― 119 ―

For Her Sake.

The moonlight gleamed through the sleeping leaves of the luxurious vines which closed in the verandah, throwing a chequer of light and shade on wall and floor. With a faint puff of wind they danced over the white form in the squatter's deep chair.

“That is always the way,” said a petulant voice. “You people who protest so much about what you will do always fail one at a pinch.”

“Really, Miss Hamilton——” began Robert Harvey.

“Oh! I know what you are going to say. It's no use repeating it,” she interrupted.

He moved to the verandah railings, and stood looking over the garden, from which the mingling scents of flowers perfumed the still air.

The silence was becoming oppressive, but the man, apparently stolidly indifferent to the girl near him, never moved from his place.

A soft rustle of her dress, and she laid a hand on his arm.

“He will get into such a mess if you report him again. Dad will be awfully angry, and it means such a lot to Jack now. He wants to get on.”

Harvey looked down into the pleading face, with its wistful, tender eyes upraised to his.

“Give him another chance. Just this once!” she said softly.

“For your sake I will,” he replied. Then his hand closed over hers. “Lucy,” he said hoarsely, “you know I'd do more than that for you, even if it cost me my position. You know——”

“Would you?” she laughed lightly. “So you always say.”

“And perhaps I shall convince you some day.”

A cheery whistle sounded at the garden gate.

“There's Jack!” she cried. “I must go and tell him. Good-night!” And she ran lightly down the steps.

Harvey stood listening to their gay voices. “It's always ‘Jack’ now,” he muttered moodily. “I was sure of her until he came, but she's not the same girl now. But I'll lend him a hand if she wishes it, though she is miles too good for such a harebrained young scamp.”

So Harvey, to please the wilful girl he worshipped, overlooked and accepted himself the blame for the faults of Jack Vincent, her cousin, turning aside his uncle's anger when some more than usually foolish blunder had been perpetrated in his work on the station.

And she, intent only on Jack's promotion, never noticed the growing reserve of the elder man to whom she was indebted.

  ― 120 ―

The heavy-laden clouds broke for a moment, showing a gleam of watery sunlight and green sky, then closed in more thickly than before. The river, foam-flecked and muddy, was rising rapidly. Already the water curled and eddied round the trees on the bank, whose white trunks stood out from their rain-drenched surroundings.

A large mob of cattle came splashing through the mud to the water's edge, bellowing continually. When they reached the bank, with one accord they stopped.

Mr. Hamilton watched them for some time from the homestead verandah. “What cattle are those at the crossing, Harvey?” he asked.

“Vincent was to bring a mob from the Twelve-Mile, but surely he'd have had sense enough to wait until the rain was over.”

“What's that, father?” asked Lucy, catching the last words.

“That young ass Jack's got cattle at the river, and can't cross them. He's on an island now, which'll be under water in a few hours. Harvey, you had better go down. Take Thorn from the stables.”

Harvey swung himself into the saddle and rode the big chestnut out into the drenching rain, to see the girl standing anxiously looking first at the crossing, then back at him.

“It'll be all right!” he called out.

“Take care!” she answered, waving her hand, and he wondered what was really in her mind.

The cattle were “ringing.” Round and round they rushed, and, above the steady roar of the pouring rain, the thunder of many hundred feet on the soaking earth almost deadened the sound of the clashing and cracking of horns. Some were down in the mud, and being trampled on by others, in their mad haste to get away, while the stockmen stood looking helplessly on, or tried to break the “ring.”

Harvey watched for a while, then rode into the water. Stepping warily, Thorn answered the urging heel, as slowly the cold water crept up his sides to the knee-pads. In another moment he was swimming, striking out against the current, which ran so swiftly and silently. Deeper and deeper he sank, fighting valiantly, but borne downstream in spite of every effort.

Harvey slipped from the saddle, and swam beside the horse, until at last. swept into an eddy round a tree from which he was barely able to free himself, his feet touched bottom, and he struggled out, gasping for breath.

“Hullo, Harvey!” shouted Vincent. “What's the row?” The cattle stood for a moment with the stockmen round them, all looking at the newcomer.

“Row enough! You're in a pretty mess.”

“Oh! we'll get over directly,” Vincent said airily.

“Maybe,” said the other shortly. “Look out!”

The mob, tired of facing the water, and anxious to get back to their beat, quickly broke past the men, and galloped heavily through the mud, with everyone in pursuit.

Again and again the men wheeled the cattle, at last bringing them back to the crossing, but they showed as much reluctance as before towards entering the water.

  ― 121 ―

“Let 'em steady a bit,” shouted Harvey, and men and horses willingly obeyed, for the sticky mud was trying their strength.

The river was over its banks, and was rapidly rising and spreading over the low island where the mob stood. A quarter of a mile behind them raced another current, swifter and more turbulent than that which lay before them, and, beyond that, miles of country which also would soon be under water.

“It's no use going back,” said Harvey, as Vincent rode up to him.

“No, we must cross somehow. They told me not to come, but I never reckoned on the river being so high.” The light-hearted young fellow for once looked so downcast that Harvey cold not help saying:

“Oh! we'll cross somehow, but it's a crusty mob. They're watching from the house,” he added, looking across at the homestead on the hill.

An indefinable flash crossed the boy's face as he saw his cousin's figure, and Harvey turned gruffly away.

“Now then!” he shouted, “bring up the tail, and force them in!”

But they were not to be forced, and again began to ring, thundering round with clashing chorus, every animal apparently intent on getting into the middle of a dense mass, where, their heads forced up over the backs of their companions, they were so tightly packed as to be unable to move.

Driving his spurs into his horse, Harvey raced straight at the seething mob, forcing his way through the outskirts to break the ring. But it formed again behind him, and he withdrew to make a fresh attack.

“Follow me closely,” he said to Jack. “But your mare's about done,” he added, glancing at her heaving sides. “It's the only way through.” And once more he forged straight into the mob, which, now wearied, gave way before him and opened out.

For a moment they stood. Then, as the whips cracked behind them, the leaders slowly walked into the water. Deeper and deeper they waded, and soon some of the little calves were swimming beside their mothers, as slowly the cattle advanced, churning the muddy water into foam.

“Thank goodness!” muttered Harvey.

But too soon!

The whole mob was in. The leaders were swimming, but as they approached midstream, where the current swept down with resistless force, they turned suddenly and tried to force their way back. Mingling with the main body, however, they were borne out back into the stream, in turn following each other round, until the mob was “ringing” once more.

Bad as it was on land, it was infinitely worse out there. Round and round the whole mob, forming a solid mass, was being swept down.

Helplessly Harvey watched the frightened animals. A moan from a crippled cow in the mud made him look away for a moment, but a smothered exclamation from a man near recalled him to the trouble ahead.

Vincent was out in the water, forcing his already tired mare after the cattle.

“Come back!” shouted Harvey.

He never turned, but guided the mare past some bushes. Then she struck out. In silence the others watched him. He swam out, quickly overtaking

  ― 122 ―
the cattle, and trying to break the ring; but horse and man were forced into the circling mob, and the former was failing. Too late he saw his folly, and tried to fight his way out. Lower and lower sank the mare's head, and he slipped from her back. But it was no use—she could not get clear.

“Dive clear of them!” yelled one man. He did not hear, and fought stubbornly against the current.

“He'll never come out,” said one of the drovers.

“About done, I reckon,” agreed another. “And, heaven help him! we can give no assistance.”

For the second time that day a gleam of sunshine streamed across the watery waste, and Harvey once more caught sight of the white figure on the verandah on the hill opposite.

“For her sake,” he muttered, and drove Thorn forward.

Responding gamely to every call, the old horse struck out, his lean head and shoulders well out of the water. Closer and closer to the mob he swam, and there, fighting for their lives, he saw Jack and his mare, unable to extricate themselves from the crush of terrified cattle.

“Strike out this way! Leave the horse!” cried Harvey.

With a desperate effort the lad tried to obey, but, exhausted as he was, the feeble support of the mare was all that had kept him up, and it was only by turning Thorn sharply downstream that Harvey succeeded in grasping him as he sank.

The drowning man clutched at the horse's mane, and Thorn, answering the bit, tried to fight his way across the stream in the wake of the mob, which had at last struck out for the opposite bank. The double load was proving too much for the old horse, so Harvey slipped off and swam beside him. Still they were being swept down.

“Stick to him!” gasped Harvey. “He'll pull you out. I can manage alone.”

Scarcely had he spoken when a log, shooting past on the turbid stream, struck him, and he knew no more.

When at last Harvey opened his eyes they met those of Lucy Hamilton, as she bent over him.

He struggled to rise, muttering incoherently, “For your sake, you know——”

“Yes, I know,” she answered softly, “you saved Jack, and—and—” she hesitated, slipping her hand into his—“you must now take care of yourself—for my sake.”