When the fight was quite over, and Heathcote’s party had returned to their horses, Medlicot for a few minutes was faint and sick, but he revived after a while, and declared himself able to sit on his horse. There was a difficulty in getting him up, but when there he made no further complaint. “This,” said he, as he settled himself in his saddle, “is my first Christmas-day in Australia. I landed early in January, and last year I was on my way home to fetch my mother.”
“It’s not much like an English Christmas,” said Harry.
“Nor yet as in Hanover,” said the German.
“It’s Cork you should go to, or Galway, bedad, if you want to see Christmas kep’ after the ould fashion,” said Mickey.
“I think we used to do it pretty well in Cumberland,” said Medlicot. “There are things which can’t be transplanted. They may have roast beef, and all that, but you should have cold weather to make you feel that it is Christmas indeed.”
“We do it as well as we can,” Harry pleaded. “I’ve seen a great pudding come into the room all afire — just to remind one of the old country — when it has been so hot that one could hardly bear a shirt on one’s shoulders. But yet there’s something in it. One likes to think of the old place, though one is so far away. How do you feel now? Does the jolting hurt you much? If your horse is rough, change with me. This fellow goes as smooth as a lady.” Medlicot declared that the pain did not trouble him much. “They’d have ridden over us, only for you,” continued Harry.
“My word! wouldn’t they?” said Jacko, who was very proud of his own part in the battle. “I say, Mr. Medlicot, did you see Bos and his horse part company? You did, Mr. Harry. Didn’t he fly like a bird, all in among the bushes! I owed Bos one; I did, my word! And now I’ve paid him.”
“I saw it,” said Harry. “He was riding at me as hard as he could come. I can’t understand Boscobel. Nokes is a sly, bad, slinking follow, whom I never liked. But I was always good to Bos; and when he cheated me, as he did, about his time, I never even threatened to stop his money.”
“You told him of it too plain,” said the German.
“I did tell him — of course — as I should you. It has come to that now, that if a man robs you — your own man — you are not to dare to tell him of it! What would you think of me, Karl, if I were to find you out, and was to be afraid of speaking to you, lest you should turn against me and burn my fences?” Karl Bender shrugged his shoulders, holding his reins up to his eyes. “I know what you ought to think! And I wish that every man about Gangoil should be sure that I will always say what I think right. I don’t know that I ever was hard upon any man. I try not to be.”
“Thrue for you, Mr. Harry,” said the Irishman.
“I’m not going to pick my words because men like Nokes and Boscobel have the power of injuring me. I’m not going to truckle to rascals because I’m afraid of them. I’d sooner be burned out of house and home, and go and work on the wharves in Brisbane, than that.”
“My word! yes,” said Jacko, “and I too.”
“If the devil is to get ahead, he must, but I won’t hold a candle to him. You fellows may tell every man about the place what I say. As long as I’m master of Gangoil I’ll be master; and when I come across a swindle I’ll tell the man who does it he’s a swindler. I told Bos to his face; but I didn’t tell any body else, and I shouldn’t if he’d taken it right and mended his ways.”
They all understood him very well — the German, the Irishman, Medlicot’s foreman, Medlicot himself, and even Jacko; and though, no doubt, there was a feeling within the hearts of the men that Harry Heathcote was imperious, still they respected him, and they believed him.
“The masther should be the masther, no doubt,” said the Irishman.
“A man that is a man vill not sell hisself body and soul,” said the German, slowly.
“Do I want dominion over your soul, Karl Bender?” asked the squatter, with energy. “You know I don’t, nor over your body, except so far as it suits you to sell your services. What you sell you part with readily — like a man; and it’s not likely that you and I shall quarrel. But all this row about nothing can’t be very pleasant to a man with a broken shoulder.”
“I like to hear you,” said Medlicot. “I’m always a good listener when men have something really to say.”
“Well, then, I’ve something to say,” cried Harry. “There never was a man came to my house whom I’d sooner see as a Christmas guest than yourself.”
“It’s more than I could have said yesterday with truth.”
“It’s more than you did say.”
“Yes, by George! But you’ve beat me now. When you’re hard pressed for hands down yonder, you send for me, and see if I won’t turn the mill for you, or hoe canes either.”
“So ‘ll I; my word! yes. Just for my rations.”
They had by this time reacted the Gangoil fence, having taken the directest route for the house. But Harry, in doing this, had not been unmindful of the fire. Had Medlicot not been wounded, he would have taken the party somewhat out of the way, down southward, following the flames; but Medlicot’s condition had made him feel that he would not be justified in doing so. Now, however, it occurred to him that he might as well ride a mile or two down the fence, and see what injury had been done. The escort of the men would be sufficient to take Medlicot to the station, and he would reach the place as soon as they. If the flames were still running ahead, he knew that he could not now stop then, but he could at least learn how the matter stood with him. If the worst came to the worst, he would not now lose more than three or four miles of fencing, and the grass off a corner of his run. Nevertheless, tired as he was, he could not bear the idea of going home without knowing the whole story. So he made his proposal. Medlicot, of course, made no objection. Each of the men offered to go with him, but he declined their services. “There is nothing to do,” said he, “and nobody to catch; and if the fire is burning, it must burn.” So he went alone.
The words that he had uttered among his men had not been lightly spoken. He had begun to perceive that life would be very hard to him in his present position, or perhaps altogether impossible, as long as he was at enmity with all those around him. Old squatters whom he knew, respectable men who had been in the colony before he was born, had advised him to be on good terms with the Brownbies. “You needn’t ask them to your house, or go to them, but just soft-sawder them when yon meet,” an old gentleman had said to him. He certainly hadn’t taken the old gentleman’s advice, thinking that to “soft-sawder” so great a reprobate as Jerry Brownbie would be holding a candle to the devil. But his own plan had hardly answered. Well, he was sure, at any rate, of this — that he could do no good now by endeavoring to be civil to the Brownbies. He soon came to the place where the fire had reached his fence, and found that it had burned its way through, and that the flames were still continuing their onward course. The fence to the north, or rather to the northwestward — the point whence the wind was coming — stood firm at the spot at which the fire had struck it. Dry as the wood was, the flames had not traveled upward against the wind. But to the south the fire was traveling down the fence. To stop this he rode half a mile along the burning barrier till he had headed the flames, and then he pulled the bushes down and rolled away the logs, so as to stop the destruction. As regarded his fence, there was less than a mile of it destroyed, and that he could now leave in security, as the wind was blowing away from it. As for his grass, that must now take its chance. He could see the dark light of the low running fire; but there was no longer a mighty blaze, and he knew that the dew of the night was acting as his protector. The harm that had been as yet done was trifling, if only he could protect himself from further harm. After leaving the fire, he had still a ride of seven or eight miles through the gloom of the forest — all alone. Not only was he weary, but his horse was so tired that he could hardly get him to canter for a furlong. He regretted that he had not brought the boy with him, knowing well the service of companionship to a tired beast. He was used to such troubles, and could always tell himself that his back was broad enough to bear them; but his desolation among enemies oppressed him. Medlicot, however, was no longer an enemy. Then there came across his mind for the first time an idea that Medlicot might marry his sister-inlaw, and become his fast friend. If he could have but one true friend, he thought that he could bear the enmity of all the Brownbies. Hitherto he had been entirely alone in his anxiety. It was between three and four when he reached Gangoil, and he found that the party of horsemen had just entered the yard before him. The sugar planter was so weak that he could hardly get off his horse.
The two ladies were still watching when the cavalcade arrived, though it was then between three and four in the morning. It was Harry’s custom on such occasions to ride up to the little gate close to the veranda, and there to hang his bridle till some one should take his horse away; but on this occasion he and the others rode into the yard. Seeing this, Mrs. Heathcote and her sister went through the house, and soon learned how things were. Mr. Medlicot, from the mill, had come with a bone broken, and it was their duty to nurse him till a doctor could be procured from Maryborough. Now Maryborough was thirty miles distant. Some one must be dispatched at once. Jacko volunteered, but in such a service Jacko was hardly to be trusted. He might fall asleep on his horse, and continue his slumbers on the ground. Mickey and the German both offered; but the men were so beaten by their work that Heathcote did not dare to take their offer.
“I’ll tell you what it is, Mary,” he said to his wife, “there is nothing for it but for me to go for Jackson.” Jackson was the doctor. “And I can see the police at the same time.”
“You sha’n’t go, Harry. Yon are so tired already you can hardly stand this moment.”
“Get me some strong coffee — at once. You don’t know what that man has done for us. I’ll tell you all another time. I owe him more than a ride into Maryborough. I’ll make the men get Yorkie up”— Yorkie was a favorite horse he had —“while you make the coffee; and I’ll lead Colonel”— Colonel was another horse, well esteemed at Gangoil. “Jackson will come quicker on him than on any animal he can get at Maryborough.” And so it was arranged, in spite of the wife’s tears and entreaties. Harry had his coffee and some food, and started, with his two horses, for the doctor.
Nature is so good to us that we are sometimes disposed to think we might have dispensed with art. In the bush, where doctors can not be had, bones will set themselves; and when doctors do come, but come slowly, the broken bones suit themselves to such tardiness. Medlicot was brought in and put to bed. Let the reader not be shocked to hear that Kate Daly’s room was given up to him, as being best suited for a sick man’s comfort, and the two ladies took it in turn to watch him. Mrs. Heathcote was, of course, the first, and remained with him till dawn. Then Kate crept to the door and asked whether she should relieve her sister. Medlicot was asleep, and it was agreed that Kate should remain in the veranda, and look in from time to time to see whether the wounded man required aught at her hands. She looked in very often, and then, at last, he was awake.
“Miss Daly,” he said, “I feel so ashamed of the trouble I’m giving.”
“Don’t speak of it. It is nothing. In the bush every body, of course, does any thing for every body.” When the words were spoken she felt that they were not as complimentary as she would have wished. “You were to have come today, you know, but we did not think you’d come like this, did we?”
“I don’t know why I didn’t go home instead of coming here.”
“The doctor will reach Gangoil sooner than he could the mill. You are better here, and we will send for Mrs. Medlicot as soon as the men have had a rest. How was it all, Mr. Medlicot? Harry says that there was a fight, and that you came in just at the nick of time, and that but for you all the run would have been burned.”
“Not that at all.”
“He said so; only he went off so quickly, and was so busy with things, that we hardly understood him. Is it not dreadful that there should be such fighting? And then these horrid fires! You were in the middle of the fire, were you not?” It suited Kate’s feelings that Medlicot should be the hero of this occasion.
“We were lighting them in front to put them out behind.”
“And then, while you were at work, these men from Boolabong came upon you. Oh, Mr. Medlicot, we shall be so very, very wretched if you are much hurt. My sister is so unhappy about it.”
“It’s only my collar-bone, Miss Daly.”
“But that is so dreadful.” She was still thinking of the one word he had spoken when he had — well, not asked her for her love, but said that which between a young man and a young woman ought to mean the same thing. Perhaps it had meant nothing! She had heard that young men do say things which mean nothing. But to her, living in the solitude of Gangoil, the one word had been so much! Her heart had melted with absolute acknowledged love when the man had been brought through into the house with all the added attraction of a broken bone. While her sister had watched, she had retired — to rest, as Mary had said, but in truth to think of the chance which had brought her in this guise into familiar contact with the man she loved. And then, when she had crept up to take her place in watching him, she had almost felt that shame should restrain her. But was her duty; and, of course, a man with a collar-bone broken would not speak of love.
“It will make your Christmas so sad for you,” he said.
“Oh, as for that, we mind nothing about it — for ourselves. We are never very gay here.”
“But you are happy?”
“Oh yes, quite happy, except when Harry is disturbed by these troubles. I don’t think any body has so many troubles as a squatter. It sometimes seems that all the world is against him.”
“We shall be allies now, at any rate.”
“Oh, I do so hope we shall,” said Kate, putting her hands together in her energy, and then retreating from her energy with sad awkwardness when she remembered the personal application of her wish. “That is, I mean you and Harry,” she added, in a whisper.
“Why not I and others besides Harry?”
“It is so much to him to have a real friend. Things concern us, of course, only just as they concern him. Women are never of very much account, I think. Harry has to do every thing, and every thing ought to be done for him.”
“I think you spoil Harry among you.”
“Don’t you say so to Mary, or she will be fierce.”
“I wonder whether I shall ever have a wife to stand up for me in that way?”
Kate had no answer to make, but she thought that it would be his own fault if he did not have a wife to stand up for him thoroughly.
“He has been very lucky in his wife.”
“I think he has, Mr. Medlicot; but you are moving about, and you ought to lie still. There! I hear the horses; that’s the doctor. I do so hope he won’t say that any thing very bad is the matter.”
She jumped up from her chair, which was close to his bed, and as she did so just touched his hand with hers. It was involuntary on her part, having come of instinct rather than will, and she withdrew herself instantly. The hand she had touched belonged to the arm that was not hurt, and he put it out after her, and caught her by the sleeve as she was retreating. “Oh, Mr. Medlicot, you must not do that; you will hurt yourself if you move in that way.”
And so she escaped, and left the room, and did not see him again till the doctor had gone from Gangoil.
The bone had been broken simply as other bones are broken; it was now set, and the sufferer was, of course, told that he must rest. He had suggested that he should be taken home, and the Heathcotes had concurred with the doctor in asserting that no proposition could be more absurd. He had intended to eat his Christmas dinner at Gangoil, and he must now pass his entire Christmas there.
“The sugar can go on very well for ten days,” Harry had said. “I’ll go over myself and see about the men, and I’ll fetch your mother over.”
To this, however, Mrs. Heathcote had demurred successfully. “You’ll kill yourself, Harry, if you go on like this,” she said.
Bender, therefore, was sent in the buggy for the old lady, and at last Harry Heathcote consented to go to bed.
“My belief is, I shall sleep for a week,” he said, as he turned in. But he didn’t begin his sleep quite at once. “I am very glad I went into Maryborough,” he said to his wife, rising up from his pillow. “I’ve sworn an information against Nokes and two of the Brownbies, and the police will be after them this afternoon. They won’t catch Nokes, and they can’t convict the other fellows. But it will be something to clear the country of such a fellow, and something also to let them know that detection is possible.”
“Do sleep now, dear.” she said.
“Yes, I will; I mean to. But look here, Mary; if any of the police should come here, mind you wake me at once. And, Mary, look here; do you know I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if that fellow was to be making up to Kate.”
Mrs. Heathcote, with some little inward chuckle at her husband’s assumed quickness of apprehension, reminded herself that the same idea had occurred to her some time ago. Mrs. Heathcote gave her husband full credit for more than ordinary intelligence in reference to affairs appertaining to the breeding of sheep and the growing of wool, but she did not think highly of his discernment in such an affair as this. She herself had been much quicker. When she first saw Mr. Medlicot, she had felt it a godsend that such a man, with the look of a gentleman, and unmarried, should come into the neighborhood; and, in so feeling, her heart had been entirely with her sister. For herself it mattered nothing who came or did not come, or whether a man were a bachelor, or possessed of a wife and a dozen children. All that a girl had a right to want was a good husband. She was quite satisfied with her own lot in that respect, but she was anxious enough on behalf of Kate. And when a young man did come, who might make matters so pleasant for them, Harry quarreled with him because he was a free-selector. “A free fiddle-stick!” she had once said to Kate — not, however, communicating to her innocent sister the ambition which was already filling her own bosom. “Harry does take things up so — as though people weren’t to live, some in one way and some in another! As far as I can see, Mr. Medlicot is a very nice fellow.” Kate had remarked that he was “all very well,” and nothing more had been said.
But Mrs. Heathcote, in spite of Harry’s aversion, had formed her little project — a project which, if then declared, would have filled Harry with dismay. And now the young aristocrat, as he turned himself in his bed, made the suggestion to his wife as though it were all his own!
“I never like to think much of these things beforehand,” she said, innocently.
“I don’t know about thinking,” said Harry; “but a girl might do worse. If it should come up, don’t set yourself against it.”
“Kate, of course, will please herself,” said Mrs. Heathcote. “Now do lie down and rest yourself.”
His rest, however, was not of long duration. As he had himself suggested, two policemen reached Gangoil at about three in the afternoon, on their way from Maryborough to Boolabong, in order that they might take Mr. Medlicot’s deposition. After Heathcote’s departure it had occurred to Sergeant Forrest of the police — and the suggestion, having been transferred from the sergeant to the stipendiary magistrate, was now produced with magisterial sanction — that, after all, there was no evidence against the Brownbies. They had simply interfered to prevent the burning of the grass on their own run, and who could say that they had committed any crime by doing so? If Medlicot had seen Nokes with a lighted branch in his hand, the matter might be different with him; and therefore Medlicot’s deposition was taken. He had sworn that he had seen Nokes drag his lighted torch along the ground; he had also seen other horsemen — two or three, as he thought — but could not identify them. Jacko’s deposition was also taken as to the man who had been heard and seen in the wool-shed at night. Jacko was ready to swear point-blank that the man was Nokes. The policemen suggested that, as the night was dark, Jacko might as well allow a shade of doubt to appear, thinking that the shade of doubt would add strength to the evidence. But Jacko was not going to be taught what sort of oath he should swear.
“My word!” he said. “Didn’t I see his leg move? You go away.”
Armed with these depositions, the two constables went on to Boolabong in search of Nokes, and of Nokes only, much to the chagrin of Harry, who declared that the police would never really bestir themselves in a squatter’s cause. “As for Nokes, he’ll be out of Queensland by this time tomorrow.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01