That night Jim and Sam lay together in a little room to the windward of the house. They were soon fast asleep, but, in the middle of the night, Jim was woke by a shake on the shoulder, and, rousing himself, saw that Sam was sitting up in the bed.
"My God, Jim!" said he,—"I have had such an awful dream! I dreamed that those fellows in the boat were carrying off Alice, and I stood by and saw it, and could not move hand or foot. I am terribly frightened. That was something more than a dream, Jim."
"You ate too much of that pie at dinner," said Jim, "and you've had the nightmare,—that's what is the matter with you. Lord bless you, I often have the nightmare when I have eaten too much at supper, and lie on my back. Why, I dreamed the other night that the devil had got me under the wool-press, screwing me down as hard as he could, and singing the Hundredth Psalm all the time. That was a much worse dream than yours."
Sam was obliged to confess that it was. "But still," said he, "I think mine was something more than a dream. I'm frightened still."
"Oh, nonsense; lie down again. You are pulling all the clothes off me."
They lay down, and Jim was soon asleep, but not so Sam. His dream had taken such hold of his imagination, that he lay awake, listening to the storm howling around the house. Now and then he could hear the unearthly scream of some curlew piercing the din, and, above all, he could hear the continuous earth-shaking thunder of the surf upon the beach. Soon after daylight, getting Halbert to accompany him, he went out to have a look at the shore, and, forcing their way against the driving, cutting rain, they looked over the low cliff at the furious waste of waters beneath them, and saw mountain after mountain of water hurl itself, in a cloud of spray, upon the shore.
"What terrible waves, now!" said Sam.
"Yes," replied Halbert; "there's no land to windward for six thousand miles or more. I never saw heavier seas than those. I enjoy this, Sam. It reminds me of a good roaring winter's day in old Cornwall."
"I like it, too," said Sam. "It freshens you up. How calm the water is to the leeward of the Cape!"
"Yes; a capital harbour of refuge that. Let us go home to breakfast."
He turned to go, but was recalled by a wild shout from Sam.
"A ship! A ship!"
He ran back and looked over into the seething hell of waters helow. Was it only a thicker spot in the driving mist, or was it really a ship? If so, God help her.
Small time to deliberate. Ere he could think twice about it, a full-rigged ship, about five hundred tons, with a close-reefed topsail and a rag of a foresail upon her, came rushing, rolling, diving, and plunging on, apparently heading for the deadly white line of breakers which stretched into the sea at the end of the promontory.
"A Queen's ship, Sam! a Queen's ship! The Tartar, for a thousand pounds! Oh, what a pity; what a terrible pity!"
"Only a merchant ship, surely," said Sam.
"Did you ever see a merchant ship with six such guns as those on her upper deck, and a hundred blue-jackets at quarters? That is the Tartar, Sam, and in three minutes there will be no Tartar."
They had run in their excitement out to the very end of the Cape, and now the ship was almost under their feet, an awful sight to see. She was rolling fearfully, going dead before the wind. Now and then she would slop tons of water on her deck, and her mainyard would almost touch the water. But still the dark clusters of men along her bulwarks held steadfast, and the ship's head never veered half a point. Now it became apparent that she would clear the reef by a hundred yards or more, and Halbert, waving his hat, cried out,—
"Well done, Blockstrop! Bravely done, indeed! He is running under the lee of the Cape for shelter. Her Majesty has one more ship-of-war than I thought she would have had five minutes ago."
As he spoke, she had passed the reef. The yards, as if by magic, swung round, and, for a moment, she was broadside on to the sea. One wave broke over her, and nought but her masts appeared above a sheet of white foam; but, ere the water had well done pouring from her open deck ports, she was in smooth water, her anchor was down, and the topsail yard was black with men.
"Let us come down, Sam," said Halbert: "very likely they will send a boat ashore."
As they were scrambling down the leeward side of the cliff, they saw a boat put off from the ship, and gained the beach in time to meet a midshipman coming towards them. He, seeing two well-dressed gentlemen before him, bowed, and said,—
"Good morning; very rough weather."
"Very, indeed," said Halbert. "Is that the Tartar, pray?"
"That is the Tartar; yes. We were caught in the gale last night, and we lay-to. This morning, as soon as we recognised the Cape, we determined to run for this cove, where we have been before. We had an anxious night last night, I assure you. We have been terribly lucky. If the wind had veered a few more points to the east, we should have been done for. We never could have beaten off in such a sea as this."
"Are you going to Sydney?"
"No; we are in chase of a boat full of escaped convicts from Launceston. Cunning dogs; they would not land in the Straits. We missed them and got across to Port Phillip, and put Captain D—— and his black police on the alert; and they have got scent of it, and coasted up north. We have examined the coast all along, but I am afraid they have given us the slip; there is such a system of intelligence among them. However, if they had not landed before last night, they have saved us all trouble; and if they are ashore we wash our hands of them, and leave them to the police."
Halbert and Sam looked at one another. Then the former said,—
"Last night, about an hour before it came on to blow, we saw a boat making for this very headland, which puzzled us exceedingly; and, what was stranger still, we saw a man on the Cape, who seemed to be on the look-out."
"That is quite possible," replied the midshipman; "these fellows have a queer system of communication. The boat you saw must certainly have been them; and if they landed at all they must have landed here."
* * * * *
I must change the scene here, if you please, my dear reader, and get you to come with me on board his (I beg pardon, her) Majesty's ship Tartar for a few minutes, for on the quarter-deck of that noble sloop there are at this moment two men worth rescuing from oblivion.
The first is a stoutish, upright, middle-aged man, in a naval uniform, with a brickdust complexion, and very light scanty whiskers; the jolliest, cheeriest-looking fellow you are likely to meet in a year's journey. Such a bright merry blue eye as he has, too! This is Captain Blockstrop, now, I am happy to say, C.B.; a right valiant officer, as the despatches of Lyons and Peel will testify.
The other is a very different sort of man;—a long, wiry, brown-faced man, with a big forehead, and a comical expression about his eyes. This is no less a person than the Colonial Secretary of one of our three great colonies: of which I decline to mention. Those who know the Honourable Abiram Pollifex do not need to be told; and those who do not must find out for themselves. I may mention that he has been known to retain office seven years in succession, and yet he seldom threatens to resign his office and throw himself upon the country fewer than three times, and sometimes four, per annum. Latterly, I am sorry to say, a miserable faction, taking advantage of one of his numerous resignations, have assumed the reins of government, and, in spite of three votes of want of confidence, persist in retaining the seals of office. Let me add to this, that he is considered the best hand at quiet "chaff" in the House, and is allowed, both by his supporters and opponents, to be an honourable man, and a right good fellow.
Such were the two men who now stood side by side on the quarter-deck, looking eagerly at Sam and Halbert through a pair of telescopes.
"Pollifex," said the Captain, "what do you make of these?"
"Gentlemen," said the Secretary, curtly.
"So I make out," said the Captain; "and apparently in good condition, too. A very well fed man that biggest, I should say."
"Ye-es; well, ye-es," said the Secretary; "he does look well-fed enough. He must be a stranger to these parts; probably from the Maneroo plains, or thereabout."
"What makes you think so?"
"Dear me," said the Secretary; "have you been stationed nearly three years on this coast, and ask how a man could possibly be in good condition living in those scrubby heaths?"
"Bad-looking country; eh?" said the Captain.
"Small cattle-stations, sir," said the Secretary, "I can see at a glance. Salt beef, very tough, and very little of it. I shall run a bill through the House for the abolition of small cattle-stations next session."
"Better get your estimates through first, old fellow. The bagpipes will play quite loud enough over them to last for some time."
"I know it, but tremble not," replied the undaunted Secretary; "I have got used to it. I fancy I hear Callaghan beginning now: 'The unbridled prodigality, sir, and the reckless profligacy, sir, of those individuals who have so long, under the name of government——'"
"That'll do, now," said the Captain; "you are worse than the reality. I shall go ashore, and take my chance of getting breakfast. Will you come?"
"Not if I know it, sir, with pork chops for breakfast in the cabin. Blockstrop, have you duly reflected what you are about to do? You are about to land alone, unarmed, unprovisioned, among the offscourings of white society, scarcely superior in their habits of life to the nomadic savages they have unjustly displaced. Pause and reflect, my dear fellow. What guarantee have you that they will not propose to feed you on damper, or some other nameless abomination of the same sort?"
"It was only the other day, in the House," said the Captain, "that you said the small squatters and freehold farmers represented the greater part of the intelligence and education of the colony, and now——"
"Sir! sir!" said the Secretary, "you don't know what you are talking about. Sir, we are not in the House now. Are you determined, then?"
The Captain was quite determined, and they went down to the waist. They were raising a bag of potatoes from somewhere, and the Colonial Secretary, seizing two handfuls of them, presented them to the Captain.
"If you will go," he said, "take these with you, and teach the poor benighted white savages to plant them. So if you fall a victim to indigestion, we will vote a monument to you on the summit of the Cape, and write:—'He did not live in vain. He introduced the potato among the small cattle stations around Cape Chatham.'"
He held out his potatoes towards the retiring Captain with the air of Burke producing the dagger. His humour, I perceive, reads poor enough when written down, but when assisted by his comical impassible face, and solemn drawling delivery, I never heard anything much better.
Good old Pollifex! my heart warms towards him now. When I think what the men were whose clamour put him out of office in 184-, I have the conviction forced upon me, that the best among them was not worth his little finger. He left the colony in a most prosperous state, and, retiring honourably to one of his stations, set to work, as he said, to begin life again on a new principle. He is wealthy, honoured, and happy, as he deserves to be.
I cannot help, although somewhat in the wrong place, telling the reader under what circumstances I saw him last. Only two years ago, fifteen after he had left office, I happened to be standing with him, at the door of a certain club, in a certain capital, just after lunch time, when we saw the then Colonial Secretary, the man who had succeeded Pollifex, come scurrying round the corner of the street, fresh from his office. His face was flushed and perspiring, his hat was on wrong-side before, with his veil hanging down his back. In the one hand he held papers, in the other he supported over his fevered brow his white cotton umbrella; altogether he looked harassed beyond the bounds of human endurance, but when he caught sight of the open club-doors, he freshened a bit, and mended his pace. His troubles were not over, for ere he reached his haven, two Irishmen, with two different requests, rose as if from the earth, and confronted him. We saw him make two promises, contradictory to each other, and impossible of fulfilment, and as he came up the steps, I looked into the face of Ex-Secretary Pollifex, and saw there an expression which is beyond description. Say that of the ghost of a man who has been hanged, attending an execution. Or say the expression of a Catholic, converted by torture, watching the action of the thumb-screws upon another heretic. The air, in short, of a man who had been through it all before. And as the then Secretary came madly rushing up the steps, Pollifex confronted him, and said,—
"Don't you wish you were me, T——?"
"Sir!" said the Secretary, "dipping" his umbrella and dropping his papers, for the purpose of rhetorically pointing with his left hand at nothing; "Sir! flesh and blood can't stand it. I resign to-morrow." And so he went in to his lunch, and is in office at this present moment.
I must apologize most heartily for this long digression. The Captain's gig, impelled by the "might of England's pride," was cleverly beached alongside of the other boat, and the Captain stepped out and confronted the midshipman.
"Got any news, Mr. Vang?"
"Yes, sir!" said the midshipman. "These gentlemen saw the boat yesterday afternoon."
Sam and Halbert, who were standing behind him, came forward. The Captain bowed, and looked with admiration at the two highbred-looking men, that this unpromising desert had produced. They told him what they had told the midshipman, and the Captain said,—"It will be a very serious thing for this country side, if these dogs have succeeded in landing. Let us hope that the sea has done good service in swallowing fourteen of the vilest wretches that ever disgraced humanity. Pray, are either of you gentlemen magistrates?"
"My father, Major Buckley, is a magistrate," said Sam. "This gentleman is Lieutenant Halbert, of the Bengal Artillery."
The Captain bowed to Halbert, and turning to Sam, said,—"So you are the son of my old friend Major Buckley! I was midshipman in the 'Phlegethon' when she took him and part of his regiment to Portugal, in 1811. I met him at dinner in Sydney, the other day. Is he in the neighbourhood?"
"He is waiting breakfast for us not a quarter of a mile off," said Sam. "Will you join us?"
"I shall be delighted; but duty first. If these fellows have succeeded in landing, you will have to arm and prepare for the worst. Now, unless they were caught by the gale and drowned, which I believe to be the case, they must have come ashore in this very bay, about five o'clock last night. There is no other place where they could have beached their boat for many miles. Consequently, the thing lies in a nutshell: if we find the boat, prepare yourselves,—if not, make yourselves easy. Let us use our wits a little. They would round the headland as soon as possible, and probably run ashore in that furthest cove to our right, just inside the reef. I have examined the bay through a telescope, and could make out nothing of her. Let us come and examine carefully. Downhaul!" (to his Coxswain). "Come with me."
They passed three or four indentations in the bay examining as they went, finding nothing, but when they scrambled over the rocks which bounded the cover the Captain had indicated, he waved his hat, and laughing said,—
"Ha, ha! just as I thought. There she is."
"Where, Captain Blockstrop?" said Halbert. "I don't see her."
"Nor I either," said the Captain. "But I see the heap of seaweed that the cunning dogs have raked over her.—Downhaul; heave away at this weed, and show these gentlemen what is below it."
The Coxswain began throwing away a pile of seatang heaped against a rock. Bit by bit was disclosed the clean run of a beautiful white whale-boat, which when turned over discovered her oars laid neatly side by side, with a small spritsail. The Captain stood by with the air of a man who had made a hit, while Sam and Halbert stared at one another with looks of blank discomfiture and alarm.
A COUNCIL OF WAR.
"This is a very serious matter for us, Captain Blockstrop," said Sam, as they were walking back to the boats. "An exceedingly serious matter."
"I have only one advice to give you, Mr. Buckley," said the Captain; "which is unnecessary, as it is just what your father will do. Fight, sir!—hunt 'em down. Shoot 'em! They will give you no quarter: be sure you don't give them any."
A wild discordant bellow was here heard from the ship, on which the Captain slapped his leg, and said,—
"Dash my buttons, if he hasn't got hold of my speaking-trumpet."
The midshipman came up with a solemn face, and, touching his cap, "reported,"—
"Colonial Secretary hailing, sir."
"Bless my soul, Mr. Vang, I can hear that," said the Captain. "I don't suppose any of my officer would dare to make such an inarticulate, no sailor-like bellow as that on her Majesty's quarterdeck. Can you make out what he says? That would be more to the purpose."
Again the unearthly bellow came floating over the water, happily deadened by the wind, which was roaring a thousand feet over head. "CAN you make out anything, Mr. Vang?" said the Captain.
"I make out 'pork-chops!' sir," said the midshipman.
"Take one of the boats on board, Mr. Vang. My compliments, and will be much obliged if he will come ashore immediately! On important business, say. Tell him the convicts have landed; will you? Also, tell the lieutenant of the watch that I want either Mr. Tacks, or Mr. Sheets: either will do."
The boat was soon seen coming back with the Colonial Secretary in a statesman-like attitude in the stern sheets, and beside him that important officer Mr. Tacks, a wee little dot of a naval cadet, apparently about ten years old.
"What were you bellowing about pork-chops, Pollifex?" asked the Captain, the moment the boat touched the shore.
"A failure, sir," said the Colonial Secretary; "burnt, sir; disgracefully burnt up to a cinder, sir. I have been consulting the honourable member for the Cross-jack-yard (I allude to Mr. Tack's N.C., my honourable friend, if he will allow me to call him so) as to the propriety of calling a court-martial on the cook's mate. He informs me that such a course is not usual in naval jurisprudence. I am, however, of opinion that in one of the civil courts of the colony an action for damages would lie. Surely I have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Buckley of Baroona?"
Sam and he had met before, and the Secretary, finding himself on shore and where he was known, dropped his King Cambyses' vein, and appeared in his real character of a shrewd, experienced man. They walked up together, and when they arrived at the summit of the ridge, and saw the magnificent plains stretching away inland, beyond the narrow belt of heath along the shore, the Secretary whispered to the Captain,—
"I have been deceived. We shall get some breakfast, after all. As fine a country as I ever saw in my life!"
The party who were just sitting down to breakfast at the station were sufficiently astonished to see Captain Blockstrop come rolling up the garden walk, with that small ship-of-war Tacks sailing in his wake, convoying the three civilians; but on going in and explaining matters, and room having been made for them at the table, Sam was also astonished on looking round to see that a new arrival had taken place since that morning.
It was that of a handsome singular-looking man. His hair was light, his whiskers a little darker, and his blonde moustache curled up towards his eyes like corkscrews or a ram's horns (congratulate me on my simile). A very merry laughing eye he had, too, blue of course, with that coloured hair; altogether a very pleasant-looking man, and yet whose face gave one the idea that it was not at all times pleasant, but on occasions might look terribly tigerish and fierce. A man who won you at once, and yet one with whom one would hardly like to quarrel. Add to this, also, that when he opened his mouth to speak, he disclosed a splendid set of white teeth, and the moment he'd uttered a word, a stranger would remark to himself, "That is an Irishman."
Sam, who had ensconced himself beside Alice, looked up the long table towards him with astonishment. "Why, good gracious, Captain Desborough," he said, "can that be you?"
"I have been waiting," said Desborough, "with the greatest patience to see how long you would have the audacity to ignore my presence. How do you do, my small child? Sam, my dear, if ever I get cashiered for being too handsome to remain in the Service, I'll carry you about and exhibit you, as the biggest and ugliest boy in the Australian colonies."
Captain Desborough has been mentioned before in these pages. He was an officer in the army, at the present time holding the situation of Inspector of Police in this district. He was a very famous hunter-down of bushrangers, and was heartily popular with every one he was thrown against, except the aforesaid bushrangers. Sam and he were very old friends, and were very fond of one another.
Desborough was sitting now at the upper end of the table, with the Colonial Secretary, Major Buckley, Captain Blockstrop, Captain Brentwood, and Doctor Mulhaus. They looked very serious indeed.
"It was a very lucky thing, Desborough," said the Major, "that you happened to meet Captain Blockstrop. He has now, you perceive, handed over the care of these rascals to you. It is rather strange that they should have landed here."
"I believe that they were expected," said the Doctor. "I believe that there is a desperate scheme of villany afloat, and that some of us are the objects of it."
"If you mean," said Desborough, "that that man you saw on the Cape last night was watching for the boat, I don't believe it possible. It was, possibly, some stockman or shepherd, having a look at the weather."
The Doctor had it on the tip of his tongue to speak, and astound them by disclosing that the lonely watcher was none other than the ruffian Touan, alias George Hawker; but the Major pressed his foot beneath the table, and he was silent.
"Well," said Desborough, "and that's about all that's to be said at present, except that the settlers must arm and watch, and if necessary fight."
"If they will only do that," said the Colonial Secretary; "if they will only act boldly in protecting their property and lives, the evil is reduced by one-half; but when Brallagan was out, nothing that I or the Governor could do would induce the majority of them to behave like men."
"Look here, now," said Barker, the host, "I was over the water when Brallagan was out, and when Howe was out too. And what could a lonely squatter do against half-a-dozen of 'em? Answer me that?"
"I don't mean that," said the Colonial Secretary; "what I refer to is the cowardly way in which the settlers allowed themselves to be prevented by threats from giving information. I speak the more boldly, Mr. Barker, because you were not one of those who did so."
Barker was appeased. "There's five long guns in my hall, and there's five long lads can use 'em," he said. "By-the-bye, Captain Desborough, let me congratulate you on the short work you made with that gang to the north, the other day. I am sorry to hear that the principal rascal of the lot, Captain Touan, gave you the slip."
The Doctor had been pondering, and had made up his mind to a certain course; he bent over the table, and said,—
"I think, on the whole, that it is better to let you all know the worst. That man whom we saw on the cliff last night I met afterwards, alone, down on the shore, and that man is no other than the one you speak of, Captain Touan."
Any one watching Desborough's face as the Doctor spoke would have seen his eyebrows contract heavily, and a fierce scowl settle on his face. The name the Doctor mentioned was a very unwelcome one. He had been taunted and laughed at, at Government-house, for having allowed Hawker to outwit him. His hot Irish blood couldn't stand that, and he had vowed to have the fellow somehow. Here he had missed him again, and by so little, too! He renewed his vow to himself, and in an instant the cloud was gone, and the merry Irishman was there again.
"My dear Doctor," he said, "I am aware that you never speak at random, or I should ask you, were you sure of the man? Are you not mistaken?"
"Mistaken in HIM,—eh?" said the Doctor. "No, I was not mistaken."
"You seem to know too much of a very suspicious character, Doctor!" said Desborough. "I shall have to keep my eye on you, I see!"
* * * * *
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, more agreeable subjects were being talked of. There sat our young coterie, laughing loudly, grouping themselves round some exceedingly minute object, which apparently was between Sam and Alice, and which, on close examination, turned out to be little Tacks, who was evidently making himself agreeable in a way hardly to be expected in one of his tender years. And this is the way he got there:—
When Captain Blockstrop came in, Alice was duly impressed by the appearance of that warrior. But when she saw little Tacks slip in behind him, and sit meekly down by the door; and when she saw how his character was appreciated by the cattle-dogs, one of whom had his head in the lad's lap, while the other was licking his face—when she saw, I say, the little blue and gold apparition, her heart grew pitiful, and, turning to Halbert, she said,—
"Why, good gracious me! You don't mean to tell me that they take such a child as that to sea; do you?"
"Oh dear, yes!" said Halbert, "and younger, too. Don't you remember the story about Collingwood offering his cake to the first lieutenant? He became, remember, a greater man than Nelson, in all except worldly honour."
"Would you ask him to come and sit by me, if you please?" said Alice.
So Halbert went and fetched him in, and he sat and had his breakfast between Alice and Sam. They were all delighted with him; such a child, and yet so bold and self-helpful, making himself quietly at home, and answering such questions as were put to him modestly and well. Would that all midshipmen were like him!
But it became time to go on board, and Captain Blockstrop, coming by where Alice sat, said, laughing,—
"I hope you are not giving my officer too much marmalade, Miss Brentwood? He is over-young to be trusted with a jam-pot,—eh, Tacks?"
"Too young to go to sea, I should say," said Alice.
"Not too young to be a brave-hearted boy, however!" said the Captain. "The other day, in Sydney harbour, one of my marines who couldn't swim went overboard and this boy soused in after him, and carried the lifebuoy to him, in spite of sharks. What do you think of that for a ten-year-old?"
The boy's face flushed scarlet as the Captain passed on, and he held out his hand to Alice to say good-bye. She took it, looked at him, hesitated, and then bent down and kissed his cheek—a tender, sisterly kiss—something, as Jim said, to carry on board with him!
Poor little Tacks! He was a great friend of mine; so I have been tempted to dwell on him. He came to me with letters of introduction, and stayed at my place six weeks or more. He served brilliantly, and rose rapidly, and last year only I heard that Lieutenant Tacks had fallen in the dust, and never risen again, just at the moment that the gates of Delhi were burst down, and our fellows went swarming in to vengeance.
AN EARTHQUAKE, A COLLIERY EXPLOSION, AND AN ADVENTURE.
So the Captain, the Colonial Secretary, and the small midshipman left the station and went on board again, disappearing from this history for evermore. The others all went home and grew warlike, arming themselves against the threatened danger; but still weeks, nay months, rolled on, and winter was turning into spring, and yet the country side remained so profoundly tranquil that every one began to believe that the convicts must after all have been drowned, and that the boat found by sagacious Blockstrop had been capsized and thrown bottom upwards on the beach. So that, before the brown flocks began to be spotted with white lambs, all alarm had gone by.
Only four persons, besides Mary Hawker herself, were conversant of the fact that the Bushranger and George Hawker were the same man. Of these only three, the Doctor, Major Buckley, and Captain Brentwood, knew of his more recent appearance on the shore, and they, after due consultation, took honest Tom Troubridge into their confidence.
But, as I said, all things went so quietly for two months, that at the end of that time no one thought any more of bushrangers than they would of tigers. And just about this time, I, Geoffry Hamlyn, having finished my last consignment of novels from England, and having nothing to do, determined to ride over, and spend a day or two with Major Buckley.
But when I rode up to the door at Baroona, having pulled my shirt collar up, and rapped at the door with my whip, out came the housekeeper to inform me there was not a soul at home. This was deeply provoking, for I had got on a new pair of riding trousers, which had cost money, and a new white hat with a blue net veil (rather a neat thing too), and I had ridden up to the house under the idea that fourteen or fifteen persons were looking at me out of window. I had also tickled my old horse, Chanticleer, to make him caper and show the excellency of my seat. But when I came to remember that the old horse had nearly bucked me over his head instead of capering, and to find that my hat was garnished with a large cobweb of what is called by courtesy native silk, with half-a-dozen dead leaves sticking in it, I felt consoled that no one had seen me approach, and asked the housekeeper, with tolerable equanimity, where they were all gone.
They were all gone, she said, over to Captain Brentwood's, and goodness gracious knew when they would be back again. Mrs. Hawker and Mr. Charles were gone with them. For her part, she should not be sorry when Mr. Sam brought Miss Brentwood over for good and all. The house was terrible lonesome when they were all away.
I remarked, "Oho!" and asked whether she knew if Mr. Troubridge was at Toonarbin.
No, she said; he was away again at Port Phillip with store cattle; making a deal of money, she understood, and laying out a deal for the Major in land. She wished he would marry Mrs. Hawker and settle down, for he was a pleasant gentleman, and fine company in a house. Wouldn't I get off and have a bit of cold wild duck and a glass of sherry?
Certainly I would. So I gave my horse to the groom and went in. I had hardly cut the first rich red slice from the breast of a fat teal, when I heard a light step in the passage, and in walked my man Dick. You remember him, reader. The man we saw five and twenty years ago on Dartmoor, combining with William Lee to urge the unhappy George Hawker on to ruin and forgery, which circumstance, remember, I knew nothing of at this time. The same man I had picked up footsore and penniless in the bush sixteen years ago, and who had since lived with me, a most excellent and clever servant—the best I ever had. This man now came into Major Buckley's parlour, hat in hand, looking a little foolish, and when I saw him my knife and fork were paralyzed with astonishment.
"Why, what the Dickens" (I used that strong expression) "brings you here, my lad?"
"I went up to Hipsley's about the colt," he said, "and when I got home I found you were gone off unexpectedly; so I thought it better to come after you and tell you all about it. He won't take less than thirty-five."
"Man! man!" I said, "do you mean to say that you have ridden fifty miles to tell me the price of a leggy beast like that, after I had told you that twentyfour was my highest offer?"
He looked very silly, and I saw very well he had some other reason for coming than that. But with a good servant I never ask too many questions, and when I went out a short time after, and found him leaning against a fence, and talking earnestly to our old acquaintance William Lee, I thought, "He wanted an excuse to come up and see his old friend Lee. That is quite just and proper, and fully accounts for it."
Lee always paid me the high compliment of touching his hat to me, for old Devon' sake, I suppose. "How's all at Toonarbin, Lee?" I asked.
"Well and hearty, sir. How is yourself, sir?"
"Getting older, Lee. Nothing worse than that. Dick, I am going on to Captain Brentwood's. If you like to go back to Toonarbin and stay a day or two with Lee, you can do so."
"I would rather come on with you, sir," he said eagerly.
"Are you sure?" I said.
"Quite sure, sir." And Lee said, "You go on with Mr. Hamlyn, Dick, and do your duty, mind."
I thought this odd; but, knowing it was useless to ask questions of an old hand, or try to get any information which was not volunteered, I held my tongue and departed, taking Dick with me.
I arrived at Captain Brentwood's about three o'clock in the afternoon. I flatter myself that I made a very successful approach, and created rather a sensation among the fourteen or fifteen people who were sitting in the verandah. They took me for a distinguished stranger. But when they saw who it was they all began calling out to me at once to know how I was, and to come in (as if I wasn't coming in), and when at last I got among them, I nearly had my hand shaken off; and the Doctor, putting on his spectacles and looking at me for a minute, asked what I had given for my hat?
Let me see, who was there that day? There was Mary Hawker, looking rather older, and a little worn; and there was her son Charles sitting beside pretty Ellen Mayford, and carrying on a terrible flirtation with that young lady, in spite of her fat jolly-looking mother, who sat with folded hands beside her. Next to her sat her handsome brother Cecil, looking, poor lad! as miserable as he well could look, although I did not know the cause. Then came Sam, beside his mother, whose noble happy face was still worth riding fifty miles to see; and then, standing beside her chair, was Alice Brentwood.
I had never seen this exquisite creature before, and I immediately fell desperately and hopelessly in love with her, and told her so that same evening, in the presence of Sam. Finding that my affection was not likely to be returned, I enrolled myself as one of her knights, and remain so to this present time.
The Major sat beside his wife, and the Doctor and Captain Brentwood walked up and down, talking politics. There were also present, certain Hawbucks, leggy youths with brown faces and limp hair, in appearance and dress not unlike English steeplechaseriders who had been treated, on the face and hands, with walnut-juice. They never spoke, and the number of them then present I am uncertain about, but one of them I recollect could spit a great deal farther than any of his brothers, and proved it beyond controversy about twice in every three minutes.
I missed my old friend Jim Brentwood, and was informed that he had gone to Sydney, "on the spree," as Sam expressed it, along with a certain Lieutenant Halbert, who was staying on a visit with Major Buckley.
First I sat down by Mary Hawker, and had a long talk with her about old times. She was in one of her gay moods, and laughed and joked continuously. Then I moved up, by invitation, to a chair between the Major and his wife, and had a long private and confidential conversation with them.
"How," I began, "is Tom Troubridge?"
"Tom is perfectly well," said the Major. "He still carries on his old chronic flirtation with Mary; and she is as ready to be flirted with as ever."
"Why don't they marry?" I asked, peevishly. "Why on earth don't they marry one another? What is the good of carrying on that old folly so long? They surely must have made up their minds by now. She knows she is a widow, and has known it for years."
"Good God! Hamlyn, are you so ignorant?" said the Major. And then he struck me dumb by telling me of all that had happened latterly: of George Hawker's reappearance, of his identity with the great bushranger, and, lastly, of his second appearance not two months before.
"I tell you this in strict confidence, Hamlyn, as one of my oldest and best friends. I know how deeply your happiness is affected by all this."
I remained silent and thunderstruck for a time, and then I tried to turn the conversation:—
"Have you had any alarm from bushrangers lately? I heard a report of some convicts having landed on the coast."
"All a false alarm!" said the Major. "They were drowned, and the boat washed ashore, bottom upwards."
Here the Doctor broke in: "Hamlyn, is not this very queer weather?"
When he called my attention to it, I remarked that the weather was really different from any I had seen before, and said so.
The sky was grey and dull, the distances were clear, and to the eye it appeared merely a soft grey autumnal day. But there was something very strange and odd in the deadly stillness of all nature. Not a leaf moved, not a bird sang, and the air seemed like lead. At once Mrs. Buckley remarked,—
"I can't work, and I can't talk. I am so wretchedly nervous that I don't know what to do with myself, and you know, my dear," she said, appealing to her husband, "that I am not given to that sort of thing."
Each man looked at his neighbour, for there was a sound in the air now a weird and awful sound like nothing else in nature. To the south arose upon the ear a hollow quivering hum, which swelled rapidly into a roar beneath our feet; there was a sickening shake, a thump, a crash, and away went the earthquake, groaning off to the northward.
The women behaved very well, though some of them began to cry; and hearing a fearful row in the kitchen I dashed off there, followed by the Doctor. The interior was a chaos of pots and kettles, in the centre of which sat the cook, Eleanor, holding on by the floor. Every now and then she would give a scream which took all the breath out of her; so she had to stop and fetch breath before she could give another. The Doctor stepped through the saucepans and camp-ovens, and trying to raise her said,—
"Come, get up, my good woman, and give over screaming. All the danger is over, and you will frighten the ladies."
At this moment she had got her "second wind," and as he tried to get her up she gave such a yell that he dropped her again, and bolted, stopping his ears; bolted over a teakettle which had been thrown down, and fell prostrate, resounding like an Homeric hero, on to a heap of kitchen utensils, at the feet of Alice, who had come in to come see what the noise was about.
"Good Lord!" said he, picking himself up, "what lungs she has got! I shall have a singing in my ears to my dying day. Yar! it went through my head like a knife."
Sam picked up the cook, and she, after a time, picked up her pots, giving, however, an occasional squall, and holding on by the dresser, under the impression that another earthquake was coming. We left her, however, getting dinner under way, and went back to the others, whom we soon set laughing by telling poor Eleanor's misadventures.
We were all in good spirits now. A brisk cool wind had come up from the south, following the earthquake, making a pleasant rustle as it swept across the plain or tossed the forest boughs. The sky had got clear, and the nimble air was so inviting that we rose as one body to stroll in groups about the garden and wander down to the river.
The brave old river was rushing hoarsely along, clear and full, between his ruined temple-columns of basalt, as of old. "What a grand salmon-river this would be, Major!" said I; "what pools and stickles are here! Ah! if we only could get the salmon-spawn through the tropics without its germinating.—Can you tell me, Doctor, why these rocks should take the form of columns? Is there any particular reason for it that you know?"
"You have asked a very puzzling question," he replied, "and I hardly know how to answer it. Nine geologists out of ten will tell you that basalt is lava cooled under pressure. But I have seen it in places where that solution was quite inapplicable. However, I can tell you that the same cause which set these pillars here, to wall the river, piled up yon Organ-hill, produced the caves of Widderin, the great crater-hollow of Mirngish, and accommodated us with that brisk little earthquake which we felt just now. For you know that we mortals stand only on a thin crust of cooled matter, but beneath our feet is all molten metal."
"I wish you could give us a lecture on these things, Doctor," I said.
"To-morrow," said he, "let us ride forth to Mirngish and have a picnic. There I will give you a little sketch of the origin of that hill."
In front of the Brentwoods' house the plains stretched away for a dozen miles or so, a bare sheet of grass with no timber, grey in summer, green in winter. About five miles off it began to roll into great waves, and then heaved up into a high bald hill, a lofty down, capped with black rocks, bearing in its side a vast round hollow, at the bottom of which was a little swamp, perfectly circular, fringed with a ring of white gum-trees, standing in such an exact circle that it was hard to persuade oneself that they were not planted by the hand of man. This was the crater of the old volcano. Had you stood in it, you would have remarked that one side was a shelving steep bank of short grass, while the other reared up some five hundred feet, a precipice of fire-eaten rock. At one end the lip had broken down, pouring a torrent of lava, now fertile grass-land, over the surrounding country, which little gap gave one a delicious bit of blue distance. All else, as I said, was a circular wall of grass, rock, and tumbled slag.
This was Mirngish. And the day after the earthquake there was a fresh eruption in the crater. An eruption of horsemen and horse-women. An eruption of talk, laughter, pink-bonnets, knives and forks, and champagne. Many a pleasant echo came ringing back from the old volcano-walls overhead, only used for so many ages to hear the wild rattle of the thunder and the scream of the hungry eagle.
Was ever a poor old worn-out grass-grown volcano used so badly? Here into the very pit of Tophet had the audacious Captain that very morning sent on a spring-cart of all eatables and drinkables, and then had followed himself with a dozen of his friends, to eat and drink, and talk and laugh, just in the very spot where of old roared and seethed the fire and brimstone of Erebus.
Yet the good old mountain was civil, for we were not blown into the air, to be a warning to all people picnicing in high places; but when we had eaten and drunk, and all the ladies had separately and collectively declared that they were SO fond of the smell of tobacco in the open air, we followed the Doctor, who led the way to the summit of the hill.
I arrived last, having dragged dear fat old Mrs. Mayford up the slippery steep. The Doctor had perched himself on the highest flame-worn crag, and when we all had grouped ourselves below him, and while the wind swept pleasantly through the grass, and rushed humming through the ancient rocks, he in a clear melodious voice thus began:—
"Of old the great sea heaved and foamed above the ground on which we stand; ay, above this, and above yon farthest snowy peak, which the westering sun begins to tinge with crimson.
"But in the lapse of ten thousand changing centuries, the lower deeps, acted on by some Plutonic agency, began to grow shallow; and the imprisoned tides began to foam and roar as they struggled to follow the moon, their leader, angry to find that the stillness of their ancient domain was year by year invaded by the ever-rising land.
"At that time, had man been on the earth to see it, those towering Alps were a cluster of lofty islands, each mountain pass which divides them was a tide-swept fiord, in and out of which, twice in the day, age after age, rushed the sea, bringing down those vast piles of water-worn gravel which you see accumulated, and now covered with dense vegetation, at the mouth of each great valley.
"So twenty thousand years went on, and all this fair champagne country which we overlook became, first a sand-bank, then a dreary stretch of salt saturated desert, and then, as the roar of the retiring ocean grew fainter and fainter, began to sustain such vegetation as the Lord thought fit.
"A thousand years are but as yesterday to Him, and I can give you no notion as to how many hundred thousand years it took to do all this; or what productions covered the face of the country. It must have been a miserably poor region: nothing but the debris of granite, sandstone, and slate; perhaps here and there partially fertilized by rotting seaweed, dead fish and shells; things which would, we may assume, have appeared and flourished as the water grew shallower.
"New elements were wanting to make the country available for man, so soon to appear in his majesty; and new elements were forthcoming. The internal fires so long imprisoned beneath the weight of the incumbent earth, having done their duty in raising the continent, began to find vent in every weak spot caused by its elevation.
"Here where we stand, in this great crack between the granite and the sandstone, they broke out with all their wildest fury; hurling stones high in the air, making mid-day dark with clouds of ashes, and pouring streams of lava far and wide.
"So the country was desolated by volcanoes, but only desolated that it might grow greener and richer than ever, with a new and hitherto unknown fertility; for, as the surface of the lava disintegrated, a new soil was found, containing all the elements of the old one, and many more. These are your black clay, and your red burnt soil, which, I take it, are some of the richest in the world.
"Then our old volcano, our familiar Mirngish, in whose crater we have been feasting, grew still for a time, for many ages probably; but after that I see the traces of another eruption; the worst, perhaps, that he ever accomplished.
"He had exhausted himself, and gradually subsided, leaving a perfect cup or crater, the accumulation of the ashes of a hundred eruptions; nay, even this may have been filled with water, as is Mount Gambier, which you have not seen, forming a lake without a visible outlet; the water draining off at that level where the looser scoriae begin.
"But he burst out again, filling this great hollow with lava, till the accumulation of the molten matter broke through the weaker part of the wall, and rolled away there, out of that gap to the northward, and forming what you now call the 'stony rises,'—turning yon creek into steam, which by its explosive force formed that fantastic cap of rocks, and, swelling into great bubbles under the hot lava, made those long underground hollows which we now know as the caves of Bar-ca-nah.
"Is he asleep for ever? I know not. He may arise again in his wrath and fill the land with desolation; for that earthquake we felt yesterday was but a wild throe of the giant struggling to be free.
"Let us hope that he may not break his chains, for as I stand here gazing on those crimson Alps, the spirit of prophecy is upon me, and I can see far into the future, and all the desolate landscape becomes peopled with busy figures.
"I see the sunny slopes below me yellow with trellissed vines. They have gathered the vintage, and I hear them singing at the wine-press. They sing that the exhausted vineyards of the old world yield no wine so rare, so rich, as the fresh volcanic slopes of the southern continent, and that the princes of the earth send their wealth, that their hearts may get glad from the juice of the Australian grapes.
"Beyond I see fat black ridges grow yellow with a thousand cornfields. I see a hundred happy homesteads, half-hidden by clustering wheatstacks. What do they want with all that corn? say you; where is their market?
"There is their market! Away there on the barren forest ranges. See, the timber is gone, and a city stands there instead. What is that on the crest of the hill? A steam-engine; nay, see, there are five of them, working night and day, fast and busy. Their cranks gleam and flash under the same moon that grew red and lurid when old Mirngish vomited fire and smoke twenty thousand years ago. As I listen I can hear the grinding of the busy quartz-mill. What are they doing? you ask. They are gold-mining.
"They have found gold here, and gold in abundance, and hither have come, by ship and steamship, all the unfortunate of the earth. The English factory labourer and the farmer-ridden peasant; the Irish pauper; the starved Scotch Highlander. I hear a grand swelling chorus rising above the murmur of the evening breeze; that is sung by German peasants revelling in such plenty as they never knew before, yet still regretting fatherland, and then I hear a burst of Italian melody replying. Hungarians are not wanting, for all the oppressed of the earth have taken refuge here, glorying to live under the free government of Britain; for she, warned by American experience, has granted to all her colonies such rights as the British boast of possessing."
I did not understand him then. But, since I have seen the living wonder of Ballarat, I understand him well enough.
He ceased. But the Major cried out, "Go on, Doctor, go on. Look farther yet, and tell us what you see. Give us a bit more poetry while your hand is in."
He faced round, and I fancied I could detect a latent smile about his mouth.
"I see," said he, "a vision of a nation, the colony of the greatest race on the earth, who began their career with more advantages than ever fell to the lot of a young nation yet. War never looked on them. Not theirs was the lot to fight, like the Americans, through bankruptcy and inexperience towards freedom and honour. No. Freedom came to them, Heavensent, red-tape-bound, straight from Downing-street. Millions of fertile acres, gold in bushels were theirs, and yet——"
"Go on," said the Major.
"I see a vision of broken railway arches and ruined farms. I see a vision of a people surfeited with prosperity and freedom grown factious, so that now one party must command a strong majority ere they can pass a law the goodness of which no one denies. I see a bankrupt exchequer, a drunken Governor, an Irish ministry, a——"
"Come down out of that," roared the Major, "before I pull you down. You're a pretty fellow to come out for a day's pleasure! Jeremiah was a saint to him," he added, turning appealingly to the rest of us. "Hear my opinion, 'per contra,' Doctor. I'll be as near right as you."
"Go on, then," said the Doctor.
"I see," began the Major, "the Anglo-Saxon race—"
"Don't forget the Irish, Jews, Germans, Chinese, and other barbarians," interrupted the Doctor.
"Asserting," continued the Major, scornfully, "as they always do, their right to all the unoccupied territories of the earth."
("Blackfellow's claims being ignored," interpolated the Doctor.)
"And filling all the harbours of this magnificent country——"
("Want to see them.")
"With their steamships and their sailing vessels. Say there be gold here, as I believe there is, the time must come when the mines will be exhausted. What then? With our coals we shall supply——"
("Newcastle," said the Doctor, again.)
"The British fleets in the East Indies——"
"And compete with Borneo," said the Doctor, quietly, "which contains more coal than ever India will burn, at one-tenth the distance from her that we are. If that is a specimen of your prophecies, Major, you are but a Micaiah after all."
"Well," said the Major, laughing, "I cannot reel it off quite so quick as you; but think we shall hardly have time for any more prophesying; the sun is getting very low."
We turned and looked to westward. The lofty rolling snow-downs had changed to dull lead colour, as the sun went down in a red haze behind them; only here and there some little elevated pinnacle would catch the light. Below the mountain lay vast black sheets of woodland, and nearer still was the river, marked distinctly by a dense and rapidly-rising line of fog.
"We are going to have a fog and a frost," said the Major. "We had better hurry home."
Behind all the others rode Alice, Sam, and myself. I was fearful of being "de trop," but when I tried to get forward to the laughing, chattering, crowd in front, these two young lovers raised such an outcry that I was fain to stay with them, which I was well pleased to do.
Behind us, however, rode three mounted servants, two of Captain Brentwood's, and my man Dick.
We were almost in sight of the river, nearly home in fact, when there arose a loud lamentation from Alice.
"Oh, my bracelet! my dear bracelet! I have lost it."
"Have you any idea where you dropped it?" I inquired.
"Oh, yes," she said. "I am sure it must have been when I fell down, scrambling up the rocks, just before the Doctor began his lecture. Just as I reached the top, you know, I fell down, and I must have lost it there."
"I will ride back and find it, then, in no time," I said.
"No, indeed, Uncle Jeff," said Sam. "I will go back."
"I use an uncle's authority," I replied, "and I forbid you. That miserable old pony of yours, which you have chosen to bring out to-day, has had quite work enough, without ten miles extra. I condescend to no argument; here I go."
I turned, with a kind look from both of them, but ere I had gone ten yards, my servant Dick was alongside of me.
"Where are you going, sir?" said he.
"I am going back to Mirngish," I replied. "Miss Alice has dropped her bracelet, and I am going back for it."
"I will come with you, sir," he said.
"Indeed no, Dick; there is no need. Go back to your supper, lad. I shan't be long away."
"I am coming with you, sir," he replied. "Company is a good thing sometimes."
"Well, boy," I said, "if you will come, I shall be glad of your company; so come along."
I had noticed lately that Dick never let me go far alone, but would always be with me. It gave rise to no suspicion in my mind. He had been tried too often for that. But still, I thought it strange.
On this occasion, we had not ridden far before he asked me a question which rather surprised me. He said,—
"Mr. Hamlyn; do you carry pistols?"
"Why, Dick, boy?" I said, "why should I?"
"Look you here, Mr. Hamlyn," said he. "Have you tried me?"
"I have tried you for twenty years, Dick, and have not found you wanting."
"Ah!" said he, "that's good hearing. You're a magistrate, sir, though only just made. But you know that coves like me, that have been in trouble, get hold of information which you beaks can't. And I tell you, sir, there's bad times coming for this country side. You carry your pistols, sir, and, what's more, YOU USE 'EM. See here."
He opened his shirt, and showed me a long sharp knife inside.
"That's what I carries, sir, in these times, and you ought to carry ditto, and a brace of barkers besides. We shan't get back to the Captain's to-night."
We were rising on the first shoulder of Mirngish, and daylight was rapidly departing. I looked back. Nothing but a vast sea of fog, one snow peak rising from it like an iceberg from a frozen sea, piercing the clear frosy air like a crystal of lead and silver.
"We must hurry on," I said, "or we shall never have daylight to find the bracelet. We shall never find our way home through that fog, without a breath of wind to guide us. What shall we do?"
"I noticed to-day, sir," said Dick, "a track that crossed the hill to the east; if we can get on that, and keep on it, we are sure to get somewhere. It would be better to follow that than go blundering across the plain through such a mist as that."
As he was speaking, we had dismounted and commenced our search. In five minutes, so well did our recollection serve us, Dick had got the bracelet, and, having mounted our horses, we deliberated what was next to be done.
A thick fog covered the whole country, and was rapidly creeping up to the elevation on which we stood. To get home over the plains without a compass seemed a hopeless matter. So we determined to strike for the track which Dick had noticed in the morning, and get on it before it was dark.
We plunged down into the sea of fog, and, by carefully keeping the same direction, we found our road. The moon was nearly full, which enabled us to distinguish it, though we could never see above five yards in front of us.
We followed the road above an hour; then we began to see ghostly tree-stems through the mist. They grew thicker and more frequent. Then we saw a light, and at last rode up to a hut-door, cheered by the warm light, emanating from a roaring fire within, which poured through every crack in the house-side, and made the very fog look warm.
I held Dick's horse while he knocked. The door was opened by a wee feeble old man, about sixty, with a sharp clever face, and an iron-grey rough head of hair.
"Night, daddy," said Dick. "Can me and my master stay here to-night? We're all abroad in this fog. The governor will leave something handsome behind in the morning, old party, I know." (This latter was in a whisper.)
"Canst thou stay here, say'st thou?" replied the old fellow. "In course thou canst. But thy master's money may bide in a's pouch. Get thy saddles off, lad, and come in; 'tis a smittle night for rheumatics."
I helped Dick to take off the saddles, and, having hobbled our horses with stirrup-leathers, we went in.
Our little old friend was the hut-keeper, as I saw at a glance. The shepherd was sitting on a block before the fire, in his shirt, smoking his pipe and warming his legs preparatory to turning in.
I understood him in a moment, as I then thought (though I was much deceived). A short, wiry, blackheaded man, with a cunning face—convict all over. He rose as we came in, and gave us good evening. I begged he would not disturb himself; so he moved his block into the corner, and smoked away with that lazy indifference that only a shepherd is master of.
But the old man began bustling about. He made us sit down before the fire, and make ourselves comfortable. He never ceased talking.
"I'll get ye, lads, some supper just now," said he. "There's na but twa bunks i' the hut; so master and man must lie o' the floor, 'less indeed the boss lies in my bed, which he's welcome to. We've a plenty blankets, though, and sheepskins. We'll mak ye comfortable, boys. There's a mickle back log o' the fire, and ye'll lie warm, I'se warrant ye. There's cowd beef, sir (to me), and good breed, no' to mind boggins o' tea. Ye'll be comfortable, will ye. What's yer name?"
"Hamlyn," I said.
"Oh, ay! Ye're Hamlyn and Stockbridge! I ken ye well; I kenned yer partner: a good man—a very good man, a man o' ten thousand. He was put down up north. A bad job—a very bad job! Ye gat terrible vengeance, though. Ye hewed Agag in pieces! T' Governor up there to Sydney was wild angry at what ye did, but he darena' say much. He knew that every free man's heart went with ye. It were the sword of the Lord and of Gideon that ye fought with! Ye saved many good lives by that raid of yours after Stockbridge was killed. The devils wanted a lesson, and ye gar'd them read one wi' a vengeance!"
During this speech, which was uttered in a series of interjections, we had made our supper, and drawn back to the fire. The shepherd had tumbled into his blankets, and was snoring. The old man, having cleared away the things, came and sat down beside us. The present of a fig of tobacco won his heart utterly, and he, having cut up a pipeful, began talking again.
"Why," said he, "it's the real Barret's twist—the very real article! Eh, master, ye're book-learned: do you ken where this grows? It must be a fine country to bring up such backer as this; some o' they Palm Isles, I reckon."
"Virginia," I told him, "or Carolina, one of the finest countries in the world where they hold slaves."
"Ah," said he, "they couldn't get white men to mess with backer and such in a hot country, and in course every one knows that blacks won't work till they're made. That's why they bothers themselves with 'em, I reckon. But, Lord! they are useless trash. White convicts is useless enough; think what black niggers must be!"
How about the gentleman in bed? I thought; but he was snoring comfortably.
"I am a free man myself," continued the old man. "I never did aught, ay, or thought o' doing aught, that an honest man should not do. But I've lived among convicts twenty odd year, and do you know, sir, sometimes I hardly know richt fra wrang. Sometimes I see things that whiles I think I should inform of, and then the devil comes and tells me it would be dishonourable. And then I believe him till the time's gone by, and after that I am miserable in my conscience. So I haven't an easy time of it, though I have good times, and money to spare."
I was getting fond of the honest, talkative old fellow; so when Dick asked him if he wanted to turn in, and he answered no, I was well pleased.
"Can't you pitch us a yarn, daddy?" said Dick. "Tell us something about the old country. I should like well to hear what you were at home."
"I'll pitch ye a yarn, lad," he replied, "if the master don't want to turn in. I'm fond of talking. All old men are, I think," he said, appealing to me. "The time's coming, ye see, when the gift o' speech will be gone from me. It's a great gift. But happen we won't lose it after all."
I said, "No, that I thought not; that I thought on the other side of the grave we should both speak and hear of higher things than we did in the flesh."
"Happen so," said he; "I think so too, sometime. I'll give ye my yarn; I have told it often. Howsever, neither o' ye have heard it, so ye're the luckier that I tell it better by frequent repetition. Here it is:—
"I was a collier lad, always lean, and not well favoured, though I was active and strong. I was small, too, and that set my father's heart agin me somewhat, for he was a gran' man, and a mighty fighter.
"But my elder brother Jack, he was a mighty fellow, God bless him; and when he was eighteen he weighed twelve stone, and was earning man's wages, tho' that I was hurrying still. I saw that father loved him better than me, and whiles that vexed me, but most times it didn't, for I cared about the lad as well as father did, and he liked me the same. He never went far without me; and whether he fought, or whether he drunk, I must be wi' him and help.
"Well, so we went on till, as I said, I was seventeen, and he eighteen. We never had a word till then; we were as brothers should be. But at this time we had a quarrel, the first we ever had; ay, and the last, for we got something to mind this one by.
"We both worked in the same pit. It was the Southstone Pit; happen you've heard of it. No? Well, thus things get soon forgot. Father had been an overman there, but was doing better now above ground. He and mother kept a bit shop; made money.
"There was a fair in our village, a poor thing enough; but when we boys were children we used to look forward to it eleven months out o' twelve, and the day it came round we used to go to father, and get sixpence, or happen a shilling apiece to spend.
"Well, time went on till we came to earn money; but still we kept up the custom, and went to the old man reg'lar for our fairin', and he used to laugh and chaff us as he'd give us a fourpenny or such, and we liked the joke as well as he.
"Well this time—it was in '12, just after the comet, just the worst times of the war, the fair came round, 24th of May, I well remember, and we went in to the old man to get summut to spend—just for a joke like.
"He'd lost money, and been vexed; so when Jack asked him for his fairin' he gi'ed him five shillin', and said, 'I'll go to gaol but what my handsome boy shan't have summut to treat his friends to beer.' But when I axed him, he said, 'Earn man's wages, and thee'll get a man's fairin,' and heaved a penny at me.
"That made me wild mad, I tell you. I wasn't only angry wi' the old man, but I was mad wi' Jack, poor lad! The devil of jealousy had got into me, and, instead of kicking him out, I nursed him. I ran out o' the house, and away into the fair, and drunk, and fought, and swore like a mad one.
"I was in one of the dancing booths, half drunk, and a young fellow came to me, and said, 'Where has thee been? Do thee know thy brother has foughten Jim Perry, and beaten him?'
"I felt like crying, to think my brother had fought, and I not there to set him up. But I swore, and said, 'I wish Jim Perry had killed un;' and then I sneaked off home to bed, and cried like a lass.
"And next morning I was up before him, and down the pit. He worked a good piece from me, so I did not see him, and it came on nigh nine o'clock before I began to wonder why the viewer had not been round, for I had heard say there was a foul place cut into by some of them, and at such times the viewer generally looks into every corner.
"Well, about nine, the viewer and underviewer came up with the overman, and stood talking alongside of me, when there came a something sudden and sharp, as tho' one had boxed your ears, and then a 'whiz, whiz,' and the viewer stumbled a one side, and cried out, 'God save us!'
"I hardly knew what had happened till I heard him singing out clear and firm, 'Come here to me, you lads; come here. Keep steady, and we'll be all right yet.' Then I knew it was a fire, and a sharp one, and began crying out for Jack.
"I heard him calling for me, and then he ran up and got hold of me; and so ended the only quarrel we ever had, and that was a one-sided one.
"'Are you all here?' said the viewer. 'Now follow me, and if we meet the afterdamp hold your breath and run. I am afraid it's a bad job, but we may get through yet.'
"We had not gone fifty yards before we came on the afterdamp, filling the headway like smoke. Jack and I took hold of each other's collars and ran, but before we were half-way through, he fell. I kept good hold of his shirt, and dragged him on on the ground. I felt as strong as a horse; and in ten seconds, which seemed to me like ten hours, I dragged him out under the shaft into clear air. At first I thought he was dead, but he was still alive, and very little of that. His heart beat very slow, and I thought he'd die; but I knew if he got clear air that he might come round.
"When we had gotten to the shaft bottom we found it all full of smoke; the waft had gone straight up, and they on the top told us after that all the earth round was shook, and the black smoke and coal-dust flew up as though from a gun-barrel. Any way it was strong enough to carry away the machine, so we waited there ten minutes and wondered the basket did not come down; but they above, meanwhile, were rigging a rope to an old horse-whim, and as they could not get horses, the men run the poles round themselves.
"But we at the bottom knew nothing of all this. There were thirty or so in the shaft bottom, standing there, dripping wet wi' water, and shouting for the others, who never came; now the smoke began to show in the west drive, and we knew the mine was fired, and yet we heard nought from those above.
"But what I minded most of all was, that Jack was getting better. I knew we could not well be lost right under the shaft, so I did not swear and go on like some of them, because they did not mind us above. When the basket came down at last, I and Jack went up among the first, and there I saw such a sight, lad, as ye'll never see till ye see a colliery explosion. There were hundreds and hundreds there. Most had got friends or kin in the pit, and as each man came up, his wife or his mother would seize hold of him and carry on terrible.
"But the worst were they whose husbands and sons never came up again, and they were many; for out of one hundred and thirty-one men in the pit, only thirtynine came up alive. Directly we came to bank, I saw father; he was first among them that were helping, working like a horse, and directing everything. When he saw us, he said, 'Thank the Lord, there's my two boys. I am not a loser to-day!' and came running to us, and helped me to carry Jack down the bank. He was very weak and sick, but the air freshened him up wonderful.
"I told father all about it, and he said, 'I've been wrong, and thou'st been wrong. Don't thou get angry for nothing; thou hast done a man's work to-day, at all events. Now come and bear a hand. T'owd 'ooman will mind the lad.'
"We went back to the pit's mouth; the men were tearing round the whim faster than horses would a' done it. And first amongst 'em all was old Mrs. Cobley, wi' her long grey hair down her back, doing the work o' three men; for her two boys were down still, and I knew for one that they were not with us at the bottom; but when the basket came up with the last, and her two boys missing, she went across to the master, and asked him what he was going to do, as quiet as possible.
"He said he was going to ask some men to go down, and my father volunteered to go at once, and eight more went with him. They were soon up again, and reported that all the mine was full of smoke, and no one had dared leave the shaft bottom fifty yards.
"'It's clear enough, the mine's fired, sir,' said my father to the owner. 'They that's down are dead. Better close it, sir.'
"'What!' screamed old Mrs. Cobley, 'close the pit, ye dog, and my boys down there? Ye wouldn't do such a thing, master dear?' she continued; 'ye couldn't do it.' Many others were wild when they heard the thing proposed; but while they raved and argued, the pit began to send up a reek of smoke like the mouth of hell, and then the master gave orders to close the shaft, and a hundred women knew they were widows, and went weeping home.
"And Jack got well. And after the old man died, we came out here. Jack has gotten a public-house in Yass, and next year I shall go home and live with him.
"And that's the yarn about the fire at the Southstone Pit."
We applauded it highly, and after a time began to talk about lying down, when on a sudden we heard a noise of horses' feet outside; then the door was opened, and in came a stranger.
He was a stranger to me, but not to my servant, who I could see recognized him, though he gave no sign of it in words. I also stared at him, for he was the handsomest young man I had ever seen.
Handsome as an Apollo, beautiful as a leopard, but with such a peculiar style of beauty, that when you looked at him you instinctively felt at your side for a weapon of defence, for a more reckless, dangerous looking man I never yet set eyes on. And while I looked at him I recognised him. I had seen his face, or one like it, before often, often. And it seemed as though I had known him just as he stood there, years and years ago, on the other side of the world. I was almost certain it was so, and yet he seemed barely twenty. It was an impossibility, and yet as I looked I grew every moment more certain.
He dashed in in an insolent way. "I am going to quarter here to-night and chance it," he said. "Hallo! Dick, my prince! You here? And what may your name be, old cock?" he added, turning to me, now seeing me indistinctly for the first time, for I was sitting back in the shadow.
"My name is Geoffry Hamlyn. I am a Justice of the Peace, and I am at your service," I said. "Now perhaps you will favour me with YOUR name?"
The young gentleman did not seem to like coming so suddenly into close proximity with a "beak," and answered defiantly,—
"Charles Sutton is my name, and I don't know as there's anything against me, at present."
"Sutton," I said; "Sutton? I don't know the name. No, I have nothing against you, except that you don't appear very civil."
Soon after I rolled myself in a blanket and lay down. Dick lay at right angles to me, his feet nearly touching mine. He began snoring heavily almost immediately, and just when I was going to give him a kick, and tell him not to make such a row, I felt him give me a good sharp shove with the heel of his boot, by which I understood that he was awake, and meant to keep awake, as he did not approve of the strangers.
I was anxious about our horses, yet in a short time I could keep awake no longer. I slept, and when I next woke, I heard voices whispering eagerly together. I silently turned, so that I could see whence the voices came, and perceived the hut-keeper sitting up in bed, in close confabulation with the stranger.
"Those two rascals are plotting some villany," I said to myself; "somebody will be minus a horse shortly, I expect." And then I fell asleep again; and when I awoke it was broad day.
I found the young man was gone, and, what pleased me better still, had not taken either of our horses with him. So, when we had taken some breakfast, we started, and I left the kind little old man something to remember me by.
We had not ridden a hundred yards, before I turned to Dick and said,—
"Now mind; I don't want you to tell me anything you don't like, but pray relieve my mind on one point. Who was that young man? Have I ever seen him before?"
"I think not, sir; but I can explain how you come to think you have. You remember, sir, that I knew all about Mrs. Hawker's history?"
"Yes! Yes! Go on."
"That young fellow is George Hawker's son."
It came upon me like a thunderbolt. This, then, was the illegitimate son that he had by his cousin Ellen. Oh miserable child of sin and shame! to what end, I wondered, had he been saved till now?
We shall see soon. Meanwhile I turned to my companion and said, "Tell me how he came to be here."
"Why you see, sir, he went on in his father's ways, and got lagged. He found his father out as soon as he was free, which wasn't long first, for he is mortal cunning, and since then they two have stuck together. Most times they quarrel, and sometimes they fight, but they are never far apart. Hawker ain't far off now."
"Now, sir," he continued, "I am going to tell you something which, if it ever leaks out of your lips again, in such a way as to show where it came from, will end my life as sure as if I was hung. You remember three months ago that a boatful of men were supposed to have landed from Cockatoo?"
"Yes," I said, "I heard it from Major Buckley. But the police have been scouring in all directions, and can find nothing of them. My opinion is that the boat was capsized, and they were all drowned, and that the surf piled the boat over with sea-weed. Depend on it they did not land."
"Depend on it they did, sir; those men are safe and well, and ready for any mischief. Hawker was on the look-out for them, and they all stowed away till the police cleared off, which they did last week. There will be mischief soon. There; I have told you enough to cut my throat, and I'll tell you more, and convince you that I am right. That shepherd at whose hut we stayed last night was one of them; that fellow was the celebrated Captain Mike. What do you think of that?"
I shuddered as I heard the name of that fell ruffian, and thought that I had slept in the hut with him. But when I remembered how he was whispering with the stranger in the middle of the night, I came to the conclusion that serious mischief was brewing, and pushed on through the fog, which still continued as dense as ever, and, guided by some directions from the old hut-keeper, I got to Captain Brentwood's about ten o'clock, and told him and the Major the night's adventures.
We three armed ourselves secretly and quietly, and went back to the hut with the determination of getting possession of the person of the shepherd Mike, who, were he the man Dick accused him of being, would have been a prize indeed, being one of the leading Van Diemen's Land rangers, and one of the men reported as missing by Captain Blockstrop.
"Suppose," said Captain Brentwood, "that we seize the fellow, and it isn't him after all?"
"Then," said the Major, "an action for false imprisonment would lie sir, decidedly. But we will chance it."
And when we got there, we saw the old hut-keeper, he of the colliery explosion experiences, shepherding the sheep himself, and found that the man we were in search of had left the hut that morning, apparently to take the sheep out. But that going out about eleven the old man had found them still in the yard, whereby he concluded that the shepherd was gone, which proved to be the case. And making further inquiries we found that the shepherd had only been hired a month previously, and no man knew whence he came: all of which seemed to confirm Dick's story wonderfully, and made us excessively uneasy. And in the end the Major asked me to prolong my visit for a time and keep my servant with me, as every hand was of use; and so it fell out that I happened to be present at, and chronicle all which follows.
IN WHICH GEORGE HAWKER SETTLES AN OLD SCORE WITH WILLIAM LEE, MOST HANDSOMELY, LEAVING, IN FACT, A LARGE BALANCE IN HIS OWN FAVOUR.
I pause here—I rather dread to go on. Although our course has been erratic and irregular; although we have had one character disappearing for a long time (like Tom Troubridge); and, although we have had another entirely new coming bobbing up in the manner of Punch's victims, unexpected, and apparently unwanted; although, I say, the course of this story may have been ill-arranged in the highest degree, and you may have been continually coming across some one in Vol. II. who forced you to go back to Vol. I. (possibly sent back to the library) to find out who he was; yet, on the whole, we have got on pleasantly enough as things go. Now, I am sorry to say I have to record two or three fearful catastrophes. The events of the next month are seldom alluded to by any of those persons mentioned in the preceding pages; they are too painful. I remark that the Lucknow and Cawnpore men don't much like talking about the affairs of that terrible six weeks; much for the same reason, I suspect, as we, going over our old recollections, always omit the occurrences of this lamentable spring.
The facts contained in the latter end of this chapter I got from the Gaol Chaplain at Sydney.
The Major, the Captain, and I, got home to dinner, confirmed in our suspicions that mischief was abroad, and very vexed at having missed the man we went in search of. Both Mrs. Buckley and Alice noticed that something was wrong, but neither spoke a word on the subject. Mrs. Buckley now and then looked anxiously at her husband, and Alice cast furtive glances at her father. The rest took no notice of our silence and uneasiness, little dreaming of the awful cloud that was hanging above our heads, to burst, alas! so soon.
I was sitting next to Mary Hawker that evening, talking over old Devon days and Devon people, when she said,—
"I think I am going to have some more quiet peaceful times. I am happier than I have been for many years. Do you know why? Look there."
"I shuddered to hear her say so, knowing what I knew, but looked where she pointed. Her son sat opposite to us, next to the pretty Ellen Mayford. She had dropped the lids over her eyes and was smiling. He, with his face turned toward her, was whispering in his eager impulsive way, and tearing to pieces a slip of paper which he held in his hand. As the firelight fell on his face, I felt a chill come over me. The likeness was so fearful!—not to the father (that I had been long accustomed to), but to the son, to the half-brother—to the poor lost young soul I had seen last night, the companion of desperate men. As it struck me I could not avoid a start, and a moment after I would have given a hundred pounds not to have done so, for I felt Mary's hand on my arm, and heard her say, in a low voice,—
"Cruel! cruel! Will you never forget?"
I felt guilty and confused. As usual, on such occasions, Satan was at my elbow, ready with a lie, more or less clumsy, and I said, "You do me injustice, Mrs. Hawker. I was not thinking of old times. I was astonished at what I see there. Do you think there is anything in it?"
"I sincerely hope so," she said.
"Indeed, and so do I. It will be excellent on every account. Now," said I, "Mrs. Hawker, will you tell me what has become of your old servant, Lee? I have reasons for asking."
"He is in my service still," she said; "as useful and faithful as ever. At present he is away at a little hut in the ranges, looking after our ewes."
"Who is with him?" I asked.
"Well, he has got a new hand with him, a man who came about a month or so ago, and stayed about splitting wood. I fancy I heard Lee remark that he had known him before. However, when Lee had to go to the ranges, he wanted a hut-keeper; so this man went up with him."
"What sort of a looking man was he?"
"Oh, a rather large man, red-haired, much pitted with the small-pox."
All this made me uneasy. I had asked these questions, by the advice of Dick, and, from Mrs. Hawker's description tallying so well with his, I had little doubt that another of the escaped gang was living actually in her service, alone too, in the hut with Lee.
The day that we went to Mirngish, the circumstances I am about to relate took place in Lee's hut, a lonely spot, eight miles from the home station, towards the mountain, and situated in a dense dark stringy bark forest—a wild desolate spot, even as it was that afternoon, with the parrots chattering and whistling around it, and the bright winter's sun lighting up the green tree-tops.
Lee was away, and the hut-keeper was the only living soul about the place. He had just made some bread, and, having carried out his camp-oven to cool, was sitting on the bench in the sun, lazily, thinking what he would do next.
He was a long, rather powerfully-built man, and seemed at first sight, merely a sleepy half-witted fellow, but at a second glance you might perceive that there was a good deal of cunning, and some ferocity in his face. He sat for some time, and was beginning to think that he would like a smoke, so he got out his knife preparatory to cutting tobacco.
The hut stood at the top of a lone gully, stretching away in a vista, nearly bare of trees for a width of about ten yards or so, all the way down, which gave it the appearance of a grass-ride, walled on each side by tall dark forest; looking down this, our hutkeeper saw, about a quarter of a mile off, a horseman cross from one side to the other.
He only caught a momentary glimpse of him, but that was enough to show him that it was a stranger. He neither knew horse nor man, at least judging by his dress; and while he was still puzzling his brains as to what stranger would be coming to such an out-of-the-way place, he heard the "Chuck, kuk, kuk, kuk," of an opossum close behind the hut, and started to his feet.
It would of course have startled any bushman to hear an opossum cry in broad day, but he knew what this meant well. It was the arranged signal of his gang, and he ran to the place from whence the sound came.
George Hawker was there—well dressed, sitting on a noble chestnut horse. They greeted one another with a friendly curse.
As is my custom, when recording the conversation of this class of worthies, I suppress the expletives, thereby shortening them by nearly one half, and depriving the public of much valuable information.
"Well, old man," began Hawker, "is the coast clear?"
"No one here but myself," replied the other. "I'm hut-keeping here for one Bill Lee, but he is away. He was one of the right sort once himself, I have heard; but he's been on the square for twenty years, so I don't like to trust him."
"You are about right there, Moody, my lad," said Hawker. "I've just looked up to talk to you about him, and other matters,—I'll come in. When will he be back?"
"Not before night, I expect," said the other.
"Well," said Hawker, "we shall have the more time to talk; I've got a good deal to tell you. Our chaps are all safe and snug, and the traps are off. Only two, that's you and Mike, stayed this side of the hill; the rest crossed the ranges and stowed away in an old lair of mine on one of the upper Murray gullies. They've had pretty hard times, and if it hadn't been for the cash they brought away, they'd have had worse. Now the coast is clear, they're coming back by ones and twos, and next week we shall be ready for business. I'm going to be head man this bout, because I know the country better than any; and the most noble Michael has consented, for this time only, to act as lieutenant. We haven't decided on any plans yet, but some think of beginning from the coast, because that part will be clearest of traps, they having satisfied themselves that we ain't there. In fact, the wiseacres have fully determined that we are all drowned. There's one devil of a foreign doctor knows I'm round though: he saw me the night before you came ashore, and I am nigh sure he knew me. I have been watching him, and I could have knocked him over last week as clean as a whistle, only, thinks I, it'll make a stir before the time. Never mind, I'll have him yet. This Lee is a black sheep, lad. I'm glad you are here; you must watch him, and if you see him flinch, put a knife in him. He raised the country on me once before. I tell you, Jerry, that I'd be hung, and willing, to-morrow, to have that chap's life, and I'd have had it before now, only I had to keep still for the sake of the others. That man served me the meanest, dirtiest trick, twenty years ago, in the old country, that ever you or any other man heard of, and if he catches sight of me the game's up. Mind, if you see cause, you deal with him, or else,——" (with an awful oath) "you answer to the others."
"If he's got to go, he'll go," replied the other, doggedly. "Don't you fear me; Moody the cannibal ain't a man to flinch."
"What, is that tale true then?" asked Hawker, looking at his companion with a new sort of interest.
"Why, in course it is," replied Moody; "I thought no one doubted that. That Van Diemen's Land bush would starve a bandicoot, and Shiner and I walked two days before we knocked the boy on the head; the lad was getting beat, and couldn't a' gone much further. After three days more we began to watch one another, and neither one durst walk first, or go to sleep. Well, Shiner gave in first; he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. And then, you know, of course my own life was dearer than his'n."
"My God! That's worse than ever I did!" said Hawker.
"But not worse than you may do, if you persevere. You promise well," said Moody, with a grin.
Hawker bent and whispered in his ear; the other listened for a time, and then said,—
"Make it twenty."
Hawker after a little consideration nodded—then the other nodded—then they whispered together again. Something out of the common this must be, that they, not very particular in their confidences, should whisper about it.
They looked up suddenly, and Lee was standing in the doorway.
Hawker and he started when they saw one another, but Lee recovered himself first, and said,—
"George Hawker, it's many years since we met, and I'm not so young as I was. I should like to make peace before I go, as I well know that I'm the chief one to blame for you getting into trouble. I'm not humbugging you, when I say that I have been often sorry for it of late years. But sorrow won't do any good. If you'll forgive and forget, I'll do the same. You tried my life once, and that's worse than ever I did for you. And now I'll tell you, that if you want money to get out of the country and set up anywhere else, and leave your poor wife in peace, I'll find it for you out of my own pocket."
"I don't bear any malice," said Hawker; "but I don't want to leave the country just yet. I suppose you won't peach about having seen me here?"
"I shan't say a word, George, if you keep clear of the home station; but I won't have you come about there. So I warn you."
Lee held out his hand, and George took it. Then he asked him if he would stay there that night, and George consented.
Day was fast sinking behind the trees, and making golden boughs overhead. Lee stood at the hut door watching the sun set, and thinking, perhaps, of old Devon. He seemed sad, and let us hope he was regretting his old crimes while time was left him. Night was closing in on him, and having looked once more on the darkening sky, and the fog coldly creeping up the gully, he turned with a sigh and a shudder into the hut, and shut the door.
Near midnight, and all was still. Then arose a cry upon the night so hideous, so wild, and so terrible, that the roosting birds dashed off affrighted, and the dense mist, as though in sympathising fear, prolonged the echoes a hundred fold. One articulate cry, "Oh! you treacherous dog!" given with the fierce energy of a dying man, and then night returned to her stillness, and the listeners heard nothing but the weeping of the moisture from the wintry trees.
* * * * *
The two perpetrators of the atrocity stood silent a minute or more, recovering themselves. Then Hawker said in a fierce whisper,—
"You clumsy hound; why did you let him make that noise? I shall never get it out of my head again, if I live till a hundred. Let's get out of this place before I go mad; I could not stay in the house with it for salvation. Get his horse, and come along."
They got the two horses, and rode away into the night; but Hawker, in his nervous anxiety to get away, dropped a handsome cavalry pistol,—a circumstance which nearly cost Doctor Mulhaus his life.
They rode till after daylight, taking a course toward the sea, and had gone nearly twelve miles before George discovered his loss, and broke out into petulant imprecations.
"I wouldn't have lost that pistol for five pounds," he said; "no, nor more. I shall never have one like it again. I've put over a parrot at twenty yards with it."
"Go back and get it, then," said Moody, "if it's so valuable. I'll camp and wait for you. We want all the arms we can get."
"Not I," said George; "I would not go back into that cursed hut alone for all the sheep in the country."
"You coward," replied the other; "afraid of a dead man. Well, if you won't, I will: and, mind, I shall keep it for my own use."
"You're welcome to it, if you like to get it," said George. And so Moody rode back.
HOW DR. MULHAUS GOT BUSHED IN THE RANGES, AND WHAT BEFEL HIM THERE.
I must recur to the same eventful night again, and relate another circumstance that occurred on it. As events thicken, time gets more precious; so that, whereas at first I thought nothing of giving you the events of twenty years or so in a chapter, we are now compelled to concentrate time so much that it takes three chapters to twenty-four hours. I read a long novel once, the incidents of which did not extend over thirty-six hours, and yet it was not so profoundly stupid as you would suppose.
All the party got safe home from the picnic, and were glad enough to get housed out of the frosty air. The Doctor, above all others, was rampant at the thoughts of dinner, and a good chat over a warm fire, and burst out, in a noble bass voice, with an old German student's song about wine and Gretchen, and what not.
His music was soon turned into mourning; for, as they rode into the courtyard, a man came up to Captain Brentwood, and began talking eagerly to him.
It was one of his shepherds, who lived alone with his wife towards the mountain. The poor woman, his wife, he said, was taken in labour that morning, and was very bad. Hearing there was a doctor staying at the home station, he had come down to see if he could come to their assistance.
"I'll go, of course," said the Doctor; "but let me get something to eat first. Is anybody with her?"