundance.  The
ubiquitous minah, as the noisy and saucy soldier-bird is called, is as
widespread as the gum tree itself. The thrush, though smaller than its
English namesake, and with a differing note, is equally melodious.  Then
peculiar to scrub country are the musically metallic notes of the pretty
but exceedingly coy bell-bird.

Henry Kendal, the greatest of Australian nature poets, has limned it in
song.  Here is a stanza—

    "The silver-voiced bell-birds, the darlings of daytime,
    They sing in September their songs of the Maytime.
    When shadows wax strong and the thunder-bolts hurtle,
    They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle;
    They start up like fairies that follow fair weather,
    And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden
    Are the green and the purple, the blue and the golden."


There is also the merry Coachman, who cracks his whip with his beak, so
to speak, in such verisimilitude that the wandering new chum looks round
eagerly for a coach-team.

Added to these are the soft coo-coo of the doves and the stronger and
booming note of the pigeon tribe.  And beyond all these, the calls,
chirpings, and chatterings of scores of feathered favourites.  They who
call the Australian bush songless libel it.

The pigeon has a coo that is as monotonous and far-reaching as a fog
horn.  For this sound the boys are now cocking their ears.  Presently
the loved note reaches Sandy’s ears: coo—coo—coo!

"A wonga for a dollar, and where’s one is sure to be another."

To locate a pigeon by its note is often a most difficult thing in the
scrub.  It may be on the tree under which one happens to be standing, or
hundreds of yards away. To run down a pigeon by its note is a work that
needs experience and patience.

Sandy listened intently, mind as well as ears working. "Not high up,
that’s certain.  Seems to be right behind me.  Bet tuppence he’s on that
white cedar," said the boy to himself after a further scrutiny in the
supposed direction.  Away in the locality indicated, distant a hundred
yards or so, rising above a clump of myrtles, was a white cedar tree,
its shining yellow berries revealing its presence as seen through the
tree boles and shrubs.

Stealthily moving through the undergrowth and timber, the lad cautiously
advanced towards the cedar.  Gaining the myrtle cluster, he was thereby
screened to some extent even when viewed from above.  Just then a coo
gave him the location.  Moving to the edge of the saplings, he now got a
fair view of the tree beyond; and there, on a lateral limb, distant from
him not more than thirty-five yards, sat a glorious wonga-wonga, the
finest species of Australian pigeon, not to be beaten for table purposes
throughout the wide world.  The specimen before Sandy was a male bird as
big as three ordinary pigeons.

"That fellow’s calling his mate, and she’s not far off, by the way he’s
noddin’ his head," surmised the youth. "Shall I pot him, or wait for his
mate and cop ’em both?"

The question was soon settled, for suddenly, and with a great whirr, the
hen rose from the ground, or rather, tiny water pool: for she had been
drinking and bathing and admiring her reflected image in the glassy
water.  Her return, alas! is the signal of death, for what time she
alighted on the bough at her spouse’s side, the remorseless hunter, with
hasty but true aim, brought both fluttering to the ground.

Their necks are wrung and they are bagged instanter, with a laconic but
satisfied grunt from the sportsman: "Not so bad."

At this moment a double shot broke on Sandy’s ears. This was immediately
followed by a deep, mellow sound that formed the common signal of the
pals.  Putting his two hands with hollowed palms together, conch-shell
fashion, the boy raised them to his lips and blew a prolonged and
resonant note followed by three short notes staccato, which conveyed to
the other’s ears the answer: "Heard you, am coming."

"Joe wants me for something.  Got into a covey of bronze-wings, or maybe
a mob o’ flocks," muttered the lad as he made in the direction of the
sound.

He soon espied his mate at the butt of an enormous fig tree, and
signalled his advent.  The moment Joe perceived Sandy he stooped down
and picked up a couple of large black-looking birds, and waved them
excitedly.

"My word! ole Joe’s run into a flock of turkeys. Hurrah! here’s luck."

Yes, Joe had been fortunate enough to "rise" a fine lot of tallagalla,
to call them by their native name, better known as scrub turkey.

Unlike the so-called turkey of the plains—which, indeed, is not a true
turkey, but a bustard—the scrub turkey is true to its title, being
seldom or never seen out of thickly wooded country.  Its breeding home
is a huge mound raised by scratching together the dry leaves and bits of
rotten bark and wood.  On the top of this elevation of débris the eggs
are laid, some scores of them, and barely covered.  As the birds use the
same spot for many years, the nests become in time mounds of vast
dimensions. Turkey nest, as it is called, becomes in time a rich compost
of leaf-mould, and is eagerly sought for garden purposes.

The bird itself is stronger in the legs than in the wings.  Unless
startled and rushed, it will not rise, but scuttles through the
undergrowth with inconceivable speed, and he is a fortunate man who is
able to draw a bead as it darts through the thousand obstacles of the
scrub.  Hence the necessity of a good dog to rush the birds pell-mell
and startle them into immediate flight, when they almost invariably seek
refuge in the trees near by.

Joe, fortunately, heard the drumming and clucking of a turkey gobbler
before he was seen of them.  Moving with intense caution through the
bush, which was very thick at this spot, he saw at last through the
intervening leaves, on a patch of bare ground, scratching among the
decayed vegetable matter for grubs, a flock of turkeys containing a
score or more.

They were exceedingly active, running hither and thither; many of them,
just at the pullet stage, indulging in mimic warfare.  The elder ones
were busily engaged grubbing. Joe could easily have shot two or three of
them as he stood an unseen watcher.  There was a better way than that,
however.  Once "tree" them, and one could leisurely pick his birds.  How
are they to be got into the trees? He’ll be his own dog.

Bursting out from his cover with a hair-raising and blood-curdling yell,
making at the same time a high jump and wildly waving his arms, the
stalker rushed into the midst of the mob, catching, indeed, a young one
by the leg, and generally making such a hullabaloo as to scare them into
instant flight.

It is a peculiarity of this bird, like that of its American brother,
when once "treed," to remain there.  Wanton shooters, taking advantage
of this trait, will often shoot a flock right out.

The birds put up by Joe, with one or two exceptions, flew into the trees
surrounding them.  The lad’s first act was to slip a piece of string
round the captured turkey’s legs and swing it from a tree limb.  This
done, he took a couple of pot shots, bringing down a young gobbler each
time.  Having made sure of a brace, he signalled to his mate, as
described.

The shooters, with true sporting instinct, refrained both from wanton
destruction and from shooting at the hens.  They picked out half a dozen
of the biggest males, leaving the others on their perches.

Needless to say, the boys were greatly pleased with their success in the
scrub.  On their way home good fortune followed them.  Though they did
not sight the mob of woods, they surprised a pair, which they promptly
secured.  Though the bag could not be considered a big one for those
days, it was a good one for variety.

Greatly to Mrs. M’Intyre’s delight, the boys reached home a little after
three o’clock.  During their absence of five hours they accounted for
the following game: one black duck, two wood-duck, three teal, five
spur-wing plover, six fat turkey gobblers, two plump pigeon, and the
captured turkey.

"You are dear, good boys," was Mrs. M’Intyre’s comment as the game lay
side by side on the bench at the rear of the kitchen.  "What fine birds!
what a lovely variety!"

Mrs. Mac., while not an epicure, was a noted housewife, and dispensed
hospitality in such a whole-hearted fashion and in such an acceptable
manner that her dinners were things to be remembered with delight.

"Go into the kitchen, boys, and get a snack: you’ll be dying for
something to eat.  After you’ve finished you can bear a hand with the
plucking and cleaning, as Denny’s the only one about.  Come here, Ah
Fat!  What do you think of the birds, Ah Fat?"

"Dem welly good, missee."

"Yes, they’ll do very well.  The boys’ll clean them for you—at least the
ones we’re using to-night.  We’ll hang the rest.  Let me see! they had
better clean the pigeons and plover first.  You can put them on to stew:
we’ll turn them into a game pie.  Grill the teal, and roast a pair of
ducks and two gobblers."

"Allee lita, missee; I do ’em.  That all?  I mos go back an’ look after
puddens."

Denny and the boys set to work on the fowl, and were soon feathers and
down from head to foot.

[Illustration: "Retreating one moment and advancing the following,
uttering war-cries."—_See p._ 219.]

"Tell me, Joe, me bhoy, did ye or Sahndy here shute the most b-i-rr-ds?"

"Honours are easy, Denny."

"Begorra! phwat th’ divvil’s thot?"

"It means that each shot an equal quantity."

"An e-qu-a-al quantitee!  Be jabers, wheres did ye put ’em?"

"Put what?"

"Whoi, th’ pair iv e-qu-a-al quan——  Be Saint Michael, it’s a new sort
iv a b-i-rr-d ye’ve shuted!"

Denny was not so dense as he pretended to be.

"You’re a downy cove, Denny," laughed Joe, who caught a twinkle in the
young Irishman’s eye.

"That’s true for ye, Joe," retorted the wit, surveying himself; "but,
bhoys, why doan’t ye’s take me wid youse? Sure an’ it’s a foine shot Oi
am."

"That’s news, Denny.  Didn’t know you’d ever let off a gun."

"Manny an’ manny’s th’ wan Oi’ve seen me farther bang off, annyways.
Did youse never hear tell iv me farther’s shutin’?  Shure he was a
sealabrity in Killarney!"

"Never.  Tell us."

"Well, la-ads, wan da’ he was rowin’ th’ Dook iv Dublhin, who was a
g-rr-a-at sport, on th’ woild la-a-kes iv Killarney.  They was lukin’
for dooks."

"Set a duke to catch a ’dook,’ eh, Denny?"

"Be aisy, Marsther Joe.  It’s th’ flyin’ dooks Oi’me dascribin’.  Be
jabers! farther rowed about a tousan’ moile, and th’ only dook th’
g-rr-a-at mahn shuted was a gull, though they was there in g-rr-a-at
mobs."

"The gulls or the ducks, Denny?"

"If you’d ’a’ bin there they wud ’a’ bin two gulls, annyhow, me mahn."

"Good for you, Denny.  Let him finish, Joe."

"Well, shure, saays farther at last, ses he, ’If y’re Riall Hoiness wud
let me have wan shot, maybe Oi’d bring ye luck.’  An’ he did it.  So
farther, he gits th’ Dook’s big gun, an’ th’ Dook he tuk th’ pathles,
an’ bynby they see a mob iv dooks all in a loine acrost th’ boat’s bows,
saalin’ for all th’ warld loike th’ owld loin-iv-batthle ships in th’
pictures, stim an’ starn.

"’Howld aisy,’ saays farther, ses ’e, whin they got abreast thim fowls.
With that he pinted th’ gun at th’ la-adin’ dook, an owld dr-a-ake be
th’ same token—pulled th’ thrigger an’ let her off.  Wud ye bela-ave me,
so quick was he that before all th’ shot had got out iv th’ way-pon he’d
got her down to th’ tail-most birr-d, an’ betune you an’ me an’ little
Garr-ge Washintong in th’ Bible, ivry sowl iv thim dooks lay spaachless
dead upon th’ wather. Now thin, phwat div ye think iv that f’r shutin’,
ye gosoons?"

"Think of it, Denny," said Maggie, who had been standing at the kitchen
door, unobserved of the boys, an amused listener.  "Why, you’ll be
writing a book one day that will put the Kybosh on Baron Munchausen."

"Well, if iver Oi does, Miss Maggie," replied the incorrigible Irish
boy, "Oi’ll pit y’reself in as th’ laaden acthress—Oi mane th’
herr-owyne."

"Maggie!"

"Coming, mother."



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*

                           *THE CORROBBERIE*


    "Deep in the forest depths the tribe
        A mighty blazing fire have spread:
    Round this they spring with frantic yells,
        In hideous pigments all arrayed.

      *      *      *      *      *

    One barred with yellow ochre, one
        A skeleton in startling white,
    Then one who dances furiously
        Blood-red against the great fire’s light.

      *      *      *      *      *

    Like some infernal scene it is—
        The forest dark, the blazing fire,
    The ghostly birds, the dancing fiends,
        Whose savage chant swells ever higher."
          WILLIAM SHARP.


"Jacky and Willy want to know if they can have some raddle,[#] whitning,
and blue: can they, dad?"


[#] Raddle: a red pigment used for marking sheep, etc.


"They’re very reasonable, I maun say.  And what are they aifter noo, the
scamps?"

"Oh, I thought you knew, dad!  There’s going to be a grand corrobberie
to-night.  Old Tarpot has sent in a messenger for them to go out, and
take this stuff with them, and——"

"Precious cool cheek on the pairt of Tarpot, and o’ the boys as weel.
Why couldna they come oure and ask me properly?"

"Dunno, dad."

"It’s the blacks’ way all over, dad," said Maggie.

"Dad, dad," interrupted Jessie, who was eagerly waiting a chance to get
in a word, "you said, the last time there was a corrobberie, when you
refused to let us go, that you would the next time.  Now then, dado, you
can’t refuse to let us this time.  Say you will.  Ah, I know by your
eyes you will say yes!  You dear thing, it’s worth a kiss and a hug."

When the ardent girl had bestowed these filial pledges she turned round
to Sandy and the others, out of whose sails she had taken the wind in a
manner.

"There now, young people, we are all going, for which I ought to be
thanked.  Only for my good memory, I’m afraid the dear man would have
said no! wouldn’t you, dadums?  We’ll make up a party, and Mr. Neville
will, I am sure, be delighted at the exhibition."

"My stars, Jess, but you’re gettin’ ’em bad!  You will be applying for a
school teacher’s billet next.  Such consideration for Mr. Neville, too!
Why——"

"Oh, brither mine, bless your poor thick skull; it’s positively no use
you trying to be funny—you simply can’t.  Oh, it’ll be glorious fun,"
continued she, turning to the Englishman.

"But, Miss Jessie, please!  In the first place, what is this corbobbery?
Is that the way it is pronounced?"

"No, sir, it is not; though to be sure they do kick up a tremendous
bobbery."

"Well, whatever the name, I suppose it stands for an aboriginal
ceremonial or pastime?" said Neville smilingly.

"Exactly.  Cor-rob-ber-ie is their Café Chautant, a free-and-easy; with
this difference, though—all their performers appear in full dress; got
up to kill by the aid of the tribe tonsorial artists and valets.  The
young bucks are perfect pictures, I do assure you; and as for the
girls——"

"Don’t take any notice of the saucy kid, Mr. Neville," broke in Sandy,
who felt that he owed his young sister one.  "She’s only jigging you.
It’s their native dance and song by the firelight; she’s right there.
The men do the dancing, and the women simply play the music."

"Music!  I had no idea that they were——"

"Musicians.  Oh well, not exactly that.  They beat time for the men.
They, the men, are all painted up and armed.  It’s a sort of action
song, but it’s jolly fine, a tiptop sight, especially when there’s a big
mob of them. Sometimes four or five tribes get together for what they
call the ’great corrobberie.’  Then you see something; for there’s
generally ructions before they finish, particularly if there has been
any grog in the camp.  In that case they usually wind up with a fight,
and then there’s the killed and wounded to count when the cleaning-up’s
done.  It’s all right to-night, though.  There will be only two tribes
in it, and they’ve always been friendly.  Would you like to come?"

"Come!  I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  Yes, you may reckon on me for
one—that is, of course, if your father is agreeable for us to go."

"I suppose, dad," said Sandy, turning to his father, "we may all go?
It’s to be held at the old spot."

"Oh, weel, I suppose you’d think me hard-herted if I said no?  I’ll jist
mak’ one condeetion, and that is, dinna interfere wi’ the blacks.  You
maunna mak’ ony attempt to boss them.  Let them cairry oot things in
their ain way."

"All serene, dad."

"Can the boys have the whitnin’ and other things from the store?"
repeated Sandy.

Consent is given, and the heart of Tarpot, the King of Bullaroi, is made
glad with a goodly parcel of pigments.

That night after tea the party, including Denny Kineavy, mount their
steeds and ride out to the corrobberie grounds, a matter of three miles.

It was situated on a lightly timbered box-tree flat, where a cleared
space occurred forming a natural amphitheatre, wherein the aboriginal
tribes foregathered periodically and disported themselves in their
national characters and games at night time.

The blacks make a distinction in these festivals.  There is the
corrobberie and the cobborn (or great) corrobberie. It was one of the
former that the whites were to witness. The latter occurred only at long
intervals, and was a time of feasting as well as amusement; both
feasting and play being prolonged often for weeks, and generally
attended by all the tribes within a radius of hundreds of miles.

Each tribe would bring its song and dance (corrobberie), in many cases
composed for the special occasion.  This produced the exciting element
of competition.  A corrobberie of exceptional excellence would be
learned by the other tribes, and on their return to their own country
passed on to the surrounding tribes.  Thus it happened sometimes that a
corrobberie of singular merit travelled round and through the continent.

These folk-songs were associated with the dances, and treated on
elemental themes, as war, the chase, the feast, love, birth, death.
Often some humorous theme would be introduced, causing immense fun.  As
a rule each tribe had clowns, whose grotesque attitude and voice
intonations were mirth-provoking to a degree.  The Australian native
manifests a keen appreciation of a joke and has an inborn tendency to
laughter.

The preparations were far advanced by the time the station party arrived
at the camp.  The gins, to whom fell all labour of a manual sort, were
lighting the fires, while the bucks were busy "dressing" for their
parts.

The girls remained in the clearing talking to some of the old gins,
while the males proceeded to the outskirts of the forest, where the work
of adorning went on apace.

For this no pains were spared.  The naked bodies of the dancers were
treated by the tribe experts, and some fearfully and wonderfully
startling effects were produced. Take His Majesty, Tarpot, as a sample.
The ordinary court dress of the King consisted of a tattered police
uniform, together with a crescent-shaped brass plate that adorned his
breast, where it hung, suspended by a chain from his neck.  The
plate—presented to him on one occasion as a joke—bore upon it the
inscription—

                        TARPOT, KING OF BULLAROI


But to-night Merri-dia-o is resplendent in a warrior’s full rig.  A hole
bored through the cartilage of his nose peak displays the bone of an
eagle’s wing, about four inches long, the insignia of his maturity and
dignity—his knighthood’s spurs, so to speak.

Behold, then, athwart his nose, the polished bone, gleaming like ivory
against the ebony background!  His grey hair is trussed up, forming a
big top-knot, and is adorned with the sulphur-hued crest of the white
cockatoo, also with turkey-tail feathers.  Wound several times round his
somewhat corpulent body is a belt of human hair.  This serves to hold
the boomerang and other short weapons.  A dingo-tail skin, split up the
middle to the brush, and bound round the forehead with the brush erect
and plume-like, gives grace and height to the stature.  But the body and
limb painting is the principal part.  Each tribe has its devices.
Pigments are largely used.  The greater the number of colours the more
fantastic is the effect.

When the boys strode up to the "dressing-room" where the tribe artiste
were engaged, they found that most of the men had completed their
adornments and were strutting about casting admiring or envious glances
at one another.  Merri-dia-o, however, was still in the hands of the
dressers, and his markings were a triumph. Being a large-framed and
portly fellow, he showed the designs to the best advantage.  The colour
scheme was brilliant, if nothing else.  On his massive chest, which was
whitewashed for a background, were drawn an emu and a kangaroo.  The
bird’s plumage was bright blue, while the marsupial was as glaring as
red ochre could make it.  These cartoons covered breast and belly, the
limbs being like animated barber’s poles in red and white. On his back,
upon a white ground, was coiled an enormous carpet snake, with erect
head and protruding tongue. When seen in the corrobberie, armed with
spears, shield, and boomerangs, this fantastic figure was without peer
among the warrior-clowns, the whole effect being an extravaganza at once
whimsical and wild.

By the time these preparations were ended the great central fire was
blazing furiously, fed as it constantly was from a dry tinder stack.

The "orchestra," to the number of six, sat in a cluster behind the fire
and beat time to the primitive measures. The musicians for the most part
were old women, who were well-practised performers.  Their instruments
were as primitive as the songs they accompanied, consisting generally of
a tightly folded opossum rug or a shield. These were operated upon by
the palms of the hands or by sticks; a vigorous slapping of the thighs
also gave variety to the combination.  At any rate, a surprising din was
raised.

It has been stated that two tribes participated.  The Ding-donglas were
the guests of the Bullarois, who had provided a grand supper of fat
grubs, native yams, and roast kangaroo for the festivities.

According to immemorial precedence the visiting tribe "took the flure"
first, and gave a most interesting and picturesque display.  The subject
of the corrobberie was an emu hunt, and was full of startling incident,
presenting ludicrous aspects that created roars of laughter. The
descriptive song was chanted in perfect time: a sort of runic lay,
beginning in a low and monotonous key and gradually waxing louder as the
chase progressed, finally ending crescendo in a cry of victory, what
time the animal is overcome and slain.

The spectators, black and white, applauded most generously, our old
friends Jacky and Willy being among the loudest.  The station boys were
in no ways different from their brothers in get up.  For the moment they
had abandoned the role of station hands for that of barbaric
magnificoes.

The whites, especially the girls and Neville, who witnessed the
spectacle for the first time, were delighted beyond measure.  The
silence following the huntsman’s song was of short duration.  The
story-teller of the visiting tribe now advanced within the circle of
light, and in sing-song tones recited one of their folklore stories.


                        THE COCKATOO’S NEST.[#]


[#] Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences.


Once upon a time there lived happily together on an island three young
aborigines, a brother and two sisters. This land was not very far from
the mainland, and the three often used to gaze across at the long
stretch of land, and think of journeying forth from their island home to
see what it was like over there.  They felt sure they would find lots of
things to eat.  So one day by means of a canoe they really did cross
over, and began without loss of time to seek for ’possums, native bears,
and so forth.  In this search round about they at length espied a hollow
limb, which looked uncommonly like a place where a nest would be, and
so, going into a scrub near by, they cut a vine for climbing up.  Up
went the youth, while his sisters waited beneath.  When he had cut open
the limb, he found to his great joy a cockatoo’s nest with young birds
in it, and these latter he proceeded to throw down one by one to his
sisters, the fall to the ground killing the poor things.

Now it so chanced that as the young fellow picked up the last little
bird from the nest, a feather detached itself from its tail, and
floating away on the air, at length settled fair on the chest of an old
man asleep in a hut some distance away.  This old man was really a ghost
who owned the place, and the feather disturbed his rest and woke him up.
Divining at once what was happening, he arose, and getting hold of a
spear and a tomahawk, sallied forth to the tree, where he arrived before
the young fellow had started to climb down.  Seeing the birds dead, the
old man was very angry, and said, "What business you take my birds?  Who
told you to come here?"  He then commanded the tree to spread out and
grow taller and taller, so that the young fellow could not get down,
and, taking the dead birds, he put them in a big round dilly, and
carried them to his hut.

Although the old man did not wait, the tree did his bidding, becoming
immediately very wide and tall, and the young fellow tried his best to
come down, but could not.  So at last he started to sing to the other
trees all around to come to him, which they did; and one falling right
across where he stood, he was able to get to the ground that way.
Somehow, though, in coming down he got hurt, and the gins had to make a
fire to get hot ashes in order to cover him up there.  He lay covered up
so for half an hour, at the end of which time he was all right again.

Of course these three felt very indignant at the old man’s behaviour,
and they thirsted for revenge.  So, calling all the birds of the air to
them, they sought their assistance.  These birds went in front, while
the three cut their way through the thick scrub to the old man’s hut;
and ever as they went, to drown the noise of the cutting, the birds sang
loudly, the wonga pigeon making a tremendous row with his waugh! waugh!
waugh! When they had got nearly to the hut, the old man, who had been
trying to make up for his disturbed sleep, heard the noise of the birds,
and called crossly to them, "Here, what do you make such a noise for?  I
want to sleep!"  But even as he spoke he was dozing, and presently went
right off, suspecting nothing; and when the three reached the doorway,
looking in, they saw him quite soundly sleeping.  So the three clutched
their weapons tightly,—the man his spear, and the women their yam
sticks,—and advancing into the hut, they all viciously jobbed down at
the old man, and lo! he was dead.  His body was dragged forth and
burned, and after the hut was robbed of the young cockatoos and all
objects worthy of value it also was burned, and the three found their
way back to the canoe, and departed home to their island laden with the
spoil.


At the conclusion of the "yarn" the Bullarois retired to the trees
fringing the clearing on the side directly opposite the audience.  After
a short harangue from Merri-dia-o, the braves, about twenty in number,
fully armed and in their war-paint, issued from the forest, headed by
their chief, shouting their battle-cry, gesticulating wildly, and making
a great clatter with their weapons. Advancing upon the foe, now in line
and now in sections, they battled with the enemy, crouching one moment
behind their shields to receive the shower of imaginary spears thrown by
their assailants, the next springing erect and casting, as it were,
their weapons of offence. Following up this round, they bore upon the
visionary foe and engaged in personal encounter.  Retreating one moment
and advancing the following, uttering war cries and fierce challenge,
hurling coarse and stinging epithet, they gradually approached the fire;
the gins meanwhile beat time, giving coherence and harmony to the
bellicose proceedings.

There was such reality in the battle-play, the men were so earnest,
their cries so passionate, their taunts so bitter; in short, there was
such a ring of sincerity, such a presentation of the actual, that the
white spectators were carried away as in the drama when the master
mummers live their parts.

The boys were in a condition of exultancy.  They were inspired by the
martial display to a participation of fellow-feeling with the warring
company.  Neville, too, was fairly captured by this weird yet fierce and
savage sham-fight.  The thrill of combat held him so strongly that he
could not refrain from leaping to his feet and yelling with the
rest—urging them, indeed, to greater slaughter.

It was different with the girls.  Fear laid hold of them at the unwonted
sight.  At first they joined in the hurrahs, but when the fighters
neared them, and it seemed, as was indeed the case, that the very actors
were being carried away by frenzy and battle-lust, their tongues ceased
and a cold chill of apprehension seized them.

The warriors are now right up, fronting the fire.  In a few minutes the
grand finale will have been enacted, and the curtain rung down.
Unfortunately, however, one of the young men has a quarrel with a youth
belonging to the visiting tribe.  In the culminating point of this sham
fight he sees his enemy among the crowd of onlookers, and, urged by his
excited feelings, he directs insulting remarks full at this man, who,
running out into the clear space in front of the fighters, returns these
with interest.  This so enrages the Bullaroi youth that, darting from
the ranks, he slings his spear full at the enemy, and transfixes him in
the breast.  Loud cries of consternation come from the women, and a
moment’s awful stillness from the men. Then, as if by magic, the
Dingdonglas have risen in their wrath, arms in hand.  The play has
vanished, and downright fight and bloody battle ensues.  Spears hurtle
and boomerangs swish through the air; the crash of nulla-nulla on
shields supplants the music of the orchestra, the while the gins flee in
sheer terror from the bloody scene to their huts in the forest, rending
the air with their shrill screams as they speed.

But what of the whites?

They stand a few moments horrorstruck at the raging human cyclone.  At
first the grim reality seemed unreal, just as previously the sham
battle-action appeared real. Joe is the first to size up the situation.
Not only are the blacks in blood-red earnest, but there is actual peril
to the spectators.  The combatants are surging to and fro in the strife
of conflict, and circling as though in a vortex. At any moment the
spectators might be drawn into the battle zone through the movements of
the belligerents.

"Come, Mag, Jess, quickly!" cries that youth, seizing the girls as he
speaks and drawing them away.  "The brutes are at it in real earnest.
Come! we must bolt to the trees.  Great Cæsar, look at that!"  A spear
whistled through the air and impaled itself in a tree near by.

Just then, one of the fighters detached himself from the scrum and came
bounding up to the little group, spear extended.  As he seemed to be on
hostile intent, the youths lined up in front of the girls, ready to
defend them and grapple with the foe.  On nearing, Sandy knew him to be
Willy the station boy.  Willy, loyal to the family, came to entreat them
to leave the field.  There was little fear of any direct attack upon
them, though it were hard to say what turn the savage mind might take.
The apparent danger was from fugitive spears and boomerangs. So Willy
paused but to cry out, "Take ’em girls to horses: safe there; no safe
here.  Go!" and then skipped back to his band, throwing himself heart
and soul into the fray.  For the hour the boy was as great a savage as
any of the young men of the tribe.

The girls, now really terrified, need no pressure to leave; so they
scurry from the field and reach their horses, some distance beyond spear
reach.  There they watch the tide of battle as it ebbs and flows until
it dies, which it is not long in doing, from its very violence.

When the casualties were reckoned it was found that most of the
combatants had received bruises or gashes, limbs were broken, but the
only fatalities were those of the lads who began the quarrel.  Now that
the fight is over, both sides settle down to supper in the best of
humours.  The slate has been cleaned in this primitive fashion, and now
friendships are renewed over handfuls of luscious tree-grubs and hunches
of roast kangaroo. To-morrow there will be weeping in common over the
biers of the departed braves.

"Well, Denny, what do you think of this dreadful corrobberie?" exclaimed
Jessie to the Irish boy as they rode home about midnight.

"Phwat div Oi think iv it, Miss Jassie?  Whoi, it’s been a lovely
foight, shure.  Och, they’re the very divils ontoirely!  Nivir seen sich
a bit of divarsion since Oi left owld Oireland, bedad!  Begorrah, it’d
ta-ake owld Tipperary itself to bate it."

"Do you know what I’ve been thinking of, Denny?" continued the
mischievous girl.

"Nawthin’ but lovely thoughts, Miss Jassie."

"You of course are the best judge, Denny, being an Irishman.  What I was
thinking was this: scratch an aboriginal, and you have an Irishman."

"Och, dear-a-dear, Miss Jassie, to maline me poor counthrymen loike
that!  Troth, then," cried the lad, with a serio-comic air and the
suspicion of a wink, "there’s one thing indade which Irishmen have in
common wid these poor naggurs."

"What is that, Denny?"

"We both suffer at the hands of Saxon landlords."

And Jessie had no answer.



                             *CHAPTER XXV*

                      *IN THE BUSHRANGERS’ CAVES*


    "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree,
    Where Alph the sacred river ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea."
      KUBLA KHAN.


"Joe!"

Silence.

"J-o-o!"

No answer.

"J-o-o-o!"

Profound stillness, broken only by a buzzing fly.

"If you don’t answer within five seconds, an’ short ones at that, look
out for squalls.  You’re only ’possumin’, you rascal!"

Presently a hurtling pillow, and not too soft a one either, struck Joe
Blain, who lay flat on his back, with open mouth, closed eyes, and deaf
ears.  The missile hit him fair and square on the face, hermetically
sealing his breathing apparatus for a moment.

A muffled sound, a quick contortion of the body, and an instinctive
clutch of the hands got rid of the obstruction, which in a twinkling
described a trajectory that impinged on Tom’s left ear.

"Well, what’s in the wind, now?" asked Joe, after this customary
exchange of shots, which was an everyday occurrence.

"I’ve an idea, Joe."

"Howly Moses, you don’t mean it!  Terrible, terrible! Where did you
catch it?"

"Catch your grandmother’s sister’s cat!  Only, you’re such a numskull,
I’d try an’ put it in your head."

"What! my grandmother’s sister’s——"

"No, you ass; a simple idea!"

"Then I’ll bet tuppence it’s simple enough, you goat!"

After this complimentary interchange Tom proceeded: "When we went out to
the caves the other day, we said we’d return before the holidays were
ended, an’ we’ve come to the larst day, ole man.  Ding-bust it! we’ll
have to make for home to-morrer, an’——"

"Ugh! don’t mention it!  Go on about the caves."

"Well, then, that day we went out——  Oh Joey! shall we ever forget the
sight of ’Fevvers’ rollin’——?"

"Look here, Hawkins, if you can’t spit out that idea of yours quick an’
lively, you’d better swallow it!  If you think to waste my valuable
time——"

"Your time wasted!  Pish!  Listen, then.  I vote we go out to the caves
an’ have a look round for the place where Ben Bolt kep’ his horses.
It’d be no end of a lark for us to find, after the police an’ others
have given it up.  What say?"

"There’s not much in your notions, Hawkins, generally speaking; still,
you’ve struck ile this time, sonny. Gewhillikins! it’s all right.  Let’s
have a talk with ole Sandy about it."

"Oh, he’s sure to be nuts on it!  He’s always talkin’ about the
mystery."

"Up, guards, an’ at ’em! as Cromwell sang out at the battle of
Marathon," quoth Joe, in slight historical confusion, as he tumbled out
of bed.

They dressed quickly and then rushed out to find Sandy, who had risen
earlier to yard the horses.  Sandy was nothing loth.  Indeed, he was as
eager as the others, if not more so.  He had often brooded over the
puzzle, and discussed it at times with his mates, but oftener with
himself.  Like the others, he had theories.

"I’ve got to take the harrow to the cultivation paddock after breakfast,
an’ then I’ll be free."

"Can’t you take it now?" suggested Tom.  "Good hour yet to breakfast.
You’ll have whips of time, an’ we’ll help you."

Sandy was agreeable, and the boys soon hoisted the harrow on to the
cart.  They returned in good time for breakfast, and got Mr. M’Intyre’s
consent.

"Best take us with you, Sandy."

"Girls ’d only be in the way, Mag."

"Thanks, me brither!  Just wait till you ask me to cut your lunches!"

"Oh, mother’ll do that."

"Yes; rin to your mither and hold on to her apron-strings. For
selfishness and for cheek, commend me to a brother!  You’re all alike.
I expect Tom and Joe are no better at home, for all they put on mighty
innocent airs here," prattled the girl, in mock sarcasm.

"I hope you’ll count me in, boys?" said Neville.  "I have intimated to
Mrs. M’Intyre that I shall be forced to tear myself away from her
unbounded hospitality,"—"Fevvers" was still a trifle stilted,—"but she
will not hear of my leaving till the end of the week.  You know," he
went on, "I did not have an opportunity—the last time I—er—we were out
there—and——"

"You lassoed an Englishman with a stock whip," broke in Jessie the
tease.

"And behaved like a brick," interposed Maggie, who noticed the
involuntary wince on the part of the Englishman.  This was, indeed, a
sore spot; but he was growing rapidly in grace.

Neville winced under Jess’s sally, but took it in good part.  "It’s all
part of the breaking-in process, Miss Jessie.  I believe I can dismount
now a little more gracefully.  I shall be glad of an opportunity to see
the famous bandit’s caves.  It will be something to relate in England."

It did not take the boys long to get ready.  Half an hour later the
party was _en route_ for the caves, determined to solve the puzzle.

"You’ll do nothing rash, boys?" said the careful mother at parting,
"Have you enough candles?"

"Plenty; also ropes and tucker.  Don’t worry about us, mother; we may
not be back till near bedtime—depends on what luck we have."

"You’ve got a scheme, Sandy, I s’pose?" remarked Joe, as they jogged
along the road.

"Yes, Joe, I’ve an idea; but of course only testing it will prove its
worth.  The caves are situated in a spur running north and south.  The
opening, we know, is on the east side.  Nothing bigger than a wallaby or
a dingo, save of course a man, can squeeze through that opening. Either
there is another and separate cave adjacent, where the ’rangers stalled
their horses, or there is an easier entrance somewhere in the spur that
has a connection with the ones we have already visited."

"You must remember, though, Sandy, that Inspector Garvie and his men
spent days in searching the locality, an’ how are we chaps to do in a
day what they failed to do after several days, and with black trackers,
too?"

"I’m not likely to forget that."

"I vote, then," said Joe, "we go straight to the caves an’ explore ’em
first."

"It’d take us all day to search those ravines and bluffs on the west
side," added Tom, "so I’m in favour of Joe’s proposal."

"I’m not sure that I should have a voice in this matter," spoke Neville.
"You fellows will have to settle it between yourselves.  Whatever you
decide upon will be agreeable to me."

"Matter’s decided, then," answered Sandy.  "Joe and Tom are for the
caves direct.  Honestly speaking, although I would dearly love a try at
the western side, for I’m convinced that the outlet lies there, I think,
on the whole, we’d better stick to the caves, giving them first show,
anyhow."

"Carried unanimously by a large majority, as Denny would say," cried Joe
the spokesman.

On arrival at the camping grounds, the place of the late serio-comic
adventure, the explorers—for such we must call them—unsaddled, and
short-hobbled their horses.

"I vote," said Joe, "that we boil the billy an’ have a go at the tuck
before we tackle the caves.  It’ll be better than taking the prog with
us, an’ ’ll save us coming out for lunch."

"Agreed!" chorus the rest with a readiness and gusto which in matters of
meat is almost an instinct of boyhood.  Accordingly the wood is
gathered, and ere long, with whetted appetites, they are absorbingly
engaged on a substantial meal.

"There are three things to remember, mates.  First of all, the candles.
We’ll divide them equally, three apiece. Here’s a box of matches for
each.  Father gave me a caution, about lights.  We’re to carefully watch
the candles as we proceed through the passages.  He says the poisonous
gases collect in places that are not well ventilated, an’ that means
death in no time if we remain in such spots."

"How’d we know, Sandy?"

"I was just going to tell you.  If we get into such places, father says,
the candle will burn dimly, an’ if it’s very bad, will go out
altogether.  When we happen on such spots, if there are any, we are to
retreat immediately; so don’t forget, boys, should we be separated."

"That," said Neville, "is most important."  He related one or two
incidents of fatal accidents in connection with English collieries
through fire-damp.  That danger, though, is seldom encountered in such
caves as the boys were intent on exploring.

"What’s the third thing, Sandy?"

"The third thing, Hawkins, is to make fast to this green-hide.  It is
twenty-five feet long, an’ we’ll tie on to it as we go through the
passages.  Father says there are often holes in the floors and very
steep inclines.  Best to be on the safe side, though I don’t suppose
we’ll really need it."

"I say," queried Neville, "hadn’t we better take some stout cudgels with
us, for fear of snakes and wild beasts?"

"Happy thought, Mr. Neville.  Not for wild beasts, though an old-man
kangaroo can be as dangerous as a bear with his paws when he’s bailed up
by the dogs."

"What about monkeys, then?"

"Monkeys?  We haven’t any."

"Well, I heard one of the travellers say, while he was having a feed at
the men’s hut, that he’d been engaged to go for a mob of monkeys."

"Ha—ha—ha!  Well, you are a——Why, the man was talking about sheep.
Monkey is a pet name for them.  We’ll want some sticks, though, as well
as the tomahawk."

So saying, Sandy proceeded to hack at a cluster of gum saplings, and cut
three waddies about five feet in length, and a fourth one eight feet
long, and proportionately thick.  Armed with these and carrying the
other necessaries, including a billy of water and a snack of food, the
exploration party proceeded to the cave entrance.

After gaining access to the first cave, the boys allowed Neville a few
minutes’ pause to get at home with his surroundings, before going on to
the second or cathedral chamber.  They then pursued their way through
the tortuous and difficult passage between the two chambers, till at
length they arrived at the opening.

"Hello!" exclaimed Sandy, who was in the lead, with an involuntary gasp.

"What’s up?" cried Joe, who was immediately behind him.

"Why, ladder’s gone!"

"Jemima! you don’t say so.  Why—how——?"

"It’s gone, all right," replied the leader, as he peered by the light of
his candle into the gloomy recesses of the cave.  "Clean gone!  Don’t
see it on the floor below, so it can’t have dropped."

Joe, squeezing abreast Sandy, and doubling the light power, added his
eyes to those of his mate in the search.

"No go," said he, after a keen but vain search.  "Anyway, I can see how
to get down easy enough."  So saying, he placed his stick across the
mouth of the passage, jamming it on either side into an interstice.
"There!" he exclaimed, as he hung his weight upon the transverse beam,
which, though bowing, did not crack when bearing his weight.  "Let’s put
the rope round this, an’ we’ll slip down less’n no time."

"Wait a jiffy, Joe," said Sandy, who had been critically eyeing the
staff.  "We’ll make ’assurance doubly sure,’ as your father said in his
sermon last Sunday,"—poking his stick while he spoke, into the same
cavities as the other occupied.  "That will stiffen it.  It’s easy
enough getting down: we could jump, for that matter.  It’s the getting
up that’s the problem.  There, it’s as stiff as a fire-bar now.  Here’s
the first to go down."

Holding the rope, the boy swung off, and was soon standing on the floor
of the lower cave.  The others followed rapidly.  They could find no
trace of the missing ladder.  Not only was the ladder spirited away,
there were other signs which showed that the caves had been entered
since the last visit of the boys, and on proceeding to the third
chamber, where the bushrangers slept, there were manifest signs of
disturbance.

"Some un’s been here, that’s certain."

Sandy gave voice to the one opinion.  The bark bunks occupied by the
outlaws were thrown off their trestles to the ground.  There was no
gainsaying Sandy’s statement. The situation was peculiar.  The boys
might well be pardoned for being a little fearsome and creepy under the
circumstances.

"I heard Dickson tell your father, Sandy, at the brumby hunt, that a
party was comin’ out from Tareela to visit the caves.  P’r’aps it’s them
that have moved the ladder."

"Don’t think it could have been," persisted Joe. "There’s no sign of
their camp outside."

"What about the ’rangers?"

The thought was decidedly unpleasant, and when voiced it struck a chill
in the hearts of all.  As a matter of fact, the thought had lain in
Sandy’s mind from the time he missed the ladder.

Ben Bolt was not a desperado of the Morgan or Kelly type—men who were
conscienceless, treacherous, and full of the blood-lust.  Many, indeed,
of his acts of gallantry and open-hearted generosity, if theatrical,
were nevertheless redeeming qualities in the old-time bushranger.  A man
of great resource and daring, a thorough bushman, a superb rider,
mounted always on the finest of horses,—stud stock mostly, which he
"lifted" from celebrated breeding stations,—the ’ranger was, in some
respects, a picturesque figure, and had a most adventurous career. Often
located and even sighted by the police, he was always able to make good
his escape, either by bush strategy or by an amazingly daring piece of
riding in rough country, at which even his intrepid pursuers, themselves
accomplished horsemen, stood aghast.

There was a spirit of romanticism about the fellow. His dress and
appearance gave colour to that.  He was passionately attached to his
wife and children, and often incurred desperate risks in visiting them
when "home-sickness" seized him.  His house was ever under the
surveillance of the police, who fondly hoped to catch him by that lure.
Yet, though often within an ace of capture, he always escaped.
Outwitting the subtlest efforts of the police, he was their despair.
Though of a sanguine temperament, there were seasons when he was the
victim of a black mood.  At such times he was most dangerous and cruel.

"It could hardly be Ben Bolt," said Sandy at length. "It’s quite
possible that the town party has been.  How could Ben be here an’ in
Queensland?"

"Well, what’s next, Sandy?"

"I’d like us to explore the opening in the passage first, Joe.  Come,
boys, let’s shin up."

This was speedily accomplished, and the pals proceeded to the spot that
was in Sandy’s eye, so to speak.

"Here’s the place I meant!" exclaimed he, when they had retraced their
steps some distance through the passage.  The opening, at first sight,
appeared to be a deep recess.  Upon close examination, however, it was
found that the wall and the roof did not meet.  There was a hole some
two feet in diameter.

"I spotted this when I came with father," explained the leader.  "Now,
if one of you fellows will give me a hoist, I’ll get my head and
shoulders into that opening above, and find out whether it’s a chimney,
or takes a turn and forms a passage."

Accordingly Joe, stooping a little, received Sandy on his shoulders, by
which he was able to rise into the hole.

"Hurrah—hurrah!" he exclaimed a minute later.  "It’s a passage all
right, boys.  There’s a sort of landing, anyway, and it looks as though
there’s a passage beyond. Hold steady, Joe, an’ I’ll try an’ get my
hands on the ledge."

The boy made several efforts without avail, for he was an inch or so too
low.

"Step on my shoulders, Sandy."  It was Neville who had placed himself
alongside Joe.  His shoulders were at least three inches higher.  Thus
raised, Sandy had no difficulty in grasping the ledge of the landing.
Catching the lad’s feet with his hands, Neville pushed the boy higher,
and soon he worked his way on to the floor of the ceiling, as it were.

This done, he proceeded to light his candle and explore, for it was
impenetrably dark.  Following the passage inwards, the boy advanced some
distance.  He found that it widened as he proceeded, and became easier
to traverse.

"I’d better return now for the other chaps," muttered the lad.
Accordingly he retraced his steps and explained matters to the anxiously
waiting group.  By the aid of the green-hide lariat, the others were
soon up with the leader on the landing.

Here, then, was a new situation.  In all probability the foot of man had
never trodden this place.  There were no traces of any living thing.  It
was in no light mood, therefore, that the boys made a start.  Their
position was unique and thrilled them.  They might, in a literal way,
bring to light the hidden things of darkness.  Not for ages, or ever, in
all likelihood, had those walls been lighted up and gazed upon.  Whither
would the pathway lead?

Proceeding, they encountered no difficulty for some time, as the passage
widened in places, enabling them to walk abreast.  Soon, however, it
began to contract, and in places it became a squeeze.  The roof, too,
dipped considerably, so that it could be touched by the extended hand.

Sandy, who was still leading, began to experience a tired feeling.
There was a peculiar sensation in his ears, and a tightening in the
throat.  After advancing a few steps farther he stumbled and almost
fell.  His candle, too, began to burn very dimly.  His followers were
experiencing similar feelings.  In a moment the cause of this untoward
feeling came flashing across his mind.

Joe, behind him, cried out, "I say, Sand ... I’m gettin’ ... short..."

"Back, everybody!  Fire-damp!" cried the leader in a raucous voice,
after a violent effort.

It was a narrow squeak.  Though only a few minutes in the poisoned air,
they were all on the verge of unconsciousness.  Gasping, trembling, the
sweat oozing from every pore, they struggled on until they reached the
widened area of the passage, and then sank, exhausted, to the ground.
Tom, who was at the tail of the procession was not so bad as the others,
not having penetrated so far into the poison zone.

The pure air soon revived them.  Their respiration, which was very
laboured at first, improved as soon as the sweet, dry air entered their
lungs, and ousted the putrid gas which had lodged there.  A pull at the
water-can, which fortunately they had brought with them, helped them a
lot, and in a short time they were themselves again.

"That ends chapter one," said Joe dryly.  "Whereaway now, Captain?"

"We’ve come to the end of our tether sudden enough, and with a
vengeance.  It’ll be something, Mr. Neville, to tell ’em in England.
Let us get back to the old passage. This is nothing but a death-trap."



                             *CHAPTER XXVI*

                            *THE EXPLORERS*


"’The best hearts, Trim, are ever the bravest,’ replied my uncle
Toby."—STERNE.

"That’s a valiant flea that dares eat his breakfast on the lip of a
lion!"—SHAKESPEARE.


"How quickly we ran into that poison-trap!  No smell or anything to warn
us," remarked Neville, when the normal condition of the lads was
restored, "save a nauseous feeling which supervened."

"Whatcher think made it hang like that, Mr. Neville? Seemed to me like
an invisible fog that we suddenly encountered."

"That is really what I believe it to be, Tom.  I know from what I have
read and heard, the gas is colourless and quite heavy.  An uncle of mine
is a colliery manager in Wales, and this fire-damp, or choke-damp, as it
is sometimes called, is often fatal, because it fills the lungs so that
no other air can enter, and in this way suffocates its victims.  We were
just on the fringe of it, I think.

"As I was saying, this fire-damp, which is always much more dangerous
after an explosion in the mines, is generally formed by the
decomposition of certain substances in vegetable fibres, or in veins of
carbonised mineral.  That is why it is called carbonic acid gas.  It is
much heavier than the air.  You remember the passage was contracted, and
the air seems to have become impregnated at that particular place."

"Well, whatever it is," said Joe, who had just made a few spasmodic
heaves, "it’s good enough to keep out of.  Let’s give the acid, or gas,
or damp, or whatever it’s called, leg bail."

The party of defeated but not disgraced explorers now retraced their
steps.  Eagerly scanning the walls as they retreated for signs of
diverging passages, they soon found themselves at the landing, whence
they swung down into the blind alley that led to the main passage.

"Sandy," said Joe, when the party had emerged, "give that passage a
name.  Leichhardt gave names, you know, to all the creeks, hills, and
water-holes he discovered in his travels.  I reckon yon’s our discovery.
Faugh!" ejecting a mouthful of saliva, "it tastes like rotten
soda-water.  Let’s call the beastly place by a name that’ll fit it."

"Christen away."

"Me!  Well—er—how’d ’Poison Pot’ do?"

’"Death Trap’ would be better," replied Sandy.  So thought the others,
and it was accordingly named "Death Trap Passage."

"Now, chaps, let’s get back to the cathedral.  There’s a likely spot
there—that hole, I mean, where the boulder was jammed."

"What’s the time, Mr. Neville?" asked Joe, on arrival at the big
chamber.

"Quarter to one."

"Why, we’ve hardly been three hours in!  I made sure it was about six."

"I vote we have a go at the prog," chipped in Tom. "It’ll help to take
the nasty taste away."

"Good idea!" was the general verdict.

The pals had lost a good deal of their natural spirits. Three hours
groping in semi-darkness, with a throat full of choke-damp thrown in,
was enough to stale the strongest; yet they had no thought of surrender.
They were "baffled, to fight better."

In a few minutes the outer entrance is gained, and in another five
minutes they reach camp.

The hot tea was particularly acceptable.  Nothing in the wide world
could have been more refreshing and stimulating.  Billy-tea boiled with
gum sticks, just so far sweetened as to countervail the natural
roughness without impairing the aromatic flavour, stands at the head of
all beverages—whether aerated, brewed, distilled, or concocted.

"My word, this is bully tea, ain’t it?" cried Tom, smacking his lips
with satisfaction, after emptying his pannikin for the third time.

Neville in particular—to whom the outing and the exploration was a new
experience—felt, as he puffed at a cigar, the stirrings of a larger and
a nobler nature than that which had hitherto exercised him.  Business
life seemed flat and stale compared with this al fresco existence.

"Time to be goin’ back again," said the practical Sandy, breaking in on
a post-prandial reverie.  "Gimme the tommie, Joe."

Tomahawk in hand, the boy walked to the sapling clump, and selecting a
stout specimen, vigorously attacked it with the weapon.  From this he
cut two six-foot lengths, sharpening the thicker ends, crowbar fashion.

"What’s that for, Sandy?"

"To prise the boulder.  They’ll make capital levers."

Armed with these additional implements, the lads returned to the caves,
and in due course lowered themselves into the cathedral.

The spot which Sandy had mentally marked as a likely one has already
been described.  It was a cleft in the floor at its junction with the
wall, and immediately behind a huge stalagmite.  It must have escaped
the vigilant eyes of the professional trackers.  The corner was a very
dark one, and unless one looked closely behind the boulder the cleft
would not be observed.  Sandy had lit upon it in a promiscuous search,
and was impressed by its possibilities as another outlet, or inlet, to
other cavities.

No sooner had the boys arrived at the spot, and Sandy had cast his eye
upon it, than he exclaimed, "Somebody’s been here!"

"How d’yer know?"

"This stone is not in the same position as when I last saw it."

"Who could it ’a’ been?"

"Dunno.  I’m crack sure, however, that this stone was not square down
the other day.  The flat of it was down and the point of it up.  Now
it’s reversed.  Besides, here are crowbar marks."

"It’ll be hard enough to get out—much harder than it would ’a’ been if
it hadn’t been touched."

"Must have been a strong chap that turned it!"

"Strong?  No one man could ever have done it!  It would be difficult for
two.  Why, that stone’s not a pound less than four hundredweight!"

"Well, time’s goin’," said Joe, "and what’s done’s done. Let’s at it,
Sandy.  Up-end her, and throw her over on the floor."

The lads vainly tried to insert the wooden bar. The cracks between the
lid, so to speak, and the edge at the opening were not sufficiently wide
to admit this.

"It won’t do," said Sandy after a while; "we’re gettin’ no forrader."

"I suggest," interposed Neville, "that you widen the cracks."

"How can we do that?"

"Will you let me have a try?"

"My!—rather.  Anything to get the blame thing out."

Neville picked up the tomahawk that was lying near at hand, and began
striking the edges of the hole where Sandy had been prising.

"That’s the stitch!" cried Tom.  "Well done, Mr. Neville!"

The limestone readily yielded to Neville’s strokes, and the crevice was
soon wide enough to take in the thick end of the stout gum sapling.

Sandy and Neville, taking a pull at the end, levered the stone high
enough for Joe, who had the other bar ready to insert between the raised
end and the floor stone. With this additional lever power the "stopper"
was canted on one side, high enough to put the stone chocks in.  Another
application of the bars, with two boys hanging on each and pulling
simultaneously, brought the "stopper out of the bottle," and toppled it
over with a thud that shook the floor; bringing down a stalactite with a
crash, fortunately without harm to the exploring party.

Before venturing down, Joe, in whose mind an idea had been fermenting
while the stone-raising business was being carried on, critically
surveyed the stone "stopper."

"Look here!" remarked he, "these are the marks of an iron crowbar.
Whoever removed this had the proper tools for it.  Whatcher make of
that?  That upsets the town party theory, don’t it?"

"It certainly makes the puzzle harder," said Neville.

"Think so?  Makes it easier to me," quoth Sandy.

"How’s that?"

"Looks more’n more like Ben Bolt’s work."

"Think he’s in there now?" exclaimed Tom, in an awed whisper.

"No, I don’t think that.  But it shows me that he’s knocking about here
again, an’ he’s been in the caves quite recently."

The boys looked into each other’s faces, and felt—well, just as you
would feel, brave reader, were you in the cavernous depths of earth, in
the very haunts of proclaimed outlaws, not knowing at what moment they
might spring upon you.  Standing in the cold, damp, dim underground, at
the mouth of an unknown passage, which might take you to the innermost
den of the outlaws, could you contemplate advance without an attack of
the creeps? The crevice, after going down sheer a few feet, turned on a
level plane, right across the floor of the cathedral, in a westerly
direction.  How far could be known only by actual travel.

"Come on, boys," said Sandy, after a moment’s silence; "it’s what we’ve
come here for.  I believe, for one, we’re goin’ to solve the mystery."

One by one the lads dropped into the bottom of the well.  The passage
was of unequal width, but always wide enough to allow the party to
proceed without squeezing, and had a fairly level floor.  The floor,
after extending two hundred paces or so in a westerly direction, began
to decline somewhat sharply, and presently Sandy gave a warning shout—

"Water ahead!"

The others crowded round him as well as they could. There, at their very
feet, was a pool of water of unknown depth.

"Here’s a go, chaps!  Looks as if it might be a swim."

The pool covered a fairly wide stretch, and was in a dip of the passage.

"Don’t think it’s a swim myself," remarked Joe. "Let’s take off our
boots an’ pants.  I fancy we’ll find it only a wade.  We can move
cautiously and test it with a bar as we proceed."

The party did as suggested, and found to their satisfaction that the
water did not rise above their knees; for none of them relished a swim
in the icy water.  After re-dressing, the company moved forward, and
soon emerged into a spacious cavern that fairly sparkled with lime
crystals.  Little time, however, was spent in admiration.  They moved
across it in the same direction, and found two exits.  After a short
consultation, they decided to take the larger of the two passages,
because it seemed to be a continuation of the old track.  Just as they
started, Tom, who was in the rear, on looking round, saw what appeared
to be a bundle on the floor of the cave, some distance to the right.

"Wait a moment," cried he, as he ran to the object. "Oh, I say, here’s a
find!"

The others, who were in the entrance, backed out, and ran to his side.
Tom held the old vine ladder in his hands.

There was no longer any doubt.  There could be only one conclusion.  At
the sight of this the boys had a bad attack of the creeps.

"It’s the ’rangers all right.  They’ve slipped the police again."  There
seemed to be no alternative to this conclusion.  "Seems to me,"
continued Joe, who was the quickest of the lot in reasoning out a thing,
"that they’ve been back here again, and knowing that the bobbies’ll be
on the watch to trap ’em at this spot, they’ve locked up the house, in a
way of speakin’, an’ thrown the key inside.  I vote that we go on."

No one said nay, and so the advance was made.  The passage presented no
serious obstacle, widening and narrowing at intervals, but never too
narrow to proceed. As they were squeezing through a difficult place,
Sandy again sounded the alarm.

"What’s up now?" said Joe, who was just behind.

"’Nother big cave, an’ a deep drop into it, same as the other.  There’s
a bar across here where they’ve slung ropes.  Undo the lasso, chaps."

"Let’s hope we’re getting near the end of it."

The speaker was Joe.  The truth is, the work was most tiring in its
nature, and the spirits of the party were yielding to a very uneasy
feeling, despite Joe’s plausible theories that the end might be the
reverse of pleasant. Should Ben Bolt, after all, be in hiding, well—the
worst might happen.

Fixing the rope, they slipped down to the floor of the new cave.  This,
though not remarkable for beauty, was commodious enough, and had several
outlets, in one of which there were indubitable evidences of the
one-time presence of horses.

"Hello! here’s the stable," cried Tom, who was first in this recess.

Sure enough in a vault-shaped but very roomy cavern, entered by a wide
passage, was the robbers’ stable. Several bundles of bush hay were
stacked in one corner. A manure heap filled the other.  All this pointed
to a prolonged occupation.  The idea of the robbers’ presence had so
materialised by these later evidences that the boys felt they might be
confronted at any moment by the desperadoes.

"What’ll we do, Joe?" said Tom.  "Slip quietly back again?"

"Slip back again, after getting this far!  Don’t be frightened, Tom."

"I’m not; y’are yourself."

"Well," replied Joe, with a smile, "I’ll not deny that I’ve felt like it
more’n once.  But there’s one thing you’ve not noticed, chaps."

"What’s that?" chorused the group.

"There’s not been any horses here for weeks."

"How d’yer know?"

"No fresh droppings."

That fact was indisputable, conclusive, and enheartening. It lifted a
load of apprehension, to call it by no harder name; and now, with
buoyant spirits, to which they had been strangers for some time, the
boys continued the search.  The end, indeed, was close at hand.

"Look out sharply for tracks," was the command of the leader on leaving
the stable, stooping low as he spoke, and eagerly scanning the floor.
Hoof-prints were discovered and followed.  They led to a corner of the
big cave which narrowed at that point, and continued on as an opening.
After going a few paces, Sandy called out, "Hurrah—hurrah!  Light
ahead!"

Sure enough, a few yards farther the passage was lighted with natural
rays that shot through a small opening some distance ahead.  The party
was exultant, and needed no telling that this was sunlight.  In this
subterranean fashion the explorers had traversed, mole-like, the range
spur, and proved the theory of the dual entrance.

Like as the exultation of Columbus when the first sight of the new world
convinced him that he had solved the riddle of ages, or as Leichhardt
felt when he and his dauntless band stood upon the shores of the great
northern gulf, after having passed through the very heart of Australia’s
_terra incognita_, so did the breasts of these brave youths swell with
the spirit of triumph when that ray of light revealed the joyful fact
that they, a group of mere youngsters, had succeeded where the experts
had failed.

The whole company darted through the spacious passage to the opening.
It was in the face of a cliff, and fully fifty yards from its sloping
base.  So steep was the cliff that, viewed from a distance, it appeared
perpendicular; forbidding to anything save rock wallabies and—Ben Bolt.

Its very roughness, however, made its ascent a possibility.  Had it been
a smooth face, no horse, however capable, could have climbed it.  Ben
Bolt was always able to achieve the possible.  Many of his wild rides
bordered on the miraculous.  His personality magnetised his steeds.
Wherever he led they would go, and so the steep ravine that rose from
the rocky base to this entrance afforded a precarious footing for the
outlaw’s horses.

"Now then, boys, before we go down, let’s give a cheer," said Sandy.
Led by the leader, the group signalled its victory—for such it was, and
no mean one—by a rousing cheer that woke the echoes of the precipice and
spread wave-like over the landscape beyond.

It penetrated the ears of two men who were riding quietly in the bush
that lay beyond the rocky plateau which formed the base of the cliffs.

"What’s that?" exclaimed the elder to the youth who rode at his side.

"Sounds like a cheer," replied the youth.  "Who can it be—traps?"

Turning their horses’ heads, they rode swiftly but silently to the edge
of the scrubby timber which they were traversing.  Halting just within
the bushy barrier, they parted the leaves, and there, perched high up
the cliff’s side, were four youthful forms—the band of cave explorers.

"Now, boys, we’ll go back an’ have another look round before we leave.
Might find something belonging to Ben Bolt worth carryin’ away.  We can
easily get out on this side, and cross the spur a little higher up,
where the cliff runs out.  ’Twon’t take long neither!  I say—won’t we
have a yarn to spin to-night!"

But the unexpected is yet to happen.  The company retraced their steps
to the cave, and did a little exploration; finding nothing, however, but
a couple of leather mail-bags and some opened letters—the remains of
coach-robbery spoils.

"This is the last one, mates," remarked Sandy, as the group entered the
mouth of a passage.  After traversing its course a little distance, it
opened up into a small cave, twenty feet square.  On one side of it were
bunks similar to those in the other cave.  While in the act of examining
it, Joe fancied he heard a footfall.  Stopping a moment to listen, he
distinctly heard the sounds of stealthy footsteps.

"’S-s-sh-h-h, boys!  Some un’s followin’!"

At this startling statement the boys halted and turned round, to be
confronted by two forms hardly distinguishable in the surrounding gloom.
The pals gave a gasp of terror as the call peculiar to highwaymen smote
their ears and they faced two weapons, levelled point blank.

"Hands up!"

Candles are dropped in sheer fright in an eye-wink, and hands go up in
gross darkness.


The sun had just set as the four youths, in company with two men,
mounted their horses and took the track leading to Bullaroi.  Strange to
say, the lads showed no signs of fear, nor were they bound with cords.

"By jingo!" cried Tom, who had just put his horse at a big log and
cleared it in fine style, followed in order by Joe, Sandy, and Neville,
"this is the grandest outin’ I’ve ever had!"

"It’s a’ very weel," answered Mr. M’Intyre, who with Denny Kineavy had
been following the tracks of some strayed cattle which were making for
the ranges, and were passing the cliff opening while the cave explorers
were ringing the welkin with cheers, "but supposin’ that instead o’ us,
it ’d really been the bushrangers returnin’ and catcht ye trespassin’?
What then, ma laddies?"

This query raised visions of possibilities that sobered the vaulting
spirits of the pals for some brief moments. Very thankful were they in a
moment of reflection that they had been bailed up by a friendly enemy.

"Heigho!"

"What’s matter, Joe?"

"Fun’s all over: measly school opens to-morrow!"



                            *CHAPTER XXVII*

                              *A RESPITE*


    "Ah! those were the days of youth’s perfect spring,
    When each wandering wind had a song to sing,
    When the touch of care and the shade of woe
    Were but empty words we could never know,
    As we rode ’neath the gum and the box trees high,
    And our idle laughter went floating by."
      GEORGE ESSEX EVANS.


Joe little thought when making the melancholy statement, "measly school
opens to-morrow," how prophetic the utterance was.

The first words that greeted the party on their return to the homestead
were: "School won’t open for another three weeks; the town’s full of
measles."

The pals tried hard to look sober and concerned as Mrs. M’Intyre dilated
upon the nature of the epidemic. It was a vain attempt.  To their credit
be it said, they were very poor hypocrites.  Whatever sorrow they might
feel on account of their friends who were in the grip of the disease was
more than counterbalanced by the blissful intimation that, owing to the
epidemic which had unexpectedly broken out, the school authorities had
resolved, for at least three weeks, to keep the school closed.

"There’s no going home at present, boys.  I wouldn’t dream of letting
you return.  I’ll just write to your mothers to say I intend keeping you
here, unless they want you particularly.  I feel sure they will be
thankful for your absence at such a time.  So you’ll have to make the
best of it, boys.  Are you sorry?"

"Well—er—of course—I’m a——"

"Yes—a—of course—you’re—a—shedding tears at the thought of staying here
another fortnight or so—aren’t you, Joe?  You and Tom do look as
miserable as moulting fowls in wet weather at the bare thought of
holiday extension."

The lads burst out laughing at Jessie’s sally, and declared that it was
the crummiest news they had received during the holidays.

"That’s a’ very weel, and ye needna fash, laddies, that you’ll ootwear
your welcome.  But here’s some news that may no’ be so pleasant," said
the squatter, who had been busy with his mail.  "Here’s a letter frae
Inspector Garvie to say that Ben Bolt and his mate are in the deestric’
again.  He stuck up Dirrilbandie Station three days ago, drivin’ a’ the
hands aboot the homesteed, along wi’ Wilson and his faimily, into ane o’
the men’s huts, in which they were held by his youthfu’ confederate
while he ransacked the place."

"Oh! the poor Wilsons!  Did he hurt any of them? and did he get much?"

In reply to a fusillade of questions from the excited household,
M’Intyre stated that though Ben Bolt was in one of his black humours,
was in fact on the point of shooting one of the men for cheeking his
mate, and was only dissuaded from this atrocity by the pleading of Mrs.
Wilson, no one was injured.  He had taken a considerable amount of loot,
however, in the shape of jewellery; also a pair of new improved
revolvers, as well as three horses, one of them being Wilson’s handsome
chestnut gelding, the finest hack in the district, and for which he had
a short time previously refused seventy pounds from the police
authorities.

There had been an outcry against the Government for not having provided
a better class of mount for the troopers.  Again and again the schemes
of the police to capture the bushrangers in various parts of the colony
failed, chiefly because they were out-classed in horse-flesh.  A tardy
Government, aroused at last to action by the clamour of the people, was
doing its best to remedy this unequal condition.

"I suppose, sir, the police are in full chase of the desperadoes?"

"They’re doin’ their best, ye may be sure, Mr. Neville. Garvie has two
pairties oot scoorin’ the country, and is holdin’ himsel’ in readiness
to move to ony pint at a moment’s notice.  As the scoondrels hae cut the
Walcha telegraph line, the presumption is they will be raidin’ the
place, and Sergeant Hennessey is following up with the utmost speed.
The Sub wants the loan o’ Jacky or Willy, or both, as trackers, and to
let him ken at aince should there be ony signs o’ them on Bullaroi,
’specially aboot the caves."

"Are you goin’ to lend him the boys, father?"

"Weel, it’s very awkward, but I’ll hae to assist the coorse o’ juistice
when ca’d upon.  We maun dae oor pairt to catch the rascals."

"Suppose you _had_ tumbled across the ’rangers in the caves, boys?"

"Well! an’ s’p’osin’ we had, Miss Jessie?" replied Tom, whose answer in
tone and query suggested unspeakably bad things for the outlaws had they
been unfortunate enough to meet the cave heroes.

"Let me pit ye a sum in arithmeetic, Thomas, ma laddie; juist a sma’ sum
in proportion.  If twa stock wheep hondles, pinted at fowr cave
explorers, each wi’ a lighted candle in his hand, would cause the said
candles to drop to the flure and fowr pair o’ hands to go up like a toy
acrobat when ye pu’ the strings, what attitudes would the aforesaid
explorers strike if a pair o’ rale loaded peestols had been presented?"

"Tom is always a duffer at proportion," interjected Joe laughingly.  "He
has a trick of givin’ answers that make Simpson sit up.  To tell you the
truth, sir, I don’t think that the real article could have given us a
greater shock.  Speaking for myself, I confess that I’ve never had so
bad an attack of the shakes before.  My skin went goosey in a moment,
an’ my hair stood up like a hedgehog’s spikes.  I couldn’t ’a’ said a
word for a hatful of sovereigns.  You see, sir, _it was all very real to
us for the moment_, and none of the others felt any better than myself,
I bet tuppence."

"Joe’s quite right, sir.  I had a most dreadful feeling as we stood
there in the black darkness.  It seemed as if a vast abyss had suddenly
engulfed us and we were sinking to fathomless depths."

"I’ll back up Joe and Mr. Neville, dad.  My word, when you spoke, it was
as if some one had suddenly pulled me out of a dreadful nightmare."


The pals went to bed early, as they were tired out after the unwonted
exertions of the day, but not to sleep. They were too excited for that.

"I say, chaps," exclaimed Sandy, jumping out of bed after he had tossed
about for a few minutes, dragging his stretcher alongside the bigger
bed, "let’s settle what we’re goin’ to do."

"Was just thinking of doin’ a sleep, Master M’Intyre, when you commenced
to drag the jolly stretcher with enough noise to wake the seven
sleepers.  An’ as for ole Tom, I fancied I heard a snore comin’ through
a hole in his pumpkin——"

"Pumpkin yourself, Blain.  I’m as wide awake as you, or that grinnin’
ape Sandy."

"How d’yer know I’m grinnin’?"

"’Cause I can see your jolly teeth shinin’ in the dark. But I say, ole
chap, I’m on for a confab.  Ouch! my legs _are_ stiff.  Wish I’d taken
that hot bath your mother advised.  Whatcher got in your ole noddle?"

"Something big, mates, but the difficulty will be with mother.  You see,
now ole Ben’s prowlin’ about, mother’ll be hard to persuade."

"Well, tell us what’s up your sleeve; we can discuss ways an’ means
after."

"It’s this: go on a campin’ trip to the Bay, where there’s grand
fishin’; then go out to the gold-diggin’s, an’ put in a couple o’ days
with the fossikers."

"Jemima! that’d be no end of a prime lark!  It’d top off our stay here,
wouldn’t it, Tom?"

"Susan Jane! it would that, Joe.  My word, it’d be a scrumptious finish!
but what charnce would we have of carrying it out?"

"I don’t think that either your Jemima or Susan Jane’ll have much to do
with it.  Mother’ll be the chief obstacle."

"What about a tent, Sandy?  We’d have to get one, wouldn’t we?"

"There’ll be no trouble about that part of the business. There’s a big
drover’s tent in the harness-room; ’sides, Harry has a small one he’d
lend if necessary.  Lemme see: what _would_ we want?  First an’
foremost, a tent or tents, an’ a packhorse to carry ’em an’ the other
things. Then plenty o’ prog, o’ course: fishing lines—there’s tip-top
schnapper-fishin’ down the Bay, to say nothin’ of jew, bream, an’
whitin’.  Then, the guns—we ought to get some good shootin’; both fur
an’ feather."

"A fryin’-pan and a camp-oven ’ud come in handy, pannikins too, and some
tin plates."

"Yes, yes, we’ll need those; at any rate, the fryin’-pan for the fish.
Don’t think there’ll be any need to bother about a camp-oven: it’s a
plaguey thing to carry; we wouldn’t use it ’cept for bread, an’ we can
make plenty of damper in the ashes.  But I’ll tell you what we must
have, an’ that’s a couple o’ small barrels an’ a good few pounds o’
salt."

"Why, what for?"

"Fish.  We’ll be down at the Bay pretty near a week, I reckon; an’ as
we’ll catch whips o’ fish, it’d be a fine chance to dry some, an’ salt
some as well.  Mother’s got two good barrels that hold about
half-a-hundred-weight each; they’re salmon casks.  The salmon’s all
used, an’ I reckon schnapper is as good as salmon any day.  That reminds
me we’ll want three or four sheath-knives; they’ll come in handy for
scalin’ an’ splittin’ the fish."

"I say, Sandy, when’ll we start?"

"Start!  Ah—well—we’ll talk about that when we get leave—which, let me
tell you, is pretty doubtful. ’Twouldn’t take long to get ready once we
have permission: a day at most.  I declare I’m gettin’ sleepy.
Good-night, chaps."

The boys opened at short range during the breakfast hour the next
morning.  In other words, they pled most vigorously for permission to
camp out for a week or so, according to the programme concocted the
night previously. The chief objection lay in the reappearance of Ben
Bolt in the district.  It was all in vain that the boys insisted that
even were the redoubtable ’ranger to visit their camp, which was most
unlikely—he would not harm them: would, in fact, have no interest in
bailing up a parcel of boys.  Mr. M’Intyre showed palpable signs of
yielding, and had it been left to him would have granted a reluctant
permission.  The insurmountable barrier, as indeed the boys knew
beforehand, lay in Mrs. Mac’s excessive fear.  She held the fort, so to
speak, against all comers.

"I’m more sorry than I can tell you, boys, to say no, but nothing you
could say would alter my mind. Neither Joe’s mother nor Tom’s would
dream of letting them go camping out while those dreadful men are
about."

The pals felt the reasonableness of the refusal, and showed not a
flicker of resentment, though of course their disappointment was keen.

"I say, chaps, let’s put in the mornin’ fishin’," suggested Joe.

The vote was unanimous, and in a few minutes, armed with rods and lines
and a tomahawk—the latter for use in cutting grubs out of the
honeysuckle trees—the boys were _en route_ to some of the deep pools in
the creek.  They had a really good time with some giant perch.  The
dangling grubs formed an irresistible lure to these voracious denizens
of the water-holes, and the fishermen had no reason to grumble at the
result.  On their return home to lunch they were dumbfounded with the
news shouted out by Denny as soon as they were within speaking distance,
"Owld Ben’s dead!—shot by the p’lice in th’ ranges."

The whole household was greatly excited by the news, which had been
brought by a stockman from Captain White’s station.  There seemed no
reason to doubt the intelligence, which had come via the "bush
telegraph."  Hennessey’s lot had picked up the ’rangers’ tracks and
partly surprised them in the mountains.  The outlaws promptly but barely
succeeded in getting away.  They gradually drew away, however, from all
save the Sergeant, who was on a new mount—one of the Tocal noted
breed—which proved to be a "ringer."

The leader and his companion, who was a light weight, tried every dodge
to shake off the pursuit, and in this they were past masters; but they
had to reckon with Hennessey, who was one of the finest troopers in the
force—as dare-devil a rider as Ben Bolt himself.

After some marvellous riding among the ravines and tangled mountain
scrub—during which a few long-range shots had been exchanged—Hennessey
began to draw upon the outlaws.  Even that equine magician, Samson, was
reaching his limits.  The capture of this illusive freebooter seemed now
a certainty, could the Sergeant hold out another ten minutes.

He was now within a hundred yards of his man.  He lagged a little behind
his youthful mate, who was riding the chestnut gelding looted from
Wilson’s station.  Had he wished he could have shot the ’ranger down;
but being extremely anxious to capture him alive for the bigger reward,
he refrained.  The only advantage Ben Bolt possessed was an intimate
knowledge of the ground, by which he often gained a bit.  They were now
racing up a steep ravine which presently terminated abruptly at a
precipice.  Down this the outlaws apparently flung themselves; or so it
appeared to Hennessey.

Arriving at the spot a few seconds later, the trooper perceived a
winding, narrow pass.  He was a stranger to the precipitous track, but
both the bushrangers and their horses were familiar with it, for they
slithered and scrambled down at breakneck speed: a single stumble, and
man and horse would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In vain did the
gallant Sergeant spur his steed towards the pass.  His horse resolutely
refused to face it.  His chances of capture are fast diminishing to a
vanishing point, as in a few minutes his prize will have escaped.

The outlaws have now reached the comparatively even ground below,
distant about five hundred yards from where the trooper stood gnashing
his teeth in rage, and praying that they might break their necks before
they reach the bottom.  Fortune favoured them, however, and they might
have made good their escape without further trouble.  But, instead of
galloping off to safe cover, they reined up their steeds, while Ben
Bolt, standing in his stirrups, shouted at the top of his voice an
insulting message for the Sub-Inspector, making at the same time an
ironical bow.

While this little piece of comedy was being enacted, and just as the
bushranger was in the act of bowing, the Sergeant had dismounted.
Swiftly throwing his rifle to his shoulder and adjusting his sights in
an eye wink, he made a hasty but true shot.  The outlaw had not finished
his bow ere he toppled from his steed and lay prone, shot through the
heart.

Such was the news brought by the stockman, and accepted by the station
folk.

"Weel, it was bound to come sooner or later.  It’s what happens to a’
law-breakers—simply the choice of bullet or rope.  It’s no’ for us to
ca’ the unfortunate and misguided mon names.  If a’s true, he suffered a
grave injuistice at the hands o’ the police when but a youth, which
embittered his whole life an’ gave a moral twist to his actions.  We
maun leave him to Ane above wha mak’s nae mis-judgments."



                            *CHAPTER XXVIII*

                         *THE CAMP BY THE SEA*


    "Bright skies of summer o’er the deep,
      And soft salt air along the land,
    The blue wave, lisping in its sleep,
      Sinks gently on the yellow sand;
    And grey-winged seagulls slowly sweep
      O’er scattered bush and white-limbed tree,
    Where the red cliffs like bastions stand
      To front the salvos of the sea,
    Now lulled by its own melody."
        GEORGE ESSEX EVANS.


"And now, boys, what about the camping-out project? I see no reason why
you shouldn’t carry out your little plan, now all danger’s removed;
indeed, I should love you to have the jaunt.  Who were going?"

The boys could hardly believe the good news, it was so sudden.

"Us three, and Denny, if father could spare him, mother," was Sandy’s
remark.

"Oh, ye can tak’ the laddie.  He’s due for a holiday, onyway.  So’s
Harry, for that matter.  I can do wi’oot ’em for a spell."

Harry was nothing loth, and entered into the scheme with considerable
enthusiasm.  As an old bushman he was able to give good advice in the
matter of camping-out requirements, and was later to render signal
service by which a life was saved.

Behold the party, early the next morning, accoutred and ready for the
road; making, as they held their steeds, quite an imposing cavalcade.
Two stout roadsters were requisitioned for packing purposes; for the
maternal solicitude of Mrs. Mac was both prolific and varied, judged by
the articles of food and service which she forced upon the travellers.

The squatter’s pawky humour found ample scope for indulgence.  He
expressed a hope that "the pairty would keep a guid look oot for traces
o’ the lost Leichhardt expeedetion; and look oot for alleegaitors when
ye strike the Gulf o’ Carpeentairia."

The girls, too, indulged in good-humoured banter, raising hearty laughs
against the boys, in which the victims joined as lustily as any.

Said Maggie, striking a grandmotherly attitude, "There are three things
I would warn you against, boys; damp socks, draughts, and earwigs.
Don’t leave out the flour when mixing the damper.  Have you packed the
tape measure, Sandy?"

"Tape measure!  What in the name of Madge Wildfire do you mean?"

"Why," cried Jessie, breaking in, "to measure the giant jew fish that
will snap Joe’s line as he is in the very act of landing it."

"Whatcher givin’ us, Jess?"

"It will also come in handy," continued the saucy girl, turning on Tom,
"to record the girth, length, and throat capacity of the monster snake
that you, Tom, are sure to see when roaming alone in the scrub."

"That’s one for your nob, Tom!"

"Your turn next, Sandy," retorted that youth.

"Then there’s the ’old-man’ kangaroo that me brither Sandy will shoot
at, missing by ’just an hair’s-breadth,’ of course, and which he will
declare—when he returns to camp—to be as ’high as one of those extinct
mammals that Simpson has in his natural history book’; at any rate as
’big as Bullocky Bill’s off side poler.’"

"But, Miss Jessie, how wud th’ bhoys put th’ measure on th’——?"

"As for Dennis Kineavy," continued the sprite, "he will be sure to run
into a group of mermaa-des, when diving in the deep blue sa-ay, who will
be discussing the all-important question of waist measurement.  As
Denny’s an expert in fairies and hobgoblins, he will be appointed judge
and referee."

So, amid laughter and banter, and final good-byes, the gay party start
for the Bay.

Neville was prevented from joining them through important business
interests in Sydney.  The "call" of the bush, however, was strong and
insistent, and, as he bade farewell, he announced his determination of
returning at no long date to settle as a landholder.

The road to the Bay passed within a short distance of the caves, and,
despite the news of the tragic end of Ben Bolt, the lads, as they jogged
past the neighbourhood, were unable to rid themselves of a feeling that
the outlaw still lurked about his old haunt, and felt relieved when they
had left this region behind them.

The journey to the Bay proved uneventful save in one particular.  In
mounting a very steep incline, the cinch strap, that formed the final
fastening of the pack on one of the animals, broke, whereupon the
pack-saddle, being loosely girthed, worked backwards.  Some of the
contents, also, fell to the ground, frightening the horse, who bolted
along the road, parting with sundry utensils and eatables, which lined
the track for some distance at irregular intervals.  The frightened
steed was at length secured, the wreckage gathered and replaced—this
time more securely—and the journey resumed.

The Bay is reached without further mishap or adventure. After coasting
it for some little space the party cast anchor, in seamen’s parlance, on
a miniature promontory which jutted for a furlong or so into the waters
of the Bay, forming a grassy, treeless plateau throughout its area.  The
advantage of this site was apparent to the group of campers, inasmuch as
the foreshores of the Bay were covered for the most part with a stunted
scrub that extended to the beach.  The advantage was twofold: it
obviated the necessity of clearing a space for the tents, and it was
comparatively free from bush vermin.

To the southern part of the Bay, distant some six miles, was the Pilot
Station; while towards the northern extremity, where a large creek
debouched into the sea, was a camp of cedar-getters.  Otherwise, in its
shore vicinity, the Bay was uninhabited.

Two hours of daylight yet remained, and the members of the party made
instant preparation for pitching camp. The necessary tent poles and pegs
were speedily secured from the neighbouring scrub, and, under the
direction of the experienced stockman, willing hands are busily engaged
in the erection.

The bigger tent was set upon a ridge pole that rested in the forks of
two upright saplings which had been firmly fixed in the ground.  When
the requisite number of pegs had been hammered into the ground, the tent
was hauled taut by cords passed through eyelet holes at intervals along
each side, and about thirty inches from the bottom.  This under section
of the tent assumed a perpendicular position, forming the walls, which
were secured by the same method.  This formed the pals’ cover, while the
smaller tent sufficed for the other two. A rough shed formed of four
uprights, with a brushwood roof, held the provisions and saddles.

So expeditiously were all these arrangements made that ere the darkness
fell they were completed, and Denny—who was promoted to the responsible
position of cook—was building a fire for tea-making purposes. Meanwhile
the horses were led to a small, freshwater lagoon in the vicinity, where
they were belled and short-hobbled, and left to browse on the succulent
grass.  The last act of preparation was that of cutting a quantity of
gum bushes for bedding.  No sweeter or healthier bed can be contrived
than a layer of fragrant eucalyptus leaves.  The beds had scarcely been
made ere the welcome summons to supper came, in the Irish boy’s best
brogue: "Jintilmen, will yees come to ta-ay?"

There is a charm peculiar to an evening meal taken in the open.  The
charm is heightened in the present instance by the contiguity of the
sea.  The youths dine to the musical accompaniment of the rolling waves,
which strike the beach in deep, muffled thunder-tone, rising crescendo
fashion as they race to a finish along the shelly incline.  Then,
landward, are the insistent noises of the things of the forest.  Ever
and anon the soft tinkle-tinkle of "The horse-bell’s melody remote" is
to be heard as the cropping animals move over the lush grass.  The
illimitable dome above is alive with sparkling lights.  Thus an
environment is created which gives a sacramental aspect to the feast.
At least it forms a romantic picture which centres in the fire-lit faces
of the happy, care-free youths.

Supper ended, they eagerly discuss their projects, the while they clean
their guns and fix the fishing tackle.

On the morn, at earliest dawn, they will try likely spots for fish, and
have a swim in the briny.  And now the slow movements of the tongue,
with frequent yawns, proclaim the nightly toll which nature is wont to
exact.

Ere the pale dawn is flushed the pals, sleep banished, half-dressed,
tongues wagging, trudge along the beach to the rocky point of the
promontory, stopping here and there at likely places to dig in the sand
for whelks, which make capital bait.  The water is fairly deep where the
nose of the promontory marks the terminal point, and soon lines are
unwound, hooks are baited, and practised hands fling the lead-weighted
hempen cords far into the Bay.  Fair success rewards their efforts.
Sandy’s line hardly reached the bottom ere he experienced the delightful
thrill of a fierce tug, followed by a smart, strong rush which betokened
a good fish.  After a few minutes’ play he landed a fine specimen of
black bream, scaling over two pounds.

Sandy and Tom had varying luck with black and white bream, and
flat-head.  Joe, however, was out of it. He did, indeed, have a gigantic
bite soon after Sandy had captured his first fish.  The line whizzed
through his fingers with a rush that skinned them as he began to take a
pull.  When the line had reached its limit it snapped like a piece of
pack-thread.  The biter was either a young shark or a big jew fish.
After this no fish troubled the boy.  His mates struck their fish at
frequent intervals, while his line remained motionless.  After a time he
wound up and left his companions.  Retracing his steps some distance
along the beach, he halted at a shelving rock that ran out into the
water.  It looked a likely spot, and he determined to try with a lighter
line than the one he had been using.  Baiting his hook with a soldier
crab, he made a cast, and almost immediately had a bite, hauling in a
black-back whiting.  It was a good specimen, weighing at least a pound.
He had good sport for about half an hour, catching in all about a dozen
whiting and half a dozen soles.

The sport began to slacken about an hour after sunrise, and the pals,
having captured sufficient for the day’s requirement, set to work and
cleaned their catches. This task finished, they have a plunge in the
sparkling and cool waters of the Bay.

Meanwhile Harry attended to the horses, and did little jobs about the
camp, whilst Denny devoted his attention to the preparation of the
breakfast.  The lads returned in due course with the spoils of the sea,
and with appetites as keen as a razor.  In a few minutes the pan is full
of sizzling fish, which are presently transferred to a hot dish, and the
pan is filled with a fresh lot.

"Goin’ to try ’nuther panful, Denny?" said Tom, when the second lot had
been demolished.

"Anuther pan!  Howly Moses! div yees hear him! Och, thin, me bhoy, ye’d
soon rise th’ price ov fish.  Not anuther scrap will Oi cook f’r yees.
Oi’ve kep’ th’ rest f’r dinner?  Sure, if we go on loike this ’twill be
Fridah ivry da’; glory be!"

The morning was devoted to a go-as-you-please programme, in which there
was much disporting in the water; even the juvenile pastime of building
castles in the sand was not considered _infra dig_.

In the afternoon the whole party set out for Schnapper Point.  It was on
this spot that the fond expectations of the lads were centred.  It was
reputed to be the best fishing ground in the extensive Bay, and owed its
name to the fact that school-schnapper frequented its vicinity. A
schnapper trip—taken as a rule in a small steamer—is voted one of the
finest outings by Australian sportsmen. This highly prized fish, be it
said, is known variously, according to its age and changing habits.  It
often attains large dimensions, weighing up to thirty pounds.

None of the party had previously visited the Point. Their great concern
was to find out if suitable bait could be procured in its neighbourhood.
The principal bait was a small species of whiting.  These, they
discovered, were to be obtained without much trouble on shelly patches
along the beach.

Early next morning the campers are astir, and busily engaged in
necessary preparations.  After a hearty breakfast, in which the corned
round and the spiced beef are conspicuous features, behold the young
sports jogging along the beach towards Schnapper Point.  A stoppage is
made at the whiting patch, where the fishermen are kept going for an
hour with very fine lines.  By this time they have secured about two
hundred small fish as bait.

And now, having arrived at the fishing ground, leaving Harry and Denny
to attend to the horses, the pals, all eager for the promised sport,
unwind their heavy schnapper lines, and prepare for the catch.

It was agreed that the boys were to fish, while Harry, who voted fishing
a bore, and was devoted to the gun, would scour the adjacent scrub for
birds, and the forest beyond for kangaroo; Denny having promised the
boys a "foine boilin’" of kangaroo-tail soup.  To quote the actual words
in which he preferred his request—"If Harry wud shute wan iv thim fellas
as hops wid their ta-ales, and carries their childre in their
pockets,[#] Oi, wud ma-ake sich a soup as niver was."


[#] The natural pouch of the marsupial for bearing its young.


The shooter, armed with a fowling-piece and a short rifle, after
attending to the horses, disappeared in the scrub in search of game.
Meanwhile the fishers, having cast their lines, assume an expectant
attitude.

To their great disappointment there are no bites; not even the
stimulating nibble.  The patience of these amateurs is sorely tried.  A
whole hour passes without the slightest sensation of a bite.  Lines are
cast and recast.  The fishermen move to and fro, to no useful purpose.

"Well, of all the rotten frauds of places for fishin’, this takes the
bun!  Dash it! we’d better have stayed at the camp an’ fished there.  At
least we’d——"

"Howld yer whisht, bhoys!" said Denny in an excited whisper.  "Oi’m jist
goin’ to git a boite; th’ line’s thrimblin’ sure.  Faith ’tis a Dutchman
smellin’ the ray-shons, Oi’m thinkin’."

"It’s not a schnapper, if that’s what you mean by a Dutchman.  No
nibblin’ about a schnapper, Denny. More likely a crab."

"By Saint Michael!  Joe, div yes call that a crab? Be dad, thin, it’s a
big sa-ay whale, or maybe one iv thim mare-mades Miss Jassie warned me
aginst.  Be th’ hokey, th’ loine’s cuttin’ me fingers!"

The line, which for a minute or two had given faint twitches, and a few
premonitory shakes, now suddenly whizzed through the Irish boy’s
fingers.

"Take a pull on her, an’ steady her!" cried Sandy. "You’ll lose fish an’
line, too, if you’re not mighty smart."

Denny thereupon made a "brake" of his fingers, which steadied the fish
after it had run out about fifty yards or so of the line.  He began to
haul it as if it were attached to a sulky calf.  The fish was a heavy
one, and a fighter; but what Denny lacked in skill he made up in
strength. Fortunately for the angler the line was stout and new, or it
would surely have snapped in the struggle.  By sheer strength the fish
is drawn to land.



                             *CHAPTER XXIX*

                    *AT THE MERCY OF THE SEA-TIGER:
                            A NARROW SHAVE*


The pals watched the seaman-like efforts of Denny to land his "sa-ay
whale," or "mare-made," with great curiosity.

"It’s no schnapper, unless, maybe, a real boss ’un.  More like a young
shark," was the remark passed by Joe.

Their curiosity is soon satisfied; the fish is now in the shallows, and
the next moment is drawn to the water’s brink.  Denny has landed a
monster sting-ray.

It was the first of the kind the Irish boy had ever seen, and, as he
pulled the struggling ray into the shallows and exposed its body, he was
struck mute for a few seconds with astonishment, and not a little alarm,
at its uncanny appearance.  Dropping his line in the excitement, he half
turned to the boys, and, pointing to the floundering fish, exclaimed,
"Begorrah! ’tis th’ div-vil himsilf.  Saints presarve us, but if yen’s
not he’es ta-ale!  Or, ma’be ’tis th’ dhragon phwat Father Daly towld us
about at Mass larsht Sun-day."

"He’ll be a drag-off in a moment," cried Joe, making a clutch at the
line, for the brute was wriggling into the deeper water.  The next
minute the ray was smacking the earth with his flappers, and whipping it
with his tail.

"Phwat be th’ crathure, anny ways, Sahndy?"

"It’s a stingaree, Denny.  Mind you don’t touch its tail, or you will
find out to your cost that it’s the dragon, black angel, an’ ’th’ owld
bhoy,’ all mixed up like an Irish stew.  Run for the tommy, an’ we’ll
whip it off."

"And does it bite wid its ta-ale loike a schn-ake, bhoys?"

"No, you precious duffer! it’s got a spike near the tip that it rams
into you like a needle, an’ then look out! Yellow Billy trod on one once
when he was havin’ a bogey down below Tareela, in the river—they make a
hole in the mud an’ lie there—an’, by jings! he was ravin’ mad in twenty
minutes.  The doctor had to shove a syringe into his arm, and squirt
laudnaum, or somethin’, to quiet him down.  There!" flourishing the
tomahawk, "that’s off, clean as a whistle!"

"My word!" continued Sandy, a moment later, "we’ll keep the tail for
Harry.  He promised Bill Evans, the jockey, to get one for him if he
could.  He’s goin’ to ride White’s horse at the Armidale races, an’ he’s
the laziest o’ mokes he reckons.  Bill says it’ll be only by sheer
floggin’ that he’ll fetch him along.  Says if he only had a
stingaree-tail whip[#] he could do the trick."


[#] The sting-ray tail is sometimes used for this purpose. It is a cruel
instrument of flagellation in the hands of an unfeeling rider.


"This is not schnapper fishin’," interjected Joe.  "My word! the
stingaree’ll make stunnin’ bait.  Put a bit on your hook, Denny, it may
entice ’em."

Sandy cut off a slice from the flapper and baited Denny’s hook with it.
The line had hardly reached the bottom ere it was seized by a fish—a
monster.  The fish did not rush, he bored; the resistance was of a
sullen nature.  Joe came to Denny’s help, and between them they drew the
fish to land.  It proved to be a huge rock cod, or groper, as it is more
commonly called, scaling close upon a hundredweight.

"A jolly groper, by dad!  We’re in luck all right," exclaimed Tom.
"We’ll have groper steak for supper to-night; besides, we can pickle one
half of this cove and dry the other."

Their luck had changed in more respects than one.  The ray and the
groper seemed to be avants courier for the school-schnapper, which now
began to bite freely.

For the next two hours the boys were kept well employed, landing near
upon forty fish, varying from three to twelve pounds in weight.  The
tide now began to ebb, and after that there were no more bites.  It was
just as well, for by this time they had caught as many fish as they
could cure.  Counting the groper, they had nigh upon three
hundredweight.  The weight of these when scaled and cleaned would be
reduced by at least one-fourth, leaving about two hundred and fifty
pounds of choice fish.

"What’s bes’ thing to do now, Joe?"

"W-e-l-l—er—I dunno.  Oh, I say, how’d a jolly swim go down?"

"Spiffin’!  A swim, a feed, an’ then start cleanin’ the fish an’ gettin’
’em ready for smokin’ an’ saltin’.  ’Bout noon I reckon it is."

"Come on, Denny," cried Joe, as they walked down to a sloping beach a
little back from the Point; "come an’ have a dip in the briny."

"Bedad, thin, that same will Oi not.  ’Twu’d be threadin’ on wan iv
these stinkin’-rays Oi’d be.  Oi can seem to feel th’ brute’s dirty
pisen fangs already in me leg.  No, no, thanks be, Oi’m not takin’ th’
wather tra-atement at prisint.  Oi’ll go an’ start the foire so as to be
ready f’r yees; that is, if th’ sharks div not ma-ake mince-ma-ate of
yees."

Was it a premonition which caused a cold, tingling thrill to run along
Joe’s nervous system, from tip to toe; to be followed by the creeps,
which made goose-flesh of his smooth skin?  Disagreeable as the
sensation is to the lad for the time, it lasts but for a moment, and in
less than no time, so to speak, he is revelling in the glories of the
crisp, emerald-tinted wavelets of the Bay.

It should be stated that Schnapper Point did not extend into the Bay at
right angles to the beach.  It inclined northward, and at the spot where
the boys were bathing was not more than two hundred yards from the
beach.

"Say, chaps," shouted Joe, who was some distance out, "I’m going to swim
over to the main beach."

So saying, he swam slowly towards the other side, enjoying to its
fullest extent the luxury of the exercise. He had covered about a third
of the distance when he heard a great commotion behind him.

Denny, who had been attending to the fire, had his attention attracted
by a moving object in the sea.  Gazing intently thereon for a moment, he
left his occupation and ran swiftly towards the boys.

"Look, bhoys! look at that gra-ate fish sa-alin’ in forninst the Point.
Troth, it’s a monsther groper, Oi’m thinkin’!  Glory! but he’es a
gra-ate big bullock-groper!"

So saying, Denny came towards the boys with a puzzled air, as though his
description of the object to which he was pointing did not exactly
determine its species.

"Whereaway, Denny?" exclaimed Sandy, who was paddling in the surf,
standing up and gazing in the direction indicated.  "A bullock-groper.
That’s a new creature surely.  Never heard——Hello! why, it’s a—— Hi, hi!
Joe!  Joe!" shouted the lad in a wildly excited state.  "Joe, there’s a
big shark roundin’ the Point an’ coming this way.  Come back, quick!
quick!"

Joe, who was almost on a level with the water, was unable to locate the
enemy as quickly as the others.  It was not until he began to tread
water that his eye caught the moving object.  In a flash he realised his
danger, for it was a large tiger-shark, the man-eater of the sea.  Not
even the man-eater of the jungle, roused through the blood-lust to a
killing frenzy, could be more merciless to his victim than this
cold-blooded, pitiless, silent tiger of the seas.

Terrible as was the shock, his courage survived.  He conned the
situation, and formed his judgment in a moment. The shark was eighty
yards or so above him, swimming parallel with Schnapper Point beach, and
within thirty yards or so of it.  As far as he could judge the fish was
ignorant of his presence, but were he to return to his companions he
could not expect to escape its vigilant eyes; would be crossing its bow,
so to speak; and, were it in an attacking mood, would not have the ghost
of a show.

His only hope of escape lay in keeping along his course, getting to the
farther shore in the smallest number of minutes possible.  All this
cogitation did not cover twenty seconds, and the boy resumed his swim
with the utmost vigour.

Had not something happened to divert the shark from its course nothing
alarming would have occurred, for Joe was rapidly widening the distance,
and every stroke was improving his chances.  The boys on shore, with the
hope of frightening the monster away altogether, began to make a great
clatter; pelting the shark at the same time.  No more fatal policy could
have been adopted.  The only result of their tactics was to divert the
shark from its course, and to drive it out in the direction of their
comrade.

Almost as soon as the brute’s course was changed it sighted the swimmer.
This it indicated by giving two or three strong strokes with its
powerful tail, and gliding at a rapid rate in the wake of the lad.  Joe
was made acquainted with this change of course by the frantic cries of
his mates.  Throwing his head over his shoulder for a moment, he saw the
shark heading directly for him. He knew in that moment that unless the
miraculous happened his hours were numbered, and in a few seconds—or
minutes at most—his body would be mangled by this pitiless sea-tiger.
Yet, although this terrible result appeared an absolute certainty to the
fleeing youth, he did not lose his head, but swam with a strong and
steady stroke.  There is such a thing as hoping against hope. He would
not surrender life; it must be torn from him. Joe’s home upbringing,
with his father’s daily chapter and prayer, sent his thoughts
heavenwards in this his moment of extreme peril: "What time I am afraid
I will put my trust in Thee."

Here was the situation.  Joe was about sixty yards from the beach, while
the relentless pursuer was within thirty yards of him.  His mates were
powerless to aid him, and were racing round to the spot where he
intended to land as swiftly as their legs could carry them.

The shark glided within a few yards of the lad, and then swam round him,
while conning him.  This the boy felt to be simply the preliminary, yet
every stroke was taking him nearer the shore.  The water should be even
now shoaling.  Might he dare to sound it?  But, alas! the enemy seems to
understand this, and gives a cunning look as it half-raises its body
from the water, and scrutinises its helpless victim preparatory to
making its final swoop.

"God help me!" cries the youth, with a dry sob; his last moment has
come.  In that supreme moment—as in the case of drowning men—the whole
past came before him.  Home, parents, sisters, brothers, pals! There,
almost within arm’s-length, is his merciless foe; while there is still
quite a stretch of water between him and the beach.

The great, cold-blooded, insatiable fish is poised for the final spring.
A single second now, and——

Instead of falling upon its victim, the huge brute lashed the water into
foam, and swam round and round in a circle.  What had really happened
Joe knew not. He no longer swam shorewards, but, half stupefied, watched
the "flurries" of the frenzied fish as it lashed the water in rage or
pain.

Then he heard a great splashing shorewards, and a voice shouting
encouraging words.  Turning in that direction, the boy beheld, with
unutterable joy, Harry, rifle in hand, rushing through the water to him.
In a few seconds the stockman is abreast Joe, the water being only up to
his arm-pits.  Pointing the rifle at the fish, which was circling in
blind fashion, but a few yards off, the rifleman—for it was he, under
God, who worked the miracle—drove a bullet through the shark’s brain.

"My word! ’twas a touch-and-go, old feller!" exclaimed the man, as he
put an arm round the boy—who had, in a sense, collapsed—and drew him to
the shore.  "There now, Joey, me brave boy.  Y’re all right, ain’t ye?
Y’re not the chap ter faint, I know.  Here’s the others," as the rest
dashed up, breathless; the Irish boy fairly crying with excitement.

They could do nothing for a while but look at Joe as he sat leaning
against a mangrove—where Harry had placed him—making a brave but weak
effort to smile. The reaction had set in, and the boy felt it was only
by the most resolute exercise of his will that he kept from swooning.

Tom, who was blowing like the proverbial grampus, stuttered at last:
"Let’s m-make tr-racks h-home, b-boys. I-I’d rather be b-b-bailed up by
a thousand ’r-rangers, than w-w-w-one of th-hose sea-devils.  Oh! the
sight of the m-monster as he r-rose to make a d-dive at p-poor Joe!
Y-yes, let’s c-clear."

"Clear, be hanged!  What are you drivelling about, you jolly idiot?"  It
was just the tonic Joe needed. "We’re not goin’ to let a thing like this
spoil our sport, not by a long shot.  I’m all right.  Was a bit knocked
out for a few minutes, I will confess.  Tell you what, boys; I’ll never
be nearer death till my last moment comes.  That I am alive is due,
first to God, an’ then to ole Harry, here.  ’Twas a great shot, that
first one of yours.  ’Nother second later an’ ’twould have been too
late.  Ugh! don’t believe I’ll ever get the green glitter of the thing’s
eyes outer my mind.  Tell you what, I’ll jolly well punch the first cove
that hints at goin’ home.  I vote we go back an’ scale an’ gut the jolly
fish."

"Bedad, thin, it’s a plucky wan y’are, Joe, me bhoy! Y’re th’ mahn f’r
me money ivry toime.  But, ye’ll not do a sthroke iv wark till yees have
a feed.  Faith, Oi’ll do a sthreak an’ get th’ billy boilin’ f’r a
pipin’ hot cup o’ tay.  It’s what we all want; Joe in particular."
Suiting his action to the word, the cook strode off in quick time to
prepare the lunch.

Meanwhile the dead shark had drifted into the shallows until it stranded
on the beach.  The party now made a closer examination of the brute.
The first shot, fired from the bank as the creature raised itself, had
caught it in the throat; the second passed through the eye to the brain.

"Why, it’s a tiger-shark!" exclaimed Harry; "twelve foot if he’s an
inch.  Thought ’twas a blue-nose at fust; they’re bad enough, but this
joker’s the worst kind that swims the sea.  My word, Joe, it’d been all
U P if this chap’d once got ’is teeth intil yer."

"Budgeree, budgeree, you bin shootem shark?  Him murry bad p-feller.
Catchem plendy black p-feller; eaten.  This p-feller live longa Point
plendy years."

[Illustration: "The huge brute lashed the water into foam, and swam
round and round in a circle."—_See p._ 271.]

The group, which had been intently gazing at the carcass, turned round
in a startled manner on bearing these guttural sounds.  Immediately
behind them was a cluster of aboriginals, five in number, who had stolen
silently upon the scene.

"Hello, Cock-eye! that you?" cried Harry, as he surveyed the blacks.
"Where you bin sittin’ down, eh?"

"Cedar Crik.  We bin come longa here get fis’ for choppers."

"Oh, the timber-getters, hey!  Well, you seem ter know this ole boss.
You bin see ’im afore?"

"Plendy times.  Bin often try catch ’im.  He kill-ee mine sister.  He
too much lika dingo; no take bait."

"Well, you can git even with this joker, Cock-eye. He eat your people;
now you chaps gobble ’im up."

The blacks are inordinately fond of shark’s flesh, and—cannibal as this
sea-tiger is—no question of sentiment may stand between these primitive
men and a gorge.

"I say, Harry, cut that dorsal fin off for me, there’s a good man,
before these niggers tackle it.  I’d like to keep that."

After a considerable amount of hacking, the stockman managed to separate
the fin, and, leaving the blacks in undisturbed possession of the
carcass, they returned to the Point, to feed, and to finish their work.



                             *CHAPTER XXX*

                        *IN AND ABOUT THE CAMP*


    "O mellow air!  O sunny light!
    O Hope and Youth that pass away!
    Inscribe in letters of delight
    Upon each heart one golden day—
        To be there set
        When we forget
      There is a joy in living yet!"
          G. E. EVANS.


The fish cleaning occupied the best part of the afternoon; and when the
party reached camp, about sunset, they were dog-tired; inclined for
little else than supper and sleep.

"But you haven’t told us how it came to pass that you were just on the
spot to prevent the shark scoffing Joe," exclaimed Tom to Harry.  "We
didn’t expect you back for hours."

"Niver had such a thing ’appen afore, I give yer my word.  Lost me way
in the dashed scrub; carn’t understand it nohow.  As a rule yer carn’t
lose me in a scrub; can feel me way be day or night.  Instinct, they
calls it. Ole Dumaresque says ter me one day, when we’d bin ridin’ fer
hours through heavy pine country after some strayed heifers, gettin’
caught in the dark long afore we makes the homestead: ’How do you manage
to tack an’ criss-cross this beastly country without track or compass;
not even a star to guide you?  It fair beats me, my man. Why, I’d ’a’
bin lost a dozen times over but fer you.  You always seem ter be goin’
wrong, yet always come out right.’

"’Carn’t explain it, sir,’ ses I.  ’I jist do it.

"’It’s all instinct,’ ses ’e.  ’It’s like wot the dingoes an’ blacks
’ave.’

"Instinct or no instinct, I got bushed all right ter day. There’s
something erbout it I carn’t understand.  ’Twasn’t that I was careless,
an’ takin’ no notice.  I ’ad worked through the scrub a distance of four
mile or so when, all of a suddent, I ses ter meself, ses I, ’Where the
dickens am I?’  Well, as soon as I put the question to meself I knows I
was bushed, an’ fer the fust time in me life I begins ter feel quite
creepy like.  I didn’t know which way ter go.  At larst I starts out in
a direction that seemed the likeliest, but, somehow, I cud make no
headway.  Something seemed ter clog me feet, an’ I was allers gettin’
mixed up with vines an’ brushwood.

"’Dash it all,’ ses I, ’this won’t do.  Don’t believe I’m goin’ the
right way, after all.  Believe this ere way’s leadin’ me back to the
Bay, an’ I wants ter git through this blarmy scrub ter the forest, fer
’oppers’ tails.  I’ll righterbout face, danged if I won’t!’  So round I
turns, an’ as soon as I started I got on fust clarss.  Didn’t git mixed
up an’ stumble as afore, but gits through the brushwood as slick as a
bandicoot.  ’Mus’ be nearly through the belt,’ ses I, after goin’ fer
an’ hour or so. ’Mus’ git the rifle ready, fer I might sight a kangy any
moment now.’  So I unslings the rifle from me back an’ puts the gun in
its place, an’ stops a minit ter load ’er—the rifle I mean.  I’d jist
finished when I heers voices shoutin’, an’ then a great yellin’, as if
somethin’ orful was ’appenin’.  So orf I rushes through the scrub, an’
comes out on the beach.  I was knocked inter a heap, I gives yer me
word; fer there before me was the sea, an’ I thought I was on t’other
side of the scrub altogether. Then, in a flash, I sees wot was really
’appenin’.  Jist afore me very eyes was Joe.  He was strugglin’ in the
water not more’n a hundred yards away, an’ that ’er brute seemed as if
it was jist a-fallin’ on ’im.  Why, I fired the rifle a’most without
pintin’ it.  Somethin’ seemed ter say, ’If yer waits ter aim yell be too
late.’  Be gosh!  I’m thinkin’ ’twas the Almighty Hisself directed that
shot."

"If ye’d not losht your enstink, as ye calls it, ye’d be moiles an’
moiles awa-ay at th’ toime th’ shark was goin’ to gobble Joe up, wuddent
ye?"

"In course I wud."

"Well, don’t ye think th’ good God had a hand in losin’ ye in th’
scrub?"

"It’s wot yer father’d call an answer ter prayer," replied the stockman,
turning to Joe as he spoke.

By this time the camp-fire—around which the group had been sitting—was
burning low, and the party was quite ready for bed after the exciting
and tirng adventures of the day.

The campers were astir at an early hour next morning, to make the final
preparations for curing the fish.  After filling both barrels, there was
a quantity available for smoking.  To carry out this object a sapling
frame, about four feet square and seven feet high, was constructed, and
enclosed with bushes, leaving an opening at the top and bottom.  The
fish were hung by stout cords, and a fire kindled on the earth inside
the curing shed.  Some green wood was used with the dry, to produce a
fair, volume of smoke; and so the curing went on apace.

Leaving Denny in charge of the camp, the others spent the afternoon
shooting over a chain of lagoons that lay back from the beach a couple
of miles or so.  The ducks were plentiful, and they returned to the camp
well laden. They passed the two following days shooting and fishing,
both fins and feathers being exceedingly plentiful.  By this time they
judged the fish to be cured, and packed it in a maize bag.

"Tell you what, boys!  S’pose we ride over to the Pilot Station to-day?
It’ll be a change, won’t it?"

The others received Joe’s suggestion with ready approval, and before
long were racing along the beach towards the Pilot Station.  This was
situated at the mouth of the river, and consisted of the residences of
the pilot and the boat’s crew.

It should be said that at the mouth of every Australian river flowing
into the Pacific is a sand-bar.  These sand barriers frequently shift
their position, owing to tidal and other ocean influences.  This makes
entrance and exit to be a somewhat dangerous proceeding, and many a
craft has come to grief on these treacherous sands.  To reduce this
danger to a minimum a pilot station exists at each river entrance.  The
pilot is generally a sea-captain with a large experience of these
treacherous bars.  It is his duty, weather permitting, to take daily
soundings so as to locate the exact position of the bank, and by means
of signals to apprise incoming and outgoing vessels of the position and
depth of water on the bar; also, when required, to pilot the vessel over
the dangerous spot.

Captain Craig, the pilot, was an old salt, with nearly half a century’s
experience of the eastern rivers of Australia.  He received the boys
very kindly, and, after offering them refreshment, took them to the
signal station and look-out.  When he had explained the methods of
signalling, he allowed them to look through a very fine telescope.  He
was justly proud of this instrument, it having been presented to him by
a company of passengers for his gallantry and seamanship in extricating
his vessel from a rocky shore in a hurricane.

The time had now arrived for taking the bar soundings. Much to the boys’
delight Captain Craig invited them to accompany him in the life-boat,
and a few minutes later the crew were pulling the party from the
miniature cove to the bar.

The water here, owing to the bar formation, was generally in a turbulent
condition.  Although it was a calm day, they found the boat exceedingly
lively as she moved to and fro over the bar while soundings were being
taken.  They experienced sundry disagreeable qualms, and a certain
screwed-up feeling in the region of the "bread-basket."  The clacking
tongues of the youngsters grew suspiciously quiet, and Tom’s ruddy
cheeks paled to an exceedingly bilious complexion.  Had you quizzed
these boys upon their sickly looks, they would have protested with might
and main against the insinuation of mal-de-mer.  Nevertheless they were
mighty glad when the pilot, after half an hour’s sounding, having
accomplished his purpose, turned the boat’s nose in the direction of
home.  Once out of the troubled waters, the sick feeling passed away,
and at the solicitation of the lads "for a pull," the pilot
good-naturedly allowed them to row to the landing-place.

Before leaving, the pals recited the story of the shark adventure,
ending in the death of the tiger shark. Captain Craig listened with
great interest, and not a little excitement, to this narration.

"You have had the narrowest of escapes, Joe Blain, and have very much to
be thankful for," exclaimed he. "That shark was a most notorious
character.  He has roamed the Bay for years and years, and has destroyed
many human lives.  Innumerable efforts for his capture have been put
forth by the fishermen, and by my own men, but in vain.  Often sighted
and fished for, he has resisted the many lures set for him.  Again and
again, when enclosed in their nets, he has broken through, and has long
been their despair.  Now, however, thanks to a good Providence, and to
the clever shot of your friend here, this dreadful man-eater has been
removed."  Advancing to the stockman, the pilot shook him warmly by the
hand, and thanked him in the name of the community.

As the party rode home in the cool of the evening, they decided to break
camp next morning, in order to carry out their original intention of
paying a visit to the old diggings.



                             *CHAPTER XXXI*

                       *OFF TO THE GOLD DIGGINGS*


    "The mountain air is cool and fresh,
      Unclouded skies bend o’er us,
    Broad placers, rich in hidden gold,
      Lie temptingly before us."
        SWIFT.


Tents were struck, and the campers’ impedimenta securely fastened to the
pack-saddles, in the grey dawn of the following morning—the party having
breakfasted by starlight.

The gold diggings about to be visited was situated in the ranges,
equi-distant from Bullaroi and the Bay.  The route from the Bay lay
along the homeward track as far as the caves.  At this point the trail
turned due north—winding among the rugged country to the site of the
mining camp, which, in its palmy days, covered a flat that lay between
some precipitous hills and a swiftly flowing mountain stream.

The diggings in question was deserted, save by a few fossikers, or
gully-rakers, as they were generally called—men who earned a precarious
living by following up the dry gullies, and picking out wash dirt from
between the rocks; or else dry-blowing likely spots of the surface. The
lure of gold—so common to all—fed the imagination of these men.  They
became nomads; lived in the most primitive ways; faced and endured
untold hardships; and, if not cheerful, were always hopeful.  They saw
visions and dreamed dreams—of gold.  The years passed, age pressed
heavily, eyesight grew dim, and limbs palsied with weakness: but even
when broken down and encompassed with infirmity, their very senility
sustained its spirits upon visions of the rich find that was surely
coming—to-morrow.

When the diggings "broke out," and the rush "set in," the flat was white
with tents, the population running into four figures.  It was an
alluvial diggings; that is, the gold was washed from the earth, and not
crushed from the quartz.  In the flush days of Rocky Gully, rich
"pockets" of gold were struck, and huge fortunes made. Life then, in the
character of its splendours and pleasures, was barbaric.  Lucky diggers,
with the spending lust upon them, ordered champagne baths, lit their
pipes with five-pound notes, shod their horses with plates of gold,
squandered their suddenly acquired riches on camp wantons, and among the
harpies of the gambling hells. There were many exceptions to this
foolish course, ’tis true; but such is the mental intoxication
consequent upon a lucky find, and the sudden acquisition of wealth, that
the majority of lucky diggers succumb, and in a few weeks or months,
shorn of their possessions, either blow out their brains in remorse, or
challenge fortune once more upon the same or some other goldfield.

Rocky Gully was now a worked-out diggings, and its population had long
ago drifted away to other fields. Naught remained to remind one of its
glory now but a few tumbledown houses, and the wood skeletons of iron
buildings, together with countless heaps of empty tins and other refuse.
Naught, that is, save a dozen or so of fossikers, who were distributed
over the field; each having his area, into which the others never
intruded.

How was it, then, that the Bullaroi party should have included a trip to
the deserted mining camp in their programme of sport and adventure?
There was nothing inviting in the region so far as game was concerned;
nor was there the rough excitements of a live diggings. The truth is, it
was the outcome of a suggestion of Harry. The stockman had a yarn he was
very fond of relating, which included some tragic incidents associated
with Rocky Gully.  As a youth he lived there in its "boom" days, and
towards the close of his stay there he was mates with Humpy Bob.  Humpy
Bob was an eccentric character, well known on a dozen goldfields, whose
shrewdness as a gold finder was countervailed by his incredible folly in
spending his riches.  On one occasion, when he had struck a "pocket,"
from which he drew over a thousand ounces, he began a carouse which
continued until the last penny was spent.

As illustrative of his folly during that spree, he purchased a general
store for the sum of one thousand pounds.  The same evening, in company
with the drunken guests of a champagne party he had given, he proceeded
to the store, deliberately fired it, and, with the other banqueters,
stripped stark naked, danced a wild corrobberie while it burned.

Bob sober was the antithesis of Bob drunk.  Abstemious, taciturn,
industrious, solitary, with a genius for divining likely places, he
followed the pursuit of gold: seldom failing to earn good wages; often
winning handsome profits; occasionally making a pile.

Humpy’s end came suddenly and tragically; and of this Harry was a
witness.

The two men were driving a tunnel at a likely spot in the bank of a
blind gully about three miles from the main camp.  They worked in
relays, and had driven in about a score of yards, when Harry suggested
shoring it with saplings for safety.  Humpy Bob, however, who was always
running risks, made light of the suggestion. They had just struck a vein
of promising stuff, which gave "prospects" of several grains to the
dish.  When it was Bob’s turn to go on, Harry again suggested shoring up
certain loose spots; especially one near where he had been picking, for
there had been a small fall during his shift.  This the other would not
consent to, though his partner pleaded earnestly.

"There’s a hundred to one chances against there being anything serious,
mate, and I’m not goin’ to waste any time in propping up the blessed
tunnel.  It’s not worth it. We’ll most likely clean it out to-morrer.
So-long!"

So saying, the digger entered the drive, and was soon at his work.
Harry, having nothing to do for a while, went to the tent and stretched
himself on his bunk for a rest, intending to return in an hour or so to
wheel out the mullock.  Unfortunately he fell asleep, and hours passed
by before he awoke.  When he did, he jumped from his bunk and ran out to
the drive, scolding himself for his negligence.  The barrow was missing
from its usual place, and, after a hasty search, the youth went to the
tunnel’s mouth and shouted to his mate.  There was no response, nor were
the usual pick sounds to be heard.  The light was still burning at the
end of the tunnel.  Hastily traversing the drive in a half-stooping
position, as indeed compelled by the size of the tunnel, the youth
covered about half the distance when he stumbled over the barrow,
severely barking his shins.  Using hot language against the carelessness
of his mate at leaving the barrow in such a place, and with a half fear
at the unsatisfactory look of things, he scrambled up and went on
towards the end of the tunnel.  He had not taken more than two steps
when he again stumbled; this time over a softer substance. It was his
mate!

Humpy Bob was lying unconscious, half-covered with a mass of fallen
earth and rocks.  Groping his way across this pile of débris, the
excited and frightened youth reached the end of the drive, seized the
light and returned to his mate.

Tearing frantically at the soil and stones, he liberated old Humpy, and,
as gently as possible, drew him to the tunnel mouth.  Then dashing to
the little stream below, he brought water in a billy, and made the
customary attempts to restore his stricken mate to consciousness. His
utmost attempts availed not.  The vital spark had fled.  Not all the
resources of medicine or surgery could bring light into the half-closed
eyes, or life into those rapidly stiffening limbs.  Humpy Bob would
never again unearth a nugget, rock a cradle, appraise the value of a
prospect, or get on the "razzle-dazzle" and "paint the town red."

It would seem that after working for a while, and making a heap of
mullock, the digger had come out of the tunnel for Harry.  Not seeing
him about, the old man seized the barrow with the object of wheeling out
some of the earth.  He had loaded it, and was in the act of wheeling it
along, when a mass of earth fell full upon his back, fracturing the
spine.

Harry was greatly affected by this sad occurrence; for Humpy Bob had
many good points of character, and a strong attachment had grown up
between them.  As soon as his mate was buried, he left the goldfield,
and got a job on one of the stations.

He had often thought of revisiting this scene, for he had a feeling that
good gold would be found there.  Of late the desire to test the ground
again had grown strong, and, when the project of the jaunt to the
seaside was launched, he suggested a trip to the old diggings.  The boys
gladly fell in with the idea, for it furnished them with an item that
gave additional spice to the outing.

The journey to the diggings was necessarily slow.  The pack-horses were
heavily weighted by the extra burden of the fish, and the method of
progress was that shuffling gait known as the "jog."  Though monotonous
and tiring to the rider, it is the easiest pace for the loaded animals,
and one that can be kept up all day.

"Seems a pity that we should cart this blessed fish to the diggings,
Sandy.  Wouldn’t it be better to ’cache’ it somewhere near the junction?
It’s giving the horses unnecessary work, in my opinion.  Let’s see, it’s
twelve miles to the junction, an’ fifteen from there to Rocky Gully.
Supposin’ we planted the stuff in the scrub at the junction; it’d save
thirty miles of hauling, an’ be no end of a gain all round."

"Good enough, Joe!  What d’yer say, Harry?  We could hide the barrels
an’ bag easy enough in the scrub."

"M-yes, perhaps so.  Come ter think of it, I’m not so sure.  Barrels’d
be all right, but ’twon’t be the dingoes’ fault if they don’t root out
the dried fish.  Tell you what, boys, plant ’em in the caves!"

"Good shot!  The very thing the doctor ordered!  The caves! yes.
’Twon’t take us more’n a mile out of the way; an’ ’twill be on the road
to Bullaroi on the return trip. We can easily strike in on the west side
of the cave ridge, and hide ’em in the stables.  Nobody knows of that
place but father an’ the ’rangers; now poor ole Ben’s shot——"

"Maybe it’s ha-aunted, bhoys.  It’s juist th’ sphot owld Ben’d hide his
sowl in, so as to frighten awa-ay th’ p’lice whin they goes rummagin’
about f’r booty; loike th’ carr-sthle ghosts in th’ owld conthry.
Bedad, thin, Oi’ll be expactin’ t’ see th’ bowld raider comin’ on us out
iv th’ dark, his face shinin’ loike th’ stuff phwat matches is made ov."

"Brimstone an’ treacle you’re thinkin’ of, ain’t you, Denny?  But, I
say, chaps, it’ll be better to hide ’em at the ’ranger’s outlet; though
it’ll be the dickens own job to get the barrels into the cave up that
slope.  Wouldn’t it be better, after all, to hide the stuff in the
scrub, slinging the bag into a tree, high enough to be safe from the
dingoes?"

So it would, and have saved a most painful experience; but having
started the idea of hiding the fish in the caves, it presented an
attraction that the others would not surrender.  It gave a flavour of
romance to the act.  Now that he was dead, the bushranger’s hiding-place
took on a new interest; and so it came to pass that Tom found himself in
a minority of one.

They found it a tough piece of work to get the barrels up the
precipitous slope to the cave entrance.  But, when the fish was at last
stored in the forage chamber, as it was now called, and the party had
remounted their horses, they could appreciate the advantage gained by
relieving the pack-horses of so much dead weight.

They now made more rapid headway, and struck an accommodation house, in
the early afternoon, kept by one Jago Smith—an old acquaintance of
Harry’s.



                            *CHAPTER XXXII*

                         *HOW THEY STRUCK GOLD*


    "There’s a bonny wee spot in the mountains I love,
    Where the pine trees are waving o’erhead far above,
    Where the miners are happy, kindhearted, and free;
    And many come here from way over the sea.
    There’s gold in the mountain, there’s gold in each glen,
    The good time is coming, have patience, brave men;
    Hold on to your ledges, and soon you will see
    Both money and mills coming over the sea."
      C. CRAWFORD.


Jago Smith was an "old timer," as, in Colonial parlance, men with his
past were called.  A Londoner by birth, he was initiated when but a
child into the arts and artifices of that profession which flourishes by
the application of sleight-of-hand tricks to the pockets and purses of
an unsuspecting public.  In short, this London arab was a thief,
belonging to just such a school as Dickens has portrayed in _Oliver
Twist_.

His career as a collector of "wipes" was brought to a summary end
through being caught full-handed in a theatre crush.  A "Children’s
Court," or a "First Offender’s Act," was unknown in the early days of
the nineteenth century; consequently young Jago Smith was had up before
the magistrate, committed to the Assizes, convicted to the hulks, and
ultimately transported to Botany Bay to serve a term of penal servitude.

At a theatrical effort made by certain prisoners of histrionic talent at
Sydney, at the tail-end of the eighteenth century, to which first
Governor Philip and his wife were "graciously" invited, the following
lines form part of the prologue composed for the occasion—

    "From distant climes, o’er wide-spread seas, we come,
    But not with much éclat or beat of drum.
    True patriots all; for be it understood,
    We left our country for our country’s good.

    No private views disgraced our generous zeal,
    What urged our travels was our country’s weal,
    And none can doubt, but that our emigration
    Has proved most useful to the British nation."


Fourteen years’ penal servitude for the theft of a few
pocket-handkerchiefs!  Such a sentence to-day would be regarded as a
monstrous iniquity; it passed without comment in those days.

But transportation was not an unmixed evil to Jago Smith.  As early as
1793 schools were started at the penal settlement, under the impression
that they would be the most likely means of effecting a reformation in
the morals of youthful prisoners.

Jago, with the consent of the master to whom he was assigned on landing,
attended a night school, and gained some insight into the three R’s.

[Illustration: "’We’ve struck it rich, I do believe,’ cried the
stockman."—_See p._ 295.]

After a somewhat varied career, the ex-pickpocket, who had served his
time, became a settler on Rocky Creek; and when the Rocky Gully gold
rush set in he drove a very profitable trade with the diggers.  In
addition to raising cattle on his selection, Smith kept an accommodation
house, where board and lodging was to be had.  As the place was on the
public road, about five miles from the diggings, it received much
patronage. Jago was very proud of his signboard.  It was an
incontestable proof of his accomplishments in writing and spelling.


                         ACKOMERDASHON FUR MAN
                          AN BESTE SMALL BIER
                        SOULED HEAR GORD SIVE TH
                            E KWEEN J SMITH


As the party drew up to the hitching blocks, old Jago, who was lounging
in an arm-chair in the verandah, hobbled out to the front, quietly
surveying the group; to whom Harry addressed himself.

"Good-evenin’, Mister Smith.  How are yer gettin’ on these times?"

"Not gettin’ any younger, you may be sure.  But who be you?"

"Don’t yer remember me, Jago?" replied the stockman, walking up to the
old man.

"Yes; I see who it is now.  You be the boy wot worked with old Humpy,
an’ used ter stay here when Bob had an attack of the jim-jams."

"The same, ole chap.  We’re goin’ to put up here for the night, and
intend goin’ on to-morrer to where me an’ Humpy worked when ’e was took.
Got room for us, I s’pose?"

"Plenty o’ room, me lad.  Not over rushed with travellers these times.
Better take your ’orses round ter the back; ye’ll find the saddle-room
in the old plice, an’ yer can turn the neddies inter the paddock.
There’s plenty o’ grass fer ’em."

The boys were ready for the supper of homely fare which awaited them at
sunset.  After supper, Harry and the old man got into a conversation, in
which the former stated that he was determined to have a try at the old
claim; for, though Humpy had put it about when working it that it was a
"shicer," Harry, of course, knew differently. The gold-bearing stuff, it
is true, was but a thin vein, but they expected it to develop into
something better farther on.  Old Jago informed him that no one had
touched the spot, so far as he knew.  Yes, he had some picks and shovels
and prospecting dishes, which he had taken as payment at one time and
another from hard-ups. Harry was welcome to make a selection.

This the stockman did without any delay.  He took from the curious
assortment of diggers’ tools two picks, two short-handled shovels, two
prospecting dishes, the roller and handle of a windlass, a couple of
buckets, some stout rope, a length of chain, a strong hook, a crowbar,
and a pound or two of blasting powder.

These he obtained as a loan, for Smith would not hear of pay.  He viewed
the whole thing in the light of a joke. The idea of Harry starting to
work a claim with a parcel of kids who had never seen a gold shaft in
their lives, with a time limit of three or four days at the most!  The
stockman was but humouring the fancies and ambitions of the kids.  They,
no doubt, expected to locate the golden nuggets in the same fashion that
they would track a missing bullock on the bush, or run down a wild cat
to its lair in a hollow log.  Well, they would at least develop their
arm muscles and have blistered hands to show their friends.  So the old
settler—who at the time of the rush had listened to the confident
prediction of many a greenhorn, going post-haste to pick up the nuggets
that were waiting for somebody to tumble over. Not so Harry; he, at
least, was no greenhorn.  He would give the abandoned workings a trial.
It would be a novelty for the boys, and though they mightn’t get
anything to boast about, would, he was confident, get enough to give
each member of the party a souvenir of the visit.

Leaving the accommodation house after an early breakfast, the band of
diggers, for such we must now call them, arrived at the old workings in
a couple of hours, passing _en route_ two or three fossikers who were
working their shows.  These ancients looked with a degree of
astonishment upon this cluster of youths, whose very jauntiness was
suggestive of a prime lark.

Arrived at the diggings, the party had a good look round.  Intense
solitude reigned everywhere, and save for the heaps of rusty cooking
utensils and other rubbish there was little to indicate that the place
had once been a busy hive of life and energy.  An old signboard, written
by another hand than had done Jago Smith’s, was seen nailed to a tree.
Its language was simple and to the point.


                              ROYAL HOTEL
                             ALL DRINKS 6c.

                          _N.B.—Clean Glasses_


Harry took a rapid survey of the situation.  The place apparently had
not been disturbed since the fatal accident.  The old tent poles
remained as he had left them, and there was no evidence of any one
having camped there for years.

Proceeding to the tunnel, which, as previously described, was driven
into the perpendicular bank of a deep gully, things looked pretty much
as they did on that fatal day, excepting that the earth had fretted away
about the tunnel mouth, and, on venturing in a short distance, the man
saw that the roof had broken down, completely blocking the mine.

"Well, Harry," exclaimed Joe, when the leader emerged from the tunnel
mouth, which the boys had been eagerly watching, "is it all clear?  Did
you go to the end?"

Didn’t git half-way.  Tunnel’s half blocked."

"What a pity!" chorused the lads.

"Dunno ’bout that; cause, yer see, it’s proof ter me no one’s bin
interferin.’"

"’Twon’t be a heavy job to clear it out, will it?" continued Joe.

"Carn’t say; depends on the amount that’s fallen. But ’tain’t my notion
ter use the tunnel at all.  Yer see, it’s this way: it may take us an
hour or a day to clear the rubbage outer the tunnel.  When we’d done
that, we’d have ter do two other things afore we could tackle the
wash-dirt.  Fust an’ foremost, there’s plenty of foul air in the far end
of the drive, like wot nearly pisened you coves in the caves.  Let me
tell you, it’s hard work clearing the stinkin’ air outer a tunnel.  You
can git it outer a shaft easy enough, by tyin’ a bunch o’ bushes onter a
rope and running ’em up an’ down; but it’s mighty hard work clearin’ a
tunnel, an’ orften a long job.  Then, s’posin’ we got it out, we’d have
ter shore up the whole blessed length; for, let me tell you, I’m not
goin’ ter run any risks in this ’ere job.  We’ve had fright enough over
Joe an’ the shark, an’ I cuddent face the Boss an’ the missus if
anything happened to any of you here.  Now, to shore up this blessed
tunnel’d take a power of timber, an’ ter git it an’ fix it’d take a far
longer time than we’ve got."

"Oh, I say, Harry," cried Tom in tones of deep disappointment, voicing
the feelings of the group of boy diggers, "don’t tell us it’s all a go,
an’ we’re to return without havin’ a try!  Can’t you find some other
spot?"

"Harry, ye spalpeen, Oi dhramed all laast night Oi was diggin’ up
gowlden prr-aties, an’, ochone!  Oi’d just stuck th’ pick into a
monsther iv a prr-atie, a ton weight at the laast, an’ was tryin’ me
best to upind her wid a laver, whin owld Jago comes bangin’ at th’ dure.
Begor!  Oi was sweatin’ loike a stoker whin th’ owld mahn woke me. Jist
give me wan little chanst, me bhoy, an’ be Saint Michael Oi’ll——"

"Ye’ll git yer charnse, Denny, never fret.  They’s more ways of killin’
a pig besides chokin’ ’im with a lump o’ butter.  It never was my plan,
boys, ter use the ole tunnel.  There’s a better way nor that.  When me
an’ ole Humpy drove in ’ere, we wus follerin’ a lead, an’ ye niver can
tell ’ow far yer ’ave ter go: maybe a few feet, maybe a ’undered yards
afore it opens out inter a body.  So we did the right thing then.  Now I
propose ter put down a shaft, to tap the wash-dirt jist erbout the end
of the tunnel, or, maybe, a little furder up nor that.  I calkerlate
we’ll tap it in twenty feet or so.  I know the clarss of country we’ll
have to go through.  All this bank’s wot we call ’made up.’  It’s a
formation called pudden stone. It’s formed o’ river wash, an’ is pretty
pebbly.  The pebbles is the plums.  We’ll go through it in a couple o’
days at most, an’ that’d give us two days more afore we need clear orf
’ome."

The boys were delighted beyond measure at Harry’s proposal, and set
about rigging up the camp near the spot which the leader had selected to
put down the shaft.

While the pals were doing this, Harry and Denny set to work at sinking
the shaft.  So expeditious were they that by night they had sunk the
hole about ten feet and had rigged up the windlass.  All the boys had a
turn at digging, which they enjoyed immensely because of the novelty of
the work.  Harry and Denny, however, did the main part, while the lads
manned the windlass, and hauled up the stuff from time to time, as the
buckets were filled.

At daylight next morning the party were eating breakfast preparatory to
a long day’s work at the shaft.  They had to do a good deal of blasting,
for some of the stones were too heavy to haul up, and that consumed
time.  It was verging on evening when, clearing up a rather heavy blast,
Harry, who had gone down to fill the bucket, cried out, "Haul up quick!
we’ve broken through.  Foul air!"

On winding their comrade up, he declared that the blast had broken the
ground into the tunnel, and that the foul air was coming freely into the
bottom of the shaft. "We’ll let it stay as it is till termorrer, an’
then we’ll clear it out."

The pals went to sleep that night to dream about the El Dorado which, in
their imagination, they had struck. The earliest dawn found them at the
shaft’s mouth. Harry tied several bushes to the end of the rope, and
this was rapidly lowered and raised for about a couple of hours, the
condition below being tested from time to time by a lighted candle
placed in a bucket and lowered to the bottom.  At last it remained
alight, though it burned very feebly.  About half an hour after this,
the candle, on being sent below again, burned brightly.

"It’s all right, now, boys!  We’ve got rid of the gas, that’s a
blessing.  Lower away!"  In a few seconds Harry was filling the buckets
with the broken rock and earth.  In a short time it was all cleared up,
and the leader had started to drive along the line of the vein.  He had
not cut in more than a couple of feet when he threw down the pick and
shouted up the shaft, "Hurroar, boys! I’ve struck a patch.  Be gosh, it
looks like a pocket!"

The excitement above at this good news may be better imagined than
described.  The vein of wash-dirt suddenly expanded into a cube of about
sixty buckets of auriferous earth.  It was a genuine though small
pocket.  Whether rich or poor could be determined only by washing.

Harry filled a bucket with the dirt, which was speedily hauled up.  The
next minute he was pulled to the surface, and, spreading the stuff on
the ground, examined it.  To the great delight of the pals, he picked
out several large specks and a small nugget, scaling about half an
ounce.

"It’s all right, mates!" cried the stockman, now almost as excited as
the boys.  "We’ve struck it rich, I do believe.  Sandy, me boy, git your
nag an’ a packhorse, an’ streak fur Jago’s as fast as yer can git, an’
borry a cradle.  It’d take too long ter pan this stuff—must have a
cradle.  But, look ’ere, don’t give the show away.  Tell ’im I got a few
specks from a bit o’ stuff I came acrost, an’ that I’m jist goin’ ter
give it a try.  He’ll most likely call me a big fool, an’ don’t yer
conterdict ’im."

A cradle, it may be said, is a machine on rockers for washing the
auriferous earth.  The machine is fed with the wash-dirt, a stream of
water being poured on while it is rocked like a child’s cradle.  The
heavy sand and gravel, together with the precious metal, sink to the
bottom and are retained by the "ridges," whilst the earth and all light
matter pass away with the water.  It is finally treated in a dish so
skilfully that only the pure metal is left.

While Sandy is speeding off to Jago’s the rest are busy picking the
pocket and carrying it down to a flat by the side of the tiny stream
which ran along the gully bottom.  The work was hard, for the wash-dirt
was heavy, and the buckets big; but they made fun of the hardships of
bruised fingers and strained muscles, as they hauled the precious earth
from the shaft mouth, and then humped it to the stream.

They had not quite finished their work ere Sandy reappeared upon the
scene with the cradle.  Very little grass had grown during the
performance of his task.

Scarcely allowing themselves time to bolt down their midday meal, the
party were grouped around the cradle, which Harry had fixed within a
yard of the stream. The stockman soon made his dispositions of the
forces. Joe and Tom are to lift the water and pour it on as required,
while he and Sandy work the cradle.  Denny is to feed the machine with
the dirt.

So the work of "washing up" started.  Every now and then Harry stopped
the work and "cleaned up" the cradle—that is, took out the heavy golden
sand which was caught in the cross-bars of the machine and emptied it in
a bag, to be "panned" later.  From time to time the party were gladdened
by the sight of large specks, and now and then a tiny nugget of some
grains’ weight.  The gold, for the most part, however, was fine.  The
work went on continuously till night closed in upon them. Though
dreadfully tired, they reluctantly abandoned their work for the day, and
after supper threw themselves upon their primitive beds and slept the
sleep of the just.

"Be up betimes in the morning, boys," was Harry’s last word.

The party had to thank a pair of laughing jackasses[#] for their early
waking.  Perched on the limb of a tree close to the tent, they began
their morning orisons at the first paling of the stars, making such a
cachinnation as to cause Tom to fly out from his bunk, crying in
startled tones, "Dressin’, dad; goin’ for the cows this minute."  While
Denny was disturbed sufficiently to turn over on his side, saying in
sleepy tones, "Jist repa-ate they swa-ate wurrds agin, Bridget me
darlin’! an’ sa-ay ye——  Howly Moses, ’tis th’ owld Johnny-axes at their
thricks!"


[#] Giant kingfisher.


In a few minutes the fire is burning briskly, and as soon as breakfast
is demolished the lucky diggers make their way to the gully to start
operations.  The work was a repetition of yesterday’s, and, according to
Harry’s calculation, they would be finished by noon if they stuck well
to the job; bullock teams couldn’t have drawn them from it.

After working for about an hour, Denny, who was shovelling the dirt,
picked up a lump of rock, saying at the same time, "Oi’ll pitch this
awa-ay, annyways.  It feels moighty heavy, though, for a sthone: ’tis as
heavy as lead.  Musha, but the sthones ar-re heavy hereabouts!"

"Hey, you fool!  don’t throw that away.  Let’s see it," cried Harry,
seizing the piece of rock, which was about the size of the lad’s head.
"Why, great jumpin’ Jehosaphat!  it’s a bloomin’ nugget.  You precious
duffer! if you’d thrown that away I’d ’a’ pitched you down the shaft."

The pals dropped their buckets and crowded round the leader as he held
the lump with both hands.

"See ’ere, this white rock’s quartz, an’ all these yaller veins is gold.
It isn’t wot you’d call a pure nugget, but by the weight of it I guess
there’s a power of the yaller stuff inside.  ’Ere, Tom, streak up ter
the tent fur a tommy an’ we’ll soon see."

Furnished with the tomahawk, the stockman laid the quartz nugget on a
flat stone that cropped out of the ground near by, and dealt vigorous
blows upon it with the head of the weapon.  In this way he crushed the
quartz crystal sufficiently for them to see that the gold formed a mass
in the centre.

"That’s all we’ll do at present; we’ll crush it out properly in a mortar
when we get home.  Guess there’s full twenty ounces o’ gold in ’er."

There were no more such finds in the dirt, but the last few lots yielded
a good deal of coarse gold, one piece weighing about four ounces.

By nightfall they had washed out the bagged ore. There it lay on a cloth
before the fire, a little heap of pure gold, and beside it the quartz
nugget, so to call it.

"Call me a frog-eater if there ain’t full seventy ounces o’ gold in that
there lot—close on three ’undered pounds’ worth!"



                            *CHAPTER XXXIII*

                        *BULLION AND BUSHRANGER*


    "And if you doubt the tale I tell,
    Steer through the South Pacific swell,
    Go where the branching coral hives
    Unending strife of endless lives,
    Go where the rivers roll down through the sand
    Under skies that are blue in a golden land."
      KIPLING.


"Pull up a moment, chaps.  I want ter say a word afore we strike Jago
Smith’s—we’ll sight it over the next ridge. No blabbin’ erbout the gold.
The ole cove’s sure ter arsk erbout our luck.  You keep mum, an’ leave
me ter answer ’im.  He’s er good ernuff sort in hes way, is ole Jago,
an’ me an’ ’im always got on well, as ’e sort er took a fancy ter me.
All the same, ’im an’ Ben Bolt is, or was great friends.  That’s why I
steered clear o’ the shootin the night we stayed there.  ’E might ’a’
cut up rusty, like.  Many’s the time ’e’s planted the ’ranger when the
p’lice ’as been ’ot on ’is trail.  ’Twuddent s’prise me a bit if the kid
that wus Ben’s mate wus ’idin’ somewheres erbout Jago’s.  ’E’s several
good plants.  At any rate, there must be no blow.  Bes’ be on the safe
side."

In a few minutes the party sighted the accommodation house at a distance
of a quarter of a mile or so.  They could see the old man in the front,
talking to a man who held a horse by the bridle.  Even as the party
sighted the pair they were themselves seen.  After a few hasty words
with Jago the horseman threw his bridle over the steed’s neck, vaulted
to the saddle, and rode away briskly.

"By George, that ’ere cove’s ridin’ a good nag.  See the style o’ ’im!
’E’s a beauty, ’e is; all muscle an’ spirit. If ole Ben wusn’t a goner,
I’d say ’twas ’im on Samson; blamed if I wuddent."

The mounted band have approached the house by this time.  The owner
stood awaiting them by the hitching posts.  Saluting them as they rode
up, he jeered good-humouredly—

"I ’opes yer left a few specks fur them fossikers, gintilmin?  ’Twud be
too bad to scoop the pool an’ leave the old uns nothin’ but mullock
heaps.  At any rate, ye’ve brought back the tools—cradle an’ all.  Come
now, ’ow did the stuff pan out?"

"I’ll tell yer wot we did git, ole man, sore bones an’ blistered ’ands.
Blame me, but yer soon gits outer the diggin’ business.  Tried that bit
o’ stuff I come acrost, wot the kid tole yer erbout.  Waal, speakin’ in
confidence, we didn’t git ernuff ter hire a gold escort ter fetch it
erlong.  We did git a bit—ernuff ter make these young coves a breast-pin
apiece.  But let me tell yer, one of these days I’m comin’ back ter have
a good prospect. Keep it close, Smith; I don’t want any of these blessed
gully-rakers ter smell anythin’."

"Dark it is, young feller.  Yer can trust me fer not givin’ the show
away.  Comin’ in?"

"No, we’re makin’ fer ’ome.  Just tote the tools ter where youse got
’em, boys, an’ then we’ll be orf."

The lads speedily discharged, and were in the saddle again.  The party
was moving off when Harry said to Jago—

"Forgot ter arsk yer whether yer ’eered that Ben Bolt wus shot by
Hennessey t’other day."

"Yes, I ’eered it," replied Smith dryly.

"Kid not collared yet?"

"You’re more likely ter ’eer about ’im than me: so-long."

"Ole Jago’s a deep un," soliloquised Harry as they rode along.  "I
forgot ter arsk ’im erbout the man we saw ridin’ away as we came up," he
remarked a few minutes later to Joe, who was riding at his side.  "If
that ’ere ’orse ’e wus ridin’ warn’t Samson, I’m a greenhorn."

"It might have been the young fellow that got away when Ben was shot.
It struck me Jago was bluffin’ you, Harry."

"My word, Harry," said Tom, riding up on the other side, "you bluffed
ole Jago over the gold."

"Ain’t so sure o’ that," replied the stockman.

"No one could have done it better," broke in Joe. "You circumnavigated
the truth."

"Don’t know wot yer mean, my boy: unless it’s somethin’ in the circus
line."

"Not exactly that," replied Joe laughingly; "but it reminds me of an
epitaph I heard about, that was stuck on a fellow’s tombstone—

                    HE TRIED HARD NOT TO BE A LIAR."


"Wot I said about tacklin’ that ground’s true ernuff, anyways," replied
the stockman, with a smile.  "But erbout this gold: we’ll go shares, o’
course.  We’ll divide it up inter five equal lots when we get to
Bullaroi."

"No; that’s not fair, Harry," said Sandy.  "We must have a fair
division."

"Well, wot yer call a fair division, if that’s not one?" said the man
shortly.

"If it was left to me to decide, I would give you half, to start with.
It was your show.  You did most of the work.  We were more like wages
men; so at the very least you should get half.  Then I’d divide the
other half among the rest of us in equal shares."

"Sandy’s right," broke in Joe.  "As far as I’m concerned, Harry’ll have
the lot.  I’d like him to take my whack, anyway, because——"

"No, yer don’t, Joe.  I know wot yer goin’ ter say. Think I’m mean
ernuff ter take pay fer shootin’ a jolly shark?"

"Oh—I—didn’t—mean—it—just——"

"Joe meant it as a mark of gratitude, Harry.  I think my way’s best.
Whatcher say?"

"Agreed!" chorus the four.

"Joe, me mahn," said Denny a little while later, as he and Blain were
riding together, "cud ye tell me phwat me quarter ov a half ov th’
gowld’ll come to?"

"Lemme see, seventy ounces; half o’ that, thirty-five; quarter of
thirty-five is eight an’ three-quarter ounces: yes, your share is eight
an’ three-quarters, Denny."

"Give it in pounds, plaase, Joe."

"Pounds!  Oh, I say, you’ve got me there.  Well, let’s see.  What was it
Harry said they’d give us per ounce at the bank?"

"Three sivinteen an’ a tanner, Joe, me bhoy.  Oi tuk note ov that."

"Yes, that was the price, I ’member.  Eight and three-quarter times
three seventeen six—er—lemme see, that’d be—eight threes twenty-four,
twen—bother it, I mean eight times seventeen an’ six, that’s a hundred
an’ ninety—no, _that’s_ not it.  Let me put it down in me mind—one,
seven, six; that’s right!  Well, multiply it by eight, an’ leave the
quarters out for a bit.  That’s—why, it’s three hundred an’—no, it can’t
be that much, surely?  Bust it, if I only had a pencil an’ a bit o’
paper I’d soon tot it up.  Try again.  Eight into seventeen and six is——
Blest if it isn’t an interest sum, after all, Denny; an’ they always sew
me up."

"It’s th’ troth, Joe; it’s th’ most interastin’ sum Oi iver heerd tell
iv.  Thry it agin, Marsther Joe; doan’t let a little sum loike that
ba-ate ye.  ’Twas two hondered pounds ye said larrst.  Make her go a
little higher if yes can."

"What! two hundred pounds!  Murder! ’tis shillin’s I was reckoning."

"O-o-h!" exclaimed Denny, with a profound sigh. "Awaay goes me bright
dra-ames!  Sure, thin, ’twas buyin’ th’ owld family carr-sthle Oi was
thinking ov, an makin’ melyinaares o’ me dear payrunts; maybe the Quaan
wud be makin’ me farther Lord Kineavy!"

"Well, you are a cure, Denny.  You’ll have me addressin’ you as the
Honourable Dennis next.  Oh, I say, didn’t Harry say he wouldn’t be
surprised if the gold fetched four pounds an ounce, it was so rich?
Well, let’s reckon it at four quid.  Eight fours are thirty-two—that’s
thirty-two pounds.  The three-quarters of four pounds is three.
Thirty-two and three are thirty-five; thirty-five pounds.  There you
are, ole boss, thirty-five."

"Thirty-foive pounds!  Begorrah! it’s a bloomin’ capertillist Oi am!
Whoi, glory be! it’ll do betther thin buyin’ a rotten owld sthone
carr-sthle made ov brick an’ thatch; it’ll pay for bringin’ out me
payrunts in th’ emigrr-ashon ship.  Be Saints Pathrick an’ Michael, ’tis
a happy bhoy Oi am at this moment!  Phwat wid me savin’s, an’ Norah’s,
an’ this haape ov gowld, Oi’ll buy thim th’ best cabin on th’ boat, and
so Oi will!"

In due time the party arrived at the junction of the roads, and crossed
the ridge to the cave entrance.  After placing their horses in the patch
of scrub near the road, they scrambled up to the opening.  Lighting the
candle, Sandy led the way to the forage chamber, where the fish was
stored.

"You don’t feel so creepy, Denny, as when you were here last," said Tom
to the Irish "boy, as they followed the others into the chamber.

"It’s thrue for ye, Tom.  Owld Ben’s not thrubblin’ me to-da-ay.  ’Tis
only thinkin’ ov me dear farther an’ mauther comin’ out on th’ sa-ay Oi
am.  As for th’ ’ranger, he’s as dead an’ dhry by this toime as the
smoked fish yonder."

"Is he?" cried a loud voice from the rear.

"Howly Moses! ’tis th’ ’ranger’s ghost," cried the Irish boy, as a
bull’s-eye flashed in his face, dazzling his eyes and confusing his
mind.  Terror-possessed by this ghostly manifestation—for he saw naught
but a bright light, preceded by an awful voice—the boy bolted.  He
rushed towards the chamber exit, which he barely reached ere the sharp
crack of a revolver sounded, what time the panic-stricken youth
staggered forward, falling with a dull thud upon the stone floor.

It need hardly be said that the other members of the group were startled
out of speech and action.  Not ten seconds elapsed between the cry of
the man or ghost and the tragedy of the revolver shot and the fallen
boy.

The moment the boy fell the others ran towards him, but before they had
taken three steps the light flashed on them and a revolver covered them.
Behind the lantern came a voice that more than the lantern, or even
pistol, cowed them: "_Stop!  Hands up!_"


          *[Illustration: Behind the lantern came a voice that
           more than the lantern, or even pistol, cowed them:
             "*_*Stop!  Hands up!*_*" (missing from book)]*


For the second time the hands of the boys went up at command.  One thing
was made quite clear, at any rate: this was no ghostly visitant.  Ghosts
didn’t carry revolvers, nor was there long any mystery about this
personage.

"That young cove reckoned I was dead and dry as your smoked schnapper,
did he?  The young fool’ll smoke and dry fast enough in the place I’ve
sent him to. You infernal asses to come here!  But you’ll never live to
tell any one; make up your minds to that."

It was in truth the bushranger himself.  Of that there could be no
doubt.  The news of his death was either a make-up or a gross
exaggeration.  Here he stood, in the flesh, in one of his most dangerous
moods.  A black fit was on him.  Under its influence he was capable of
almost any atrocity.  The lads were horror-stricken. There, before them,
lay the body of their comrade, the gay, witty, affectionate Denny, who
but a few moments ago was in the seventh heaven of delight at the
thought of bringing out his parents with the proceeds of his share of
the gold; and now—it was too awful!

"Look ’ere, Ben Bolt!" exclaimed Harry, after a few seconds’ silence,
"you’ve shot an innercent boy in cold blood.  You’ve grossly belied your
reputation that you never laid a hand on woman or child.  We came here
with no thought of spyin’ upon yer, for we believed yer to be dead.  In
five minits we wud ’ave gone away with our fish, none the wiser for your
presence.  You’ve not the slightest justerfication fer takin’ that life,
an’ if yer shoots me the next minit fer it, I tell yer to yer face ye’re
a blaggard an’ coward, an’ the pity is that the news of yer bein’ shot
wasn’t true."

Why Harry was not shot off-hand, it were hard to say. The bushranger was
convulsed with rage: thrice he levelled his revolver at the brave man,
and as often lowered it.  At last, with a voice hoarse with passion, he
said, "I’ll send you along the road I’ve driven your mate, curse you!
You think you’re very game, but I’ll take all that out of you before
I’ve done with you.  You’ll be longing for your end hours before it
comes....

"Here, boy," continued he, pointing to Tom.  "Take that green-hide and
tie your mates as I tell you.  Look sharp, or I’ll lay you alongside
your mate yonder."

Thus dragooned, Tom securely tied his mates’ hands behind their backs.
As soon as this was accomplished, the outlaw, sticking his revolver in
his belt, served Tom in the same way, and in addition trussed each
victim. Having set them in a row like a group, of mummies, he addressed
them—

"You’ll lie here for the present.  I’ll deal with you later.  I’ve got a
little job to do first.  That fool Hennessey’s coming out this way with
a couple of troopers to trap me.  ’Twasn’t enough that he winged my
mate, he’s sworn to have me inside of the week.  And I swear that I’ll
have him inside of six hours.  I’m going out now to have a look round.
If you coves try any of your tricks, I’ll make hell for you.  I shan’t
be far off, you may bet."

So saying, the outlaw went out into the chamber where his horse was
stabled, and led him along the passage to the cave entrance.

"I say, Harry, it was Ben Bolt that we saw at ole Jago’s this mornin’."

"True.  I cud ’ave taken me oath a’most that the ’orse wus Samson, but I
didn’t git a fair view of the bloke’s face.  Yes, ’twor Ben that we saw.
He must ’a’ got ’is information erbout Hennessey from the ole man. It’s
wunnerful ’ow they does git the news.  I ’ope ’e don’t git er charnse
ter draw er bead on Hennessey.  He’ll ’ave ter be mighty smart ter do
it.  But, dear! dear! on’y ter think of poor Denny lyin’ over
there—dead!  I wish ter ’evven ’e’d ’a’ shot me instead.  Wot’ll your
father an’ mother say, Sandy?  Poor Norah, too!  It’ll be the killin’ of
’er."

"Whisht, boys, spaake low: Oi’m not kilt ontoirely; only knocked
spaachless.  Oi’m betther nor tin dead Chinymen yit."

It was the sweetest sound that ever ravished the ears of the boys.  Here
was the blissful fact—Denny was not dead; was very much alive.  If the
lads did not immediately cry out with joy it was because their joy was
too deep for utterance.

"Don’t spaake or sthir awhoile till Oi see if th’ coast’s clear."

Rising quietly to his feet, the Irish boy stole along the corridor that
led to the mouth of the cave.  After a hasty but keen survey of the
immediate neighbourhood, he returned to his companions, knife in hand,
and in a few minutes had freed them.

"And are you not wounded, Denny?  We never dreamed but that the villain
had shot you dead.  You lay just like a corpse.  He was under that
impression too, or he’d never have left you."

"Yez see ’twas this way: Oi was fair flabbergasted whin th’ blazin’
light dazzled me oiyes.  Oi made shure ’twas th’ ’ranger’s ghost.  Oi
wud ’a’ stood, but me ligs wuddn’t.  They sthreaked off loike a
paddy-melon goes for a hole in th’ fince—carryin’ me body wid thim.  Th’
firsht thing Oi felt was a rock sthrikin’ me fut, an’ thin, begorra,
somethin’ whistled past me ear as Oi tumbled forrard, hittin’ th’ flure
a nasty crack wid me head.  Th’ nixt thing Oi heard was owld Harry
tongue-bangin’ th’ rapscallion ov a murtherer fur killin’ me.  ’Be
jabers!’ ses Oi to meself, ’he’s kilt me ontoirely wid a shot from hes
pisthol, if phwat me bowld frind ses be th’ thruth. Go it, me brave
bhoy!  Tare an’ ouns, but ye’re givin’ him th’ coward’s blow in foine
style!’

"Thin Oi sees him rope yez up loike dhrapery parr-sels, an’, ses Oi,
’Jist wait till yez is gone, me hairr-y breasted sna-ake!’ an’ wid that
Oi comes to me ray-son an’ knows that Oi was not dead at all, at all.
Oi was jist goin’ to git up an’ give him a bit iv me tongue, whin the
thought comes—’Lie still, ye gossoon, till he goes an’ ye can liberaate
yer mates!’  So now we’ll be even wid th’ omadhaun."

"The quicker we’re outer this the better!" exclaimed Harry, as soon as
he was released.  "There’s no knowin’ when the ’ranger’ll return; if ’e
finds us loose, ’e’ll shoot us to a cert.  What a pity we left our guns
with the ’orses!  ’Ope ’e won’t find ’em.  It’ll be risky goin’ out, as
we don’t know where the feller is.  ’E may be close by watchin’ the
’ole.  The bes’ thing’ll be for us ter make a dash ter the scrub as soon
as we’re outer the cave."

"There’s a much safer way than that," said Sandy. "We’ll go out the way
we came in when we first discovered this place.  Lucky we brought a
candle with us.  Come along; every moment is precious."

So saying, Sandy strode in advance, the others following closely at his
heels.  The party soon hit upon the passage leading to the cave opening
on the other side of the ridge.  In twenty minutes or so they were in
the open.

Their first act was to plunge into the thick bush.  This shielded them
from ordinary observation.  After a short confab, they concluded that
the wisest thing to do was to creep along in the thickest part, in the
direction of the horses.  They had hardly started when the sharp crack
of a rifle broke upon their ears.  Stopping short, they listened
eagerly; with beating hearts, it must be confessed.  Again and again,
shots were fired; at last they heard the pounding of hoofs, rapidly
nearing them.

"’Ssh—don’t move—they’re on the hard road," said Harry to the nervously
excited youths.

The road passed the caves about two hundred yards from where the party
lay.  Presently, with increasing clatter, Ben Bolt rode furiously along,
and after a minute’s interval, Sergeant Hennessey, accompanied by two
troopers, the Sergeant leading by about fifty yards. Just as he was in
the act of passing, the officer took a snap-shot at the ’ranger.  In a
few minutes all sight and even sound of pursued and pursuers had gone.

"No fear of Ben Bolt trubblin’ us now fer a spell. ’Ope Hennessey ’ll
nab ’im sure this time.  Let’s moosey erlong, lads."

It didn’t take the party long to pick up the steeds and load up the
packhorses with the fish.  The sun had barely set ere they were well on
the last stage of the return journey.


The M’Intyres are just concluding the evening meal. The conversation
chiefly centres around the campers. Mrs. M’Intyre had given many a look
along the track during the afternoon, in the hope of sighting the lads.
The understanding when they left was that they were to return at the end
of the second week.  It was now Saturday evening.

"I won’t give them up till ten o’clock.  I expect they have made a late
start.  Yes, Maggie, I own that I am a bit fidgety now that I’ve heard
that Ben Bolt has been seen in the vicinity of the caves."

"Weel, ye can juist ease yure mind on that pint, my dear, for the
Sairgeant and a pairty o’ troopers are patrolling in that direection, so
that there’s no’ the sma’est pairtical o’ reesk."

"It was lucky for them, mummie, that they had started for their trip
before the revised version of the engagement between the police and the
bushrangers was published, for had you known of the mistake you would
never have let the boys go.  What are they going to do with the youth
that Hennessey wounded?  They say Ben Bolt’s mad over it, and swears to
have Hennessey’s life."

"The misguided lad wull be pit on his trial as sune as the wound on his
thigh permeets."

"Do you think they’ll hang him, father?"

"Nae, nae, they’ll no’ hang the chiel; he has never ta’en life, nor is
he a hardened ruffian.  He stairted this wild life ’for the fun o’ it,’
like mony another silly laddie.  The Sairgeant tells me that Jock Smith,
for that’s his name, is gled to be captured.  His eyes hae been opened
to the folly and sin that are compreehended in sic a life.  Insteed o’
fun, he has encountered nought but hairdship and meesery.  The misguided
laddie wull hae plenty o’ time for repentance."

The evening calm is suddenly and noisily disturbed. The station dogs set
up a great babble of barking, and Jessie, who had gone out to the front
verandah, comes running in helter skelter and screaming—

"Father, mother, hear the dogs!  It’s the boys, I bet tuppence.  Hurrah!
Hurrah!——"

"Jessie, Jessie!  you are certainly developing very——"

Mrs. Mac is prosing without an audience, for the girls are flying along
the track to the slip-rails, accompanied by the barking dogs.


It was verging on midnight when the Bullaroi household broke up.  The
adventures were told with a degree of modesty to an intensely interested
and at times breathless company.  The spoils of the sea and the spoils
of the mine were displayed to the admiration of all. Mrs. M’Intyre gave
high praise to the pals for their success as fish-curers; while the gold
spoke for itself, needing no expert opinion.

Mr. M’Intyre had the last word.

"Ye’ve advanced a big step towards yure manhood, laddies, and I’m prood
o’ ye the nicht.  Yure conduc’ under they perils by sea and land is more
precious by far that yon gleeterin’ gowd.  A guid name is raither to be
chosen than great riches.  Thank the Lord for a’ His mercies!
Guid-nicht, bairns."



                           "GOOD-NIGHT ALL."



           _Printed by_ MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED, _Edinburgh_





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