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  ― 22 ―

By the Wayside.

I had been taking a vacation with my brother at L——, a large country town, and he had given me a letter of introduction to his old friend, Archibald Glenlivat, of Boganbrae Station, some ten or twelve miles distant. When about half-way on my journey there, my horse (a hired and vicious animal) suddenly commenced bucking, threw me, and bolted. I was not much hurt, and concluded to wait awhile, in the possibility that someone might catch the runaway and bring him along. So I lit my pipe and sat down upon a fallen log to await results.

After awhile, a woman appeared, riding a very handsome dark-brown mare. Her clear-cut features were adorned by a profusion of auburn hair, knotted in the Greek style at the back of her head; she was attired in a tailor-made habit of some dark material, which was the perfection of fit, and display to advantage the graceful curves of her pliant figure; and she controlled her high-couraged steed with much skill.

I rose, made the customary salute, and inquired if she had seen anything of my frolicsome charger; but it appeared that she had not. In answer to her queries I told her briefly what had occurred, and whither I was bound. At the story of my capsize she laughed merrily; and I admired her fresh complexion, bright eyes, ruddy lips, and pretty teeth.

“I don't think,” she said, “it is much use for you to wait here on the off-chance of your horse turning up. Better get on to Boganbrae. Mr. Glenlivat will put a mount at your disposal to carry you home. One that won't drop you by the way this time,” she added, with another roguish but fascinating smile. “I can set you on your road, if you like; in fact, I'm going there myself. It's not more than a mile or two from here.”

I was much surprised to hear that, for I had supposed it to be much further (I had never been that way before), but I concluded that she probably knew a short cut, with which my brother, from whom I had received my directions, was unacquainted. So I accepted her offer, and we went on together. For some time, save for casual banalities, we proceeded in silence; but I noticed that she occasionally threw furtive glances at me, as though inquisitive about something.

“I presume,” said I, at length, “that I have the pleasure to address Miss Glenlivat?”

“And you?” she inquired, smiling affirmatively.

“Harold Belfridge,” I answered. “Perhaps you know my brother at L——?”




  ― 23 ―

“In charge of the Paperweight Department? Oh, yes; I've frequently met him. But you are nicer looking than he,” she replied in a matter-of-fact way.

I was somewhat confounded at this application of the puff-direct, and looked at her to see if she was jesting. But she preserved a perfectly serious countenance; as though the appraisement of my personal advantages were ordinary and natural comment.

“You seem surprised at my frankness,” she observed. “I always say what I think. Unorthodox, but saves trouble in the long run.”

“I am sure,” said I (in a Gentleman's Guide to Polite Conversation style) “that that acrobatic animal did me a good turn when he threw me in the way of a lady whose charming disdain of conventionality is not her least attraction.” May as well pay her back in her own coin, I thought.

“So good of you—I ought to say, I suppose,” she replied. “But isn't direct flattery rather an obsolete weapon?”

“Yet you were pleased to compliment me just now,” I retorted rather nettled.

“I? How so? I only said that you were better looking than your brother.”

This was exacerbating. I smothered my resentment in a forced laugh, and muttered confusedly. “Of course—very stupid of me—hope to requite your kindness.”

“Perhaps you may,” answered she. “Though, candidly, I see no reason why you should be pleased to trouble yourself on my account.”

“Why, I was in an awkward dilemma—I hardly knew what to do.”

“Mightn't you have asked a policeman?” was her unexpected query.

“You seem to forget,” said I, “that we are not walking down George-street. I had as much chance of seeing a policeman as of meeting Julius Caesar.”

“Julius Caesar!” retorted the girl. “I wonder what he would say if he could see Sydney or Melbourne—what would he think of our Parliaments—or our trams?”

“Veni, vidi, vici,” is what he would like to say, I suppose,” I replied. “With regard to our Legislature Omnia Gallia divisa est in tres partes—for Gallia read Parliament. As for our trams, he would most probably observe, Et tu Brute!”

“You are not partial to trams evidently,” laughed my companion. Then, perceiving that I was getting out of breath, she said, “I expect you will not be sorry if I restrained Donna Violante a little.” She accordingly reined in; much to my relief, for the mare was a stepper, and keeping up taxed me pretty considerably. I managed to assure Miss Glenlivat, however, that I was not at all tired, and only too happy to afford her an escort.

“Thank you very much,” she said, “but I assure you that I can take care of myself.”

“Do you often ride alone?”

“Oh, yes. You must know that I take a great interest in the cause of


  ― 24 ―
charity and benevolence, and ride about a great deal when I have collections on hand.”

“Collections?”

“Oh, dear, yes. You must not imagine that we neglect our religious duties altogether in the bush, even if it's only in the way of making a collection.”

“I don't understand,” said I.

“Why, you see, I have a subscription-list for the endowment of a Refuge for Aged and Indigent Stockmen, which we are anxious to institute; and with our scattered population I am not likely to collect much if I don't bestir myself.”

“By the greater gods!” thought I, “have I left the lady subscription-nuisance at the metropolis only to encounter her on horseback in the country? In town they usually hunt in couples.”

“Now, I can guess why you are looking so perturbed,” continued Miss Glenlivat. “You are afraid that I shall ask you for a donation—and you are right—that's just what I am going to do. You won't refuse, after your pretty speech just now.”

I laughed, and shook my head in a deprecatory way. “Regularly driven into a corner,” I thought. “No get away. However, she really is a jolly girl.”

She smiled as though divining my thoughts, and went on, “It is such a truly estimable institution that we propose. You have no idea how many aged and destitute stockmen there are on tramp, dragging their enfeebled limbs from one ration-store to another—lying sickness-stricken in obscure corners without so much as a drop of whisky to moisten their parched lips—their sole companion the faithful warrigal, that hunts sheep for their sustenance—often reduced to firing a run to obtain the bare means of prolonging existence—or selling pens of lively rabbits to squatters at fancy prices, with the alternative of turning them loose.”

“Well,” said I, somewhat confounded, “I should have thought such expedients as these are rather—er—eh?”

“You are quite right,” coincided this singular girl. “But then it all the more impresses upon us the necessity for removing the temptation to commit such deeds, doesn't it? You may imagine that, living on the run, as I do, I speak feelingly.”

“Yes, I can quite believe that,” said I.

“Then I may add your name to my list?”

I yielded a somewhat reluctant affirmative; for it seemed hard that I should have to pay in this way for any prospective hospitality.

As we progressed upon our journey the forest became more dense and entangled. The road had dwindled into a track that wound along the undulating base of a lofty hill; it was bordered on either side by golden-crested wattles and clumps of wild raspberry, amidst which the giant eucalypti were upreared. Through their branches, where not obscured by rope-like lianas and parasitic growth of staghorn ferns and orchids, glittered the radiance of the sun. There was no outlook.




  ― 25 ―

Suddenly my guide pulled up, and exclaimed that her saddle was slipping. I hastened to assist her to dismount; and, declining my aid, she busied herself for a few moments with the girths and surcingle. Then, turning to me, she said, “It's all right, I find. But now, whilst I think of it, may I put down your name for this little subscription?” And she proceeded to search a saddle-bag for her pocket-book.

An audacious idea seized me—not a novel one, I admit, for I had heard of such proceedings before. It was inspired, I believe, by her piquante countenance, as she regarded me with a coquettish smile.

“Let me offer a suggestion,” said I, “a little exchange, you know. Only fair. I'll subscribe a guinea on condition that——”

“That what?”

“Why, that I have a kiss,” I replied, summoning all my hardthood—effrontery, if you like.

The girl recoiled a little and darted a glance of keen interest at me. “For what do you take me? Whom do you think you are addressing?” she asked in accents of withering scorn, to which her soft contralto voice lent the more emphasis.

“In the sacred cause of charity, you know—and in strict confidence—” I pleaded.

“What assurance!” she exclaimed. “What have I said—what have I done—that encouraged you to make such a proposition? Did you not consider the possibility of resentment—even chastisement?” she continued, her eyes flashing dangerously.

Well, I'm in for a front seat row now, thought I. Is she going to correct me herself, I wonder, or shall I have to settle with Glenlivat? Confound her prudery—who would have expected such a boiling spring as this? And visions of a burly termagant squatter demanding an explanation and intruding a hunter-crop or a stockwhip upon my observation rose before my mind's eye.

She regarded me with unabated indignation.

“Great heavens! What could have inspired you to suggest such a thing?” she went on, her voice choked with emotion. “To k-i-i-iss me!” She stamped her foot. I muttered an apology, which she waved away impatiently.

“To k-i-i-iss me! For a guinea! Now, if you had made it two, indeed——”

“Oh!” ejaculated I, much relieved.

“Why, in that case,” pursued this most versatile damsel, “in the sacred cause of charity, and in strictest confidence——”

“Exactly so,” I chimed in.

“Oh, dear—oh, dear! What beguilers you men are!” she murmured half shyly, looking down, and then stealing a glance at me beneath her long eyelashes. “Well—it's a bargain.” She extended her palm.

“No credit?” I remarked.

“I should think not, indeed,” she answered. “Humorous, that would be.”




  ― 26 ―

Upon reflection I perceived that this was reasonable enough. I investigated my pockets, and made up the amount. “There!” said I. “And now—”

“You audacious individual—. I didn't tell you to help yourself on that liberal scale. Release me directly, and assist me to remount. Sacred Psyche!” she added, as, having regained the saddle, she adjusted her skirt, “if anyone had seen us! The bare supposition makes me tremble.” She didn't seem to tremble very much, though.

“Now I think of it,” she said, as we resumed our way, “I shall not risk being found in your company, but will ride on and let them know you are coming. Keep straight on—you can't miss the road.” And before I could make any response she had lifted Donna Violante into a swinging canter, which rapidly carried her past a curve in the road, so that she apparently plunged into the forest and disappeared.

“Humph!” ruminated I, resuming my way. “Perfumed with good Egyptian; fragrant and rare. Most of 'em indulge on the quiet, I expect, Insidious habit.”

I arrived at Boganbrae, without further incident of note, about sunset, having found the distance much greater than my fair friend had led me to expect. Mr. Glenlivat made me heartily welcome. He pointed out it was useless to think of returning to L— that night, and I gladly acquiesced, for I had no intention to make any further excursion just then.

Mrs. Glenlivat was a pleasant middle-aged woman whose family, it appeared, consisted of two or three juveniles. I saw nothing of my quondam acquaintance, nor had she, it was evident, warned my hostess that I was coming; at all which I marvelled exceedingly, but from motives of discretion refrained from remark. It was evident that she was not Glenlivat's daughter. She was his sister, or possibly she was the governess, and took her meals with her young charges.

After dinner the squatter invited me into the billiard-room to smoke and beguile the time with balls and cues. Whilst so engaged a servant announced that Inspector Klinker desired an audience. That officer was accordingly admitted. He was a tall, stalwart man, of semi-military bearing, but not wearing uniform. After inviting him to whisky and soda, Mr. Glenlivat inquired to what cause this unexpected visit was due.

“One that will please you, I think,” replied the inspector. “Do you remember the chestnut mare, Kelpie, that was stolen from one of your outstations about six months ago? Of course you do. Well, do you know where she is now?”

“Wish I did,” said Glenlivat. “I refused three hundred guineas for her.”

“Well, I think you'll find her in your stable.”

“You don't mean that!” exclaimed the squatter.

“Yes; and, moreover, I've captured the robber. Who is it, after all? Why, that young desperado they call Captain Flashlight. He gave me some sport for a long time; but I got on his trail at last, with two of my men in plain clothes. We came upon him this evening in a place where he had not expected us, and after a little fight (for he was game enough) he surrendered;


  ― 27 ―
and, to make a long story short, he's in your single men's hut now. I've come to ask the loan of a vehicle to take him to L——.”

“After recovering the Kelpie, Inspector, I can't refuse you anything,” said Glenlivat. He gave the necessary orders, and we strolled over to the hut to have a look at the renowned marauder.

“They say,” explained my host, “that he is a young fellow of good family, and well educated. Got into some scrape, and took to the roads, after the fashion of the romantic eighteenth century ruffians. His specialty has been the astounding manner in which he gets away after his exploits, and, after disappearing for a time, turning up in some wholly unexpected quarter. It couldn't last for ever, of course; but I will say for him that he has never been accused of a cruel or cowardly act.”

We arrived at the hut. There, to my utter amazement, not unmixed with confusion, I perceived, seated upon a bench and in a very bedraggled condition (the result probably of his interview with the police), my fair philanthropist of the afternoon! The removal of his wig, and the revelation thereby of closely-cropped dark hair, together with the abandonment of sundry portions of his feminine make-up, had totally altered his expression, but there could be no doubt of his identity. He was handcuffed, and a police-trooper in plain clothes sat by his side, whilst another lounged in a casual sort of way by the entrance. The prisoner smiled when he saw me—not a smile that I remembered, however.

“Ah, Mr. Belfridge, you found your way, then?” said he coolly. “I little expected that when we met I should be wearing these bangles—but you never can tell.”

“Perhaps you can tell who the owner of this property may be?” observed the inspector, producing, to my further astonishment, my watch and chain. I had missed them when making a hasty toilet before dinner; but, from a habit of carrying them in a breast-coat pocket, had concluded that I had inadvertently left them in my room at L——. Now, I perceived plainly enough in what manner I had afforded “Captain Flashlight” an opportunity to acquire them. I became unpleasantly flushed, and probably, also, looked silly. However, I identified the articles and claimed them.

“Did you lose anything else?” inquired the officer. I hesitated. The robber and I exchanged glances. “No,” said I firmly. He looked at me again, as though to say, “I won't give you away.” I am afraid that if his liberty had rested with me he would have received it then and there.

“By the way,” said the inspector to Mr. Glenlivat, as we returned, “I dare say you won't recognise the mare at first; for those humorists stained her dark brown, and banged her tail. But she's the Kelpie all right—the brands, measurement, and so on prove that.”

I had a confidential chat with “Captain Flashlight” in L—— gaol whilst he was awaiting trial. In male attire he was a slightly-built, smooth-faced, and rather effeminate-looking young man, but with a well-knit and evidently wiry frame, betokening strength and physique.

“It was the disguise that enabled me to carry on so long,” said he. “I had


  ― 28 ―
at one time great aptitude for amateur theatricals and female impersonations, and thoroughly understood the methods. After I had made a collection I used to feminise myself and travel into another district, sometimes by train or coach, sometimes on horseback. Of course, there was connivance; but nobody ever recognised me. I travelled once for several hours in a first-class compartment with an energetic police magistrate, who told me all about my latest performance, and wished I might fall into his hands. I was a shy, demure, nursery governess then, going to take up an engagement, and he procured refreshments for me, and was very civil, though he was not so enterprising as——”

“I hope you didn't ease him of any little memento?” I interrupted, hastily.

“No, when I was a lady I behaved as such. Oh, yes; but then, you see, you put the temptation so prominently before me—besides, the humour of the situation was irresistible. You saw the joke yourself, didn't you? Thought so. Well, that was the way of it. The game was exciting and exhilarating, but it broke down at last. I was given away to the police by a jealous woman.”

“That story is like Shakespeare—not for an age, but for all time,” I remarked.

“And now that she has done it,” he went on, “she would give anything to have it undone, and is sparing neither money nor influence—and she has plenty of both—on my behalf. But I'm afraid it's useless.”

He explained that when he first encountered me he was somewhat perturbed, believing that I was a constable in disguise and my story “a plant;” but a little conversation undeceived him, and, being amused at my evident admiration, he resolved to humour it, not, however, anticipating the culmination.

Captain Flashlight's subsequent daring escape from L—— gaol brought his prosecution to a premature end. He has never been heard of since, and it is probable, therefore, that he has succeeded in putting the ocean between himself and the land of his misdeeds.

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