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AN OUTBACK MARRIAGE
By Andrew Barton Paterson
Author Of "The Man From Snowy River," And "Rio Grande's Last Race"
I. In The Club II. A Dinner For Five III. In Push Society IV. The Old Station V. The Coming Of The Heiress VI. A Coach Accident VII. Mr. Blake's Relations VIII. At The Homestead IX. Some Visitors X. A Lawyer In The Bush XI. A Walk In The Moonlight XII. Mr. Blake Breaks His Engagement XIII. The Rivals XIV. Red Mack And His Sheep Dogs XV. A Proposal And Its Results XVI. The Road To No Man's Land XVII. Considine XVIII. The Wild Cattle XIX. A Chance Encounter XX. A Consultation At Kiley's XXI. No Compromise XXII. A Nurse And Her Assistant XXIII. Hugh Goes In Search XXIV. The Second Search For Considine XXV. In The Buffalo Camp XXVI. The Saving Of Considine XXVII. The Real Certificate XXVIII. A Legal Battle XXIX. Races And A Win
IN THE CLUB.
It was a summer's evening in Sydney, and the north-east wind that comes down from New Guinea and the tropical islands over leagues of warm sea, brought on its wings a heavy depressing moisture. In the streets people walked listlessly, perspired, mopped themselves, and abused their much-vaunted climate. Everyone who could manage it was out of town, either on the heights of Moss Vale or the Blue Mountains, escaping from the Inferno of Sydney.
In the Cassowary Club, weary, pallid waiters brought iced drinks to such of the members as were condemned to spend the summer in town. The gong had sounded, and in ones and twos members shuffled out of the smoking-room, and went in to dinner. At last only three were left talking at the far end of the big, empty smoking-room, like three small stage conspirators at the end of a very large robbers' cavern.
One was a short, fat, red-faced man, who looked like a combination of sea-captain and merchant, and who was the local representative of a big English steamship company. His connection with the mercantile marine had earned him his nickname of "The Bo'sun." By his side sat Pinnock, a lean and bilious-looking solicitor; the third man was an English globe-trotter, a colourless sort of person, of whom no one took any particular notice until they learnt that he was the eldest son of a big Scotch whisky manufacturer, and had (pounds)10,000 a year of his own. Then they suddenly discovered that he was a much smarter fellow than he looked. The three were evidently waiting for somebody. The "Bo'sun" had a grievance, and was relieving his mind by speech. He walked up and down between the smoking-room chairs, brandishing a telegram as he talked, while the attorney and the globe-trotter lay back on the lounge and admired his energy.
"I call it a shame," he said, facing round on them suddenly; "I could have got up to Moss Vale for a day or two, and now old Grant of Kuryong wires me to meet and entertain a new chum. Just listen to this: 'Young Carew, friend of mine, on Carthaginia. Will you meet him and show him round; oblige me—W. G. Grant.' I met the old fellow once or twice at dinner, when he was in town for the sheep sales, and on the strength of that he foists an unknown callow new chum on to me. People are always doing that kind of thing."
"Leave his friend alone, then," said Pinnock; "don't have anything to do with him. I know his sort—Government House young man the first week, Coffee Palace at two shillings a night the second week, boiler on the wharf the third week, Central Police Court the fourth week, and then exit so far as all decent people are concerned."
The Bo'sun stuffed the telegram into his pocket and sat down.
"Oh, I don't suppose he'll be so bad," he said. "I've asked him here to-night to see what he's like, and if he's no good I'll drop him. It's the principle I object to. Country people are always at this sort of thing. They'd ask me to meet an Alderney bull and entertain him till they send for him. What am I to do with an unknown new chum? I'd sooner have an Alderney bull—he'd be easier to arrange for. He'd stop where he was put, anyhow."
Here Gillespie, the globe-trotter, cut into the conversation. "I knew a Jim Carew in England," he said, "and if this is the same man you will have no trouble taking care of him. He was a great man at his 'Varsity—triple blue, or something of the sort. He can row and run and fight and play football, and all that kind of thing. Very quiet-spoken sort of chap—rather pretends to be a simple sort of Johnny, don't you know, but he's a regular demon, I believe. Got into a row at a music-hall one night, and threw the chucker-out in among a lot of valuable pot plants, and irretrievably ruined him."
"Nice sort of man," said the Bo'sun. "I've seen plenty of his sort, worse luck; he'll be borrowing fivers after the first week. I'll put him on to you fellows."
The globe-trotter smiled a sickly smile, and changed the subject. "What's old Grant like—the man he's going to? Squatter man, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, and one of the real old sort, too," interposed Pinnock, "perfect gentleman, you know, but apt to make himself deuced unpleasant if everything doesn't go exactly to suit him; sort of chap who thinks that everyone who doesn't agree with him ought to be put to death at once. He had a row with his shearers one year, and offered Jack Delaney a new Purdey gun if he'd fire the first two charges into the shearers' camp at night."
"Ha!" said Gillespie. "That's his sort, eh? Well, if this Carew is the Carew I mean, he and the old fellow will be well met. They'll about do for each other in the first week or two."
"No great loss, either," said the Bo'sun. "Anyhow I've asked this new chum to dinner to-night, and Charlie Gordon's coming too. He was in my office to-day, but hadn't heard of the new chum. Gordon's a member now."
"What's he like?" said Gillespie. "Anything like the gentleman that wanted the shearers killed?"
"Oh, no; a good fellow," said the Bo'sun, taking a sip of sherry. "He manages stations for Grant, and the old man has kept him out on the back-stations nearly all his life. He was out in the Gulf-country in the early days—got starved out in droughts, swept away in floods, lost in the bush, speared by blacks, and all that sort of thing, in the days when men camped under bushes and didn't wear shirts. Gone a bit queer in the head, I think, but a good chap for all that."
"How did this Grant make all his money" asked Gillespie. "He's awfully well off, isn't he? Stations everywhere? Is he any relation to Gordon?"
"No; old Gordon—Charlie's father—used to have the money. He had a lot of stations in the old days, and employed Grant as a manager. Grant was a new chum Scotchman with no money, but a demon for hard work, and the most headstrong, bad-tempered man that ever lived—hard to hold at any time. After he'd worked for Gordon for awhile he went to the diggings and made a huge pile; and when old Gordon got a bit short of cash he took Grant into partnership."
"It must have been funny for a man to have his old manager as a partner!"
"It wasn't at all funny for Gordon," said the lawyer, grimly. "Anything but funny. They each had stations of their own outside the partnership, and all Gordon's stations went wrong, and Grant's went right. It never seemed to rain on Gordon's stations, while Grant's had floods. So Gordon got short of money again and borrowed from Grant, and when he was really in a fix Grant closed on him and sold him out for good and all."
"What an old screw! What did he do that for?"
"Just pure obstinacy—Gordon had contradicted him or something, so he sold him up just to show which was right."
"And what did Gordon do after he was sold up?"
"Died, and didn't leave a penny. So then Bully Grant wheeled round and gave Gordon's widow a station to live on, and fixed the two sons up managing his stations. Goodness knows how much he's worth now. Doesn't even know it himself."
"And has he no children? Was he ever married?"
The lawyer lit a cigarette and puffed at it.
"He went to England and got married; there's a daughter. The wife's dead; the daughter is in England still—never been out here. There's a story that before he made his money he married a bush girl up on the station, but no one believes that. The daughter in England will get everything when he dies. A chance for you, Gillespie. Go home and marry her—she'll be worth nearly a million of money."
"I'll think about it," said the globe-trotter.
As he spoke a buttony boy came up to the Bo'sun.
"Gentleman to see you, sir," he said. "Mr. Carew, sir."
The Bo'sun hurried off to bring in his guest, while Pinnock called after him—"Mind your eye, Bo'sun. Be civil to him. See that he doesn't kill a waiter or two on the way up. Not but what he'd be welcome to do it, for all the good they are here," he added, gloomily, taking another sip of his sherry and bitters; and before he had finished it the Bo'sun and his guest entered the room.
They had expected to see a Hercules, a fiery-faced, fierce-eyed man. This was merely a broad-shouldered, well-built, well-groomed youth, about twenty-three years of age; his face was square and rather stolid, clean-shaven, brown-complexioned, with honest eyes and a firm-set mouth. As he stood at the door he adopted the wooden expression that a University man always wears in the presence of strangers. He said nothing on being introduced to Pinnock; and when the globe-trotter came up and claimed acquaintance, defining himself as "Gillespie of Balliol," the stranger said he didn't remember him, and regarded him with an aspect of armed neutrality. After a sherry and bitters he thawed a little, and the Bo'sun started to cross-examine him.
"Mr. Grant of Kuryong wired to me about you," he said. "I suppose you came in the Carthaginia?"
"Yes," said the stranger, speaking in the regulation English University voice, a little deeper than usual. "I left her at Adelaide. I'm out for some bush experience, don't you know. I'll get you to tell me some place to stop at till I leave, if you don't mind."
His manner was distinctly apologetic, and he seemed anxious to give as little trouble as possible.
"Oh! you stop here," said the Bo'sun. "I'll have you made an honorary member. They'll do you all right here."
"That's awfully good of you. Thanks very much indeed."
"Oh! not at all. You'll find the club not so bad, and a lot better than where you're going with old Grant. He's a regular demon to make fellows work. It's pretty rough on the stations sometimes."
"Ah! yes; awf'lly rough, I believe. Quite frightened me, what I heard of it, don't you know. Still, I suppose one must expect to rough it a bit. Eh, what!"
"Charlie Gordon will he here in a minute," said the Bo'sun. "He can tell you all about it. Here he is now," he added, as the door swung open and the long-waited-for guest entered the room.
The newcomer was unmistakably a man from Far Out; tall, wiry-framed, and very dark, and so spare and lean of figure that he did not seem to have an ounce of superfluous flesh anywhere. His face was as hard and impassive as a Red Indian's, and looked almost black by contrast with his white shirt-front. So did his hands. He had thin straight hair, high cheek-bones, and a drooping black moustache. But the eyes were the most remarkable feature. Very keen and piercing they were, deep-set in the head; even when he was looking straight at anyone he seemed to be peering into endless space through the man in front of him. Such eyes men get from many years of staring over great stretches of sunlit plain where no colour relieves the blinding glare—nothing but dull grey clumps of saltbush and the dull green Mitchell grass.
His whole bearing spoke of infinite determination and self-reliance—the square chin, the steadfast eyes, telling their tale as plainly as print. In India he might have passed for an officer of native cavalry in mufti; but when he spoke he used the curious nasal drawl of the far-out bushman, the slow deliberate speech that comes to men who are used to passing months with the same companions in the unhurried Australian bush. Occasionally he lapsed into reveries, out of which he would come with a start and break in on other people's conversation, talking them down with a serene indifference to their feelings.
"Come out to old man Grant, have you?" he drawled to Carew, when the ceremonies of introduction were over. "Well, I can do something better for you than that. I want a mate for my next trip, and a rough lonely hot trip it'll be. But don't you make any mistake. The roughest and hottest I can show you will be child's play to having anything to do with Grant. You come with me."
"Hadn't I better see Mr. Grant first?"
"No, he won't care. The old man doesn't take much notice of new chums—he gets them out by the bushel. He might meet a man at dinner in England and the man might say, "Grant, you've got some stations. I've got a young fellow that's no use at home—or anywhere else for that matter—can't you oblige me, and take him and keep him out of mischief for a while?" And if the old man had had about a bottle of champagne, he'd say, "Yes, I'll take him—for a premium," or if he'd had two bottles, he'd say, "Send along your new chum—I'll make a man of him or break his neck." And perhaps in the next steamer out the fellow comes, and Grant just passes him on to me. Never looks at him, as likely as not. Don't you bother your head about Grant—you come with me."
As he drawled out his last sentence, a move was made to dinner; so the Englishman was spared the pain of making any comments on his own unimportance in Mr. Grant's eyes, and they trooped into the dining-room in silence.
A DINNER FOR FIVE.
A club dining-room in Australia is much like one in any other part of the world. Even at the Antipodes—though the seasons are reversed, and the foxes have wings—we still shun the club bore, and let him have a table to himself; the head waiter usually looks a more important personage than any of the members or guests; and men may be seen giving each other dinners from much the same ignoble motives as those which actuate their fellows elsewhere. In the Cassowary Club, on the night of which we tell, the Bo'sun was giving his dinner of necessity to honour the draft of hospitality drawn on him by Grant. At the next table a young solicitor was entertaining his one wealthy client; near by a band of haggard University professors were dining a wandering scientist, all hair and spectacles—both guest and hosts drinking mineral waters and such horrors; while beyond them a lot of racing men were swilling champagne and eating and talking as heartily as so many navvies. A few squatters, down from their stations, had fore-gathered at the centre table, where each was trying to make out that he had had less rain than the others. The Bo'sun and his guests were taken in hand by the head waiter, who formerly had been at a London Club, and was laying himself out to do his best; he had seen that Gillespie had "Wanderers' Club" on his cards, and he knew, and thanked his stars that he did know, what "Wanderers' Club" on a man's card meant. His fellow-waiters, to whom he usually referred as "a lot of savages," were unfortunately in ignorance of the social distinction implied by membership of such a club.
For a time there was nothing but the usual commonplace talk, while the soup and fish were disposed of; when they reached the champagne and the entrees, things become more homelike and conversation flowed. A bushman, especially when primed with champagne, is always ready to give his tongue a run—and when he has two open-mouthed new chums for audience, as Gordon had, the only difficulty is to stop him before bed-time; for long silent rides on the plain, and lonely camps at night, give him a lot of enforced silence that he has to make up for later.
"Where are you from last, Gordon?" said the Bo'sun. "Haven't seen you in town for a long time."
"I've been hunting wild geese," drawled the man from far back, screwing up one eye and inspecting a glass of champagne, which he drank off at a gulp. "That's what I do most of my time now. The old man—Grant, you know—my boss—he's always hearing of mobs of cattle for sale, and if I'm down in the south-west the mob is sure to be up in the far north-east, but it's all one to him. He wires to me to go and inspect them quick and lively before someone else gets them, and I ride and drive and coach hundreds of miles to get at some flat-sided pike-horned mob of brutes without enough fat on them to oil a man's hair with. I've to go right away out back now and take over a place that the old man advanced some money on. He was fool enough, or someone was fool enough for him, to advance five thousand pounds on a block of new country with five thousand cattle on it—book-muster, you know, and half the cattle haven't been seen for years, and the other half are dead, I expect. Anyhow, the man that borrowed the money is ruined, and I have to go up and take over the station."
"What do you call a book-muster?" said the globe-trotter, who was spending a month in the country, and would naturally write a book on it.
"Book-muster, book-muster? Why, a book-muster is something like dead-reckoning on a ship. You know what dead-reckoning is, don't you? If a captain can't see the sun he allows for how fast the ship is going, and for the time run and the currents, and all that, and then reckons up where he is. I travelled with a captain once, and so long as he stuck to dead-reckoning he was all right. He made out we were off Cairns, and that's just where we were; because we struck the Great Barrier Reef, and became a total wreck ten minutes after. With the cattle it's just the same. You'll reckon the cattle that you started with, add on each year's calves, subtract all that you sell,—that is, if you ever do sell any—and allow for deaths, and what the blacks spear and the thieves steal. Then you work out the total, and you say, 'There ought to be five thousand cattle on the place,' but you never get 'em. I've got to go and find five thousand cattle in the worst bit of brigalow scrub in the north."
"Where do you say this place is?" said Pinnock. "It's called No Man's Land, and it's away out back near where the buffalo-shooters are. It'll take about a month to get there. The old man's in a rare state of mind at being let in. He's up at Kuryong now, driving my brother Hugh out of his mind. Hugh would as soon have an attack of faceache as see old Bully looming up the track. Every time he goes up he shifts every blessed sheep out of every paddock, and knocks seven years' growth out of them putting them through the yards; then he overhauls the store, and if there's a box of matches short he'll keep Hugh up half the night to account for it. He sacks all the good men and raises the wages of the loafers, and then comes back to Sydney quite pleased; it's a little holiday to him. You come along with me, Carew, and let old Bully alone. What did you come out for? Colonial experience?"
An Englishman hates talking about himself, and Carew rather hesitated. Then he came out with it awkwardly, like a man repeating a lesson.
"Did you ever meet a man named Considine out here?" he said.
"Lots of them," said Gordon promptly—"lots of them. Why, I had a man named Considine working for me, and he thought he got bitten by a snake, so his mates ran him twenty miles into Bourke between two horses to keep him from going to sleep, giving him a nip of whisky every twenty minutes; and when he got to Bourke he wasn't bitten at all, but he died of alcoholic poisoning. What about this Considine, anyhow? What do you want him for?"
The Englishman felt like dropping the subject altogether, not feeling quite sure that he was not being laughed at. However, he decided to go through with it.
"It's rather a long story, but it boils down to this," he said. "I'm looking for a Patrick Henry Considine, but I don't know what he's like. I don't know whether there is such a chap, in fact, but if there is, I've got to find him. A great-uncle of mine died out here a long while ago, and we believe he left a son; and if there is such a son, it turns out that he would be entitled to a heap of money. It has been heaping up for years in Chancery, and all that sort of thing, you know," he added, vaguely. "My people thought I might meet him out here, don't you know—and he could go home and get all the cash, you see. They've been advertising for him."
"And what good will it do you," drawled Gordon, "supposing you do find him? Where do you come in?"
"Oh, it doesn't do me much good, except that if there is such a Johnny, and he dies without making a will, then the money would all come to my people. But if there isn't, it all goes to another branch of the family."
Gordon thought the matter over for a while. "What you want," he said, "is to find this man, and to find him dead. If we come across him away in the back country, we'll soon arrange his death for you, if you make it worth while. Nasty gun accident, or something like that, you know."
"I wouldn't like anyone to shoot him," said the Englishman.
"Well, you come with me, and we'll find him," said Gordon.
By this time dinner was over. The waiters began to turn out the lights on the vacant tables; and, as the party rose it was arranged nem. con., and with much enthusiasm, that Carew should accompany Gordon on his trip to No Man's Land, and that Gordon should, by all means in his power, aid and abet Carew in his search for Considine.
Then, all talking together, and somewhat loudly, they strutted into the smoking-room.
IN PUSH SOCIETY.
The passing of the evening afterwards is the only true test of a dinner's success. Many a good dinner, enlivened with wine and made brilliant with repartee, has died out in gloom. The guests have all said their best things during the meal, and nothing is left but to smoke moodily and look at the clock. Our heroes were not of that mettle. They meant to have some sort of fun, and the various amusements of Sydney were canvassed. It was unanimously voted too hot for the theatres, ditto for billiards. There were no supporters for a proposal to stop in the smoking-room and drink, and gambling in the card-rooms had no attractions on such a night. At last Gordon hit off a scent. "What do you say," he drawled, "if we go and have a look at a dancing saloon—one of these larrikin dancing saloons?"
"I'd like it awfully," said one Englishman.
"Most interesting" said the other. "I've heard such a lot about the Australian larrikin. What they call a basher in England, isn't it? eh, what? Sort of rough that lays for you with a pal and robs you, eh?"
The Bo'sun rang for cigars and liqueurs, and then answered the question. "Pretty much the same as a basher," he said, "but with a lot more science and dog-cunning about him. They go in gangs, and if you hit one of the gang, all the rest will 'deal with you,' as they call it. If they have to wait a year to get you, they'll wait, and get you alone some night or other and set on to you. They jump on a man if they get him down, too. Oh, they're regular beauties."
"Rather roughish sort of Johnnies, eh?" said the Englishman. "But we might go and see the dancing—no harm in that."
Pinnock said he had to go back to his office; the globe-trotter didn't care about going out at night; and the Bo'sun tried to laugh the thing off. "You don't catch me going," he said. "There's nothing to be seen—just a lot of flash young rowdies dancing. You'll gape at them, and they'll gape at you, and you'll feel rather a pair of fools, and you'll come away. Better stop and have a rubber."
"If you dance with any of their women, you get her particular fancy-man on to you, don't you?" asked Gordon. "It's years since I was at that sort of place myself."
The Bo'sun, who knew nothing about it, assumed the Sir Oracle at once.
"I don't suppose their women would dance with you if you paid 'em five shillings a step," he said. "There'd certainly be a fight if they did. Are you fond of fighting, Carew?"
"Not a bit," replied that worthy. "Never fight if you can help it. No chap with any sense ever does."
"That's like me," said Gordon. "I'd sooner run a mile than fight, any time. I'm like a rat if I'm cornered, but it takes a man with a stockwhip to corner me. I never start fighting till I'm done running. But we needn't get into a row. I vote we go. Will you come, Carew?"
"Oh, yes; I'd like to," said the Englishman. "I don't suppose we need get into a fight."
So, after many jeers from the Bo'sun, and promises to come back and tell him all about it, Carew and Gordon sallied forth, a pair of men as capable of looking after themselves as one would meet in a day's march. Stepping into the street they called a cab.
"Where to, sir?" asked the cabman.
"Nearest dancing saloon," said Gordon, briefly.
"Nearest darncin' saloon," said the cabman. "There ain't no parties to-night, sir; it's too 'ot."
"We're not expecting to drop into a ballroom without being asked, thank you," said Gordon. "We want to go to one of those saloons where you pay a shilling to go in. Some place where the larrikins go."
"Ho! is that it, sir?" said the cabman, with a grin. "Well, I'll take you to a noo place, most selectest place I know. Git up, 'orse." And off they rattled through the quiet streets, turning corners and crossing tramlines every fifty yards apparently, and bumping against each other in the most fraternal manner.
Soon the cab pulled up in a narrow, ill-lit street, at the open door of a dingy house. Instructing the cabman to wait, they hustled upstairs, to be confronted at the top by a man who took a shilling from each, and then was not sure whether he would admit them. He didn't seem to like their form exactly, and muttered something to a by-stander as they went in. They saw a long, low room, brilliantly lighted by flaring gas jets. Down one side, on wooden forms, was seated a row of flashily-dressed girls—larrikin-esses on their native heath, barmaids from cheap, disreputable hotels, shop girls, factory girls—all sharp-faced and pert, young in years, but old in knowledge of evil. The demon of mischief peeped out of their quick-moving, restless eyes. They had elaborate fringes, and their short dresses exhibited well-turned ankles and legs.
A large notice on the wall stated that "Gentlemen must not dance with nails in their boots. Gentlemen must not dance together."
"That blocks us," said Gordon, pointing to the notice. "Can't dance together, no matter how much we want to. Look at these fellows here."
Opposite the women sat or lounged a score or two of youths—wiry, hard-faced little fellows, for the most part, with scarcely a sizeable man amongst them. They were all clothed in "push" evening dress—black bell-bottomed pants, no waistcoat, very short black paget coat, white shirt with no collar, and a gaudy neckerchief round the bare throat. Their boots were marvels, very high in the heel and picked out with all sorts of colours down the sides. They looked "varminty" enough for anything; but the shifty eyes, low foreheads, and evil faces gave our two heroes a sense of disgust. The Englishman thought that all the stories he had heard of the Australian larrikin must be exaggerated, and that any man who was at all athletic could easily hold his own among such a poor-looking lot. The whole spectacle was disappointing. The most elaborately decorous order prevailed; no excitement or rough play was noticeable, and their expedition seemed likely to be a failure.
The bushman stared down the room with far-seeing eyes, apparently looking at nothing, and contemplated the whole show with bored indifference.
"Nothing very dazzling about this," he said. "I'm afraid we can't show you anything very exciting here. Better go back to the club, eh?"
Just then the band (piano and violin) struck up a slow, laboured waltz, "Bid me Good-bye and go," and each black-coated male, with languid self-possession, strolled across the room, seized a lady by the arm, jerked her to her feet without saying a syllable, and commenced to dance in slow, convulsive movements, making a great many revolutions for very little progress. Two or three girls were left sitting, as their partners were talking in a little knot at the far end of the room; one among them was conspicuously pretty, and she began to ogle Carew in a very pronounced way.
"There's one hasn't got a partner," said Gordon. "Good-looking Tottie, too. Go and ask her to dance. See what she says."
The Englishman hesitated for a second. "I don't like asking a perfect stranger to dance," he said.
"Go on," said Gordon, "it's all right. She'll like it."
Carew drew down his cuffs, squared his shoulders, assumed his most absolutely stolid drawing-room manner, and walked across the room, a gleaming vision of splendour in his immaculate evening dress.
"May I—er—have the pleasure of this dance?" he said, with elaborate politeness.
The girl giggled a little, but said nothing, then rose and took his arm.
As she did so, a youth among the talkers at the other end of the room looked round, and stared for a second. Then he moistened his fingers with his tongue, smoothed the hair on his temples, and with elbows held out from his sides, shoulders hunched up, and under-jaw stuck well out, bore down on Carew and the girl, who were getting under way when he came up. Taking not the slightest notice of Carew, he touched the girl on the shoulder with a sharp peremptory tap, and brought their dance to a stop.
"'Ere," he said, in commanding tones. "'Oo are you darncin' with?"
"I'm darncin' with 'im," answered the girl, pertly, indicating the Englishman with a jerk of her head.
"Ho, you're darncin' with 'im, are you? 'E brought you 'ere, p'r'aps?"
"No, he didn't," she said.
"No," said he. "You know well enough 'e didn't."
While this conversation was going on, the English-man maintained an attitude of dignified reserve, leaving it to the lady to decide who was to be the favoured man. At last he felt it was hardly right for an Oxford man, and a triple blue at that, to be discussed in this contemptuous way by a larrikin and his "donah," so he broke into the discussion, perhaps a little abruptly, but using his most polished style.
"I—ah—asked this lady to dance, and if she—er—will do me the honour," he said, "I—"
"Oh! you arst 'er to darnce? And what right 'ad you to arst 'er to darnce, you lop-eared rabbit?" interrupted the larrikin, raising his voice as he warmed to his subject. "I brought 'er 'ere. I paid the shillin'. Now then, you take your 'ook," he went on, pointing sternly to the door, and talking as he would to a disobedient dog. "Go on, now. Take your 'ook."
The Englishman said nothing, but his jaw set ominously. The girl giggled, delighted at being the centre of so much observation. The band stopped playing, and the dancers crowded round. Word was passed down that it was a "toff darncin' with Nugget's donah," and from various parts of the room black-coated duplicates of Nugget hurried swiftly to the scene.
The doorkeeper turned to Gordon. "You 'd best get your mate out o' this," he said. "These are the Rocks Push, and they'll deal with him all right."
"Deal with him, will they?" said Gordon, looking at the gesticulating Nugget. "They'll bite off more than they can chew if they interfere with him. This is just his form, a row like this. He's a bit of a champion in a rough-and-tumble, I believe."
"Is he?" said the doorkeeper, sardonically. "Well, look 'ere, now, you take it from me, if there's a row Nugget will spread him out as flat as a newspaper. They've all been in the ring in their time, these coves. There's Nugget, and Ginger, and Brummy—all red 'ot. You get him away!"
Meanwhile the Englishman's ire was gradually rising. He was past the stage of considering whether it was worth while to have a fight over a factory girl in a shilling dancing saloon, and the desire for battle blazed up in his eyes. He turned and confronted Nugget.
"You go about your business," he said, dropping all the laboured politeness out of his tones. "If she likes to dance—"
He got no further. A shrill whistle rang through the room; a voice shouted, "Don't 'it 'im; 'ook 'im!" His arms were seized from behind and pinioned to his sides. The lights were turned out. Somebody in front hit him a terrific crack in the eye at the same moment that someone else administered a violent kick from the rear. He was propelled by an invisible force to the head of the stairs, and then—whizz! down he went in one prodigious leap, clear from the top to the first landing.
Here, in pitch-darkness, he grappled one of his assailants. For a few seconds they swayed and struggled, and then rolled down the rest of the stairs, over and over each other, grappling and clawing, each trying to tear the other's shirt off. When they rolled into the street, Carew discovered that he had hold of Charlie Gordon.
They sat up and looked at each other. Then they made a simultaneous rush for the stairs, but the street door was slammed in their faces. They kicked it violently, but without result, except that a mob of faces looked out of the first-floor window and hooted, and a bucket of water was emptied over them. A crowd collected as if by magic, and the spectacle of two gentlemen in evening dress trying to kick in the door of a shilling dancing saloon afforded it unmitigated delight.
"'Ere's two toffs got done in all right," said one.
"What O! Won't she darnce with you?" said another; and somebody from the back threw banana peel at them.
Charlie recovered his wits first. The Englishman was fairly berserk with rage, and glared round on the bystanders as if he contemplated a rush among them. The cabman put an end to the performance. He was tranquil and unemotional, and he soothed them down and coaxed them into the cab. The band in the room above resumed the dreamy waltz music of "Bid me Good-bye and go!" and they went.
Carew subsided into the corner, breathing hard and feeling his eye. Charlie leant forward and peered out into the darkness. They were nearly at the club before they spoke. Then he said, "Well, I'm blessed! We made a nice mess of that, didn't we?"
"I'd like to have got one fair crack at some of 'em," said the Englishman, with heartfelt earnestness. "Couldn't we go back now?"
"No what's the good? We'd never get in. Let the thing alone. We needn't say anything about it. If once it gets known that we were chucked out, we'll never hear the last of it. Are you marked at all?"
"Got an awful swipe in the eye," replied the other briefly.
"I've got a cut lip, and my head nearly screwed off. You did that. I'll know the place again. Some day we'll get a few of the right sort to come with us, and we'll just go there quietly, as if we didn't mean anything, and then, all of a sudden, we'll turn in and break the whole place up! Come and have a drink now."
They had a silent drink in the deserted club. The mind of each was filled with a sickening sense of defeat, and without much conversation they retired to bed. They thanked heaven that the Bo'sun, Pinnock, and Gillespie had disappeared.
Even then Fate hadn't quite finished with the bushman. A newly-joined member of the club, he had lived a life in which he had to shift for himself, and the ways of luxury were new to him. Consequently, when he awoke next morning and saw a man moving with cat-like tread about his room, absolutely taking the money out of his clothes before his very eyes, he sprang out of bed with a bound and half-throttled the robber. Then, of course, it turned out that it was only the bedroom waiter, who was taking his clothes away to brush them. This contretemps, on top of the overnight mishap, made him determined to get away from town with all speed. When he looked in the glass, he found his lip so much swelled that his moustache stuck out in front like the bowsprit of a ship. At breakfast he joined the Englishman, who had an eye with as many colours as an opal, not to mention a tired look and dusty boots.
"Are you only just up?" asked Charlie, as they contemplated each other.
Carew had resumed his mantle of stolidity, but he coloured a little at the question. "I've been out for a bit of a walk round town," he said. "Fact is," he added in a sudden burst of confidence, "I've been all over town lookin' for that place where we were last night. Couldn't find anything like it at all."
Charlie laughed at his earnestness. "Oh, bother the place," he said. "If you had found it, there wouldn't have been any of them there. Now, about ourselves—we can't show out like this. We'd better be off to-day, and no one need know anything about it. Besides, I half-killed a waiter this morning. I thought he was some chap stealing my money, when he only wanted to take my clothes away to brush 'em. Sooner we're out of town the better. I'll wire to the old man that I've taken you with me."
So saying, they settled down to breakfast, and by tacit agreement avoided the club for the rest of the day.
Before leaving, Charlie had to call and interview Pinnock, and left Carew waiting outside while he went in. He didn't want to parade their injuries, and knew that Carew's eye would excite remark; but by keeping his upper lip well drawn over his teeth, he hoped his own trouble would escape notice.
"Seems a harmless sort of chap, that new chum," said Pinnock.
"He'll do all right," said Charlie casually. "I've met his sort before. He's not such a fool as he lets on to be. Shouldn't wonder if he killed somebody before he gets back here, anyhow."
"How did you get on at the dancing saloon?" asked Pinnock.
"Oh, slow enough. Nothing worth seeing. Good-bye."
They sneaked on board the steamer without meeting the Bo'sun or anybody, and before evening were well on their way to No Man's Land.
THE OLD STATION.
There are few countries in the world with such varieties of climate as Australia, and though some stations are out in the great, red-hot, frying wastes of the Never-Never, others are up in the hills where a hot night is a thing unknown, where snow falls occasionally, and where it is no uncommon thing to spend a summer's evening by the side of a roaring fire. In the matter of improvements, too, stations vary greatly. Some are in a wilderness, with fittings to match; others have telephones between homestead and out-stations, the jackeroos dress for dinner, and the station hands are cowed into touching their hats and saying "Sir." Also stations are of all sizes, and the man who is considered quite a big squatter in the settled districts is thought small potatoes by the magnate "out back," who shears a hundred and fifty thousand sheep, and has an overdraft like the National Debt.
Kuryong was a hill-country station of about sixty thousand acres all told; but they were good acres, as no one knew better than old Bully Grant, the owner, of whose history and disposition we heard something from Pinnock at the club. It was a highly improved place, with a fine homestead—thanks to Bully Grant's money, for in the old days it had been a very different sort of place—and its history is typical of the history of hundreds of others.
When Andrew Gordon first bought it, it was held under lease from the Crown, and there were no improvements to speak of. The station homestead, so lovingly descanted upon in the advertisement, consisted of a two-roomed slab hut; the woolshed, where the sheep were shorn, was made of gumtree trunks roofed with bark. The wool went down to Sydney, and station supplies came back, in huge waggons drawn by eighteen or twenty bullocks, that travelled nine miles a day on a journey of three hundred miles. There were no neighbours except at the township of Kiley's Crossing, which consisted of two public-houses and a store. It was a rough life for the young squatter, and evidently he found it lonely; for on a visit to Sydney he fell in love with and married a dainty girl of French descent. Refined, well-educated, and fragile-looking, she seemed about the last person in the world to take out to a slab-hut homestead as a squatter's wife. But there is an old saying that blood will tell; and with all the courage of her Huguenot ancestry she faced the roughness and discomforts of bush life. On her arrival at the station the old two-roomed hut was plastered and whitewashed, additional rooms were built, and quite a neat little home was the result. Seasons were good, and the young squatter might have gone on shearing sheep and selling fat stock till the end of his life but for the advent of free selection in 1861.
In that year the Legislature threw open all leasehold lands to the public for purchase on easy terms and conditions. The idea was to settle an industrious peasantry on lands hitherto leased in large blocks to the squatters. This brought down a flood of settlement on Kuryong. At the top end of the station there was a chain of mountains, and the country was rugged and patchy—rich valleys alternating with ragged hills. Here and there about the run were little patches of specially good land, which were soon snapped up. The pioneers of these small settlers were old Morgan Donohoe and his wife, who had built the hotel at Kiley's Crossing; and, on their reports, all their friends and relatives, as they came out of the "ould country," worked their way to Kuryong, and built little bits of slab and bark homesteads in among the mountains. The rougher the country, the better they liked it. They were a horse-thieving, sheep-stealing breed, and the talents which had made them poachers in the old country soon made them champion bushmen in their new surroundings. The leader of these mountain settlers was one Doyle, a gigantic Irishman, who had got a grant of a few hundred acres in the mountains, and had taken to himself a Scotch wife from among the free immigrants. The story ran that he was too busy to go to town, but asked a friend to go and pick a wife for him, "a fine shtrappin' woman, wid a good brisket on her."
The Doyles were large, slow, heavy men, with an instinct for the management of cattle; they were easily distinguished from the Donohoes, who were little red-whiskered men, enterprising and quick-witted, and ready to do anything in the world for a good horse. Other strangers and outlanders came to settle in the district, but from the original settlement up to the date of our story the two great families of the Doyles and the Donohoes governed the neighbourhood, and the headquarters of the clans was at Donohoe's "Shamrock Hotel," at Kiley's Crossing. Here they used to rendezvous when they went away down to the plains country each year for the shearing; for they added to their resources by travelling about the country shearing, droving, fencing, tanksinking, or doing any other job that offered itself, but always returned to their mountain fastnesses ready for any bit of work "on the cross" (i.e., unlawful) that might turn up. When times got hard they had a handy knack of finding horses that nobody had lost, shearing sheep they did not own, and branding and selling other people's calves.
When they stole stock, they moved them on through the mountains as quickly as possible, always having a brother or uncle, or a cousin—Terry or Timothy or Martin or Patsy—who had a holding "beyant." By these means they could shift stolen stock across the great range, and dispose of them among the peaceable folk who dwelt in the good country on the other side, whose stock they stole in return. Many a good horse and fat beast had made the stealthy mountain journey, lying hidden in gaps and gullies when pursuit grew hot, and being moved on as things quieted down.
Another striking feature was the way in which they got themselves mixed up with each other. Their names were so tangled up that no one could keep tally of them. There was a Red Mick Donohoe (son of the old publican), and his cousin Black Mick Donohoe, and Red Mick's son Mick, and Black Mick's son Mick, and Red Mick's son Pat, and Black Mick's son Pat; and there was Gammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the lame leg), and Scrammy Doyle (meaning Doyle with the injured arm), and Bosthoon Doyle and Omadhaun Doyle—a Bosthoon being a man who never had any great amount of sense to speak of, while an Omadhaun is a man who began life with some sense, but lost most of it on his journey. It was a common saying in the country-side that if you met a man on the mountains you should say, "Good-day, Doyle," and if he replied, "That's not my name," you should at once say, "Well, I meant no offence, Mr. Donohoe."
One could generally pick which was which of the original stock, but when they came to intermarry there was no telling t'other from which. Startling likenesses cropped up among the relatives, and it was widely rumoured that one Doyle who was known to be in jail, and who was vaguely spoken of by the clan as being "away," was in fact serving an accumulation of sentences for himself and other members of the family, whose sins he had for a consideration taken on himself.
With such neighbours as these fighting him for every block of land, Andrew Gordon soon came to the end of his resources, and it was then that he had to take in his old manager as a partner. Before Bully Grant had been in the firm long, he had secured nearly all the good land, and the industrious yeomanry that the Land Act was supposed to create were hiding away up the gullies on miserable little patches of bad land, stealing sheep for a living. Bully fought them stoutly, impounded their sheep and cattle, and prosecuted trespassers and thieves; and, his luck being wonderful, he soon added to the enormous fortune he had made in mining, while Andrew Gordon died impoverished. When he died, old Bully gave the management of the stations to his sons, and contented himself with finding fault. But one dimly-remembered episode in his career was talked of by the old hands around Kiley's Hotel, long after Grant had become a wealthy man, and had gone for long trips to England.
Grant, in spite of the judgment and sagacity on which he prided himself, had at various times in his career made mistakes—mistakes in station management, mistakes about stock, mistakes about men, and last, but not least, mistakes about women; and it was to one of these mistakes that the gossips referred.
When he was a young man working as Mr. Gordon's manager, and living with the horse-breaker and the ration-carrier on the out-station at Kuryong (in those days a wild, half-civilised place), he had for neighbours Red Mick's father and mother, the original Mr. and Mrs. Donohoe, and their family. Their eldest daughter, Peggy—"Carrotty Peg," her relations called her—was at that time a fine, strapping, bush girl, and the only unmarried white woman anywhere near the station. She was as fair-complexioned as Red Mick himself, with a magnificent head of red hair, and the bust and limbs of a young Amazon.
This young woman, as she grew up, attracted the attention of Billy the Bully, and they used to meet a good deal out in the bush. On such occasions, he would possibly be occupied in the inspiriting task of dragging a dead sheep after his horse, to make a trail to lead the wild dogs up to some poisoned meat; while the lady, clad in light and airy garments, with a huge white sunbonnet for head-gear, would be riding straddle-legged in search of strayed cows. When Grant left the station, and went away to make his fortune in mining, it was, perhaps, just a coincidence that this magnificent young creature grew tired of the old place and "cleared out," too. She certainly went away and disappeared so utterly that even her own people did not know what had become of her; to the younger generation her very existence was only a vague tradition. But it was whispered here and muttered there among the Doyles and the Donohoes and their friends and relations, that old Billy the Bully, on one of his visits to the interior, had been married to this undesirable lady by a duly accredited parson, in the presence of responsible witnesses; and that, when everyone had their own, Carrotty Peg, if alive, would be the lady of Kuryong. However, she had never come back to prove it, and no one cared about asking her alleged husband any unpleasant questions.
So much for the history of its owners; now to describe the homestead itself. It had originally consisted of the two-roomed slab hut, which had been added to from time to time. Kitchen, outhouses, bachelors' quarters, saddle-rooms, and store-rooms had been built on in a kind of straggling quadrangle, with many corners and unexpected doorways and passages; and it is reported that a swagman once got his dole of rations at the kitchen, went away, and after turning two or three corners, got so tangled up that when Fate led him back to the kitchen he didn't recognise it, and asked for rations over again, in the firm belief that he was at a different part of the house.
The original building was still the principal living-room, but the house had grown till it contained about twenty rooms. The slab walls had been plastered and whitewashed, and a wide verandah ran all along the front. Round the house were acres of garden, with great clumps of willows and acacias, where the magpies sat in the heat of the day and sang to one another in their sweet, low warble.
The house stood on a spur running from the hills. Looking down the river from it, one saw level flats waving with long grasses, in which the solemn cattle waded knee-deep. Here and there clumps of willows and stately poplars waved in the breeze. In the clear, dry air all colours were startlingly vivid, and round the nearer foothills wonderful lights and shadows played and shifted, while sometimes a white fleece of mist would drift slowly across a distant hill, like a film of snowy lace on the face of a beautiful woman. Away behind the foothills were the grand old mountains, with their snow-clad tops gleaming in the sun.
The garden was almost as lacking in design as the house. There were acres of fruit trees, with prairie grass growing at their roots, trees whereon grew luscious peaches and juicy egg-plums; long vistas of grapevines, with little turnings and alleys, regular lovers' walks, where the scent of honeysuckle intoxicated the senses. At the foot of the garden was the river, a beautiful stream, fed by the mountain-snow, and rushing joyously over clear gravel beds, whose million-tinted pebbles dashed in the sunlight like so many opals.
In some parts of Australia it is difficult to tell summer from winter; but up in this mountain-country each season had its own attractions. In the spring the flats were green with lush grass, speckled with buttercups and bachelors' buttons, and the willows put out their new leaves, and all manner of shy dry-scented bush flowers bloomed on the ranges; and the air was full of the song of birds and the calling of animals. Then came summer, when never a cloud decked the arch of blue sky, and all animated nature drew into the shade of big trees until the evening breeze sprang up, bringing sweet scents of the dry grass and ripening grain. In autumn, the leaves of the English trees turned all tints of yellow and crimson, and the grass in the paddocks went brown; and the big bullock teams worked from dawn till dark, hauling in their loads of hay from the cultivation paddocks.
But most beautiful of all was winter, when logs blazed in the huge fireplaces, and frosts made the ground crisp, and the stock, long-haired and shaggy, came snuffling round the stables, picking up odds and ends of straw; when the grey, snow-clad mountains looked but a stone's throw away in the intensely clear air, and the wind brought a colour to the cheeks and a tingling to the blood that made life worth living.
Such was Kuryong homestead, where lived Charlie Gordon's mother and his brother Hugh, with a lot of children left by another brother who, like many others, had gone up to Queensland to make his fortune, and had left his bones there instead; and to look after these young folk there was a governess, Miss Harriott.
THE COMING OF THE HEIRESS.
The spring—the glorious hill-country spring—was down on Kuryong. All the flats along Kiley's River were knee-deep in green grass. The wattle-trees were out in golden bloom, and the snow-water from the mountains set the river running white with foam, fighting its way over bars of granite into big pools where the platypus dived, and the wild ducks—busy with the cares of nesting—just settled occasionally to snatch a hasty meal and then hurried off, with a whistle of strong wings, back to their little ones. The breeze brought down from the hills a scent of grass and bush flowers. There was life and movement everywhere. The little foals raced and played all day in the sunshine round their big sleepy mothers; the cattle bellowed to each other from hill to hill; even those miserable brutes, the sheep, frisked in an ungainly way when anything startled them. At all the little mountain-farms and holdings young Doyles and Donohoes were catching their horses, lean after the winter's starvation, and loading the pack-saddles for their five-months' trip out to the borders of Queensland, from shearing-shed to shearing-shed, A couple of months before they started, they would write to the squatters for whom they had worked on previous shearings—such quaint, ill-spelled letters—asking that a pen might be kept for them. Great shearers they were, too, for the mountain air bred hardy men, and while they were at it they worked feverishly, bending themselves nearly double over the sheep, and making the shears fly till the sweat ran down their foreheads and dripped on the ground; and they peeled the yellow wool off sheep after sheep as an expert cook peels an apple. In the settled districts such as Kuryong, where the flocks were small, they were made to shear carefully; but away out on the Queensland side, on a station with two hundred thousand sheep to get through, they rushed the wool off savagely. He was a poor specimen of the clan who couldn't shear his hundred and twenty sheep between bell and bell; and the price was a pound a hundred, with plenty of stations wanting shearers, so they made good cheques in those days.
One glorious spring morning, Hugh Gordon was sitting in his office—every squatter and station-manager has an office—waiting with considerable impatience the coming of the weekly mail. The office looked like a blend of stationer's shop, tobacconist's store, and saddlery warehouse. A row of pigeon-holes along the walls was filled with letters and papers; the rafters were hung with saddles and harness; a tobacco-cutter and a jar of tobacco stood on the table, side by side with some formidable-looking knives, used for cutting the sheep's feet when they became diseased; whips and guns stood in every corner; nails and saws filled up a lot of boxes on the table, and a few samples of wool hung from a rope that was stretched across the room. The mantelpiece was occupied by bottles of horse-medicine and boxes of cartridges; an elderly white cockatoo, chained by the leg to a galvanised iron perch, sunned himself by the door, and at intervals gave an exhibition of his latest accomplishment, in which he imitated the yowl of a trodden-on cat much better than the cat could have done it himself.
The air was heavy with scent. All round the great quadrangle of the house acacia trees were in bloom, and the bees were working busily among the mignonette and roses in front of the office door.
Hugh Gordon was a lithe, wiry young Australian with intensely sunburnt face and hands, and a drooping black moustache; a man with a healthy, breezy outdoor appearance, but the face of an artist, a dreamer, and a thinker, rather than that of a practical man. His brother Charlie and he, though very much alike in face, were quite different types of manhood. Charlie, from his earliest school-days, had never read a book except under compulsion, had never stayed indoors when he could possibly get out, had never obeyed an unwelcome order when by force or fraud he could avoid doing so, and had never written a letter in his life when a telegram would do. He took the world as it came, having no particular amount of imagination, and never worried himself. Hugh, on the other hand, was inclined to meet trouble half-way, and to make troubles where none existed, which is the worst misfortune that a man can be afflicted with.
Hugh walked to the door and gazed out over the garden and homestead, down the long stretch of green paddocks where fat cattle were standing under the trees, too well fed to bother themselves with looking for grass. He looked beyond all this to the long drab-coloured stretch of road that led to Kiley's, watching for the mailboy's arrival. The mail was late, for the melting snow had flooded the mountain creeks, and Hugh knew it was quite likely that little Patsy Donohoe, the mail-boy, had been blocked at Donohoe's Hotel for two days, unable to cross Kiley's River. This had happened often, and on various occasions when Patsy had crossed, he, pony and all, had been swept down quite a quarter of a mile in the ice-cold water before they could reach land. But that was an ordinary matter in the spring, and it was a point of honour with Patsy and all his breed not to let the elements beat them in carrying out the mail contract, which they tendered for every year, and in which no outsider would have dared to compete.
At last Hugh's vigil was rewarded by the appearance of a small and wild-looking boy, mounted on a large and wild-looking horse. The boy was about twelve years of age, and had just ridden a half-broken horse a forty-mile journey—for of such is the youth of Australia. Patsy was wet and dirty, and the big leather mail-bag that he handed over had evidently been under water.
"We had to swim, Mr. Hugh," the boy said triumphantly, "and this great, clumsy cow" (the child referred to his horse), "he reared over on me in the water, twyst, but I stuck to him. My oath!"
Hugh laughed. "I expect Kiley's River will get you yet, Patsy," he said. "Go in now to the kitchen and get dry by the fire. I'll lend you a horse to get back on to-morrow. You can camp here till then, there's no hurry back."
The boy let his horse go loose, dismissing it with a parting whack on the rump with the bridle, and swaggered inside, carrying his saddle, to show his wet clothes and recount his deeds to the admiring cook. Patsy was not one to hide his light under a bushel.
Hugh carried the bag into the office, and shook out the letters and papers on the table. Everything was permeated with a smell of wet leather, and some of the newspapers were rather pulpy. After sending out everybody else's mail he turned to examine his own. Out of the mass of letters, agents' circulars, notices of sheep for sale, catalogues of city firms, and circulars from pastoral societies, he picked a letter addressed to himself in the scrawling fist of William Grant. He opened it, expecting to find in it the usual Commination Service on things in general, but as he read on, a vivid surprise spread over his face. Leaving the other letters and papers unopened, he walked to the door and looked out into the courtyard, where Stuffer, the youngest of his nephews, who was too small to be allowed to join in the field sports of the others, was playing at being a railway train. He had travelled in a train once, and now passed Hugh's door under easy steam, working his arms and legs like piston-rods, and giving piercing imitations of a steam-whistle at intervals.
"Stuffer," said Hugh, "do you know where your grandmother is?"
"No" said the Stuffer laconically. "I don't Choo, choo, choo, Whee-aw!"
"Well, look here," said Hugh, "you just railway-train yourself round the house till you find her, and let me know where she is. I want to see her. Off you go now."
The Stuffer steamed himself out with the action of an engine drawing a long train of cars, and disappeared round the corner of the house.
Before long he was back, drew himself up alongside an imaginary platform, intimated that his grandmother was in the verandah, and then proceeded to let the steam hiss out of his safety-valve.
Hugh walked across the quadrangle, under the acacia tree, heavy with blossoms, in which a myriad bees were droning at their work, and through the house on to the front verandah, which looked over the wide sweep of river-flat. Here he found his mother and Miss Harriott, the governess, peeling apples for dumplings—great rosy-checked, solid-fleshed apples, that the hill-country turns out in perfection. The old lady was slight in figure, with a refined face, and a carriage erect in spite of her years. Miss Harriott was of a languid Spanish type, with black eyes and strongly-marked eyebrows. She had a petite, but well-rounded figure, with curiously small hands and feet. Though only about twenty-four years of age she had the sedate and unemotional look that one sees in doctors and nurses—-people who have looked on death and birth, and sorrow and affliction. For Ellen Harriott had done her three years' course as a nurse; she had a natural faculty for the business, and was in great request among the wild folk of the mountains, who looked upon her (and perhaps rightly) as quite equal to the Tarrong doctor in any emergency. She knew them all, for she had lived nearly all her life at Kuryong. When the family moved there from the back country a tutor was needed for the boys, and an old broken-down gentleman accepted the billet at low pay, on condition that he was allowed to bring his little daughter with him. When he died, the daughter still stayed on, and was made governess to the new generation of young folk. She was a queer, self-contained girl, saying little; and as Hugh walked in, she looked up at him, and wondered what new trouble was bringing him to his mother with the open letter in his hand.
"Mother," said Hugh, "I have had a most extraordinary letter."
"From Mr. Grant?" said the old lady, "What does he say?"
She saw by her son's face that there was something more than usual in the wind, but one who had lived her life, from fortune to poverty, through strife and trial, was prepared to take things much more easily than Hugh.
"Is it anything very serious?"
"His daughter's coming out to live here."
"Yes, here's the letter. It only came this morning. Patsy was late, the river is up. I'll read it to you."
Seating himself at the table, Hugh spread out the letter, and read it:—
The last lot of wethers, though they topped the market, only realised 10/-. I think you would show better judgment in keeping these sheep back a little. Don't rely upon Satton's advice. He is generally wrong, and is always most wrong when he is most sure he is right.
My daughter has arrived from England, and will at once go up to the station. I have written to your mother on the subject. My daughter will represent me in everything, so I wish her to learn a little about stations. Send to meet her at the train on Wednesday next.
Yours truly, W. G. GRANT.
"Wednesday next!" said Hugh, "that letter is three days delayed. Patsy couldn't cross the river. She'll be there before we can possibly get down. If no one meets her I wonder if she'll have pluck enough to get into the coach and come on to Donohoe's."
"I don't envy her the trip, if she does," said Miss Harriott. "The coach-drive over those roads will seem awful to an English girl."
"I'll have to go down at once, anyhow," said Hugh, "and meet her on the road somewhere. If she is at the railway, I can get there in two days. Have you a letter, Mother?"
"Yes," said the old lady, "but I won't show it to you now. You shall see it some other time."
"Well, I'll set about making a start," said Hugh. "What trap had I better take?"
"You'd better take the big waggonette," said the old lady, in her soft voice. "A young girl just out from England is sure to have a great deal of luggage, you know. I wonder if she is anything like Mr. Grant. I hope her temper is a little bit better."
"You'd better come down with me, Miss Harriott, to meet her," said Hugh. "I don't suppose your luggage would be a load there and back, anyhow."
"What about crossing the river?" said the old lady.
"Oh, we'll get across somehow," said Hugh, "will you come?"
"I think I'll wait," said the young lady meditatively, "She'll be tired from travelling and looking after her luggage, and she had better meet the family one at a time. You go and meet her, and your mother and I will get her room ready. Does the letter say any more about her?"
"No, that's all," said Hugh. "Well, I'll send the boy to run in the horses. I'll take four horses in the big waggonette; I expect she'll be waiting at Donohoe's—that is, if she left the railway-station in the coach—if she is at Donohoe's I'll be back before dark."
With this he went back to the office, and his mother and Miss Harriott went their separate ways to prepare for the comfort of the heiress. To Ellen Harriott the arrival was a new excitement, a change in the monotony of bush life; but to the old lady and Hugh it meant a great deal more. It meant that they would be no longer master and mistress of the big station on which they had lived so long, and which was now so much under their control that it seemed almost like their own.
Everything depended on what the girl was like. They had never even seen a photograph of her, and awaited her coming in a state of nervous expectancy. All over the district they had been practically considered owners of the big station; Hugh had taken on and dismissed employees at his will, had controlled the buying and selling of thousands of sheep and cattle, and now this strange girl was to come in with absolute power over them. They would be servants and dependants on the station, which had once belonged to them.
After Hugh had gone, the old lady sat back in her armchair and read over again her letter from Mr. Grant; and, lest it should be thought that that gentleman had only one side to his character, it is as well for the reader to know what was in the letter. It ran as follows:—
Dear Mrs. Gordon,
I am writing to you about a most important matter. Colonel Selwyn is dead, and my daughter has come out from England. I don't know anyone to take charge of her except yourself. I am an old man now, and set in my ways, and this girl is really all I have to live for. Looking back on my life, I see where I have been a fool; and perhaps the good fortune that has followed me has been more luck than anything else. Your husband was a smarter man than I am, and he came to grief, though I will say that I always warned him against that Western place.
Do you remember the old days when we had the two little homesteads, and I used to ride down from the out-station of a Saturday and spend Sunday with you and Andrew, and talk over the fortunes we were going to make? If I had met a woman like you in those days I might have been a better man. As it was, I made a fool of myself. But that's all past praying for.
Now about my girl. If you will take her, and make her as good a woman as yourself, or as near it as you can, you will earn my undying thanks. As to money matters, when I die she will of course have a great deal of money, so that it is well she should begin now to learn how to use it; I have, therefore, given her full power to draw all money that may be required. I may tell you that I intend to leave your boys enough to start them in life, and they will have a first-class chance to get on. I am sending Charlie out to the West, to take over a block which those fools, Sutton and Co., got me to advance money on, and on which the man cannot pay his interest. He will be away for some time.
Meanwhile, dear Mrs. Gordon, for the sake of old times, do what you can for the girl. I expect she has been brought up with English ideas. I can't get her to say much to me, which I daresay is my own fault. After she has been with you for a bit, I will come up and stay for a time at the station.
Yours very truly, W. G. GRANT.
Reading this letter called back the whole panorama of the past—the old days when she and her husband were struggling in the rough, hard, pioneering life, and the blacks were thick round the station; the birth of her children, and the ups and downs of her husband's fortunes; then the burial of her husband out on the sandhills, and her flight to this haven of rest at Kuryong. Though she had lost interest in things for herself, she felt keenly for her children, and was sick at heart when she thought what this girl, who was to wield such power over them, might turn out to be. But she hoped that Grant's daughter, whatever else she might be, would at any rate be a genuine, straight-forward girl; and filled with this hope, she sat down to answer him:
"Dear Mr. Grant," she wrote, "I have received your letter. Hugh has gone down to meet your daughter, but the mails were delayed owing to the river being up, and he may not get to the railway station as soon as she arrives. I will do what I can for her, and I thank you for what you say you will do for my boys. I will let you know the moment she arrives. I wish you would come up and live on the station for a time. It would be better for you than life in the club, without a friend to care for you. If ever you feel inclined to stay here for a time, I hope you will at once let me know. With thanks and best wishes,
Yours truly, ANNETTE GORDON."
A COACH ACCIDENT.
The coach from Tarrong railway station to Emu Flat, and then on to Donohoe's Hotel, ran twice a week. Pat Donohoe was mailman, contractor and driver, and his admirers said that Pat could hit his five horses in more places at once than any other man on the face of the earth. His coach was horsed by the neighbouring squatters, through whose stations the road ran; and any horse that developed homicidal tendencies, or exhibited a disinclination to work, was at once handed over to the mailman to be licked into shape. The result was that, as a rule, Pat was driving teams composed of animals that would do anything but go straight, but under his handling they were generally persuaded, after a day or two, to settle down to their work.
On the day when Hugh and Mrs. Gordon read Mr. Grant's letter at Kuryong, the train deposited at Tarrong a self-reliant young lady of about twenty, accompanied by nearly a truck-full of luggage—solid leather portmanteaux, canvas-covered bags, iron boxes, and so on—which produced a great sensation among the rustics. She was handsome enough to be called a beauty, and everything about her spoke of exuberant health and vitality. Her figure was supple, and she had the clear pink and white complexion which belongs to cold climates.
She seemed accustomed to being waited on, and watched without emotion the guard and the solitary railway official—porter, station-master, telegraph-operator and lantern-man, all rolled into one—haul her hundredweights of luggage out of the train. Then she told the perspiring station-master, etc., to please have the luggage sent to the hotel, and marched over to that building in quite an assured way, carrying a small handbag. Three commercial travellers, who had come up by the same train, followed her off the platform, and the most gallant of the three winked at his friends, and then stepped up and offered to carry her bag. The young lady gave him a pleasant smile, and handed him the bag; together they crossed the street, while the other commercials marched disconsolately behind. At the door of the hotel she took the bag from her cavalier, and there and then, in broad Australian daylight, rewarded him with twopence—a disaster which caused him to apply to his firm for transfer to some foreign country at once. She marched into the bar, where Dan, the landlord's son, was sweeping, while Mrs. Connellan, the landlady, was wiping glasses in the midst of a stale fragrance of overnight beer and tobacco-smoke.
"I am going to Kuryong," said the young lady, "and I expected to meet Mr. Gordon here. Is he here?"
Mrs. Connellan looked at her open-eyed. Such an apparition was not often seen in Tarrong. Mr. and Mrs. Connellan had only just "taken the pub.", and what with trying to keep Connellan sober and refusing drinks to tramps, loafers, and black-fellows, Mrs. Connellan was pretty well worn out. As for making the hotel pay, that idea had been given up long ago. It was against Mrs. Connellan's instincts of hospitality to charge anyone for a meal or a bed, and when any great rush of bar trade took place it generally turned out to be "Connellan's shout," so the hotel was not exactly a goldmine. In fact, Mrs. Connellan had decided that the less business she did, the more money she would make; and she rather preferred that people should not stop at her hotel. This girl looked as if she would give trouble; might even expect clean beds and clean sheets when there were none within the hotel, and might object to fleas, of which there were plenty. So the landlady pulled herself together, and decided to speed the parting guest as speedily as possible.
"Mr. Gordon couldn't git in," she said. The cricks (creeks) is all up. The coach is going down to Kiley's Crossing to-day. You had better go with that."
"How soon does the coach start?"
"In an hour or two. As soon as Pat Donohoe, the mailman, has got a horse shod. Come in and have a wash, and fix yourself up till breakfast is ready Where's your bag?"
"My luggage is at the railway-station."
"I'll send Dan over for it. Dan, Dan, Dan!"
"'Ello," said Dan's voice, from the passage, where, with the wild-eyed servant-girl, he had been taking stock of the new arrival.
"Go over to the station and git this lady's bag. Is there much to carry?"
"There are only four portmanteaux and three bags, and two boxes and a hat-box, and a roll of rugs; and please be careful of the hat-box."
"You'd better git the barrer, Dan."
"Better git the bloomin' bullock-dray," growled Dan, quite keen to see this aggregation of luggage; and foreseeing something to talk about for the next three months. "She must ha' come up to start a store, I reckon," said Dan; and off he went to struggle with boxes for the next half-hour or so.
Over Mary Grant's experiences at the Tarrong Hotel we will not linger. The dirty water, peopled by wriggling animalculae, that she poured out of the bedroom jug; the damp, cloudy, unhealthy-smelling towel on which she dried her face; the broken window through which she could hear herself being discussed by loafers in the yard; all these things are matters of course in bush townships, for the Australian, having a soul above details, does not shine at hotel-keeping. The breakfast was enlivened by snatches of song from the big, good-natured bush-girl who waited at table, and who "fancied" her voice somewhat, and marched into the breakfast-room singing in an ear-splitting Soprano:
"It's a vilet from me"—
(spoken.) "What you'll have, there's chops, steaks, and bacon and eggs"—"Chops, please."
(singer continues.) "Sainted mother's"—
(spoken.) "Tea or coffee"—"Tea, please."
(singer finishes.) —"grave."
While she ate, Miss Grant had an uneasy feeling that she was being stared at; all the female staff and hangers-on of the place having gathered round the door to peer in at her and to appraise to the last farthing her hat, her tailor-made gown, and her solid English walking-shoes, and to indulge in wild speculation as to who or what she could be. A Kickapoo Indian in full war-paint, arriving suddenly in a little English village, could not have created more excitement than she did at Tarrong. After breakfast she walked out on the verandah that ran round the little one-story weatherboard hotel, and looked down the mile and a-half of road, with little galvanised-iron-roofed cottages at intervals of a quarter of a mile or so, that constituted the township. She watched Conroy, the policeman, resplendent in breeches and polished boots, swagger out from the court-house yard, leading his horse to water. The town was waking to its daily routine; Garry, the butcher, took down the clumsy board that passed for a window-shutter, and McDermott, the carter, passed the hotel, riding a huge rough-coated draught-horse, bare-backed. Everyone gave him a "Mornin', Billy!" as he passed, and he returned the greeting as he did every morning of his life. A few children loitered past to the little school-house, staring at her as though she were some animal.
She was in a hurry to get away—English people always are—but in the bright lexicon of the bush there is no such word as hurry. Tracey, the blacksmith, had not by any means finished shoeing the coach-horse yet. So Mrs. Connellan made an attempt to find out who she was, and why she was going to Kuryong.
"You'll have a nice trip in the coach," she said. "Lier (lawyer) Blake's going down. He's a nice feller."
"Father Kelly, too. He's good company."
"Are you staying long at Kuryong?"
"Some time, I expect."
"Are you going to teach the children?"
"No, I'm going to live there. My father owns Kuryong. My father is Mr. Grant."
Mrs. Connellan was simply staggered at this colossal treasure-trove, this majestic piece of gossip that had fallen on her like rain from Heaven. Mr. Grant's daughter! Going out to Kuryong! What a piece of news! Hardly knowing what she did, she shuffled out of the room, and interrupted the singing waitress who was wiping plates, and had just got back to "It's a vilet" when Mrs. Connellan burst in on her.
"Maggie! Maggie! Do you know who that is? Grant's daughter! The one that used to be in England. She must be going to Kuryong to live, with all that luggage. What'll the Gordons say? The old lady won't like it, will she? This'll be a bit of news, won't it?" And she went off to tell the cook, while Maggie darted to the door to meet Dan, and tell him.
Dan told the station-master when he went back for the next load, and when he had finished carting the luggage he got on a horse and went round telling everybody in the little town. The station-master told the ganger of the four navvies who went by on their trolly down the line to work. At the end of their four-mile length they told the ration-carrier of Eubindal station, who happened to call in at their camp for a drink of tea. He hurried off to the head-station with the news, and on his way told three teamsters, an inspector of selections, and a black boy belonging to Mylong station, whom he happened to meet on the road. Each of them told everybody that they met, pulling up and standing in their stirrups to discuss the matter in all its bearings, in the leisurely style of the bush; and wondering what she had come out for, whether the Gordons would get the sack from Kuryong, whether she would marry Hugh Gordon, whether she was engaged already, whether she was good-looking, how much money she had, and how much old Grant would leave her. In fact, before twenty-four hours were over, all the district knew of her arrival; which possibly explains how news travels in Africa among the Kaffirs, who are supposed to have a signalling system that no one has yet fathomed; but the way it gets round in Australia is just as wonderful as among the Kaffirs, in fact, for speed and thoroughness of information we should be inclined to think that our coloured brethren run a bad second.
At last, however, Tracey had finished shoeing the coach-horse, and Miss Grant, with part of her luggage, took a seat on the coach behind five of Donohoe's worst horses, next to a well-dressed, powerfully-built man of about five-and-twenty. He looked and talked like a gentleman, and she heard the coachman address him as "Mr. Blake." She and he shared the box-seat with the driver, and just at the last moment the local priest hurried up and climbed on the coach. In some unaccountable way he had missed hearing who the young lady was, and for a time he could only look at her back-hair and wonder.
It was not long before, in the free and easy Australian style, the passengers began to talk to each other as the coach bumped along its monotonous road—up one hill, through an avenue of dusty, tired-looking gum-trees, down the other side through a similar avenue, up another hill precisely the same as the last, and so on.
Blake was the first to make advances. "Not much to be seen on this sort of journey, Miss Grant," he said.
The young lady looked at him with serious eyes. "No," she said, "we've only seen two houses since we left the town. All the rest of the country seems to be a wilderness."
Here the priest broke in. He was a broth of a boy from Maynooth, just the man to handle the Doyle and Donohoe congregation.
"It's the big stations is the roon of the country," he said. "How is the country to go ahead at all wid all the good land locked up? There's Kuryong on ahead here would support two hundthred fam'lies, and what does it employ now? Half a dozen shepherds, widout a rag to their back."
"I am going to Kuryong," said the girl; and the priest was silent.
By four in the afternoon they reached Kiley's River, running yellow and froth-covered with melting snow. The coachman pulled his horses up on the bank, and took a good, long look at the bearings. As they waited, the Kuryong vehicle came down on the other side of the river.
"There's Mr. Gordon," said the coachman. "I don't think he'll try it. I reckon it's a trifle deep for me. Do you want to get across particular, Mr. Blake?"
"Yes, very particularly, Pat. I've told Martin Donohoe to meet me down here with some witnesses in a cattle-stealing case."
"What about you, Father Kelly?"
"I'm go'n on to Tim Murphy's dyin' bed. Put 'em into the wather, they'll take it aisy."
The driver turned to the third passenger. "It's a bit dangerous-like, Miss. If you like to get out, it's up to you to say so. The coach might wash over. There's a settler's place up the river a mile. You can go and stay there till the river goes down, and Mr. Gordon 'll come and meet you."
"Thanks, I'll go on," said the lady.
Preparations for crossing the river were soon made. Anything that would spoil by getting wet, or that would float out of the coach, was lifted up and packed on the roof. The passengers stood up on the seats. Then Pat Donohoe put the whip on his leaders, and calling to his two wheelers, old-seasoned veterans, he put them at it.
Snorting and trembling, the leaders picked their way into the yellow water, the coach bumping over the rubble of the crossing-place. Hugh Gordon, watching from the far-side of the river, saw the coach dip and rock and plunge over the boulders. On it came till the water was actually lapping into the body of the coach, roaring and swirling round the horses' legs, up to their flanks and bellies, while the driver called out to them and kept them straight with voice and reins. Every spring he had a similar crossing, and he knew almost to an inch at what height it was safe to go into the river. But this time, as ill-luck would have it, the off-side leader was a young, vicious, thorough-bred colt, who had been handed over to him to be cured of a propensity for striking people with his fore-feet. As the horses worked their way into the river, the colt, with the courage of his breeding, pulled manfully, and breasted the current fearlessly. But suddenly a floating log drifted down, and struck him on the front legs. In an instant he reared up, and threw himself heavily sideways against his mate, bringing him to his knees; then the two of them, floundering and scrambling, were borne away with the current, dragging the coach after them. In a few yards they were off the causeway; the coach, striking deep water, settled like a boat, and turned over on its side, with the leaders swimming for their lives. As for the wheelers, they were pulled down with the vehicle, and were almost drowning in their harness.