Poor little Cecil Mayford had left us about nine o’clock in the morning of the day before this, and, accompanied by Charles Hawker, reached his mother’s station about eleven o’clock in the day.
All the way Charles had talked incessantly of Ellen, and Cecil joined in Charles’s praises of his sister, and joked with him for being “awfully spooney” about her.
“You’re worse about my sister, Charley,” said he, “than old Sam is about Miss Brentwood. He takes things quiet enough, but if you go on in this style till you are old enough to marry, by Jove, there’ll be nothing of you left!”
“I wonder if she would have me?” said Charles, not heeding him.
“The best thing you can do is to ask her,” said Cecil. “I think I know what she would say though.”
They reached Mrs. Mayford’s, and spent a few pleasant hours together. Charles started home again about three o’clock, and having gone a little way, turned to look back. The brother and sister stood at the house-door still. He waved his hand in farewell to them, and they replied. Then he rode on and saw them no more.
Cecil and Ellen went into the house to their mother. The women worked, and Cecil read aloud to them. The book was “Waverley;” I saw it afterwards, and when supper was over he took it up to begin reading again.
“Not that book to-night, my boy,” said his mother. “Read us a chapter out of the Bible. I am very low in my mind, and at such times I like to hear the Word.”
He read the good book to them till quite late. Both he and Ellen thought it strange that their mother should insist on that book on a week-night; they never usually read it, save on Sunday evenings.
The morning broke bright and frosty. Cecil was abroad betimes, and went down the paddock to fetch the horses. He put them in the stock-yard, and stood for a time close to the stable, talking to a tame black lad, that they employed about the place.
His attention was attracted by a noise of horses’ feet. He looked up and saw about a dozen men riding swiftly and silently across the paddock towards the house.
For an instant he seems to have idly wondered who they were, and have had time to notice a thickset gaudily dressed man, who rode in front of the others, when the kitchen-door was thrown suddenly open, and the old hut-keeper, with his grey hair waving in the wind, run out, crying — “Save yourself, in God’s name, Master Cecil. The Bushrangers!”
Cecil raised his clenched hands in wild despair. They were caught like birds in a trap. No hope! — no escape! Nothing left for it now, but to die red-handed. He dashed into the house with the old hut-keeper and shut the door.
The black lad ran up to a little rocky knoll within two hundred yards of the house, and, hiding himself, watched what went on. He saw the bushrangers ride up to the door and dismount. Then they began to beat the door and demand admittance. Then the door was burst down, and one of them fell dead by a pistolshot. Then they rushed in tumultuously, leaving one outside to mind the horses. Then the terrified boy heard the dull sound of shots fired rapidly inside the building (pray that you may never hear that noise, reader: it always means mischief), and then all was comparatively still for a time.
Then there began to arise a wild sound of brutal riot within, and after a time they poured out again, and mounting, rode away.
Then the black boy slipt down from his lair like a snake, and stole towards the house. All was still as death. The door was open, but, poor little savage as he was, he dared not enter. Once he thought he heard a movement within, and listened intently with all his faculties, as only a savage can listen, but all was still again. And then gathering courage, he went in.
In the entrance, stepping over the body of the dead bushranger, he found the poor old white-headed hutkeeper knocked down and killed in the first rush. He went on into the parlour; and there — oh, lamentable sight! — was Cecil; clever, handsome little Cecil, our old favourite, lying half fallen from the sofa, shot through the heart, dead.
But not alone. No; prone along the floor, covering six feet or more of ground, lay the hideous corpse of Moody, the cannibal. The red-headed miscreant, who had murdered poor Lee, under George Hawker’s directions.
I think the poor black boy would have felt in his dumb darkened heart some sorrow at seeing his kind old master so cruelly murdered. Perhaps he would have raised the death-cry of his tribe over him, and burnt himself with fire, as their custom is; but he was too terrified at seeing so many of the lordly white race prostrated by one another’s hands. He stood and trembled, and then, almost in a whisper, began to call for Mrs. Mayford.
“Missis!” he said, “Miss Ellen! All pull away, bushranger chaps. Make a light, good Missis. Plenty frightened this fellow.”
No answer. No sign of Mrs. Mayford or Ellen. They must have escaped then. We will try to hope so. The black boy peered into one chamber after another, but saw no signs of them, only the stillness of death over all.
Let us leave this accursed house, lest, prying too closely, we may find crouching in some dark corner a Gorgon, who will freeze us into stone.
The black lad stripped himself naked as he was born, and running like a deer, sped to Major Buckley’s before the south wind, across the plain. There he found the Sergeant, and told him his tale, and the Sergeant and he broke in on us with the terrible news as we were sitting merrily over our wine.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10