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An Outback Marriage by Andrew Barton Paterson

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Blake let it be known among the clans that he was going to fight
the case for Peggy, and that there was going to be a lawsuit such
as the most veteran campaigner of them all had never even dimly
imagined--a lawsuit with the happiness of a beautiful woman and
the disposal of a vast fortune at stake. Word was carried from
selection to selection, across trackless mountain-passes, and over
dangerous river crossings, until even Larry, the outermost Donohoe,
heard the news in his rocky fastness, miscalled a grazing lease,
away in the gullies under the shadows of Black Andrew mountain. By
some mysterious means it even reached Briney Doyle, who was camped
out near the foothills of Kosciusko, running wild horses into
trap-yards. This occupation had taken such hold on him that he
had become as wild as the horses he pursued, and it was popularly
supposed that the other Doyles had to go out with horses to run
him in whenever they wanted him.

Peggy brought in the copy of her marriage certificate, an old and
faded piece of paper which ran--"This is to certify that I, Thomas
Nettleship, duly ordained clergyman of the Church of England, have
this day solemnized a marriage between William Grant, Bachelor,
and Margaret Donohoe, Spinster."

The name of Pike's Hotel and the date were nearly illegible, but there
the document was; and though it was not the original certificate,
it was pretty clear that Peggy could never have invented it. Its
production made a great impression. It certainly went far to convince
Blake.

He had cross-examined all the witnesses, had checked their accounts
by each other, had followed William Grant's career at that time,
had got on to the history of the bush missionary; and everything
fitted in. Martin Doyle--Black Martin's son Martin--was
letter-perfect in his part. Peggy could give the details of the
ceremony with unfaltering accuracy fifty times a day if need be,
and never contradict herself. So at last he gave up trying to find
holes in the case, and determined to go in and win.

On the other side there was trouble in the camp--no witnesses could
be found, except Martin Doyle, and he was ready to swear to the
wedding. At last it became evident that the only chance of overthrowing
Peggy's case was to find Considine; but the earth seemed to have
swallowed him up.

The influence of the Chief of Police was brought to bear, and many
a weary mile did the troopers of the Outer Back ride in search of
the missing man. One of them followed a Considine about two hundred
miles across country, and embodied the story of his wanderings in
a villainously written report; brief and uncouth as the narrative
was, it was in itself an outline picture of bush life. From
shearers' hut to artesian borers' camp, from artesian well to the
opal-fields, from the opal-fields to a gold-rush, from the gold-rush
to a mail-coach stable, he pursued this Considine, only to find
that, in the words of the report, "the individual was not the same."

Things looked hopeless for Mary Grant, when help came from an
unexpected quarter. A letter written in a rugged, forcible fist,
arrived for Charlie Gordon from a young fellow named Redshaw, once
a station-hand on Kuryong, who had gone out to the back-country
and was rather a celebrity in his way. His father was a pensioner
at the old station, and Redshaw junior, who was known as Flash
Jack, evidently kept in touch with things at Kuryong. He wrote

Dear Sir,

I hear from Gannon the trooper that you want to find Keogh. When he
left the coach that time, he went back to the station and got his
horses, and cleared out, and he is now hiding in Reeves's buffalo
camp at the back of Port Faraway. If I hear any more will let you
know.

J. REDSHAW, alas 'Flash Jack.'

"What's all this?" said Pinnock, when Charlie and Carew brought him
the letter. "Who is J. Redshaw, and why does he sign "alas Flash
Jack?"

"He means Alias, don't you see? Alias Flash Jack. He is a man we
used to have on the station, and his father used to work for us--I
expect he wants to do us a good turn."

"It will be a good turn in earnest, if he puts you in the way of
finding Considine," said the lawyer. "You will have to send Hugh
up. The old man knows you and Carew, and if he saw you coming he
would take to the woods, as the Yankees say. Even when you do get
him the case isn't over, because the jury will side with Peggy.
They'll sympathise with her efforts to prove herself an honest woman.
It isn't marrying too much that will get her into trouble--it's
the other thing. But we have the date and place of her alleged
marriage with William Grant; and if this old Considine can prove,
by documents, mind you, not by his own simple word--because it's
a hundred to one the jury wouldn't believe him--I say, if he can
prove that she married him on that very day and at that very place,
then she's beaten. No one on earth could swallow the story of her
marrying two different people on the same day."

"Hugh can go," said Charlie. "He'll have to do his best this time.
It all depends on getting hold of this Considine, eh? Well, Hugh
'll have to get him. If he fails he needn't show his face amongst
us any more."

Mary Grant was called in and told the great news, and then Pinnock
started out to find Hugh. But before the lawyer could see him, Mary
met him in the garden.

Hugh did not see that he could be of any use in the case, and wanted
to be quit of Kuryong for good. Seeing Mary day after day, he had
become more and more miserable as the days went by. He determined
at last to go away altogether, and, when once he had made up his
mind, only waited for a chance to tell her that he was going. The
chance came as she left the office after consulting with Pinnock.

"Miss Grant," he said, "if you don't mind, I think I will resign
my management of this station. I will make a start for myself or
get a job somewhere else. You will easily get someone to take my
place."

She looked at him keenly for a while.

"I didn't expect this of you," she said, bitterly. "The rats leave
the sinking ship. Is that it?"

His face flushed a dull red. "You know better than that," he said.
"I would stop if I could be of any use, but what is there I can
do?"

"Why do you want to leave?"

"I want to get away from here--I want to get out of the hills for
awhile."

Mary knew, as well as if he had told her, that what he wanted was
to go where he could forget her and see whether absence would break
the chain; and triumph lit up her eyes, for it was pleasant even
in the midst of her troubles to know that he still cared. Then she
came to a swift decision.

"Will you do something for me away from the hills, then?" she said.

"Where?"

"Up North. I want some one to find that man Considine that your
brother and Mr. Carew met. You know how important it is to me.
Will you do it for me?"

Hugh would have jumped at the chance to risk his life for her
lightest wish.

"I will go anywhere and do my best to find anyone you want," he
said; "When do you want me to start?"

"See Mr. Pinnock and your brother about that. They will tell you
all about it; and if you do manage to find this man, why, you can
talk about leaving after that if you want to. Will you go for me?"

"Yes. I will go, Miss Grant; and I will never come back till I find
this man--if he is alive."

She laid her hand on his arm.

"I know you will do all you can," she said, "but in any case,
whether you find him or not--come back again!"

CHAPTER XXIV.

THE SECOND SEARCH FOR CONSIDINE.

Before leaving Hugh was fully instructed what to do if he compassed
the second finding of Considine. He was to travel under another
name, for fear that his own would get about, and cause the fugitive
to make another hurried disappearance.

He took a subpoena to serve on the old man as a last resource.

Charlie was emphatic. "Go up and get hold of the old vagrant, and
find out all about it. Don't make a mess of it, whatever you do.
Remember the old lady, and Miss Grant, and the youngsters, and
all of us depend on you in this business. Don't come back beaten.
Don't let anything stop you. Get him drunk or get him sober--friendly
or fighting--but get the truth, and get the proofs of it. Choke it
out of the old hound somehow."

Hugh said that he would, and departed, weighed down by responsibility,
to execute his difficult mission. He had to go into an untravelled
country to get the truth out of a man who did not want to tell it;
and the time allowed was short, as the case could not be postponed
much longer.

He travelled by sea to Port Faraway, a tropical sweltering township
by the Northern seas of Australia, and when he reached it felt like
one of the heroes in Tennyson's Lotus Eaters--he had come "into a
land wherein it seemed always afternoon."

Reeves, the buffalo shooter, was a well-known man, but to find his
camp was another matter. No one seemed to have energy enough to
take much interest in the quest.

Hugh interviewed a leading citizen at the hotel, and got very little
satisfaction. He said, "I want to get out to Reeves's camp. Do you
know where it is, and how one gets there?"

"Well," said the leading citizen, putting his feet up on the arms
of his long chair and gasping for air, "Le's see! Reeves's camp--ah!
Where is he camped now?"

"I don't know," said Hugh. "I wish I did. That's what I want to
find out."

"Hopkins'd know. Hopkins, the storekeeper. He sends out the
supplies. Did you ask him?"

"No," said Hugh. "I didn't. I'll go and ask him now."

"Too hot to bustle round now," said the leading citizen, lighting
his pipe. "What'll you have to drink? Have some square; it's the
best drink here."

Hugh thought it well to fall in with the customs of the inhabitants,
so he had a stiff gin-and-water at nine in the morning, a thing
he had never done, or even seen done, in his life before. Then he
went over in the blazing sunlight to the storekeeper, and asked
whether he knew where Reeves' camp was.

"That I don't," said the storekeeper. "I send out what they want
by a Malay who sails a one-masted craft round the coast, and goes
up the river to their camp, and brings the hides back. They send a
blackfellow to let me know when they want any stuff, and where to
send it."

"Perhaps I could go out with the next lot of stuff," said Hugh.
"When will they want it, do you think?"

"Well, they mightn't want any more. They might go on now till the
wet season, and then they'll come in."

"When is the wet season, then?"

"Oh, a couple of months, likely. Perhaps three months. Perhaps
there won't be none at all to speak of. What'll you have?"

"Oh, I have just had a drink, thanks. Fact is, I'm a bit anxious
to get out to this camp. It's a bit important. You don't know where
they are for certain?"

"Lord knows! Anywhere! Might be on one river, might be on another.
They'll come in in the wet season. Better have a drink, anyhow.
You must have something. What'll it be--square? Beer? Can't stand
beer in this climate, myself."

"Oh, well," said Hugh desperately, "I'll have another square. Make
it a light one. Do you think I can get anyone who knows where they
are camped to go out with me?"

"Tommy Prince'd know, I expect. He was out in that country before.
But he's gone with a bullock-team, drawing quartz to the new
battery at the Oriental. At least I saw him start out three weeks
ago. Said he was in a hurry, too, as the battery couldn't start
until he got the quartz hauled."

"Perhaps he didn't start," said Hugh; "perhaps he put it off till
after the wet season?"

"Well," said the storekeeper, meditatively, "he might, but I don't
think he would. There's no one else, that I know of, can find them
for you. Lord knows where they are. They camp in one place till
the buffalo are all shot, and then they shift to new ground. Perhaps
ten miles, perhaps thirty. Have another drink? What'll you have?"

"No, not any more, thanks. About this Tommy Prince, now; if I can
find him he might tell me where to go. Where can I find him?"

"Down at the Margaret is where he camps, but I think he's gone to
the Oriental by this time--sure to be. That's about forty miles
down past the Margaret. There was a fellow came in from the Margaret
for supplies, and he'll be going back to-morrow--if he can find
his pack-horses."

"And supposing he can't?"

"Well, then, he'll go out next week, I expect, unless he gets on
the drink. He's a terrible chap to drink."

"And if he starts to drink, when will he go?"

"Lord knows. They'll have to send in after him. His mates'll
be pretty near starved by now, anyhow. He's been in town, foolin'
round that girl at the Royal this three weeks. He'll give you a
lift out to the Margaret--that's forty miles."

"What is there out at the Margaret when I get there? Is it a town,
or a station, or a mine? What is it?"

"Oh, it's not so bad. There's a store there, and a few mines
scattered about. Mostly Chinese mines. The storekeeper there's
a great soaker, nearly always on the drink. Name's Sampson. He'll
tell you where to find Tommy Prince. Prince and his mates have a
claim twelve miles out from there, and if Tommy ain't gone to the
Oriental, he might go down with you."

"Supposing Tommy's at his claim, twelve miles out," said Hugh, "how
can I get out?"

"I dunno," said the storekeeper, who was getting tired of talking
so long without a drink. "I dunno how you'll get out there. Better
have a drink--what'll you have?"

Hugh walked out of the store in despair. He found himself engaged
in what appeared to be an endless chase after a phantom Considine,
and the difficulties in his way semed insuperable. Yet how could
he go back and tell them all at home that he had failed? What
would they think of him? The thought made him miserable; and he
determined, if he failed, never to go back to the old station at
all.

So he returned to his hotel, packed his valise, and set out to look
for the pack-horse man. He found him fairly sober; soon bargained
to be allowed to ride one of the horses, and in due course was
deposited at the Margaret--a city consisting of one galvanised-iron
building, apparently unoccupied. His friend dismounted and had a
drink with him out of his flask. They kicked at the door unavailingly;
then his mate went on into the indefinite, leaving him face to face
with general desolation.

The Margaret store was the only feature in the landscape--a small
building with a heap of empty bottles in the immediate foreground,
and all round it the grim bush, a vista of weird twisted trees
and dull grey earth with scanty grass. At the back were a well, a
windlass, and a trough for water, round which about a hundred goats
were encamped. Hugh sat and smoked, and looked at the prospect.
By-and-by out of the bush came two men, a Chinaman and a white man.
The Chinaman was like all Chinamen; the white man was a fiery,
red-faced, red-bearded, red-nosed little fellow. The Chinee
was dragging a goat along by the horns, the goat hanging back and
protesting loudly in semi-human screams; every now and again a black
mongrel dog would make sudden fiendish dashes at the captive, and
fasten its teeth in its neck. This made it bellow louder; but the
Chinaman, with the impassibility of his race, dragged goat, dog,
and all along, without the slightest show of interest.

The white man trudged ahead, staring fixedly in front; when they
reached the store he stared at Hugh as if he were the Bunyip, but said
no word. Then he unlocked the door, went in, and came out with a
large knife, with which he proceeded to murder the goat scientifically.
The Chinee meanwhile bailed up the rest of the animals, and caught
and milked a couple of "nannies," while a patriarchal old "billy"
walked fragrantly round the yard, uttering hoarse "buukhs" of
defiance.

It was a truly pastoral scene, but Hugh took little interest in
it. He was engrossed with the task of getting out to the buffalo
camp, finding Considine, and making him come forward and save the
family. He approached the white, or rather red man, who cocked a
suspicious eye at him, and went on tearing the hide off the goat.
Hugh noticed that his hand trembled a good deal, and that a sort
of foam gathered on his lips as he worked.

"Good day," said Hugh.

The man glared at him, but said nothing.

"My name is Lambton," said Hugh. "I want to go out to the buffalo
camp. I want to find Tommy Prince, to see if he can go out with
me. Do you know where he is?"

The man put the blade of the butcher's knife between his teeth,
and stared again at Hugh, apparently having some difficulty in
focussing him. Then his lips moved, and he was evidently trying to
frame speech. He said, "Boo, Boo, Boo," for a few seconds; then he
pulled himself together, and said,

"Wha' you want?"

"I want to get to the buffalo camp," said Hugh. "You know Reeves's
camp."

Here a twig fell to the ground just behind the man; he gave
one blood-curdling yell, dropped the knife, and rushed past Hugh,
screaming out, "Save me! Save me! They're after me! Look at 'em;
look at 'em!" His hair stood perfectly erect with fright, and, as
he ran, he glanced over his shoulder with frightened eyes. He didn't
get far. In his panic he ran straight towards the well, banged his
head against the windlass, and went thundering down the twenty or
thirty feet of shaft souse into the water at the bottom, where he
splashed and shrieked like a fiend, the noise reverberating up the
long shaft.

Hugh and the Chinaman ran to the well-top, Hugh cursing under his
breath. Every possible obstacle that could arise had arisen to
block his journey; every man that could have helped him was away,
or dead, or otherwise missing; and now, to crown all, after getting
thus far, he had apparently struck a prize lunatic, and would have
to stay in that awful desolation, perhaps for a week, with him and
a Chinaman. Perhaps he would have to give evidence on the lunatic's
dead body, and even be accused of causing his death. All these
thoughts flashed through his mind as he ran to the well-head. From
the noise he made the man was evidently not dead yet, and, looking
down, he saw his eyes glaring up as he splashed in the water.

"What's up with him?" roared Hugh to the Chinaman.

"Him, dlink, dlink--all-a-time dlink, him catchee hollows."

They had started to lower the bucket, when suddenly the yells
ceased, a loud bubbling was heard, and looking down they saw only
a dim, round object above the water. Without an instant's delay
Hugh put his foot in the bucket and signed to the Chinee to lower
him. Swiftly and silently he descended the well, jumped out of
the bucket, and grabbed the floating body of the drunkard with one
hand, holding on to the rope with the other. The man had collapsed,
and was as limp as a rag. Hugh made the rope fast under his armpits,
and gave the old mining cry, "On top there, haul away."

Heavily the windlass creaked. Mightily the Chinee strained. The
unconscious figure was drawn out of the water and up the shaft,
inch by inch. The weight of a man in wet clothes is considerably
more than that of a bucket of water, and it seemed a certainty that
either the old windlass would break or the Chinaman's arms give
out. Slowly, slowly, the limp wet figure ascended the shaft, while
Hugh supported himself in the water, by gripping the logs at the
side of the well, praying that the tackle would hold. The creaking
of the windlass ceased, and the ascending body stopped--evidently
the Chinee was pausing to get his breath.

"Go on!" screamed Hugh. "Keep at it, John! Don't let it beat you!
Wind away!"

Faintly came the gasped reply, "No can! No more can do!"

He lowered himself in the water as far as he could, to deaden
the blow in case of the fellow falling back on him, and screamed
encouragement, threats, and promises up the well. Suddenly from
above came a new voice altogether, a white man's voice.

"Right oh, boss! We've got him."

The windlass recommenced its creaking, and the figure at the end
of the rope continued its slow, upward journey. Hugh saw the body
hauled slowly to the top and grabbed by a strong hand; then it
disappeared, and the sunlight once more streamed, uninterrupted,
down the shaft. The bucket came down again, and Hugh clutched it
and yelled out, "Haul away!" He could hear the men grunting above
as they turned the handle.

When he had been hauled about fifteen feet there was a crack; the
old windlass had collapsed, and he went souse, feet first, into
the water. He sank till he touched the bottom, then rose gasping
to the surface. A head appeared, framed in the circle of the well,
and a slow, drawling colonial voice said:

"Gord! boss, are you hurt? The windlass is broke."

"No, I'm not hurt. Can't you fix that windlass?" roared Hugh.

"No!" came the answer sepulchrally down the well. "She's cooked."

"Well, hold on," said Hugh. "I believe I can get up." He braced
his feet against one side of the well, and his shoulders against
the other, and so, working them alternately, he raised himself inch
by inch. It is a feat that requires a good man to perform, and the
strain was very great. Grimly he kept at it, and drew nearer and
nearer to the top. Then, at last, a hand seized him; half-sick
with over-exertion, he struggled out and fell gasping to the ground.
For a minute or two the universe was turning round with him. The
Chinee and the strange white man moved in a kind of flicker, unreal
as the figures in a cinematograph. Then all was blank for a while.

When he came to, he was lying by the well with a bag under his head,
and the strange white man was trying to pour some spirits down his
throat.

"I'm--all right--thanks!" gasped Hugh.

"By Gord, Mister, it's lucky I happened to come along," said the
stranger. "You an' Sampson'd ha' both been drownded. That Chow
couldn't haul him up. Dead beat the Chow was when I came. I jis'
come ridin' up, thinkin' to get a few pound of onions to take out
to the camp, and I see the Chow a-haulin' and a-haulin' at that
windlass like as if he was tryin' to pull the bottom out of the
well. I rides up and sings out "What ho! Chaney, what yer got?" And
he says, "Ketch hold," he says, and that was all he could say; he
was fair beat. And then I heard you singing out, and I says to
meself, "Is the whole popperlation of the Northern Territory down
this here well? How many more is there, Chancy?" I says. And then
bung goes the old windlass, and lucky it ketched in the top of the
well; if it had fell down on the top of you, it'd ha' stiffened
you all right. And how you got up that well beats me. By Cripes,
it does."

"How's the--man that--was down with me?" said Hugh slowly.

"What, Sampson? 'E's all right. Couldn't kill'm with a meat-axe.
He must ha' swallowed very near all the water in that well. Me an'
the Chow emptied very near two buckets out of him. He's dead to
the world jes' now. How do you feel, boss?"

"I'll be all right in a minute," said Hugh. "What's your name?"

"I'm Tommy Prince," said the stranger. "I jist kem in from my camp
to-day for them onions."

Hugh drew a long breath. The luck had turned at last.

CHAPTER XXV.

IN THE BUFFALO CAMP.

"You're just the man I was looking for," said Hugh, taking in the
stranger with his eyes. "I want to get out to Reeves's buffalo camp,
and I hear you're the only man who knows that country at all. Can
you get time to come down with me? I'll make it worth your while."

He waited for the reply with a beating heart. If this man failed
him he saw nothing for it but to go back. The stranger lit his pipe
with the leisurely movements of a man who had never been in a real
hurry in his life.

Then he spoke slowly.

"Well, it's this way, boss, you see. I'm just startin' off in no
end of a hurry to go and take a team of bullocks to the Oriental
to draw quartz."

"Can't you put it off for a while?" said Hugh. "It's getting near
the wet season."

"Well, I'd like to go with you, boss, but I couldn't chuck 'em
over--not rightly I couldn't." He stroked his beard and relapsed
into thought.

"Let's go in and get a drink," said Hugh. "I suppose there is some
square-face inside."

The square-face settled it. They had one drink, and the stranger
began to think less of the needs of the Oriental. They had another,
and he said he didn't suppose it'd matter much if the Oriental had
to wait a bit for their stone, and the bullocks were all over the
bush and very poor, and by the time he got them together the wet
season would be on. They had a third, and he said that the Oriental
had been hanging on for six months, and it wouldn't hurt it to hang
on for seven, and he wouldn't see a man like Hugh stuck.

So the shareholders in that valuable concern, the Oriental Mine,
were kept in pleasing suspense for some months longer, while the
mine-manager (whose salary was going on all the time) did nothing
but smoke, and write reports to the effect that "a very valuable
body of stone was at grass, awaiting cartage to the battery, when
a splendid crushing was a certainty." Meanwhile Tommy Prince was
gaily journeying with Hugh down to the buffalo camp.

Prince, a typical moleskin-trousered, cotton-shirted, cabbage-tree-hatted
bushman, soon fixed up all details. He annexed the horses belonging
to the store, sagely remarking that, as Hugh had saved their owner's
life, he could afford to let him have a few horses. He also helped
himself to pack-saddles, camping gear, supplies, and all sorts of
odds and ends--not forgetting a couple of gallons of rum, mosquito-nets
made of cheese cloth, blankets, and a rifle and cartridges. They
fitted out the expedition in fine style, while unconscious Sampson
slept the sleep of the half-drowned. The placid Chinese cook fried
great lumps of goat for them to eat, heedless of all things except
his opium-pipe, to which he had recourse in the evening, the curious
dreamy odour of the opium blending strangely with the aromatic
scent of the bush.

At daylight they started, and for three days rode through the
wilderness, camping out at night, while the horses with bells and
hobbles grazed round the camp. Tommy Prince steered a course by
instinct, guided as unerringly as the Israelites by their pillar
of fire.

By miles of trackless, worthless wilderness, by rolling open plains,
by rocky ranges and stony passes, they pushed out and ever further
out, till at last, one day, Tommy said, "They ought to be hereabouts,
some place." So saying, he dropped a lighted match into a big patch
of grass, and in a few seconds a line of fire half a mile wide was
roaring across the plain; above it rose smoke as of a burning city.

"They'll see that," said Tommy, "without the buff'loes have got
'em." So they camped for the day under a huge banyan-fig tree and
awaited developments. About evening, away on the horizon, there
arose an answering cloud of smoke, connecting earth and sky, like
a waterspout.

"That's them," said Tommy. They climbed once more into their saddles,
and set out. Just as the sun was setting, they saw a singular
procession coming towards them. In front rode two small, wiry,
hard-featured, inexpressibly dirty men on big well-formed horses.
They wore dungaree trousers, which had once been blue, but were
now begrimed and bloodstained to a dull neutral colour. Their
shirts--once coloured, but now nearly black--were worn outside the
trousers, like a countryman's smock frock, and were drawn in at
the waist by broad leathern belts full of cartridges. Their faces
were half-hidden by stubbly beards, and their bright alert eyes
looked out from under the brims of two as dilapidated felt hats
as ever graced head of man. Each carried a carbine between thigh
and saddle. These were the buffalo shooters.

Behind them rode an elderly, grizzled man, whom Hugh had no
difficulty in recognising as Keogh, or Considine. Following him
were some seven or eight packhorses, all heavily laden with hides.
And behind the packhorses rode three or four naked blacks and a
Chinaman.

Hugh's guide at once made himself welcome in his happy-go-lucky
style. He introduced Hugh as Mr. Lambton, from New South Wales.
The buffalo shooters made him welcome after the fashion of their
kind; but Considine was obviously uneasy, and avoided him, riding
with Tommy Prince for a while, and evidently trying to find out
what Hugh had come for.

That night, when they got to the buffalo shooters' camp, Hugh
opened fire on Considine. The veteran was in a cheerful mood after
his meal, and Hugh wanted to start diplomatically, thinking he
might persuade him. If that failed he would give him the summons;
but he would start with the suaviter in modo. When it came to the
point, however, he forgot his diplomacy, and plunged straight into
trouble.

"I'll tell you what I've come up here for, Considine," he said.
"My name's Hugh Gordon, and I want to find out something about your
marriage with Peggy Donohoe."

"Well, if that's what you come for, Mister," said the veteran,
pulling a firestick out of the fire, and slowly lighting his pipe,
"if that's what you come for"--puff, puff, puff--"you've come on
a wild goose chase. I never knew no Peggy Donohoe in my life. My
wife"--puff--"was a small, dark woman, named Smith."

"I thought you told my brother that you married Peggy Donohoe."

"So I might have told him," assented the veteran. "Quite likely
I did, but I must ha' made a mistake. A man might easy make a
mistake over a thing like that. What odds is it to you who I married,
anyhow?"

"What odds? Why look here, Considine, it means that my old mother
will be turned out of her home. That's some odds to me, isn't it?"

"Yairs, that's right enough, Mister," said the courteous Considine;
"it's lots of odds to you, but what I ask you is--what odds is
it to me? Why should I go and saddle myself with a she-devil just
when I'm coming into a bit of money? I'd walk miles to do her a
bad turn."

"Well, if you want to do her a bad turn, come down and block her
getting Mr. Grant's estate."

"Yes, an' put her on to meself What next? I tell you, Mister,
straight, I wouldn't have that woman tied to me for all the money
in China. That English bloke said there was a big fortune for me
in England. Well, if I have to take Peggy Donohoe with it, it can
stay. I'll live here with the blacks and the buffalo shooters, and
I'll get my livin' for meself, same as I got it all my life; but
take on Peggy again I will not. Now, that's Domino--that's the dead
finish. I won't go with you, and I won't give you no information.
And I'm sorry too, 'cause you seem a good sort of a young feller--but
I won't do anything that'll mix me up with Peggy any more."

Hugh ground his teeth with mortification. Then he played his next
card.

"There's a man they call Flash Jack--do you know him?"

"Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't," said the sage in a surly tone.

"Well, he told me to ask you to help us. He said to tell you that
he particularly wanted you to give evidence if you can."

"Want'll be his master, then," snarled the old man.

"He said he would put the police on to a job about some cattle at
Cross-roads," said Hugh.

The rage fairly flashed out of Considine's eyes.

"He said that, did he?" he yelled. "The rotten informer! Well,
you tell Flash Jack from me that where he can put me away for one
thing I can put him away for half-a-dozen; and if I go into gaol
for a five-stretch he goes in for ten. I ain't afraid of Flash
Jack, nor you either. See that, now!"

Hugh felt that his mission had failed. He pulled out the summons
as a last resource, and passed it to the old man.

"What's this?" he said.

"Summons to give evidence," said Hugh.

"Victoria by the Grace of God," read the old man, by the flickering
firelight. "Victoria by the Grace of God, eh? Well, see here," he
continued, solemnly putting the summons in the fire and watching
it blaze, "if Victoria by the Grace of God wants me, she can send
for me--send a coach and six for Patrick Henry Considine, late
Patrick Henry Keogh! And then I mightn't go! There'll be only one
thing make me go where I don't want to go, and that's a policeman
at each elbow and another shovin' behind. I'd sooner do a five-stretch
than take Peggy back again. And that's the beginning and the end
and the middle of it. And now I'll wish you good night."

CHAPTER XXVI.

THE SAVING OF CONSIDINE.

At grey dawn all the camp was astir. Hugh looked from under his
mosquito-net, and saw old Considine over the fire, earnestly frying
a large hunk of buffalo meat. He was without a trouble in the world
as he turned the hissing steak in the pan. Two black gins in brief
garments--a loin cloth and a villainously dirty pyjama-jacket
each--were sitting near him, languidly killing the mosquitoes which
settled on their bare legs. These were Maggie and Lucy, but they
had degenerated with their surroundings. Tommy Prince was oiling
a carbine, and one of the shooters was washing his face at a basin
formed by scratching a small hole in the ground and pressing a
square of canvas into the depression.

The Chinese skinner was sitting on a log, rubbing a huge butcher's
knife on a sharpening stone. Away up the plain the horses, about
thirty or forty in number, were slowly trooping into camp, hunted
by a couple of blackfellows, naked except for little grass armlets
worn above the elbow, and sticks stuck through their noses. When
the horses reached the camp they formed a squadron under the shade
of some trees, and pushed and shoved and circled about, trying to
keep the flies off themselves and each other.

Hugh walked over to Tommy Prince at his rifle-oiling, and watched
him for a while. That worthy, who was evidently a true sportsman
at heart, was liberally baptising with Rangoon oil an old and much
rusted Martini carbine, whose ejector refused to work. Every now
and then, when he thought he had got it ship-shape, Tommy would
put in a fresh cartridge, hold the carbine tightly to his shoulder,
shut his eyes, and fire it into space. The rusty old weapon kicked
frightfully, after each discharge the ejector jammed, and Tommy
ruefully poked the exploded cartridge out with a rod and poured on
more oil.

"Blast the carbine!" said Tommy. "It kicks upwards like; it's
kicking my nose all skewwhiff."

"Don't put it to your shoulder, you fool," said one of the shooters;
"it'll kick your head off. Hold it out in one hand."

"Then it'll kick my arm off," said Tommy.

"No, it won't; you won t feel it at all," said the shooter. "Your
arm will give to the recoil. Blaze away!"

"What are you up to with the carbine?" said Hugh.

"I'm going to have a blaze at some of these 'ere buff'loes," said
Tommy gaily. "Bill's lent me a horse. They's got a rifle for you,
and one for the old man. "We'll give them buff'loes hell to-day.
Five rifles--they'll think the French is after them." "Well, but
I want to get back," said Hugh. "We mustn't waste any time. What
about the store-keeper's horses?"

"Ho! it'd never do to take them straight back again," said Tommy.
"Never do. They must have a spell. Besides, what's the hurry?"

And Hugh, recognising that for all the good he could do he might just
as well not hurry back again, resigned himself to the inevitable,
picked up his bridle, went into the shuffling herd of horses,
and caught the one pointed out to him. It was a big, raw-boned,
ragged-hipped bay, a horse that would have been a gentleman under
any other conditions, but from long buffalo-hunting had become a
careless-going, loose-jointed ruffian, taking his life in his hands
every day. He bit savagely at Hugh as he saddled him, and altogether
proclaimed himself devoid of self-respect and the finer instincts.

Breakfast was despatched almost in silence. The shooters knew
vaguely that Hugh's visit was in some way connected with Considine,
and that Considine had refused to do what Hugh wanted. But the
hospitality of the buffalo camp is as the hospitality of the Arabs
of old--the stranger is made welcome whatever his business, and
may come and go unquestioned.

Hugh had little desire to talk on the subject of his visit, and
Considine maintained a dogged silence. Tommy Prince alone chatted
away affably between large mouthfuls of buffalo beef, damper, and
tea, airing his views on all subjects, but principally on the fair
sex. Meanwhile the blacks were catching the pack-horses, and
sharpening their skinning knives. The two horses used by the shooters
were brought over to the camp fire and given a small feed each of
much-prized maize and oats and bran, that had been brought round
in the lugger from Port Faraway with the camp supplies, landed on
the river-bank twelve miles off, and fetched in on pack-horses.

"A little more beef, Mister? No? Well, all aboard for the Buffalo
Brigade! That's your rifle by the tree. Put this cartridge-belt on
and buckle it real tight; if you leave it loose, when you start to
gallop it will shake up and down, and shake the soul out of you.
Come, Paddy, what are you riding?"

"I'm going to ride the boco."

[Footnote: One-eyed horse.]

"I wouldn't if I was you. He's all right to race up to a buffalo,
but that blind eye of his'll fetch him to grief some day. Ride the
old grey."

"No fear," said the old man obstinately, "the boco's one eye's
worth any horse's two. Me an' the boco will be near the lead when
the whips are crackin', take it from me."

"Come along, then!"

Hugh clambered on to his raw-boned steed, known as "Close Up,"
because he would go so close to the buffaloes, and the procession
started. The five white men rode ahead, all smoking with great
enjoyment. Hugh was beside one of the shooters, and opened conference
with him.

"I've heard a lot about this business," said Hugh, "but never hoped
to see it. What are these Australian buffaloes? I thought they were
just humped cattle like those little Brahmin cattle."

"People reckon they're the Indian buffalo," said the bushman. "They
were fetched here about fifty years ago from Java--just a few pair,
and they were let go and went wild, and now they're all over the
face of the earth about here. We've shot six hundred of 'em--just
the two rifles--in six months. It's not play, I tell you, to shoot
and skin six hundred and cure their hides in that time. We'll get
a thousand this season."

"Good Lord," said Hugh. "Won't they be shot out?"

"Not they. There's about eight thousand of 'em shot every year
for their hides, and it's just like the ordinary increase of a big
cattle station. They're all over these plains, and for miles and
miles away down the coast, and in the jungles there's thousands of
'em. There's jungles here that are a hundred miles round, and no
animal but a buffalo will go into 'em. The blacks say that inside
them there's big patches of clear plain, with grass and water, where
there's buffaloes as thick as bees; but you can't get at 'em."

"How do you shoot 'em?" said Hugh.

"Race right up alongside 'em, and put the carbine out with one
hand, and shoot downwards into the loin. That's the only way to
drop 'em. You can shoot bullets into 'em by the hatful everywhere
else, and they just turn and charge; and while you are dodging round,
first you huntin' the buffalo, and then the buffalo huntin' you, the
rest of the mob are out of sight. You must go right up alongside,
close enough to touch 'em with the barrel, and fire down--so." He
illustrated with the carbine as he spoke. "And whatever you do,
don't pull your horse about; he knows the game, if you don't. Never
stop your horse near a wounded buffalo, either. They make a rush
as sudden as lightnin'. They look clumsy and big; but, my oath, a
wounded one can hop along something wonderful! They'll surprise
you for pace any time; but most of all when they're wounded."

"Do they always come at you when they're wounded?" said Hugh.

"Always," said the shooter, "and very often when they're not wounded
they'll turn and charge if you've run 'em a long way. You want to
look out, I tell you. They'll wheel very sudden, and if they ketch
your horse they'll grind him into pulp. Ben, my mate here, had
a horse killed under him last week--horse we gave five and twenty
quid for, and that's a long shot for a buffalo horse. I believe in
Injia they shoot 'em off elephants, but that's 'cause they won't
come out in the open like they do here. There's hundreds of toffs
in England and Injia'd give their ears for a day after these, you
know. Hello! Look! See there!"

Far away out on the plain Hugh saw fifteen or twenty bluish-grey
mounds in a line rising above the grass; it was a herd of buffalo
feeding. The animals never lifted their heads, and were curiously
like a lot of railway trucks covered with grey tarpaulin. It was
impossible to tell which was head and which was tail. A short halt
was made while girths were tightened, cartridges slipped into place,
and hats jammed on; they all mounted and rode slowly towards the
herd, which was at least half a mile off, and still feeding steadily.
Everyone kept his horse in hand, ready for a dash the moment the
mob lifted their heads.

"How fast will they go?" whispered Hugh to the nearest shooter.

"Fast as blazes. You've no idea how fast they are. They're the
biggest take-in there is. When they lift their heads they'll stare
for half a minute, and then they'll run. The moment they start,
off you go. Watch 'em! There's one sees us! Keep steady yet--don't
rush till they start."

One of the blue mounds lifted a huge black-muzzled head, decorated
with an enormous pair of sickle-shaped horns that stretched right
back to the shoulders. He stared with great sullen eyes and trotted
a few paces towards them; one after another, the rest lifted their
heads and stared too. Closer drew the horsemen at their steady,
silent jog, the horses pricking their ears and getting on their
toes as race-horses do at the start of a race.

"Be ready," said the shooter. "Now!"

The mob, with one impulse, wheeled, and set off at a heavy lumbering
gallop, and the horses dashed in full gallop after them. It was a
ride worth a year of a man's life. Every man sat down to his work
like a jockey finishing a race, and the big stock horses went through
the long grass like hawks swooping down on a flock of pigeons. The
men carried their carbines loaded, holding them straight up over
the shoulder so as to lessen the jerking of the wrist caused by
the gallop.

The surface of the plain was level enough, but frightfully bad
going; the sun had baked the black soil till great gaping cracks,
a couple of feet wide and ten feet deep, were opened in the ground. The
buffaloes had wallowed in the wet season and made round well-like
holes that were now hard, dry pitfalls. Here and there a treacherous,
slimy watercourse wound its slinking way along, making a bog in
which a horse would sink to his shoulders; and over all these traps
and pitfalls the long waving jungle-grass drew a veil. Every now
and then belts of small bamboo were crossed, into which the horses
dashed blindly, forcing their way through by their weight. When
they started the buffaloes had a lead of a quarter of a mile, and
judging by their slogging, laboured gallop, it looked as though
the horses would run into them in half a mile; but on that ground
the buffaloes could go nearly as fast as the horses, and it was
only after a mile and a quarter of hard riding that they closed
in on the mob, which at once split into several detachments. A
magnificent old bull, whose horns measured ten feet from tip
to tip, dashed away to the right with six or seven cows lumbering
after him. Hugh and one of the shooters followed this lot. Another
mob went away to the left, pursued by the other shooter and Considine;
while one old cow, having had enough running, suddenly wheeled in
her tracks, and charged straight at Tommy Prince, whose horse at
once whipped round and carried his rider, with the old cow at his
tail, into a clump of bamboos. Hugh followed his mate as hard as
he could, both horses feeling the pace, and pecking and blundering
every now and again in the broken ground. Once Hugh saw a buffalo-wallow
suddenly appear right under his horse's nose, and half-flinched,
expecting a certain fall; but old "Close Up" strode over it,
apparently having a leg to spare for emergencies of the sort.

Just ahead of him the shooter, sitting down in his saddle, lifted
his horse with a drive of the spurs, and came right alongside the
hindmost animal, a fat blue cow, which at once swerved at right
angles; but the horse followed her every movement, and drew up till
horse and buffalo were racing side by side. Then without fuss or
hurry, up went the elbow of the rider and bang! the buffalo fell
as if paralysed, shot through the lions. The horse swung away from
the falling animal as it crashed to the ground; and the shooter,
still going at full gallop, methodically ejected the used cartridge
and put in another without losing his place at the tail of the
flying mob. The noise of the carbine made the mob divide, and Hugh
found himself going full speed after three that came his way. Wild
with excitement, he drove Close Up after the nearest, and made
ready to fire at the right moment. The long gallop had winded him;
his arm was almost numbed with the strain of carrying the carbine,
which now seemed to weigh a ton.

Close Up, true to his name, made a dash at the nearest buffalo,
and got close enough in all conscience; but what with the jerking
to and fro of the gallop, and the rolling gait and sudden swerves
of the buffalo, and the occasional blunderings of the horse in
broken ground, Hugh never seemed to have the carbine pointed right.
Close Up, finding it did not go off when he expected, began to
slacken pace and gallop in an undecided way. It sounds easy enough
to gallop up to an animal which you can beat for pace, but anyone
who has ever tried to lay a whip on the back of a bullock knows it
is not so easy as it looks to get more than one or two clips home.
Hugh found the buffalo holding its own for pace, and every time he
drew up it dodged before he could make sure of hitting the loin.
Cover seemed to be getting very near. At last he leaned out as far
as he could, held the rifle in one hand, and took a "speculator"
at the flying buffalo. He hit it somewhere, but hadn't time to see
where; for, with a snort like a grampus, the beast wheeled in its
tracks and charged so suddenly that old Close Up only just dodged
it by a yard or two. It rushed him for a couple of hundred yards,
and then stopped. Hugh managed to eject the cartridge and load,
and then cantered after the animal, which had started again at a
sullen trot, with the blood pouring from its flank. As he galloped
up to administer the "coup de grace," meaning to make no mistake
about hitting the loin this time, the buffalo suddenly wheeled and
charged him again, and Close Up executed another hurried retreat.
For a while they took it up and down--first buffalo hunting man,
then man hunting buffalo--while Hugh fired whenever he had the
chance, without seeming to discompose the brute at all. At last
a lucky shot struck some vital spot inside; the beast stopped,
staggered, and fell dead without a sound. Hugh looked round. He
was alone; his mate was just visible far away over the plain, still
following at full speed a blue mound that struggled doggedly on
towards the timber. The grey horse drew up to his quarry, the man
leant forward, there was a sudden spurt of white smoke, and the
animal fell as if struck by lightning. It was very pretty to watch,
and looked as simple as shelling peas. The shooter rode over to
Hugh, and congratulated him on his first kill.

"I got all that mob that came our way," he said, "seven of 'em.
Yours makes eight. There's Ben after some still, and there's Tommy
Prince back at the bamboos firing at something. Firing this way,
too, damn him! Look at Ben!"

Far away on the plain, like puppets in the distance, went the
swiftly gliding figures of man and horse. In front of them dimly-seen
objects tore through the grass; every now and again out went an arm,
there was a spurt of smoke, and another buffalo fell. The blacks
and the Chinaman were away behind, gathered in a cluster, skinning
the first beast killed, while the pack-horses cropped the grass
and bit at the flies. Considine was nowhere to be seen.

"Let's go back and see what Tommy is up to," said the shooter.
"He's a hard case, is Tommy. If there's any trouble about he'll
get into it, or get somebody else into it. He'll wing one of us in
a minute, the way he's blazing. What's he firing at?"

Suddenly the festive Tommy was seen to dash hurriedly out of the
patch of bamboo, with the old original buffalo cow so close to his
horse's tail that, if the horse stumbled, the cow had him at her
mercy.

"She'll have 'im!" yelled the shooter. "Good cow! Can't she steam?
Come on, and let's see the fun!"

For a while it looked any odds on the cow; then she slackened pace,
wheeled round, and bolted back to the bamboos. They found Tommy very
excited. He had used about eighteen cartridges, and had nothing
to show for it.

"That's the most underhand cow ever I seen!" said Tommy. "She runs
into them there bamboos and pretends she's going to run right clean
through to Queensland, and when I go in after her, she wheels round
and hunts me for my life. Near had me twice, she did. Every time
I fire the old carbine, it jams, and I have to get the rod to it.
Gimme your rifle, Walter, and I'll go in and finish her."

"She must have a lead mine in her already," said the shooter. "Mind
she don't ketch you, Tommy."

Tommy went in, but couldn't find a sign of the cow. While they were
talking she had slipped along the belt of bamboos, and was then,
no doubt, waiting for a chance to rush somebody. As no one cared
to chance riding on to her in that jungle, she escaped with the
honours of war. The other shooter came up, having shot nine, and
reported that Considine had had a fall; his horse, not being used
to the country, had plunged up to his shoulders in a concealed
buffalo-wallow, and turned right over on him. Luckily, the buffalo
he was after was well ahead, and did not turn to charge him, but
he was very much shaken; when he came up, however, he insisted on
going on. They set to work to find the rest of the dead buffaloes--no
easy matter in that long grass--and all hands commenced skinning.
This job kept them till noonday, when they camped under some trees
for their midday meal, hobbling the horses. Then they rested for
an hour or two, packed the hides on the pack-horses (and heavily
loaded they were, each hide weighing about a hundredweight), and
went back to the hunt, scanning the plain carefully.

They were all riding together through a belt of timber, the blacks
and the Chinaman being well up with the pack-horses, when suddenly
the blacks burst out with great excitement.

"Buff'lo! Buff'lo!"

Sure enough, a huge blue bull--a regular old patriarch, that had
evidently been hunted out of a herd, and was camping by himself
in the timber--made a rush out of some thick trees, and set off
towards a dense jungle, that could be seen half a mile or so away.
Hugh and Considine were nearest him, each with his rifle ready,
and started after him together, full gallop through the timber. The
old man was evidently anxious to make up for his morning's failure,
and to take Hugh down a peg, for he set a fearful pace through the
trees, grazing one and gliding under the boughs of another as only
a trained bush-rider can. Hugh, coming from the mountains, was no
duffer in timbered country either, and the two of them went at a
merry pace for a while. The bull was puzzled by having two pursuers,
and often in swerving from one or the other would hit a tree with
his huge horns, and fairly bounce off it. He never attempted to
turn, but kept straight on, and they drew on to him in silence,
almost side by side, riding jealously for the first shot. Considine
was on the wrong side, and had to use the carbine on the near side of
his horse; but he was undeniably a good rider, and laughed grimly
as he got first alongside, and, leaning over, prepared to fire.
Then a strange thing happened. Before he could fire, the buffalo
bull tripped on a stump and fell on his knees, causing Considine's
horse to shoot almost past him. As the bull rose again, he sprang
savagely sideways, bringing his huge head up from beneath, and
fairly impaled the horse on his horn. It gave a terrible scream,
and reared over.

The old man never lost his nerve. Almost as he fell he fired down
into the buffalo's shoulder, but the bullet had no effect. Man and
horse were fetched smashing to the ground, the man pinned under the
horse's body. The bull hesitated a second before hurling himself
upon the two; and in that second Hugh jumped from his horse, ran
up, stood over the fallen man, holding out the rifle like a pistol
with the muzzle an inch off the bull's head, and fired. A buffalo's
skull is an inch and a half thick, solid bone, as hard as granite;
but a Martini carbine, sighted for a thousand yards, will pierce
it like paper at short range. The smoke had not cleared away when
the huge beast fell to the ground within two feet of his intended
victims. Hugh pulled Considine from under the horse. The unfortunate
beast struggled to his feet, with blood gushing from a terrible
wound in the belly, ran fifty yards, and fell dead.

The old man looked round him in silence. "Serve me damn well right,"
he said at last. "I ought to have got the other side of the buffalo!"

Not another word did he say, as he transferred his saddle to one of
the blacks' horses. But in the camp, that night, the old man came
over to Hugh holding a paper in his hand.

"I've got something for you," he said. "Here's the certificate of
my weddin' with Peggy Donohoe. The parson gev us each one. That
ought to do you, oughtn't it? I'll come down with you, as soon as
you like, and give all the evidence you want. I'll chance how I
get on with Peg. I'll divorce her, or poison her, or get shut of
her somehow. But after what you done to-day I'm on Grant's side,
I am."

And off he stalked to bed, while Hugh talked long with Tommy Prince
and the buffalo-shooters of the best way to get down to the wire
and send the news of his success. He went to bed the happiest man
south of the line; and next day, saying good-bye to his hospitable
friends, he started off with Considine and Tommy on the road to
the telegraph, and thence to civilisation.

CHAPTER XXVII.

THE REAL CERTIFICATE.

As the day of the great case approached Blake got more and more
restless and irritable. He had heard of Hugh's going away to look
for a witness; but Peggy and Red Mick, in their ignorance, had
thought it best to keep all knowledge of the Considine flaw from
their lawyer--a mistake that wiser people than they sometimes make.
Blake suspected nothing. He had more than once seen Mary Grant and
Ellen Harriott in Tarrong, but he was again an outcast, relegated
to the society of such as Isaacstein.

Well, he would see it out, and would yet make these people glad to
crawl to him. Ellen Harriott he never spoke to. However the case
went and whoever won, she could be of no use to him, so he decided
to include her among his enemies; and though she went deathly
white when she saw him she made no sign of recognition. There was
one thing, however, which he had to do before taking the case into
Court, and that was to secure a fair share of the spoil for himself.
He had no intention of slaving at the case, perhaps for years, for
what he would get as costs. So, a week or two before the case was
due to come on, he sent for Peggy and Red Mick.

It was a hot summer day when Peggy came in. Out of doors there
was a blinding glare, and the heat had drawn the scent out of the
unseasoned pine with which Tarrong was mostly built, till the air
was filled with a sort of incense. Peggy came in hot and short-tempered.
The strain was beginning to tell on her nerves, and, from a remark
or two she let fall, Blake saw that she might be inclined to give
trouble if not promptly brought into subjection.

"I've sent for you," he said.

"Yis, and the fust thing--"

He interrupted her sharply.

"The first thing is, how much am I going to get out of this case
if I win it That is the first thing. You don't suppose I am going
to spend time and money and fight this case through all the Courts
in the land, and get nothing out of it, do you? How much am I to
get? We'll settle that before we go any further."

"Well, I'll ask Mick."

"You'll ask nobody. Mick isn't Grant's widow, and you are of age,
goodness knows. How much?"

"How much d'ye want?"

"I want one-third of what you get. That'll leave you nearly a million
of money. There will be well over a million to divide. There will
be a big lawsuit, and lots of appeals, and if I am to see it through
it will cost a great lot of money; so if I win I mean to make it
pay me. That's my figure. One-third. Take it or leave it."

Peggy wriggled about, but knew that she would have to give in. It
was a reasonable proposal, as things stood; but she did not like
the way in which she had been bullied. She looked at Blake queerly.

"If we have to give ye a third, ye may as well know all about it.
Ye'll be a partner like."

Blake stared at her. He could not guess what she was driving at.
Peggy slowly drew out of a handbag a faded piece of paper and handed
it to him without a word. It was the original marriage certificate,
the same that Ellen Harriott had seen at Red Mick's. He unfolded
it and spread it out on the table.

"What's this?"

"Read it."

"I certify that I, Thomas Nettleship," he mumbled through the
formula, then, sharply "What's this name doing here? Who is Patrick
Henry Keogh? Is there such a person?"

"Yis," said Peggy, boiling up. "A long slab-sided useless feller.
He's gone to live wid the blacks. He'll never come back no more.
Most like he's dead by this time, speared or the like of that!"

For a few seconds Blake, the cool, audacious gambler, was dazed,
in spite of his natural self-confidence. He saw how he had been
duped. Peggy had married this other man, whoever he was, and had
used the facts of the real marriage to give her the details for
her imaginary one, while in copying the certificate she had, with
considerable foresight, filled in Grant's name instead of that of
Keogh.

All Blake's castles in the air, his schemes for revenge, his hopes
of wealth, had vanished at one fell swoop. "Patrick Henry Keogh"
seemed to grin up at him out of the paper. His case had crumbled
about his ears; his defeat would be known all over the district,
and nothing could much longer stave off the inevitable exposure
of his misappropriations. But he was a fighter all over, and he
still saw a chance to pull things through.

He wasted no words on Peggy. "Go and get Mick to come here," he
said, and Mick, still somewhat lopsided about the face from his
accident, was soon in the room.

"Mick," said Blake, "your sister has told me something very important
that ought to have been told me before. It's no good crying over
spilt milk. There's still a chance. If Peggy and Martin tell the
same story they told me at first, they will win the case. This
Keogh must be dead, or too frightened to show up. If you stick to
your story you will win. It's a million of money. Will you chance
it?"

"What about the sertiffykit?" said Mick.

"Leave that to me," said Blake. "I'll see to that. I suppose no
one knows the rights of this but you and Peggy!"

"Never a soul."

"Well, it's a million of money. Will you chance it?"

Mick and his sister rose. "We'll go on wid the case," said Mick.
"But supposin' Keogh turns up--"

"You've got to take chances in this life," said Blake, "if you're
after a million that doesn't belong to you. Will you chance it?
Share and share alike?"

"A million," said Mick. "Of course we'll go on wid the case. I daresay
William Grant took the name of Keogh that day he was married," and
with this ingenious suggestion Mick took his sister home, leaving
Blake alone in the office.

After his clients were gone Blake looked at the certificate for a
long time, asking himself, "Shall I take the risk or not?" He was
about to do a criminal act, and though it was not his first, he
flinched every time he crossed the border-line. He lifted his hand,
and hesitated; then he remembered his dismissal from Kuryong, and
caught sight of a dunning letter lying on his table. That decided
him. The risk was worth taking. The danger was great, but the stake
was worth it. He took an eraser, made a few swift light strokes
on the paper over the almost illegible writing, and "Patrick Henry
Keogh" disappeared; on the space that it had occupied he wrote
"William Grant," in faint strokes of a pencil. He had crossed the
border-line of crime once more.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

A LEGAL BATTLE.

And now, after hauling the reader pretty well all over Australia--from
mountain-station to out-back holding, from cattle-camp to buffalo
run--we must ask him to take a seat in the Supreme Court at Sydney,
to hear the trial of the "great Grant Will Case."

Gavan Blake had made no effort towards compromise. He knew the
risk he was running, but he had determined to see it through. The
love, the ambition, the hope that had once possessed him had turned
to a grim desperate hatred, and he would risk everything rather
than withdraw the case. He kept Red Mick and Peggy up to the mark
with assurances that she was certain to win. Neither he nor they
knew that Considine had been found. Even the most respectable
solicitors sometimes display acuteness, and the old man's return
had been kept secret by Pinnock, so that public opinion anticipated
Peggy's victory.

At last came the day of trial. Every seat in the Court was filled,
and a mass of the unwashed hung over the gallery rail, gazing
at the show provided for their entertainment. Mary Grant and Mrs.
Gordon went into Court at the suggestion of their leading Counsel,
Bouncer, Q.C., who was nothing if not theatrical. He wanted them
there to see the overthrow of the enemy, and to lend point to his
invective against the intruders who were trying to take away their
birthright. A small army of Doyles and Donohoes, who had come down
for the case, were hanging about dressed in outlandish garments,
trying to look as if they would not tell a lie for untold gold.
The managing clerks were in and out like little dogs at a fair,
hunting up witnesses, scanning the jury list, arranging papers for
production, and keeping a wary eye on the enemy. Punctually as
the clock struck ten, the Judge strutted into Court with as much
pomp as a man-of-war sailing into a small port; depositing himself
on the Bench, he glared round for a few seconds, and said to the
associate, "Call the first case," in a matter-of-fact tone, just
as if he did not know what the first case was going to be. A little
rustle went round the Court as people settled themselves down for
the battle.

The case for Peggy was set forth by the great Jewish barrister,
Manasseh, Q.C. He was famous for his skill in enlisting the
sympathies of the jury from the outset. He drew a moving picture
of the sorrows of Peggy, disowned by her husband's relatives and
the case proceeded so far that he had put the marriage certificate
in evidence when Blake, who had been away for a few minutes rushed
into Court and touched Manasseh on the shoulder, bringing him to
an abrupt stop.

Manasseh asked the Judge to excuse him for a moment while he conferred
with his juniors and Blake. After a short but excited conference
he rose again and--but first we must hear what had happened outside.

While all concerned were in Court listening to Manasseh, Considine
had been smuggled into the witnesses' room and, being bored and
worried, had strayed into the verandah of the Court buildings. He
had been hauled into consultations with barristers, and examined and
badgered and worried to death. The hard Sydney pavements had made
his feet sore. The city ways were not his ways, and the mere mental
effort of catching trains and omnibuses, and keeping appointments,
and having fixed meal-times, was inexpressibly wearing to a man
who had never been tied to time in his life.

And what a dismal prospect he had before him! To go over to England
and take up a position for which he was wholly unfitted, without a
friend who would understand his ideas, and in whom he could confide.
Then his thoughts turned to Peggy--Peggy, square-built, determined,
masterful, capable; just the very person to grapple with difficulties;
a woman whose nerve a regiment of duchesses would fail to shake. He
thought of her many abilities, and admitted to himself that after
all was said and done, if he had only been able to gratify her
wishes (and they did not seem so extravagant now) she would have
been a perfect helpmate for him. His mind went back to the weird
honeymoon at Pike's pub., to the little earthen-floored dining-room,
with walls of sacking and a slab table, over which Peggy presided
with such force of character. He thought of the two bushmen whom
Peggy had nursed through the fever with rough tenderness; and then,
turning suddenly, he found Peggy standing at his elbow.

For a second neither spoke. Then Considine said, with an air of
forced jauntiness, "Well, Peggy, you won't be comin' to England
with me, then?"

"Haven't been asked," said Peggy.

"I heard you was goin' to settle at Kiley's Crossin', lending money
to the cockatoos."

Peggy looked at him with a meaning glance.

"Ye should know me better nor that, Paddy," she said.

This cleared the way tremendously. The gaunt bushman hitched himself
a little nearer, and spoke in an insinuating way. "I'm pretty tired
of this case meself, I dunno how you feel about it."

"Tired!" said Peggy. "I'm wore out. Fair wore out," and she heaved
a sigh like an elephant.

That sigh did for old Considine. Hurriedly he unburdened his mind.

"Well, look'ee here, Peggy--I've got whips of stuff now, and I've
got to go to England for it. You come along o' me again, and we'll
knock all this business on the head. Let the Gordons alone--they're
decent young fellows, the both of 'em--and come along o' me to
England. That young English feller reckons we'd be as good as the
Prince of Wales, very near. Will you come, Peggy?"

It is the characteristic of great minds to think quickly, and act
promptly. Peggy did both.

"Mick!" she said, calling to her brother in a sharp, authoritative
voice: "Mick! I've been talking to Paddy here, and we've reckoned
we've had enough of this fooling, and we're off to England. You go
in and tell old Fuzzy-Head" (she meant the Judge) "that I'm tired
of this case, and I ain't goin' on wid it. Come on, Paddy, will we
go and get some tea?"

"Yes, and there's some tremenjus fine opals in a shop down this way
I'll buy you!" said Considine, as they started to walk away from
the Court.

At that moment Blake came out of Court, saw them, and stepped in
front of Peggy.

"Who is this man?" he said.

Peggy had never quite forgiven his domineering at Tarrong, and
turned on him with a snap.

"This is my 'usband," she said, "Mr. Patrick Henery Considine. Him
whose name is put down as Keogh on the marriage stiffykit I give
you."

Then Blake knew that he had played and lost--lost hopelessly,
irretrievably. But there was yet something to do to secure his own
safety. He rushed back into Court, and whispered a few words to
Manasseh; and Manasseh, after the short conference we mentioned some
pages back, rose and informed the Court that his client withdrew
her claim. Now, while Blake was out of Court, Mr. Bouncer, Mary's
counsel, had got from the Judge's Associate the certificate that
had been put in evidence. Ellen Harriott, sitting with Mary and
Mrs. Gordon behind him, gave a little cry of surprise when she saw
the paper. She touched Mr. Bouncer on the shoulder, and for a few
seconds they held an excited dialogue in whispers.

So Mr. Bouncer rose as Manasseh sat down, with a smile of satisfaction
on his face.

"I must object to any withdrawal, your Honor," he said. "My client's
vast interests are still liable to be assailed by any claimant. I
wish your Honor to insist that the case be heard. A claim has been
made here of a most dastardly nature, and I submit that your Honor
will not allow the claimants to withdraw without some investigation.
I will ask your Honor to put Gavan Blake in the box."

Mr. Manasseh objected. He said that there was no longer any case
before the Court; and Gavan Blake, white to the lips, waited for
the Judge's decision. As he waited, he looked round and caught
the eye of Ellen Harriott. Cool, untroubled, the heavy-lidded eyes
met his, and he saw no hope there. She had neither forgiven nor
forgotten.

Now, it so happened that the Judge felt rather baulked at the sudden
collapse of the big case, in which he had intended to play a star
part.

"Why do you want to put plaintiff's attorney in the box, Mr.
Bouncer?" he said.

"I want to examine him as to how and when the name of William Grant
got on that certificate. I have evidence to prove that the name on
it, only a few months ago, was that of Patrick Keogh."

"Ha, hum!" said the little Judge. "I don't see--eh--um--that I can
decide anything--ah--whatever. Case is withdrawn. Ha, hum. But in
the interests of justice, and seeing--seeing, I say," he went on,
warming to his work as the question laid itself open before him,
"that there is serious suspicion of fraud and forgery, it would be
wrong on my part to allow the case to close without some investigation
in the interests of justice. As to Mr. Manasseh's objection, that
the Court is functus officio so far as this case is concerned,
I uphold that contention; but, in exercise of the power that the
Court holds over its officers, I consider that I have the power--and
that I should exercise the power--of putting the solicitor in the
box to explain how this document came into its present state. Let
Mr. Blake go into the box."

But while the little Judge was delivering his well-rounded sentences,
Blake had slipped out of Court and made off to his lodgings. He
had failed in everything. He might perhaps keep out of gaol; but
the blow to his reputation was fatal. He had played for a big stake
and lost, and he saw before him only drudgery and lifelong shame.

He had reached his lodgings, half-turned at the door, and saw behind
him the Court tipstaff, who had been sent after him.

"The Judge wants you back at the Court, Mr. Blake," said the
tipstaff.

"All right. Wait till I run up to my room for some papers. I'll be
down in a minute," and he ran upstairs.

The tipstaff waited cheerfully enough, until he heard the crack of
a revolver-shot echo through the passages of the big boarding-house.
Then he rushed upstairs--to find that Gavan Blake had gone before
another Court than the one that was waiting for him so anxiously.

CHAPTER XXIX.

RACES AND A WIN.

After the great case was over life at Kuryong went on its old round.
Mary Grant, now undisputed owner, took up the reins of government,
and Hugh was kept there always on one pretext or another.

Considine and his wife stayed a while in the district before
starting for England, and were on the best of terms with the folk
at the homestead, Peggy's daring attempt to seize the estate having
been forgiven for her husband's sake.

Mary seemed to take a delicious pleasure in making Hugh come to her
for orders and consultations. She signed without question anything
that Charlie put before her, but Hugh was constantly called in
to explain all sorts of things. The position was difficult in the
extreme, although Peggy tried to give Hugh good advice.

"Sure, the girl's fond of you, Mr. Hugh!" she said, "Why don't you
ask her to marry you? See what a good thing it'd be? She's only
waitin' to be asked."

"I'll manage my own affairs, thank you," said Hugh. "It isn't likely
I'm going to ask her now, when I haven't got a penny." He was as
miserable as a man could well be, and was on the point of leaving
the station and going back to the buffalo camp in search of solitude,
when an unexpected incident suddenly brought matters to a climax.
A year had slipped by since William Grant's death, and the glorious
Spring came round again; the river was bank-high with the melting
of the mountain-snows, the English fruit-trees were all blossoming,
and the willows a-bud. One day the mailman left a large handbill,
anouncing the Spring race-meeting at Kiley's, a festival sacred,
as a rule, to the Doyles and the Donohoes, at which no outsider
had any earthly chance of winning a race.

In William Grant's time the handbill would have soon reached the
fire-place; he did not countenance running station horses at the
local meetings. Under the new owner things were different. Charlie
Gordon was spoiling for a chance to run Revoke, a back-block purchase,
against the locals, and suggested it in an off-hand sort of way
while reading the circular. Hugh opposed the notion altogether.
His opposition apparently made Miss Grant determined to go on with
the scheme, and she gave Charlie carte blanche in the matter.

When race-day arrived, there was quite a merry party at the homestead.
Carew was making himself very attentive to Ellen Harriott, Mary
was flirting very openly with Charlie Gordon, to Hugh's intense
misery; and it was whispered about the station that the younger
brother would be deposed in favour of the elder.

Hugh did not want to go to the races, but Mary asked him so directly
that he had no option.

It was a typical Australian Spring day. The sky was blue, the air
was fresh, the breeze made great, long, rippling waves in the grass,
and every soul in the place--Mary in particular--seemed determined
to enjoy it to the utmost.

Revoke, the station champion, came in first in his race, and was
promptly disqualified for short weight, but Mary didn't care.

"What is the use of worrying over it?" she said. "It doesn't really
matter."

"I have been done," said the bushman. "Red Mick lent me the lead-cloth,
and helped me saddle up, and I believe he took some lead out while
we were saddling. It never dropped out. That I'm sure of."

"Oh, never mind, Mr. Gordon! Forget it! There's your brother, Hugh,
thinks we ought not to have come, and now you are turning sulky.
Why do all you Australian people amuse yourselves so sadly?"

"I don't know what you mean by sadly," said Charlie, huffed. "I
think you ladies had better go home soon. Things are likely to be
a bit lively later on. They have got a door off its hinges and laid
on the ground, and a fiddler playing jigs, and the men and women
are dancing each other down; it won't be long till there'll be a
fight, and somebody will get stretched out."

Sure enough, they could see an excited crowd of people gathered
round a fiddler, who was playing away for dear life, and the yells
and whoops told them that partisanship was running high. All
the young "bloods" of the ranges were there in their very best
finery--cabbage-tree hat (well-tilted back, and secured by a string
under the nose), gaudy cotton shirt, and tweed trousers of loud
pattern, secured round the waist by flaring red or green sashes. In
this garb such as fancied themselves as dancers were taking their
turns on the door. They began by ambling with a sort of strutting
walk once or twice round the circumscribed platform; then, with
head well back and eyes closed, dashed into the steps of the dance,
each introducing varied steps and innovations of his own, which,
if intricate and neatly executed, were greeted with great applause.
So it happened that after Jerry the Swell, the recognised champion
of the Doyles, had gone off with an extremely self-satisfied air,
some adherents of young Red Mick, the opposition champion, took
occasion to criticise Jerry's performance. "Darnce!" they said.
"Jerry the Swell, darnce! Why, we've got an old poley cow would
darnce him blind! Haven't we, Mick?"

"Yairs," said young Mick, with withering emphasis. "Darnce! He can't
darnce. I'll run, darnce, jump, or fight any man in the district
for two quid."

Before the challenge could be accepted there was an unexpected
interruption. Hugh had put the big trotting mare in the light trap
for Miss Harriott and Mary to drive home. "Gentle Annie" was used
to racing, and Hugh warned the girls to be careful in starting
her, as she would probably be excited by the crowd, and then turned
back to pack up the racing gear and start the four-in-hand with
the children. As they were putting the racing saddle, bridles,
and other gear into the vehicle, Charlie, who had been fuming ever
since his defeat, caught sight of the missing lead-bag. He picked
it up without a word, and with a fierce gleam in his eye, started
over to the group of dancers, followed hurriedly by Carew. Just
as young Mick was repeating his challenge to run, jump, dance, or
fight anybody in the district, Gordon threw the lead-bag, weighing
about six pounds, full in Red Mick's face.

"There's your lead, you thief!" he said. "Dance on that!"

Red Mick staggered back a pace or two, picked up an empty bottle
from the ground, and made a dash at Gordon. The latter let out
a vicious drive with his left that caught Mick under the ear and
sent him down like a bullock. In a second the whole crowd surged
together in one confused melée, everybody hitting at everybody
amid a Babel of shouts and curses. The combat swayed out on to the
race-course, where half a dozen men fell over the ropes and pulled
as many more down with them, and those that were down fought on
the ground, while the others walked on them and fought over their
heads. Carew, who was quite in his element, hit every head he saw,
and knocked his knuckles to pieces on Black Andy Kelly's teeth.
The fight he put up, and the terrific force of his hitting, are
traditions among the mountain men to this day. Charlie Gordon was
simply mad with the lust of fighting, and was locked in a death-grip
with Red Mick; they swayed and struggled on the ground, while the
crowd punched at them indiscriminately. In the middle of all this
business, the two ladies and Alick, the eldest of the children,
had started Gentle Annie for home, straight down the centre of the
course. The big mare, hearing the yelling, and recognising that she
was once more on a race-track, suddenly caught hold of the bit, and
came sweeping up the straight full-stretch, her great legs flying
to and fro like pistons. Alick, who was sitting bodkin between the
ladies, simply remarked, "Let her head go!" as she went thundering
into the crowd, hurling Doyles and Donohoes into the air, trampling
Kellys under foot--and so out the other side, and away at a 2.30
gait for at least half a mile before the terrified girls could pull
her up, and come back to see what damage had been done.

That ended the fight. The course was covered with wounded and
disabled men. Some had been struck by the mare's hoofs; others had
been run over by the wheels; and a great demand for whisky set in,
under cover of which Gordon and Carew retired to the four-in-hand.

No one was seriously hurt, except "Omadhaun" Doyle, who had
been struck on the head by the big mare's hoof. He lay very still,
breathing stertorously, and Jerry the Swell took the trouble
to come over to the four-in-hand, and inform them that he thought
"Omadhaun" had got percussion of the brain, and that things looked
very "omnibus" for him. However, as soon as he could swallow whisky
he was pronounced out of danger, and the Kuryong party was allowed
to depart in peace for home, glad enough to get away. But the two
girls were afraid to drive the big mare, as she was thoroughly roused
after her dash in among the Doyles and Donohoes, and was inclined
to show a lot of temper. A hurried consultation was held, with
the result that Ellen Harriott and Alick were received into the
four-in-hand, while Hugh was entrusted with the task of driving
his employer home in the sulky.

Now, a sulky is a vehicle built to accommodate two people only,
and those two people have to sit fairly close together. For a few
miles they spun along in silence, Hugh being well occupied with
steadying the mare. From time to time he looked out of the corner
of his eye at his companion; she looked steadily, almost stolidly,
in front of her. Then she began to tap on the floor of the sulky
with her foot. At last she turned on him.

"Well, we didn't win," she said. "I suppose you are glad."

"Why should I be glad, Miss Grant?"

"Oh! you said we oughn't to go and race among those people. And
you were right. It served them just right that the mare ran over
them. I hope that none of them are going to die."

"They wouldn't be much missed," said Hugh wearily. "They have
started stealing the sheep again."

"Can't you catch them?" she said, with pretended asperity. "If you
went out and hid in a fallen tree, don't you think you could catch
them?"

Hugh looked at her to see if she were in earnest, but she looked
straight in front again and said nothing, still keeping up the slight
tapping of her foot. He flushed a little, and spoke very quietly.

"I think I'll have to resign from your employment, Miss Grant. I
don't care about stopping any longer; and I will go out back and
take up one of those twenty-thousand-acre leases in Queensland.
You might put Poss or Binjie on in my place. They would be glad of
a billet, and they might catch Red Mick for you."

"Do you really want to go?" she said, looking straight at him for
the first time. "Why do you want to go?"

"Why?" he burst out. "Because I can't bear being with you and near
you all day long, when I care for you, and you don't care for me.
I can't eat, or sleep, or rest here now, and it's time I was away.
You might give me a good character as a station-manager," he went
on grimly, "even though I can't catch Red Mick for you. I'll get
you to make out my cheque, and then I'll be off up North."

She was looking down now. The sun had gone, and the stars were
peeping out, and in the dusk he could catch no glimpse of her face.
There was silence for a few moments, then he went on talking, half
to himself. "It's best for me, anyhow. It's time I made a start
for myself. I couldn't stay on here as manager all my life."

Then she spoke, very low and quietly.

"You wouldn't care to stay on--for anything else, then?"

"How do you mean for anything else, Miss Grant? You don't want me
for anything except as manager, do you?"

"Well," she said, "you haven't asked me yet whether I do or not!"

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