Part 7 out of 11
the finest aromatic perfume.
To these charming groups of native trees were added transplantations
from European climates. The peach, pear, and apple trees
were there, the fig, the orange, and even the oak, to the rapturous
delight of the travelers, who greeted them with loud hurrahs!
But astonished as the travelers were to find themselves walking beneath
the shadow of the trees of their own native land, they were still
more so at the sight of the birds that flew about in the branches--
the "satin bird," with its silky plumage, and the "king-honeysuckers,"
with their plumage of gold and black velvet.
For the first time, too, they saw here the "Lyre" bird, the tail
of which resembles in form the graceful instrument of Orpheus. It flew
about among the tree ferns, and when its tail struck the branches,
they were almost surprised not to hear the harmonious strains
that inspired Amphion to rebuild the walls of Thebes. Paganel had
a great desire to play on it.
However, Lord Glenarvan was not satisfied with admiring the fairy-like
wonders of this oasis, improvised in the Australian desert.
He was listening to the history of the young gentlemen.
In England, in the midst of civilized countries, the new comer
acquaints his host whence he comes and whither he is going;
but here, by a refinement of delicacy, Michael and Sandy Patterson
thought it a duty to make themselves known to the strangers
who were about to receive their hospitality.
Michael and Sandy Patterson were the sons of London bankers.
When they were twenty years of age, the head of their family said,
"Here are some thousands, young men. Go to a distant colony;
and start some useful settlement there. Learn to know life by labor.
If you succeed, so much the better. If you fail, it won't matter much.
We shall not regret the money which makes you men."
The two young men obeyed. They chose the colony of Victoria
in Australia, as the field for sowing the paternal
bank-notes, and had no reason to repent the selection.
At the end of three years the establishment was flourishing.
In Victoria, New South Wales, and Southern Australia, there are
more than three thousand stations, some belonging to squatters
who rear cattle, and others to settlers who farm the ground.
Till the arrival of the two Pattersons, the largest establishment
of this sort was that of Mr. Jamieson, which covered an area
of seventy-five miles, with a frontage of about eight miles
along the Peron, one of the affluents of the Darling.
Now Hottam Station bore the palm for business and extent.
The young men were both squatters and settlers. They managed
their immense property with rare ability and uncommon energy.
The station was far removed from the chief towns in the
V. IV Verne midst of the unfrequented districts of the Murray.
It occupied a long wide space of five leagues in extent,
lying between the Buffalo Ranges and Mount Hottam. At the two
angles north of this vast quadrilateral, Mount Aberdeen rose
on the left, and the peaks of High Barven on the right.
Winding, beautiful streams were not wanting, thanks to the creeks
and affluents of the Oven's River, which throws itself
at the north into the bed of the Murray. Consequently they
were equally successful in cattle breeding and farming.
Ten thousand acres of ground, admirably cultivated,
produced harvests of native productions and exotics, and several
millions of animals fattened in the fertile pastures.
The products of Hottam Station fetched the very highest price
in the markets of Castlemaine and Melbourne.
Michael and Sandy Patterson had just concluded these details
of their busy life, when their dwelling came in sight,
at the extremity of the avenue of the oaks.
It was a charming house, built of wood and brick,
hidden in groves of emerophilis. Nothing at all, however,
belonging to a station was visible--neither sheds, nor stables,
nor cart-houses. All these out-buildings, a perfect village,
comprising more than twenty huts and houses, were about
a quarter of a mile off in the heart of a little valley.
Electric communication was established between this village
and the master's house, which, far removed from all noise,
seemed buried in a forest of exotic trees.
At Sandy Patterson's bidding, a sumptuous breakfast was served
in less than a quarter of an hour. The wines and viands were
of the finest quality; but what pleased the guests most of all
in the midst of these refinements of opulence, was the joy of
the young squatters in offering them this splendid hospitality.
It was not long before they were told the history of the expedition,
and had their liveliest interest awakened for its success.
They spoke hopefully to the young Grants, and Michael said:
"Harry Grant has evidently fallen into the hands of natives,
since he has not turned up at any of the settlements on the coast.
He knows his position exactly, as the document proves, and the reason
he did not reach some English colony is that he must have been
taken prisoner by the savages the moment he landed!"
"That is precisely what befell his quartermaster, Ayrton,"
said John Mangles.
"But you, gentlemen, then, have never heard the catastrophe
of the BRITANNIA, mentioned?" inquired Lady Helena.
"Never, Madam," replied Michael.
"And what treatment, in your opinion, has Captain Grant met
with among the natives?"
"The Australians are not cruel, Madam," replied the young squatter,
"and Miss Grant may be easy on that score. There have been many
instances of the gentleness of their nature, and some Europeans
have lived a long time among them without having the least cause
to complain of their brutality."
"King, among others, the sole survivor of the Burke expedition,"
put in Paganel.
"And not only that bold explorer," returned Sandy, "but also an
English soldier named Buckley, who deserted at Port Philip in 1803,
and who was welcomed by the natives, and lived thirty-three
years among them."
"And more recently," added Michael," one of the last numbers
of the AUSTRALASIA informs us that a certain Morrilli has just
been restored to his countrymen after sixteen years of slavery.
His story is exactly similar to the captain's, for it was at the very time
of his shipwreck in the PRUVIENNE, in 1846, that he was made prisoner
by the natives, and dragged away into the interior of the continent.
I therefore think you have reason to hope still."
The young squatter's words caused great joy to his auditors.
They completely corroborated the opinions of Paganel and Ayrton.
The conversation turned on the convicts after the ladies had
left the table. The squatters had heard of the catastrophe at
Camden Bridge, but felt no uneasiness about the escaped gang.
It was not a station, with more than a hundred men on it, that they
would dare to attack. Besides, they would never go into the deserts
of the Murray, where they could find no booty, nor near the colonies
of New South Wales, where the roads were too well watched.
Ayrton had said this too.
Glenarvan could not refuse the request of his amiable hosts,
to spend the whole day at the station. It was twelve hours'
delay, but also twelve hours' rest, and both horses and bullocks would
be the better for the comfortable quarters they would find there.
This was accordingly agreed upon, and the young squatters sketched
out a programme of the day's amusements, which was adopted eagerly.
At noon, seven vigorous hunters were before the door. An elegant brake
was intended for the ladies, in which the coachman could exhibit his skill
in driving four-in-hand. The cavalcade set off preceded by huntsmen,
and armed with first-rate rifles, followed by a pack of pointers
barking joyously as they bounded through the bushes. For four hours
the hunting party wandered through the paths and avenues of the park,
which was as large as a small German state. The Reuiss-Schleitz,
or Saxe-Coburg Gotha, would have gone inside it comfortably.
Few people were to be met in it certainly, but sheep in abundance.
As for game, there was a complete preserve awaiting the hunters.
The noisy reports of guns were soon heard on all sides. Little Robert
did wonders in company with Major McNabbs. The daring boy, in spite
of his sister's injunctions, was always in front, and the first to fire.
But John Mangles promised to watch over him, and Mary felt less uneasy.
During this BATTUE they killed certain animals peculiar to
the country, the very names of which were unknown to Paganel;
among others the "wombat" and the "bandicoot." The wombat is
an herbivorous animal, which burrows in the ground like a badger.
It is as large as a sheep, and the flesh is excellent.
The bandicoot is a species of marsupial animal which could outwit
the European fox, and give him lessons in pillaging poultry yards.
It was a repulsive-looking animal, a foot and a half long, but, as Paganel
chanced to kill it, of course he thought it charming.
"An adorable creature," he called it.
But the most interesting event of the day, by far, was the kangaroo hunt.
About four o'clock, the dogs roused a troop of these curious marsupials.
The little ones retreated precipitately into the maternal pouch,
and all the troop decamped in file. Nothing could be more astonishing
than the enormous bounds of the kangaroo. The hind legs of the animal
are twice as long as the front ones, and unbend like a spring.
At the head of the flying troop was a male five feet high,
a magnificent specimen of the _macropus giganteus_, an "old man,"
as the bushmen say.
For four or five miles the chase was vigorously pursued.
The kangaroos showed no signs of weariness, and the dogs,
who had reason enough to fear their strong paws and
sharp nails, did not care to approach them. But at last,
worn out with the race, the troop stopped, and the "old man"
leaned against the trunk of a tree, ready to defend himself.
One of the pointers, carried away by excitement, went up to him.
Next minute the unfortunate beast leaped into the air,
and fell down again completely ripped up.
The whole pack, indeed, would have had little chance with these
powerful marsupia. They had to dispatch the fellow with rifles.
Nothing but balls could bring down the gigantic animal.
Just at this moment, Robert was well nigh the victim of his
own imprudence. To make sure of his aim, he had approached too
near the kangaroo, and the animal leaped upon him immediately.
Robert gave a loud cry and fell. Mary Grant saw it all from
the brake, and in an agony of terror, speechless and almost unable
even to see, stretched out her arms toward her little brother.
No one dared to fire, for fear of wounding the child.
But John Mangles opened his hunting knife, and at the risk of being
ripped up himself, sprang at the animal, and plunged it into his heart.
The beast dropped forward, and Robert rose unhurt. Next minute he was
in his sister's arms.
"Thank you, Mr. John, thank you!" she said, holding out her hand
to the young captain.
"I had pledged myself for his safety," was all John said,
taking her trembling fingers into his own.
This occurrence ended the sport. The band of marsupia
had disappeared after the death of their leader.
The hunting party returned home, bringing their game with them.
It was then six o'clock. A magnificent dinner was ready.
Among other things, there was one dish that was a great success.
It was kangaroo-tail soup, prepared in the native manner.
Next morning very early, they took leave of the young squatters,
with hearty thanks and a positive promise from them of a visit
to Malcolm Castle when they should return to Europe.
Then the wagon began to move away, round the foot of Mount Hottam,
and soon the hospitable dwelling disappeared from the sight
of the travelers like some brief vision which had come and gone.
For five miles further, the horses were still treading the station lands.
It was not till nine o'clock that they had passed the last fence,
and entered the almost unknown districts of the province of Victoria.
CHAPTER XV SUSPICIOUS OCCURRENCES
AN immense barrier lay across the route to the southeast.
It was the Australian Alps, a vast fortification, the fantastic
curtain of which extended 1,500 miles, and pierced the clouds
at the height of 4,000 feet.
The cloudy sky only allowed the heat to reach the ground through
a close veil of mist. The temperature was just bearable,
but the road was toilsome from its uneven character.
The extumescences on the plain became more and more marked.
Several mounds planted with green young gum trees appeared
here and there. Further on these protuberances rising sharply,
formed the first steps of the great Alps. From this time their
course was a continual ascent, as was soon evident in the strain
it made on the bullocks to drag along the cumbrous wagon.
Their yoke creaked, they breathed heavily, and the muscles
of their houghs were stretched as if they would burst.
The planks of the vehicle groaned at the unexpected jolts,
which Ayrton with all his skill could not prevent.
The ladies bore their share of discomfort bravely.
John Mangles and his two sailors acted as scouts, and went about
a hundred steps in advance. They found out practical paths,
or passes, indeed they might be called, for these projections
of the ground were like so many rocks, between which the wagon
had to steer carefully. It required absolute navigation to find
a safe way over the billowy region.
It was a difficult and often perilous task. Many a time Wilson's
hatchet was obliged to open a passage through thick tangles of shrubs.
The damp argillaceous soil gave way under their feet. The route
was indefinitely prolonged owing to the insurmountable obstacles,
huge blocks of granite, deep ravines, suspected lagoons, which obliged
them to make a thousand detours. When night came they found they had
only gone over half a degree. They camped at the foot of the Alps,
on the banks of the creek of Cobongra, on the edge of a little plain,
covered with little shrubs four feet high, with bright red leaves
which gladdened the eye.
"We shall have hard work to get over," said Glenarvan,
looking at the chain of mountains, the outlines of which were
fast fading away in the deepening darkness. "The very name
Alps gives plenty of room for reflection."
"It is not quite so big as it sounds, my dear Glenarvan.
Don't suppose you have a whole Switzerland to traverse.
In Australia there are the Grampians, the Pyrenees, the Alps,
the Blue Mountains, as in Europe and America, but in miniature.
This simply implies either that the imagination of geographers
is not infinite, or that their vocabulary of proper names
is very poor."
"Then these Australian Alps," said Lord Glenarvan, "are--"
"Mere pocket mountains," put in Paganel; "we shall get over them
without knowing it."
"Speak for yourself," said the Major. "It would certainly take
a very absent man who could cross over a chain of mountains
and not know it."
"Absent! But I am not an absent man now. I appeal to the ladies.
Since ever I set foot on the Australian continent, have I been once
at fault? Can you reproach me with a single blunder?"
"Not one. Monsieur Paganel," said Mary Grant. "You are now the most
perfect of men."
"Too perfect," added Lady Helena, laughing; "your blunders
suited you admirably."
"Didn't they, Madam? If I have no faults now, I shall soon get
like everybody else. I hope then I shall make some outrageous
mistake before long, which will give you a good laugh.
You see, unless I make mistakes, it seems to me I fail
in my vocation."
Next day, the 9th of January, notwithstanding the assurances
of the confident geographer, it was not without great difficulty
that the little troop made its way through the Alpine pass.
They were obliged to go at a venture, and enter the depths of
narrow gorges without any certainty of an outlet. Ayrton would
doubtless have found himself very much embarrassed if a little inn,
a miserable public house, had not suddenly presented itself.
"My goodness!" cried Paganel, "the landlord of this inn won't make
his fortune in a place like this. What is the use of it here?"
"To give us the information we want about the route,"
replied Glenarvan. "Let us go in."
Glenarvan, followed by Ayrton, entered the inn forthwith.
The landlord of the "Bush Inn," as it was called, was a coarse man
with an ill-tempered face, who must have considered himself his
principal customer for the gin, brandy and whisky he had to sell.
He seldom saw any one but the squatters and rovers.
He answered all the questions put to him in a surly tone.
But his replies sufficed to make the route clear to Ayrton,
and that was all that was wanted. Glenarvan rewarded him with a
handful of silver for his trouble, and was about to leave the tavern,
when a placard against the wall arrested his attention.
It was a police notice, and announcing the escape of the convicts
from Perth, and offering a reward for the capture of Ben Joyce
of pounds 100 sterling.
"He's a fellow that's worth hanging, and no mistake,"
said Glenarvan to the quartermaster.
"And worth capturing still more. But what a sum to offer!
He is not worth it!"
"I don't feel very sure of the innkeeper though, in spite
of the notice," said Glenarvan.
"No more do I," replied Ayrton.
They went back to the wagon, toward the point where the route
to Lucknow stopped. A narrow path wound away from this
which led across the chain in a slanting direction.
They had commenced the ascent.
It was hard work. More than once both the ladies and gentlemen
had to get down and walk. They were obliged to help to push round
the wheels of the heavy vehicle, and to support it frequently
in dangerous declivities, to unhar-ness the bullocks when the team
could not go well round sharp turnings, prop up the wagon when it
threatened to roll back, and more than once Ayrton had to reinforce
his bullocks by harnessing the horses, although they were tired
out already with dragging themselves along.
Whether it was this prolonged fatigue, or from some other
cause altogether, was not known, but one of the horses
sank suddenly, without the slightest symptom of illness.
It was Mulrady's horse that fell, and on attempting to pull it up,
the animal was found to be dead. Ayrton examined it immediately,
but was quite at a loss to account for the disaster.
"The beast must have broken some blood vessels," said Glenarvan.
"Evidently," replied Ayrton.
"Take my horse, Mulrady," added Glenarvan. "I will join Lady Helena
in the wagon."
Mulrady obeyed, and the little party continued their fatiguing ascent,
leaving the carcass of the dead animal to the ravens.
The Australian Alps are of no great thickness, and the base
is not more than eight miles wide. Consequently if the pass
chosen by Ayrton came out on the eastern side, they might hope
to get over the high barrier within forty-eight hours more.
The difficulty of the route would then be surmounted, and they
would only have to get to the sea.
During the 18th the travelers reached the top-most point of the pass,
about 2,000 feet high. They found themselves on an open plateau,
with nothing to intercept the view. Toward the north the quiet waters
of Lake Omco, all alive with aquatic birds, and beyond this lay
the vast plains of the Murray. To the south were the wide spreading
plains of Gippsland, with its abundant gold-fields and tall forests.
There nature was still mistress of the products and water,
and great trees where the woodman's ax was as yet unknown,
and the squatters, then five in number, could not struggle against her.
It seemed as if this chain of the Alps separated two different
countries, one of which had retained its primitive wildness.
The sun went down, and a few solitary rays piercing the rosy clouds,
lighted up the Murray district, leaving Gippsland in deep shadow,
as if night had suddenly fallen on the whole region. The contrast
was presented very vividly to the spectators placed between
these two countries so divided, and some emotion filled the minds
of the travelers, as they contemplated the almost unknown district
they were about to traverse right to the frontiers of Victoria.
They camped on the plateau that night, and next day
the descent commenced. It was tolerably rapid.
A hailstorm of extreme violence assailed the travelers,
and obliged them to seek a shelter among the rocks.
It was not hail-stones, but regular lumps of ice,
as large as one's hand, which fell from the stormy clouds.
A waterspout could not have come down with more violence,
and sundry big bruises warned Paganel and Robert to retreat.
The wagon was riddled in several places, and few coverings
would have held out against those sharp icicles, some of
which had fastened themselves into the trunks of the trees.
It was impossible to go on till this tremendous shower was over,
unless the travelers wished to be stoned. It lasted about an hour,
and then the march commenced anew over slanting rocks still
slippery after the hail.
Toward evening the wagon, very much shaken and disjointed
in several parts, but still standing firm on its wooden disks,
came down the last slopes of the Alps, among great isolated pines.
The passage ended in the plains of Gippsland. The chain
of the Alps was safely passed, and the usual arrangements
were made for the nightly encampment.
On the 21st, at daybreak, the journey was resumed with an ardor which
never relaxed. Everyone was eager to reach the goal--that is to say
the Pacific Ocean--at that part where the wreck of the BRITANNIA
had occurred. Nothing could be done in the lonely wilds of Gippsland,
and Ayrton urged Lord Glenarvan to send orders at once for the DUNCAN
to repair to the coast, in order to have at hand all means of research.
He thought it would certainly be advisable to take advantage of
the Lucknow route to Melbourne. If they waited it would be difficult
to find any way of direct communication with the capital.
This advice seemed good, and Paganel recommended that they should act
upon it. He also thought that the presence of the yacht would be
very useful, and he added, that if the Lucknow road was once passed,
it would be impossible to communicate with Melbourne.
Glenarvan was undecided what to do, and perhaps he would have
yielded to Ayrton's arguments, if the Major had not combated this
decision vigorously. He maintained that the presence of Ayrton
was necessary to the expedition, that he would know the country
about the coast, and that if any chance should put them on the track
of Harry Grant, the quartermaster would be better able to follow
it up than any one else, and, finally, that he alone could point
out the exact spot where the shipwreck occurred.
McNabbs voted therefore for the continuation of the voyage,
without making the least change in their programme.
John Mangles was of the same opinion. The young captain
said even that orders would reach the DUNCAN more easily
from Twofold Bay, than if a message was sent two hundred miles
over a wild country.
His counsel prevailed. It was decided that they should wait till
they came to Twofold Bay. The Major watched Ayrton narrowly,
and noticed his disappointed look. But he said nothing,
keeping his observations, as usual, to himself.
The plains which lay at the foot of the Australian Alps were level,
but slightly inclined toward the east. Great clumps of mimosas
and eucalyptus, and various odorous gum-trees, broke the uniform
monotony here and there. The _gastrolobium grandiflorum_
covered the ground, with its bushes covered with gay flowers.
Several unimportant creeks, mere streams full of little rushes,
and half covered up with orchids, often interrupted the route.
They had to ford these. Flocks of bustards and emus fled
at the approach of the travelers. Below the shrubs,
kangaroos were leaping and springing like dancing jacks.
But the hunters of the party were not thinking much of the sport,
and the horses little needed any additional fatigue.
Moreover, a sultry heat oppressed the plain. The atmosphere
was completely saturated with electricity, and its influence
was felt by men and beasts. They just dragged themselves along,
and cared for nothing else. The silence was only interrupted
by the cries of Ayrton urging on his burdened team.
From noon to two o'clock they went through a curious forest of ferns,
which would have excited the admiration of less weary travelers.
These plants in full flower measured thirty feet in height.
Horses and riders passed easily beneath their drooping leaves,
and sometimes the spurs would clash against the woody stems.
Beneath these immovable parasols there was a refreshing coolness
which every one appreciated. Jacques Paganel, always demonstrative,
gave such deep sighs of satisfaction that the paroquets and cockatoos
flew out in alarm, making a deafening chorus of noisy chatter.
The geographer was going on with his sighs and jubilations with the
utmost coolness, when his companions suddenly saw him reel forward,
and he and his horse fell down in a lump. Was it giddiness,
or worse still, suffocation, caused by the high temperature?
They ran to him, exclaiming: "Paganel! Paganel! what is the matter?"
"Just this. I have no horse, now!" he replied, disengaging his feet
from the stirrups.
"What! your horse?"
"Dead like Mulrady's, as if a thunderbolt had struck him."
Glenarvan, John Mangles, and Wilson examined the animal; and found
Paganel was right. His horse had been suddenly struck dead.
"That is strange," said John.
"Very strange, truly," muttered the Major.
Glenarvan was greatly disturbed by this fresh accident.
He could not get a fresh horse in the desert, and if an epidemic
was going to seize their steeds, they would be seriously
embarrassed how to proceed.
Before the close of the day, it seemed as if the word epidemic was
really going to be justified. A third horse, Wilson's, fell dead,
and what was, perhaps equally disastrous, one of the bullocks also.
The means of traction and transport were now reduced to three bullocks
and four horses.
The situation became grave. The unmounted horsemen
might walk, of course, as many squatters had done already;
but if they abandoned the wagon, what would the ladies do?
Could they go over the one hundred and twenty miles which lay
between them and Twofold Bay? John Mangles and Lord Glenarvan
examined the surviving horses with great uneasiness, but there
was not the slightest symptom of illness or feebleness in them.
The animals were in perfect health, and bravely bearing
the fatigues of the voyage. This somewhat reassured Glenarvan,
and made him hope the malady would strike no more victims.
Ayrton agreed with him, but was unable to find the least solution
of the mystery.
They went on again, the wagon serving, from time to time,
as a house of rest for the pedestrians. In the evening,
after a march of only ten miles, the signal to halt was given,
and the tent pitched. The night passed without inconvenience
beneath a vast mass of bushy ferns, under which enormous bats,
properly called flying foxes, were flapping about.
The next day's journey was good; there were no new calamities.
The health of the expedition remained satisfactory; horses and cattle
did their task cheerily. Lady Helena's drawing-room was very lively,
thanks to the number of visitors. M. Olbinett busied himself in passing
round refreshments which were very acceptable in such hot weather.
Half a barrel of Scotch ale was sent in bodily. Barclay and Co.
was declared to be the greatest man in Great Britain, even above
Wellington, who could never have manufactured such good beer.
This was a Scotch estimate. Jacques Paganel drank largely,
and discoursed still more _de omni re scibili_.
A day so well commenced seemed as if it could not but end well;
they had gone fifteen good miles, and managed to get
over a pretty hilly district where the soil was reddish.
There was every reason to hope they might camp that same night
on the banks of the Snowy River, an important river which throws
itself into the Pacific, south of Victoria.
Already the wheels of the wagon were making deep ruts on
the wide plains, covered with blackish alluvium, as it passed on
between tufts of luxuriant grass and fresh fields of gastrolobium.
As evening came on, a white mist on the horizon marked the course
of the Snowy River. Several additional miles were got over,
and a forest of tall trees came in sight at a bend of the road,
behind a gentle eminence. Ayrton turned his team a little toward
the great trunks, lost in shadow, and he had got to the skirts
of the wood, about half-a-mile from the river, when the wagon
suddenly sank up to the middle of the wheels.
"Stop!" he called out to the horsemen following him.
"What is wrong?" inquired Glenarvan.
"We have stuck in the mud," replied Ayrton.
He tried to stimulate the bullocks to a fresh effort by voice
and goad, but the animals were buried half-way up their legs,
and could not stir.
"Let us camp here," suggested John Mangles.
"It would certainly be the best place," said Ayrton. "We shall
see by daylight to-morrow how to get ourselves out."
Glenarvan acted on their advice, and came to a halt.
Night came on rapidly after a brief twilight, but the heat did
not withdraw with the light. Stifling vapors filled the air,
and occasionally bright flashes of lightning, the reflections
of a distant storm, lighted up the sky with a fiery glare.
Arrangements were made for the night immediately.
They did the best they could with the sunk wagon, and the tent
was pitched beneath the shelter of the great trees; and if the rain
did not come, they had not much to complain about.
Ayrton succeeded, though with some difficulty, in extricating
the three bullocks. These courageous beasts were engulfed up to
their flanks. The quartermaster turned them out with the four horses,
and allowed no one but himself to see after their pasturage.
He always executed his task wisely, and this evening Glenarvan noticed
he redoubled his care, for which he took occasion to thank him,
the preservation of the team being of supreme importance.
Meantime, the travelers were dispatching a hasty supper.
Fatigue and heat destroy appetite, and sleep was needed more than food.
Lady Helena and Miss Grant speedily bade the company good-night,
and retired. Their companions soon stretched themselves under
the tent or outside under the trees, which is no great hardship
in this salubrious climate.
Gradually they all fell into a heavy sleep. The darkness deepened
owing to a thick current of clouds which overspread the sky.
There was not a breath of wind. The silence of night was only
interrupted by the cries of the "morepork" in the minor key,
like the mournful cuckoos of Europe.
Towards eleven o'clock, after a wretched, heavy, unre-freshing sleep,
the Major woke. His half-closed eyes were struck with a faint
light running among the great trees. It looked like a white sheet,
and glittered like a lake, and McNabbs thought at first it was
the commencement of a fire.
He started up, and went toward the wood; but what was
his surprise to perceive a purely natural phenomenon!
Before him lay an immense bed of mushrooms, which emitted
a phosphorescent light. The luminous spores of the cryptograms
shone in the darkness with intensity.
The Major, who had no selfishness about him, was going
to waken Paganel, that he might see this phenomenon with
his own eyes, when something occurred which arrested him.
This phosphorescent light illumined the distance half a mile,
and McNabbs fancied he saw a shadow pass across the edge of it.
Were his eyes deceiving him? Was it some hallucination?
McNabbs lay down on the ground, and, after a close scrutiny,
he could distinctly see several men stooping down and lifting
themselves up alternately, as if they were looking on the ground
for recent marks.
The Major resolved to find out what these fellows were about,
and without the least hesitation or so much as arousing his companions,
crept along, lying flat on the ground, like a savage on the prairies,
completely hidden among the long grass.
CHAPTER XVI A STARTLING DISCOVERY
IT was a frightful night. At two A. M. the rain began
to fall in torrents from the stormy clouds, and continued
till daybreak. The tent became an insufficient shelter.
Glenarvan and his companions took refuge in the wagon;
they did not sleep, but talked of one thing and another.
The Major alone, whose brief absence had not been noticed,
contented himself with being a silent listener. There was
reason to fear that if the storm lasted longer the Snowy River
would overflow its banks, which would be a very unlucky thing
for the wagon, stuck fast as it was already in the soft ground.
Mulrady, Ayrton and Mangles went several times to ascertain
the height of the water, and came back dripping from head to foot.
At last day appeared; the rain ceased, but sunlight could not break
through the thick clouds. Large patches of yellowish water--
muddy, dirty ponds indeed they were--covered the ground.
A hot steam rose from the soaking earth, and saturated the atmosphere
with unhealthy humidity.
Glenarvan's first concern was the wagon; this was the main thing
in his eyes. They examined the ponderous vehicle, and found it
sunk in the mud in a deep hollow in the stiff clay. The forepart
had disappeared completely, and the hind part up to the axle.
It would be a hard job to get the heavy conveyance out, and would
need the united strength of men, bullocks, and horses.
"At any rate, we must make haste," said John Mangles. "If the clay dries,
it will make our task still more difficult."
"Let us be quick, then," replied Ayrton.
Glenarvan, his two sailors, John Mangles, and Ayrton went off
at once into the wood, where the animals had passed the night.
It was a gloomy-looking forest of tall gum-trees; nothing but dead trees,
with wide spaces between, which had been barked for ages, or rather
skinned like the cork-oak at harvest time. A miserable network
of bare branches was seen above two hundred feet high in the air.
Not a bird built its nest in these aerial skeletons; not a leaf
trembled on the dry branches, which rattled together like bones.
To what cataclysm is this phenomenon to be attributed, so frequent
in Australia, entire forests struck dead by some epidemic; no one knows;
neither the oldest natives, nor their ancestors who have lain long
buried in the groves of the dead, have ever seen them green.
Glenarvan as he went along kept his eye fixed on the gray sky,
on which the smallest branch of the gum-trees was sharply defined.
Ayrton was astonished not to discover the horses and bullocks
where he had left them the preceding night. They could not have
wandered far with the hobbles on their legs.
They looked over the wood, but saw no signs of them, and Ayrton returned
to the banks of the river, where magnificent mimosas were growing.
He gave a cry well known to his team, but there was no reply.
The quartermaster seemed uneasy, and his companions looked at him
with disappointed faces. An hour had passed in vain endeavors,
and Glenarvan was about to go back to the wagon, when a neigh struck
on his ear, and immediately after a bellow.
"They are there!" cried John Mangles, slipping between the tall branches
of gastrolobium, which grew high enough to hide a whole flock.
Glenarvan, Mulrady, and Ayrton darted after him, and speedily shared
his stupefaction at the spectacle which met their gaze.
Two bullocks and three horses lay stretched on the ground,
struck down like the rest. Their bodies were already cold,
and a flock of half-starved looking ravens croaking
among the mimosas were watching the unexpected prey.
Glenarvan and his party gazed at each other and Wilson could
not keep back the oath that rose to his lips.
"What do you mean, Wilson?" said Glenarvan, with difficulty
controlling himself. "Ayrton, bring away the bullock and the horse
we have left; they will have to serve us now."
"If the wagon were not sunk in the mud," said John Mangles,
"these two animals, by making short journeys, would be able
to take us to the coast; so we must get the vehicle out,
cost what it may."
"We will try, John," replied Glenarvan. "Let us go back now,
or they will be uneasy at our long absence."
Ayrton removed the hobbles from the bullock and Mulrady from the horse,
and they began to return to the encampment, following the winding margin
of the river. In half an hour they rejoined Paganel, and McNabbs,
and the ladies, and told them of this fresh disaster.
"Upon my honor, Ayrton," the Major could not help saying,
"it is a pity that you hadn't had the shoeing of all our beasts
when we forded the Wimerra."
"Why, sir?" asked Ayrton.
"Because out of all our horses only the one your blacksmith
had in his hands has escaped the common fate."
"That's true," said John Mangles. "It's strange it happens so."
"A mere chance, and nothing more," replied the quartermaster,
looking firmly at the Major.
Major McNabbs bit his lips as if to keep back something
V. IV Verne he was about to say. Glenarvan and the rest waited
for him to speak out his thoughts, but the Major was silent,
and went up to the wagon, which Ayrton was examining.
"What was he going to say. Mangles?" asked Glenarvan.
"I don't know," replied the young captain; "but the Major is not at
all a man to speak without reason."
"No, John," said Lady Helena. "McNabbs must have suspicions
"Suspicions!" exclaimed Paganel, shrugging his shoulders.
"And what can they be?" asked Glenarvan. "Does he suppose him capable
of having killed our horses and bullocks? And for what purpose?
Is not Ayrton's interest identical with our own?"
"You are right, dear Edward," said Lady Helena! "and what is more,
the quartermaster has given us incontestable proofs of his devotion
ever since the commencement of the journey."
"Certainly he has," replied Mangles; "but still, what could
the Major mean? I wish he would speak his mind plainly out."
"Does he suppose him acting in concert with the convicts?"
asked Paganel, imprudently.
"What convicts?" said Miss Grant.
"Monsieur Paganel is making a mistake," replied John Mangles, instantly.
"He knows very well there are no convicts in the province of Victoria."
"Ah, that is true," returned Paganel, trying to get out of his
unlucky speech. "Whatever had I got in my head? Convicts! who ever
heard of convicts being in Australia? Besides, they would scarcely
have disembarked before they would turn into good, honest men.
The climate, you know, Miss Mary, the regenerative climate--"
Here the poor SAVANT stuck fast, unable to get further,
like the wagon in the mud. Lady Helena looked at him in surprise,
which quite deprived him of his remaining _sang-froid;_ but seeing
his embarrassment, she took Mary away to the side of the tent,
where M. Olbinett was laying out an elaborate breakfast.
"I deserve to be transported myself," said Paganel, woefully.
"I think so," said Glenarvan.
And after this grave reply, which completely overwhelmed
the worthy geographer, Glenarvan and John Mangles went
toward the wagon.
They found Ayrton and the two sailors doing their best to get it
out of the deep ruts, and the bullock and horse, yoked together,
were straining every muscle. Wilson and Mulrady were pushing the wheels,
and the quartermaster urging on the team with voice and goad;
but the heavy vehicle did not stir, the clay, already dry, held it
as firmly as if sealed by some hydraulic cement.
John Mangles had the clay watered to loosen it, but it was of no use.
After renewed vigorous efforts, men and animals stopped.
Unless the vehicle was taken to pieces, it would be impossible
to extricate it from the mud; but they had no tools for the purpose,
and could not attempt such a task.
However, Ayrton, who was for conquering this obstacle at all costs,
was about to commence afresh, when Glenarvan stopped him by saying:
"Enough, Ayrton, enough. We must husband the strength of our remaining
horse and bullock. If we are obliged to continue our journey on foot,
the one animal can carry the ladies and the other the provisions.
They may thus still be of great service to us."
"Very well, my Lord," replied the quartermaster, un-yoking
the exhausted beasts.
"Now, friends," added Glenarvan, "let us return to the encampment
and deliberately examine our situation, and determine on our
course of action."
After a tolerably good breakfast to make up for their bad night,
the discussion was opened, and every one of the party was asked
to give his opinion. The first point was to ascertain their
exact position, and this was referred to Paganel, who informed them,
with his customary rigorous accuracy, that the expedition had been
stopped on the 37th parallel, in longitude 147 degrees 53 minutes,
on the banks of the Snowy River.
"What is the exact longitude of Twofold Bay?" asked Glenarvan.
"One hundred and fifty degrees," replied Paganel; "two degrees seven
minutes distant from this, and that is equal to seventy-five miles."
"And Melbourne is?"
"Two hundred miles off at least."
"Very good. Our position being then settled, what is best to do?"
The response was unanimous to get to the coast without delay.
Lady Helena and Mary Grant undertook to go five miles a day.
The courageous ladies did not shrink, if necessary, from walking
the whole distance between the Snowy River and Twofold Bay.
"You are a brave traveling companion, dear Helena,"
said Lord Glenarvan. "But are we sure of finding at the bay
all we want when we get there?"
"Without the least doubt," replied Paganel. "Eden is a municipality
which already numbers many years in existence; its port must have
frequent communication with Melbourne. I suppose even at Delegete,
on the Victoria frontier, thirty-five miles from here, we might
revictual our expedition, and find fresh means of transport."
"And the DUNCAN?" asked Ayrton. "Don't you think it advisable
to send for her to come to the bay?"
"What do you think, John?" said Glenarvan.
"I don't think your lordship should be in any hurry about it,"
replied the young captain, after brief reflection.
"There will be time enough to give orders to Tom Austin,
and summon him to the coast."
"That's quite certain," added Paganel.
"You see," said John, "in four or five days we shall reach Eden."
"Four or five days!" repeated Ayrton, shaking his head;
"say fifteen or twenty, Captain, if you don't want to repent
your mistake when it is too late."
"Fifteen or twenty days to go seventy-five miles?" cried Glenarvan.
"At the least, my Lord. You are going to traverse the most difficult
portion of Victoria, a desert, where everything is wanting,
the squatters say; plains covered with scrub, where is no beaten
track and no stations. You will have to walk hatchet or torch
in hand, and, believe me, that's not quick work."
Ayrton had spoken in a firm tone, and Paganel, at whom all the others
looked inquiringly, nodded his head in token of his agreement in opinion
with the quartermaster.
But John Mangles said, "Well, admitting these difficulties, in fifteen
days at most your Lordship can send orders to the DUNCAN."
"I have to add," said Ayrton, "that the principal difficulties are
not the obstacles in the road, but the Snowy River has to be crossed,
and most probably we must wait till the water goes down."
"Wait!" cried John. "Is there no ford?"
"I think not," replied Ayrton. "This morning I was looking
for some practical crossing, but could not find any.
It is unusual to meet with such a tumultuous river at this time
of the year, and it is a fatality against which I am powerless."
"Is this Snowy River wide?" asked Lady Helena.
"Wide and deep, Madam," replied Ayrton; "a mile wide,
with an impetuous current. A good swimmer could not go
over without danger."
"Let us build a boat then," said Robert, who never stuck at anything.
"We have only to cut down a tree and hollow it out, and get
in and be off."
"He's going ahead, this boy of Captain Grant's!" said Paganel.
"And he's right," returned John Mangles. "We shall be forced
to come to that, and I think it is useless to waste our time
in idle discussion."
"What do you think of it, Ayrton?" asked Glenarvan seriously.
"I think, my Lord, that a month hence, unless some help arrives,
we shall find ourselves still on the banks of the Snowy."
"Well, then, have you any better plan to propose?"
said John Mangles, somewhat impatiently.
"Yes, that the DUNCAN should leave Melbourne, and go to the east coast."
"Oh, always the same story! And how could her presence at the bay
facilitate our means of getting there?"
Ayrton waited an instant before answering, and then said,
rather evasively: "I have no wish to obtrude my opinions.
What I do is for our common good, and I am ready to start
the moment his honor gives the signal." And he crossed his arms
and was silent.
"That is no reply, Ayrton," said Glenarvan. "Tell us your plan,
and we will discuss it. What is it you propose?"
Ayrton replied in a calm tone of assurance: "I propose that we
should not venture beyond the Snowy in our present condition.
It is here we must wait till help comes, and this help can only
come from the DUNCAN. Let us camp here, where we have provisions,
and let one of us take your orders to Tom Austin to go on
to Twofold Bay."
This unexpected proposition was greeted with astonishment,
and by John Mangles with openly-expressed opposition.
"Meantime," continued Ayrton, "either the river will get lower,
and allow us to ford it, or we shall have time to make a canoe.
This is the plan I submit for your Lordship's approval."
"Well, Ayrton," replied Glenarvan, "your plan is worthy of
serious consideration. The worst thing about it is the delay it
would cause; but it would save us great fatigue, and perhaps danger.
What do you think of it, friends?"
"Speak your mind, McNabbs," said Lady Helena. "Since the beginning
of the discussion you have been only a listener, and very sparing
of your words."
"Since you ask my advice," said the Major, "I will give it you frankly.
I think Ayrton has spoken wisely and well, and I side with him."
Such a reply was hardly looked for, as hitherto the Major had been
strongly opposed to Ayrton's project. Ayrton himself was surprised,
and gave a hasty glance at the Major. However, Paganel, Lady Helena,
and the sailors were all of the same way of thinking; and since McNabbs
had come over to his opinion, Glenarvan decided that the quartermaster's
plan should be adopted in principle.
"And now, John," he added, "don't you think yourself it would
be prudent to encamp here, on the banks of the river Snowy,
till we can get some means of conveyance."
"Yes," replied John Mangles, "if our messenger can get across
the Snowy when we cannot."
All eyes were turned on the quartermaster, who said,
with the air of a man who knew what he was about:
"The messenger will not cross the river."
"Indeed!" said John Mangles.
"He will simply go back to the Lucknow Road which leads
straight to Melbourne."
"Go two hundred and fifty miles on foot!" cried the young Captain.
"On horseback," replied Ayrton. "There is one horse sound
enough at present. It will only be an affair of four days.
Allow the DUNCAN two days more to get to the bay and twenty
hours to get back to the camp, and in a week the messenger can
be back with the entire crew of the vessel."
The Major nodded approvingly as Ayrton spoke, to the profound astonishment
of John Mangles; but as every one was in favor of the plan all there
was to do was to carry it out as quickly as possible.
"Now, then, friends," said Glenarvan, "we must settle
who is to be our messenger. It will be a fatiguing,
perilous mission. I would not conceal the fact from you.
Who is disposed, then, to sacrifice himself for his companions
and carry our instructions to Melbourne?"
Wilson and Mulrady, and also Paganel, John Mangles and Robert instantly
offered their services. John particularly insisted that he should
be intrusted with the business; but Ayrton, who had been silent till
that moment, now said: "With your Honor's permission I will go myself.
I am accustomed to all the country round. Many a time I have been
across worse parts. I can go through where another would stick.
I ask then, for the good of all, that I may be sent to Melbourne. A word
from you will accredit me with your chief officer, and in six days I
guarantee the DUNCAN shall be in Twofold Bay."
"That's well spoken," replied Glenarvan. "You are a clever,
daring fellow, and you will succeed."
It was quite evident the quartermaster was the fittest man
for the mission. All the rest withdrew from the competition.
John Mangles made this one last objection, that the presence
of Ayrton was necessary to discover traces of the BRITANNIA
or Harry Grant. But the Major justly observed that the expedition
would remain on the banks of the Snowy till the return of Ayrton,
that they had no idea of resuming their search without him,
and that consequently his absence would not in the least
prejudice the Captain's interests.
"Well, go, Ayrton," said Glenarvan. "Be as quick as you can,
and come back by Eden to our camp."
A gleam of satisfaction shot across the quartermaster's face.
He turned away his head, but not before John Mangles caught the look
and instinctively felt his old distrust of Ayrton revive.
The quartermaster made immediate preparations for departure,
assisted by the two sailors, one of whom saw to the horse
and the other to the provisions. Glenarvan, meantime,
wrote his letter for Tom Austin. He ordered his chief officer
to repair without delay to Twofold Bay. He introduced
the quartermaster to him as a man worthy of all confidence.
On arriving at the coast, Tom was to dispatch a detachment
of sailors from the yacht under his orders.
Glenarvan was just at this part of his letter, when McNabbs,
who was following him with his eyes, asked him in a singular tone,
how he wrote Ayrton's name.
"Why, as it is pronounced, of course," replied Glenarvan.
"It is a mistake," replied the Major quietly. "He pronounces it AYRTON,
but he writes it _Ben Joyce!_"
CHAPTER XVII THE PLOT UNVEILED
THE revelation of Tom Ayrton's name was like a clap of thunder.
Ayrton had started up quickly and grasped his revolver.
A report was heard, and Glenarvan fell wounded by a ball.
Gunshots resounded at the same time outside.
John Mangles and the sailors, after their first surprise,
would have seized Ben Joyce; but the bold convict had already
disappeared and rejoined his gang scattered among the gum-trees.
The tent was no shelter against the balls. It was necessary to beat
a retreat. Glenarvan was slightly wounded, but could stand up.
"To the wagon--to the wagon!" cried John Mangles, dragging Lady Helena
and Mary Grant along, who were soon in safety behind the thick curtains.
John and the Major, and Paganel and the sailors seized
their carbines in readiness to repulse the convicts.
Glenarvan and Robert went in beside the ladies, while Olbinett
rushed to the common defense.
These events occurred with the rapidity of lightning.
John Mangles watched the skirts of the wood attentively.
The reports had ceased suddenly on the arrival of Ben Joyce;
profound silence had succeeded the noisy fusillade.
A few wreaths of white smoke were still curling over the tops
of the gum trees. The tall tufts of gastrolobium were motionless.
All signs of attack had disappeared.
The Major and John Mangles examined the wood closely as far as
the great trees; the place was abandoned. Numerous footmarks were
there and several half-burned caps were lying smoking on the ground.
The Major, like a prudent man, extinguished these carefully,
for a spark would be enough to kindle a tremendous conflagration
in this forest of dry trees.
"The convicts have disappeared!" said John Mangles.
"Yes," replied the Major; "and the disappearance of them
makes me uneasy. I prefer seeing them face to face.
Better to meet a tiger on the plain than a serpent in the grass.
Let us beat the bushes all round the wagon."
The Major and John hunted all round the country, but there was not a
convict to be seen from the edge of the wood right down to the river.
Ben Joyce and his gang seemed to have flown away like a flock of
marauding birds. It was too sudden a disappearance to let the travelers
feel perfectly safe; consequently they resolved to keep a sharp lookout.
The wagon, a regular fortress buried in mud, was made the center
of the camp, and two men mounted guard round it, who were relieved
hour by hour.
The first care of Lady Helena and Mary was to dress Glenarvan's wound.
Lady Helena rushed toward him in terror, as he fell
down struck by Ben Joyce's ball. Controlling her agony,
the courageous woman helped her husband into the wagon.
Then his shoulder was bared, and the Major found, on examination,
that the ball had only gone into the flesh, and there was no
internal lesion. Neither bone nor muscle appeared to be injured.
The wound bled profusely, but Glenarvan could use his fingers
and forearm; and consequently there was no occasion for any
uneasiness about the issue. As soon as his shoulder was dressed,
he would not allow any more fuss to be made about himself,
but at once entered on the business in hand.
All the party, except Mulrady and Wilson, who were on guard,
were brought into the wagon, and the Major was asked to explain
how this DENOUEMENT had come about.
Before commencing his recital, he told Lady Helena about the escape
of the convicts at Perth, and their appearance in Victoria;
as also their complicity in the railway catastrophe.
He handed her the _Australian and New Zealand Gazette_
they had bought in Seymour, and added that a reward had been
offered by the police for the apprehension of Ben Joyce,
a redoubtable bandit, who had become a noted character during
the last eighteen months, for doing deeds of villainy and crime.
But how had McNabbs found out that Ayrton and Ben Joyce were one
and the same individual? This was the mystery to be unraveled,
and the Major soon explained it.
Ever since their first meeting, McNabbs had felt an instinctive
distrust of the quartermaster. Two or three insignificant facts,
a hasty glance exchanged between him and the blacksmith at
the Wimerra River, his unwillingness to cross towns and villages,
his persistence about getting the DUNCAN summoned to the coast,
the strange death of the animals entrusted to his care, and, lastly,
a want of frankness in all his behavior--all these details combined
had awakened the Major's suspicions.
However, he could not have brought any direct accusation against
him till the events of the preceding evening had occurred.
He then told of his experience.
McNabbs, slipping between the tall shrubs, got within reach of
the suspicious shadows he had noticed about half a mile away from
the encampment. The phosphorescent furze emitted a faint light,
by which he could discern three men examining marks on the ground,
and one of the three was the blacksmith of Black Point.
"'It is them!' said one of the men. 'Yes,' replied another,
'there is the trefoil on the mark of the horseshoe. It has
been like that since the Wimerra.' 'All the horses are dead.'
'The poison is not far off.' 'There is enough to kill a regiment
of cavalry.' 'A useful plant this gastrolobium.'
"I heard them say this to each other, and then they
were quite silent; but I did not know enough yet,
so I followed them. Soon the conversation began again.
'He is a clever fellow, this Ben Joyce,' said the blacksmith.
'A capital quartermaster, with his invention of shipwreck.'
'If his project succeeds, it will be a stroke of fortune.'
'He is a very devil, is this Ayrton.' 'Call him Ben Joyce,
for he has well earned his name.' And then the scoundrels
left the forest.
"I had all the information I wanted now, and came back to the camp
quite convinced, begging Paganel's pardon, that Australia does
not reform criminals."
This was all the Major's story, and his companions sat silently
thinking over it.
"Then Ayrton has dragged us here," said Glenarvan, pale with anger,
"on purpose to rob and assassinate us."
"For nothing else," replied the Major; "and ever since we left
the Wimerra, his gang has been on our track and spying on us,
waiting for a favorable opportunity."
"Then the wretch was never one of the sailors on the BRITANNIA;
he had stolen the name of Ayrton and the shipping papers."
They were all looking at McNabbs for an answer, for he must have put
the question to himself already.
"There is no great certainty about the matter," he replied,
in his usual calm voice; "but in my opinion the man's name
is really Ayrton. Ben Joyce is his _nom de guerre_.
It is an incontestible fact that he knew Harry Grant, and also that
he was quartermaster on the BRITANNIA. These facts were proved
by the minute details given us by Ayrton, and are corroborated
by the conversation between the convicts, which I repeated to you.
We need not lose ourselves in vain conjectures, but consider it
as certain that Ben Joyce is Ayrton, and that Ayrton is Ben Joyce;
that is to say, one of the crew of the BRITANNIA has turned
leader of the convict gang."
The explanations of McNabbs were accepted without discussion.
"Now, then," said Glenarvan, "will you tell us how and why
Harry Grant's quartermaster comes to be in Australia?"
"How, I don't know," replied McNabbs; "and the police declare they are
as ignorant on the subject as myself. Why, it is impossible to say;
that is a mystery which the future may explain."
"The police are not even aware of Ayrton's identity with Ben Joyce,"
said John Mangles.
"You are right, John," replied the Major, "and this circumstance
would throw light on their search."
"Then, I suppose," said Lady Helena, "the wicked wretch had got
work on Paddy O'Moore's farm with a criminal intent?"
"There is not the least doubt of it. He was planning some evil
design against the Irishman, when a better chance presented itself.
Chance led us into his presence. He heard Paganel's story
and all about the shipwreck, and the audacious fellow determined
to act his part immediately. The expedition was decided on.
At the Wimerra he found means of communicating with one of his gang,
the blacksmith of Black Point, and left traces of our journey
which might be easily recognized. The gang followed us.
A poisonous plant enabled them gradually to kill our bullocks and horses.
At the right moment he sunk us in the marshes of the Snowy,
and gave us into the hands of his gang."
Such was the history of Ben Joyce. The Major had shown
him up in his character--a bold and formidable criminal.
His manifestly evil designs called for the utmost vigilance
on the part of Glenarvan. Happily the unmasked bandit was less
to be feared than the traitor.
But one serious consequence must come out of this revelation;
no one had thought of it yet except Mary Grant. John Mangles
was the first to notice her pale, despairing face; he understood
what was passing in her mind at a glance.
"Miss Mary! Miss Mary!" he cried; "you are crying!"
"Crying, my child!" said Lady Helena.
"My father, madam, my father!" replied the poor girl.
She could say no more, but the truth flashed on every mind.
They all knew the cause of her grief, and why tears fell from
her eyes and her father's name came to her lips.
The discovery of Ayrton's treachery had destroyed all hope; the convict
had invented a shipwreck to entrap Glenarvan. In the conversation
overheard by McNabbs, the convicts had plainly said that the BRITANNIA
had never been wrecked on the rocks in Twofold Bay. Harry Grant had
never set foot on the Australian continent!
A second time they had been sent on the wrong track by an erroneous
interpretation of the document. Gloomy silence fell on the whole
party at the sight of the children's sorrow, and no one could find
a cheering word to say. Robert was crying in his sister's arms.
Paganel muttered in a tone of vexation: "That unlucky document!
It may boast of having half-crazed a dozen peoples' wits!" The worthy
geographer was in such a rage with himself, that he struck his forehead
as if he would smash it in.
Glenarvan went out to Mulrady and Wilson, who were keeping watch.
Profound silence reigned over the plain between the wood and the river.
Ben Joyce and his band must be at considerable distance,
for the atmosphere was in such a state of complete torpor
that the slightest sound would have been heard. It was evident,
from the flocks of birds on the lower branches of the trees,
and the kangaroos feeding quietly on the young shoots, and a couple
of emus whose confiding heads passed between the great clumps of bushes,
that those peaceful solitudes were untroubled by the presence
of human beings.
"You have neither seen nor heard anything for the last hour?"
said Glenarvan to the two sailors.
"Nothing whatever, your honor," replied Wilson. "The convicts must
be miles away from here."
"They were not in numbers enough to attack us, I suppose,"
added Mulrady. "Ben Joyce will have gone to recruit his party,
with some bandits like himself, among the bush-rangers who may
be lurking about the foot of the Alps."
"That is probably the case, Mulrady," replied Glenarvan. "The rascals
are cowards; they know we are armed, and well armed too.
Perhaps they are waiting for nightfall to commence the attack.
We must redouble our watchfulness. Oh, if we could only get out of
this bog, and down the coast; but this swollen river bars our passage.
I would pay its weight in gold for a raft which would carry us
over to the other side."
"Why does not your honor give orders for a raft to be constructed?
We have plenty of wood."
"No, Wilson," replied Glenarvan; "this Snowy is not a river,
it is an impassable torrent."
John Mangles, the Major, and Paganel just then came out of the wagon
on purpose to examine the state of the river. They found it still
so swollen by the heavy rain that the water was a foot above the level.
It formed an impetuous current, like the American rapids.
To venture over that foaming current and that rushing flood,
broken into a thousand eddies and hollows and gulfs, was impossible.
John Mangles declared the passage impracticable. "But we
must not stay here," he added, "without attempting anything.
What we were going to do before Ayrton's treachery is still
more necessary now."
"What do you mean, John?" asked Glenarvan.
"I mean that our need is urgent, and that since we cannot go
to Twofold Bay, we must go to Melbourne. We have still one horse.
Give it to me, my Lord, and I will go to Melbourne."
"But that will be a dangerous venture, John," said Glenarvan. "Not to
speak of the perils of a journey of two hundred miles over an unknown
country, the road and the by-ways will be guarded by the accomplices
of Ben Joyce."
"I know it, my Lord, but I know also that things can't stay long
as they are; Ayrton only asked a week's absence to fetch the crew
of the DUNCAN, and I will be back to the Snowy River in six days.
Well, my Lord, what are your commands?"
"Before Glenarvan decides," said Paganel, "I must make an observation.
That some one must go to Melbourne is evident, but that John Mangles
should be the one to expose himself to the risk, cannot be.
He is the captain of the DUNCAN, and must be careful of his life.
I will go instead."
"That is all very well, Paganel," said the Major; "but why should you
be the one to go?"
"Are we not here?" said Mulrady and Wilson.
"And do you think," replied McNabbs, "that a journey of two hundred
miles on horseback frightens me."
"Friends," said Glenarvan, "one of us must go, so let it be decided
by drawing lots. Write all our names, Paganel."
"Not yours, my Lord," said John Mangles.
"And why not?"
"What! separate you from Lady Helena, and before your wound
is healed, too!"
"Glenarvan," said Paganel, "you cannot leave the expedition."
"No," added the Major. "Your place is here, Edward, you ought
not to go."
"Danger is involved in it," said Glenarvan, "and I will take my share
along with the rest. Write the names, Paganel, and put mine among them,
and I hope the lot may fall on me."
His will was obeyed. The names were written, and the lots drawn.
Fate fixed on Mulrady. The brave sailor shouted hurrah! and said:
"My Lord, I am ready to start." Glenarvan pressed his hand, and then
went back to the wagon, leaving John Mangles and the Major on watch.
Lady Helena was informed of the determination to send a message
to Melbourne, and that they had drawn lots who should go,
and Mulrady had been chosen. Lady Helena said a few kind
words to the brave sailor, which went straight to his heart.
Fate could hardly have chosen a better man, for he was not only
brave and intelligent, but robust and superior to all fatigue.
Mulrady's departure was fixed for eight o'clock, immediately after
the short twilight. Wilson undertook to get the horse ready.
He had a project in his head of changing the horse's left shoe,
for one off the horses that had died in the night. This would
prevent the convicts from tracking Mulrady, or following him,
as they were not mounted.
While Wilson was arranging this, Glenarvan got his letter ready
for Tom Austin, but his wounded arm troubled him, and he asked
Paganel to write it for him. The SAVANT was so absorbed in one
fixed idea that he seemed hardly to know what he was about.
In all this succession of vexations, it must be said
the document was always uppermost in Paganel's mind.
He was always worrying himself about each word, trying to discover
some new meaning, and losing the wrong interpretation of it,
and going over and over himself in perplexities.
He did not hear Glenarvan when he first spoke, but on the request
being made a second time, he said: "Ah, very well. I'm ready."
While he spoke he was mechanically getting paper from his note-book.
He tore a blank page off, and sat down pencil in hand to write.
Glenarvan began to dictate as follows: "Order to
Tom Austin, Chief Officer, to get to sea without delay,
and bring the DUNCAN to--"
Paganel was just finishing the last word, when his eye chanced to fall
on the _Australian and New Zealand Gazette_ lying on the ground.
The paper was so folded that only the last two syllables of the title
were visible. Paganel's pencil stopped, and he seemed to become oblivious
of Glenarvan and the letter entirely, till his friends called out:
"Ah!" said the geographer, with a loud exclamation.
"What is the matter?" asked the Major.
"Nothing, nothing," replied Paganel. Then he muttered to himself,
"_Aland! aland! aland!_"
He had got up and seized the newspaper. He shook it in his efforts
to keep back the words that involuntarily rose to his lips.
Lady Helena, Mary, Robert, and Glenarvan gazed at him in astonishment,
at a loss to understand this unaccountable agitation.
Paganel looked as if a sudden fit of insanity had come over him.
But his excitement did not last. He became by degrees calmer.
The gleam of joy that shone in his eyes died away.
He sat down again, and said quietly:
"When you please, my Lord, I am ready." Glenarvan resumed
his dictation at once, and the letter was soon completed.
It read as follows: "Order to Tom Austin to go to sea without delay;
and take the DUNCAN to Melbourne by the 37th degree of latitude
to the eastern coast of Australia."
"Of Australia?" said Paganel. "Ah yes! of Australia."
Then he finished the letter, and gave it to Glenarvan to sign,
who went through the necessary formality as well as he could,
and closed and sealed the letter. Paganel, whose hand still
trembled with emotion, directed it thus: "Tom Austin, Chief Officer
on board the Yacht DUNCAN, Melbourne."
Then he got up and went out of the wagon, gesticulating and repeating
the incomprehensible words:
"Aland aland! aland!"
CHAPTER XVIII FOUR DAYS OF ANGUISH
THE rest of the day passed on without any further incident.
All the preparations for Mulrady's journey were completed,
and the brave sailor rejoiced in being able to give his Lordship
this proof of devotion.
Paganel had recovered his usual _sang-froid_ and manners. His look,
indeed, betrayed his preoccupation, but he seemed resolved to keep
it secret. No doubt he had strong reasons for this course of action,
for the Major heard him repeating, like a man struggling with himself:
"No, no, they would not believe it; and, besides, what good would it be?
It is too late!"
Having taken this resolution, he busied himself with giving
Mulrady the necessary directions for getting to Melbourne,
and showed him his way on the map. All the TRACKS, that is to say,
paths through the prairie, came out on the road to Lucknow. This road,
after running right down to the coast took a sudden bend in the direction
of Melbourne. This was the route that must be followed steadily,
for it would not do to attempt a short cut across an almost
unknown country. Nothing, consequently, could be more simple.
Mulrady could not lose his way.
As to dangers, there were none after he had gone a few miles beyond
the encampment, out of the reach of Ben Joyce and his gang.
Once past their hiding place, Mulrady was certain of soon
being able to outdistance the convicts, and execute his
important mission successfully.
At six o'clock they all dined together. The rain was
falling in torrents. The tent was not protection enough,
and the whole party had to take refuge in the wagon.
This was a sure refuge. The clay kept it firmly imbedded
in the soil, like a fortress resting on sure foundations.
The arsenal was composed of seven carbines and seven revolvers,
and could stand a pretty long siege, for they had plenty
of ammunition and provisions. But before six days were over,
the DUNCAN would anchor in Twofold Bay, and twenty-four hours
after her crew would reach the other shore of the Snowy River;
and should the passage still remain impracticable, the convicts at
any rate would be forced to retire before the increased strength.
But all depended on Mulrady's success in his perilous enterprise.
At eight o'clock it got very dark; now was the time to start.
The horse prepared for Mulrady was brought out. His feet,
by way of extra precaution, were wrapped round with cloths,
so that they could not make the least noise on the ground.
The animal seemed tired, and yet the safety of all depended
on his strength and surefootedness. The Major advised Mulrady
to let him go gently as soon as he got past the convicts.
Better delay half-a-day than not arrive safely.
John Mangles gave his sailor a revolver, which he had loaded
with the utmost care. This is a formidable weapon in the hand
of a man who does not tremble, for six shots fired in a few
seconds would easily clear a road infested with criminals.
Mulrady seated himself in the saddle ready to start.
"Here is the letter you are to give to Tom Austin,"
said Glenarvan. "Don't let him lose an hour. He is to sail
for Twofold Bay at once; and if he does not find us there,
if we have not managed to cross the Snowy, let him come on to us
without delay. Now go, my brave sailor, and God be with you."
He shook hands with him, and bade him good-by; and so did Lady Helena
and Mary Grant. A more timorous man than the sailor would have
shrunk back a little from setting out on such a dark, raining night
on an errand so full of danger, across vast unknown wilds.
But his farewells were calmly spoken, and he speedily disappeared
down a path which skirted the wood.
At the same moment the gusts of wind redoubled their violence.
The high branches of the eucalyptus clattered together noisily,
and bough after bough fell on the wet ground. More than one great tree,
with no living sap, but still standing hitherto, fell with a crash
during this storm. The wind howled amid the cracking wood,
and mingled its moans with the ominous roaring of the rain.
The heavy clouds, driving along toward the east, hung on the ground
like rays of vapor, and deep, cheerless gloom intensified the horrors
of the night.
The travelers went back into the wagon immediately Mulrady had gone.
Lady Helena, Mary Grant, Glenarvan and Paganel occupied
the first compartment, which had been hermetically closed.
The second was occupied by Olbinett, Wilson and Robert. The Major
and John Mangles were on duty outside. This precaution was necessary,
for an attack on the part of the convicts would be easy enough,
and therefore probable enough.
The two faithful guardians kept close watch, bearing
philosophically the rain and wind that beat on their faces.
They tried to pierce through the darkness so favorable to ambushes,
for nothing could be heard but the noise of the tempest,
the sough of the wind, the rattling branches, falling trees,
and roaring of the unchained waters.
At times the wind would cease for a few moments, as if to take breath.
Nothing was audible but the moan of the Snowy River, as it flowed
between the motionless reeds and the dark curtain of gum trees.
The silence seemed deeper in these momentary lulls, and the Major
and John Mangles listened attentively.
During one of these calms a sharp whistle reached them.
John Mangles went hurriedly up to the Major. "You heard that?"
"Yes," said McNabbs. "Is it man or beast?"
"A man," replied John Mangles.
And then both listened. The mysterious whistle was repeated,
and answered by a kind of report, but almost indistinguishable,
for the storm was raging with renewed violence.
McNabbs and John Mangles could not hear themselves speak.
They went for comfort under the shelter of the wagon.
At this moment the leather curtains were raised and Glenarvan
rejoined his two companions. He too had heard this
ill-boding whistle, and the report which echoed under the tilt.
"Which way was it?" asked he.
"There," said John, pointing to the dark track in the direction
taken by Mulrady.
"The wind brought it; I should think, three or four miles, at least."
"Come," said Glenarvan, putting his gun on his shoulder.
"No," said the Major. "It is a decoy to get us away from the wagon."
"But if Mulrady has even now fallen beneath the blows of these rascals?"
exclaimed Glenarvan, seizing McNabbs by the hand.
"We shall know by to-morrow," said the Major, coolly, determined to
prevent Glenarvan from taking a step which was equally rash and futile.
"You cannot leave the camp, my Lord," said John. "I will go alone."
"You will do nothing of the kind!" cried McNabbs, energetically.
"Do you want to have us killed one by one to diminish our force,
and put us at the mercy of these wretches? If Mulrady has fallen
a victim to them, it is a misfortune that must not be repeated.
Mulrady was sent, chosen by chance. If the lot had fallen to me,
I should have gone as he did; but I should neither have asked
nor expected assistance."
In restraining Glenarvan and John Mangles, the Major was right
in every aspect of the case. To attempt to follow the sailor,
to run in the darkness of night among the convicts in their
leafy ambush was madness, and more than that--it was useless.
Glenarvan's party was not so numerous that it could afford
to sacrifice another member of it.
Still Glenarvan seemed as if he could not yield; his hand was always
on his carbine. He wandered about the wagon, and bent a listening
ear to the faintest sound. The thought that one of his men was
perhaps mortally wounded, abandoned to his fate, calling in vain
on those for whose sake he had gone forth, was a torture to him.
McNabbs was not sure that he should be able to restrain him,
or if Glenarvan, carried away by his feelings, would not run into
the arms of Ben Joyce.
"Edward," said he, "be calm. Listen to me as a friend.
Think of Lady Helena, of Mary Grant, of all who are left.
And, besides, where would you go? Where would you
find Mulrady? He must have been attacked two miles off.
In what direction? Which track would you follow?"
At that very moment, as if to answer the Major, a cry of
distress was heard.
"Listen!" said Glenarvan.
This cry came from the same quarter as the report, but less
than a quarter of a mile off.
Glenarvan, repulsing McNabbs, was already on the track, when at
three hundred paces from the wagon they heard the exclamation:
The voice was plaintive and despairing. John Mangles and the Major sprang
toward the spot. A few seconds after they perceived among the scrub a
human form dragging itself along the ground and uttering mournful groans.
It was Mulrady, wounded, apparently dying; and when his companions
raised him they felt their hands bathed in blood.
The rain came down with redoubled violence, and the wind raged among
the branches of the dead trees. In the pelting storm, Glenarvan,
the Major and John Mangles transported the body of Mulrady.
On their arrival everyone got up. Paganel, Robert, Wilson and
Olbinett left the wagon, and Lady Helena gave up her compartment
to poor Mulrady. The Major removed the poor fellow's flannel shirt,
which was dripping with blood and rain. He soon found the wound;
it was a stab in the right side.
McNabbs dressed it with great skill. He could not
tell whether the weapon had touched any vital part.
An intermittent jet of scarlet blood flowed from it; the patient's
paleness and weakness showed that he was seriously injured.
The Major washed the wound first with fresh water and then closed
the orifice; after this he put on a thick pad of lint, and then
folds of scraped linen held firmly in place with a bandage.
He succeeded in stopping the hemorrhage. Mulrady was laid on
his side, with his head and chest well raised, and Lady Helena
succeeded in making him swallow a few drops of water.
After about a quarter of an hour, the wounded man,
who till then had lain motionless, made a slight movement.
His eyes unclosed, his lips muttered incoherent words,
and the Major, bending toward him, heard him repeating:
"My Lord--the letter--Ben Joyce."
The Major repeated these words, and looked at his companions.
What did Mulrady mean? Ben Joyce had been the attacking party,
of course; but why? Surely for the express purpose of intercepting him,
and preventing his arrival at the DUNCAN. This letter--
Glenarvan searched Mulrady's pockets. The letter addressed
to Tom Austin was gone!
The night wore away amid anxiety and distress; every moment, they feared,
would be poor Mulrady's last. He suffered from acute fever.
The Sisters of Charity, Lady Helena and Mary Grant, never left him.
Never was patient so well tended, nor by such sympathetic hands.
Day came, and the rain had ceased. Great clouds filled the sky still;
the ground was strewn with broken branches; the marly soil,
soaked by the torrents of rain, had yielded still more;
the approaches to the wagon became difficult, but it could
not sink any deeper.
John Mangles, Paganel, and Glenarvan went, as soon as it was
light enough, to reconnoiter in the neighborhood of the encampment.
They revisited the track, which was still stained with blood.
They saw no vestige of Ben Joyce, nor of his band.
They penetrated as far as the scene of the attack. Here two
corpses lay on the ground, struck down by Mulrady's bullets.
One was the blacksmith of Blackpoint. His face, already changed
by death, was a dreadful spectacle. Glenarvan searched
no further. Prudence forbade him to wander from the camp.
He returned to the wagon, deeply absorbed by the critical
position of affairs.
"We must not think of sending another messenger to Melbourne," said he.
"But we must," said John Mangles; "and I must try to pass
where my sailor could not succeed."
"No, John! it is out of the question. You have not even a horse
for the journey, which is full two hundred miles!"
This was true, for Mulrady's horse, the only one that remained,
had not returned. Had he fallen during the attack on his rider,
or was he straying in the bush, or had the convicts carried him off?
"Come what will," replied Glenarvan, "we will not separate again.
Let us wait a week, or a fortnight, till the Snowy falls to its
normal level. We can then reach Twofold Bay by short stages,
and from there we can send on to the DUNCAN, by a safer channel,
the order to meet us."
"That seems the only plan," said Paganel.
"Therefore, my friends," rejoined Glenarvan, "no more parting.
It is too great a risk for one man to venture alone into a
robber-haunted waste. And now, may God save our poor sailor,
and protect the rest of us!"
Glenarvan was right in both points; first in prohibiting all
isolated attempts, and second, in deciding to wait till the passage
of the Snowy River was practicable. He was scarcely thirty miles
from Delegete, the first frontier village of New South Wales,
where he would easily find the means of transport to Twofold Bay,
and from there he could telegraph to Melbourne his orders
about the DUNCAN.
These measures were wise, but how late! If Glenarvan had not sent
Mulrady to Lucknow what misfortunes would have been averted,
not to speak of the assassination of the sailor!
When he reached the camp he found his companions in better spirits.
They seemed more hopeful than before. "He is better! he is better!"
cried Robert, running out to meet Lord Glenarvan.
"Yes, Edward," answered Lady Helena. "A reaction has set in.
The Major is more confident. Our sailor will live."
"Where is McNabbs?" asked Glenarvan.
"With him. Mulrady wanted to speak to him, and they must
not be disturbed."
He then learned that about an hour since, the wounded man
had awakened from his lethargy, and the fever had abated.
But the first thing he did on recovering his memory and speech was
to ask for Lord Glenarvan, or, failing him, the Major. McNabbs seeing
him so weak, would have forbidden any conversation; but Mulrady
insisted with such energy that the Major had to give in.
The interview had already lasted some minutes when Glenarvan returned.
There was nothing for it but to await the return of McNabbs.
Presently the leather curtains of the wagon moved,
and the Major appeared. He rejoined his friends at the foot
of a gum-tree, where the tent was placed. His face,
usually so stolid, showed that something disturbed him.
When his eyes fell on Lady Helena and the young girl, his glance
was full of sorrow.
Glenarvan questioned him, and extracted the following information:
When he left the camp Mulrady followed one of the paths indicated
by Paganel. He made as good speed as the darkness of the night
would allow. He reckoned that he had gone about two miles
when several men--five, he thought--sprang to his horse's head.
The animal reared; Mulrady seized his revolver and fired.
He thought he saw two of his assailants fall.
By the flash he recognized Ben Joyce. But that was all.
He had not time to fire all the barrels. He felt a violent
blow on his side and was thrown to the ground.
Still he did not lose consciousness. The murderers thought he was dead.
He felt them search his pockets, and then heard one of them say:
"I have the letter."
"Give it to me," returned Ben Joyce, "and now the DUNCAN is ours."
At this point of the story, Glenarvan could not help uttering a cry.
McNabbs continued: "'Now you fellows,' added Ben Joyce,
'catch the horse. In two days I shall be on board the DUNCAN,
and in six I shall reach Twofold Bay. This is to be the rendezvous.
My Lord and his party will be still stuck in the marshes of the
Snowy River. Cross the river at the bridge of Kemple Pier, proceed to
the coast, and wait for me. I will easily manage to get you on board.
Once at sea in a craft like the DUNCAN, we shall be masters of
the Indian Ocean.' 'Hurrah for Ben Joyce!' cried the convicts.
Mulrady's horse was brought, and Ben Joyce disappeared,
galloping on the Lucknow Road, while the band took the road
southeast of the Snowy River. Mulrady, though severely wounded,
had the strength to drag himself to within three hundred paces from
the camp, whence we found him almost dead. There," said McNabbs,
"is the history of Mulrady; and now you can understand why
the brave fellow was so determined to speak."
This revelation terrified Glenarvan and the rest of the party.
"Pirates! pirates!" cried Glenarvan. "My crew massacred! my DUNCAN
in the hands of these bandits!"
"Yes, for Ben Joyce will surprise the ship," said the Major, "and then--"
"Well, we must get to the coast first," said Paganel.
"But how are we to cross the Snowy River?" said Wilson.
"As they will," replied Glenarvan. "They are to cross at
Kemple Pier Bridge, and so will we."
"But about Mulrady?" asked Lady Helena.
"We will carry him; we will have relays. Can I leave my crew
to the mercy of Ben Joyce and his gang?"
To cross the Snowy River at Kemple Pier was practicable, but dangerous.
The convicts might entrench themselves at that point, and defend it.
They were at least thirty against seven! But there are moments when
people do not deliberate, or when they have no choice but to go on.
"My Lord," said John Mangles, "before we throw away our chance,
before venturing to this bridge, we ought to reconnoiter,
and I will undertake it."
"I will go with you, John," said Paganel.
This proposal was agreed to, and John Mangles and Paganel prepared
to start immediately. They were to follow the course of the Snowy River,
follow its banks till they reached the place indicated by Ben Joyce,
and especially they were to keep out of sight of the convicts,
who were probably scouring the bush.
So the two brave comrades started, well provisioned and well armed,
and were soon out of sight as they threaded their way among
the tall reeds by the river. The rest anxiously awaited
their return all day. Evening came, and still the scouts
did not return. They began to be seriously alarmed.
At last, toward eleven o'clock, Wilson announced their arrival.
Paganel and John Mangles were worn out with the fatigues
of a ten-mile walk.
"Well, what about the bridge? Did you find it?" asked Glenarvan,
with impetuous eagerness.
"Yes, a bridge of supple-jacks," said John Mangles. "The convicts
passed over, but--"
"But what?" said Glenarvan, who foreboded some new misfortune.
"They burned it after they passed!" said Paganel.
CHAPTER XIX HELPLESS AND HOPELESS
IT was not a time for despair, but action. The bridge at Kemple Pier
was destroyed, but the Snowy River must be crossed, come what might,
and they must reach Twofold Bay before Ben Joyce and his gang, so,
instead of wasting time in empty words, the next day (the 16th
of January) John Mangles and Glenarvan went down to examine the river,
and arrange for the passage over.
The swollen and tumultuous waters had not gone down the least.
They rushed on with indescribable fury. It would be risking
life to battle with them. Glenarvan stood gazing with folded
arms and downcast face.
"Would you like me to try and swim across?" said John Mangles.
"No, John, no!" said Lord Glenarvan, holding back the bold,
daring young fellow, "let us wait."
And they both returned to the camp. The day passed in the most
intense anxiety. Ten times Lord Glenarvan went to look at the river,
trying to invent some bold way of getting over; but in vain.
Had a torrent of lava rushed between the shores, it could not have
been more impassable.
During these long wasted hours, Lady Helena, under the
Major's advice, was nursing Mulrady with the utmost skill.
The sailor felt a throb of returning life.
McNabbs ventured to affirm that no vital part was injured.
Loss of blood accounted for the patient's extreme exhaustion.
The wound once closed and the hemorrhage stopped, time and
rest would be all that was needed to complete his cure.
Lady Helena had insisted on giving up the first compartment
of the wagon to him, which greatly tried his modesty.
The poor fellow's greatest trouble was the delay his condition
might cause Glenarvan, and he made him promise that they should
leave him in the camp under Wilson's care, should the passage
of the river become practicable.
But, unfortunately, no passage was practicable, either that
day or the next (January 17); Glenarvan was in despair.
Lady Helena and the Major vainly tried to calm him,
and preached patience.
Patience, indeed, when perhaps at this very moment Ben Joyce was
boarding the yacht; when the DUNCAN, loosing from her moorings,
was getting up steam to reach the fatal coast, and each hour
was bringing her nearer.
John Mangles felt in his own breast all that Glenarvan was suffering.
He determined to conquer the difficulty at any price,
and constructed a canoe in the Australian manner, with large
sheets of bark of the gum-trees. These sheets were kept
together by bars of wood, and formed a very fragile boat.
The captain and the sailor made a trial trip in it during the day.
All that skill, and strength, and tact, and courage could do they did;
but they were scarcely in the current before they were upside down,
and nearly paid with their lives for the dangerous experiment.
The boat disappeared, dragged down by the eddy. John Mangles
and Wilson had not gone ten fathoms, and the river was a mile broad,
and swollen by the heavy rains and melted snows.
Thus passed the 19th and 20th of January. The Major and Glenarvan
went five miles up the river in search of a favorable passage,
but everywhere they found the same roaring, rushing, impetuous torrent.
The whole southern slope of the Australian Alps poured its liquid
masses into this single bed.
All hope of saving the DUNCAN was now at an end. Five days had elapsed
since the departure of Ben Joyce. The yacht must be at this moment
at the coast, and in the hands of the convicts.
However, it was impossible that this state of things could last.
The temporary influx would soon be exhausted, and the violence also.
Indeed, on the morning of the 21st, Paganel announced that
the water was already lower. "What does it matter now?"
said Glenarvan. "It is too late!"
"That is no reason for our staying longer here," said the Major.
"Certainly not," replied John Mangles. "Perhaps tomorrow the river
may be practicable."
"And will that save my unhappy men?" cried Glenarvan.
"Will your Lordship listen to me?" returned John Mangles. "I know
Tom Austin. He would execute your orders, and set out as soon as
departure was possible. But who knows whether the DUNCAN was ready
and her injury repaired on the arrival of Ben Joyce. And suppose the
V. IV Verne yacht could not go to sea; suppose there was a delay of a day,
or two days."
"You are right, John," replied Glenarvan. "We must get to Twofold Bay;
we are only thirty-five miles from Delegete."
"Yes," added Paganel, "and that's a town where we shall find
rapid means of conveyance. Who knows whether we shan't arrive
in time to prevent a catastrophe."
"Let us start," cried Glenarvan.
John Mangles and Wilson instantly set to work to construct a canoe
of larger dimensions. Experience had proved that the bark was powerless
against the violence of the torrent, and John accordingly felled some
of the gum-trees, and made a rude but solid raft with the trunks.
It was a long task, and the day had gone before the work was ended.
It was completed next morning.
By this time the waters had visibly diminished; the torrent had
once more become a river, though a very rapid one, it is true.
However, by pursuing a zigzag course, and overcoming it
to a certain extent, John hoped to reach the opposite shore.
At half-past twelve, they embarked provisions enough for a couple
of days. The remainder was left with the wagon and the tent.
Mulrady was doing well enough to be carried over;