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An Outback Marriage by Andrew Barton Paterson

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forces were too much for the steer, and he was hauled in by main
strength under a fusillade of bamboo on his stern. Once in the
small yard, he abandoned the struggle, and charged wildly at his
captors. The old man slipped nimbly to one side, Gordon darted up
the nearest fence, while Carew and the black boy got tangled up
with the rope.

In the sauve qui peut which ensued, Carew pushed the black down
on the ground right in front of the steer, which immediately fell
over him, and tangled him up more than ever. Then it turned on
him with a roar of rage, butted him violently, rolled him over and
over in the dirt, knelt on him, bellowed in his ear, and slobbered
on him. It looked as if the boy must be killed. His mate dashed
in with a bamboo, and welted and whacked away without making any
impression, till the animal of its own accord withdrew gloomily
to a corner of the yard, dragging the rope after it. Carew watched
the prostrate boy in agonised suspense, hardly daring to hope that
he was alive. With a gasp of satisfaction he saw him rise to his
feet, rub some of the dirt off his face, and look round at the
steer. Then he gave his shirt a shake and began to brush himself
with his hands, saying in an indignant tone, "Flamin' bullock!
Spoil my new chirt!"

Now all hands seized the rope again; in a trice the bullock was
hauled up against the fence, thrown to the ground, and held there
while the old man sawed off the point of one horn, which was growing
into the animal's eye. When the job was done he straightened himself
up, and through the covering grime and dust they had a good look
at him.

He had a long, red nose, a pair of bright hazel eyes, and a bushy,
grizzled beard and moustache hiding all the lower part of his face.
On his head was a shapeless felt hat, from which a string passed
under his nose. His arms were hairy and baboon-like; his long thin
legs seemed intended by Nature to fit the sides of a horse. He
wore tweed pants, green with age, and strapped on the inside with
a lighter-coloured and newer material; also a very dirty coloured
cotton shirt, open in front, and showing a large expanse of
hairy chest. His voice was husky from much swearing at profligate
cattle, and there was a curious nasal twang in his tone, a sort of
affectation of Americanism that was a departure from the ordinary
bush drawl.

Charlie introduced himself. "My name's Gordon," he said, "and this
is a friend of mine. We've come to take this block over."

"You're welcome to it, Mister," said the old man promptly. "It's
about broke me, and if you don't look out it'll break you. Any man
that gits this place will hump his swag from it in five years, mark
me! Come on down to the house," he continued, picking up the rope
and other gear lying about the fence. "Now, you boys, let that
steer out, and then go and help the gins bring the cattle in. Look
lively now, you tallow-faced crawlers. Come on, Mister. Did you
bring any square-face with you?"

"We brought a drop o' rum," replied Charlie.

"Ha! That'll do. That's the real Mackay," said the veteran, slouching
along at a perceptibly quicker gait.

"But, look, see here now, Mister!" he continued, anxiously, "you
didn't let Ah Loy get hold of it, did you? He's a real terror, that
Chow of mine. Did you see him when you came in?"

"Yes, we saw him. He couldn't speak any English, seemingly."

"That's him," said the old man. "That's him! He don't savvy much
English. He knows all he wants, though. He can lower the rum with
any Christian ever I see. It don't do to let him get his hands on
a bottle of anythink in the spirit line. It'll come back half-empty.
Now then, cook," he roared, seating himself at the rough slab table,
and drumming on it with a knife, "let's have some grub, quick, and
you'll get a nip of rum. This new boss b'long you, you savvy. All
about station b'long him. I go buffalo-shooting. Me stony broke.
Poor fellow me! Been fifteen years in this God-forgotten country,
too," he said reminiscently, placing his elbows on the table,
and gazing at the wall in front of him. "Fifteen years livin'
mostly with the blacks and the Chineyman, and livin' like a black
or a Chineyman, too. And what have I got to show for it? I've got
to hump my bluey out of this, and take to the road like any other
broken-down old swagman."

"It's a bit rough," said Charlie. "How did you come to grief?"

"Oh, I came out here with a big mob of cattle," said the old man,
filling his pipe, as Ah Loy placed some tin plates, a tin dish,
and a bottle of Worcester sauce on the table, and withdrew to the
kitchen for the provender. "I lived here, and I spent nothing, and
I let 'em breed. I just looked on, and let 'em breed. Oh, there was
no waste about my management. I hadn't an overseer at two pounds
ten a week, to boss a lot of flash stockmen at two pounds. I jest
got my own two gins and three good black boys, and I watched them
cattle like a blessed father. I never saw a stranger's face from
year's end to year's end. I rode all over the face of the earth,
keepin' track of 'em. I kep' the wild blacks from scarin' 'em to
death, and spearin' of 'em, as is their nature to, and I got speared
myself in one or two little shootin' excursions I had."

"Shooting the blacks?" interpolated Gordon.

"Somethin' like that, Mister. I did let off a rifle a few times,
and I dessay one or two poor, ignorant black feller-countrymen that
had been fun' my cattle as full of spears as so many hedgehogs--I
dessay they got in the road of a bullet or two. They're always
gettin' in the road of things. But we don't talk of shootin' blacks
nowadays These parts is too civilised--it's risky. Anyhow, I made
them blacks let my cattle alone. And I slaved like a driven nigger,
day in and day out, brandin' calves all day long in the dust, with
the sun that hot, the brandin' iron 'ud mark without puttin' it in
the fire at all. And then down comes the tick, and kills my cattle
by the hundred, dyin' and perishin' all over the place. And what
lived through it I couldn't sell anywhere, because they won't let
tick-infested cattle go south, and the Dutch won't let us ship 'em
north to Java, the wretches! And then Mr. Grant's debt was over
everything; and at last I had to chuck it up. That's how I got
broke, Mister. I hope you'll have better luck."

While he was delivering this harangue, Carew had been taking notes
of the establishment. There was just a rough table, three boxes
to sit on, a meat safe, a few buckets, and a rough set of shelves,
supporting a dipper and a few tin plates, and tins of jam, while in
the corner stood some rifles and a double-barrelled gun. Saddlery
of all sorts was scattered about the floor promiscuously.

Certainly the owner of No Man's Land had not lived luxuriously.
A low galvanised-iron partition divided the house into two rooms,
and through the doorway could be seen a rough bunk made of bags
stretched on saplings.

As the old man finished speaking, Ah Loy brought in the evening
meal--about a dozen beautifully tender roast ducks in a large tin
dish, a tin plate full of light, delicately-browned cakes of the
sort known as "puftalooners," and a huge billy of tea. There were
no vegetables; pepper and salt were in plenty, and Worcester sauce.
They ate silently, as hungry men do, while the pigs and cattle-dogs
marched in at the open-door, and hustled each other for the scraps
that were thrown to them.

"How is it the pigs have no tails?" asked Carew.

"Bit off, Mister. The dogs bit them off. They've got the ears pretty
well chawed off 'em too."

Just then a pig and a dog made a simultaneous rush for a bone, and
the pig secured it. The dog, by way of revenge, fastened on to the
pig, and made him squeal like a locomotive engine whistling. The
old man kicked at large under the table, and restored order.

"You ain't eatin', Mister," he said, forking a duck on to Carew's
plate with his own fork. "These ducks is all right. They're thick
on the lagoon. The Chow only had two cartridges, but he got about
a dozen. He lays down and fires along the water, and they're floatin'
very near solid on it. But here's the cattle comin' up."

Looking out of the door, they saw about two hundred cattle coming
in a long, stringing mob up the plain, driven by four black figures
on horse-back. As they drew near the yards, several cattle seemed
inclined to bolt away; but the sharp fusillade of terrific whips
kept them up to the mark, and, after a sudden halt for a few minutes,
the mob streamed in through the gates. A number of rails were put
in the posts, and made fast with pegs. The riders then remounted,
and came cantering and laughing down to the homestead. All four
were aboriginals, two were the boys that had been seen at the yard.
The two new boys were dressed in moleskins, cotton shirts, and soft
felt hats, and each had a gaudy handkerchief tied round his throat.

One was light, wiry, and graceful as a gazelle--a very handsome
boy, the embodiment of lightness and activity. The other was short
and squat, with a broad face. Both grinned light-heartedly as they
rode up, let their horses go, and carried their saddles on to the
verandah, without bothering about the strangers.

"Those are nice-looking boys," said Carew. "I mean the two new boys
just coming in."

"New boys!" said the old man. "Them! They're my two gins. And
see here, Mister, you'll have to keep off hangin' round them while
you're camped here. I can't stand anyone interferin' with them.
If you kick my dorg, or go after my gin, then you rouse all the
monkey in me. Those two do all my cattle work. Come here, Maggie,"
he called, and the slight "boy" walked over with a graceful, easy
swing.

"This is new feller?" he said, introducing Carew, who bowed gracefully.
"He b'long Sydney. You think him plenty nice feller, eh?"

"Yowi," said the girl laughing. "He nice feller. You got 'em
matches?" she said, beaming on Carew, and pulling a black pipe out
of her trousers' pocket. "Big fool that Lucy, drop 'em matches."

Carew handed over his match-box in speechless amazement.

"They've been out all day with the cattle," said the old man.
"I've got a lot of wild cattle in that there mob. I go out with a
few quiet ones in the moonlight, and when the wild cattle come out
of the scrubs to look at 'em we rush the whole lot out into the
plain. Great hands these gins are--just as good as the boys."

"Good Lord!" said Carew, looking at the two little figures, who had
now a couple of ducks each, a puftalooner or two, and a big pannikin
of tea, and were sitting on the edge of the verandah eating away
with great enjoyment; "what have they been doing with the cattle
to-day?"

"Minding them lest the wild ones should clear out. They dropped
their matches somehow; that's what fetched 'em home early. They'll
have to sleep on the verandah to-night. We'll make that their
boodore, as they say in France."

The dark was now falling; the sunlight had left long, faint, crimson
streaks in the sky. The air was perceptibly cooler, and flights
of waterfowl hurried overhead, making their way to the river. The
Chinaman lighted a slush-lamp, by whose flickering light Charlie
produced from his swag a small bundle of papers, and threw them on
the table.

"We might as well get our business over, Keogh," he said. "I've
got the paper here for you to sign, making over your interest in
the block and the cattle, and all that."

He pored over the document, muttering as he read it. "Your name'll
have to be filled in, and there's a blank for the name of the person
it's transferred to."

"That'll be Mr. Grant's name," suggested Carew.

"I don't know so much about that," said Charlie. "I don't think,
if a man has a mortgage over a place, that he can take it in his
own name. That fool Pinnock didn't tell me. He was too anxious
to know how we got on with the larrikins to give me any useful
information. Anyhow, I'll fill in my own name--for all the block
is worth I ain't likely to steal it. I can transfer it to Mr. Grant
afterwards."

"I don't care," said the old man indifferently, "I'll transfer my
interest to anyone you like. I'm done with it. I'm signing away
fifteen of the best years of my life. But my name ain't Keogh, you
know, though I always went by that. My father died when I was a
kiddy, and my mother married again, so I got called by my stepfather's
name all my life. This is my right name, and it's a poor man's
name to-day." And as the two men bent over him in the light of the
flickering slush-lamp, he wrote, with stiff, uncertain fingers,
"Patrick Henry Considine."

CHAPTER XVII.

CONSIDINE.

For a few seconds no one spoke. Carew and Gordon stared at the
signature, and then looked at each other. The newly-found Considine
looked at his autograph in a critical way, as if not quite sure he
had spelled it right, and then stood up, handing the deed to Gordon.

"There y'are," he said. "There's my right, title and intrust in
all this here block of land, and all the stock what's on it; and
if you're ever short of a man to look after the place in the wet
season I'll take the job. I might be glad of it."

"I think it's quite likely you won't want any job from me," said
Charlie. "I'll be asking you for a job yet. Are you sure that's
your right name? What was your father?"

"My name? O' course it's my name. My father was billiard-marker at
Casey's Hotel, Dandaloo," said the old man with conscious pride.
"A swell he had been, but the boose done him up, like many a better
man. He used to write to people over in England for money, but they
never giv him any."

"Where did he write to?" asked Carew, looking at the uncouth figure
with intense interest. "Do you know what people he wrote to?"

"Yairs. He wrote to William Considine. That was his father's name.
His father never sent any money, though. Told him to go to hell,
I reckon."

"What was your father's name?"

"William Patrick Considine."

Carew dashed out to his saddle, hurriedly unstrapped a valise, and
brought in a small packet of papers.

"Here you are," he said, opening one, and showing it to Gordon.
"Those are the names, Patrick Henry Considine, son of William Patrick
Considine. Entitled under his grandfather's will--by Jove, do you
know there's a lot of money waiting for you in England?"

"There's what?"

"A lot of money left you. In England. Any amount of it. If you are
the right man, you're rich, don't you know. Quite a wealthy man."

"How much money d'you say, Mister?"

"Oh, a great deal. Thousands and thousands. Your grandfather left
it. No one knew for certain where you were, or if you were alive."

"I'm alive all right, I believe," said Considine, staring hard at
them. "But look, Mister--you aren't trying to take the loan of me?
Is this straight?"

"Yes, it's straight," said Charlie. "You'll have to go to England
to make your claim good, I expect. It's straight enough. That's
what brought Mr. Carew out here, to try and find you."

For some time the bushman smoked in silence, looking at each man
in turn, perhaps expecting them to laugh. He muttered once or twice
to himself under his breath. Then he turned on Gordon again.

"Now, look here, Mr. Gordon, is this square? Because, if it ain't,
it'll be a poor joke for some of you!"

"Man alive, why should we want to fool you? What good could it do
us? It's all right."

"Well, if it's all right, we'll all have a drink on it. Here,
Maggie, Lucy, Billy, come here. Get it pannikin. You won't mind me
treatin' 'em with your rum, I suppose, Mister?" he said, turning
to Gordon. "I don't come in for a fortune every day, you know, and
there ain't a drop of lush in the place, only yours."

"Fire away," said Charlie.

"Come on, Lucy. Come on, Maggie. Where's Ah Loy? Watch their faces,
Mister, it's as good as a play. Now then, ladies, I bin poor fella
longa teatime, now rich feller longa bedtime. You savvy?"

The gins grinned uncomprehendingly, but held out their pannikins,
and into each he poured a three-finger nip of raw overproof rum
that would have burnt the palate of Satan himself. They swallowed
it neat, in two or three quick gulps. The tears sprang to their
eyes, and they contorted their faces into all sorts of shapes; but
they disdained to take water after it.

"My word, that strong feller, eh?" said Considine. "Burn your
mouth, I think it. Now then, Ah Loy, how much you wantee? That
plenty, eh?"

Ah Loy peered into the tin pannikin with a dejected air, and turned
it on one side to show that there wasn't much in it.

"Here y'are, then," said his boss. "Have a bit more. We don't come
in for a fortune every day. Watch him take it, Mister."

Ah Loy put the fiery spirit to his lips, and began to drink in slow
sips, as a connoisseur sips port wine.

"Good heavens," said Carew, "it'll burn the teeth out of his head."

The Chinee sipped away, pausing to let the delicate fluid roll well
into the tender part of his mouth and throat.

"Welly stlong!" he said at last; but he finished the lot. The two
black boys had their share, and retired again to their camp. Then
the three white men sat out in front of the house on some logs,
smoking, and looking at the blazing stars.

Considine had fifty questions to ask, and the more Carew tried,
the more helpless it was to explain things to him.

"D'you say there's a house left me with this here money?"

"Yes," replied Carew. "Beautiful old place. Old oaks, and all
that sort of thing. You'll like it, I'm sure. Used to be a pack of
hounds there."

"Ha!" said Considine with contempt. "I don't think much of this
huntin' they have in England. Why, I knew a chap that couldn't
ride in timber a little, and he went to England and hunted, and
d'you know what he said? He said he could have rode in front of
the dogs all the way, if he'd have liked. But the owner of the dogs
asked him not to, so he didn't."

"I suppose I could take Maggie and Lucy there," he went on, looking
doubtfully at his hearers. "They wouldn't mind a chap havin' a
couple of black lady friends, would they? Yer see, they've stuck
with me well, those two gins, and I wouldn't like to leave 'em
behind. They'd get into bad hands. They're two as good handy gins
as there is in the world. That little fat one--you start her out
with a bridle and enough tobacker after lost horses, and she'll
foller 'em till she gets 'em, if it takes a week. Camps out at
night anywhere she can get water, and gets her own grub--lizards
and young birds, and things like that. There ain't her equal as
a horse-hunter in Australia. Maggie ain't a bad gin after horses,
but if she don't find 'em first day, she won't camp out--she gets
frightened. I'd like to take 'em with me, yer know."

As he spoke the two moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted little figures
passed in front of the hut. "There they go," he said. "Two real
good gins. Now, as man to man, you wouldn't arst me to turn them
loose, would you?"

Carew looked rather embarrassed, and smoked some time before
answering.

"Well, of course," he said at last, "they'd put up with a good
deal from you, bein' an Australian, don't you know. Fashion just
now to make a lot of fuss over Australian chappies, whatever they
do. But two black women--rather a large order. You might get
married over there, and then these two black ladies--"

He was interrupted by a startled exclamation from Considine. "Married!"
he said. "Married! I forgot all about my wife. I am married!"

"What!" said Charlie. "Are you married?"

"Yairs. Married. Yairs! Should just think I was."

"Not to a lubra, I suppose?"

"Lubra, no! A hot-tempered faggot of a woman I met at Pike's pub.
I lived with her three weeks and left her there. I haven't seen
her this six years."

"Did you and she have some er--differences, then?" said Carew.

"Differences? No I We had fights--plenty fights. You see, it was
this way. I hadn't long got these two gins; and just before the
rains the wild geese come down in thousands to breed, and the blacks
all clear out and camp by the lagoons, and kill geese and eat eggs
and young ones all day long, till they near bust. It's the same
every year--when the wild geese come the blacks have got to go,
and it's no use talkin'. So I was slavin' away here--out all day
on the run with the cattle--and one night I comes home after being
out three days, and there at the foot of the bunk was the two gins'
trousers and shirts, folded up; they'd run away with the others.

"So I goes after 'em down the river to the lagoons, and there was
hundreds of blacks; but these two beauties had heard me coming,
and was planted in the reeds, and the other blacks, of course, they
says, "No more" when I arst them. So there I was, lonely. Only me
and the Chinaman here for two months, 'cause his gin had gone too.
So one day I ketches the horses, and off I goes, and travels for
days, till I makes Pike's pub, and there was this woman.

"It seems from what I heard afterwards that she'd just cleared out
from some fellow she'd been livin' with for years--had a quarrel
with him. Anyhow, I hadn't seen a white woman for years, and she
was a fine lump of a woman, and I got on a bit of a spree for a
week or so, you know--half-tight all the time; and it seems some
sort of a parson--a mish'nary to the blacks--chanced along and
married us. She had her lines and everything all right, but I don't
remember much about it. So then I'm living with her for a bit; but
I don't like her goin's on, and I takes the whip to her once, and
she gets snake-headed to me, and takes up an axe; and then one
day comes a black from this place and he says to me, he says, "Old
man," he says, "Maggie and Lucy come back." So then I says to my
wife, "I'm off back to the run," I says, "and it's sorry I am that
ever I married you." And she says, "Well, I'm not goin' out to yer
old run, to get eat up with musketeers." So says I, "Please yourself
about that, you faggot," I says, "but I'm off." So off I cleared,
and I never seen her from that day till this. I married her under
the name of Keogh, though. Will that make any difference?"

This legal problem kept them occupied for some time; and, after
much discussion, it was decided that a marriage under a false name
could hardly be valid.

Then weariness, the weariness of open-air, travelling, and hard
work, settled down on them, and they made for the house. On the
verandah the two gins lay sleeping, their figures dimly outlined under
mosquito nets; the dogs crouched about in all sorts of attitudes.
Considine turned in all standing in the big rough bunk, while Carew
and Gordon stretched their blankets on the hard earth floor, made
a pillow of their clothes, and lay down to sleep, after fixing
mosquito nets. Gordon slept as soon as he touched the blankets,
but Carew tumbled and tossed. The ground was deadly hard. During
the journey Frying Pan had got grass for their beds; here he had
not been told to get it, and it would have looked effeminate to ask
for grass when no one else seemed to want it. The old man heard him
stirring and rolling, and sat up in his bunk. "What's up, Mister?"
he said kindly. "D'you find it a hard camp?"

"Not too easy," said the Englishman. "Always seems to be a deuced
hard place just under your hip, don't you know?"

"I'll put you right in a brace of shakes," said Considine. "I've
got the very thing to make a soft bed. Half a minute now, and I'll
get it for you."

He went out to the back of the house, and returned with a dry white
bullock-hide, as rigid as a sheet of iron. This he threw down at
Carew's feet.

"Here y'are, Mister; put that under you for a hipper, and you'll
be all right."

Carew found the hide nearly as hard as the bare floor, but he
uttered profuse thanks, and said it was quite comfortable; to which
the old man replied that he was sure it must be, and then threw
himself back on his bunk and began snoring at once. But Carew lay
long awake.

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE WILD CATTLE.

Carew awoke next morning to find that it was broad daylight, and
the horses had been run in, caught, and saddled, all ready for a
start to the run. Breakfast was soon disposed of, and the cavalcade
set out. Naturally, the old man had heaps of questions to ask about
his inheritance, and made the Englishman ride alongside while he
questioned him.

"If I go to England after this money, Mister, I suppose they won't
be handin' me out ten years for perjury, same as they done for
Roger Tichborne, eh? I won't have no law case, will I?"

"Shouldn't think so. You've been advertised for all over the place,
I believe."

"Ha! Well, now they've got me they mightn't like me, don't you
see? I never took no stock in them unclaimed-money fakes. I never
see any money goin' beggin' yet, long as I've lived, but what some
chap had his hands on it quick enough. But I s'pose it's all right."

"It's me wife I'm troublin' about. I'm no dandy, Goodness knows,
but if people'll let me alone I'll let them alone, and I don't
interfere with anyone. But if old Peg turns up she'll want to be
right in front of the percession. If she follows me, I'll realise
everything by public auction, unreserved sale, for spot cash, and
I'll sneak back here to a place I knows of, where there's no trooper
can find me. I ain't goin' halves with that woman, I tell you. She
wouldn't stick to me if I was poor, and I ain't goin' to take her
up again now. You'd better come back with me, Mister, and show me
the way round a bit."

"There's a mob of cattle, Gordon." he went on, changing the subject
quickly; "let's ride up here, while the boys bring 'em into camp."
And off they went at a carter, leaving the question of his social
prospects in abeyance for the time being.

The ceremony of taking delivery lasted some days, Considine's
signature to the deed of transfer being only the first step. This
long document, prepared in Sydney, kept them going in literature
for about a week; and they were delighted to find that, through
the carelessness of a clerk, in one part of the deed there figured
"one bull of mixed sexes and various ages."

They rode out, day after day, through interminable stretches of dull
timbered country, or over blazing plains waving with long grass.
Here they came on mobs of half-wild cattle, all bearing the same
brand, a huge RL5. These were not mustered into a yard or counted,
except roughly. Gordon was not completing a purchase, but simply
taking over what were there--many or few; good or bad, he could
only take what he found.

Miles and miles they rode, always in the blazing heat, camping for
a couple of hours in the middle of the day. To the Englishman it
seemed always the merest chance that they found the cattle, and
accident that they got home again. At rare intervals they came
upon substantial mustering-yards, where the calves were brought
for branding; near these a rough hut had been constructed, so that
they could camp there at night, instead of returning to the head
station.

They always slept out of doors. In the intense heat it was no
hardship, and the huts, as a rule, fairly jumped with fleas. Once
they camped alongside a big lagoon, on whose surface were huge pink
and blue water-lilies and rushes, and vast flocks of wild fowl.
After the stretches of blazing plain and dull timber this glimpse
of water was inexpressibly refreshing.

On their way back they struck new country, great stretches of almost
impenetrable scrub, tropical jungle, and belts of bamboo. In this
cover wild cattle evidently abounded, for they frequently heard
the bellow of the bulls.

"There should be a terrible lot of wild cattle here," said Charlie.
"Don't you ever get any out of the scrubs?"

"Oh, yes, we moonlight for 'em." said Considine. "We take coachers
out. We have a very fair coaching mob. Some of our coachers are as
quick as racehorses, and they'll hustle wild cattle away from the
scrub just as if they understood."

"What do you mean by coachers?" asked Carew. "Not cattle that go
in carts, eh?"

"Carts, no. The way we get wild cattle here-abouts is to take out
a mob of quiet cattle, what we call coachers, and let 'em feed in
the moonlight alongside the scrub, while we wait back out o' the
road and watch 'em. When the wild cattle come out, they run over
to see the coachers, and we dash up and cut 'em off from the scrub,
and hustle 'em together into the open. It's good sport, Mister.
We might try a dash at it, if you like, before we go back; it's
moonlight now."

"Let's have a try to-night" said Gordon. "Are your coachers handy?"

"Yairs. They feed near the house. I'll send 'em on with the gins
to-night."

When they got back that evening, Carew was so dead-tired that he
wished the wild cattle expedition at Jericho. But Considine and
Charlie were in great form, directing, arguing, and planning the
expedition. One of the black boys rode out, and returned driving
a big mob of horses that dashed into the yard at full gallop. The
gins and the black boys caught fresh mounts out of these and started
away, driving some fifty head of cattle selected from a mob that
made their headquarters within a few miles of the house. Most of them
were old stagers, and strung away in the evening quite tranquilly,
while the blacks, always smoking, rode listlessly after. Considine
produced two stockwhips, and gave one to Charlie.

"No good givin' you one. Mister," he said to Carew. "You'd hang
yourself with it most likely. I've got a rare good horse for
you--old Smoked Beef. He'd moonlight cattle by himself, I believe.
You'd better have a pistol, though."

"What for?" asked Carew, as Considine produced three very heavy
navy revolvers and a bag of cartridges.

"To shoot any beast that won't stay with the mob. Some of 'em won't
be stopped. They have to go. Well, if one goes, the rest keep trying
to follow, and no forty men will hold 'em. You just keep your eyes
open, and if a beast breaks out in spite of the whips, you shoot
him if the blacks tell you. See?"

"Where am I to shoot him?"

"Shoot him any place. In the earhole, or the shoulder, or the ribs,
or the flank. Any place at all. Shoot him all over if you like.
One or two bullets don't hurt a beast. It takes a lead-mine to kill
some of 'em."

"Do the blacks shoot?" asked Charlie.

"No, I don't never trust no blacks with firearms. One boy knifes
well, though. Races alongside and knifes 'em."

This seemed a fairly difficult performance; while the Englishman
was wondering how it would be carried out, they made a start. They
rode mile after mile in the yellow moonlight, until they discerned
a mob of cattle feeding placidly near some big scrub. They whistled
to the blacks, and all rode away down wind to a spot on the edge
of the plain, a considerable distance from the cattle.

Here they dismounted and waited, Considine and Charlie talking
occasionally in low tones, while the blacks sat silent, holding
their horses. Carew lay down on the long dry grass and gazed away
over the plain. His horse stood over him with head down, apparently
sleeping. Far away under the moon, in vague patches of light and
shade, the cattle were feeding. Hours seemed to pass, and Carew
almost fell asleep.

Suddenly a long-drawn bellow, the angry challenge of a bull, broke
the silence. A mob of wild cattle were evidently coming along the
edge of the scrub, and had caught scent of the strangers. Again
the bull roared; there is no animal on earth with so emphatically
warlike a note as the wild bull when advancing to meet a strange
mob. The quiet cattle answered with plaintive, long-drawn lowings,
and the din became general as the two lots met.

"Let 'em get well mixed up," said Considine quietly, tightening
his girths, and swinging into the saddle. Everyone followed his
example. Carew was shaking with excitement. Angry bellowing now arose
from the cattle, which were apparently horning one another--such
being their manner of greeting.

Considine said, "There's a big lot there. Hope to blazes we can
hold 'em. Are you ready, Mister?"

"Yes, I'm ready," replied Carew.

"Come on, then. We'll sneak up slowly at first, but once I start
galloping let your horse go as fast as he likes, and trust him
altogether. Don't pull him at all, or he'll break your neck."

They started slowly in Indian file, keeping well in the shadow of
the scrub. The horses picked their way through the outlying saplings
and bushes, until suddenly Considine bent forward on his horse's
neck, and said, "Come on!"

What a ride that was! The inexperienced reader is apt to imagine
that because a plain is level, it is smooth, but no greater fallacy
exists. The surface of a plain is always bad galloping. The rain
washes away the soil from between the tussocks, which stand up
like miniature mountains; the heat cracks the ground till it opens
in crevices, sometimes a foot wide and a yard or two deep; fallen
saplings lie hidden in the shadows to trip the horse, while the
stumps stand up to cripple him, and over all is the long grass
hiding all perils, and making the horse risk his own neck and his
master's at every stride.

They flew along in the moonlight, Considine leading, Charlie next,
then the two black boys, and then Carew, with a black gin on each
side of him, racing in grim silence. The horses blundered and
"peeked," stumbled, picked themselves up again, always seeming to
have a leg to spare. Now and again a stump or a gaping crack in
the ground would flash into view under their very nose, but they
cleared everything--stumps, tussocks, gaps, and saplings.

In less time than it takes to write, they were between the mob
and the scrub; at once a fusillade of whips rang out, and the men
started to ride round the cattle in Indian file. The wild ones were
well mixed up with the tame, and hardly knew which way to turn.
Carew, cantering round, caught glimpses of them rushing hither and
thither--small, wiry cattle for the most part, with big ears and
sharp, spear-pointed horns. Of these there were fifty or sixty,
as near as Considine could judge--three or four bulls, a crowd of
cows and calves and half-grown animals, and a few old bullocks that
had left the station mobs and thrown in their lot with the wild
ones.

By degrees, as the horses went round them, the cattle began to
"ring," forming themselves into a compact mass, those on the outside
running round and round. All the time the whips were going, and the
shrill cries of the blacks rang out, "Whoa back! Whoa back, there!
Whoa!" as an animal attempted to break from the mob. They were
gradually forcing the beasts away from the scrub, when suddenly,
in spite of the gins' shrill cries, some of the leaders broke out
and set off up the plain; with the rush of a cavalry charge the
rest were after them, racing at full speed parallel with the edge
of the scrub, and always trying to make over towards it.

Old Considine met this new development with Napoleonic quickness.
He and the others formed a line parallel with the course of the
cattle, and raced along between them and the timber, keeping up
an incessant fusillade with their whips, while the old man's voice
rang out loudly in directions to the blacks behind.

"Keep the coachers with 'em! Flog 'em along! Cut the hides off
'em!"

In the first rush the quiet cattle had dropped to the rear,
but the blacks set about them with their whips; and, as they were
experienced coachers, and had been flogged and hustled along in
similar rushes so often that they knew at once what was wanted,
they settled down to race just as fast as the wild ones. As the
swaying, bellowing mass swept along in the moonlight, crashing and
trampling through the light outlying timber, some of the coachers
were seen working their way to the lead, and the wild cattle having
no settled plan, followed them blindly. Considine, on his black
horse, was close up by the wing of the mob, and the others rode in
line behind him, always keeping between the cattle and the scrub.

"Crack your whips!" he yelled. "Crack your whips! Keep 'em off the
scrub! Go on, Billy, drive that horse along and get to the lead!"

Like a flash one of the black boys darted out of the line, galloped
to the head of the cattle, and rode there, pursued by the flying
mob, the cracks of his heavy stockwhip sounding above the roar of
hoofs and the bellowing of the cattle. Soon they steadied a little,
and gradually sobered down till they stopped and began to "ring"
again.

"That was pretty pure, eh, Mister?" roared Considine to Carew.
"Ain't it a caution the way the coachers race with 'em? That old
bald-face coacher is worth two men and a boy in a dash like this."

Suddenly an old bull, the patriarch of the wild herd, made towards
one of the gins, whose shrill yells and whip-cracking failed to
turn him. Considine dashed to her assistance, swinging his whip
round his head.

"Whoa back, there! Whoa back, will you!" he shouted. The bull paused
irresolute for a second, and half-turned back to the mob, but the
sight or scent of his native scrub decided him. Dropping his head,
he charged straight at Considine. So sudden was the attack that
the stock-horse had barely time to spring aside; but, quick as it
was, Considine's revolver was quicker. The bull passed--bang! went
the revolver, and bang! bang! bang! again, as the horse raced
alongside, Considine leaning over and firing into the bull's ribs
at very short range.

The other cattle, dazed by the firing, did not attempt to follow,
and at the fourth shot the bull wheeled to charge. He stood a
moment in the moonlight, bold and defiant, then staggered a little
and looked round as though to say, "What have you done to me?" Bang
went the revolver again; the animal lurched, plunged forward, sank
on his knees, and fell over on his side, dead.

"There, you swab," said the old man, "that'll larn you to break
another time." Then he took once more his place in the patrol
round the mob. They circled and eddied and pushed, always staring
angrily at the riders. Suddenly a big, red bullock gave a snort
of defiance, and came out straight towards Carew. He stopped once,
shook his head ominously, and came on again. One of the gins dashed
up with the whip; but the bullock had evidently decided to take
all chances, and advanced on his foes at a trot.

"Choot him, that feller!" screamed the gin to Carew. "You choot
him! He bin yan away! No more stop! Choot him!"

Carew lugged out his revolver, and tried to pull his horse to a
standstill, but the wary old veteran knew better than to be caught
standing by a charging bullock; just as Carew fired, he plunged forward,
with the result that the bullet went over the mob altogether, and
very nearly winged Charlie, who was riding on the far side. Then
the bullock charged in earnest; and Carew's horse, seeing that
if he wished to save human life he must take matters into his own
hands, made a bolt for it. Carew half-turned in the saddle, and
fired twice, only making the black boys on the far side cower down
on their horses' necks. Then the horse took complete charge, and
made off for the scrub with the bullock after him, and every animal
in the mob after the bullock.

Nothing in the world could have stopped them. Considine and
Charlie raced in front, alongside Carew, cracking their whips and
shouting; the blacks flogged the coachers up with the wild cattle;
but they held on their way, plunged with a mighty crash into the
thick timber, and were lost. No horseman could ride a hundred yards
in that timber at night. Coachers and all were gone together, and
the dispirited hunters gathered at the edge of the scrub and looked
at each other.

"Well, Mister, you couldn't stop him," said the old man.

"I'm afraid I made--rather a mess of things, don't you know," said
the Englishman. "I thought I hit him the second time, too. Seemed
to be straight at him."

"I think you done very well to miss us! I heard one bullet whiz past
me like a scorpyun. Well, it can't be helped. Those old coachers
will all battle their way home again before long. Gordon, I vote
we go home. They're your cattle now, and you'll have to come out
again after 'em some day, and do a little more shootin'. Get a suit
of armour on you first, though."

As they jogged home through the bright moonlight, they heard loud
laughter from the blacks, and Carew, looking back, found the fat
gin giving a dramatic rehearsal of his exploits. She dashed her
horse along at a great pace, fell on his neck, clutched wildly at
the reins, then suddenly turned in her saddle, and pretended to
fire point-blank at the other blacks, who all dodged the bullet.
Then she fell on the horse's neck again, and so on ad lib.

This made the Englishman very morose. He was quite glad when
Charlie said he had seen enough of the cattle, and they would all
start next day for civilisation--Charlie to resume the management
of Mr. Grant's stations, Carew to go with him as "colonial experiencer,"
and Considine to start for England to look after his inheritance.

CHAPTER XIX.

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER.

The black boys went in with them to Pike's store to take back
supplies on the pack-horse. They travelled over the same country
that they had seen coming up; the men at the stations greeted them
with the same hospitality. Nothing was said about Considine's good
fortune. It was thought wise to be silent, as he didn't know how
soon his wife might hear of it.

They left the gins at the blacks' camp, which they chanced on by
a riverside. The camp was a primitive affair, a few rude shelters
made by bending bamboo sticks together and covering them with strips
of paper bark. Here the sable wariors sat and smoked all day long,
tobacco being their only civilised possession. Carew was very
anxious to look at them, a development of curiosity that Considine
could not understand.

"Most uninteresting devils, I call 'em," he said. "They're stark
naked, and they have nothing. What is there to look at?"

Having parted with Maggie and Lucy, they pushed onwards, the old
man beguiling the time with disquisitions on the horse-hunting
capabilities of his gins, whom he seemed really sorry to leave. As
they got near Pike's, he became more restless than ever.

"See here, Mister," he said at last, "my wife's here, I expect,
and if she gets wind of this, I'll never get rid of her. The only
thing to do is to slip away without her knowing, and she might never
hear of it. I won't go into the place at all. I'll go on and camp
down the creek, and get the coach there after it leaves the town,
and she'll never know."

The town of "Pike's" consisted of a hotel, a store, a post-office,
a private residence, and coach-stables; these were all combined in
one establishment, so the town couldn't be said to be scattered.
Pike himself was landlord of the "pub," keeper of the store, officer
in charge of the post-office, owner of the private residence, holder
of the mail contract, and proprietor of the coach-stables. Behind
him was only wilderness and "new" country.

Nobody ever saw him at home. Either he was on the road with a
bullock-team, bringing up supplies for the hotel and store, or he
was droving cattle down on a six months' journey to market; or he
was away looking at new country, or taking supplies out to men on
the half-provisioned stations of the "outer-back;" or else he was
off to some new mining camp or opal-field, to sell a dray-load of
goods at famine prices.

When Charlie and Carew rode up to the store they did not see Pike,
nor did they expect to see him. By some mysterious Providence they
had arrived the very day the coach started on its monthly trip
down to Barcoo; and in front of the hotel were congregated quite a
number of people--Pike's wife and his half-wild children, a handful
of bushmen, station hands, opal miners, and what-not, and last,
but not least, a fat lady of about forty summers, with flaring red
hair.

She was a fine "lump" of a woman, with broad shoulders, and nearly
the same breadth all the way down to her feet. She wore a rusty
black dress, which fitted perilously tight to her arms and bust; on
her head was a lopsided, dismantled black bonnet with a feather--a
bonnet that had evidently been put away in a drawer and forgotten
for years. Any want of colour or style in her dress was amply
made up for by the fact that she positively glowed with opals. Her
huge, thick fingers twinkled with opal rings; from each of her ears
there dangled an opal earring the size of a form; her old dress
was secured round her thick, muscular neck by a brooch that looked
like an opal quarry, and whenever she turned to the sun she flashed
out rays like a lighthouse.

Her face was fat and red, full of a sort of good-humoured ferocity;
she moved like a queen among the bystanders, and shook hands
gravely with each and all of them. She was hot, but very dignified.
Evidently she was preparing to start in the coach, for she packed
into the vehicle with jealous care a large carpet-bag of garish
colouring that seemed to harmonise well with the opals. While she
was packing this away, Charlie and Carew went into the store, and
bought such supplies as were needed for the establishment at No
Man's Land. Gordon took the opportunity to ask the shock-headed
old storekeeper, Pike's deputy, some questions about the lady, who
was still scintillating between the coach and the house, carrying
various small articles each trip.

"Don't yer know 'er?" said the man, in much the same tone that Bret
Harte's hero must have used when he was so taken aback to find that
a stranger--

"Didn't know Flynn,--
Flynn of Virginia."

"Don't yer know 'er?" he repeated, pausing in his task of scooping
some black cockroachy sugar from the bottom of a bin. "That's the
Hopal Queen! She's hoff South, she is. Yer'll be going in the coach,
will yer?"

"Yes," said Charlie. "We're going in the coach. There's no extra
fare for travelling with such a swell, is there? Where on earth
did she get all those opals?"

"Ho, blokes gives 'em to 'er, passin' back from the hopal fields.
In the rough, yer know! Hopal in the rough, well, it's 'ard to
tell what it'll turn out, and they'll give 'er a 'unk as sometimes
turns out a fair dazzler. She's a hay-one judge of it in the rough,
too. If she buys a bit of hopal, yer bet yer life it ain't a bad
bit when it's cut. What about these 'ere stores? Goin' to take 'em
with yer?"

"No," said Charlie. "The black boy is here for them. He's going to
take them back with him."

"What, Keogh's black boy! Well, I don't know as Pike'll stand old
Paddy Keogh any longer. Paddy's 'ad a dorg tied hup 'ere" (i.e.,
an account outstanding) "this two years, and last time Pike was
'ome 'e was reck'nin' it was about hup to Keogh to pay something."

"They're not for Keogh," said Charlie. "They're for me. I've taken
Keogh's block over."

The old man looked at him dubiously.

"Well, but y'aint goin' to tie hup no dorg on us for 'em, are yer?
I s'pose it's all right, though?"

"Right, yes," said Gordon. "It's for Mr. Grant, Old Man Grant,--you've
heard of Grant of Kuryong?"

"Never 'eard of him," said the aged man, "but it makes no hodds.
Pay when yer like. Yer'd better git on the coach, for I see the
Hopal Queen's ready for a start. Yer'll know her all right before
long, I bet. Some of the fellers from round about 'as come in to
give her a send-off like. There's the coach ready; yer'd better
git aboard, and yer'll hear the-the send-off like. Young Stacy out
there reckons 'e's going to make a speech."

Charlie and Carew climbed upon the coach. The fat lady kissed
Pike's wife and children with great solemnity. "Good-bye, Alice!
Good-bye, Nora darlin'," she said. Then she marched in a stately
way towards the vehicle, with the children forming a bodyguard
round her. A group of men hung about uneasily, looked sheepish, and
waved large, helpless red hands, till a young fellow about seven
feet high--who looked more uneasy and had even larger hands than
the rest--was hustled forward, and began to mutter something that
nobody could hear.

"Speak up, George," said a friend. The young man raised his voice
to a shout, and said--

"And so I propose three cheers and long life to the Hopal Queen!"

As he spoke he ran two or three paces forward towards a stump,
meaning, no doubt, to get on it and lead the cheering; but, just
as he was going to jump, a wretched little mongrel that had been in
and out among the people's feet made a dash at him, fixed its teeth
in the calf of his leg, and ran away howling at its own temerity.
The young giant rushed after it, but the Opal Queen interposed.

"George," she said, "don't ye dare go for to kick my dog!"

"Well, what did he bite me for, then?" said the giant, speaking
out now in a voice that could be heard half a mile off. "What did
he bite me for?"

"Never mind, George! Don't ye go for to kick him, that's all."

The Opal Queen, snorting like a grampus, climbed into the coach;
the driver cracked his whip, and off they went, leaving the audience
spellbound, and the gigantic young man rubbing his leg. Soon Pike's
faded away in the distance. As the coach jolted along, Carew and
Charlie on the box seat occasionally peered in at the large swaying
figure, half-hidden in the dust.

About two miles out of town Considine, with all his earthly belongings
in a small valise, stopped the coach and got on board, sitting in
front with them.

"Have a look inside," said Charlie. "There's a woman in there looks
rather like--the lady you were talking about."

Considine looked in. Then he sank back in his seat, with a white
face. "By Heavens!" he said, "it's my wife."

"This is funny," said Charlie. "Wonder what she's after. She must
have heard, somehow. She'll never lose sight of you, now, Considine."

Here the driver struck into the conversation. "See her inside?"
he said, indicating the inside passenger with a nod of his head.
"She's off to Sydney, full rip. She reckons her husband's dead,
and she's came in for a fortune."

"Oh, she reckons he's dead, does she?" said Charlie carelessly.
"Didn't know she had a husband."

"Ho yes," said the driver. "She came up here passin' by the name
of Keogh, but it seems that ain't her husband's name at all."

"Oh, indeed! Do you happen to have heard what her husband's name
is? And when did he die?"

"I never heard the noo husband's name," replied the driver. "Keogh
was her name. I dessay if I arst her she'd tell me. Shall I arst
her?" "No," said Considine firmly. "Don't annoy her at all. Leave
well alone, young feller. What odds is it to you how many husbands
the poor woman has had?"

"No," said the driver dispassionately. "It's no odds to me, nor yet
to you, I don't suppose. She's in for a real big thing, I believe.
A telegram came to the telegraph station after I left last trip,
and young Jack Sheehan, he brought it on after me--rode a hundred
miles pretty well, to ketch me up. He reckoned she was coming in
for a hundred thousand pounds. I wouldn't mind marryin' her meself,
if it's true; plenty worse-looking sorts than her about. What do
you think, eh, Mister?" addressing Considine.

"Marry her, and be blowed," said that worthy, sociably; and the
driver stiffened and refused to talk further on the subject.

Meanwhile the three discussed the matter in low tones. It was
practically impossible that anyone could have heard of the identity
of Keogh with the missing Considine. How then had the story got
about that her husband was dead, and that she had come into money?
She must have seen Considine get on the coach, but she had made
no sign. Their astonishment was deeper than ever when the coach
stopped for a midday halt. It was quite impossible for Considine
to conceal himself. The house, where the coach changed horses, was
a galvanised-iron, one-roomed edifice in the middle of a glaring
expanse of treeless plain, in which a quail could scarcely have
hidden successfully. It was clear that Considine and his wife would
have to come face to face.

Carew and Charlie looked expectantly at each other, and clambered
down quickly when the coach stopped. Considine descended more
slowly; straightening his figure and looking fixedly before him,
he marched up to the door of the change-house.

His wife got leisurely out of the coach, put on her bonnet, and walked
straight over to him; then she looked him full in the face for at
least three seconds, and passed by without a sign of recognition.

The three men looked at each other.

"Well, this bangs all," said Considine. "She knew me all right. Why
didn't she speak? She's afraid I'll clear out, and she's shammin'
not to know me, so's she'll have me arrested as soon as she sights
a bobby. I know her. Perhaps I'd better offer her something to go
back and leave me alone, hey?"

This was vetoed by a majority of two to one, and once more the coach
started. They plodded away on the weary, dusty journey, until the
iron roofs and walls of Barcoo gleamed like a mirage in the distance,
and the coach rolled up to the hotel. A telegraph official came
lounging forward.

"Anyone here the name of Charles Gordon?" he said.

"That's me," said Charlie.

"Telegram for you," he said. "It's been all over the country after
you."

Gordon tore it open, read it, and stood spellbound. Then he silently
handed it to Carew. It was several weeks old, and was from Pinnock,
the solicitor. It read as follows--"William Grant died suddenly
yesterday. Will made years ago leaves everything to his wife.
Reported that he married Margaret Donohoe, and that she is still
alive. Am making all inquiries. Wire me anything you know."

Charlie's face never changed a muscle.

"That's lively!" he said. "He never married that woman; and, if he
did, she died long ago."

As he spoke, the lady passenger, having had some talk with the hotel
people, came over to him with a beaming smile. "And ye're Charlie
Gordon," she said with a mellifluous mixture of brogue and bush-drawl.
"An' ye don't know me now, a little bit? Ye were a little felly when
we last met. I'm Peggy Donohoe that was--Peggy Grant now, since I
married poor dear Grant that's dead. And, sure, rest his sowl!"--here
she sniffed a little--"though he treated me cruel bad, so he did!
Ye'll remember me brother Mick--Mick with the red hair?"

"Yes," said Charlie, slowly and deliberately, "I remember him
well; and you too. And look here, Peggy Donohoe--or Peggy Keogh,
whichever you call yourself--you and Red Mick will have the most
uphill fight you ever fought before you get one sixpence of William
Grant's money. Why, your real husband is here on the coach with
us!"

He turned and pulled Considine forward, and once more husband
and wife stood face to face. Considine, alias Keogh, smiled in a
sickly way, tried to meet his wife's eyes, and failed altogether.
She regarded him with a bold, unwinking stare.

"Him!" she said. "Him me husban'! This old crockerdile? I never
seen him before in me life."

A look of hopeless perplexity settled on Considine's features for
a moment, and then a ray of intelligence seemed to break in on him.
She repeated her statement.

"I never seen this man before in me life. Did I? Speak up, now,
and say, did I?"

Considine hesitated for a moment in visible distress. Then, pulling
himself together, and looking boldly from one to the other, he
replied--

"Now that you mention it, ma'am, I don't think as ever you did. I
must ha' made some mistake."

He walked rapidly away, leaving Gordon and Peggy face to face.

"There y'are," she said, "what did I tell ye? Husban'? He's no
husban' o' mine. Ye're makin' a mistake, Charlie."

Charlie looked after the retreating bushman, and back at the good
lady who was beaming at him.

"Don't call me Charlie," he said. "That old man has come in for
a whole lot of money in England. His name is Considine, and he
pretends he isn't your husband so that he can get the money and
leave you out of it. Don't you be a fool. It's a lot better for you
to stick to him than to try for William Grant's money. Mr. Carew
and I can prove he said you were his wife."

"Och, look at that now! Said I was his wife! And his name was
Considine, the lyin' old vaggybond. His name's not Considine, and
I'm not his wife, nor never was. Grant was my husban', and I'll
prove it in a coort of law, so I will!" Her voice began to rise
like a south-easterly gale, and Charlie beat a retreat. He went to
look for the old man, but could not find him anywhere.

Talking the matter over with Carew he got no satisfaction from the
wisdom of that Solon. "Deuced awkward thing, don't you know," was
his only comment.

Things were even more awkward when the coach drew up to start, and
no sign of the old man could be found. He had strolled off to the
back of the hotel, and vanished as absolutely as if the earth had
swallowed him.

The Chinese cook was severely cross-questioned, but relapsed into
idiotic smiles and plentiful "No savee"s. A blackfellow, loafing
about the back of the hotel, was asked if he had seen a tall, thin
old man with a beard going down the street. He said, "Yowi, he bin
go longa other pub;" but as, on further questioning, he modified
his statement by asserting that the man he saw was young, short and
very fat, no heed was paid to his evidence--it being the habit of
blacks to give any answer that they think will please the questioner.

"He'll play us some dog's trick, that old fellow," said Charlie. "I
can't wait here looking for him, though. I'll find him when I want
him if he's above ground. Now let's go on. Can't keep the coach
waiting for ever while we unearth him. Let's get aboard."

Just as the coach was about to start a drover came out of the bar
of the hotel, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He stared
vacantly about him, first up the street and then down, looked hard
at a post in front of the hotel, then stared up and down the street
again. At last he walked over, and, addressing the passengers in
a body, said, "Did any of you's see e'er a horse anywheres? I left
my prad here, and he's gorn."

A bystander, languidly cutting up a pipeful of tobacco, jerked his
elbow down the road.

"That old bloke took 'im," he said. "Old bloke that come in the
coach. While yous was all talking in the pub, he sneaks out here
and nabs that 'orse, and away like a rabbit. See that dust on the
plain? That's 'im."

The drover looked helplessly out over the stretch of plain. He
seemed quite incapable of grappling with the problem.

"Took my horse, did he? Well, I'm blowed! By Cripes!"

He had another good stare over the plain, and back at the party.

"My oath!" he added.

Then the natural stoicism of the bushman came to his aid, and he
said, in a resigned tone,

"Oh, well, anyways, I s'pose--s'pose he must have been in a hurry
to go somewheres. I s'pose he'll fetch him back some time or other."

Gordon leant down from the box of the coach.

"You tell him," he said, "when he does fetch him back, that if
I'd had a rifle, and had seen him sneaking off like that he'd have
wanted an ambulance before he got much farther. Tell him I'll find
him if I have to hunt him to death. Tell him that, will you?"

"All right, Mister!" said the drover, obligingly, "I'll tell him!"

The horses plunged into their collars; off went the coach into long
stretches of dusty road, with the fat red lady inside, and our two
friends outside. And in course of time they found themselves once
more in Sydney, where they took the earliest opportunity to call
on Pinnock, and hold a council of war against Peggy.

CHAPTER XX.

A CONSULTATION AT KILEY'S.

Within twenty-four hours after Peggy got back to her old home, it
was known all over the mountains that she meant business, and would
make a claim on William Grant's estate. Rumour, of course, supplied
all the needful details. It was said, and even sworn to, that
Peggy had her marriage lines put by in a big iron box, ready to
be produced at the proper time. Other authorities knew for a fact
that she had no proofs, but that the family at Kuryong were going
to give her any sum from a thousand pounds to a million, to cancel
her claim and save exposure.

As a matter of fact, none of those who talked knew anything
whatever. Peggy confided in no one but Red Mick, and that worthy
had had enough legal experience of a rough and ready sort to know
that things must be kept quiet till the proper time. But by way of
getting ready for action Red Mick and his sister one fine morning
rode up to Gavan Blake's office to consult him as to what they
should do.

Blake was not at all surprised to see them. He, of course, had heard
all the rumours that were afloat, and knew that if Peggy brought
forward any claim he would be asked to act for her professionally.
He had not quite decided whether he would act or not. In his hard
commonsense mind he saw next to no possibility of Peggy having a
bonā fide case. He did not suppose for a moment that William Grant
would have run his neck into a bigamy noose; and it would put the
young lawyer in a very awkward position with Mary Grant if, after
saving her life and posing as her friend, he carried on a blackmailing
suit against her. At the same time, he felt that it could do no
harm to either side to investigate Peggy's case; there might be
awkward things that he could help to suppress. So with expectancy
and not a little amusement he saw his clients ride up and tie their
horses to the fence outside his office, and watched Peggy straighten
her ruffled plumage before entering.

They came in at the door with a seriousness worthy of the occasion.
Peggy heaved a subdued sigh and settled in a chair. Red Mick opened
the conversation.

"Mornin' to you, Gavan," he said.

By virtue of his relationship Mick was privileged to call his
brilliant nephew by his Christian name. To the rest of the clans
Gavan was Mr. Blake.

"Good-morning, Mick. Good-morning, Peggy. Have you had any rain?"

In the bush no one would think of introducing discussion without
a remark about the weather.

"Jist a few drops," said Red Mick gloomily. "Do us no good at
all. Things is looking terrible bad, so they are. But we want to
see ye--" and here he dropped his voice, rose, and cautiously closed
the door--"Peggy here, Mrs. Grant, d'ye see,"--Mick got the name
out without an effort--"she wants to see ye about making a claim
on the estate. 'Tis time she done somethin'. All these years left
to shift for herself--"

Here Blake broke in on him. He meant to probe Peggy's case thoroughly,
and knew that it would be no easy matter to get at the truth while
she had Red Mick alongside to prompt her. He had not dealt with the
mountain folk for nothing, and handled his clients in a way that
would astonish a more conservative practitioner.

"Mick," he said, "You go over to Isaacstein's store and wait till
I send for you."

"I want Mick to be wid me," began Peggy.

Blake blazed up. He knew that he must keep his ascendancy over
these wild people by force of determination.

"You heard what I said," he thundered, turning fiercely on Peggy.
"You want this and you want that! It's not what you want, it's what
I want! You do what you're told. If you don't--I won't help you.
Mick, you go over to the store, and wait till I send for you." And
Mick shambled off.

Peggy, still inclined to be defiant, settled herself in her chair.
She had battled in North Queensland so long that she neither feared
nor respected anybody; but her native shrewdness told her she had
all to gain and nothing to lose by doing what her lawyer advised.

"Now, Peggy," he said, "do you want to make a claim against William
Grant's estate?"

"Yis."

"On the ground that you're his widow?"

"Yis. I'll tell yer--"

"No, you won't tell me anything. I'll tell you. If you are to have
any hope of succeeding in this case, you must furnish me with the
name of the priest or parson who married you, the place where you
were married, and the date. It must be a real priest or parson, a
real place, and a real date. It's no use coming along with a story
of a marriage by a parson and you've forgotten his name, at a place
you can't remember where it was, and a date that's slipped your
memory. You must have a story to tell, and it must hold water. Now,
can you tell such a story? Have you got any proofs at all?"

Peggy shifted about uneasily.

"Can I see Mick?" she said.

"No, you can not. You must out with it here and now. Listen to me,
Peggy," he went on, sinking his voice suddenly and looking hard at
her. "I've got to know all about this. It's no use keeping anything
back. Were you ever married to William Grant?"

Peggy dropped her voice too.

"Yis. I was married twenty-five years ago at a place called Pike's
pub, out in the Never-never country."

"Who read the service, parson or priest?"

"Neither. A mish'nary. Mish'nary to the blacks."

"Is he alive?"

"No, he died out there. He was sick then, wid the Queensland fever."

"What was his name?"

"Mr. Nettleship."

"Was the marriage ever registered?"

"Sorra one of me knows. He giv us each a bit of paper--our marriage
lines. 'Twas written in pencil. He had no ink in the place, and he
had no books wid him. He tore the sheet of paper and give us each
half, wid the writing on it; his horses got stole and he had to
camp there. He stayed round wid Pike and the blacks till he died."

"And where is the certificate? Have you lost it?"

"I sint mine down to Mick to keep for me--jist a bit of paper
written in pencil it was--and it got lost some ways; but I have a
copy of it I med at the time."

"Where is the copy now?"

"At Mick's place."

"You must tell Mick to bring it in. Now where is this place, Pike's?"

"Out this side of the opal-fields. It's wild and rough now, but
what it was then--well 'twas more like a black's camp nor a white
man's place at all."

Blake thought the story had gone far enough. He did not believe
a word of it. "Look here, Peggy," he said, "You have given the
place, the date, the name of the parson, and everything. Now you
know that if you are telling a lie it will be easily found out.
They will soon find out if there was such a missionary, and if he
was up there at the time, and if Mr. Grant was up there; and if
you are caught out in a lie it may go hard with you. Have you any
witnesses?"

"Martin Doyle was there, Black Martin's son."

"What! Martin Doyle that's out at the nine-mile?"

"Yis. He was up driving the buggy and horses for Grant. He can
swear to the wedding.

"He can."

"Yis."

Blake sat back in his chair and looked at her. "Do you mean to tell
me," he said, "that you can show me a certificate and a witness to
your marriage with William Grant?"

Peggy looked doggedly down at the floor and said, in the tones
of one who is repeating the burial service or some other solemn
function, "I can prove the marriage."

Blake was puzzled. He had known the mountain folk all his life,
and knew that for uneducated people--or perhaps because they were
uneducated people--they were surprisingly clever liars. But he
never dreamt that any of them could hoodwink him; so he put Peggy
once more through the whole story,--made her describe all her actions
on the day of the wedding, where she stood, where the witness stood,
what the parson said, what her husband said. He went through the
whole thing, and could see no flaw in it. He knew that Peggy would
not scruple to lie to him; but, with the contempt of a clever man,
he felt satisfied that he could soon upset any concocted story.
This story seemed to hold water, and the more he cross-examined
her the more sure he was that there was something genuine about it;
at the same time, he was sure that it was not all genuine. Then a
thought occurred to him.

"Would you settle this case if they offered you something?" he
said.

"I'll do whatever you say," said Peggy, rising. "'Tis for you to
say what I ought to do. 'Tis not for the like of me, that is no
scholar."

"Leave it to me," said Blake. "I'll do what is best for you. Send
Martin Doyle in to see me, Martin that was the witness. And about
this copy of the certificate, tell Mick to bring it in here. Now
you go home, and don't you say to one living soul one word of what
has passed in here. Tell them you are going on with the case, but
don't say any more, or you may land yourself in gaol. Do you hear
me?"

And the cowed and flustered Peggy hurried away to join her brother,
who was far too wise to ask questions.

"Least said soonest mended," he said, when told that Blake required
silence.

After his clients had gone, Gavan Blake sat for half an hour almost
dazed. If Peggy's story was true, then Mary Grant was an outcast
instead of a great heiress. And while he had become genuinely fond
of her (which he never was of Ellen Harriott), he had no idea of
asking her to share his debts with him. He puzzled over the affair
for a long time, and at last his clear brain saw a way out of all
difficulties. He would go over to the old station, put the whole
case before Mary Grant, and induce her for peace' sake to give
Peggy money to withdraw her claim. Out of this money he himself
would keep enough to pay all his pressing debts. He would be that
much to the good whatever happened, and afterwards would have an
added claim on Mary Grant's sympathies for having relieved her of
a vast lawsuit in which her fortune, and even her very name, were
involved.

This plan seemed to him the best for all parties--for himself
especially, which was the most important thing. If he could get a
large sum to settle the case, he could make Peggy give him a big
share for his trouble, and then at last be free from the haunting
fear of exposure and ruin. He felt sure that he was doing quite
right in advising Mary Grant to pay.

Again and again he ran over Peggy's case in his mind, and could
see no flaw in it. In the old days haphazard marriages were rather
the rule than the exception, and such things as registers were
never heard of in far-out parts. His trained mind, going through
the various questions that a cross-examiner would ask, and supplying
the requisite answers, decided that, though it might seem a trifle
improbable, there was nothing contradictory about Peggy's story.
A jury would sympathise with her, and the decisions of the Courts
all leaned towards presuming marriage where certain circumstances
existed. By settling the case he would do Mary Grant a real
kindness. And afterwards--well, she would probably be as grateful
as when he had saved her life. He saw himself the hero of the hour:
ever prompt to decide, he saddled a horse, and at once rode off to
Kuryong to put the matter before her.

CHAPTER XXI.

NO COMPROMISE.

While Gavan Blake was conferring with his clients, a very different
sort of conference was being held at Kuryong. The return of Charlie
Gordon, accompanied by Carew, had been voted by common consent an
occasion for holiday; and although, according to theory, a bush
holiday is invariably spent in kangaroo-hunting, yet the fact is
that men who are in the saddle from daylight to dark, from week-end
to week-end, generally spend a holiday resting legs that are cramped
from the saddle, and arms that ache from lifting sheep over hurdles
or swinging the gates of drafting-yards.

Thus it was that, on the holiday at Kuryong, the Bachelors' Quarters--two
large dormitory-like rooms that opened into one another--were full
of athletic male figures sprawling on the beds, smoking black pipes
all day, and yarning interminably. The main topic of conversation
was Peggy's claim against the estate. They had all heard the rumours
that were going round; each had quietly been trying to find out what
Peggy had to go on, and this pow-wow was utilised for the purpose
of comparing notes. They had one advantage over Gavan Blake--they
knew all about Considine, which Blake did not.

On one bed lay Pinnock, who had come up to make arrangements for
carrying on the station till the will was proved. On another bed
sprawled Carew, who, by virtue of his trip out back, was looked
upon as a bit of an oracle by Poss and Binjie, who had never been
further than the mountains. Poss and Binjie had dragged an old
couch out of the next room and were stretched on that, listening
to the talk, and occasionally throwing in a word of such wisdom
as they had. Hugh sat in an armchair by the window, smoking and
dreaming.

Poss's voice cut knife-like through a cloud of tobacco smoke. He
spoke as one on the defensive.

"Well, I believe there's something in it, anyhow. Briney Donohoe
told me--"

Charlie Cordon's cold drawl interrupted the youth. "It's all rot,"
he said. "Briney Donohoe told you--what does he know about it? You
two boys and Hugh have been stuck at home here so long, you believe
anything. I tell you, they'll do nothing. It's all talk, just to
make themselves big people. They have nothing to do just now, so it
comes in handy as an excuse to ride from one selection to another
all day long and leave our gates open. We have Peggy's measure,
haven't we, Carew? That long-lost relation of yours, old Considine!"

"I wish you did have him," said the lawyer. "He might come in very
handy. With a big property like this to go for, they are nearly
sure to have a try at it."

Poss took heart at finding himself supported by this new champion.
"Yes," he said. "Red Mick and Peggy are down at Gavan Blake's
to-day. I saw their horses hanging up outside as I came through.
And Briney Donohoe told me--"

"What do you think, Carew?" said Charlie, cutting Briney Donohoe
off again. "Don't you think that old fellow was telling the truth
when he said he married Peggy?"

"Sure he was," said the Englishman. "Never saw a fellow in such a
funk in my life."

"What about Peggy?" said Pinnock. "How did she take it?"

"Bold as brass! I thought she was going to kiss Charlie there, when
she found out who he was."

Pinnock laughed. "Funny thing," he said, "a woman like Peggy having
the chance to choose between two fortunes. Pity we couldn't induce
her to take the old bushman and be done with it. How much money
has he come into, Carew?"

"Oh, plenty of money. But of course there's an old place to keep
up, and the death duties are very heavy. Very expensive thing having
money left you in England, you know."

Charlie Gordon turned to Pinnock. "What you ought to do," he said
(the far-out man who has to shift for himself is always quite sure
he can settle all difficulties better than those whose profession
it is), "what you ought to do," he repeated, "is to send someone
to Peggy and tell her not to be such a fool. Tell her to stick to
old Considine. That's what you ought to do."

"Well, suppose you go and do it. You know the lady better than
anyone here, seemingly. But if she has been to see Blake, I expect
the fat's in the fire by this time."

"I don't think much of Blake takin' up the case," said Binjie,
"after the old lady asked him here. It's doing the black-snake act,
I call it. I don't suppose he'll come here any more after this."

Hugh still sat looking out of the window, smoking silently. "Here
comes Blake now, anyhow," he said. "He's just coming up the flat."

"Wants to see me, I expect," said Pinnock. "We'll know all about
it now. Must have heard I was here, and is come to declare war or
sue for peace. Someone had better go and meet him, I suppose."

"Dashed if I'll go," said Poss. "I don't care about a chap that
doesn't act white. I saw Red Mick's and Peggy's horses at his office
to-day, and now he comes up here as bold as brass."

"Let him go round to the front," said Hugh, "and then he can ask
the servants for whoever he wants. If we go out and meet him, we'll
have to ask him to stay."

The approach to houses in the bush is generally by way of the yard
where the horses arrive, and it is very unusual for anyone, except
a stranger making a formal visit, to be allowed to find their way
round to the front.

Blake rode up and gave his horse to the horse-boy. "Put him in
the stable for a while," he said. "I may want him again." Then he
went round to the front door and asked for Mrs. Gordon.

"I have come to see Miss Grant on very important business," he
said when the old lady came in. "Would you ask her if she would
see me?"

The old lady was in a quandary. She had heard all the rumours that
were going about, but she knew that they had been kept from Mary
Grant, and she thought that if Blake meant to talk business he
might shock or startle the girl terribly.

"Mr. Pinnock the lawyer is here," she said. "Perhaps you had better
see him. Miss Grant does not know--"

"I am come as a friend of Miss Grant's, Mrs. Gordon," he said.
"But, if Mr. Pinnock is here, perhaps it would be better for me to
see him first. Shall I wait for him here?"

"If you will go into the office I will send him in there," and the
old lady withdrew to talk of commonplace matters with Mary, all
the time feeling that a great crisis was at hand.

Soon the two lawyers faced one another over the office table, and
Blake got to business at once.

"Mr. Pinnock," he said, "I am asked to act for Margaret Donohoe,
or Margaret Grant as she claims to be; and I want you to believe
that I am seriously telling you what I believe to be the truth,
when I say that Miss Grant had better settle this case."

"Why should she pay one penny? What proofs have you? It looks to
me, with all respect to you, Mr. Blake, like an ordinary case of
blackmail."

"If it were blackmail," said Blake quietly, "do you think that
I would be here, giving you particulars of the case? I tell you,
man, I am ready now to give you all particulars, and you can soon
see whether to advise a settlement or not."

"Fire away, then," said Pinnock. "It will take a lot to convince
me, though, and so I tell you."

Blake gave him the particulars gleaned from Peggy. "I have examined
and cross-examined and re-cross-examined her, and I can't shake
her story."

Pinnock listened with an immovable face, but his mind was working
like lightning. As the name of the missionary and Pike's Hotel were
mentioned, he remembered that he had seen these very names on the
butts of Grant's cheque-books. Getting Blake to excuse him for a
moment, he hurried to his room and pulled out a bundle of cheque-butts.
The best diary of many a man is found in his cheque-butts. There
he saw on the very date mentioned by Blake, cheques drawn to "Self
and P.", also one drawn to "Pike accommodation," and one simply
to the name of Nettleship for five pounds. Of course it was quite
possible that the latter was only a donation to charity, such as
old Bully was occasionally very free with; but, taken together, the
whole lot made Blake's story look unpleasantly probable. Pinnock
whistled to himself as he tied the bundle up again. "Case of settle
or be sorry," he said to himself. "I wonder how much will settle
it?"

When he faced Blake again, he had pulled the mask of professional
stolidity over his features; also he lied boldly.

"I can see nothing to corroborate this story," he said; "but it
may be that Miss Grant would rather pay a few pounds than have the
unpleasantness of a trial. I will get her in and ask her if you
like, but I don't think it will lead to anything."

They were holding their conference in the office. Outside, the
station was dozing in the sun. The house dog slept in the yard,
and a stray wild pigeon had come down into the quadrangle, and was
picking at some grain that was spilt there. From the garden came
the shouts of the children and the happy laughter of Mary Grant.

"There she is now," said Pinnock. "Hadn't I better get her to come
in and get the thing over?"

He went out, and came back very soon. "Mrs. Gordon and Miss Grant
are coming," he said. "She said she would like Mrs. Gordon to be
with her."

Before long they came in and sat down. Mary Grant had no idea what
she was wanted for. She greeted Blake with a glad smile, and waited
to hear what Pinnock had to say. It did not take the lawyer long
to put the story before her: but it was some time before she could
understand it. Nothing so tragic had ever entered her life before,
and she seemed almost stunned.

Mrs. Gordon moved to her side and took her hand.

"It is very terrible for you--for us all, dear," she said. "You
must listen to what Mr. Pinnock says, and make up your mind. He
can advise you best what to do."

Again Pinnock went through the case. As a full understanding broke
in on her, she drew herself up; the look of distress and perplexity
left her face, and her eyes were full of scorn and anger.

"Hello, what's coming now?" thought Pinnock. "I hope she says
nothing rash."

She tried to speak once or twice, but the words seemed to choke
her.

"What do you advise me to do, Mr. Pinnock?" she said, turning to
him suddenly.

"I advise you to give me power to act for you in the matter as I
think best," said Pinnock, who saw that matters were likely to slip
beyond his control. "From what Mr. Blake tells me, I daresay this
woman can give you a lot of trouble and annoyance. Whatever you
pay her, you won't miss the money. You will save the family here
from being turned out; you will avoid scandal; and if there should
be any foundation for Mr. Blake's story, it may mean that if you
don't settle you lose everything."

From him Mary Grant turned to the old lady.

"Mrs. Gordon," she said, "do you advise me to pay this money?"

"My dear, I don't advise at all. Don't consider us in the matter
at all. It is for you to say."

"Then I will pay nothing. It is a cruel, infamous, wicked slander.
These poor, ignorant people don't know what they are doing. Sooner
than pay one penny in compromise, I will walk off this station
a pauper. God will not let such villainy win. Mrs. Gordon, surely
you don't think that I ought to blacken my father's and mother's
name by paying money to keep this claim quiet?"

Here Pinnock broke in on her speech. "But if they should manage to
produce evidence--"

"Let them produce it, and let the judge believe it if he likes.
You and I and everybody know that it is a lie; even if they win the
case, it is still a lie. I will pay nothing--not one halfpenny. My
mother's name is more than all the money in the world, and I will
not blacken it by compromises. Mr. Pinnock, the case is to be
fought out, and if we lose we shall still know that justice is on
our side; but if we pay money--"

Mrs. Gordon took her hand, and lifted it to her lips.

"I think you are quite right, my dear. You put us all to shame for
even thinking of it."

"I am very sorry, Mr. Blake," the girl went on, "very sorry indeed
that you should have come here on such an errand. You saved my
life, and if I could pay you for that I would; but this offer is
an insult, and I hope that you will never come here again. Whether
I am turned out of the old station or not, I hope that you will
never come here again." And with that the two ladies walked out,
leaving the lawyers looking at each other.

"I am afraid, Mr. Blake" said Pinnock at last, "that we have lost
any hope we might ever have had of settling this case."

But Blake, as he rode homewards, felt that he had lost for ever
a much higher hope. He had played for a high stake on two chances.
One of them had failed him. There remained only the chance of pulling
Peggy's case through; and he swore that if hard work, skill, and
utter unscrupulousness could win that case, it should be won.

CHAPTER XXII.

A NURSE AND HER ASSISTANT.

While they were waiting for the great case to come on a sort of
depression seemed to spread itself over the station. The owner was
mostly shut up in her room with her thoughts; the old lady was
trying to comfort her, and Ellen Harriott, with sorrow always at her
heart, went about the household work like an automaton. No wonder
that as soon as breakfast was over all the men cleared out to work
on the run. But one day it so happened that Carew did not go out
with the others. The young Englishman was a poor correspondent, and
had promised himself a whole quiet day to be spent in explaining
by letter to his people at home the mysterious circumstances under
which he had found and lost Patrick Henry Considine. Ellen Harriott
found him in the office manfully wrestling with some extra long
words, and stopped for a few minutes' talk. She had a liking for
the young Englishman, and any talk was better than to be left alone
with her thoughts.

"These are bad times for the old station, Mr. Carew," she said.
"We don't know what is going to happen next."

Carew was not going to haul down the flag just yet. "I believe
everything 'll come all right in the long run, don't you know," he
said. "Never give up first hit, you know; see it out--eh, what?"

"I want to get away out of this for a while," she said. "I am run
down. I think the bush monotony tells on women. I don't want anyone
to fall sick, but I do wish I could get a little nursing to do
again--just for a change. I would nurse Red Mick himself."

Is there anything in telepathy? Do coming events sometimes send
warnings on ahead? Certain it is that, even as she spoke, a rider
on a sweating horse was seen coming at full speed up the flat; he
put his horse over the sliprails that led into the house paddock
without any hesitation, and came on at a swinging gallop.

"What is this?" said Ellen Harriott, "more trouble? It is only
trouble that comes so fast. Why, it is one of Red Mick's nephews!" By
this time the rider was up to them; without dismounting he called
out Miss! Please, Miss! There's been an accident. My uncle got run
agin a tree and he's all smashed in the head. I'm off to the Doctor
now; I'll get the Doctor here by to-morrow night, and would you
go out and do aught you can for Mick? There's no one out there but
old Granny, and she's helpless like. Will you go?"

"Is he much hurt?"

"I'm afraid he's killed, Miss. I found him, He'd been out all night
and the side of his head all busted. After a dingo he was--I seen
the tracks. Coming back from Gavan Blake's he must 'a' seen the
dorg off the track, and the colt he was on was orkard like and must
have hit him agen a tree. The colt kem home with the saddle under
his belly, and I run the tracks back till I found him. Will you go
out, Miss?"

"Yes," said Ellen, "I will go. And you hurry on now, and get the
Doctor. Tell the Doctor I've gone out there." Like an arrow from
the bow the young fellow sent his big thoroughbred horse across the
paddocks, making a bee line over fences and everything for Tarrong,
while Ellen Harriott hurried in to pack up a few things.

"Can I help you at all?" said Carew, following her into the house.
I'd like to be some use, don't you know; but in this country I seem
to be so dashed useless.

"You will be a lot of use if you will come out with me. I shall
want someone to drive the trap out, and I may want help with the
patient. You are big and strong.

"Yes, and it's about the first time my strength has even been of any
use to anybody. I will go and get the trap ready while you dress."

Hurriedly they packed food and blankets into the light buggy, and
set off. Miss Harriott knew the tracks well, and the buggy fairly
flew along till they came up the flat to Red Mick's. As they drew
near the hut a noise of talking and crying came through the open
door.

"What's up now?" said Carew. "Crowd of people there."

"No"--Ellen Harriott listened for a second. "No," she said, "he is
delirious. That is the old woman crying. Hurry up, Mr. Carew--take
the horse out of the buggy and put him in the stable, and then come
in as quickly as you can. I may want help."

Leaving Carew to unharness the horse, she went inside. In the inner
roomy on a bunk, lay Red Mick. Eye, nose, forehead, and mouth were
all one unrecognisable lump, while fragments of bark and splinters
still stuck to the skin. In the corner sat the old mother, crying
feebly. Disregarding the old woman, Ellen made a swift examination
of Mick's injuries, but as soon as he felt her touch on his face
he sprang to his feet and struck at her.

Just as he did so, Carew rushed in and threw his arms round the
madman. In that grip even Red Mick had no power to move.

"Just hold him quiet," said Ellen, "till I have a look"--and she
rapidly ran her fingers over the wound. "Very bad. I think there
must be a bit of the skull pressing on the brain. We can't do much
till the Doctor comes. I think he will be quiet now. Will you make
a fire and boil some water, so that I can clean and dress the wound
That will ease him a little. And get the blankets in; we can make
up some sort of place on the floor to sleep. One of us will have
to watch all night. Cranny, you must go to bed, do you hear? Come
and sit by Mick till I put Granny to bed."

By degrees they got things shipshape--put the old woman to bed,
and cleaned and dressed Mick's wounds. Then they settled down for
the long night in the sick-room. A strange sick-room it was; but
many a hospital is less healthy. Through wide cracks between the
slabs there came in the cool, fresh air that in itself is worth
more than all the medicines in the pharmacopoeia. The patient had
sunk into an uneasy slumber when Ellen made her dispositions for
the night.

"You go and lie down now," she said, "in the other room, on the
sofa. I will call you if I want you. Get all the sleep you can,
and in a couple of hours you can take my place. He may talk, but
don't let that disturb you. I will call out loud enough if I want
you."

"Mind you do," said the Englishman. "I sleep like a blessed top,
you know. Sleep anywhere. Well, good-night for the present. He
looks a little better since you washed him, doesn't he?"

He threw himself on the couch in the inner room, and before long a
titanic snore showed that he had not over-rated his sleeping powers.

Ellen Harriott sat by Red Mick's bedside and thought over the
events of the last few weeks. As she thought she half-dozed, but
woke with a start to find her patient broad awake again and trying
to get at something that was under his bunk. Quietly she drew him
back, for his struggles with Carew had left him weak as a child.

He looked at her with crazed eyes.

"The paper," he said, "for the love of God, the paper. I have to
take it to Gavan. 'Twill win the case. The paper."

She tried to pacify him, but nothing would do but that she should
get the mysterious paper. At last, to humour him, she dived under
the bunk and found an iron camp-oven, and in it a single envelope.
Just to see what was exciting him she opened the envelope, and
found a crumpled piece of paper which she read over to herself. It
was the original certificate of the marriage between Patrick Henry
Keogh and Margaret Donohoe; if Ellen had only known it, she held
in her hand the evidence to sweep away all her friend's troubles.
It so happened, however, that it conveyed nothing to her mind. She
had heard much about Considine, but not a word about Keogh, and
the name "Margaret Donohoe" did not strike her half-asleep mind as
referring to Peggy. She put the paper away again in the camp-oven;
then, feeling weary, she awoke Carew and lay down on the couch
while he watched the patient.

Next morning the Doctor arrived with a trail of Red Mick's relations
after him; among them they arranged to take him into Tarrong to
be operated on, and Ellen Harriott and Carew drove back to Kuryong
feeling as if they had known each other all their lives.

As they drove along she wondered idly which of Red Mick's innumerable
relatives the paper referred to, and why Mick was so anxious about
it; but by the time they arrived at home the matter passed from
her mind, except that she remembered well enough what was written
on the odd-looking little scrap.

"I will give you a certificate as a competent wardsman if ever you
want one," she said to Carew as he helped her out of the buggy. "I
don't know what I'd have done without you."

"You'd have managed somehow, I'll bet," he said, looking at the
confident face before him. "Quite a bit of fun, wasn't it? I hope
we have a few more excursions together."

And she felt that she rather hoped so, too.

CHAPTER XXIII.

HUGH GOES IN SEARCH.

Who does not remember the first exciting news of the great Grant
v. Grant will case? The leading Q.C.'s. watched eagerly for briefs;
juniors who held even the smallest briefs in connection with it
patronised their fellows, and explained to them intricate legal
dodges which they themselves had thought out and "pumped into" their
learned leaders. "Took me a doose of a time to get him to see it,
but I think he has got it at last," they used to say. The case
looked like lasting for years, for there would be appeals and
counter-appeals, references, inquiries and what not; and in getting
ready for the first fight the lawyers on each side worked like
beavers.

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