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An Outback Marriage by Andrew Barton Paterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, you must have a maid."

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

"I always took one."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do you think he'd come?"

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

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

CHAPTER IX.

SOME VISITORS.

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing," said both children together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER X.

A LAWYER IN THE BUSH.

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

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

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

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

Kuryong Station, Monday.

Dear Mr. Blake,

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

Yours truly,
ANNETTE GORDON.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's doing with you?"

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

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

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

"Much as you have," growled Blake.

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

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

CHAPTER XI.

A WALK IN THE MOONLIGHT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And do you like Australia?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, no; nothing."

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XII.

MR. BLAKE BREAKS HIS ENGAGEMENT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He laughed with a well-simulated indifference.

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

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

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

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

"But, Ellen--"

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIII.

THE RIVALS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIV.

RED MICK AND HIS SHEEP DOGS.

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Whereabouts?" said she, staring round her.

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

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

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

"What for?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XV.

A PROPOSAL AND ITS RESULTS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XVI.

THE ROAD TO NO MAN'S LAND.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you mean?"

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

"No Man's Land."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No more," he replied.

"Don't understand any English, eh?"

"No more," said he.

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

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

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

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

Charlie clambered up on the fence and sat there for a moment. The
old man saw him, but evinced no surprise. He just said, "Here,
Mister Who-ever-you-are, kitch hold of that rope." Their united

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