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Book Three—The Second Black Hand

Chapter I The Sawyer's Home

ON the banks of the Williams River, in the midst of what can only be described as a chaotic confusion of boughs and tree-tops, a small hut had been erected. It consisted of two rooms only, and had been built of the outside slabs from the sawpit, and roofed with bark. The timber of which it was constructed having been cut with the saw, there was a certain squareness and regularity about it, that gave it an air of neatness and finish not usually seen in such places.

Black Harry, the sawyer, was well known upon the Coal River. He had been working for the last five or six years in this and the neighbouring brushes, and, being a steady man and a good workman, had always found constant employment—that is, whenever he was provided with a mate to work with him. The prices obtained for sawing were very high, and the men employed in it made a great deal of money; thus it followed, as a consequence of the times, that Harry's mates insisted upon a spree whenever a settlement for work was made. These settlements brought them usually forty or fifty pounds a man,

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and until this was knocked down there was no work done. All this did not agree with Harry's arrangements. He was not only a good workman, but a steady man, never drinking strong liquors. Thus it happened that Harry, not being inclined to remain idle whilst his mate amused himself, had always, after every settlement, to look out for another man to work with him. He was an American-born negro, of powerful build and almost gigantic stature, standing some six feet four inches in height. He had been picked up at sea, on the bottom of a whaleboat, and almost exhausted, having been in the water six days. His strong constitution and powerful frame, aided by the skill of the doctor of the convict ship upon which he was taken on board, brought him through what appeared at first to be a hopeless case. His vessel, the Swordfish, an American whaling barque, had gone down one night suddenly, from no assignable cause in so far as Henry knew, for he was sleeping in one of the boats at the time. Roused up from his slumber by the plunge into the waves, he had seized almost instinctively upon an oar beside him, and thus became the sole survivor of forty-five men, the complement of hands on board at the time. The oar once more brought him to the surface, and after a time he discovered one of the ship's boats floating bottom upwards at no great distance from him. Striking out for this, he reached it, but, notwithstanding all his exertions, he was unable to right her; so, scrambling on to the bottom, he there remained until he was discovered by the vessel that picked him up, and which, luckily for him, had got somewhat out of her course. He was thus brought on to Sydney, and, having some knowledge of lumbering in his own native State, he turned his attention at once in that direction upon his arrival, naked and penniless, in the new land. Being apt at learning, like most of his

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countrymen, he very soon picked up all the art and mystery connected with sawing, and soon after this set up in business for himself.

Harry was so well known for a good and steady mate, that he had never long to wait for an assistant when the retiring one had made up his mind for the inevitable spree. Of course, in the frequent change of mates, Harry picked up a good many queer customers. He had, however, so much knowledge of character as to save him from ever getting hold of a lazy one. As regarded anything else, he was utterly heedless, for he was well able to take care of himself. His gigantic build and immense strength made it a very simple matter with him to deal with any cantankerous customer that he happened to get hold of, and, as he stood no nonsense, but gave his mates clearly to understand that his word was law, and that all disputes were to be settled promptly there and then by an appeal to the arms that nature had given, he generally managed to get along smoothly with his fellows, who all seemed to have a wholesome dread of his prowess.

His mate at the present time was a tall, thin, wiry individual, only an inch or two shorter than himself. Though he had not the powerful build and the gigantic frame of the negro, yet he was by no means wanting in strength, for his muscles stood out like bars of iron upon his limbs when they were brought into play. He was a much more powerful man than he appeared to be at first sight, his sparseness being attributable only to the absence of all superabundant flesh. His face, with its deep-set indentations, had a hard, crabbed look, the hollows being not very much unlike the deep furrows on the outside of the ironbark tree. It was probably from this resemblance that he had received his name of Ironbark Jack, the only one by which he was known. Jack was a free

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man, although, as he himself boasted, he had “served his time like a man” to the Government. He was of a somewhat taciturn disposition, and his tongue, being nearly as ironbarky as his face, did not wag very freely. When he did speak, his meaning was always conveyed in as few words as possible, and conveyed, too, in a bluff, honest kind of way that tended to impress one favourably towards him, and to lead one to believe that he was a man more sinned against than sinning. He was always cool and collected under all possible circumstances, and was never known to get excited, still less out of temper. He had been the only mate that Harry had ever had three months together without coming to blows with him. There had been one or two rows between them; but, whilst Harry had got into a towering passion, Jack had kept so cool that the coals of opposition being wanting to feed the fire of the negro's wrath, it had gradually burnt out, and matters had been made up without the usual appeal to blows. All the more readily, perhaps, that Harry knew his mate's strength, was aware that he was not afraid of him, and respected him all the more on this account.

Such were the men who were associated together in the lonely cedar brush, far away from all their fellows.

Ten months had elapsed since the events recorded in our last book had occurred. The month of April had but just commenced, and the sun was warm and the weather fine, although the days were beginning to shorten rapidly. The shades of evening were already gathering in the sky when the two mates approached the hut. The evening meal was prepared and disposed of, and then the two men lit their pipes, and sat down to indulge in a yarn.

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“I rather calkilate upon gwain home when we've done out our six months' work,” said Harry.

“Going home! Where?” cried Jack in astonishment.

“Why, to the U—nited States, to be sure. To the old Bay State whar' I was reared, an' whar' I've an ole mother as loves me, though I am a man o' colour. I've been years away now, an' yet I think upon that ole woman, my mother, with thoughts just as fresh as they war' the day I left. Besides, it's the only place for a man to live in. Ain't noways such a miserable hole as this hyar, though a feller can make money hyar, that is a fact.”

“Just as well work here as there, then, and better,” Jack suggested.

“Thar's better pay hyar, that's fact; but there ain't the comfort, and money don't go so far. I calkilate that, with what I take with me, I can work to more advantage thar' than hyar,” answered Harry.

“Ah, I see!” said Jack. “You've made your mouth up. Got a well-filled stocking, I suppose?”

“Waal,” replied the negro, “by the time we've worked out our agreement, I reckon I shall have enough to set me up fust-rate in the old State.”

“I recollect now,” said Jack, who had been tempted into talking more than his mate had ever before known him to do by the interesting subject that had accidentally come under consideration. “You was always a steady-going cove, never spending nothink. Now, I suppose you've been saving up ever since you came into this bush?”

“Say ever since I've been in the country, and you'll be right, Jack,” answered Harry. “From the first day I landed hyar I never spent a penny more than I could

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help; and what's more I never threw any away upon drink.”

Harry gave a self-complacent chuckle. “I'm down to that kinder work. I've seen it done afore, and they don't serve me that way, I can tell you. I trust nobody with my money but myself.” Jack's eyes glared, and he listened almost breathlessly to what the darky was now saying. “I keep it myself, and then I know it's safe.”

“'Tain't always safe to have money with yer, when there's nothing else but prigs, and buzzmen, and cracksmen, and toby men round about you,” and Jack, whilst he put on an air of unconcern, awaited the reply with special interest.

“D'ye see this hyar?” and Harry turned up the sleeve of his blue serge shirt, and exposed to view a black and brawny arm, with a large fist attached, powerful enough to knock down a bullock. “Where's the prig that'll bring his head in reach o' that? Where's the cracksman that'll take a crack from this hyar plaything?”

Jack looked very coolly at it; then, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, said, in a tone of unconcern, “It's a good arm, there's no saying against that; but, lor, a pistol bullet fired by a kid would take all the stiffening out of the muscles in no time.”

Harry darted a keen, suspicious look at the other; then, knitting his brows and speaking more ill-temperedly than he had yet done, he replied, “Even then, they'd be no nigher to my savings, for they'd have to find my plant, an' they'd have to be reglar teasers to do that, let me tell you. So that you see, matey, it ain't worth no man's while to rub me out, seeing as they can't make sure of any cash. Thar' now!”

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“That's sensible,” responded Jack, who had obtained all the information he was likely to get. “So long as you can keep your plant dark, you're right. But keep your weather eye open, Harry, for there's no end of buzz coves about, that'd skin you as close as an eel.” So saying, and to avoid further conversation, seeing that the negro was getting fretful and uneasy, he stretched himself out at full length upon the bench or form upon which he had been previously reclining, and though Harry addressed several further remarks to him, he made no answer. The negro continued walking up and down the hut, talking partly to himself, partly to his mate, until at last he had to all appearance talked his mate fast asleep.

At last there came upon him a longing desire, that he found it impossible to overcome or conquer, to visit his hoard, and satisfy himself that it was safe. His mate seemed to be asleep. The negro listened, but, unsatisfied, he lifted the grease-pot from the table, and flashed its flaring, garish light across the eyes of his mate. There was not the slightest movement in the eyelids of the sleeping man. Once again he did the same thing, calling out, “Come, Jack, turn in, I'm off to roost!” The only answer was a sleepy growl, and the man made a slight move, and then composed himself to sleep more steadily than before. Harry stood and watched him for a few minutes, and was then apparently satisfied, from the deep, regular breathing of the other, that he was fast asleep. He put down the fat-pot, opened the door of the hut, and went out. For a few minutes he walked backwards and forwards in front of the hut, stopping now and again suddenly, and listening intently. All was still and quiet, and no sound reached his ear but that of the long, steady breathing of his mate. He now

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moved further from the hut, and then went through the same ceremony of walking and listening, and at last, as if he had made up his mind that all was safe, he moved off quickly, though as quietly as was possible, into the forest.

Harry had heard the regular breathing of his mate, but he had not seen the pair of eyes that were noiselessly watching him, and following his every movement. In the slight alteration of position that Jack had made, when he had been supposed to be composing himself more comfortably to sleep, he had so placed himself that without moving he could see out of the open door of the hut. When the negro had moved further off, Jack had raised himself on his elbow sufficiently to allow him to listen as well as see, though in so doing he did not for an instant cease the regular respirations that had been so instrumental in deceiving his mate. When at last Harry moved off, Jack rose to his feet, looked out after the negro, and exclaimed to himself in a suppressed voice, “I knew it! I knew I should set him off at it! Now then, Jack, here's the best chance ever you had!” As he spoke, he glided out of the hut with a cautious, stealthy step, guided in his progress by the sound of the retreating footsteps of the negro.

Macomo and Atare, with six more warriors, were out on a plundering expedition similar to the one that had brought all their misfortunes upon them. Here, however, there were neither women nor children, nor would blood be shed, for, with the tribe reduced as it was to the seven braves who accompanied him, they could not afford to risk a contest. Macomo knew of the hut of the sawyer, Black Harry — knew, too, that this man, having lived here between two and three years, had

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gradually gathered many comforts round him, collecting plunder that was by no means to be despised. They had gathered information enough of the habits of the occupants to be aware that they would be absent during the whole day, and that the hut might be plundered, and the plunderers be many miles away, before the return of the sawyers from their work.

At the same time as the party of blacks were thus making plans, George and his son were encamped at a distance of not much more than a mile away. The tribe over whom they had exercised so strict a surveillance, having now dwindled down to the handful of fighting men that we have just left, the task of George had been made a comparatively easy one. Both George and Jamie had been fairly perplexed at the move the tribe were now making. They had watched and spied about, often running into danger by their visits to the native camps, but as yet they had been able to discover, either by word or sign, nothing of the intentions of the blacks.

In the morning they were out and abroad early, and posted themselves in such a way that they could see the direction taken by the blacks when they made their start. Following them throughout the day, towards evening they became aware, from the route now taken, that the blacks were making for the cedar brush on the Williams. Once assured of this, the two scouts had nothing for it than to follow patiently on the track of the blacks, keeping as close to them as was possible, consistent with remaining undiscovered, trusting that, by the time the natives camped at night, some more definite clue to their ultimate intentions might be gained.

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Chapter II The Murder Of Black Harry

WHEN Harry left his hut, he pushed his way with a rapid pace through the bush, over a path that seemed to be well known to him. At the distance of rather more than half a mile from the hut, he stopped at the foot of a huge tree, of which one of the lower limbs had been torn off by the wind or by a lightning stroke. In falling, the thick end of the limb had lodged in a lower fork, and there hung, whilst the outer end had reached the ground, causing the vast limb, as large in circumference as many of the ordinary bush trees, to recline at an angle sufficiently obtuse to allow of its being easily mounted by the many minor branches that shot out from it. Up this Harry now climbed for three-fourths of its length, and until he had reached a large hollow on what was now its upper surface. Putting his hand into this hollow, he drew forth a tin box about a foot square. It did not seem to be locked, for he opened it at once and looked in. That one look seemed to be sufficient. He gave a deep sigh of relief, and muttered to himself, “Waal, they ain't touched it yet, that's clear; an' I'll take care they sha'n't have it now; for it don't go back thar' nohow. I won't leave it here to make a ole woman of me no longer. I'll try a new plant, and next Saturday I'll take it off to the settlement and put it in the Major's hands.” Even as he was speaking he descended the limb, bringing

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with him the box, which appeared to be heavy, notwithstanding its small size. He now stood for a moment, apparently weighing in his mind what to do next. But he did not stop long considering, for a smile suddenly lighted up his face as he exclaimed. “Yes, that will do! The very place!” He then struck off into what appeared to have at one time been a regular track, and, following this down for another half-mile, he came to an old sawpit, long since out of use. Into this he jumped, and, carefully removing from one corner the dry leaves that had accumulated in it, he made a hole large enough to hold the box, which he placed in it. He next covered this with the old and now decayed sawdust, and topped all up carefully with the dried leaves that he had previously removed and set aside with so much care. Having done this, he looked down with an eye of satisfaction at his work. “Thar',” said he; “if they knew of the old plant, they don't know of this; an' they'll be pretty considerable smart, I reckon, to find out that cache!” Considerably relieved, he now started off along the old footpath that had been worn by the frequent passages to and from the hut when the now-deserted pit had been in use.

Jack had followed closely, yet cautiously, upon the heels of his mate, and though he had not got near enough to see all that had occurred, he had still learnt sufficient to give him a good idea of what had taken place. When he saw the negro, with the box under his arm, taking along the track to the old saw-pit, he at once gave a shrewd guess at what Harry was about to do; and, when at last he sprang into it and remained there some time, Jack was satisfied that the plant had been shifted, and that the money was being deposited in the old pit. Having stayed long enough to assure himself that his

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mate had not changed his mind, he turned towards the hut, and as speedily as he could made his way back to it. But quick as he was and hurriedly as he had proceeded, Black Harry, who was better acquainted than his mate with the bush in the immediate vicinity of his home, was very close upon his heels, so that as Jack entered the door he heard the footsteps of his mate crashing over the dead boughs that lay about the clearing. The dog, too, who had never been friendly with him, and would not become friendly, do all he would, gave, as usual, a low growl at him as he passed. He at once threw himself down upon the form on which he had previously reclined, and assumed as near as he could the same attitude as that in which Harry had left him; but the excitement he had undergone, and the hurried progress he had been compelled to make to reach the hut before his mate, had quickened, not only his pulse, but his respiration, and he found that he was altogether unable to assume that deep, heavy, regular breathing that had been so efficacious in deceiving the negro.

Harry, however, had heard the growl of the dog, and knew that was the way the animal had of expressing his invincible dislike to Jack, being the usual salutation to his mate on entering or leaving the hut. This, then, was sufficient to arouse his suspicion. Had Jack come out, or had he gone in? Harry asked himself. If he had come out, he would be outside, but if he had gone in, and then pretended to be asleep, he had been acting the spy. If he had been watched, and watched, too, by so cool and determined a villain as he knew his mate to be, then there was danger, and the man must be looked to at once. Filled with rage and alarm, he hurried up to the hut. The door was open as he had left it, and there was his mate lying sleeping, to all appearance, as soundly as

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when he had left. Harry smiled bitterly as he noted this. He strode up to the pretended sleeper, and, putting his ear down to the other's head, at once detected the short, quick breathing that hurried exertion invariably causes. He went to the table, seized the grease-pot, which still stood burning, and, bringing it forward, held it to his mate's face. Jack, by a powerful exertion of will, prevented the movement of even a muscle, although he knew that he was suspected, and that probably the powerful hand of Harry would at the next moment be upon his throat.

For several seconds Harry stood thus looking upon his mate. At last he gave a savage laugh as he cried—“It won't do, Jack! You play 'possum pretty well, but not well enough for an old lumberer. You can't come it right whilst you puff and blow like that—more like a grampus in shoal water than a man asleep. Get up; you an' me must have it out now.”

Jack, thus addressed, could not avoid changing colour, as something like a fear of the consequences stole over him with a sickening feeling. He turned deadly pale, although he moved not.

The negro saw this, and knew its meaning. “Oh, that's it, is it?” he roared out. “You sneaking skunk! You've had thoughts of mischief, have you? You know what you deserve at my hands, an' what you'll get!” He took two strides to the table, laid the lighted greasepot upon it, and again turned to approach his mate, when Jack, perceiving that it was now time to take care of himself, for the moment of real danger had arrived, sprang to his feet and looked round with a well-assumed air of bewilderment, as if suddenly awakened out of a deep sleep.

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“Hallo!” he cried. “Now then, matey, what's up? Is the hut afire?”

“What's up, you everlastinly darned sneaking catamount!” replied the other in a voice hoarse with rage. “It's you have been up! You've been a-playin' the spy on me, have yer? You've discovered my secret, have yer? It ain't going to do you no good, though!”

“Your secret! What secret?” asked Jack, in his most bluff and honest manner.

“What secret!” bellowed out the negro. “Well, now, ain't you innocent! I suppose you'll say that you didn't follow me just now.”

“Foller you! Certainly I didn't!” replied Jack, who was now fast regaining his ordinary coolness, disturbed for a time by the suddenness with which all this had come upon him.

“Then, I suppose, the dog growled because he dreamt you were going in just now? Weren't that it?” asked Harry.

“What have I got to do with his growling? I suppose he growled because he heard me move in the hut, as he always does—the useless varment!” answered Jack.

“He's an honest dog; an' if you was as honest a man as he is a dog, you'd do, you would. He growled as he always does when you come into the hut, an' you know it!”

Jack shook his head. “You're wrong. I ain't been outside the hut this blessed night.”

“Waal, when a man's a liar he oughter be a good one, and stick to it; an' you are about the most everlastin' confusioned liar as ever I come across. Why, what were you pantin' and puffin' at when you gammoned to be asleep, if it wasn't at the hurry you'd been obliged to make to get in afore me?”

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“Didn't know I was puffing,” said Jack. “Must have been something I was dreaming on. Don't recollect!”

“Dreamin'? Yes, dreamin' with your eyes open,” cried the other. “An' walkin' in the bush in yer sleep, quite wide awake! Why, look thar'—thar's the dew on yer boots now.” Jack glanced down at the telltale moisture that had damped the front part of his boots, and as he did so he felt that now it must come to a struggle for life between him and his mate. “Ah!” continued the negro. “You can say nothing to that! You know my secret, an' I'll take care you sha'n't live to benefit by it.” And, as he spoke, he rushed to one corner of the hut, where the tools were lying in a heap, and, seizing upon a heavy axe, turned towards his mate.

Jack made no movement, but there was a flashing light in the eyes that he fixed steadily upon his mate, as he called out, “ 'Ware hawk, matey! You don't know me yet. My monkey ain't easy got up, but when it is I'm dangerous.”

“I'll soon knock the danger out of you! There ain't much danger in a dead man!”

Harry raised the axe and advanced towards him, whilst Jack, with the exception of thrusting his hand into his bosom, remained motionless, his eyes, glittering like steel, still fixed unflinchingly upon the negro.

Somewhat staggered by the attitude of immobility that his mate had assumed, Harry halted when almost within reach of his offending mate. “Look here!” he said slowly, and between his teeth, “I'm just about going to rub you out—that's what I'm going to do. But I won't knock you on the head like a dog without givin' yer a chance. Get hold o' somethin' an' defend yourself like a man!”

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“I've no reason to defend myself!” replied Jack, still with his eyes fixed on the black. “I ain't done nothing!”

“You lie!” shouted Harry. “You've watched me off, an' you've discovered my plant.”

“Your plant!” and again Jack put on his air of extreme innocence. “Oh, then, it ain't far away. That's something to know!”

“It's somethin' you sha'n't live to talk about,” and Harry spoke with a tone of determination, as if he had made up his mind how to proceed. “There,” he cried, as he threw away the axe. “I'll meet you fair, hand to hand; an' if I don't put you past talking, you may have my swag, and welcome.” As he ceased, he made one spring towards Jack; but his mate was not so ill-protected as he had thought him to be, for before Harry reached him, he drew his hand forth from his breast, where he had continued to keep it, and with it brought out a pistol, which he presented at the negro.

“You see,” he said, “I wasn't so helpless as you thought. I told you I was dangerous, and so I am when I'm put to it. Why, if I'd been as peppery as you, you'd have been a dead man ten minutes ago.”

Harry answered with a wild exclamation of rage.

“Look here, matey,” Jack went on, “do you think, if I knew your plant, and wanted your swag, I wouldn't have taken the chance you gave me just now?”

Beside himself with passion, the negro's countenance assumed a pallid hue, which is not describable by any known colour. “Oh, that's it, is it?” he exclaimed hoarsely. “Now then, I know you!” He turned, and once more possessed himself of the axe. “Fire, darn yer, fire!” he cried out; “an' be sure you don't miss, for, by Jehosephat, if you do, here's a popgun won't miss fire!”

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So saying, he was about to launch himself upon his mate, when the door was dashed open violently, and George, who had heard outside the angry voice of the negro, rushed into the hut and threw himself between the men. He had already heard enough to tell him that a serious quarrel was going on; and now the fierce countenances of the men—the axe in the hands of one and the pistol in the clutch of the other—showed him that he had not come one minute too soon.

Being well known to Black Harry, and having considerable influence over him, George at length succeeded in patching up the quarrel, and then informed the sawyers of the intended attack upon their hut by the men of the Maroo tribe. But Harry was in no mood to be alarmed by the information, and treated the whole affair lightly.

“You will do as you like,” George said, “but certainly the wiser course will be to clear out, and let the blacks have a trifle of flour and an old blanket or two. If you do this, the chance is you won't be troubled again, because they'll be sure to spread the report of your poverty amongst the tribe, and you won't be disturbed again for some time.”

“That's right enough, George,” said the other; “but then you see this coon don't choose to clar out of his nest for any such miserable varmints as them natives, an' he won't, neether. Why, I wouldn't do it for a real right-down band of Mohawks, and them's Injuns that can fight a few, I reckon.”

“Well, Harry,” responded George, “you know I never give unsound advice, and, if you are wise, you will do as I recommend.”

“Thank you all the same. I know you mean well;

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but it ain't in me to run away from such critturs as them blacks.”

“Then I'll say no more. And now I'll say goodnight,” for George felt that further persuasion was useless.

“Why, you ain't agoing, surely!” exclaimed Harry in astonishment.

“Yes,” replied George. “I must go and warn Tom Dickson and his mate, for the blacks might pay them a visit before they come to you.”

“Now, you are a fust-rate chap, George, to take all this trouble. Well, if you won't stop, remember me to Tom.”

“I will; and now good-night to the pair of you; and Harry, try and keep your temper!” And with this parting remark, George once again strode out into the bush.

During the time that George and the negro had been holding their conversation, Ironbark Jack had sat upon one of the short junks of wood that served for stools, smoking his pipe, and looking into the fire. He had betrayed some signs of interest at first, whilst the projected attack of the natives was spoken of, but subsequently he relapsed into apparent apathy, and continued gazing into the embers that were fast dying out. What did he see there that so fixed his attention? Look where he would, there was always the same scene before him reproduced in the dull red of the smouldering coals. It was always that old saw-pit with the buried treasure that met his gaze, wherever he fixed it. Was this treasure to slip through his fingers just at the moment when he had made sure of grasping it? Ah! what did he perceive now in the fire to make him smile? Still the old saw-pit, but this time turned into a yawning grave! Just at that point his train of thought was broken off by the departure

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of George, to whom Jack nodded familiarly, wishing him good-night in his most bluff and honest tones.

Harry also sat and gazed into the fire, as his mate had done. Did he see there the same visions that Jack had seen? Not the same, though the old deserted sawpit was amongst them. From that, however, his thoughts flew away across the ocean to the great western land, and to the old black Obi woman—no doubt ugly as sin, but, in the eyes of his affection, more beautiful than the fairest daughters of the land. He thought and thought till his head dropped. He sprang up with a start. “Hullo! Dozing! That won't do,” he muttered to himself. “It can't be far off daylight now,” and he turned his eyes to where his mate lay sleeping. “Suppose I was to go now and clear out my cache, whilst he ain't thinking of it,” he said in his own mind. “I couldn't bring the dollars here to tempt him, but I might put 'em somewhere in sight without his knowing it, and then I could send him away whilst I cleared out for the settlement.” He again went out, and commenced another restless promenade in front of the house. At last he had made up his mind. He went up to the dog, patted him till he made the animal almost beside himself with joy at such unwonted attention, and then, pointing inside the hut to where Jack lay, he whispered sternly, “Mind him!” The dog seemed to understand the direction, for he bristled up his hair, gave a low growl, and crouched down as if ready for a spring, whilst Harry hurried off across the cleared ground in the direction of the old saw-pit. After sufficient time had been given for him to get well across the clearing, Jack threw the blankets off his head and listened. All was right, and he jumped out of bed. He had lain down as he stood, without so much as kicking off his boots; but, as his foot

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touched the floor, the dog gave forth a sound that was evidently an incipient growl. With a smothered curse, Jack went over to the corner of the hut, where the axe had been thrown down after the quarrel, and where it still lay. Seizing it, he went to the door stealthily, and, by keeping out of the dog's sight, he managed to get in such a position as to be able to strike at him without being seen until the very last moment. The animal knew that his enemy was moving about the hut, and perhaps considered that, as that was legitimate, he had no right to enter a growling protest; but he lay crouched down at length with his head between his paws, and his savage fiery eyes fixed on the doorway, with the evident intention of disputing any attempt of Jack's to leave the hut.

Poising the axe, Jack made a sudden step forward as he struck, and the dog's head, with the first sound of a bark emanating from his throat, was almost severed from his body by the blow. “You won't growl at me no more!” Jack whispered between his teeth, as he threw down the axe by the side of the still struggling animal. “So much for the dog, and now for the dog's master. I hope I may have the same luck with him.” Drawing out from his breast the pistol we have before seen in his hands, and from which he had never parted, he threw up the cover of the pan and examined the priming. Tapping it down into the touch-hole, he shut the pan, and then at a quick pace made off upon the same path that had previously been taken by Harry.

About twenty minutes after he had left, there was the sound of a shot in the direction of the old saw-pit; then all was still; and then, in rather more than half an hour afterwards, Jack returned to the hut, without his mate.

  ― 190 ―

Chapter III By Whose Hand

IT was later than usual the next morning before Jack awoke; and it was then some minutes before the events that had occurred on the previous evening came back to his mind, and shaped themselves into realities. All came upon him at once, and then he leapt from his rude couch and looked round. Yes, he remembered now that the blacks were to visit the hut, and as he saw by the sun that the morning had well advanced, he knew that there was no time to lose. He made up the fire, boiled his quart pot, and partook of breakfast with as good an appetite as ever. “And now,” he said when he had finished, “to make all square!” Going into the room of the murdered man, he brought out two guns, and putting a little powder into each, snapped them off, thus giving them the appearance of having been used. Then, putting the powder and some heavy buck-shot into his pocket, he took his way towards the old saw-pit. At last he stopped. Yes, there was the tree behind which he had stood, and there in that cluster of bushes the body must be lying. He had drawn it in there out of the pathway, and, though he had been so careful, he had got that one spot of blood on his sleeve while doing this. And wherefore had he done it? he asked himself. He could not tell why. Was it that the mysterious something within him told him that it was a deed that required to be hidden? He didn't know and

  ― 191 ―
he didn't care; and now he must do his best to fix the murder on the blacks. He walked up boldly to the cluster of bushes, parted them, and stood over the body of him who was yesterday his mate. It lay almost in a heap, just as it had been dragged in and thrown down, with no perceptible mark of violence upon it. Jack rested one of the fowling-pieces against a bush, and then, raising the other by the barrel, brought the stock down with all his force upon the head of the dead man. The stock was broken by the violence of the blow, and then, throwing down the barrel by the side of the body he had mutilated, he muttered, “There, that'll do for that part of the business. And now to go and look after the blacks. If they don't set fire to the hut, I must, and then the thing will be complete.” So saying, he came out again into the pathway, and proceeded leisurely to load his gun. “Ah!” said he, as he came near enough to the edge of the clearing to see the hut, “the natives are there sure enough.” He concealed himself as carefully as he could, but in such a position as to allow him to see what was going on. He watched the blacks as they came in and out of the hut with such articles as they intended to carry away, and endeavoured to fix in his mind the features and appearance of some of them, so that he might be able to describe them to the authorities, and to know them again if he were called upon to identify them. There was one tall, powerful, and well-made fellow whom he should know again. He appeared to be the chief, and wore three eagle's feathers in his hair; but his attention was more particularly drawn to another native who had taken possession of an old pea jacket of Jack's own, and it was probably owing to this that the make, build, countenance, and general appearance of this man fixed themselves more firmly upon Jack's mind than did those of

  ― 192 ―
any other. Jack watched and waited, whilst the blacks went to and fro quickly, and with less noise than was usual amongst them, and at last he could hardly restrain a cry of exultation as he saw a large body of smoke rising from the hut, followed by a burst of flame, showing that the blacks, having secured all they wanted, had set fire to the house. Jack waited to see no more. The natives had done the work that he had expected to have to do himself; and, this having been taken out of his hands, he had nothing more to stay for; so, shouldering his fowling-piece, he took the track that led away to the settlement, revolving in his mind as he went along the tale that he should tell to the authorities of the murder of his mate by the blacks.

Before George started off to warn the sawyers of the intended attack of the blacks, he told Jamie on no account to lose sight of Macomo and his band, and this instruction Jamie had faithfully carried out. He witnessed the plundering and the firing of the hut, and, on his father's return from the outlying huts, whither he had gone after leaving Black's Harry's, the two of them began to unravel what appeared to be a very tangled web.

George explained to Jamie how he had been just in time to prevent a quarrel the previous night, and feared that, after all, his efforts had been useless. Making a careful survey of the various tracks that led from the hut, they came to the conclusion that Harry had last night gone twice from the hut, whilst he had returned but once; whereas the other man had gone twice each way during the night, and once each way that very morning.

The nearest point to which Ironbark Jack could go to give information of the death of his mate was a small

  ― 193 ―
settlement on the southern bank of the Hunter, a little below its confluence with the Williams. Here there was a public-house, a small store, and a blacksmith's shed, besides one or two huts in close proximity. But, chief of all, in so far as Jack's present mission was concerned, there was a constable stationed there. It was a long round that Jack had to take to reach this inn and settlement; but he had time during the journey to make up a tale that he thought would infallibly not only prevent anything like suspicion falling upon him, but would be calculated to enlist all sympathy in his favour. He weighed every point in his mind, dovetailing one in another, and so placing them as to be able to meet every objection that suggested itself to him. The tale he proposed was something after this fashion:—They had been set upon by blacks, as George had warned them, and Harry would fight it out. They had driven the natives off, but his mate insisted on following them up. He had not liked to desert his mate, and had joined him. They had driven the natives before them, until, entangled in the brush, they had been separated; the natives had rallied in large numbers, and he had heard his mate calling out for assistance. He had heard nothing after that, and, fearing that his mate had fallen, without returning to the hut he had made the best of his way to the settlement to give information and procure assistance.

Arrived at the inn, he first saw the constable, to whom, in as brief terms as he could find, he imparted the above story. The first questions propounded by the official had, as a matter of course, relation to the personal appearance of the attacking blacks, and the possibility of Jack's recognising them; and in answer to these, Jack was able to give a very satisfactory description of two

  ― 194 ―
or three of them, whilst, with regard to Atare, his verbal portraiture was so exact that Mr. Staff, the constable, declared he should be able from it to recognise him anywhere. Without losing a moment's time, the constable started off to Newcastle, the head-quarters, to report the occurrence to his superior officer and to receive his instructions how to act. He desired Jack to remain at the inn, and there await his return.

When Jack told his story, with a number of attendant horrors that his imagination enabled him to depict, to the two or three loungers in the inn, he became at once the lion, for the time being, of the settlement. In the midst of the oft-repeated story, a small bark canoe, paddled by a blackfellow, stopped at the little wharf that fronted the inn. He had come down the river from the other side, and, having made fast his canoe, he entered the house and asked for a bottle of grog, at the same time presenting the money wherewith to pay for it. Whereupon Jack staggered up to the black, and, placing himself directly in front of him, endeavoured to assume an air of astuteness as he eyed him over to see, as he said, “if this had been one of 'em.” The black, who was a very quiet fellow, well known in the district, and answering to the name of Jacky Nerang, stood the examination without flinching, although his restless eye rolled uneasily about from one to the other as he found himself closed in by this drunken and infuriated group.

Jack laid his hand on his shoulder, but the black gave his body a twist, and with the greatest ease slipped out of the hands of the drunken sawyer. In doing this, however, a large, single-bladed clasp-knife dropped out of his girdle, in the folds of which it had been concealed. This caught Jack's eye as he fell, and he immediately pounced upon it. The next instant he sprang at the

  ― 195 ―
throat of the black, and this time held him with a grip there was no shaking off. “What did I tell you mates?” he shouted. “He's got my very knife, that I left this morning in the hut. Look, there's my brand on it, as any of you may see!” On seeing this, as they imagined, conclusive proof of Jacky Nerang's complicity in the murder, all in the tap-room fell upon the luckless black, and blows, kicks, and abuse were showered upon him to any extent. Just at this moment, the landlord, who had for some time been absent, attracted by the disturbance, entered the bar, and extricated Jacky from those who seemed to be desirous of becoming his executioners.

On being questioned by the landlord, Jacky explained that some blacks on the other side of the river had given him the knife as an inducement for him to come to the inn and buy rum with money they had produced. In order to test the truth of this tale, Constable Staff, who had just returned from Newcastle, proposed that Jacky should lead a small party to the camp of the blacks, who were awaiting his return with the rum.

Acting on this idea, the black was started off in his canoe, with instructions to sing and make as much noise as was consistent with gammoning drunk, in order to guide those who followed in the constable's boat, and who left shortly after him.

The native paddled his light bark canoe up the river and then crossed over to the other side, being followed at a respectful distance by the boat of the police officer. Arrived at Macomo's camp, Jacky soon had the liquor flowing, and, under cover of the noise made by the half-drunken natives, Staff and his companions stormed the rendezvous. Macomo and his followers sprang to their feet, and made a dash for the bush; but Atare, partially overcome by the rum, was pinned to the ground and made

  ― 196 ―
prisoner. He was secured by putting his hands behind his back and then locking handcuffs on to his wrists. This done, Jack was brought face to face with him, and was again asked by Staff to look closely at the man, and say if he was one of the blacks of whom he had spoken.

“Haven't I told you that he's the man?” said Jack somewhat testily; “and didn't I describe him well enough for you to know him? And, besides that, he's got on my pea jacket that he prigged from the hut. There now!”

On reaching the inn, Atare was questioned by the constable, but, when it was found that he understood, or pretended to understand, nothing of the whitefellows' talk, Jacky Nerang was brought forward as an interpreter. He soon conveyed to Atare the information that he had been arrested for the murder of Black Harry.

He was then lodged in a portion of the stable of the inn, this being made to serve, when occasion required, as a temporary lock-up. Having taken every precaution against his prisoner's escape, the constable returned to the bar of the inn to reward himself with a drink after his night's work.

The next morning, soon after sunrise, the constable, taking Jack and two men with him, started off to the cedar brush to search for the body of Black Harry, with the intention, if it were found, of bringing it in, so that it might be examined by the medical man attached to the penal establishment at Newcastle.

Following the tracks from the still smouldering hut, Staff and his assistants soon came upon the body of Black Harry, and, after making a careful examination of the surroundings, and securing the broken gun, they carried the corpse down to the boat, and thence to the settlement, to await the arrival of Major Blank and the doctor.

  ― 197 ―

Chapter IV. The Examination

MR. STAFF, the constable, having forwarded to Newcastle a report of the capture of the ringleader of the blacks, the Commandant, Major Blank, sent back directions to have all the evidence obtainable ready by the following morning, when he would visit the settlement, examine the prisoner, and take such other steps as might be found necessary for striking terror upon the blacks, and putting a stop to the murders and robberies that had become so frequent.

The Commandant had appointed the inquiry to be held at Larkie's, being the nearest available spot to where the murder had been committed, should he find it necessary to visit it. The inn parlour was turned into a justice room for the time being, and was duly arranged with much fussiness and a wonderful increase of importance by Staff, aided by the landlord. The circumstances of the murder having by this time spread far and wide, up and down the river, a large number of persons assembled from all parts within reach, to listen to the interesting details. Major Blank arrived at an early hour to conduct the inquiry, although, from what he had heard, the case appeared to him to be a very simple one. The court having been opened, Atare was brought in to listen to the evidence against him; but, seeing that he could not understand the whitefellows' talk, and that he

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knew nothing whatever of whitefellows' law, he might just as well have been allowed to remain comfortably sleeping in the stable in which he had hitherto been confined. Before proceeding, therefore, the Major asked if there was any there who could speak the prisoner's language sufficiently well to make him understand. No answer was given, although the request was made more than once. At last, when it was thought to be hopeless to attempt to silence the prisoner's wild yells, the stout figure of Jamie came limping forward, with the dog Blucher at his heels.

“Can you interpret to the prisoner, my man?” asked the Major.

“I don't know about interpreting,” said Jamie, “but if you want the prisoner to know anything I can tell it him.”

“Thankye, my man—thankye! Tell him, then, that we are going to do nothing to him, and that we are but taking evidence concerning the murder.”

Jamie explained this to Atare in his own way, and ultimately succeeded in calming him down, so that he remained silent, although his eye wandered restlessly as if in search of some outlet by which to escape from that crowd of white faces. The boy was about to fall back again into the position he had occupied before he answered the Major's appeal, when the magistrate said, “Stay! You will be useful to translate to the prisoner the evidence that is given against him. Tell me now, who are you?”

“Don't you know me, Major?” asked the boy, grinning in the most complacent manner at the magistrate.

“Your face seems not altogether unfamiliar to me, but I cannot say I recollect you.”

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“I'm Jamie Maxwell,” he said.

“Who?” asked the magistrate in some doubt.

“Jamie Maxwell, son of Sergeant-Major Maxwell as was,” replied the boy, grinning more than ever.

The Major looked at the boy, and now recognised him; but he had also heard of the lad's mental weakness, and he doubted how far he would be justified in employing him as an interpreter. However, as there was no one else capable, the magistrate resolved to avail himself of the boy's services. Making Jamie sit down by his side, he told him to remain there, and that he would tell him what to say to the black, and when to say it.

The first evidence taken was that of the constable. Mr. Staff stated: “The day before yesterday, in the afternoon, I received information of the murder that morning of Black Harry by a party of native blacks. The information was brought in by the mate of the murdered man, one Ironbark Jack, who said that a mob of wild blacks had murdered his mate. He said they were wild blacks, not belonging to the river tribe; and one of them he described to me very particularly. He told me how the blacks attacked the hut, and killed his mate, as he thought, in the bush. I went to Newcastle and reported the murder, and on my return I was told that there were blacks, answering the description Ironbark Jack had given, camped on the north side of the river, above the junction of the Williams. I went there with Jack and others, and took the prisoner into custody, but the other blacks escaped. The next morning—that was yesterday morning—I went also with Ironbark Jack and two men to the cedar brush on the Williams. Jack showed me where he had last heard his mate's voice, and, on going to the spot I found the body of Black Harry, lying in a lot of bushes, as if it had been dragged there for concealment.

  ― 200 ―
It was lying on its back, with a wound in the forehead that seemed to me to have been inflicted with his own gun. I say with his own gun, because I found the gun broken in two pieces lying beside the body, the stock part at the head, just as if it had fallen when broken with the blow. Whilst I was searching the body, I found that there was another wound in the chest. It was a gunshot wound, and the shot must have gone through the heart. I say the shot, because the guns were loaded with buck-shot. Ironbark Jack told me so when he lodged his gunpowder and shot with me. He is not a free man, and not allowed to carry arms. He told me it was Harry's gun and ammunition, and that they had been given him by his mate to defend the hut. I examined the spot all round, but could find no evidence of a struggle. Black Harry was a very powerful man, and would not have allowed his gun to be taken from him without a struggle. A dozen blacks would never have been able to get it from him without first disabling him, and he had no wounds except the one on his head and that in the breast. He may have been knocked down first and shot afterwards; but I think he was shot first, from the way the stock part of the gun lay just as it fell when broken on his head. I found nothing in his pockets—no powder or shot, or money. The pockets did not appear to have been disturbed as if they had been rifled. I found nothing at the place except the broken gun. It had been fired off. Jack told me that he and his mate fired about twenty shots apiece, and that he was sure they must have peppered some of the blacks. I saw no dead or wounded blacks; their comrades would perhaps carry them away.”

“You are sure there were no other wounds on the body besides those you have mentioned?”

  ― 201 ―

“Quite sure,” answered the constable.

“And that buck-shot was used?” asked the Major.

“So Jack told me.”

“That will do,” said the Major.

“D'ye want me to tell him any of that?” asked Jamie of the magistrate.

The Major considered. “No, I think not. There is hardly anything to answer yet.” He was busy making notes of points that had struck him during the constable's evidence, and there was a pause of a few minutes, during which the most profound silence reigned. This was broken by the Major calling out—“Bring up John Battle!”

In answer to this name, Ironbark Jack presented himself before the magistrate. The Major eyed him closely as he came up, for his character was known to the official, who, as commandant of the penal settlement, was well acquainted with the men who had been under his supervision, and had carefully read their different characters. He made no remark, however; but, when Jack had taken the oath to tell the truth, he bade him narrate in as few words as possible what he knew of the death of his mate.

“Well,” said Jack, “if that's all you want, I don't know anything about it!”

“Not know anything about it?” asked the Major in some surprise.

“No,” replied Jack; “I didn't know as he was dead till I saw his body when I went with Mr. Staff.”

“You mean to say that you did not see him killed?”

“Of course, that's what I mean!”

The Major's lip curled, and he darted a quick, searching glance at Jack, whose countenance, however, remained immovable. “Well, then,” the Major continued, “let us have the tale that you told the constable.”

  ― 202 ―

“They came down upon the hut——” commenced Jack.

“Who came down?” asked the magistrate.

“The prisoner and his tribe.”

“How many of them?”

“I should say a hundred, more or less. They came down on the hut, and, thinking we were at work, got on to the clear land. Then we let drive at them. We fired a good many shots, until they bolted. When they'd cleared out, Black Harry would go after them and give them a lesson, as he said. I wanted him to stay, but he wouldn't; so when he went out I followed him, as I didn't want him to go alone, and say I was afeard. They were planted in the brush, and threw their spears at us; but we kept firing and driving 'em on; until at last me and Harry got separated. We were about a mile from the hut then, and I heard the black devils all around me. I was in a thick scrub, trying to get through the vines, when I heard Harry call out for help; then I heard him fire, and after that I heard nothing, till the blacks set up a yelling and jabbering; and then, as I thought Harry was done for, I planted under a log, and stopped for a bit till everything got quiet. After that I got up, and made my way down to the settlement, and told the constable that I thought my mate was murdered.”

“Did you see any of the blacks that attacked the hut?”

“Of course I did! Didn't I fire at 'em?”

“Any that you would know again?”

“Yes. I saw the prisoner and described him to Mr. Staff, so that he knew him when he saw him.”

“And you can swear positively to him?”

“Yes, to him, and to my jacket that he took out of the hut, and that he has now got on him.”

  ― 204 ―
but with regard to the Major their effect was to make him look all the more suspiciously at Jack, and to ponder over the circumstances that had come to light. He motioned to Jack to retire, and the witness, nothing loth, took a seat in the front rank of the spectators close to where Jamie was placed, with Blucher at his side. As he sat down the dog smelt at him uneasily.

“Shall I tell him,” asked Jamie, pointing to Atare, “anything of all that?”

“Yes, yes!” said the Major; “as much as you can remember. And be sure to tell him as correctly as you can.”

Jamie then called upon Atare by name, very much to the black's astonishment; and, as he commenced to interpret to the prisoner, Jack leant forward to listen, resting his left elbow on his knee, and dropping his right arm down by his side. As he did so, Blucher, who had continued his uneasy sniffing, smelt at Jack's sleeve, and then delivered himself of a doleful howl. Jack sprang to his feet hastily, turned as pale as death, and plunged his right arm into his bosom, as though to conceal it from sight. The event caused some little stir in the court, but, as no one had seen the circumstance that had caused the dog to commit this breach of decorum, he was ordered to be removed. Jamie interfered in his behalf, and, by telling the magistrate bluntly that if the dog left the court he should do so likewise, he contrived to carry his point. Blucher was left under his master's seat, where he continued to snarl and show his teeth at Jack, and was only at last quieted by the offensive individual removing to a seat at some distance. Jamie then continued to detail to Atare as accurately as his memory would permit the substance of the evidence just given by Jack. As the narration progressed, the eyes of the black opened

  ― 205 ―
wider and wider in wonder; and more than once during the narration he burst out into exclamations of incredulity or disgust. The lad concluded by asking, “Is that all true, Atare?”

“No!” said the black. “It is all lies! Atare and his brothers robbed the hut of the big sawyer, but they never saw the big sawyer, nor that framer of lies. The hut was empty when they reached it; the dog was killed, and the men were away. The framer of lies has murdered his mate, and, because the Maroo men robbed the hut, the coward tries to fix the murder on them.”

“I know all that, Atare,” replied Jamie; “but I only tell you what the lying hound has said.”

“Don't talk to him, Jamie,” said the major, “but tell me what he says.”

Jamie then, as briefly as the black himself had done, stated what the black had first said to himself.

The Major shook his head. “It is useless to question the witness upon such a statement as that. It must be borne out by other evidence than that of the man who has just sat down.”

Jamie leant forward and whispered a few words to the Major, that seemed to give him the greatest surprise. He asked a few questions hurriedly and in a low tone from Jamie, and these were answered just as hurriedly by the boy. Then the magistrate resumed: “There are some points in the case that require to be cleared up, and upon which you will have to get some further evidence. The testimony of Jack is clear enough as far as it goes, but before the prisoner is sent to Sydney the whole must be made complete. I will have a little talk with you by-and-by on these points, Staff; and in the meantime the examination is adjourned to the day after to-morrow. You can let the body be buried, Staff; and

  ― 206 ―
you, Jamie, tell the prisoner that the inquiry into the charge will be gone on with again in two days.”

Jamie conveyed this information to the black, who gave a grunt and made a motion of the head, as though he did not comprehend, and but very little cared for the roundabout customs of the whites. He was then removed, and as the boy was about to follow, the Major called out, “Let me have five minutes' talk with you before you go.”

The lad nodded assent in a familiar manner, and then left the room to carry out an order he had received from his father not to lose sight of Ironbark Jack.

  ― 207 ―

Chapter V In The Toils

As to Ironbark Jack, the desire to revisit the saw-pit was so strong within him that he determined at last to have just one more look at the shiners, and accordingly he set out in the first boat he found handy on the river, and pulled vigorously up the Hunter and into the Williams, followed afar off by the faithful Jamie and his dog Blucher.

On reaching the spot where the body had been discovered, Jack could not resist the temptation of looking down upon it. “No,” he thought to himself as he gazed, “there is nothing there to tell against me. The earth cannot rise up and bear witness against me. Ah! it's a fine thing to do work where there is nothing that can either hear, see, or tell.” And then he went to the old saw-pit, and, jumping in, brought out the box that contained the money hoarded up by the unfortunate negro—hoarded for the pious purpose of buying a mother's freedom, and of rendering her remaining days peaceable and easy. He plunged his hands in the box, and leisurely proceeded to count the gains of his crime. “My word!” he said, when he had concluded, “nine hundred and forty dollars! Who'd ever have thought the darkie had saved so much? I thought a couple of hundred would have been the outside. I'll bet something that he was wanting to make up the round thousand! Well, he was

  ― 208 ―
a close one, and no mistake. So much the better for me, for if some of the bright boys had known about such a lob as this, my chance of getting it would have been very small. It's a rare fine haul to make!” And he continued to speak aloud in his excitement. “Why, it's a regular load I shall have to take away with me.” He took off a blue cotton kerchief that he wore round his neck, and proceeded to stow away in it the dollars that he had removed from the box. Then he raised the box, and was about to take it back and re-bury it in the pit, when he paused and considered. “Yes,” he murmured, “it will be safer there than carrying it about with me. There's no knowing what might turn up!” As he spoke he drew from his breast the heavy horse pistol which he had presented at his mate on the night of their altercation. This, together with some powder and bullets tied up in rags, he consigned to the box, which, jumping into the saw-pit, he buried more carefully than he had previously done. This being settled to his satisfaction, he obliterated some of the tracks on and near the margin of the pit by sweeping the ground over with a branch. “There!” he cried, when he had done. “That will take some of the down off.” He took up his bundle of dollars, and looked round. “This blessed brush don't see me no more. If I've any luck I'll be back in the old country before next year!” He now retreated hastily upon the track by which he had come, and, without making any stoppage at the ruined hut, went direct to where he had left his boat, jumped into it, and pulled away leisurely down the river.

Jamie, who had secreted himself in the bush, and been a silent spectator of all that had occurred, came forward to inspect the spot that had been the scene of Jack's recent manœuvres, as well as to secure the articles,

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whatever they were, for he had not perfectly seen them, that the other had deposited in the box; but he had not taken a dozen steps before he encountered his father.

“So,” said George, “you have done your duty well, and have followed close at his heels, I see.”

“Yes. I never left him after once I got sight of him in the settlement,” replied Jamie, “and I think we've got him safe enough now.”

“I had him safe enough before this!” responded George.

“Then why did you send me off?” asked Jamie.

“It has been since you left that I discovered the most conclusive evidence against him,” said his father. “I'll tell you all about it by-and-by. Has anything occurred in the settlement?”

“Occurred! My word there has!” And then Jamie narrated the particulars of the inquiry that had taken place, and the charge of murder that had been made by Jack against Atare.

“The scoundrel!” exclaimed George, when his son had concluded; “and so he endeavoured to shield himself by fixing the crime upon an innocent man?”

“It looks very much like it,” put in Jamie. “I could have put a stop to it if I liked, but I wouldn't say anything until I got your orders.”

“And you did right,” continued George. “Even if the black were guilty, he would have to be saved, for he must die by no hand but mine, and at the appointed time. But now justice demands that the guilty should suffer, and that the innocent should be rescued.”

“Of course it does, General, and we'll do it!”

“Jump down into the pit and get up the box,” said George, and his order was immediately complied with. The box was brought up, the pistol and the parcels rolled

  ― 210 ―
in the rags were examined and returned to the box, and then George resumed, “We will take the whole of these, just as he left them, and as we have found them. And now it is time that we were moving, so that we may watch where this villain lands.”

“But you haven't told me what you have discovered to fix him.”

“Let us be moving, and I will tell you as we go on,” answered George. So Jamie shouldered the box, and they moved off in the direction just previously taken by Jack. As they went on, George narrated to his son the discoveries he had made, a full account of which will appear further on in our story.

On his way back to camp, George passed by the stable or lock-up, and, knocking at the slabs near to where he imagined the black prisoner to be, called out, “Atare! Atare!”

The black gave a grunt in reply, equivalent to saying that he was listening, and did not thank the speaker for disturbing him.

“Does Atare know who it is that now speaks to him?” asked George.

Atare thought he remembered the voice somewhere or other, but, not being quite sure about it, contented himself by giving another grunt, that might mean anything.

“Does Atare remember the hut on the Paterson that he burned down, and the mother and three children that he and his comrades murdered there?”

Atare knew the voice now. “It is the Greybeard,” he said. “What does the enemy of the black men of the hills want with Atare? Has he come to rejoice over Atare's misfortune?”

  ― 211 ―

“You are right. It is the Greybeard, But he has not come to triumph over you.”

“The Greybeard said that he would never come without misfortune following him. Atare is ready.”

“He said also that Atare should die by no hand but his; that he would guard the life of Atare like his own until the day and hour came for taking it. Listen, Atare! You are charged with a murder you have not committed, whilst you have not yet been accused of the four murders that still leave the stain of blood upon your hands. The Greybeard has watched over the safety of Atare, and has tracked out the real murderer. He can speak words that will set Atare free. Shall he speak them or shall he remain silent?”

Atare in voluble terms professed his innocence of the murder, and called upon the Greybeard to declare before his white brethren that the black was innocent.

“Let Atare fear nothing,” George answered. “The Greybeard will be at the court, and will take care that the guilty only is punished. Let Atare remember this, and sleep in peace. His life is safe from all hands but those of the man he rendered desolate.” As he said this he turned away, leaving the black to pass the night as best he could. He reached his camp without any further incident, and lay down to snatch a few minutes' sleep whilst awaiting the return of Jamie, who had been told off to keep his eye on Jack.

In the meantime, Ironbark Jack lay by until dark, and then, pushing off from the shore, pulled vigorously on for Larkie's, which he was not long in reaching.

Early on the following morning, the Commandant, Major Blank, arrived at the settlement. Mr. Staff met him with a face of very great importance, evidently fancying that he had information that would stagger his

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superior officer when he heard it. How great was his astonishment when the Major smiled and answered, “Ah, I see. George is a long-headed fellow—he hasn't told you all. But let me see him the instant he comes up—or, what is better, send down to his camp and let him know I have arrived.”

The constable was spared this trouble, for George, opening the back door of Mr. Staff's hut, found himself in the presence of the Major before a messenger could be sent for him. The Commandant had been an officer in the same regiment as George, and, knowing him well and being acquainted with his misfortunes, received him most kindly. The constable was dismissed, and then a long private conference was held between the two old soldiers. To this, at one stage, the doctor, who had returned with the Major, was called in to assist, and it was some time before matters seemed to have been fully discussed.

When at last the constable announced from the inn door that the public court had been opened, Ironbark Jack, who had drunk heavily the previous night, and was in no very amiable mood this morning, walked up with the intention of having it out upon somebody, and, as there was nobody else to hand, he determined to sheet it home to the black.

At last the Major opened the court, and Jack entered with the little crowd of persons who had assembled to listen to the proceedings. Somehow all eyes were turned upon him when he entered the justice room. Why, no one could have very well said; but so it was, and Jack felt proportionately uncomfortable. He looked round the room, however, boldly. There was the prisoner, looking round the room like himself, but anxiously, as if he expected to see someone. Had he any evidence? thought

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Jack. Psha! Who'd care for a blackfellow's evidence, and only blacks had been with them! And there was that boy, too, standing by the side of the Major, ready to interpret; what the blank did he want to be coming and interfering with the matter! And there was the doctor sitting by the side of the Major—was it possible that he could have poked and picked something out of the dead body that would tell against him. The other faces were those of men who had been drinking with him last night and this morning, and a look at them reassured him. He was rather astonished, however, when he heard the Major order that John Battle should be brought forward for additional evidence.

“Have you told all you know of this matter?” asked the Major, after Jack had taken his place at the table and gone through the usual preliminaries.

“Yes,” answered Jack. “But I'm quite sure about the prisoner having been amongst the blacks; and, on thinking the matter over, I fancy I saw something in his hand that might have been a gun. I wouldn't like to swear to it exactly, 'cos it's only a kind of fancy.”

“Never mind about it, then,” said the Major. “And now let me ask you a question or two, though you need not answer them unless you like. Had you had breakfast before the blacks came upon you?”

“Of course we had. Two or three hours before they came!”

“Did you have breakfast alone, or did Black Harry breakfast with you?”

Jack hesitated. He remembered his solitary breakfast; and remembered, too, as distinctly as if it had been that very morning, that he had left the quart and the one pint pot on the table when he went out. Then came

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once more the Major's caution—“You need not answer unless you like.”

Jack turned round fiercely. “What do you say that for? I'm here to tell the truth, and nothing else!”

“And can't you remember so simple a thing as whether you and your mate breakfasted together?”

“Yes, we did—of course! What else!”

“And three hours before the blacks came?”

“Two or three hours.”

“But not so immediately before that the tea in the pot left upon the table would be warm?”

Jack turned towards the black. Had he noticed this? Very likely. But what was a blackfellow's word? “No, certainly not! There weren't none left on the table; for we cleared up everything in the hut out of the way for the scrimmage.”

“That will do as far as that is concerned. Now, tell me—where was the falling axe that morning?”

“That blank axe,” thought Jack. “I guessed something of this!” And he could hardly prevent himself from clothing his thoughts in words. But then he recollected that he had searched for the axe and had not found it, and that neither the constable nor anybody else had seen it; so he answered boldly enough: “Well, I don't remember. Sometimes it's at the hut, sometimes at the pit.”

“Was it at the hut that morning?”

“Perhaps it was, but I can't remember.” Then he recollected that George had seen it in the hands of his mate on the night of the murder. “Stop!” he cried. “I recollect now; it was in the hut.”

“Did you use it that morning?”

“Well,” thought Jack, “that's the blackfellow again. He saw the dead dog, and that blessed interpreting youngster

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has been putting the Major up to all this. Only wait till this is over, and if I don't quiet him——” but aloud he replied—“No, of course I didn't; what should I use it for?”

“The dog was a very troublesome animal, and used to growl and snap at you, so you might have knocked him on the head.”

“How did the Major know that? The black could not have told him that,” thought Jack. He remained silent, however.

“You didn't kill the dog?”

“No. What should I kill him for?”

“How was it you came to remember so suddenly that the axe was at the hut?”

Jack paused to consider. How far would it tell against him if he confessed to the row of the previous night? Well, George knew of it, and it might go in his favour if he told this. “I recollected that my mate, poor fellow, got into one of his pelters the night before, and was going to chop at me with it.”

“How was he prevented?”

“I quieted him. Talked him over a bit.”

“And did you keep him off with talk only?”

“Yes; and then George came in, and then he came round all right again.”

“George was present then—and you still affirm that you kept him off with talk, and nothing else?”

George had seen the pistol, and Jack ground his teeth with rage, though he answered to all appearance quietly enough. “Well, I bounced him with a pistol!”

“A pistol! This is the first we have heard of that. Where is it now?”

“I lost it in the bush when we were skirmishing with the blacks.”

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“Did you use it at all that morning?”

“No, I didn't.”

“Was it loaded when you lost it?”

A sudden idea seemed to strike Jack as this question was asked, and he answered rapidly, “Yes; and now that accounts for Black Harry being shot. Some of these fellows must have picked up my pistol after I dropped it, and settled my poor mate with it.”

“Very likely!” said the Major drily. “You and your mate had nothing but buck-shot—Harry never kept bullets?”

“We had buck-shot. I gave mine up to the constable when I came into the settlement.”

“So that if Black Harry was shot by a bullet, it must have come from your pistol?”

“Yes, that's it. I'm sure now. The blacks must have got hold of the pistol somehow in following my tracks.”

“What have you done with the powder and bullets that remained—I mean that which you used for your pistols?”

“I hadn't any. There was only the one charge in the pistol, and that was given me.”

“I think you said before that you didn't know where Harry planted his money?”

“Yes, I did say so.”

“But Harry accused you of following him to his plant, and wanting to rob him; and that was what he was going to chop you down for.”

So the Major had been talking with George, he thought. He must mind his answers now, and it was well that he had told what he had done previously. He replied in the most straightforward manner, “Yes; that was what the row was about. He was almost mad, and

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if it hadn't been for George he'd have settled me, I think.”

“And now only one more question. Was Black Harry killed by the natives that morning, or was he shot the night before by somebody else—shot so as to be stiff and cold when the natives arrived?”

Jack glared upon the Major for a few seconds, almost paralysed by the question, for which he could find nothing to account. The blacks had not seen the body, for their road lay a different way; but then it had been covered with boughs, he remembered, and the officious meddler who had gone out of his way to do this had been talking to the Major. Well, he must brazen it all out now. He answered sturdily enough, and with a half-laugh of well-assumed easy merriment, “I only know that he went out of the hut with me that morning, so that if he was killed the night before, it must have been his ghost that fought the blacks.”

“That will do!” said the Major, very sternly “Sir down there!” pointing to a seat upon which two very obtrusive friends of the night before were then sitting. They seemed delighted to have his company, and made room for him between them.

Doctor Lancet was the next to give evidence. He had examined the body of the murdered man very carefully, he said, and found only two wounds on it—one on the head, inflicted by the butt end of a gun, the pieces of which were found lying by the body, and the other a gunshot wound in the breast. The latter had been the cause of death. A bullet had entered the chest, and, severing one of the vessels communicating directly with the heart, had caused almost instantaneous death. He had traced the course of the bullet in at the breast and out at the back (Jack began to breathe again). The

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bullet had passed through the body, and of course he had been unable to find it. The other wound had nothing to do with the death. It had been inflicted when the body was dead and cold. He stated his reasons for coming to this conclusion, and added that the bullet must have been fired from a rifled weapon, and at no very great distance.

The Major beckoned to Staff, the constable, who, having received his officer's orders, left the court, to return almost immediately with a pistol in his hand.

The production of the weapon produced an immense sensation amongst the onlookers, and there was a general craning forward of heads to get a sight of the instrument by which a fellow creature had lost his life.

The doctor, having examined the pistol, deposed that it was just such a weapon as he should imagine the ball to have been fired from. It was rifled, and would carry a long distance, being what was called a duelling pistol.

In answer to questions from the Major, he now went on, “I am surgeon to the —— regiment. I have seen a great deal of guns, as well as of gunshot wounds. I know the effect that repeated firing has upon guns. They become what is called ‘leaded.’ ” He was then shown the gun given up by Jack, and also the barrel of the broken gun. “I see no trace of leading in these barrels. The guns have been fired off, but only with powder, and with a very small quantity, too, for the barrels are scarcely blackened. No leaden shot of any kind has been fired out of them.”

No further questions were asked.

“And now,” said the Major, “we will take the evidence of George Maxwell.”

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Chapter VI The Net Closes

GEORGE commenced by narrating how he had visited the hut on the previous evening to warn Black Harry and his mate of the projected attack of the natives, and how he had found the two men quarrelling and about to attack each other, Jack protecting himself with a pistol, which he, George, had noticed to be rifled. He then went on to tell of his visit to the hut on the following morning, prior to the arrival of the blacks; of his finding only one pot of tea on the table, the remains being still quite warm; of the discovery of the dog, killed the previous night, for he was cold and stiff, and knocked on the head by the falling axe that then lay beside the carcase; of the arrival of the blacks, and of the watch he had kept on them till they had left. Then he went on to speak of what he had done after he had assured himself that the blacks had got to a safe distance. How he had followed upon the tracks of Black Harry and his mate, until he had come to the dead body of the former, killed as the poor fellow's dog had been on the previous night, and with no other track than that of his mate anywhere near it. Then he concluded by producing a bullet he had cut out of a tree, just behind where Black Harry's body had been found, and the axe he had found by the dog's side.

There was a thrill of mingled curiosity and horror as these articles were laid on the table, almost within

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reach of the cool ruffian in whose hands they had been so effective for evil. Jack's effrontery, however, did not desert him. On the contrary, now that he saw that things were looking black against him, and that the net which George had been so carefully weaving was fast closing in upon him, he resumed all his native hardihood, and bore himself much more bravely than when there were mere doubts and surmises to contend against.

“It's all very fine to swear away an innocent man's life that way,” exclaimed Jack; “but I know I can't get no justice here. Only wait till I come before the judge, and he'll find it all out for me, I know! He won't let a poor fellow be swore out of his life this way!”

The Major smiled—a bitter smile, which those who knew him well understood. “You had better save your remarks, for there is other evidence,” he observed.

And then Jamie came forward, and told how he had watched the prisoner. After the court was over on the first day, he had seen Jack come down and examine the boats lying at the wharf. As Jamie went on with his narration, Jack became more and more bewildered at having been thus outwitted “by a mere kid,” as he said; but when he heard the boy tell how he had followed him up the river in a bark canoe borrowed from the blacks, how he had watched him all night, whilst he had camped at the burnt hut, and seen his visit to the old saw-pit; and how he had marked the boat taken by Jack drawn up under the trees near to the spot where the money had since been found, Jack gave vent to a burst of blasphemous oaths.

“And what's more,” continued Jamie, when the other had been quieted, “my dog knows him as well as I do. He smelt Black Harry's blood on the coward's sleeve the other day, and called upon the court to do

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justice, though nobody didn't understand him except me. Look on the blood-hound's sleeve, and if you don't find a spot of Harry's blood on it, then don't believe a word I say.”

“There, there, that'll do!” shouted Jack. “I've been planted on and watched off—and by a bit of a kid, too—and wasn't wide enough awake to see it, and I deserve all I get. Take me away, and hand me over to the scragsman.”

The case was considered to be so complete without this tirade of Jack's that the Major sent him off in custody to undergo his trial at Sydney for the murder of his mate. After Jack had been removed, the Major asked if there was any charge against the native Atare. As there was no answer to this, and as the charge of murder had most certainly broken down as regarded him, the Major directed that he should be set at liberty. The black had throughout regarded the whole proceedings with wonder, not being able to understand a word, and having no one to tell him, as on the first occasion, of what was going on. It was only from a few words of explanation that George vouchsafed to him that he was made to understand he was free; though why, he was at a loss to know, except only that he could perceive that he had been saved through the exertions made on his behalf by George.

No sooner, however, was he set at liberty than he darted out of the house and through the assembled crowd, and with the speed of a kangaroo bounded down to the river, plunged into the stream, and swam across to the other side. Arrived there, and not till then, he turned round to where he had come from, shook his fists, with an accompaniment of aboriginal Billingsgate, danced defiance to the whites, and then, dashing into the bush,

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disappeared from view amidst the hearty laughter of the numerous onlookers who had witnessed his hurried departure and his energetic mode of procedure.

Six weeks had passed over. Ironbark Jack had been tried for the murder of his mate, had been found guilty, and had suffered the extreme penalty provided by law for that dread offence. Much to his annoyance, George, with his son, had been compelled to proceed to Sydney to give evidence against the murderer; but no sooner had the trial ended than he returned to the Coal River, and, taking at once to the hill country, endeavoured to pick up the tracks of the foe that had been so long out of his sight. It was exceedingly difficult to ascertain their whereabouts, and, although aided by Jamie and Blucher, George had been nearly a fortnight vainly employed in endeavouring to find traces or to hear tidings of those he sought. He had come to the conclusion that he would carefully search a certain patch of scrubby country, as he felt assured that the last remnant of the hill tribe must lie hid in it. His eyes were turned in the direction in which Jamie had disappeared on a scouting expedition, and he was little dreaming of interruption, when he was startled by hearing a low coo-ee coming from no very great distance behind him. He sprang to his feet, and instantly faced to the spot whence the sound had come. There, to his surprise, the man of whom he had been so long in search stood before him.

Atare had, according to custom, given the warning coo-ee before approaching the man who had been so dire an enemy of his tribe, and he now stood waiting the permission to advance. George by a sign invited him nearer, and then the two were face to face.

“The Greybeard is far from his people,” said Atare.

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“Atare never thought to look upon his face again, or to be able to thank him for what he did for the black two moons ago, by the side of the big river of bitter waters.”

“The Greybeard wishes no thanks,” replied George. “What he did, he did for himself, and not for Atare. Atare might have perished for all the Greybeard cared, had it not been that the Greybeard had sworn an oath. Has Atare forgotten what the Greybeard told him and his fellow-murderers when he held them prisoners at the hill-side. Atare has seen the eagle attack the crane that has just captured a fine fish? It is not to rescue the fish that the crane is attacked, but that the eagle may feed on it himself.”

“The Greybeard is very cunning. He can blind the eyes of his white countrymen, but with the blacks he is no more than an opossum in the sunlight. He saved the life of Atare, and Atare thanks him,” and the black drew himself up proudly, and gave his thanks almost as if they had been a defiance.

George smiled bitterly. “And does not Atare know why he was saved? Does he not remember the words that were spoken by the hill-side, or did the black girl give false words to the ears of the chiefs? The Greybeard was then unable to speak with the tongue of the black, and he had to trust to the dull wit of a gin. But he said then that Atare and his two fellows should perish by no hand but his. And how has he carried out his words? Look round at your tribe. Its warriors can now be counted on the fingers. By twos, by threes, and by dozens its men have perished, whilst, upon all occasions, Macomo and Atare have been preserved. Has the tribe ever suffered a loss that the Greybeard did not show himself before it happened, and was not present to witness it or to aid it? Have Atare or Macomo ever been in

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danger that the Greybeard was not there to save them? Can Atare not see why this is? Does not Atare's own mind tell him why the Greybeard tracked the murderer of the sawyer, and gave him instead of the black to the vengeance of the law?”

Atare returned, with unflinching eyes, the stern gaze that George bent on him, though he made no remark.

“Atare will see,” continued George, “the Greybeard saved him from the whites to keep him for himself. Atare's time has almost come, and then he, like Opara, will have to pay the penalty of his crime. Before another moon has gone, the body of Atare will feed the warrigals in some lonely gully, and the hand stained with innocent blood will be offered as a sacrifice upon the grave that it helped to fill!”

He had barely concluded, when the quick ears of the black, which had been on the alert all the time George had been speaking to him, caught a sound from the direction whence he had come. Turning instantly, to his astonishment he caught sight of the dog Blucher running along rapidly with its nose down upon his track, and followed at some distance by Jamie. When the boy reached his father's side, he was astonished to find him standing there fully prepared, and with his musket in his hand.

“I say, General,” he cried, in a tone of annoyance, “what made you let him go off like that, when you might have had him as nice as you like?”

“Because his time has not yet come,” replied George moodily.

“And what's the odds,” the boy went on eagerly, “of a week or two more or a week or two less, when you might have had him comfortable. You've gone and let

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him off again into that precious scrub, and the chances are that we don't see him again for the next month.”

“Don't be afraid of that,” said the father. “Having one end of the trail, it will be hard indeed if we can't get the other.”

“He didn't surprise you?” Jamie asked. George shook his head. “Nor attempt to play any of his tricks?”

“No, no! He came to thank me,” and George laughed grimly, “for saving his life.”

“Well, now, that is good, that is!” said Jamie, highly delighted. “And what did you tell him?”

“Tell him!” answered George. “Why, that I saved him because he was my property, and because I should want to lay claim to him before very long.”

Shortly after, they made their fire, and ate their meal, to all appearance as if they had camped down for the night. Then, as soon as darkness had closed in, they shifted to a spot some considerable distance off, and there, making themselves as comfortable as they could in the absence of a fire, they lay down and were soon sound asleep. With the first light of the following morning they separated, George to return to meet a war party he had encountered a day or two previously, and Jamie to follow through the scrub the trail of the retreating blacks.

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Chapter VII Pursuers And Pursued

IN his pursuit of Macomo and Atare, George had on various occasions received valuable aid from the men of the Port Stephens tribe, with whom he had always been on friendly terms, and, at the present juncture, a picked party of twenty braves was out upon the trail of the men of the Maroo. This party had encamped in a deep dell, completely shut in by the vast, heavily-timbered mountain ranges that enclosed it in their circling curve. The men wandered listlessly about, or lay idly on the ground, although, in whatever way they might have chosen to pass the time, each man kept his weapons in his hands, as though expecting at each moment to be called upon to use them. Ever and anon a glance would be given towards the lower part of the gully, as if the arrival of some messenger was looked for in that quarter.

When they had thus got together, George made his appearance, turning a projecting point of the range that had hidden him previously from sight. There was a wild light in his eyes as he approached, and when at last he was eagerly questioned as to the intelligence he had brought, he exclaimed in a hoarse, harsh voice, “You have the whole brood of vipers under your hands. It is as your scout Bundaradin has informed us. The Maroo men have already camped upon the broad flat, and their women are making the fires to cook the game that the men

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are busily seeking. The hunters are now scattered through the forest. In an hour at the farthest they will have returned, and will be busy over their meal—the first good one they have had for many days.”

The natives laughed at the thought of their hungry foes, and requested to be led at once to the camping-ground.

George shook his head. “The forest is very open,” he said, “and the Maroo men have been hunted until their ears are as sharp as those of the wallabi and their eyes as piercing as those of the hawk. Let my friends wait until the Maroo men have gorged themselves with food, and then their ears will be dull and their eyes will be drowsy, and they will fall an easy prey.”

The elder warriors expressed their satisfaction at the plan proposed by the Greybeard, but the younger grumbled somewhat at the additional delay that they were made to undergo.

“To attempt anything now,” George explained to the latter, “would be to lose the chance you now have of altogether crushing out this viper brood. In another hour Bundaradin and the young white, my son, with the three warriors that have been sent to him, will have closed in upon these dogs on the far side, and will have cut off every chance of escape, should any but the two I have stipulated for slip through your fingers. But remember our agreement—Macomo and Atare are to be uninjured.”

There were dark flashing eyes that shot out vengeful looks, and there was a dubious smile upon more than one mouth, that did not escape George's notice, and the meaning of which he well knew. Speaking now in a stern decided tone that there was no mistaking, he exclaimed, “Let my black friends remember, so that they may not suffer from ignorance. The man who raises his hand

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against either of the two I have named I will assuredly shoot down, even as I would my deadliest foe. Let my friends not forget this, nor forget that this was the agreement made before I brought them upon the track of their foes.”

Under the spreading boughs of a large tree the little party of fugitive Maroos was encamped. Worn out by fatigue and enfeebled by privation, for the days of travel through the scrub had been days of short commons and nights of watchfulness, it was not to be wondered at that the weary, hungry wretches, upon coming into a land of plenty, with the trees full of opossums and the flats alive with wallabi, should have indulged first in that most supreme of all aboriginal pleasures, a “tightener”—the expressive name they give to a really plentiful feed; and next, as the natural consequence of a heavy meal and a weary frame, a worn-out and utterly reckless and determined sleep.

The foe who stole upon them noiselessly, darting from tree to tree or shrub to shrub, might have almost walked upon them bodily and openly without disturbing their slumbers or causing an eyelid to open. On and on came the pursuers, until now they had the sleeping band encircled, and then, with a wild shout, a shower of spears was thrown at the helpless sleepers, and the assailants dashed in, tomahawk in hand, to complete the work of destruction that their missiles had commenced.

With the first shout of their foes, Macomo and Atare sprang to their feet. One glance was sufficient to show them they were surrounded; another look, and Atare had sprung forward to where he fancied there was a break in the line. More than one spear was levelled against him, and his chances of escape would have been small

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indeed, had it not been for the threatening gestures of George, who, with his gun raised and his fingers on the trigger, was most unmistakably prepared to carry out his threat of immolating the first man who dared to step in between him and his enemy. In a few bounds Atare was out of reach of the hostile missiles, and before pursuit could be attempted, if it were thought of, the black was out of sight. Macomo also had darted off in another direction, for he had not observed, as Atare had done, that the point at which he aimed was covered by an advancing band with Jamie at its head. He had seized upon his tomahawk almost instinctively when he leapt to his feet, and with a bound cleared the bed of the creek. A few more paces, and then he came in view of the party who cut off his retreat. He shrieked out a wild yell of rage and disappointment, as he halted for an instant to look round in search of the least-beleaguered route. As he looked, his eye rested upon the advancing figure of Bundaradin, the fleet-footed, whose speed had placed him ahead of his fellows. A cry of savage satisfaction broke from Macomo as he saw him, and, without an instant's hesitation, dashed forward against his enemy. Bundaradin perceived that he was singled out for a contest with the great chief of the Maroo. Halting immediately, he raised a spear, poised, and without fitting it to the womera, threw it. Checked suddenly in his full speed, and poising and levelling his spear too hastily, the weapon missed its mark, and before he could level another, Macomo was in front of him. One or two blows only were exchanged with the tomahawks, for before the rest had time to come up, Bundaradin had fallen brained and lifeless at the feet of Macomo. Uttering a shriek of triumph for his victory, Macomo turned and ran off at right angles to his previous course, and it was only with

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great trouble, and after knocking down with his musket the most persistent of his allies, that Jamie could induce them to allow the fugitive to pass unscathed. The death of their comrade before their eyes, and at the hands of Macomo, had rendered them almost too furious for control.

Of the remainder of that massacre, for fight it was not, we shall say nothing, the particulars being too horrible for narration. Suffice it to say that, with the exception of Macomo and Atare, not an individual of the tribe escaped. Their women and children shared one common fate, their bodies being mutilated according to aboriginal custom by their blood-maddened destroyers.

And George, when he had seen Atare and afterwards Macomo clear out of the reach of the bloodhounds that had been let loose upon them, turned away with something like a feeling of horror from the fearful work that was going on around him. With hasty strides he moved away to get out of the sound of the shrieks of the women and the cries of the children, and, calling Jamie to him, he hurried off in the direction that only a few minutes previously had been taken by Atare.

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Chapter VIII The Second Black Hand

TWO days after the massacre of the Maroo tribe, George and Jamie struck the trail of Atare. As they had passed along, George pointed with his finger to one particular spot, thus calling Jamie's attention to something there worthy of notice.

The boy nodded, and observed in a low tone, “Not more than an hour ago. He must be dead beat, for it looks more as if he had fallen than if he had sat down to rest.”

George made a sign in the affirmative, but gave no verbal reply. He raised his head, however, and looked forward in the direction the track was taking, as though seeking the spot in which he whom he was now following was finding shelter. This he did without halting for an instant, or even so much as slackening his pace. Forward they went for another half-hour, and then on a sudden the Marshal came to a dead halt, raised his nose in the air, sniffed repeatedly, and then crouched down at full length amongst the tall ferns. George immediately sought shelter behind the trunk of the nearest tree, and, Jamie, coming to his side, seized him by the arm and pointed to a spot some four hundred yards away, where a solitary black was standing at the foot of a gum tree, the bark of which he was examining with too much interest to allow of his seeing those who were following on his track.

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The black, unaware of the hostile eyes that were watching his every movement, appeared to be satisfied with his inspection of the bark of the tree, and then turned his look upward to the branches. He seemed to be satisfied with what he saw in that direction also; and he now commenced preparations for ascending it. The tree was a flooded gum, with a trunk about three feet in diameter, running up without a break or a bough to a height of fully one hundred feet. As it stood perfectly straight, it would have been a work of great labour, besides one of difficulty and danger, to have ascended it in the ordinary method by cutting footsteps in the bark with a tomahawk, the more especially as the rude stone tomahawks which were then used by the natives were not handled with the same rapidity and precision as the lighter steel implements that were in after years possessed by the blacks. Atare, for it was he, though so worn down by fatigue, watching, and hunger as to be scarcely recognisable, never for a moment thought, in his then weak and exhausted state, to mount by the ordinary method in search of the opossum which he knew by the signs on the bark was then in the hollow limb that he saw above him. He proceeded to search about amongst the thick tangled growth of the watercourses, until he at last procured a long runner of a species of wild vine about eight or nine feet long and about an inch in thickness. Bringing this in his hand, he again came to the foot of the tree he had recently examined. Passing the vegetable cord round the tree, he twisted and knotted the two ends firmly together so as to make a kind of hoop, of such a circumference that, with him standing within it and the cord passed under his arms, it would be drawn perfectly tight when, with his feet against the tree, he threw his body out from the trunk at an angle of about

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thirty degrees. This done, he prepared to ascend the tree. First jerking the stiff vegetable rope by a sharp motion of the hands that grasped it on either side near the trunk, he pressed his feet firmly against the tree, whilst he threw his body backward until the rope was perfectly tight. With the rest he thus obtained for his body, he was enabled to take two upward steps with his feet. Then, drawing himself in by the rope towards the tree, he took the weight of his body off it for an instant, and in that instant, with a quick motion of his hands, he again jerked the rope upwards. Again the feet took two upward steps, and again the body was drawn inwards, and the rope jerked up at the moment the weight was off it.

In this way he had ascended three-fourths of the height of the trunk, when suddenly his attention was attracted by the sound of advancing footsteps. One look in the direction whence the sound had come was sufficient to tell him everything. He gave a wild shriek of fear and deadly agony, and then, losing all presence of mind, his trembling knees no longer kept the rope out at the tension necessary to support him. The rope slipped, but his feet giving way at the same time, his body came down with violent and stunning force against the tree, and by its weight jammed the rope fast as he had been caught under the arms. He was thus pressed against the tree, unable to move, for he had been too much exhausted, previous to attempting the ascent, to be able now to put forth the great muscular exertion that would be necessary to extricate him from his dangerous position.

George came up to within about twenty paces of the tree, and, as Atare looked down upon him with pleading eyes, for the lips of the black evidently refused at this time of need to utter the sounds that his will would have

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dictated, George raised his gun, took steady aim for an instant, and then fired. The ball went true to its mark, and Atare, shot through the heart, gave one convulsive bound, that brought his body three or four feet lower down, and then hung dead and senseless. George, who had uttered no word either as he advanced or as he fired, turned away his head when his bullet had sped upon its errand of death. Making a sign to Jamie that the boy seemed to understand, he turned slowly from the spot, still without speaking a word.

Jamie, in pursuance of the direction that his father's sign had given him, walked round the tree and examined scrutinisingly the vegetable rope that still retained the body of the black far up above reach. As if he had found the spot he wanted, he took up his position upon the opposite side of the tree to that from which his father had fired. He had noticed that a portion of the vine had been somewhat abrased by the jerks it had received, and now, taking a steady aim at this spot, he struck it with his bullet, and so far severed it that the weight of the body did the rest. The rope parted, and the now lifeless corpse fell with a heavy thud upon the ground. Jamie approached it and looked down upon what had once been his enemy with the most inveterate malignity, a malignity that even death did not seem to satisfy. Dragging the body over so as to bring the wrist of the dead man on to a projecting root, he severed the right hand with one blow of his tomahawk. Holding it up before his eyes, he indulged in a wild laugh of glee.

His father, who had remained leaning upon his gun, and with his back turned to that which he had made what it was, apparently buried in thought, looked round as he heard the insane joy of his son. As his eye fell upon the bleeding trophy that Jamie held up so triumphantly, a

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shudder seemed to pass over him, and, again turning himself away, he was moving slowly and sadly from the spot.

Jamie, however, in his idiot glee, desired to obtain some token of approval from the General. Running up to his father, and dandling in his own the recently-severed hand, he cried: “We've done it well, general, ain't we? Only one of the whole breed of snakes left, and, oh, don't I long for the day when I shall serve him this way!”

George looked for an instant upon his son, with eyes in which sorrow was most unmistakably depicted; then, raising his one unoccupied hand and smiting himself on the breast, he exclaimed in all the fervour of mental disquietude, “May the Lord forgive me!” and then continued the way from the spot.

Two days after this, a second black hand, fresh from the body whence it had been reft, might have been seen nailed to that rude cross on the lonely grave, making the now shrivelled and weather-worn effigy with which it was made to keep company look still more weird and fearful by its freshness.