I need hardly say that Sam was sorry when the two days which he had allowed himself for his visit were over. But that evening, when he mentioned the fact that he was going away in the morning, the Captain, Alice, and Jim, all pressed him so eagerly to stay another week, that he consented; the more as there was no earthly reason he knew of why he should go home.
And the second morning from that on which he should have been at home, going out to the stable before breakfast, he saw his father come riding over the plain, and, going to meet him, found that he, too, meditated a visit to the Captain.
“I thought you were come after me, father,” said Sam. “By the bye, do you know that the Captain’s daughter, Miss Alice, is come home?”
“Indeed!” said the Major; “and what sort of a body is she?”
“Oh, she is well enough. Something like Jim. Plays very well on the piano, and all that sort of thing, you know. Sings too.”
“Is she pretty?” asked the Major.
“Oh, well, I suppose she is,” said Sam. “Yes; I should say that a great many people would consider her pretty.”
They had arrived at the door, and the groom had taken the Major’s horse, when Alice suddenly stepped out and confronted them.
The Major had been prepared to see a pretty girl, but he was by no means prepared for such a radiant, lovely, blushing creature as stepped out of the darkness into the fresh morning to greet him, clothed in white, bareheaded, with
“A single rose in her hair.”
As he told his wife, a few days after, he was struck “all of a heap;” and Sam heard him whisper to himself, “By Jove!” before he went up to Alice and spoke.
“My dear young lady, you and I ought not to be strangers, for I recognise you from my recollections of your mother. Can you guess who I am?”
“I recognise you from my recollections of your son, sir,” said Alice, with a sly look at Sam; “I should say that you were Major Buckley.”
The Major laughed, and, taking her hand, carried it to his lips: a piece of old-fashioned courtesy she had never experienced before, and which won her heart amazingly.
“Come, come, Buckley!” said the quiet voice of Captain Brentwood from the dark passage; “what are you at there with my daughter? I shall have to call out and fight some of you young fellows yet, I see.”
Alice went in past her father, stopping to give him a kiss, and disappeared into the breakfast-room. The Captain came out, and shook hands warmly with the Major, and said,
“What do you think of her — eh?”
“I never saw such beauty before,” answered the Major; “never, by Jove! I tell you what, Brentwood, I wish she could come out this season in London. Why, she might marry a duke.”
“Let us get her a rouge-pot and a French governess, and send her home by the next ship; eh, Buckley?” said the Captain, with his most sardonic smile. “She would be the better for a little polishing; wouldn’t she, eh? Too hoydenish and forward, I am afraid; too fond of speaking the truth. Let’s have her taught to amble, and mince, and —— Bah, come to breakfast!”
The Major laughed heartily at this tirade of the Captain’s. He was fond of teasing him, and I believe the Captain liked to be teased by him.
“And what are you three going to do with yourselves today, eh?” asked the Captain at breakfast. “It is a matter of total indifference to me, so long as you take yourselves off somewhere, and leave me in peace.”
Alice was spokesman:—“We are going up to the Limestone Gates; Mr. Samuel Buckley has expressed a desire to see them, and so Jim and I thought of taking him there.”
This was rather a jesuitical speech. The expedition to the Limestone Gates involved a long ride through very pretty scenery, which she herself had proposed. As for Sam, bless you! he didn’t care whether they rode east, west, north, or south, so long as he rode beside her; however, having got his cue, he expressed a strong wish to examine, geologically, the great band of limestone which alternated with the slate towards the mountains, the more particularly as he knew that the Captain and the Major intended to ride out in another direction, to examine some new netting for sheep-yards which the Captain had imported.
If Major Buckley thought Alice beautiful as he had seen her in the morning, he did not think her less so when she was seated on a beautiful little horse, which she rode gracefully and courageously, in a blue ridinghabit, and a sweet little grey hat with a plume of companion’s feathers hanging down on one side. The cockatoo was on the door-step to see her start, and talked so incessantly in his excitement, that even when the magpie assaulted him and pulled a feather out of his tail, he could not be quiet. Sam’s horse Widderin capered with delight, and Sam’s dog Rover coursed far and wide before them, with joyful bark. So they three went off through the summer’s day as happy as though all life were one great summer’s holiday, and there were no storms below the horizon to rise and overwhelm them; through the grassy flat, where the quail whirred before them, and dropped again as if shot; across the low rolling forest land, where a million parrots fled whistling to and fro, like jewels, in the sun; past the old stockyard, past the sheep-wash hut, and then through forest which grew each moment more dense and lofty, along the faint and narrow track which led into one of the most abrupt and romantic gullies which pierce the Australian Alps.
All this became classic ground to them afterwards, and the causes which made it so were now gathering to their fulfilment, even now, while these three were making happy holiday together, little dreaming of what was to come. Afterwards, years after, they three came and looked on this valley again; not as now, with laughter and jokes, but silently, speaking in whispers, as though they feared to wake the dead.
The road they followed, suddenly rising from the forest, took over the shoulder of a rocky hill, and then, plunging down again, followed a little running creek up to where a great ridge of slate, crossing the valley, hemmed them in on either side, leaving only room for the creek and the road. Following it further, the glen opened out, sweeping away right and left in broad curves, while straight before them, a quarter of a mile distant, there rose out of the low scrub and fern a mighty wall of limestone, utterly barring all further progress save in a single spot to the left, where the vast grey wall was split, giving a glimpse of another glen beyond. This great natural cleft was the limestone gate which they had come to see, and which was rendered the more wonderful by a tall pinnacle of rock, which stood in the centre of the gap about 300 feet in height, not unlike one of the same kind in Dovedale.
“I don’t think I ever saw anything so beautiful,” said Alice. “How fine that spire of rock is, shooting up from the feathered shrubs at the base! I will come here some day and try to draw it.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jim; “you have not seen half yet.”
He led them through the narrow pass, among the great boulders which lined the creek. The instant they came beyond, a wind, icy cold, struck upon their cheeks, and Alice, dropping her reins, uttered a cry of awe and wonder, and Sam too exclaimed aloud; for before them, partly seen through crowded tree stems, and partly towering above the forest, lay a vast level wall of snow, flecked here and there by the purple shadow of some flying summer cloud.
A sight so vast and magnificent held them silent for a little; then suddenly, Jim, looking at Alice, saw that she was shivering.
“What is the matter, Alice, my dear?” he said; “let us come away; the snow-wind is too much for you.”
“Oh! it is not that!” she said. “Somebody is walking over my grave.”
“Oh, that’s all!” said Jim; “they are always at it with me, in cold weather. Let ’em. It won’t hurt, that I know of.”
But they turned homeward nevertheless; and coming through the rock walls again, Jim said,
“Sam, what was that battle the Doctor and you were reading about one day, and you told me all about it afterwards, you know?”
“No; something like that, though. Where they got bailed up among the rocks, you know, and fought till they were all killed.”
“Ah! This must be just such another place, I should think.”
“Thermopylae was by the sea-shore,” said Alice.
“Now, I should imagine,” said Sam, pointing to the natural glacis formed by the decay of the great wall which they had seen fronting them as they came up, “that a few determined men with rifles, posted among those fern-trees, could make a stand against almost any force.”
“But, Sam,” said Jim, “they might be cut up by cavalry. Horses could travel right up the face of the slope there. Now, suppose a gang of bushrangers in that fern-scrub; do you think an equal number of police could not turn them out of it? Why, I have seen the place where Moppy’s gang turned and fought Desborough on the Macquarrie. It was stronger than this, and yet — you know what he did with them, only kept one small one for hanging, as he elegantly expressed it.”
“But I ain’t talking of bushrangers,” said Sam. “I mean such fellows as the Americans in the War of Independence. See what a dance they led our troops with their bushfighting.”
“I wonder if there will ever be a War of Independence here,” said Alice.
“I know which side I should be on, if there was,” said Sam.
“Which would that be?” asked Jim.
“My dear friend,” said Sam, testily, “how can you, an officer’s son, ask me, an officer’s son, such a question? The King’s (I beg pardon, the Queen’s) side, of course.”
“And so would I,” said Jim, “if it came to that, you know.”
“You would never have the honour of speaking to your sweet sister again, if you were not,” said Alice.
“But I don’t think those Americans were in the wrong; do you, Miss Brentwood?” said Sam.
“Why no; I don’t suppose that such a man as General Washington, for instance, would have had much to do with them if they had been.”
“However,” said Sam, “we are talking of what will never occur here. To begin with, we could never stand alone against a great naval power. They would shut us up here to starve. We have everything to lose, and nothing to gain by a separation. I would hardly like myself, for the sake of a few extra pounds taxes, to sell my birthright as an Englishman.”
“Conceive,” said Alice, “being in some great European city, and being asked if you were British, having to say, No!”
They were coming through the lower pass, and turned to look back on the beautiful rock-walled amphitheatre, sleeping peaceful and still under the afternoon sun. The next time (so it happened) that Sam and Jim looked at that scene together, was under very different circumstances. Now the fronds of the ferntrees were scarce moved in the summer’s breeze, and all was silent as the grave. They saw it again; — when every fern tuft blazed with musketry, and the ancient cliffs echoed with the shouts of fighting, and the screams of dying men and horses.
“It is very early,” said Alice. “Let us ride to the left, and see the great waterfall you speak of, Jim.”
It was agreed. Instead of going home they turned through the forest, and debouched on the plains about two miles above Garoopna, and, holding their course to the river, came to it at a place where a great trap dike, crossing, formed a waterfall, over which the river, now full with melting snow, fell in magnificent confusion. They stood watching the grand scene with delight for a short time, and then, crossing the river by a broad, shallow ford, held their way homeward, along the eastern and more level bank, sometimes reining up their horses to gaze into the tremendous glen below them, and watch the river crawling on through many impediments, and beginning to show a golden light in its larger pools beneath the sloping, westering sun.
Just as they sighted home, on the opposite side of the river, they perceived two horsemen before them, evidently on the track between Major Buckley’s and Garoopna. They pushed on to “overhaul them,” and found that it was Doctor Mulhaus, whom they received with boisterous welcome, and a tall, handsome young gentleman, a stranger.
“A young gentleman, Sam,” said the Doctor, “Mr. Halbert by name, who arrived during your father’s absence with letters of introduction. I begged him to follow your father over here, and, as his own horse was knocked up, I mounted him at his own request on Jezebel, he preferring her to all the horses in the paddock on account of her beauty, after having been duly warned of her wickedness. But Mr. Halbert seems of the Centaur species, and rather to enjoy an extra chance of getting his neck broke.”
Politeness to strangers was one of the first articles of faith in the Buckley and Brentwood families; so the young folks were soon on the best of terms.
“Are you from Sydney way, Mr. Halbert?” said Sam.
“Indeed,” said the young man, “I have only landed in the country six weeks. I have got three years’ leave of absence from my regiment in India, and, if I can see a chance, I shall cut the army and settle here.”
“Oh!” said Alice, “are you a soldier, Mr. Halbert?”
“I have that honour, Miss Brentwood. I am a lieutenant in the Bengal Horse Artillery.”
“That is delightful. I am a soldier’s daughter, and Mr. Buckley here also, as you know, I suppose.”
“A soldier’s daughter, is he?” said impudent Jim. “A very fine girl too!”
Sam, and Jim too, had some disrespectful ideas about soldiers’ riding qualities; Sam could not help saying —
“I hope you will be careful with that mare, Mr. Halbert; I should not like a guest of ours to be damaged. She’s a desperate brute — I’m afraid of her myself.”
“I think I know the length of her ladyship’s foot,” said Halbert, laughing good-naturedly.
As they were speaking, they were passing through a narrow way in a wattle scrub. Suddenly a blundering kangaroo, with Rover in full chase, dashed right under the mare’s nose and set her plunging furiously. She tried to wheel round, but, finding herself checked, reared up three or four times, and at last seemed to stand on her hind legs, almost overbalancing herself.
Halbert sat like a statue till he saw there was a real chance of her falling back on him; then he slipped his right foot quickly out of the stirrup, and stood with his left toe in the iron, balancing himself till she was quieter; then he once more threw his leg across the saddle, and regained his seat, laughing.
Jim clapped his hands; “By Jove, Sam, we must get some of these army men to teach us to ride, after all!”
“We must do so,” said Sam. “If that had been you or I, Jim, with our rough clumsy hands, we should have had the mare back atop of us.”
“Indeed,” said Alice, “you are a splendid rider, Mr. Halbert: but don’t suppose, from Mr. Buckley’s account of himself, that he can’t ride well; I assure you we are all very proud of him. He can sit some bucking horses which very few men will attempt to mount.”
“And that same bucking, Miss Brentwood,” said Halbert, “is just what puzzles me utterly. I got on a bucking horse in Sydney the other day, and had an ignominious tumble in the sale-yard, to everybody’s great amusement.”
“We must give one another lessons, then, Mr. Halbert,” said Sam; —“but I can see already, that you have a much finer hand than I.”
Soon after they got home, where the rest of the party were watching for them, wondering at their late absence. Halbert was introduced to the Major by the Doctor, who said, “I deliver over to you a guest, a young conqueror from the Himalayas, and son of an old brother-warrior. If he now breaks his neck horse-riding, his death will not be at my door; I can now eat my dinner in peace.”
After dinner the three young ones, Sam, Alice, and Jim, gathered round the fire, leaving Halbert with the Major and the Captain talking military, and the Doctor looking over an abstruse mathematical calculation, with which Captain Brentwood was not altogether satisfied. Alice and Sam sat in chairs side by side, like Christians, but Jim lay on the floor, between the two, like a blackfellow; they talked in a low voice about the stranger.
“I say,” said Jim, “ain’t he a handsome chap, and can’t he ride? I dare say, he’s a devil to fight too — hear him tell how they pounded away at those Indians in that battle. I expect they’d have made a general of him before now, only he’s too young. Dad says he’s a very distinguished young officer. Alice, my dear, you should see the wound he’s got, a great seam all down his side. I saw it when he was changing his shirt in my room before dinner.”
“Poor fellow!” said Alice; “I like him very much. Don’t you, Mr. Buckley?”
“I like him exceedingly; — I hope he’ll stop with us,” continued Jim.
“And I also,” said Sam, “but what shall we do tomorrow?”
“Let’s have a hunt,” said Jim. “Halbert, have you ever been kangaroo hunting?”
“Never! — I want to go!”
“Well, we can have a capital hunt tomorrow: Sam has got his dog Fly here, and I’ll take one of my best dogs, and we’ll have a good run, I dare say.”
“I shall come, too,” said Alice: “that is,” added she, looking shyly at Sam, “if you would be kind enough to take care of me, and let Mr. Halbert and Jim do the riding. But I’m afraid I shall be sadly in your way.”
“If you don’t go,” said Sam, “I shall stay at home: now then!”
At this minute, the housekeeper came in bearing jugs and glasses. “Eleanor,” said Jim, “is Jerry round?”
“Yes, sir; he’s coiled somewhere in the woodhouse,” said she.
“Just rouse him out and send him in.”
“Who is this Jerry who coils in woodhouses?” said Halbert.
“A tame black belonging to us. He is great at all sorts of hunting; I want to see if he can find us a flying doe for tomorrow.”
Jerry entered, and advanced with perfect self-possession towards the fire. He was a tall savage, with a big black beard, and wavy hair like a Cornishman. He was dressed in an old pair of dandy riding breeches of Jim’s, which reached a short way below the knees, fitting closely, and a blue check shirt rolled up above the elbow showing his lean wiry forearm, seamed and scarred with spear wounds and bruises. He addressed nobody, but kept his eyes wandering all over the room; at length he said, looking at the ceiling —
“Cobbon thirsty this fellow: you got a drop of brandy?”
“Jerry,” said Jim, having produced the brandy, “you make a light kangaroo.”
“All about plenty kangaroo,” said Jerry.
“Yowi; but mine want it big one flying doe.”
“Ah-h-h! Mine make a light flying doe along a stockyard this morning; close by, along a fent, you see!”
“That’ll do,” says Jim. “We’ll be up round the old stockyard after breakfast tomorrow. You, Jerry, come with us.”
It was a fresh breezy autumn morning in April, when the four sallied forth, about nine o’clock, for their hunt. The old stockyard stood in the bush, a hundred yards from the corner of the big paddock fence, and among low rolling ranges and gullies, thickly timbered with gum, cherry, and sheoak: a thousand parrots flew swiftly in flocks, whistling and screaming from tree to tree, while wattled-birds and numerous other honeyeaters clustered on the flowering basksias. The spurwinged plover and the curlew ran swiftly among the grass, and on a tall dead tree white cockatoos and blue cranes watched the intruders curiously.
Alice and Sam rode together soberly, and before them were Halbert and Jim, just up, ready for the chase. Before them, again, was the active blackfellow, holding the dogs in a leash — two tall hounds, bred of foxhound and greyhound, with a dash of colley.
A mob of kangaroos crosses their path, but they are all small; so the dogs, though struggling fiercely, are still held tight by Jerry: now he crosses a little ridge before them and looks down into the gully beyond, holding up his hand.
The two young men gather up their reins and settle themselves in their seats. “Now, Halbert,” says Jim, “sit fast and mind the trees.”
They ride up to the blackfellow; through the low wattles, they can see what is in the gully before them, though the dogs cannot.
“Baal, flying doe this one,” says Jerry in a whisper. “Old man this fellow, cobbon matong, mine think it.”
A great six-foot kangaroo was standing about two hundred yards from them, staring stupidly about him.
“Let go, Jerry,” said Jim. The dogs released; sprang forward, and, in an instant, saw their quarry, which, with a loud puff of alarm, bounded away up the opposite slope at full speed, taking twenty feet at each spring.
Halbert and Jim dashed off after the dogs, who had got a good start of them, and were laying themselves out to their work right gallantly; Sam’s dog, Fly, slightly leading. Both dogs were close on the game, and Halbert said —
“We are going to have a short run, I’m afraid.”
“Talk about that twenty minutes hence,” said Jim, settling to his work.
Over range after range they hold their headlong course. Now a bandicoot scuttles away from under their feet to hide in his hollow log; now a mob of terrified cattle huddle together as they sweep by; now they are flying past a shepherd’s hut, and the mother runs out to snatch up a child, and bear him out of harm’s way, after they are safe past. A puppy, three weeks old, joins the chase with heart and soul, but “eaves in” at about fifty yards, and sits him down to bark. Now they are rushing on through a broad flat, with another great range before them. Still always the grey bounding figure holds on, through sunlight and shadow, with the dogs grim and steadfast close in his wake.
The work begins to tell on the horses. Fat Jezebel, who could hardly be held at first, now is none the worse for a little spur; and Jim’s lean, long-legged horse, seems to consider that the entertainment ought to conclude shortly. “Well done, Fly!” he shouts; “bravely tried, my girl!” She had drawn herself ahead, and made a bold strike at the kangaroo, but missed him. Now the other dog, Bolt, tries it, but without luck; and now they have both dropped a little back, and seem in for another mile or so.
Well done, lass! — there she goes again! With a furious effort she pushes ahead, and seizes the flying beast by the hock — this time with some luck, for down he goes in a cloud of dust and broken sticks, and both the dogs are on him at once. Now he is up again and running, but feebly. And see, what is the matter with the young dog? He runs on, but keeps turning, snapping fiercely at his side, and his footsteps are marked with blood. Poor lad! he has got a bad wound in that last tumble — the kangaroo has ripped up his flank with a kick from his hind foot. But now the chase is over — the hunted beast has turned, and is at bay against a tree, Fly standing before him, waiting for assistance, snarling fiercely.
They pulled up. Jim took out a pistol and presented it to Halbert.
“Thank you,” said he. “Hair trigger?”
He balanced it for a second, and in another the kangaroo was lying quivering on the ground, shot through the heart.
“Well done!” said Jim. “Now, I must look to this dog.”
All his flank along the ribs was laid open, and Jim, producing a needle and thread, proceeded to sew it up.
“Will you let me do that for you?” said Halbert.
“I wish you would. I’m fond of the poor thing, and my hand shakes. You’ve seen the surgeons at work, I expect.”
“Yes, indeed.” And he tenderly and carefully stitched up the dog’s side, while Jim held him.
“What do we do with the game?” said he.
“Oh, Jerry will be along on our tracks presently,” said Jim. “He brings me the tail, and does what he likes with the rest. I wonder where Sam and Alice are?”
“Oh, they are right enough,” said Halbert, laughing. “I dare say they are not very anxious about the kangaroo, or anything else. That’s ‘a case,’ I suppose?”
“Well, I hope it is,” said Jim; “but you see I don’t know. Girls are so odd.”
“Perhaps he has never asked her.”
“No; I don’t think he has. I wish he would. You are not married, are you?”
“My God — no!” said Halbert, “nor ever shall be.”
“Never, Jim. Let me tell you a story as we ride home. You and I shall be good friends, I know. I like you already, though we have only known one another two days. I can see well what you are made of. They say it eases a man’s mind to tell his grief. I wish it would mine. Well; before I left England I had secretly engaged myself to marry a beautiful girl, very much like your sister, a governess in my brother-in-law’s family. I went off to join my regiment, and left her there with my sister and her husband, Lord Carstone, who treated her as if she was already one of the family — God bless them! Two years ago my father died, and I came into twenty thousand pounds; not much, but enough to get married on in India, particularly as I was getting on in my profession. So I wrote to her to come out to me. She sailed in the Assam, for Calcutta, but the ship never arrived. She was spoken off the Mauritius, but never seen after. The underwriters have paid up her insurance, and everyone knows now that the Assam went down in a typhoon, with all hands.”
“God bless you,” said Jim! “I’m very sorry for that.”
“Thank you. I have come here for change of scene more than anything, but I think I shall go back soon.”
“I shall come with you,” said Jim. “I have determined to be a soldier, and I know the governor has interest enough to get me into some regiment in India.” (I don’t believe he had ever thought of it before that morning.)
“If you are determined, he might. His services in India were too splendid to have been forgotten yet.”
“I wonder,” said Jim, “if he will let me go? I’d like to see Alice married first.”
They jogged on in silence for a little, and slowly, on account of the wounded dogs. Then Jim said —
“Well, and how did you like your sport?”
“Very much, indeed; but I thought bush-riding was harder work. We have only had one or two leaps over fallen logs altogether.”
“There ain’t much leaping, that’s a fact. I suppose you have been fox-hunting?”
“My father was a master of hounds,” replied Halbert. “On the first day of the season, when the hounds met at home, there would be two hundred horsemen on our terrace, fifty of them, at least, in pink. It was a regular holiday for all the country round. Such horses, too. My father’s horse, the Elk, was worth three hundred pounds, and there were better horses than him to be seen in the field, I promise you.”
“And all after a poor little fox!”
“You don’t know Charley I can see,” said Halbert. “Poor little fox, indeed! Why, it’s as fair a match between the best-tried pack of hounds in England, and an old dog-fox, as one would wish to see. And as hard work as it is to ride up to them, even without a stiff fence at every two hundred yards, to roll you over on your head, if your horse is blown or clumsy. Just consider how many are run, and how few are killed. I consider a fox to be the noblest quarry in the world. His speed, courage, and cunning are wonderful. I have seen a fox run fifteen miles as the crow flies, and only three of us in at the death. That’s what I call sport.”
“So do I, by Jove!” said Jim. “You have some good sport in India, too?”
“Yes. Pig-sticking is pretty — very pretty, I may say, if you have two or three of the right sort with you. All the Griffins ought to hunt together though. There was a young fellow, a King’s-officer, and a nobleman too, came out with us the other day, and rode well forward, but as the pig turned he contrived to spear my horse through the pastern. He was full of apologies, and I was outwardly highly polite and indifferent, but internally cursing him up hill and down dale. I went home and had the horse shot; but when I got up next morning, there was a Syce leading up and down a magnificent Australian, a far finer beast than the one which I had lost, which my Lord had sent up to replace my unfortunate nag. I went down to his quarters and refused to accept it; but he forced me in the end, and it gave me a good lesson about keeping my temper over an unavoidable accident, which I don’t mean to forget. Don’t you think it was prettily done?”
“Yes, I do,” said Jim; “but you see these noblemen are so rich that they can afford to do that sort of thing, where you or I couldn’t. But I expect they are very good fellows on the whole.”
“There are just as large a proportion of good noblemen as there are of any other class — more than that you have no right to expect. I’m a Liberal, as my father was before me, and a pretty strong one too; but I think that a man with sixty thousand acres, and a seat in the House of Lords, is entitled to a certain sort of respect. A Grand Seigneur is a very capital institution if he will only stay on his estates some part of the year.”
“Ay!” said Jim; who was a shrewd fellow in his way. “They know that here, well enough: look at our Macarthurs and Wentworths — but then they must be men, and not snobs, as the governor says.”
When they got home, they found Sam and Alice sitting in the verandah as comfortable as you please.
“Well,” said Jim, “you are a nice lot! This is what you call kangaroo-hunting!”
“Oh, you went too fast for us. Have you killed?”
“Yes! out by the big swamp.”
“You have taken your time to get home then.”
“Poor Bolt is cut up, and we couldn’t go out of a walk. Now give us something to eat, will you, Alice?”
“Well, ring the bell and we will have lunch.”
But just as Jim rang the bell, there was a loud voice outside, and the three young men went out to see who it was, and found two horsemen in front of the door.
One, who was still sitting on his horse, was a darkhaired slight young man, Charles Hawker in fact, whom we know already, but the other, who had dismounted, and was leaning against his horse, was a highbred, delicate little fellow, to whom we have yet to be introduced.
He was a slight lad, perhaps not more than eighteen, with one of the pleasantest, handsomest faces of his own that you could wish to see, and also a very intellectual look about him, which impressed you at once with the idea that if he lived he would have made some sort of figure in life. He was one of the greatest dandies, also, in those parts, and after the longest ride used to look as if he had been turned out of a bandbox. On the present occasion he had on two articles of dress which attracted Jim’s attention amazingly. The first was a new white hat, which was a sufficiently remarkable thing in those parts at that time; and the second, a pair of yellow leather riding-trousers.
“Why, Cecil Mayford!” said Sam, “How do you do? Charley, how are you? Just in time for lunch. Come in.”
Jim was walking round and round Cecil without speaking a word. At last the latter said, “How do YOU do, James Brentwood?”
“How do your breeches do, Cecil?” answered Jim; “that is a much more important question, By-the-bye, let me introduce you to Mr. Halbert. Also, allow me to have the honour to inform you that my sister Alice is come home from school.”
“I am aware of that, and am come over to pay my respects. Sam, leave me alone. If I were to disarrange my dress before I was presented to Miss Brentwood, I would put a period to my existence. Jim, my dear soul, come in and present me. Don’t all you fellows come mobbing in, you know.”
So Jim took Cecil in, and the other young fellows lounged about the door in the sun. “Where have you come from, Charley?” asked Sam.
“I have been staying at the Mayfords’; and this morning, hearing that you and your father were here, we thought we would come over and stay a bit.”
“By-the-bye,” said Sam, “Ellen Mayford was to have come home from Sydney the same time as Alice Brentwood, or thereabouts. Pray, is she come?”
“Oh, yes!” said Charles; “she is come this fortnight, or more.”
“What sort of a girl has she grown to be?”
“Well, I call her an uncommonly pretty girl. A very nice girl indeed, I should say. Have you heard the news from the north?”
“Bushrangers! Nine or ten devils, loose on the upper Macquarrie, caught the publican at Marryong alone in the bush; he had been an overlooker, or some such thing, in old times, so they stripped him, tied him up, gave him four dozen, and left him to the tender mercies of the blowflies, in consequence of which he was found dead next day, with the cords at his wrists cutting down to the bone with the struggles he made in his agony.”
“Whew!” said Sam. “We are going to have some of the old-fashioned work over again. Let us hope Desborough will get hold of them before they come this way.”
“Some of our fellow-countrymen,” said Halbert, “are, it seems to me, more detestably ferocious than savages, when they once get loose.”
“Much of a muchness — no better, and perhaps no worse,” said Sam. “All men who act entirely without any law in their actions arrive at much the same degree, whether white or black.”
“And will this Captain Desborough, whom you speak of, have much chance of catching these fellows?” asked Halbert.
“They will most likely disperse on his approach if he takes any force against them,” said Sam. “I heard him say, myself, that the best way was to tempt them to stay and show fight, by taking a small force against them, as our admirals used to do to the French, in the war. By-the-bye, how is Tom Troubridge? He is quite a stranger to me. I have only seen him twice since he was back from Port Phillip.”
“He is off again now, after some rams, up to the north.”
“I hope he won’t fall in with the bushrangers. Anybody with him?”
“William Lee,” answered Charles.
“A good escort. There is lunch going in — come along.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10