HARRY HEATHCOTE OF GANGOIL
A Tale of Australian Bush-Life.
BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE,
"THE WARDEN", "BARCHESTER TOWERS," "ORLEY FARM," "THE SMALL HOUSE AT ARLINGTON", "THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS," &c., &c
Just a fortnight before Christmas, 1871, a young man, twenty-four years of age, returned home to his dinner about eight o'clock in the evening. He was married, and with him and his wife lived his wife's sister. At that somewhat late hour he walked in among the two young women, and another much older woman who was preparing the table for dinner. The wife and the wife's sister each had a child in her lap, the elder having seen some fifteen months of its existence, and the younger three months. "He has been out since seven, and I don't think he's had a mouthful," the wife had just said. "Oh, Harry, you must be half starved," she exclaimed, jumping up to greet him, and throwing her arm round his bare neck.
"I'm about whole melted," he said, as he kissed her. "In the name of charity give me a nobbler. I did get a bit of damper and a pannikin of tea up at the German's hut; but I never was so hot or so thirsty in my life. We're going to have it in earnest this time. Old Bates says that when the gum leaves crackle, as they do now, before Christmas, there won't be a blade of grass by the end of February."
"I hate Old Bates," said the wife. "He always prophesies evil, and complains about his rations."
"He knows more about sheep than any man this side of the Mary," said her husband. From all this I trust the reader will understand that the Christmas to which he is introduced is not the Christmas with which he is intimate on this side of the equator—a Christmas of blazing fires in-doors, and of sleet arid snow and frost outside—but the Christmas of Australia, in which happy land the Christmas fires are apt to be lighted—or to light themselves—when they are by no means needed.
The young man who had just returned home had on a flannel shirt, a pair of mole-skin trowsers, and an old straw hat, battered nearly out of all shape. He had no coat, no waistcoat, no braces, and nothing round his neck. Round his waist there was a strap or belt, from the front of which hung a small pouch, and, behind, a knife in a case. And stuck into a loop in the belt, made for the purpose, there was a small brier-wood pipe. As he dashed his hat off, wiped his brow, and threw himself into a rocking-chair, he certainly was rough to look at, but by all who understood Australian life he would have been taken to be a gentleman. He was a young squatter, well known west of the Mary River, in Queensland. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, who owned 30,000 sheep of his own, was a magistrate in those parts, and able to hold his own among his neighbors, whether rough or gentle; and some neighbors he had, very rough, who made it almost necessary that a man should be able to be rough also, on occasions, if he desired to live among them without injury. Heathcote of Gangoil could do all that. Men said of him that he was too imperious, too masterful, too much inclined to think that all things should be made to go as he would have them. Young as he was, he had been altogether his own master since he was of age—and not only his own master, but the master also of all with whom he was brought into contact from day to day. In his life he conversed but seldom with any but those who were dependent on him, nor had he done so for the last three years. At an age at which young men at home are still subject to pastors and masters, he had sprung at once into patriarchal power, and, being a man determined to thrive, had become laborious and thoughtful beyond his years.
Harry Heathcote had been left an orphan, with a small fortune in money, when he was fourteen. For two years after that he had consented to remain quietly at school, but at sixteen he declared his purpose of emigrating. Boys less than himself in stature got above him at school, and he had not liked it. For a twelvemonth he was opposed by his guardian; but at the end of the year he was fitted forth for the colony. The guardian was not sorry to be quit of him, but prophesied that he would be home again before a year was over. The lad had not returned, and it was now a settled conviction among all who knew him that he would make or mar his fortune in the new land that he had chosen.
He was a tall, well-made young fellow, with fair hair and a good- humored smile, but ever carrying in his countenance marks of what his enemies called pig-headedness, his acquaintances obstinacy, and those who loved him firmness. His acquaintances were, perhaps, right, for he certainly was obstinate. He would take no man's advice, he would submit himself to no man, and in the conduct of his own business preferred to trust to his own insight than to the experience of others. It would sometimes occur that he had to pay heavily for his obstinacy. But, on the other hand, the lessons which he learned he learned thoroughly. And he was kept right in his trade by his own indefatigable industry. That trade was the growth of wool. He was a breeder of sheep on a Queensland sheep-run, and his flocks ran far afield over a vast territory of which he was the only lord. His house was near the river Mary, and beyond the river his domain did not extend; but around him on his own side of the river he could ride for ten miles in each direction without getting off his own pastures. He was master, as far as his mastership went, of 120,000 acres—almost an English county—and it was the pride of his heart to put his foot off his own territory as seldom as possible. He sent his wool annually down to Brisbane, and received his stores, tea and sugar, flour and brandy, boots, clothes, tobacco, etc., once or twice a year from thence. But the traffic did not require his own presence at the city. So self-contained was the working of the establishment that he was never called away by his business, unless he went to see some lot of highly bred sheep which he might feel disposed to buy; and as for pleasure, it had come to be altogether beyond the purpose of his life to go in quest of that. When the work of the day was over, he would lie at his length upon rugs in the veranda, with a pipe in his mouth, while his wife sat over him reading a play of Shakspeare or the last novel that had come to them from England.
He had married a fair girl, the orphan daughter of a bankrupt squatter whom be had met in Sydney, and had brought her and her sister into the Queensland bush with him. His wife idolized him. His sister-in-law, Kate Daly, loved him dearly—as she had cause to do, for he had proved himself to be a very brother to her; but she feared him also somewhat. The people about the Mary said that she was fairer and sweeter to look at even than the elder sister. Mrs. Heathcote was the taller of the two, and the larger-featured. She certainly was the higher in intellect, and the fittest to be the mistress of such an establishment as that at Gangoil.
When he had washed his hands and face, and had swallowed the very copious but weak allowance of brandy-and-water which his wife mixed for him, he took the eldest boy on his lap and fondled him. "By George!" he said, "old fellow, you sha'n't be a squatter."
"Why not, Harry?" asked his wife.
"Because I don't want him to break his heart every day of his life."
"Are you always breaking yours? I thought your heart was pretty well hardened now."
"When a man talks of his heart, you and Kate are thinking of loves and doves, of course."
"I wasn't thinking of loves and doves, Harry," said Kate." I was thinking how very hot it must have been to-day. We could only bear it in the veranda by keeping the blinds always wet. I don't wonder that you were troubled."
"That comes from heaven or Providence, or from something that one knows to be unassailable, and therefore one can put up with it. Even if one gets a sun-stroke one does not complain. The sun has a right to be there, and is no interloper, like a free-selector. I can't understand why free-selectors and mosquitoes should have been introduced into the arrangements of the world."
"I s'pose the poor must live somewheres, and 'squiters too," said Mrs. Growler, the old maid-servant, as she put a boiled leg of mutton on the table. "Now, Mr. Harry, if you're hungered, there's something for you to eat in spite of the free-selectors."
"Mrs. Growler," said the master, "excuse me for saying that you jump to conclusions."
"My jumping is pretty well-nigh done," said the old woman.
"By no means. I find that old people can jump quite as briskly as young. You have rebuked me under the impression that I was grudging something to the poor. Let me explain to you that a free-selector may be, and very often is, a rich man. He whom I had in my mind is not a poor man. though I won't swear but what he will be before a year is over."
"I know who you mean, Mr. Harry; you mean the Medlicots. A very nice gentleman is Mr. Medlicot, and a very nice old lady is Mrs. Medlicot. And a deal of good they're going to do, by all accounts."
"Now, Mrs. Growler, that will do," said the wife.
The dinner consisted of a boiled leg of mutton, a large piece of roast beef, potatoes, onions, and an immense pot of tea. No glasses were even put upon the table. The two ladies had dressed for dinner, and were bright and pretty as they would have been in a country house at home; but Harry Heathcote had sat down just as he had entered the room.
"I know you are tired to death," said his wife, "when I see you eat your dinner like that."
"It isn't being tired, Mary; I'm not particularly tired. But I must be off again in about an hour."
"Out again to-night?"
"How else? Old Bates and Mickey are in their saddles still. I don't want to have my fences burned as soon as they're put up. It's a ticklish thing to think that a spark of fire any where about the place might ruin me, and to know at the same time that every man about the run and every swagsman that passes along have matches in their pocket. There isn't a pipe lighted on Gangoil this time of the year that mightn't make a beggar of you and me. That's another reason why I wouldn't have the young un a squatter."
"—I declare I think that squatters have more trouble than any people in the world," said Kate Daly.
"—Free-selectors have their own troubles too, Kate," said he.
It must be explained as we go on that Heathcote felt that he had received a great and peculiar grievance from the hands of one Medlicot, a stranger who had lately settled near him, and that this last remark referred to a somewhat favorable opinion which had been expressed about this stranger by the two ladies. It was a little unfair, as having been addressed specially to Kate, intending as it did to imply that Kate had better consider the matter well before she allowed her opinion of the stranger to become dangerously favorable; for in truth she had said no more than her sister.
"The Medlicots' troubles will never trouble me, Harry," she said.
"I hope not, Kate; nor mine either more than we can help."
"But they do," said Mary. "They trouble me, and her too, very much."
"A man's back should be broad enough to bear all that for himself," said Harry. "I get ashamed of myself when I grumble, and yet one seems to be surly if one doesn't say what one's thinking."
"I hope you'll always tell me what you're thinking, dear."
"Well, I suppose I shall—till this fellow is old enough to be talked to, and to be made to bear the burden of his father's care."
"By that time, Harry, you will have got rich, and we shall all be in England, sha'n't we?"
"I don't know about being rich, but we shall have been free-selected off Gangoil.—Now, Mrs. Growler, we've done dinner, and I'll have a pipe before I make another start. Is Jacko in the kitchen? Send him through to me on to the veranda."
Gangoil was decidedly in the bush—according to common Australian parlance, all sheep stations are in the bush, even though there should not be a tree or shrub within sight. They who live away from the towns live a "bush life." Small towns, as they grow up, are called bush towns, as we talk of country towns. The "bush," indeed, is the country generally. But the Heathcotes lived absolutely and actually in the bush. There are Australian pastures which consist of plains on which not a tree is to be seen for miles; but others are forests, so far extending that their limits are almost unknown. Gangoil was surrounded by forest, in some places so close as to be impervious to men and almost to animals in which the undergrowth was thick and tortuous and almost platted, through which no path could be made without an axe, but of which the greater portions were open, without any under-wood, between which the sheep could wander at their will, and men could ride, with a sparse surface of coarse grass, which after rain would be luxuriant, but in hot weather would be scorched down to the ground. At such times—and those times were by far the more common—a stranger would wonder where the sheep would find their feed. Immediately round the house, or station, as it was called, about one hundred acres had been cleared, or nearly cleared, with a few trees left here and there for ornament or shade. Further afield, but still round the home quarters, the trees had been destroyed, the run of the sap having been stopped by "ringing" the bark; but they still stood like troops of skeletons, and would stand, very ugly to look at, till they fell, in the course of nature, by reason of their own rottenness. There was a man always at work about the place—Boscobel he was called—whose sole business was to destroy the timber after this fashion, so that the air might get through to the grasses, and that the soil might be relieved from the burden of nurturing the forest trees.
For miles around the domain was divided into paddocks, as they were there called; but these were so large that a stranger might wander in one of them for a day and never discover that he was inclosed. There were five or six paddocks on the Gangoil run, each of which comprised over ten thousand acres, and as all the land was undulating, and as the timber was around you every where, one paddock was exactly like another. The scenery in itself was fine, for the trees were often large, and here and there rocky knolls would crop up, and there were broken crevices in the ground; but it was all alike. A stranger would wonder that any one straying from the house should find his way back to it. There were sundry bush houses here and there, and the so- called road to the coast from the wide pastoral districts further west passed across the run; but these roads and tracks would travel hither and thither, new tracks being opened from time to time by the heavy wool drays and store wagons, as in wet weather the ruts on the old tracks would become insurmountable.
The station itself was certainly very pretty. It consisted of a cluster of cottages, each of which possessed a ground-floor only. No such luxury as stairs was known at Gangoil. It stood about half a mile from the Mary River, on the edge of a creek which ran into it. The principal edifice, that in which the Heathcotes lived, contained only one sitting-room, and a bedroom on each side of it; but in truth there was another room, very spacious, in which the family really passed their time; and this was the veranda which ran along the front and two ends of the house. It was twelve feet broad, and, of course, of great length. Here was clustered the rocking-chairs, and sofas, and work-tables, and very often the cradle of the family. Here stood Mrs. Heathcote's sewing-machine, and here the master would sprawl at his length, while his wife, or his wife's sister, read to him. It was here, in fact, that they lived, having a parlor simply for their meals. Behind the main edifice there stood, each apart, various buildings, forming an irregular quadrangle. The kitchen came first, with a small adjacent chamber in which slept the Chinese man-cook, Sing Sing, as he had come to be called; then the cottage, consisting also of three rooms and a small veranda, in which lived Harry's superintendent, commonly known as Old Bates, a man who had been a squatter once himself, and having lost his all in bad times, now worked for a small salary. In the cottage two of the rooms were devoted to hospitality when, as was not unusual, guests, known or unknown, came that way; and here Harry himself would sleep, if the entertainment of other ladies crowded the best apartments. Then at the back of the quadrangle was the store, perhaps of all the buildings the most important. In here was kept a kind of shop, which was supposed, according to an obsolete rule, to be open for custom for half a day twice a week. The exigencies of the station did not allow of this regularity; but after some fashion the shop was maintained. Tea was to be bought there, and sugar, tobacco, and pickles, jam, nails, boots, hats, flannel shirrs, and mole-skin trowsers. Any body who came might buy, but the intention was to provide the station hands, who would otherwise have had to go or send thirty miles for the supply of their wants. Very little money was taken here, generally none. But the quantity of pickles, jam, and tobacco sold was great. The men would consume large quantities of these bush delicacies, and the cost would be deducted from their wages. The tea and sugar, and flour also, were given out weekly, as rations—so much a week—and meat was supplied to them after the same fashion. For it was the duty of this young autocratic patriarch to find provisions for all who were employed around him. For such luxuries as jam and tobacco the men paid themselves.
On the fourth side of the quadrangle was a rough coach-house, and rougher stables. The carriage part of the establishment consisted of two "buggies"—so called always in the bush—open carriages on four wheels, one of which was intended to hold two and the other four sitters. A Londoner looking at them would have declared them to be hopeless ruins; but Harry Heathcote still made wonderful journeys in them, taking care generally that the wheels were sound, and using ropes for the repair of dilapidations. The stables were almost unnecessary, as the horses, of which the supply at Gangoil was very large, roamed in the horse paddock, a comparatively small inclosure containing not above three or four hundred acres, and were driven up as they were wanted. One horse was always kept close at home with which to catch the others; but this horse, for handiness, was generally hitched to a post outside the kitchen door. Harry was proud of his horses, and was sometimes heard to say that few men in England had a lot of thirty at hand as he had, out of which so many would be able to carry a man eighty miles in eight hours at a moment's notice. But his stable arrangements would not have commanded respect in the "Shires." The animals were never groomed, never fed, and many of them never shod. They lived upon grass, and, Harry always said, "cut their own bread-and-butter for themselves."
Gangoil was certainly very pretty. The veranda was covered in with striped blinds, so that when the sun shone hot, or when the rains fell heavily, or when the mosquitoes were more than usually troublesome, there might be something of the protection of an inclosed room. Up all the posts there were flowering creepers, which covered the front with greenery even when the flowers were wanting. From the front of the house down to the creek there was a pleasant failing garden—heart-breaking, indeed, in regard to vegetables, for the opossums always came first, and they who followed the opossums got but little. But the garden gave a pleasant home-like look to the place, and was very dear to Harry, who was, perhaps, indifferent in regard to pease and tomatoes. Harry Heathcote was very proud of the place, for he had made it all himself, having pulled down a wretched barrack that he had found there. But he was far prouder of his wool- shed, which he had also built, and which he regarded as first and foremost among wool-sheds in those parts. By-and-by we shall be called on to visit the wool-shed. Though Heathcote had done all this for Gangoil, it must be understood that the vast extent of territory over which his sheep ran was by no means his own property. He was simply the tenant of the Crown, paying a rent computed at so much a sheep. He had, indeed, purchased the ground on which his house stood, but this he had done simply to guard himself against other purchasers. These other purchasers were the bane of his existence, the one great sorrow which, as he said, broke his heart.
While he was speaking, a rough-looking lad, about sixteen years of age, came through the parlor to the veranda, dressed very much like his master, but unwashed, uncombed, and with that wild look which falls upon those who wander about the Australian plains, living a nomad life. This was Jacko—so called, and no one knew him by any other name—a lad whom Heathcote had picked up about six months since, and who had become a favorite. "The old woman says as you was wanting me?" suggested Jacko. "Going to be fine to-night, Jacko?"
Jacko went to the edge of the veranda and looked up to the sky. "My word! little squall a-coming," he said.
"I wish it would come from ten thousand buckets," said the master.
"No buckets at all," said Jacko. "Want the horses, master?"
"Of course. I want the horses, and I want you to come with me. There are two horses saddled there; I'll ride Hamlet."
A NIGHT'S RIDE.
Harry jumped from the ground, kissed his wife, called her "old girl," and told her to be happy, and got on his horse at the garden gate. Both the ladies came off the veranda to see him start. "It's as dark as pitch," said Kate Daly.
"That's because you have just come out of the light."
"But it is dark—quite dark. You won't be late, will you?" said the wife.
"I can't be very early, as it's near ten now. I shall be back about twelve." So saying, he broke at once into a gallop, and vanished into the night, his young groom scampering after him.
"Why should he go out now?" Kate said to her sister.
"He is afraid of fire."
"But he can't prevent the fires by riding about in the dark. I suppose the fires come from the heat."
"He thinks they come from enemies, and he has heard something. One wretched man may do so much when every thing is dried to tinder. I do so wish it would rain."
The night, in truth, was very dark. It was now midsummer, at which time with us the days are so long that the coming of the one almost catches the departure of its predecessor. But Gangoil was not far outside the tropics, and there were no long summer nights. The heat was intense; but there was a low soughing wind which seemed to moan among the trees without moving them. As they crossed the little home inclosure and the horse paddock, the track was just visible, the trees being dead and the spaces open. About half a mile from the house, while they were still in the horse paddock, Harry turned from the track, and Jacko, of course, turned with him. "You can sit your horse jumping, Jacko?" he asked.
"My word! jump like glory," answered Jacko. He was soon tried. Harry rode at the bush fence—which was not, indeed, much of a fence, made of logs lengthways and crossways, about three feet and a half high— and went over it. Jacko followed him, rushing his horse at the leap, losing his seat and almost falling over the animal's shoulders as he came to the ground. "My word!" said Jacko, just saving himself by a scramble; "who ever saw the like of that?"
"Why don't you sit in your saddle, you stupid young duffer?"
"Sit in my saddle! Why don't he jump proper? Well, you go on. I don't know that I'm a duffer. Duffer, indeed! My word!" Heathcote had turned to the left, leaving the track, which was, indeed, the main road toward the nearest town and the coast, and was now pushing on through the forest with no pathway at all to guide him. To ordinary eyes the attempt to steer any course would have been hopeless. But an Australian squatter, if he have any well-grounded claim to the character of a bushman, has eyes which are not ordinary, and he has, probably, nurtured within himself, unconsciously, topographical instincts which are unintelligible to the inhabitants of cities. Harry, too, was near his own home, and went forward through the thick gloom without a doubt, Jacko following him faithfully. In about half an hour they came to another fence, but now it was too absolutely dark for jumping. Harry had not seen it till he was close to it, and then he pulled up his horse. "My word! why don't you jump away, Mr. Harry? Who's a duffer now?"
"Hold your tongue, or I'll put my whip across your back. Get down and help me pull a log away. The horses couldn't see where to put their feet." Jacko did as he was bid, and worked hard, but still grumbled at having been called a duffer. The animals were quickly led over, the logs were replaced, and the two were again galloping through the forest.
"I thought you were making for the wool-shed," said Jacko.
"We're eight miles beyond the wool-shed," said Harry. They had now crossed another paddock, and had come to the extreme fence on the run. The Gangoil pastures extended much further, but in that direction had not as yet been inclosed. Here they both got off their horses and walked along the fence till they came to an opening, with a slip panel, or movable bars, which had been Heathcote's intended destination. "Hold the horses, Jacko, till I come back," he said.
Jacko, when alone, nothing daunted by the darkness or solitude, seated himself on the top rail, took out a pipe, and struck a match. When the tobacco was ignited he dropped the match on the dry grass at his feet, and a little flame instantly sprang up. The boy waited a few seconds till the flames began to run, and then putting his feet together on the ground stamped out the incipient fire. "My word!" said Jacko to himself, "it's easy done, anyway."
Harry went on to the left for about half a mile, and then stood leaning against the fence. It was very dark, but he was now looking over into an inclosure which had been altogether cleared of trees, and which, as he knew well, had been cultivated and was covered with sugar-canes. Where he stood he was not distant above a quarter of a mile from the river, and the field before him ran down to the banks. This was the selected land of Giles Medlicot—two years since a portion of his own run, which had now been purchased from the government—for the loss of which he had received and was entitled to receive no compensation. And the matter was made worse for him by the fact that the interloper had come between him and the river. But he was not standing here near midnight merely to exercise his wrath by straining his eyes through the darkness at his neighbor's crops. He put his finger into his mouth to wet it, and then held it up that he might discover which way the light breath of wind was coming. There was still the low moan to be heard continually through the forest, and yet not a leaf seemed to be moved. After a while he thought he caught a sound, and put his ear down to the ground. He distinctly heard a footstep, and rising up, walked quickly toward the spot whence the noise came.
"Who's that?" he said, as he saw the figure of a man standing on his side of the fence, and leaning against it, with a pipe in his month.
"Who are you?" replied the man on the fence. "My name is Medlicot."
"Oh, Mr. Medlicot, is it?"
"Is that Mr. Heathcote? Good-night, Mr. Heathcote. You are going about at a late hour of the night."
"I have to go about early and late; but I ain't later than you."
"I'm close at home," said Medlicot.
"I am, at any rate, on my own run," said Harry.
"You mean to say that I am trespassing?" said the other; "because I can very soon jump back over the fence."
"I didn't mean that at all, Mr. Medlicot; any body is welcome on my run, night or day, who knows how to behave himself."
"I hope I'm included in that list."
"Just so; of course. Considering the state that every thing is in, and all the damage that a fire would do, I rather wish that people would be a little more careful about smoking."
"My canes, Mr. Heathcote, would burn quite as quickly as your grass."
"It is not only the grass. I've a hundred miles of fencing on the run which is as dry as tinder, not to talk of the station and the wool- shed."
"They sha'n't suffer from my neglect, Mr. Heathcote."
"You have men about who mayn't be so careful. The wind, such as it is, is coming right across from your place. If there were light enough, I could show you three or four patches where there has been fire within half a mile of this spot. There was a log burning there for two or three days, not long ago, which was lighted by one of our men."
"That was a fortnight since. There was no heat then, and the men were boiling their kettle. I spoke about it."
"A log like that, Mr. Medlicot, will burn for weeks sometimes. I'll tell you fairly what I'm afraid of. There's a man with you whom I turned out of the shed last shearing, and I think he might put a match down—not by accident."
"You mean Nokes. As far as I know, he's a decent man. You wouldn't have me not employ a man just because you had dismissed him?"
"Certainly not; that is, I shouldn't think of dictating to you about such a thing."
"Well, no, Mr. Heathcote, I suppose not. Nokes has got to earn his bread, though you did dismiss him. I don't know that he's not as honest a man as you or I."
"If so, there's three of us very bad; that's all, Mr. Medlicot. Good- night; and if you'll trouble yourself to look after the ash of your tobacco it might be the saving of me and all I have." So saying, he turned round, and made his way back to the horses.
Medlicot had placed himself on the fence during the interview, and he still kept his seat. Of course he was now thinking of the man who had just left him, whom he declared to himself to be an ignorant, prejudiced, ill-constituted cur. "I believe in his heart he thinks that I'm going to set fire to his run," he said, almost aloud. "And because he grows wool he thinks himself above every body in the colony. He occupies thousands of acres, and employs three or four men. I till about two hundred, and maintain thirty families. But he is such a pig that he can't understand all that; and he thinks that I must be something low because I've bought with my own money a bit of land which never belonged to him, and which he couldn't use." Such was the nature of Giles Medlicot's soliloquy as he sat swinging his legs, and still smoking his pipe, on the fence which divided his sugar-cane from the other young man's run.
And Harry Heathcote uttered his soliloquy also. "I wouldn't swear that he wouldn't do it himself, after all;" meaning that he almost suspected that Medlicot himself would be an incendiary. To him, in his way of thinking, a man who would take advantage of the law to buy a bit of another man's land—or become a free-selector, as the term goes—was a public enemy, and might be presumed capable of any iniquity. It was all very well for the girls—meaning his wife and sister-in-law—to tell him that Medlicot had the manners of a gentleman and had come of decent people. Women were always soft enough to be taken by soft hands, a good-looking face, and a decent coat. This Medlicot went about dressed like a man in the towns, exhibiting, as Harry thought, a contemptible, unmanly finery. Of what use was it to tell him that Medlicot was a gentleman? What Harry knew was that since Medlicot had come he had lost his sheep, that the heads of three or four had been found buried on Medlicot's side of his run, and that if he dismissed "a hand," Medlicot employed him—a proceeding which, in Harry Heathcote's aristocratic and patriarchal views of life, was altogether ungentleman-like. How were the "hands" to be kept in their place if one employer of labor did not back up another?
He had been warned to be on his guard against fire. The warnings had hardly been implicit, but yet had come in a shape which made him unable to ignore them. Old Bates, whom he trusted implicitly, and who was a man of very few words, had told him to be on his guard. The German, at whose hut he had been in the morning, Karl Bender by name, and a servant of his own, had told him that there would be fire about before long.
"Why should any one want to ruin me?" Harry had asked. "Did I ever wrong a man of a shilling?"
The German had learned to know his young master, had made his way through the crust of his master's character, and was prepared to be faithful at all points—though he too could have quarreled and have avenged himself had it not chanced that he had come to the point of loving instead of hating his employer.
"You like too much to be governor over all," said the German, as he stooped over the fire in his own hut in his anxiety to boil the water for Heathcote's tea.
"Somebody must be governor, or every thing would go to the devil," said Harry.
"Dat's true—only fellows don't like be made feel it," said the German, "Nokes, he was made feel it when you put him over de gate."
But neither would Bates nor the German express absolute suspicion of any man. That Medlicot's "hands" at the sugar-mill were stealing his sheep Harry thought that he knew; but that was comparatively a small affair, and he would not have pressed it, as he was without absolute evidence. And even he had a feeling that it would be unwise to increase the anger felt against himself—at any rate, during the present heats.
Jacko had his pipe still alight when Heathcote returned. "You young monkey," said he, "have you been using matches?"
"Why not, Mr. Harry? Don't the grass burn ready, Mr. Harry? My word!" Then Jacko stooped down, lit another match, and showed Heathcote the burned patch.
"Was it so when we came?" Harry asked, with emotion. Jacko, still kneeling on the ground, and holding the lighted match in his hand, shook his head and tapped his breast, indicating that he had burned the grass. "You dropped the match by accident?"
"My word! no. Did it o' purpose to see. It's all just one as gunpowder, Mr. Harry."
Harry got on his horse without a word, and rode away through the forest, taking a direction different from that by which he had come, and the boy followed him. He was by no means certain that this young fellow might not turn against him; but it had been a part of his theory to make no difference to any man because of such fears. If he could make the men around him respect him, then they would treat him well; but they could never be brought to respect him by flattery. He was very nearly right in his views of men, and would have been right altogether could he have seen accurately what justice demanded for others as well as for himself. As far as the intention went, he was minded to be just to every man.
It seemed, as they were riding, that the heat grew fiercer and fiercer. Though there was still the same moaning sound, there was not a breath of air. They had now got upon a track very well known to Heathcote, which led up from the river to the wool-shed, and so on to the station, and they had turned homeward. When they were near the wool-shed, suddenly there fell a heavy drop or two of rain. Harry stopped and turned his face upward, when, in a moment, the whole heavens above them and the forest around were illumined by a flash of lightning so near them that it made each of them start in his saddle, and made the horses shudder in every limb. Then came the roll of thunder immediately over their heads, and with the thunder rain so thick and fast that Harry's "ten thousand buckets" seemed to be emptied directly over their heads.
"God A'mighty has put out the fires now," said Jacko.
Harry paused for a moment, feeling the rain through to his bones—for he had nothing on over his shirt—and rejoicing in it. "Yes," he said; "we may go to bed for a week, and let the grass grow, and the creeks fill, and the earth cool. Half an hour like this over the whole run, and there won't be a dry stick on it."
As they went on, the horses splashed through the water. It seemed as though a deluge were falling, and that already the ground beneath their feet were becoming a lake.
"We might have too much of this, Jacko."
"My word! yes."
"I don't want to have the Mary flooded again."
"My word! no."
But by the time they reached the wool-shed it was over. From the first drop to the last, there had hardly been a space of twenty minutes. But there was a noise of waters as the little streams washed hither and thither to their destined courses and still the horses splashed, and still there was the feeling of an incipient deluge. When they reached the wool-shed, Harry again got off his horse, and Jacko, dismounting also, hitched the two animals to the post and followed his master into the building. Harry struck a wax match, and holding it up, strove to look round the building by the feeble light which it shed. It was a remarkable edifice, built in the shape of a great T, open at the sides, with a sharp-pitched timber roof covered with felt, which came down within four feet of the ground. It was calculated to hold about four hundred sheep at a time, and was divided into pens of various sizes, partitioned off for various purposes. If Harry Heathcote was sure of any thing, he was sure that his wool-shed was the best that had ever been built in this district.
"By Jimini! what's that?" said Jacko.
"Did you hear any thing?"
Jacko pointed with his finger down the centre walk of the shed, and Harry, striking another match as he went, rushed forward. But the match was out as soon as ignited, and gave no glimmer of light. Nevertheless he saw, or thought that he saw, the figure of a man escaping out of the open end of the shed. The place itself was black as midnight, but the space beyond was clear of trees, and the darkness outside being a few shades lighter than within the building, allowed something of the outline of a figure to be visible. And as the man escaped, the sounds of his footsteps were audible enough. Harry called to him, but of course received no answer. Had he pursued him, he would have been obliged to cross sundry rails, which would have so delayed him as to give him no chance of success.
"I knew there was a fellow about," he said; "one of our own men would not have run like that."
Jacko shook his head, but did not speak.
"He has got in here for shelter out of the rain, but he was doing no good about the place."
Jacko again shook his head.
"I wonder who he was?"
Jacko came up and whispered in his ear, "Bill Nokes."
"You couldn't see him."
"Seed the drag of his leg." Now it was well known that the man Nokes had injured some of his muscles, and habitually dragged one foot after another.
"I don't think you could have been sure of him by such a glimpse as that."
"Maybe not," said the boy, "only I'm sure as sure."
Harry Heathcote said not another word, but getting again upon his horse, galloped home. It was past one when he reached the station, but the two girls were waiting up for him, and at once began to condole with him because he was wet. "Wet!" said Harry; "if you could only know how much I prefer things being wet to dry just at present! But give Jacko some supper. I must keep that young fellow in good humor if I can."
So Jacko had half a loaf of bread, and a small pot of jam, and a large jug of cold tea provided for him, in the enjoyment of which luxuries he did not seem to be in the least impeded by the fact that he was wet through to the skin. Harry Heathcote had another nobbler— being only the second in the day—and then went to bed.
As Harry said, they might all now lie in bed for a day or two. The rain had set aside for the time the necessity for that urgent watchfulness which kept all hands on the station hard at work during the great heat. There was not, generally, much rest during the year at Gangoil. Lambing in April and May, washing and shearing in September, October, and November, with the fear of fires and the necessary precautions in December and January, did not leave more than sufficient intervals for looking after the water-dams, making and mending fences, procuring stores, and attending to the ailments of the flocks. No man worked harder than the young squatter. But now there had suddenly come a day or two of rest—rest from work which was not of itself productive, but only remedial, and which, therefore, was not begrudged.
But it soon was apparent that the rest could be only for a day or two. The rain had fallen as from ten thousand buckets, but it had fallen only for a space of minutes. On the following morning the thirsty earth had apparently swallowed all the flood. The water in the creek beneath the house stood two feet higher than it had done, and Harry, when he visited the dams round the run, found that they were fall to overflowing, and the grasses were already springing, so quick is the all but tropical growth of the country. They might be safe, perhaps, for eight-and-forty hours. Fire would run only when the ground was absolutely dry, and when every twig or leaf was a combustible. But during those eight-and-forty hours there might be comparative ease at Gangoil.
On the day following the night of the ride Mrs. Heathcote suggested to her husband that she and Kate should ride over to Medlicot's Mill, as the place was already named, and call on Mrs. Medlicot. "It isn't Christian," she said, "for people living out in the bush as we are to quarrel with their neighbors just because they are neighbors."
"Neighbors!" said Harry; "I don't know any word that there's so much humbug about. The Samaritan was the best neighbor I ever heard of, and he lived a long way off, I take it. Anyway, he wasn't a free- selector."
"Harry, that's profane."
"Every thing I say is wicked. You can go, of course, if you like it. I don't want to quarrel with any body."
"Quarreling is so uncomfortable," said his wife.
"That's a matter of taste. There are people whom I find it very comfortable to quarrel with. I shouldn't at all like not to quarrel with the Brownbies, and I'm not at all sure it mayn't come to be the same with Mr. Giles Medlicot."
"The Brownbies live by sheep-stealing and horse-stealing."
"And Medlicot means to live by employing sheep-stealers and horse- stealers. You can go if you like it. You won't want me to go with you. Will you have the baggy?"
But the ladies said that they would ride. The air was cooler now than it had been, and they would like the exercise. They would take Jacko with them to open the slip-rails, and they would be back by seven for dinner. So they started, taking the track by the wool-shed. The wool- shed was about two miles from the station, and Medlicot's Mill was seven miles farther, on the bank of the river.
Mr. Giles Medlicot, though at Gangoil he was still spoken of as a new-comer, had already been located for nearly two years on the land which he had purchased immediately on his coming to the colony. He had come out direct from England with the intention of growing sugar, and, whether successful or not in making money, had certainly succeeded in growing crops of sugar-canes and in erecting a mill for crushing them. It probably takes more than two years for a man himself to discover whether he can achieve ultimate success in such an enterprise; and Medlicot was certainly not a man likely to talk much to others of his private concerns. The mill had just been built, and he had lived there himself as soon as a water-tight room had been constructed. It was only within the last three months that he had completed a small cottage residence, and had brought his mother to live with him. Hitherto he had hardly made himself popular. He was not either fish or fowl. The squatters regarded him as an interloper, and as a man holding opinions directly averse to their own interests- -in which they were right. And the small free-selectors, who lived on the labor of their own hands—or, as was said of many of them, by stealing sheep and cattle—knew well that he was not of their class. But Medlicot had gone his way steadfastly, if not happily, and complained aloud to no one in the midst of his difficulties. He had not, perhaps, found the Paradise which he had expected in Queensland, but he had found that he could grow sugar; and having begun the work, he was determined to go on with it.
Heathcote was his nearest neighbor, and the only man in his own rank of life who lived within twenty miles of him. When he had started his enterprise he had hoped to make this man his friend, not comprehending at first how great a cause for hostility was created by the very purchase of the land. He had been a new-comer from the old country, and, being alone, had desired friendship. He was Harry Heathcote's equal in education, intelligence, and fortune, if not in birth—which surely, in the Australian bush, need not count for much. He had assumed, when first meeting the squatter, that good-fellowship between them, on equal terms, would be acceptable to both; but his overtures had been coldly received. Then he, too, had drawn himself up, had declared that Heathcote was an ignorant ass, and had unconsciously made up his mind to commence hostilities. It was in this spirit that he had taken Nokes into his mill, of whose character, had he inquired about it, he would certainly have heard no good. He had now brought his mother to Medlicot's Mill. She and the Gangoil ladies had met each other on neutral ground, and it was almost necessary that they should either be friends or absolute enemies. Mrs. Heathcote had been aware of this, and bad declared that enmity was horrible.
"Upon my word," said Harry, "I sometimes think that friendship is more so. I suppose I'm fitted for bush life, for I want to see no one from year's end to year's end but my own family and my own people." And yet this young patriarch in the wilderness was only twenty-four years old, and had been educated at an English school!
Medlicot's cottage was about a hundred and fifty yards from the mill, looking down upon the Mary, the banks of which at this spot were almost precipitous. The site for the plantation had been chosen because the river afforded the means of carriage down to the sea, and the mill had been so constructed that the sugar hogsheads could be lowered from the buildings into the river boats. Here Mrs. Heathcote and Kate Daly found the old lady sitting at work, all alone, in the veranda. She was a handsome old woman, with gray hair, seventy years of age, with wrinkled face, and a toothless mouth, but with bright eyes, and with no signs of the infirmity of age.
"This is gey kind of you to run so far to see an auld woman," she said.
Mrs. Heathcote declared that they were used to the heat, and that after the rain the air was pleasant.
"You're two bright lassies, and you're hearty," she said. "I'm auld, and just out of Cumberland, and I find it's hot enough—and I'm no guid at horseback at all. I dinna know how I'm to get aboot."
Then Mrs. Heathcote explained that there was an excellent track for a buggy all the way to Gangoil.
"Giles is aye telling me that I'm to gang aboot in a bouggey, but I dinna feel sure of thae bouggeys."
Mrs. Heathcote, of course, praised the country carriages, and the country roads, and the country generally. Tea was brought in, and the old lady was delighted with her guests. Since she had been at the mill, week had followed week, and she had seen no woman's face but that of the uncouth girl who waited upon her. "Did ye ever see rain like that!" she said, putting up her hands. "I thought the Lord was sending his clouds down upon us in a lump like." Then she told them that some of the men had declared that if it went on like that for two hours the Mary would rise and take the cottage away. Giles, however, had declared that to be trash, as the cottage was twenty feet above the ordinary course of the river.
They were just rising to take their leave, when Giles Medlicot himself came in out of the mill. He was a man of good presence, dark, and tall like Heathcote, but stoutly made, with a strongly marked face, given to frowning much when he was eager; bright-eyed, with a broad forehead—certainly a man to be observed as far as his appearance was concerned. He was dressed much as a gentleman dresses in the country at home, and was therefore accounted to be a fop by Harry Heathcote, who was rarely seen abroad in other garb than that which has been described. Harry was an aristocrat, and hated such innovations in the bush as cloth coats and tweed trowsers and neck- hand-kerchiefs.
Medlicot had been full of wrath against his neighbor all the morning. There had been a tone in Heathcote's voice when he gave his parting warning as to the fire in Medlicot's pipe which the sugar grower had felt to be intentionally insolent. Nothing had been said which could be openly resented, but offense had surely been intended; and then he had remembered that his mother had been already some months at the mill, and that no mark of neighborly courtesy had been shown to her. The Heathcotes had, he thought, chosen to assume themselves to be superior to him and his, and to treat him as though he had been some laboring man who had saved money enough to purchase a bit of land for himself. He was, therefore, astonished to find the two young ladies sitting with his mother on the very day after such an interview as that of the preceding night.
"The leddies from Gangoil, Giles, have been guid enough to ride over and see me," said his mother.
Medlicot, of course, shook hands with them, and expressed his sense of their kindness, but he did it awkwardly. He soon, however, declared his purpose of riding part of the way back with them.
"Mr. Heathcote must have been very wet last night," he said, when they were on horse-back, addressing himself to Kate Daly rather than to her sister.
"Indeed he was—wet to the skin. Were you not?"
"I saw him at about eleven, before the rain began. I was close home, and just escaped. He must have been under it all. Does he often go about the run in that way at night?"
"Only when he's afraid of fires," said Kate.
"Is there much to be afraid of? I don't suppose that any body can be so wicked as to wish to burn the grass." Then the ladies took upon themselves to explain. "The fires might be caused from negligence or trifling accidents, or might possibly come from the unaided heat of the sun; or there might be enemies."
"My word! yes; enemies, rather!" said Jacko, who was riding close behind, and who had no idea of being kept out of the conversation merely because he was a servant. Medlicot, turning round, looked at the lad, and asked who were the enemies.
"Free-selectors," said Jacko.
"I'm a free-selector," said Medlicot.
"Did not jist mean you," said Jacko.
"Jacko, you'd better hold your tongue," said Mrs. Heathcote.
"Hold my tongue! My word! Well, you go on."
Medlicot came as far as the wool-shed, and then said that he would return. He had thoroughly enjoyed his ride. Kate Daly was bright and pretty and winning; and in the bush, when a man has not seen a lady perhaps for months, brightness and prettiness and winning ways have a double charm. To ride with fair women over turf, through a forest, with a woman who may perhaps some day be wooed, can be a matter of indifference only to a very lethargic man. Giles Medlicot was by no means lethargic. He owned to himself that though Heathcote was a pig- headed ass, the ladies were very nice, and he thought that the pig- headed ass in choosing one of them for himself had by no means taken the nicest.
"You'll never find your way back," said Kate, "if you've not been here before."
"I never was here before, and I suppose I must find my way back." Then he was urged to come on and dine at Gangoil, with a promise that Jacko should return with him in the evening. But this he would not do. Heathcote was a pig-headed ass, who possibly regarded him as an incendiary simply because he had bought some land. This boy of Heathcote's, whose services had been offered to him, had not scrupled to tell him to his face that he was to be regarded as an enemy. Much as he liked the company of Kate Daly, he could not go to the house of that stupid, arrogant, pig-headed young squatter. "I'm not such a bad bushman but what I can find my way to the river," he said.
"Find it blindful," said Jacko, who did not relish the idea of going back to Medlicot's Mill as guide to another man. There was a weakness in the idea that such aid could be necessary, which was revolting to Jacko's sense of bush independence.
They were standing on their horses at the entrance to the wool-shed as they discussed the point, when suddenly Harry himself appeared out of the building. He came up and shook hands with Medlicot, with sufficient courtesy, but hardly with cordiality, and then asked his wife as to her ride. "We have been very jolly, haven't we, Kate? Of course it has been hot, but every thing is not so frightfully parched as it was before the rain. As Mr. Medlicot has come back so far with us, we want him to come on and dine."
"Pray do, Mr. Medlicot," said Harry. But again the tone of his voice was not sufficiently hearty to satisfy the man who was invited.
"Thanks, no: I think I'll hardly do that.—Good-night, Mrs. Heathcote; good-night. Miss Daly;" and the two ladies immediately perceived that his voice, which had hitherto been pleasant in their ears, had ceased to be cordial.
"I am very glad he has gone back," said Heathcote.
"Why do you say so, Harry? You are not given to be inhospitable, and why should you grudge me and Kate the rare pleasure of seeing a strange face?"
"I'll tell you why. It's not about him at this moment; but I've been disturbed.—Jacko, go on to the station, and say we're coming. Do you hear me? Go on at once." Then Jacko, somewhat unwillingly, galloped off toward the house. "Get off your horses, and come in."
He helped the two ladies from their saddles, and they all went into the wool-shed, Harry leading the way. In one of the side pens, immediately under the roof, there was a large heap of leaves, the outside portion of which was at present damp, for the rain had beaten in upon it, but which had been as dry as tinder when collected; and there was a row or ridge of mixed brush-wood and leaves so constructed as to form a line from the grass outside on to the heap. "The fellow who did that was an ass," said Harry; "a greater ass than I should have taken him to be, not to have known that if he could have gotten the grass to burn outside, the wool-shed must have gone without all that preparation. But there isn't much difficulty now in seeing what the fellow has intended."
"Was it for a fire?" asked Kate.
"Of course it was. He wouldn't have been contented with the grass and fences, but wanted to make sure of the shed also. He'd have come to the house and burned us in our beds, only a fellow like that is too much of a coward to run the risk of being seen."
"But, Harry, why didn't he light it when he'd done it?" said Mrs. Heathcote.
"Because the Almighty sent the rain at the very moment," said Harry, striking the top rail of one of the pens with his fist. "I'm not much given to talk about Providence, but this looks like it, does it not?"
"He might have put a match in at the moment?"
"Rain or no rain? Yes, he might. But he was interrupted by more than the rain. I got into the shed myself just at the moment—I and Jacko. It was last night, when the rain was pouring. I heard the man, and dark as was the night, I saw his figure as he fled away."
"You didn't know him?" said Miss Daly.
"But that boy, who has the eyes of a cat, he knew him."
"Jacko knew him by his gait. I should have hardly wanted any one to tell me who it was. I could have named the man at once, but for the fear of doing an injustice."
"And who was it?"
"Our friend Medlicot's prime favorite and new factotum, Mr. William Nokes. Mr. William Stokes is the gentleman who intends to burn us all out of house and home, and Mr. Medlicot is the gentleman whose pleasure it is to keep Mr. Nokes in the neighborhood."
The two women stood awe-struck for a moment, but a sense of justice prevailed upon the wife to speak. "That may be all true," she said. "Perhaps it is as you say about that man. But you would not therefore think that Mr. Medlicot knows any thing about it?"
"It would be impossible," said Kate.
"I have not accused him," said Harry; "but he knows that the man was dismissed, and yet keeps him about the place. Of course he is responsible."
HARRY HEATHCOTE'S APPEAL.
For the first mile between the wool-shed and the house Heathcote and the two ladies rode without saying a word. There was something so terrible in the reality of the danger which encompassed them that they hardly felt inclined to discuss it. Harry's dislike to Medlicot was quite a thing apart. That some one had intended to burn down the wool-shed, and had made preparation for doing so, was as apparent to the women as to him. And the man who had been balked by a shower of rain in his first attempt might soon find an opportunity for a second. Harry was well aware that even Jacko's assertion could not be taken as evidence against the man whom he suspected. In all probability no further attempt would be made upon the wool-shed; but a fire on some distant part of the run would be much more injurious to him than the mere burning of a building. The fire that might ruin him would be one which should get ahead before it was seen, and scour across the ground, consuming the grass down to the very roots over thousands of acres, and destroying fencing over many miles. Such fires pass on, leaving the standing trees unscathed, avoiding even the scrub, which is too moist with the sap of life for consumption, but licking up with fearful rapidity every thing that the sun has dried. He could watch the wool-shed and house, but with no possible care could he so watch the whole run as to justify him in feeling security. There need be no preparation of leaves. A match thrown loosely on the ground would do it. And in regard to a match so thrown, it would be impossible to prove a guilty intention.
"Ought we not to have dispersed the heap?" said Mrs. Heathcote at last. The minds of all of them were full of the matter, but these were the first words spoken.
"I'll leave it as it is," said Harry, giving no reason for his decision. He was too full of thought, too heavily laden with anxiety, to speak much. "Come, let's get on; you'll want your dinner, and it's getting dark." So they cantered on, and got off their horses at the gate, without another word. And not another word was spoken on the subject that night. Harry was very silent, walking up and down the veranda with his pipe in his mouth—not lying on the ground in idle enjoyment—and there was no reading. The two sisters looked at him from time to time with wistful, anxious-eyes, half afraid to disturb him by speech.
As for him, he felt that the weight was all on his own shoulders. He had worked hard, and was on the way to be rich. I do not know that he thought much about money, but he thought very much of success. And he was by nature anxious, sanguine, and impulsive. There might be before him, within the next week, such desolation as would break his heart. He knew men who had been ruined, and had borne their ruin almost without a wail—who had seemed contented to descend to security and mere absence from want. There was his own superintendent, Old Bates, who, though he grumbled at every thing else, never bewailed his own fate. But he knew of himself that any such blow would nearly kill him—such a blow, that is, as might drive him from Gangoil, and force him to be the servant instead of the master of men. Not to be master of all around him seemed to him to be misery. The merchants at Brisbane who took his wool and supplied him with stores had advanced money when he first bought his run, and he still owed them some thousands of pounds. The injury which a great fire would do him would bring him to such a condition that the merchants would demand to have their money repaid. He understood it all, and knew well that it was after this fashion that many a squatter before him had been ruined.
"Speak a word to me about it," his wife said to him, imploringly, when they were alone together that night.
"My darling, if there were a word to say, I would say it. I must be on the watch, and do the best I can. At present the earth is too damp for mischief."
"Oh that it would rain again!"
"There will be heat enough before the summer is over; we need not doubt that. But I will tell you of every thing as we go on. I will endeavor to have the man watched. God bless you! Go to sleep, and try to get it out of your thoughts."
On the following morning he breakfasted early, and mounted his horse without saying a word as to the purport of his journey. This was in accordance with the habit of his life, and would not excite observation; but there was something in his manner which made both the ladies feel that he was intent on some special object. When he intended simply to ride round his fences or to visit the hut of some distant servant, a few minutes signified nothing. He would stand under the veranda and talk, and the women would endeavor to keep him from the saddle. But now there was no loitering, and but little talking. He said a word to Jacko, who brought the horse for him, and then started at a gallop toward the wool-shed.
He did not stop a moment at the shed, not even entering it to see whether the heap of leaves had been displaced during the night, but went on straight to Medlicot's Mill. He rode the nine miles in an hour, and at once entered the building in which the canes were crushed. The first man he met was Nokes, who acted as overseer, having a gang of Polynesian laborers under him—sleek, swarthy fellows from the South Sea Islands, with linen trowsers on and nothing else—who crept silently among the vats and machinery, shifting the sugar as it was made.
"Well, Nokes," said Harry, "how are you getting on? Is Mr. Medlicot here?"
Nokes was a big fellow, with a broad, solid face, which would not have condemned him among physiognomists but for a bad eye, which could not look you in the face. He had been a boundary rider for Heathcote, and on an occasion had been impertinent, refusing to leave the yard behind the house unless something was done which those about the place refused to do for him. During the discussion Harry had come in. The man had been drinking, and was still insolent, and Harry had ejected him violently, thrusting him over a gate. The man had returned the next morning, and had then been sent about his business. He had been employed at Medlicot's Mill, but from the day of his dismissal to this he and Harry had never met each other face to face.
"I'm pretty well, thank ye, Mr. Heathcote. I hope you're the same, and the ladies. The master's about somewhere, I take it.—Picky, go and find the master." Picky was one of the Polynesians, who at once started on his errand.
"Have you been over to Gangoil since you left it?" said Harry, looking the man full in the face.
"Not I, Mr. Heathcote. I never go where I've had words. And, to tell you the truth, sugar is better than sheep. I'm very comfortable here, and I never liked your work."
"You haven't been at the wool-shed?"
"What, the Gangoil shed! What the blazes 'd I go there for? It's a matter of ten miles from here."
"Seven, is it? It is a longish seven miles, Mr. Heathcote. How could I get that distance? I ain't so good at walking as I was before I was hurt. You should have remembered that, Mr. Heathcote, when you laid hands on me the other day."
"You're not much the worse for what I did; nor yet for the accident, I take it. At any rate, you've not been at Gangoil wool-shed?"
"No, I've not," said the man, roughly. "What the mischief should I be doing at your shed at night-time?"
"I said nothing about night-time."
"I'm here all day, ain't I? If you're going to palm off any story against me, Mr. Heathcote, you'll find yourself in the wrong box. What I does I does on the square."
Heathcote was now quite sure that Jacko had been right. He had not doubted much before, but now he did not doubt at all but that the man with whom he was speaking was the wretch who was endeavoring to ruin him. And he felt certain, also, that Jacko was true to him. He knew, too, that he had plainly declared his suspicion to the man himself. But he had resolved upon doing this. He could in no way assist himself in circumventing the man's villainy by keeping his suspense to himself. The man might be frightened, and in spite of all that had passed between him and Medlicot, he still thought it possible that he might induce the sugar grower to co-operate with him in driving Nokes from the neighborhood. He had spent the night in thinking over it all, and this was the resolution to which he had come.
"There's the master," said Nokes. "If you've got any thing to say about any thing, you'd better say it to him."
Harry had never before set his foot upon Medlicot's land since it had been bought away from his own run, and had felt that he would almost demean himself by doing so. He had often looked at the canes from over his own fence, as he had done on the night of the rain; but he had stood always on his own land. Now he was in the sugar-mill, never before having seen such a building. "You've a deal of machinery here, Mr. Medlicot," he said.
"It's a small affair, after all," said the other. "I hope to get a good plant before I've done."
"Can I speak a word with you?"
"Certainly. Will you come into the office, or will you go across to the house?"
Harry said that the office would do, and followed Medlicot into a little box-like inclosure which contained a desk and two stools.
"Not much of an office, is it? What can I do for you, Mr. Heathcote?"
Then Harry began his story, which he told at considerable length. He apologized for troubling his neighbor at all on the subject, and endeavored to explain, somewhat awkwardly, that as Mr. Medlicot was a new-comer, he probably might not understand the kind of treatment to which employers in the bush were occasionally subject from their men. On this matter he said much, which, had he been a better tactician, he might probably have left unspoken. He then went on to the story of his own quarrel with Nokes, who had, in truth, been grossly impudent to the women about the house, but who had been punished by instant and violent dismissal from his employment. It was evidently Harry's idea that a man who had so sinned against his master should be allowed to find no other master—at any rate in that district; an idea with which the other man, who had lately come out from the old country, did not at all sympathize.
"Do you want me to dismiss him?" said Medlicot, in a tone which implied that that would be the last thing he would think of doing.
"You haven't heard me yet." Then Harry went on and told of the fires in the heat of summer, and of their terrible effects—of the easy manner of revenge which they supplied to angry, unscrupulous men, and of his own fears at the present moment.
"I can believe it all," said Medlicot, "and am very sorry that it should be so. But I can not see the justice of punishing a man on the merest, vaguest suspicion. Your only ground for imputing this crime to him is that your own conduct to him may have given him a motive."
Harry had schooled himself vigorously during the ride as to his own demeanor, and had resolved that he would be cool. "I was going on to tell you," he said, "what occurred that night after I saw you up by the fence." Then he described how he and his boy had entered the shed, and had both seen and heard a man as he escaped from it; how the boy had at once declared that the man was Nokes; how the following day he had discovered the leaves, which Nokes no doubt had deposited there just before the rain, intending to burn the place at once; and how Nokes's manner to him within the last half hour had corroborated his suspicions.
"Is he the boy you call Jacko?"
"That's the name he goes by."
"You don't know his real name?"
"I have never heard any other name."
"Nor any thing about him?" Harry owned, in answer to half a dozen such questions, that Jacko had come to Gangoil about six months ago— he did not know whence—had been kept for a week's job, and had then been allowed to remain about the place without any regular wages. "You admit it was quite dark," continued Medlicot.
Harry did not at all like the cross-examination, and his resolution to be cool was quickly fading. "I told you that I saw myself the figure of a man."
"But that you barely saw a figure. You did not form any opinion of your own as to the man's identity."
Harry Heathcote was as honest as the sun. Much as he disliked being cross-examined, he found himself compelled not only to say the exact truth, but the whole truth. "Certainly not. I barely saw a glimpse of a figure, and, till I spoke to Nokes just now, I almost doubted whether the lad could have distinguished him. I am sure he was right now."
"Really, Mr. Heathcote, I can't go along with you. You are accusing a man of committing an offense, which I believe is capital, on the evidence of a boy of whom you know nothing, who may have his own reasons for spiting the man, and whom you yourself did not believe till you had looked this man in the face. I think you allow yourself to be guided too much by your own power of intuition."
"No, I don't," said Harry, who hated his neighbor's methodical argument.
"At any rate, I can't consent to take a man's bread out of his mouth, and to send him away tainted as he would be with this suspicion, either because Jacko thought that he saw him in the dark, or because- -"
"I have never asked you to send him away."
"What is it you want, then?"
"I want to have him watched, so that he may feel that if he attempts to destroy my property his guilt will be detected."
"Who is to watch him?"
"He is in your employment."
"He lives in the hut down beyond the gate. Am I to keep a sentry there all night, and every night?"
"I will pay for it."
"No, Mr. Heathcote. I don't pretend to know this country yet, but I'll encourage no such espionage as that. At any rate, it is not English. I dare say the man misbehaved himself in your employment. You say he was drunk. I do not doubt it. But he is not a drunkard, for he never drinks here. A man is not to starve forever because he once got drunk and was impertinent. Nor is he to have a spy at his heels because a boy whom nobody knows chooses to denounce him. I am sorry that you should be in trouble, but I do not know that I can help you."
Harry's passion was now very high, and his resolution to be cool was almost thrown to the winds. Medlicot had said many things which were odious to him. In the first place, there had been a tone of insufferable superiority, so Harry thought, and that, too, when he himself had divested himself of all the superiority naturally attached to his position, and had frankly appealed to Medlicot as a neighbor. And then this new-fangled sugar grower had told him that he was not English, and had said grand words, and had altogether made himself objectionable. What did this man know of the Australian bush, that he should dare to talk of this or that as being wrong because it was un-English! In England there were police to guard men's property. Here, out in the Australian forests, a man must guard his own, or lose it. But perhaps it was the indifference to the ruin of the women belonging to him that Harry Heathcote felt the strongest. The stranger cared nothing for the utter desolation which one unscrupulous ruffian might produce, felt no horror at the idea of a vast devastating fire, but could be indignant in his mock philanthropy because it was proposed to watch the doings of a scoundrel!
"Good-morning," said Harry, turning round and leaving the office brusquely. Medlicot followed him, but Harry went so quickly that not another word was spoken. To him the idea of a neighbor in the bush refusing such assistance as he had asked was as terrible as to us is the thought of a ship at sea leaving another ship in distress. He unhitched his horse from the fence, and galloped home as fast as the animal would carry him.
Medlicot, when he was left alone, took two or three turns about the mill, as though inspecting the work, but at every turn fixed his eyes for a few moments on Noke's face. The man was standing under a huge caldron regulating the escape of the boiling juice into the different vats by raising and lowering a trap, and giving directions to the Polynesians as he did so. He was evidently conscious that he was being regarded, and, as is usual in such a condition, manifestly failed in his struggle to appear unconscious. Medlicot acknowledged to himself that the man could not look even him in the face. Was it possible that he had been wrong, and that Heathcote, though he had expressed himself badly, was entitled to some sympathy in his fear of what might be done to him by an enemy? Medlicot also desired to be just, being more rational, more logical, and less impulsive than the other, being also somewhat too conscious of his own superior intelligence. He knew that Heathcote had gone away in great dudgeon, and he almost feared that he had been harsh and unneighborly. After a while he stood opposite Nokes and addressed him.
"Do the squatters suffer much from fires?" he said.
"Heathcote has been talking to you about that," said the man.
"Can't you say Mr. Heathcote when you speak of a gentleman whose bread you have eaten?"
"Mr. Heathcote, if you like it. We ain't particular to a shade out here as you are at home. He has been telling you about fires, has he?"
"Well, he has."
"And talking of me, I suppose?"
"You were talking of having a turn at mining some day. How would it be with you if you were to be off to Gympie?"
"You mean to say I'm to go, Mr. Medlicot?"
"I don't say that at all."
"Look here, Mr. Medlicot. My going or staying won't make any difference to Heathcote. There's a lot of 'em about here hates him that much that he is never to be allowed to rest in peace. I tell you that fairly. It ain't any thing as I shall do. Them's not my ways, Mr. Medlicot. But he has enemies here as'll never let him rest."
"Who are they?"
"Pretty nigh every body round. He has carried himself that high they won't stand him. Who's Heathcote?"
"Name some who are his enemies."
"There's the Brownbies."
"Oh, the Brownbies. Well, it's a bad thing to have enemies." After that he left the sugar-house and went across to the cottage.
Two days and two nights passed without fear of fire, and then Harry Heathcote was again on the alert. The earth was parched as though no drop of rain had fallen. The fences were dry as tinder, and the ground was strewed with broken atoms of timber from the trees, each of which a spark would ignite. Two nights Harry slept in his bed, but on the third he was on horseback about the run, watching, thinking, endeavoring to make provision, directing others, and hoping to make it believed that his eyes were every where. In this way an entire week was passed, and now it wanted but four days to Christmas. He would come home to breakfast about seven in the morning, very tired, but never owning that he was tired, and then sleep heavily for an hour or two in a chair. After that he would go out again on the run, would sleep perhaps for another hour after dinner, and then would start for his night's patrol. During this week he saw nothing of Medlicot, and never mentioned his name but once. On that occasion his wife told him that during his absence Medlicot had been at the station.
"What brought him here?" Harry asked, fiercely.
Mrs. Heathcote explained that he had called in a friendly way, and had said that if there were any fear of fire he would be happy himself to lend assistance.
Then the young squatter forgot himself in his wrath. "Confound his hypocrisy!" said Harry, aloud. "I don't think he's a hypocrite," said the wife.
"I'm sure he's not," said Kate Daly.
Not a word more was spoken, and Harry immediately left the house. The two women did not as usual go to the gate to see him mount his horse, not refraining from doing so in any anger, or as wishing to exhibit displeasure at Harry's violence, but because they were afraid of him. They had found themselves compelled to differ from him, but were oppressed at finding themselves in opposition to him.
The feeling that his wife should in any way take part against him added greatly to Heathcote's trouble. It produced in his mind a terrible feeling of loneliness in his sorrow. He bore a brave outside to all his men, and to any stranger whom in these days he met about the run—to his wife and sister also, and to the old woman at home. He forced upon them all an idea that he was not only autocratic, but self-sufficient also—that he wanted neither help nor sympathy. He never cried out in his pain, being heartily ashamed even of the appeal which he had made to Medlicot. He spoke aloud and laughed with the men, and never acknowledged that his trials were almost too much for him. But he was painfully conscious of his own weakness. He sometimes felt, when alone in the bush, that he would fain get off his horse, and lie upon the ground and weep till he slept. It was not that he trusted no one. He suspected no one with a positive suspicion, except Nokes, and Medlicot as the supporter of Nokes. But he had no one with whom he could converse freely—none whom he had not been accustomed to treat as the mere ministers of his will— except his wife and his wife's sister; and now he was disjoined from them by their sympathy with Medlicot! He had chosen to manage every thing himself without contradiction and almost without counsel; but, like other such imperious masters, he now found that when trouble came the privilege of dictatorship brought with it an almost unsupportable burden.
Old Bates was an excellent man, of whose fidelity the young squatter was quite assured. No one understood foot-rot better than Old Bates, or was less sparing of himself in curing it. He was a second mother to all the lambs, and when shearing came watched with the eyes of Argus to see that the sheep were not wounded by the shearers, or the wool left on their backs. But he had no conversation, none of that imagination which in such a time as this might have assisted in devising safeguards, and but little enthusiasm. Shepherds, so called, Harry kept none upon the run; and would have felt himself insulted had any one suggested that he was so backward in his ways as to employ men of that denomination. He had fenced his run, and dispensed with shepherds and shepherding as old-fashioned and unprofitable. He had two mounted men, whom he called boundary riders, one an Irishman and the other a German—and them he trusted fully, the German altogether, and the Irishman equally as regarded his honesty. But he could not explain to them the thoughts that loaded his brain. He could instigate them to eagerness; but he could not condescend to tell Karl Bender, the German, that if his fences were destroyed neither his means nor his credit would be sufficient to put them up again, and that if the scanty herbage were burned off any large proportion of his run, he must sell his flocks at a great sacrifice. Nor could he explain to Mickey O'Dowd, the Irishman, that his peace of mind was destroyed by his fear of one man. He had to bear it all alone. And there was heavy on him also the great misery of feeling that every thing might depend on own exertions, and that yet he did not know how or where to exert himself. When he had ridden about all night and discovered nothing, he might just as well have been in bed. And he was continually riding about all night and discovering nothing.
After leaving the station on the evening of the day on which he had expressed himself to the women so vehemently respecting Medlicot, he met Bates coming home from his day's work. It was then past eight o'clock, and the old man was sitting wearily on his horse, with his head low down between his shoulders, and the reins hardly held within his grasp.
"You're late, Mr. Bates," said Harry; "you take too much out of yourself this hot weather."
"I've got to move slower, Mr. Heathcote, as I grow older. That's about it. And the beast I'm on is not much good." Now Mr. Bates was always complaining of his horse, and yet was allowed to choose any on the run for his own use.
"If you don't like him, why don't you take another?"
"There ain't much difference in 'em, Mr. Heathcote. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't. It's getting uncommon close shaving for them wethers in the new paddock. They're down upon the roots pretty well already."
"There's grass along the bush on the north side."
"They won't go there; it's rank and sour. They won't feed up there as long as they can live lower down and nearer the water. Weather like this, they'd sooner die near the water than travel to fill their bellies. It's about the hottest day we've had, and the nights a'most hotter. Are you going to be out, Mr. Heathcote?"
"I think so."
"What's the good of it, Mr. Heathcote? There is no use in it. Lord love you, what can yon do? You can't be every side at once."
"Fire can only travel with the wind, Mr. Bates."
"And there isn't any wind, and so there can't be any fire. I never did think, and I don't think now, there ever was any use in a man fashing himself as you fash yourself. You can't alter things, Mr. Heathcote."
"But that's just what I can do—what a man has to do. If a match were thrown there at your feet, and the grass was aflame, couldn't you alter that by putting your foot on it? If you find a ewe on her back, can't you alter that by putting her on her legs?"
"Yes, I can do that, I suppose."
"What does a man live for except to alter things? When a man clears the forest and sows corn, does he not alter things?"
"That's not your line, Mr. Heathcote," said the cunning old man.
"If I send wool to market, I alter things."
"You'll excuse me, Mr. Heathcote. Of course I'm old, but I just give you my experience."
"I'm much obliged to you; though we can't always agree, you know. Good-night. Go in and say a word to my wife, and tell them you saw me all right."
"I'll have a crack with 'em, Mr. Heathcote, before I turn in."
"And tell Mary I sent my love."
"I will, Mr. Heathcote; I will."
He was thinking always of his wife during his solitary rides, and of her fear and deep anxiety. It was for her sake and for the children that he was so care-worn, not for his own. Had he been alone in the world he would not have fretted himself in this fashion because of the malice of any man. But how would it be with her should he be forced to move her from Gangoil? And yet, with all his love, they had parted almost in anger. Surely she would understand the tenderness of the message he had just sent her.
Of a sudden, as he was riding, he stopped his horse and listened attentively. From a great distance there fell upon his accustomed ear a sound which he recognized, though he was aware that the place from whence it came was at least two miles distant. It was the thud of an axe against a tree. He listened still, and was sure that it was so, and turned at once toward the sound, though in doing so he left his course at a right angle. He had been going directly away from the river, with his back to the wool-shed; but now he changed his course, riding in the direction of the spot at which Jacko had nearly fallen in jumping over the fence. As he continued on, the sounds became plainer, till at last, reining in his horse, he could see the form of the woodman, who was still at work ringing the trees. This was a job which the man did by contract, receiving so much an acre for the depopulation of the timber. It was now bright moonlight, almost as clear as day—a very different night, indeed, from that on which the rain had come—and Harry could see at a glance that it was the man called Boscobel still at work. Now there were, as he thought, very good reasons why Boscobel at the present moment should not be so employed. Boscobel was receiving wages for work of another kind.
"Bos," said the squatter, riding up, and addressing the man by the customary abbreviation of his nickname, "I thought you were watching at Brownbie's boundary?" Boscobel lowered his axe, and stood for a while contemplating the proposition made to him. "You are drawing three shillings a night for watching; isn't that so?"
"Yes, that's so. Anyways, I shall draw it."
"Then why ain't you watching?"
"There's nothing to watch that I knows on—not just now."
"Then why should I pay you for it? I'm to pay you for ringing these trees, ain't I?"
"Certainly, Mr. Heathcote."
"Then you're to make double use of your time, and sell it twice over, are you? Don't try to look like a fool, as though you didn't understand. You know that what you're doing isn't honest."
"Nobody ever said as I wasn't honest before."
"I tell you so now. You're robbing me of the time you've sold to me, and for which I'm to pay you."
"There ain't nothing to watch while the wind's as it is now, and that chap ain't any where about to-night."
"Oh, I know. I'm all right. What's the use of dawdling about up there in the broad moonlight, and the wind like this?"
"That's for me to judge. If you engage to do my work and take my money, you're swindling me when you go about another job as you are now. You needn't scratch your head. You understand it all as well as I do."
"I never was told I swindled before, and I ain't a-going to put up with it. You may ring your own trees, and watch your own fences, and the whole place may be burned for me. I ain't a-going to do another turn in Gangoil. Swindle, indeed!" So Boscobel shouldered his axe, and marched off through the forest, visible in the moonlight till the trees hid him.
There was another enemy made! He had never felt quite sure of this man, but had been glad to have him about the place as being thoroughly efficient in his own business. It was only during the last ten days that he had agreed to pay him for night-watching, leaving the man to do as much additional day-work as he pleased—for which, of course, he would be paid at the regular contract price. There was a double purpose intended in this watching—as was well understood by all the hands employed: first, that of preventing incendiary fire by the mere presence of the watchers; and secondly, that of being at hand to extinguish fire in case of need. Now a man ringing trees five or six miles away from the beat on which he was stationed could not serve either of these purposes. Boscobel therefore had been fraudulently at work for his own dishonest purposes, and knew well that his employment was of that nature. All this was quite clear to Heathcote; and it was clear to him, also, that when he detected fraud he was bound to expose it. Had the man acknowledged his fault and been submissive, there would have been an end of the matter. Heathcote would have said no word about it to any one, and would not have stopped a farthing from the week's unearned wages. That he had to encounter a certain amount of ill usage from the rough men about him, and to forgive it, he could understand; but it could not be his duty, either as a man or a master, to pass over dishonesty without noticing it. No; that he would not do, though Gangoil should burn from end to end. He did not much mind being robbed. He knew that to a certain extent he must endure to be cheated. He would endure it. But he would never teach his men to think that he passed over such matters because he was afraid of them, or that dishonesty on their part was indifferent to him.
But now he had made another enemy—an enemy of a man who had declared to him that he knew the movements of "that chap," meaning Nokes! How hard the world was! It seemed that all around were trouble to him. He turned his horse back, and made again for the spot which was his original destination. As he cantered on among the trees, twisting here and there, and regulating his way by the stars, he asked himself whether it would not be better for him to go home and lay himself down by his wife and sleep, and await the worst that these men could do to him. This idea was so strong upon him that at one spot he made his horse stop till he had thought it all out. No one encouraged him in his work. Every one about the place, friend or foe, Bates, his wife, Medlicot, and this Boscobel, spoke to him as though he were fussy and fidgety in his anxiety. "If fires must come, they will come; and if they are not to come, you are simply losing your labor." This was the upshot of all they said to him. Why should he be wiser than they? If the ruin came, let it come. Old Bates had been ruined, but still had enough to eat and drink, and clothes to wear, and did not work half as hard as his employer. He thought that if he could only find some one person who would sympathize with him and support him, he would not mind. But the mental loneliness of his position almost broke his heart.
Then there came across his mind the dim remembrance of certain old school words, and he touched his horse with his spur and hurried onward: "Let there be no steps backward." A thought as to the manliness of persevering, of the want of manliness in yielding to depression, came to his rescue. Let him, at any rate, have the comfort of thinking that he had done his best according to his lights. After some dim fashion, he did come to recognize it as a fact that nothing could really support him but self-approbation. Though he fell from his horse in utter weariness, he would persevere.
As the night wore on he came to the German's hut, and finding it empty, as he expected, rode on to the outside fence of his run. When he reached this he got off his horse, and taking a key out of his pocket, whistled upon it loudly. A few minutes afterward the German came up to him.
"There's been no one about, I suppose?" he asked.
"Not a one," said the man.
"You've been across on Brownbie's run?"
"We're on it now, Mr. 'Eathcote." They were both on the side of the fence away from Gangoil station.
"I don't know how that is, Karl. I think Gangoil goes a quarter of a mile beyond this. But we did not quite strike the boundary when we put up the fence."
"Brownbie's cattle is allays here, Mr. 'Eathcote, and is knocking down the fence every day. Brownbie is a rascal, and 'is cattle as bad as 'isself."
"Never mind that, Karl, now. When we've got through the heats, we'll put a mile or two of better fencing along here. You know Boscobel?"
"In course I know Bos."
"What sort of a fellow is he?" Then Harry told his German dependent exactly what had taken place between him and the other man.
"He's in and in wid all them young Brownbies," said Karl.
"The Brownbies are a bad lot, but I don't think they'd do any thing of this kind," said Harry, whose mind was still dwelling on the dangers of fire.
"They likes muttons, Mr. 'Eathcote."
"I suppose they do take a sheep or two now and then. They wouldn't do worse than that, would they?"
"Not'ing too 'ot for 'em; not'ing too 'eavy," said Karl, smoking his pipe. "The vind, vat there is, comes just here, Mr. 'Eathcote." And the man lifted up his arm, and pointed across in the direction of Brownbie's run.
"And you don't think much of Boscobel?"
Karl Bender shook his head.
"He was always well treated here," said Harry, "and has had plenty of work, and earned large wages. The man will be a fool to quarrel with me."
Karl again shook his head. With Karl Bender, Harry was quite sure of his man, but not on that account need he be quite sure of the correctness of the man's opinion.
Thence he went on till he met his other lieutenant, O'Dowd, and so, having completed his work, he made his way home, reaching the station at sunrise.
"Did Bates tell you he'd met me?" he asked his wife.
"Yes, Harry; kiss me, Harry. I was so glad you sent a word. Promise me, Harry, not to think that I don't agree with you in every thing."
THE BROWNBIES OF BOOLABONG.
Old Brownbie, as he was usually called, was a squatter also, but a squatter of a class very different from that to which Heathcote belonged. He had begun his life in the colonies a little under a cloud, having been sent out from home after the perpetration of some peccadillo of which the law had disapproved.
In colonial phrase, he was a "lag"—having been transported; but this was many years ago, when he was quite young; and he had now been a free man for more than thirty years. It must be owned on his behalf that he had worked hard, had endeavored to rise, and had risen. But there still stuck to him the savor of his old life. Every one knew that he had been a convict; and even had he become a man of high principle—a condition which he certainly never achieved—he could hardly have escaped altogether from the thralldom of his degradation. He had been a butcher, a drover, part owner of stock, and had at last become possessed of a share of a cattle-run, and then of the entire property, such as it was. He had four or five sons, uneducated, ill- conditioned, drunken fellows, who had all their father's faults without his energy, some of whom had been in prison, and all of whom were known as pests to the colony. Their place was called Boolabong, and was a cattle-run, as distinguished from a sheep-run; but it was a poor place, was sometimes altogether unstocked, and was supposed to be not unfrequently used as a receptable for stolen cattle.
The tricks which the Brownbies played with cattle were notorious throughout Queensland and New South Wales, and by a certain class of men were much admired. They would drive a few head of cattle, perhaps forty or fifty, for miles around the country, across one station and another, traveling many hundreds of miles, and here and there, as they passed along, they would sweep into their own herd the bullocks of the victims whose lands they passed. If detected on the spot, they gave up their prey. They were in the right in moving their own cattle, and were not responsible for the erratic tendencies of other animals. If successful, they either sold their stolen beasts to butchers on the road, or got them home to Boolabong. There were dangers, of course, and occasional penalties. But there was much success. It was supposed, also, that though they did not own sheep, they preferred mutton for their daily uses, and that they supplied themselves at a very cheap rate.