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  ― 157 ―

The Red Kangaroo.

The spring sunshine was lighting up the Maroondah schoolroom. It was a cheerful room in a cross-curtained out-building, separated from the homestead by a lawn. The Maroondah gardens skirted a Queensland river, and from the schoolroom could be seen great, green-haired willows, dipping into the shining water, and making a delicious background for snowy fruit trees, and orange-groves, and glorious masses of roses, crimson, white, and golden. Beyond the river ran level green plains to the horizon. The sunbeams danced in at the open schoolroom windows, and the soldier birds sang “Sweet! “Sweet!” up the musical scale, making it difficult for the occupants of the room to take a keen interest in “Little Arthur's History of England.”

In a cushioned armchair sat an exceedingly pretty girl of 20. Her dark-blue cotton gown exactly matched the tint of her laughing eyes, and her curling hair made an aureole of gold about her head. Her cheeks had the colouring of rosy shells. A red-haired boy of eight, sturdy, tanned, and inconceivably freckled sat on a low chair on her right. On her left nestled against her a pretty rosy girl of seven, whose red curls and greenish-grey eyes were the only points she had in common with her brother. The governess held a copy of Lady Callcott's “Little Arthur's History of England” in one beautiful, white hand. The boy was droning out from another copy of that celebrated work.

“Although the poor—Britons were al-most na-ked, and had—very—bad—swords, and very weak spares and bows, and arrers—and small shields, made of bas-ket work—covered—with—leather—they were—so—brave—that—they fought a great—many—battles—against—the kangaroos.”

“Jim!” cries the teacher, laughing.

“Well, Crystal, I really can't 'tend. I'm thinking of the drive all the time. And we do fight the kangaroos, anyway.”

“There were none in ancient Britain, Jim.”

“Crikey! What a slow time the boys must have had there!”

And Jim went on stumbling over Lady Callcott's historical facts.

Crystal Wilton was the eldest daughter of a widowed squatter, who had failed and died, leaving four girls on the world's charity. John Forsythe, the owner of Maroondah had taken Crystal as a governess, chiefly because he got what he called “edication” for his children, cheap. Old Forsythe was as economical as he was wealthy and illiterate. The homestead had no mistress. John Forsythe had lost two wives. The first had left two sons. Jim and Margaret, usually calld Midget, were the children of the second marriage. The house was managed by Mrs. Daggert, a grim, middle-aged


  ― 158 ―
housekeeper. John Forsythe was a clever man, who had made Maroondah one of the show sheep stations of the district, but he was entirely unconscious that both his sons were the slaves of the blue-eyed governess.

Jim had not been long occupied in slow and painful tracking of the ancient Britons, when there was a loud rap at the schoolroom door.

“Come in,” said Crystal. And a tall young man carrying a gun strode into the room, with a fine black-and-tan collie at his heels.

“Drive's on in ten minutes,” he cried, in a ringing voice. “Look sharp, Rufus and Midget.”

The children scampered out upon the lawn.

“I have your gun ready, Crystal,” said Jack Forsythe, gently, coming up to the girl's chair, “and Mat is saddling Bayard.”

Crystal smiled sweetly at this handsome son of Anak. Jack Forsythe was undeniably good-looking, though a costume consisting of a loose holland coat, a soft shirt, secured at the waist by a cartridge belt, shabby tweed trousers and old leggings, was not calculated to enhance his beauty. He had fine dark eyes, a good nose, and a particularly handsome moustache. This ornament hid a rather coarse and sensual mouth, but Crystal shared in the common opinion of Jack Forsythe, that he was a fine young Queenslander, and twice the man his bookish elder brother Theyre appeared likely to become. Jack was only 23, but he had developed quickly in the forcing Queensland climate, and was reputed the best shot and scrub rider on the Downs. Old Forsythe grumbled equally at all his children, but he had been heard to own that he “liked a lad with a spark of the devil in 'im, and Jack 'ad more 'n one.”

Crystal went over to the schoolroom piano and sat down, beginning to play a dreamy waltz.

“I don't know that I want to go. It's cruel work shooting kangaroos. Poor beasties.”

“It's too bad,” said the young man, impatiently. “I got up this kangaroo drive for you. And you promised to ride with me.” He paused, and added jealously, “I believe you want to stay behind with Theyre.”

A quiet voice at the door interrupted him. “The old man is asking for you, Jack; the Mountfords are come,” and Theyre Forsythe came into the schoolroom.

Jack frowned, whistled to his dog, and went reluctantly away.

“The Lily” was Jack's nickname for his elder brother. Jack had a hearty contempt for the products of Rugby and Oxford, and had firmly refused to enter either of those seats of learning. Theyre had gone to both, and had taken a B.A. degree at Oxford. He was slighter and shorter than Jack, and his smooth-shaven face, with its delicately-cut features, was less tanned than his brother's. He had been born and bred on Maroondah, and was not deficient in manly accomplishments, though he could not compete with Jack either as a shot or a rider. He looked well in his brown riding suit, made by a London tailor.

“Aren't you ready for the slaughter, Crystal?” he asked lightly.

“I'm not coming,” answered the girl, turning round on her music-stool.




  ― 159 ―

“Why, you were keen on this drive yesterday.”

“Yesterday isn't to-day.”

“Well, I was only going because you were. I thought it would please you.” The young man bent over the capricious creature and spoke with feeling. “Am I never to please you, Crystal?”

“If you got me a red kangaroo skin,” said the girl, slowly, as though the wish was the result of long thought, though it was but the caprice of the moment, “I would like it. I have wanted one for a rug for my room for an age. Di Mountford has a beauty.”

Now, a red kangaroo is a rare beast, and Crystal knew it.

“Come to the drive and ride with me, and I swear I'll shoot one for you,” said Theyre with sudden energy.

“Done!” cried the girl gaily. And she tripped across the lawn and into the house, while Theyre made his way to the stables.

A few minutes later they joined the hunting party outside the garden gate. There were a score of horsemen at the gate, each wearing a cartridge belt and carrying a gun, and a couple of led horses were laden with cartridges. Away to the west was a line of white-trunked gum trees, girdied with scrub. Towards this a string of horsemen, armed with stockwhips, were galloping over the plains. John Forsythe, a short, thick-set, bandy-legged man, with a large head and a red, rugged face, half buried in a grey beard, was standing by his strong brown horse, Adept. He did not notice Crystal or Theyre, through the girl was conspicuous on the showiest horse in the Maroondah stables, Bayard, a bright chestnut, with a white star on his forehead. Theyre was the one well-dressed man of the party, as Crystal observed, as she rode up to the Mountfords' buggy to exchange gushing confidences with Gawne Mountford's two rosy-cheeked, dashing daughters. He looked well on his bay thoroughbred, which he had named Pegasus, greatly to the puzzlement of Mat, the groom. That worthy wondered “Why Mr. Theyre put a mare's name on a 'oss.” Peg the horse remained in the stables, and out of them, until he was gathered to his fathers.

Theyre and Crystal cantered away from the rest until they reached a little creek, shaded by a fragrant tangle of musk-trees and golden wattles. They followed its windings, letting their horses walk. The college-bred man, “with loads of learned lumber in his head,” was many fathoms deep in love with this untravelled girl. For her sake he was ready to comply with his father's wishes and stay upon the Downs.

“Crystal,” he said, after a long silence, “I've been trying for the last week to get the old man to stock Kareen.”

Now, Kareen was the cattle station adjoining Maroondah, left to her elder son by the first Mrs. Forsythe.

“And he won't?” asked Crystal, sympathetically.

“Not he! He argued in his own obstinate way that it won't pay. I think he likes to keep me dependent on him, when I want to strike out on my own. I was at Kareen yesterday. It has such a nice cosy little homestead. We could be so happy there.”




  ― 160 ―

“Indeed!” said Crystal, laughing. “You seem sure that I want to go there.”

“I am sure of nothing,” said the young man, flushing angrily.

“Don't let us quarrel on this heavenly day,” cried Crystal, and she cantered away towards the scrub, where the party were dismounting.

The horses were tied in a line to a wire fence when Crystal reached it. She slipped from Bayard, tied him up, and took her gun from the buggy to join the shooters, who had taken their stations behind trees, with their guns at their shoulders. Behind the scrub resounded loud shouts of “Ooay! Ooay!” and the sharp cracking of stockwhips. There was a pause, and then a mob of soft-eyed, brownish-grey kangaroos came hopping out of the underwood, and seemed to dance round the shooters. Guns went off in all directions, and the pretty creatures fell. The slaughter continued till the belt yielded no more game, when the sportsmen disappeared into the bush to get the big skins and tails, which were fastened on the led horses.

“We take Kooray Paddock next,” shouted John Forsythe, in his harsh voice.

The cavalcade set out again, followed by the Maroondah buggy, wherein sat Mrs. Daggert and the children, and that which held Di and Nell Mountford. Crystal kept close to the Mountfords' trap, and appeared deeply interested in Di Mountford's shooting. She was too clever to make herself conspicuous with either of John Forsythe's sons. The second drive proved even more successful than the first. After a third and fourth had been accomplished, a halt was made for lunch on the banks of a reedy lagoon, shaded by ironbarks girt by silvery brigalows and wallaby bush. The sun blazed in the clear blue heavens, and deep noonday stillness reigned. The lagoon lay in a grassy flat, well adapted for a dinner-table. The Maroondah hands lit a fire near the water, and set quart-pots and billies to boil in the glowing embers. The three girls put a tablecloth in the shade of a clump of brigalows, and Theyre spread rugs and buggy cushions round it. Mrs. Daggert took hampers bursting with good things from the buggy. She produced plump cold roast fowls, cheeses round and golden as a summer moon, pyramids of tempting sandwiches, and mounds of crisp brown cakes. Then she began to slice ham with a great carving-knife, while Crystal mixed salad dressing and broke lettuces. The girl's next task was to supply everyone round the rural table with huge cups of tea. Only Crystal could be relied upon to remember that John Forsythe liked lemon and sugar, and Theyre both sugar and milk, that Mrs. Daggert took her tea sugarless and strong, while Jack's must be weak and sugared.

“Who's made top score?” asked Jack, boisterously, looking round the party. “I got nine. How many did you shoot, Crystal?”

“Five,” answered the girl, absently.

“Best lady's score. How many, Theyre?”

“Ten,” said his brother, reluctantly, “and not one red one,” he added, turning to Crystal.

“Oh! never mind,” said the girl.

“I've bagged fifteen,” remarked John Forsythe. “You youngsters can't compete with the old man.”

Lunch was soon over, and the men began to stroll about with lighted


  ― 161 ―
pipes. Theyre did not smoke, and he lingered near Crystal, who was packing a hamper.

“I'm going for that red kangaroo, Crystal,” he said presently.

“Don't trouble about it,” she said. She looked distractingly pretty in her riding habit of pale grey cloth and her panama hat, with a white gossamer veil, floating like a cloud about her golden hair. “Don't go!”

He thought she doubted his skill, and was nettled. “I shall bring it home,” he said firmly. “So long!” And, vaulting upon his horse, he cantered away, waving his hat gaily. He took Pegasus over a great tree-trunk and disappeared into the scrub.

Theyre made for a paddock holding a great V-shaped disused kangaroo-yard. During the last drive he thought he had seen a red “old man” kangaroo lurking in the bushes by the sapling fence. The yard was about five miles from the homestead, and was overgrown with wallaby bush and baby eucalypts. It had not been used for ten years, when there had been a great kangaroo-hunt, and many hundred kangaroos had been driven into it and despatched with iron bars. As Theyre reached it, the largest red kangaroo he had ever seen hopped out of the bushes. He fired, but the creature had seen him and disappeared. He dashed into the scrub after it, but failed to find it. He came back to the yard, having lost his hat, cursing his luck that he should have seen the prize he desired for one maddening minute and then have lost it. He lingered about the kangaroo-yard, without any result, and then rode aimlessly from one belt of scrub to another until he was tired. He hobbled Pegasus and lay down beneath a grove of scrub oaks, whose needle-like foliage piled in masses on the ground made a pleasant pillow. He fell asleep and dreamed that Crystal was laughing at him because he had come home without a red kangaroo.

The plains were flushed by the light of the setting sun when he awoke. He mounted Pegasus to go home. On his way he again passed the kangaroo-yard, and cast a longing glance into it. Once more he caught a glimpse of what seemed the identical red kangaroo, half hidden by a clump of wallaby bushes. Theyre fired and wounded him. The beast did not fall at once, but limped slowly into the inner pen of the yard and crouched among the scrub. The young man leaped from his horse. Dropping his gun, he seized a rusty iron bar that lay at his feet, and ran up to the dying beast to put him out of his misery.

The kangaroo was not dying. He reared himself to his full height and faced Theyre, towering over him. In a flash the brute had rushed upon the young man and jerked the bar from his hand. Theyre staggered, and the kangaroo, holding him with its fore-paws, tore his clothes to ribbons with his cruel hind-paws. Again and again Theyre tried to clutch the iron bar, that lay just beyond his reach. “Cooee! Cooee!” he cried, but his strength was fast going, and he was answered only by the harsh “qua-a-ah!” of the carrion crows and the mocking laughter of the jackasses. The beast tore his flesh, until he was sick and faint from pain. He closed his eyes and ceased to struggle at last, and wondered weakly if the carrion crows would pick out his eyes after he was dead—or before.




  ― 162 ―

The thud of a horse's hoofs roused him. There was a crashing of boughs as a horseman made his way through the scrub, and in the fading light he recognised Dr. Allworth on his big grey mare. The grey-haired, gaunt bush doctor, whom everyone liked, rose to the emergency with characteristic nerve. In a few moments the kangaroo had received his death-blow from a hand that could be as gentle as a woman's.

The doctor knelt down and examined the young man's wounds. His face was grave as he bound them up with bandages improvised from his handkerchief, and gave his patient whisky and water from his flask.

“And now, how are we to get home?” he said. “Your horse has gone, I see. I must get you on Bess.” And the doctor raised him gently in a pair of strong arms.

“The kangaroo?” said Theyre, faintly.

“The brute's dead.”

“I—want—the—skin.”

“Can't wait for it,” objected the doctor.

“I must—have it! Hang it all!—I'm—not dying.”

Very reluctantly the doctor skinned the beast and flung the skin over Bess's saddle. Then Theyre suffered himself to be lifted to the mare's back.

It was a toilsome journey to the homestead. Theyre lent forward on the horse's neck, like an old man, and the doctor had to support his patient, as well as guide his mare, and look to his own footing.

As they moved painfully along, the house-party gathered at the Maroondah dinner-table.

“Where's Theyre?” asked his father.

No one knew. He had not been missed till the close of the day, and everyone supposed he had gone home.

“Do you know anything about him, Miss Wilton?” asked Mrs. Daggert, looking sharply at Crystal, as she sat behind the tea equipage. Old Forsythe loved the customs of his youth, and insisted on tea at every meal.

Crystal turned as white as the table-cloth, and would have fallen to the floor had she not been caught by the parlour-maid. “What is it, Letty?” cried Mrs. Daggert.

“I just told Miss Wilton Mr. Theyre's horse has come home without him, ma'am,” answered the girl, whimpering.

Mrs. Daggert and Letty carried Crystal to her room, and the others trooped out of the house. They gathered round riderless Pegasus and exhausted themselves in aimless conjectures. Old Forsythe was already organising a search party, when Jim announced the arrival of Dr. Allworth and Theyre at the garden gate.

The doctor and Jack took Theyre to his room and laid him on his bed. He was deadly pale, and lay in a stupor with closed eyes. Old Forsythe followed. Dr. Allworth dressed his patient's wounds, and explained the accident in a few curt sentences to his father.

Suddenly Crystal appeared in the room, looking as pale as the patient. The trampling of feet had roused her. She flung herself with a bitter cry beside Theyre's bed, as she saw his bloodstained shirt and still face. She thought he was dying, and that she had sent him to his death.




  ― 163 ―

“Theyre! Theyre! speak to me,” she cried, in a tone that enlightened John Forsythe.

Jack was standing with his father, a little away from the bed, in the recess of the bay window of the big, airy room. He turned away his face and groaned.

“He'll get her now,” he murmured, and his face worked.

More light broke upon the master of Maroondah. “You—you want 'er, too!” he muttered. “By —” And he was mute with rage and astonishment. He turned to his old friend Dr. Allworth, and carried him away to the dining-room. Jack followed, and Crystal was left alone with Theyre. She lifted her tear-stained face and looked at him with a pity fast melting into love.

“Theyre!” she whispered.

The young man opened his eyes and smiled faintly. “The—red—kangaroo-skin—is—there,” he faltered. “I—brought—it.”

Her tears rained on his poor bandaged right arm. “Theyre, stay with me! I cannot bear it! I do love you, Theyre. You must live for me!”

He smiled again. “I—will—live—now.”

After dinner Forsythe drew Dr. Allworth out on the verandah, and confided his troubles to him. “To think of Theyre throwin' 'imself away on 'er,” cried the injured father, “when 'e might 'ave 'ad a lady o' quality with a fortin, too! After all the good money I've spent on his edication—she'll bring 'im nothin' but a family tree. An' they both want 'er.”

“She's an uncommonly pretty piece of feminine ware, Forsythe, and as bright as they make 'em.”

The old man pondered. “I s'pose I've bin a blitherin' idgit, Allworth, ‘avin' the gel in the 'ouse.”

“You have, Forsythe,” the doctor answered, with the frankness of old friendship.

“An' I never suspected it, Allworth, never! It come upon me like—like thunder! What do you think of that?”

The doctor laughed. “I think you'll have an uncommonly clever daughter-in-law.”

Dr. Allworth stayed for three days at Maroondah, and had many similar conferences with John Forsythe. Theyre was invalided for three weeks, and spent most of his time in a lounging chair on the verandah. Crystal and the children were his constant companions. His father usually avoided him, but one fine afternoon old Forsythe came out on the verandah and found his son alone. The old man came up to him and asked him somewhat absently how he did. Then old Forsythe stood silent for some minutes, looking down upon his son with beetling brows.

“Look 'ere. Theyre,” he said at last, “if yu're bent on this marryin' business, do it. I'll not 'inder you. Indeed, I've bin thinkin' it over, and I find it'll pay to stock Kareen.” He paused. “The gel's a good gel and pretty enough. I've nothin' agin her. I think she's a bit artful. Never lettin' me see you an' Jack was both soft on 'er—look she don't play you no tricks.” He paused again. “Be a fool if you like.”

And with this paternal blessing old Forsythe strode into the homestead.

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