Captain Brentwood went back to Garoopna next morning; but Frank Maberly kept to his resolution of going over to see Mary; and, soon after breakfast, they were all equipped ready to accompany him, standing in front of the door, waiting for the horses. Frank was remarking how handsome Mrs. Buckley looked in her hat and habit, when she turned and said to him —
“My dear Dean, I suppose you never jump over five-barred gates now-a-days? Do you remember how you used to come over the white gate at the Vicarage? I suppose you are getting too dignified for any such thing?”
There was a three-railed fence dividing the lower end of the yard from the paddock. He rammed his hat on tight, and took it flying, with his black coattails fluttering like wings; and, coming back laughing, said —
“There’s a bit of the old Adam for you, Mrs. Buckley! Be careful how you defy me again.”
The sun was bright overhead, and the land in its full winter verdure, as they rode along the banks of the creek that led to Toonarbin. Frank Maberly was as humorous as ever, and many a merry laugh went ringing through the woodland solitudes, sending the watchman cockatoo screaming aloft to alarm the flock, or startling the brilliant thick-clustered lories (richest coloured of all parrots in the world), as they hung chattering on some silver-leaved acacia, bending with their weight the fragile boughs down towards the clear still water, lighting up the dark pool with strange, bright reflections of crimson and blue; startling, too, the feeding doe-kangaroo, who skipped slowly away, followed by her young one — so slowly that the watching travellers expected her to stop each moment, and could scarcely believe she was in full flight till she topped a low ridge and disappeared.
“That is a strange sight to a European, Mrs. Buckley,” said Frank; “a real wild animal. It seems so strange to me, now, to think that I could go and shoot that beast, and account to no man for it. That is, you know, supposing I had a gun, and powder and shot, and, also, that the kangaroo would be fool enough to wait till I was near enough; which, you see, is presupposing a great deal. Are they easily approached?”
“Easily enough, on horseback,” said Sam, “but very difficult to come near on foot, which is also the case with all wild animals and birds worth shooting in this country. A footman, you see, they all mistake for their hereditary enemy, the blackfellow; but, as yet, they have not come to distinguish a man on horseback from a four-footed beast. And, this seems to show that animals have their traditions like men.”
“Pray, Sam, are not these pretty beasts, these kangaroos, becoming extinct?”
“On sheep-runs, very nearly so. Sheep drive them off directly; but on cattle-runs, so far from becoming extinct, they are becoming so numerous as to be a nuisance; consuming a most valuable quantity of grass.”
“How can you account for that?”
“Very easily,” said Sam; “their enemies are all removed. The settlers have poisoned, in well-settled districts, the native dogs and eagle-hawks, which formerly kept down their numbers. The blacks prefer the beef of the settlers to bad and hard-earned kangaroo venison; and, lastly, the settlers never go after them, but leave them to their own inventions. So that the kangaroo has better times of it than ever.”
“That is rather contrary to what one has heard, though,” said Frank.
“But Sam is right, Dean,” said the Major. “People judge from seeing none of them on the plains, from which they have been driven by the sheep; but there are as many in the forest as ever.”
“The Emu, now,” said Frank, “are they getting scarce?”
“They will soon be among the things of the past,” said the Major; “and I am sorry for it, for they are a beautiful and harmless bird.”
“Major,” said Frank, “how many outlying huts have you?”
“Five,” said the Major. “Four shepherds’ huts, and one stockkeeper’s in the range, which we call the heifer station.”
“You have no church here, I know,” said Frank; “but do these men get any sort of religious instruction?”
“None whatever,” said the Major. “I have service in my house on Sunday, but I cannot ask them to come to it, though sometimes the stockmen do come. The shepherds, you know, are employed on Sunday as on any other day. Sheep must eat!”
“Are any of these men convicts?”
“All the shepherds,” said the Major. “The stockman and his assistant are free men, but their hut-keeper is bond.”
“Are any of them married?”
“Two of the shepherds; the rest single; but I must tell you that on our run we keep up a regular circulation of books among the huts, and my wife sticks them full of religious tracts, which is really about all that we can do without a clergyman.”
“Do you find they read your tracts, Mrs. Buckley?” asked Frank.
“No,” said Mrs. Buckley, “with the exception, perhaps, of ‘Black Giles the Poacher,’ which always comes home very dirty. Narrative tracts they will read when there is nothing more lively at hand; but such treatises as ‘Are You Ready?’ and ‘The Sinner’s Friend,’ fall dead. One copy lasts for years.”
“One copy of either of them,” said Frank, “would last. Then these fellows, Major, are entirely godless, I suppose?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Dean,” said the Major, stopping short, “it’s about as bad as bad can be; it can’t be worse, sir. If by any means you could make it worse, it would be by sending such men round here as the one who was sent here last. He served as a standing joke to the hands for a year or more; and I believe he was sincere enough, too.”
“I must invade some of these huts, and see what is to be done,” said Frank. “I have had a hard spell of work in London since old times; but I have seen enough already to tell me that that work was not so hopeless as this will be. I think, however, that there is more chance here than among the little farmers in the settled districts. Here, at all events, I shan’t have the rum-bottle eternally standing between me and my man. What a glorious, independent, happy set of men are those said small freeholders, Major! What a happy exchange an English peasant makes when he leaves an old, well-ordered society, the ordinances of religion, the various give-and-take relations between rank and rank, which make up the sum of English life, for independence, godlessness, and rum! He gains, say you! Yes, he gains meat for his dinner every day, and voila tout! Contrast an English workhouse schoolboy — I take the lowest class for example, a class which should not exist — with a small farmer’s son in one of the settled districts. Which will make the most useful citizen? Give me the workhouse lad!”
“Oh, but you are over-stating the case, you know, Dean,” said the Major. “You must have a class of small farmers! Wherever the land is fit for cultivation it must be sold to agriculturists; or, otherwise, in case of a war, we shall be dependent on Europe and America for the bread we eat. I know some excellent and exemplary men who are farmers, I assure you.”
“Of course! of course!” said Frank. “I did not mean quite all I said; but I am angry and disappointed. I pictured to myself the labourer, English, Scotch, or Irish — a man whom I know, and have lived with and worked for some years, emigrating, and, after a few years of honest toil, which, compared to his old hard drudgery, was child’s-play, saving money enough to buy a farm. I pictured to myself this man accumulating wealth, happy, honest, godly, bringing up a family of brave boys and good girls, in a country where, theoretically, the temptations to crime are all but removed: this is what I imagined. I come out here, and what do I find? My friend the labourer has got his farm, and is prospering, after a sort. He has turned to be a drunken, godless, impudent fellow, and his wife little better than himself; his daughters dowdy hussies; his sons lanky, lean, pasty-faced, blaspheming blackguards, drinking rum before breakfast, and living by cheating one another out of horses. Can you deny this picture?”
“Yes,” said the Major, “I can disprove it by many happy instances, and yet, to say the truth, it is fearfully true in as many more. There is no social influence in the settled districts; there are too many men without masters. Let us wait and hope.”
“This is not to the purpose at present, though,” said Mrs. Buckley. “See what you can do for us in the bush, my dear Dean. You have a very hopeless task before you, I fear.”
“The more hopeless, the greater glory, madam,” said Frank, taking off his hat and waving it; called, chosen, and faithful. “There is a beautiful house!”
“That is Toonarbin,” said the Major; “and there’s Mary Hawker in the verandah.”
“Let us see,” said Mrs. Buckley, “if she will know him. If she does not recognise him, let no one speak before me.”
When they had ridden up and dismounted, Mrs. Buckley presented Frank. “My dear,” said she, “the Dean is honouring us by staying at Baroona for a week, and proposes to visit round at the various stations. To-morrow we go to the Mayfords, and next day to Garoopna.”
Mary bowed respectfully to Frank, and said, “that she felt highly honoured,” and so forth. “My partner is gone on a journey, and my son is away on the run, or they would have joined with me in bidding you welcome, sir.”
Frank would have been highly honoured at making their acquaintance.
Mary started, and looked at him again. “Mr. Maberly! Mr. Maberly!” she said, “your face is changed, but your voice is unchangeable. You are discovered, sir!”
“And are you glad to see me?”
“No!” said Mary, plainly.
“Now,” said Mrs. Buckley to herself, “she is going to give us one of her tantrums. I wish she would behave like a reasonable being. She is always bent on making a scene;” but she kept this to herself, and only said aloud: “Mary, my dear! Mary!”
“I am sorry to hear you say so, Mrs. Hawker,” said Frank; “but it is just and natural.”
“Natural,” said Mary, “and just. You are connected in my mind with the most unhappy and most degraded period of my life. Can you expect that I should be glad to see you? You were kind to me then, as is your nature to be, kind and good above all men whom I know. I thought of you always with love and admiration, as one whom I deeply honoured, but would not care to look upon again. As the one of all whom I would have forget me in my disgrace. And now, today of all days; just when I have found the father’s vices confirmed in the son, you come before me, as if from the bowels of the earth, to remind me of what I was.”
Mrs. Buckley was very much shocked and provoked by this, but held her tongue magnanimously. And what do you think, my dear reader, was the cause of all this hysteric tragic nonsense on the part of Mary? Simply this. The poor soul had been put out of temper. Her son Charles, as I mentioned before, had had a scandalous liason with one Meg Macdonald, daughter of one of the Donovans’ (now Brentwood’s) shepherds. That morning, this brazen hussy, as Mary very properly called her, had come coolly up to the station and asked for Charles. And on Mary’s shaking her fist at her, and bidding her be gone, had then and there rated poor Mary in the best of Gaelic for a quarter of an hour; and Mary, instead of venting her anger on the proper people, had taken her old plan of making herself disagreeable to those who had nothing to do with it, which naturally made Mrs. Buckley very angry, and even ruffled the placid Major a little, so that he was not sorry when he saw in his wife’s face, the expression of which he knew so well, that Mary was going to “catch it.”
“I wish, Mary Hawker,” said Mrs. Buckley, “that you would remember that the Dean is our guest, and that on our account alone there is due to him some better welcome than what you have given him.”
“Now, you are angry with me for speaking truth too abruptly,” said Mary crying.
“Well, I am angry with you,” said Mrs. Buckley. “If that was the truth, you should not have spoken it now. You have no right to receive an old friend like this.”
“You are very unkind to me,” said Mary. “Just when after so many years’ peace and quietness my troubles are beginning again, you are all turning against me.” And so she laid down her head and wept.
“Dear Mrs. Hawker,” said Frank, coming up and taking her hand, “if you are in trouble, I know well that my visit is well timed. Where trouble and sorrow are, there is my place, there lies my work. In prosperity my friends sometimes forget me, but my hope and prayer is, that when affliction and disaster come, I may be with them. You do not want me now; but when you do, God grant I may be with you! Remember my words.”
She remembered them well.
Frank made an excuse to go out, and Mary, crying bitterly, went into her bedroom. When she was gone, the Major, who had been standing by the window, said —
“My dear wife, that boy of hers is aggravating her. Don’t be too hard upon her.”
“My dear husband,” said Mrs. Buckley, “I have no patience with her, to welcome an old friend, whom she has not seen for nearly twenty years, in that manner! It is too provoking.”
“You see, my love,” said the Major, “that her nerves have been very much shaken by misfortune, and at times she is really not herself.”
“And I tell you what, mother dear,” said Sam, “Charles Hawker is going on very badly. I tell you, in the strictest confidence, mind, that he has not behaved in a very gentlemanlike way in one particular, and if he was anyone else but who he is, I should have very little to say to him.”
“Well, my dear husband and son,” said Mrs. Buckley, “I will go in and make the AMENDE to her. Sam, go and see after the Dean.”
Sam went out, and saw Frank across the yard playing with the dogs. He was going towards him, when a man entering the yard suddenly came up and spoke to him.
It was William Lee — grown older, and less wildlooking, since we saw him first at midnight on Dartmoor, but a striking person still. His hair had become grizzled, but that was the only sign of age he showed. There was still the same vigour of motion, the same expression of enormous strength about him as formerly; the principal change was in his face. Eighteen years of honest work, among people who in time, finding his real value, had got to treat him more as a friend than a servant, had softened the old expression of reckless ferocity into one of good-humoured independence. And Tom Troubridge, no careless observer of men, had said once to Major Buckley, that he thought his face grew each year more like what it must have been when a boy. A bold flight of fancy for Tom, but, like all else he said, true.
Such was William Lee, as he stopped Sam in the yard, and, with a bold, honest look of admiration, said —
“It makes me feel young to look at you, Mr. Buckley. You are a great stranger here lately. Some young lady to run after, I suppose? Well, never mind; I hope it ain’t Miss Blake.”
“A man may not marry his grandmother, Lee,” said Sam, laughing.
“True for you, sir,” said Lee. “That was wrote up in Drumston church, I mind, and some other things alongside of it, which I could say by heart once on a time — all on black boards, with yellow letters. And also, I remember a spick and span new board, about how Anthony Hamlyn (that’s Mr. Geoffry Hamlyn’s father) ‘repaired and beautified this church;’ which meant that he built a handsome new pew for himself in the chancel. Lord, I think I see him asleep in it now. But never mind that I’ve kept a pup of Fly’s for you, sir, and got it through the distemper. Fly’s pup, by Rollicker, you know.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Sam. “I am really much obliged to you. But you must let me know the price, you know, Lee. The dog should be a good one.”
“Well, Mr. Buckley,” said Lee, “I have been cosseting this little beast up in the hopes you’d accept it as a present. And then, says I to myself, when he takes a new chum out to see some sport, and the dog pulls down a flying doe, and the dust goes up like smoke, and the dead sticks come flying about his ears, he will say to his friends, ‘That’s the dog Lee gave me. Where’s his equal?’ So don’t be too proud to take a present from an old friend.”
“Not I, indeed, Lee,” said Sam. “I thank you most heartily.”
“Who is this long gent in black, sir?” said Lee, looking towards Frank, who was standing and talking with the Major. “A parson, I reckon.”
“The Dean of B— — ” answered Sam.
“Ah! so,”— said Lee — “come to give us some good advice? Well, we want it bad enough, I hope some on us may foller it. Seems a man, too, and not a monkey.”
“My father says,” said Sam, “that he was formerly one of the best boxers he ever saw.”
Any further discussion of Frank’s physical powers was cut short, by his coming up to Sam and saying —
“I was thinking of riding out to one of the outlying huts, to have a little conversation with the men. Will you come with me?”
“If you will allow me, I shall be delighted beyond all measure.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Lee, “but I understood you to say that you were going to one of our huts to give the men a discourse. Would you let me take you out to one of them? I’d like well to hear what you’d got to say myself, sir, and I promise you the lads I’ll show you want good advice as well as any.”
“You will do me infinite service,” said Frank. “Sam, if you will excuse me, let me ask you to stay behind. I have a fancy for going up alone. Let me take these men in the rough, and see what I can do unassisted.”
“You will be apt to find them uncivil, sir,” said Sam. “I am known, and my presence would ensure you outward respect at all events.”
“Just what I thought,” said Frank. “But I want to see what I can do alone and unassisted. No; stay, and let me storm the place single-handed.”
So Lee and he started toward the ranges, riding side by side.
“You will find, sir,” said Lee, “that these men, in this here hut, are a rougher lot than you think for. Very like they’ll be cheeky. I would almost have wished you’d a’ let Mr. Buckley come. He’s a favourite round here, you see, and you’d have gone in as his friend.”
“You see,” said Frank, turning confidentially to Lee, “I am not an ordinary parson. I am above the others. And what I want is not so much to see what I can do myself, but what sort of a reception any parson coming haphazard among these men will get. That is why I left Mr. Buckley behind. Do you understand me?”
“I understand you, sir,” said Lee. “But I’m afear’d.”
“What are you afraid of?” said Frank, laughing.
“Why, if you’ll excuse me, sir, that you’ll only get laughed at.”
“That all!” said Frank. “Laughter breaks no bones. What are these men that we are going to see?”
“Why, one,” said Lee, “is a young Jimmy (I beg your pardon, sir, an emigrant), the other two are old prisoners. Now, see here. These prisoners hate the sight of a parson above all mortal men. And, for why? Because, when they’re in prison, all their indulgences, and half their hopes of liberty, depend on how far they can manage to humbug the chaplain with false piety. And so, when they are free again, they hate him worse than any man. I am an old prisoner myself, and I know it.”
“Have you been a prisoner, then?” said Frank, surprised.
“I was transported, sir, for poaching.”
“That all!” said Frank. “Then, you were the victim of a villanous old law. Do you know,” he added, laughing, “that I rather believe I have earned transportation myself? I have a horrible schoolboy recollection of a hare who would squeak in my pocket, and of a keeper passing within ten yards of where I lay hidden. If that is all, give me your hand.”
Lee shook his head. “That is what I was sent out for,” said he, “but since then there are precious few villanies I have not committed. You hadn’t ought to shake hands with me, sir.”
Frank laid his hand kindly on his shoulder. “I am not a judge,” he said. “I am a priest. We must talk together again. Now, we have no time, for, if I mistake not, there is our destination.”
They had been riding through splendid open forest, growing denser as they approached the ranges. They had followed a creek all the way, or nearly so, and now came somewhat suddenly on a large reedy waterhole, walled on all sides by dense stringy bark-timber, thickly undergrown with scrub. Behind them opened a long vista, formed by the gully, through which they had been approaching, down which the black burnt stems of the stringy bark were agreeably relieved by the white stems of the red and blue gum, growing in the moister and more open space near the creek. In front of them was a slab hut of rich mahogany colour, by no means an unpleasing object among the dull unbroken green of the forest. In front of it was a trodden space littered with the chips of firewood. A pile of the last article lay a few yards in front of the door. And against the walls of the tenement was a long bench, on which stood a calabash, with a lump of soap and a coarse towel; a lamp oven, and a pair of black top-boots, and underneath which lay a noble cattle dog, who, as soon as he saw them, burst out into furious barking, and prepared to give battle.
“Will you take my horse for me,” said Frank to Lee, “while I go inside?”
“Certainly, sir,” said Lee. “But mind the dog.”
Frank laughed and jumped off. The dog was unprepared for this. It was irregular. The proper and usual mode of proceeding would have been for the stranger to have stayed on horseback, and for him (the dog) to have barked himself hoarse, till some one came out of the hut and pacified him by throwing billets of wood at him. No conversation possible till his barking was turned into mourning. He was not up to the emergency. He had never seen a man clothed in black from head to foot before. He probably thought it was the D——. His sense of duty not being strong enough to outweigh considerations of personal safety, he fled round the house, and being undecided whether to bark or to howl, did both, while Frank opened the door and went in.
The hut was like most other bush huts, consisting of one undivided apartment, formed of split logs, called slabs, set upright in the ground. The roof was of bark, and the whole interior was stained by the smoke into a rich dark brown, such as Teniers or our own beloved Cattermole would delight in. You entered by a door in one of the long sides, and saw that the whole of the end on your right was taken up by a large fireplace, on which blazed a pile of timber. Round the walls were four bed places, like the bunks on board ship, each filled with a heap of frouzy blankets, and in the centre stood a rough table, surrounded by logs of wood, sawn square off, which served for seats.
The living occupants of the hut were scarcely less rude than the hut itself. One of the bed places was occupied by a sleepy, not bad-looking young fellow, clad in greasy red shirt, greasy breeches and boots, and whose shabby plated spurs were tangled in the dirty blankets. He was lying on his back, playing with a beautiful little parrot. Opposite him, sitting up in his bunk, was another young fellow, with a singularly coarse, repulsive countenance, long yellow hair, half-way down his back, clothed like the other in greasy breeches. This last one was puffing at a short black pipe, in an affected way, making far more noise than was necessary in that operation, and seemed to be thinking of something insolent to say to the last speaker, whoever he may have been.
Another man was sitting on the end of the bench before the fire, with his legs stretched out before it. At the first glance Frank saw that this was a superior person to the others. He was dressed like the others in black top-boots, but, unlike the others, he was clean and neat. In fact the whole man was clean and neat, and had a clean-shaved face, and looked respectable, so far as outward appearances were concerned. The fourth man was the hut-keeper, a wicked-looking old villain, who was baking bread.
Frank looked at the sleepy young man with the parrot, and said to himself, “There’s a bad case.” He looked at the flash, yellow-haired young snob who was smoking, and said, “There’s a worse.” He looked at the villanous grey-headed old hut-keeper, and said, “There’s a hopeless case altogether.” But when he looked at the dry, neatly-dressed man, who sat in front of the fire, he said, “That seems a more likely person. There is some sense of order in him, at all events. See what I can do with him.”
He stood with his towering tall black figure in the doorway. The sleepy young man sat up and looked in wonder, while his parrot whistled and chattered loudly. The yellow-haired young man looked round to see if he could get the others to join him in a laugh. The hut-keeper said, “Oh, h —!” and attended once more to the cooking; but the neat-looking man rose up, and gave Frank courteously “good day.”
“I am a clergyman,” said Frank, “come to pay you a visit, if you will allow me.”
Black-hair looked as if astonishment were a new sensation to him, and he was determined to have the most of it. Meanwhile, little parrot taking advantage of his absence of mind, clambers up his breast and nips off a shirt-button, which he holds in his claw, pretending it is immensely good to eat. Hut-keeper clatters pots and pans, while yellow hair lies down whistling insolently. These last two seem inclined to constitute themselves his Majesty’s Opposition in the present matter, while Black-hair and the neat man are evidently inclined towards Frank. There lay a boot in front of the fire, which the neat man, without warning, seized and hurled at Yellow-hair, with such skill and precision that the young fellow started upright in bed and demanded, with many verbs and adjectives, what he meant by that?
“I’ll teach you to whistle when a gentleman comes into the hut — you Possumguts! Lie down now, will you?”
Yellow-hair lay down, and there was no more trouble with him. Hut-keeper, too, seeing how matters were going, left off clattering his pots, and Frank was master of the field.
“Very glad to see you, sir,” says the neat man; “very seldom we get a visit from a gentleman in a black coat, I assure you.”
Frank shook hands with him and thanked him, and then, turning suddenly upon Black-hair, who was sitting with his bird on his knee, one leg out of his bunk, and his great black vacant eyes fixed on Frank, said —
“What an exceedingly beautiful bird you have got there! Pray, what do you call it?”
Now it so happened that Black-hair had been vacantly wondering to himself whether Frank’s black coat would meet across his stomach, or whether the lower buttons and buttonholes were “dummies.” So that when Frank turned suddenly upon him he was, as it were, caught in the fact, and could only reply in a guilty whisper, “Mountain blue.”
“Will he talk?” asked Frank.
“Whistle,” says Black-hair, still in a whisper, and then, clearing his throat continued, in his natural tone, “Whistle beautiful. Black fellows gets ’em young out of the dead trees. I’ll give you this one if you’ve a mind.”
Frank couldn’t think of it; but could Black-hair get him a young cockatoo, and leave it with Mr. Sam Buckley for transmission? — would be exceedingly obliged.
Yes, Black-hair could. Thinks, too, what a pleasant sort of chap this parson was. “Will get him a cockatoo certainly.”
Then Frank asks may he read them a bit out of the Bible, and neat man says they will be highly honoured. And Black-hair gets out of his bunk and sits listening in a decently respectful way. Opposition are by no means won over. The old hut-keeper sits sulkily smoking, and the yellow-haired man lies in his bunk with his back towards them. Lee had meanwhile come in, and, after recognitions from those inside, sat quietly down close to the door. Frank took for a text, “Servants, obey your masters,” and preached them a sermon about the relations of master and servant, homely, plain, sensible and interesting, and had succeeded in awakening the whole attention and interest of the three who were listening, when the door was opened and a man looked in.
Lee was next the door, and cast his eyes upon the new comer. No sooner had their eyes met than he uttered a loud oath, and, going out with the stranger, shut the door after him.
“What can be the matter with our friend, I wonder?” asked Frank. “He seems much disturbed.”
The neat man went to the door and opened it. Lee and the man who had opened the door were standing with their backs towards them, talking earnestly. Lee soon came back without a word, and, having caught and saddled his horse, rode away with the stranger, who was on foot. He was a large, shabbily-dressed man, with black curly hair; this was all they could see of him, for his back was always towards them.
“Never saw Bill take on like that before,” said the neat man. “That’s one of his old pals, I reckon. He ain’t very fond of meeting any of ’em, you see, since he has been on the square. The best friends in prison, sir, are the worst friends out.”
“Were you ever in prison, then?” said Frank.
“Lord bless you!” said the other, laughing, “I was lagged for forgery.”
“I will make you another visit if I can,” said Frank. “I am much obliged to you for the patience with which you heard me.”
The other ran out to get his horse for him, and had it saddled in no time. “If you will send a parson round,” he said, when Frank was mounted, “I will ensure him a hearing, and good bye, sir.”
“And God speed you!” says Frank. But, lo! as he turned to ride away, Black-hair the sleepy-headed comes to the hut-door, looking important, and says, “Hi!” Frank is glad of this, for he likes the stupid-looking young fellow better than he fancied he would have done at first, and says to himself, “There’s the making of a man in that fellow, unless I am mistaken.” So he turns politely to meet him, and, as he comes towards him, remarks what a fine, good-humoured young fellow he is, Blackhair ranges alongside, and, putting his hand on the horse’s neck, says, mysteriously —
“Would you like a native companion?”
“Too big to carry, isn’t it?” says Frank.
“I’ll tie his wings together, and send him down on the ration dray,” says Black-hair. “You’ll come round and see us again, will you?”
So Frank fares back to Toonarbin, wondering where Lee has gone. But Black-hair goes back into the hut, and taking his parrot from the bedplace, puts it on his shoulder, and sits rubbing his knees before the fire. Yellow-hair and the hut-keeper are now in loud conversation, and the former is asking, in a loud, authoritative tone (the neat man being outside), “whether a chap is to be hunted and badgered out of his bed by a parcel of —— parsons?” To which the Hut-keeper says, “No, by ——! A man might as well be in barracks again.” Yellowhair, morally comforted and sustained by this opinion, is proceeding to say, that, for his part, a parson is a useless sort of animal in general, who gets his living by frightening old women, but that this particular parson is an unusually offensive specimen, and that there is nothing in this world that he (Yellow-hair) would like better than to have him out in front of the house for five minutes, and see who was best man — when Black-hair, usually a taciturn, peaceable fellow, astonishes the pair by turning his black eyes on the other, and saying, with lowering eyebrows —
“You d —— d humbug! Talk about fighting him! Always talking about fighting a chap when he is out of the way, when you know you’ve no more fight in you than a bronsewing. Why, he’d kill you, if you only waited for him to hit you! And see here: if you don’t stop your jaw about him, you’ll have to fight me, and that’s a little more than you’re game for, I’m thinking.”
This last was told me by the man distinguished above as “the neat man,” who was standing outside, and heard the whole.
But Frank arrived in due time at Toonarbin, and found all there much as he had left it, save that Mary Hawker had recovered her serenity, and was standing expecting him, with Charles by her side. Sam asked him, “Where was Lee?” and Frank, thinking more of other things, said he had left him at the hut, not thinking it worth while to mention the circumstance of his having been called out — a circumstance which became of great significance hereafter; for, though we never found out for certain who the man was, we came in the end to have strong suspicions.
However, as I said, all clouds had cleared from the Toonarbin atmosphere, and, after a pleasant meal, Frank, Major and Mrs. Buckley, Sam, and Charles Hawker, rode home to Baroona under the forest arches, and reached the house in the gathering twilight.
The boys were staying behind at the stable as the three elders entered the darkened sitting-room. A figure was in one of the easy chairs by the fire — a figure which seemed familiar there, though the Major could not make out who it was until a well-known voice said —
“Is that you, Buckley?”
It was the Doctor. They both welcomed him warmly home, and waited in the gloom for him to speak, but only saw that he had bent down his head over the fire.
“Are you ill, Doctor?” said Mrs. Buckley.
“Sound in wind and limb, my dear madam, but rather sad at heart. We have had some very severe black fighting, and we have lost a kind old friend — James Stockbridge.”
“Is he wounded, then?” said Mrs. Buckley.
“Speared in the side. Rolled off his horse, and was gone in five minutes.”
“Oh, poor James!” cried Mrs. Buckley. “He, of all men! The man who was their champion. To think that he, of all men, should end in that way!”
Charles Hawker rode home that night, and went into the room where his mother was. She was sitting sewing by the fire, and looked up to welcome him home.
“Mother,” said he, “there is bad news to tell. We have lost a good friend. James Stockbridge is killed by the blacks on the Macquarrie.”
She answered not a word, but buried her face in her hands, and very shortly rose and left the room. When she was alone, she began moaning to herself, and saying —
“Some more fruit of the old cursed tree! If he had never seen me, he would have died at home, among his old friends, in a ripe, honoured old age.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10